Archive for the ‘Brooks’ Category

Brooks and Krugman

July 22, 2016

Bobo is bewailing “The Death of the Republican Party” and moans that Donald Trump’s acid bath hollows out the G.O.P.  Right.  It’s THOSE people, over THERE who created the mess, with no help at all from pandering pundits.  His ravings will be followed by a comment from “soxared040713” from Crete, Illinois.  Prof. Krugman, in “Donald Trump, the Siberian Candidate,” says the Republicans’ presidential nominee doesn’t just admire Vladimir Putin.  Here’s Bobo:

On the surface, this seems like a normal Republican convention. There are balloon drops, banal but peppy music from the mid-1970s and polite white people not dancing in their seats.

But this is not a normal convention. Donald Trump is dismantling the Republican Party and replacing it with a personality cult. The G.O.P. is not dividing; it’s ceasing to exist as a coherent institution.

The only speaker here who clearly understands this is Ted Cruz. He understands that the Trump phenomenon is probably not going to end the way a normal candidacy ends. It’s going to end catastrophically, in November or beyond, with the party infrastructure in tatters, with every mealy mouthed pseudo-Trump accommodationist permanently stained.

Some rich children are careless that way; they break things and other people have to clean up the mess.

I’m not a Cruz fan, but his naked ambition does fuel amazing courage. As the Republican Party is slouching off on a suicide march, at least Cruz is standing athwart history yelling “Stop!” When the Trump train implodes, the docile followers who are now booing and denouncing Ted Cruz will claim they were on his side all along.

It’s been gruesomely fascinating to see the Trumpian acid eat away the party of Lincoln and T.R. and Reagan.

A normal party has an apparatus of professionals, who have been around for a while and can get things done. But those people might as well not exist. This has been the most shambolically mis-run convention in memory — with a botched V.P. unveiling, a plagiarism scandal, listless audiences most of the time, empty seats midway through prime time, vote-counting strong-arm tactics, zero production creativity, no coherent messaging and a complete inability to control the conversation.

A normal party is united by a consistent belief system. For decades, the Republican Party has stood for an American-led international order abroad and small-government democratic capitalism at home. That capitalist ethos at least gave Republicans a future-oriented optimism.

Trump is decimating that too, along with the things Republicans stood for: NATO, entitlement reform, compassionate conservatism and the relatively open movement of ideas, people and trade.

There’s no actual agenda being put in its place, just nostalgic spasms that, as David Frum has put it, are part George Wallace and part Henry Wallace. This has been a convention of loss — parents who have lost children, workers who have lost the code that gave them dignity, white retirees who in a diversifying America have lost an empire and not found a role. Trump policies, if they exist, are defensive recoils: build a wall, ban Muslims, withdraw from the world.

A normal party has a moral ethos. For Republicans it has been inspired by evangelical Christianity. That often put the party on the losing side of the sexual revolution, but it also gave individual Republicans a calling toward private acts of charity, a commitment toward personal graciousness, humility and faithfulness. Mitt Romney is no evangelical, but his convention was lifted by stories of his personal mentorship.

All that is eviscerated, too. The selection of Mike Pence for his running mate notwithstanding, Trump has replaced Christian commitment with the ethos of a whining gladiator. Everything is oriented around conquest, success, supremacy and domination. He’s shown you can be a public thug and a good dad, but even in his children’s speeches, which have been excellent, he exists mostly as a cheerleader for high grades, moneymaking and worldly success.

This has been the Lock Her Up convention. The proper decibel level was set by Rudy Giuliani screaming. The criminalization of political difference was established by Chris Christie. Most of the delegates here are deeply ambivalent about their nominee, so they grab onto extreme Hillary bashing as one thing they can be un-ambivalent about.

But think about it: Can you think of a party or political movement that has devoted so much time to hatred without being blinded by it?

For example, look at the way Donald Trump has been calling people liars and traitors for a year. Then when Cruz has the temerity to use the phrase “vote your conscience,” the Trumpians fall all over themselves mewling, whining and twitching, without any faint self-awareness of how ridiculous they appear.

Confronted with Cruz’s non-endorsement, the Trump people seemed to decide they could crush him under a chorus of boos and antipathy. But this is a long game.

The Republican Party is not going to return to its old form. For a long time it will probably be a party for the dispossessed, but I suspect it will look a lot more like Ted Cruz in the years ahead than Donald Trump: anti-immigrant, anti-trade, but also more conventionally small government, more socially conservative. Ted Cruz types will lead the party in a million ways I don’t like. But at least it will be a party, not the narcissistic vehicle for one soft core Putin.

Poor, poor, Bobo and his big sad…  Here’s what “soxared040713” had to say:

“Mr. Brooks, you got the party and convention you deserved.

You’re making the same mistake by cheering Ted Cruz your party made by ignoring the signposts that led to Donald Trump. If all you have, in your ideological despair this Friday morning is a ruin of a party with Canadian-born Cruz at its center, you become Sisyphus. You’ll never get to the top of the steep climb without the stone rolling down to the bottom. The GOP is officially a bomb shelter.

You also need to drop “the party of Lincoln” lie. The 16th president lived and died to preserve the union. Ronald Reagan moved the right-leaning party from the devious Richard Nixon into territory co-opted by Trump for the past year, one truly “oriented around conquest, success, supremacy and domination.”

The acid core of the current GOP was minted by Reagan. You know this but continue to praise him as one of its champions. Reagan made segregation and racism acceptable in the GOP. He was the popular populist who threw stones at government as the people cheered. His message was “it doesn’t work; let’s kill it.” And you’re surprised that Trump echoes the nostalgia that won Reagan two terms?

Cruz led the insurgent Tea Party shutdown of the federal government and you tell us he’s the party’s future champion? You say “I’m not a Cruz fan” but then, like Mark Antony, you go on to praise murdered Caesar in the public square; you come not to bury Trump but to praise Cruz. How are they different?

GOP, rest not in peace. Just die.”  Amen.  Now here’s Prof. Krugman:

If elected, would Donald Trump be Vladimir Putin’s man in the White House? This should be a ludicrous, outrageous question. After all, he must be a patriot — he even wears hats promising to make America great again.

But we’re talking about a ludicrous, outrageous candidate. And the Trump campaign’s recent behavior has quite a few foreign policy experts wondering just what kind of hold Mr. Putin has over the Republican nominee, and whether that influence will continue if he wins.

I’m not talking about merely admiring Mr. Putin’s performance — being impressed by the de facto dictator’s “strength,” and wanting to emulate his actions. I am, instead, talking about indications that Mr. Trump would, in office, actually follow a pro-Putin foreign policy, at the expense of America’s allies and her own self-interest.

That’s not to deny that Mr. Trump does, indeed, admire Mr. Putin. On the contrary, he has repeatedly praised the Russian strongman, often in extravagant terms. For example, when Mr. Putin published an article attacking American exceptionalism, Mr. Trump called it a “masterpiece.”

But admiration for Putinism isn’t unusual in Mr. Trump’s party. Well before the Trump candidacy, Putin envy on the right was already widespread.

For one thing, Mr. Putin is someone who doesn’t worry about little things like international law when he decides to invade a country. He’s “what you call a leader,” declared Rudy Giuliani after Russia invaded Ukraine.

It’s also clear that the people who gleefully chanted “Lock her up” — not to mention the Trump adviser who called for Hillary Clinton’s execution — find much to admire in the way Mr. Putin deals with his political opponents and critics. By the way, while the Secret Service is investigating the comments about executing Mrs. Clinton, all the Trump campaign had to say was that it “does not agree with those statements.”

And many on the right also seem to have a strange, rather creepy admiration for Mr. Putin’s personal style. Rush Limbaugh, for example, declared that while talking to President Obama, “Putin probably had his shirt off practicing tai chi.”

All of this is, or should be, deeply disturbing; what would the news media be saying if major figures in the Democratic Party routinely praised leftist dictators? But what we’re now seeing from Mr. Trump and his associates goes beyond emulation, and is starting to look like subservience.

First, there was the Ukraine issue — one on which Republican leaders have consistently taken a hard line and criticized Mr. Obama for insufficient action, with John McCain, for example, accusing the president of “weakness.” And the G.O.P. platform was going to include a statement reaffirming this line, but it was watered down to blandness on the insistence of Trump representatives.

Then came Mr. Trump’s interview with The New York Times, in which, among other things, he declared that even if Russia attacked members of NATO he would come to their aid only if those allies — which we are bound by treaty to defend — have “fulfilled their obligations to us.”

Now, some of this is Mr. Trump’s deep ignorance of policy, his apparent inability to understand that you can’t run the U.S. government the way he has run his ramshackle business empire. We know from many reports about his stiffing of vendors, his history of profiting from enterprises even as they go bankrupt, that he sees contracts as suggestions, clear-cut financial obligations as starting points for negotiation. And we know that he sees fiscal policy as no different; he has already talked about renegotiating U.S. debt. So why should we be surprised that he sees diplomatic obligations the same way?

But is there more to the story? Is there some specific channel of influence?

We do know that Paul Manafort, Mr. Trump’s campaign manager, has worked as a consultant for various dictators, and was for years on the payroll of Viktor Yanukovych, the former Ukrainian president and a Putin ally.

And there are reasons to wonder about Mr. Trump’s own financial interests. Remember, we know nothing about the true state of his business empire, and he has refused to release his taxes, which might tell us more. We do know that he has substantial if murky involvement with wealthy Russians and Russian businesses. You might say that these are private actors, not the government — but in Mr. Putin’s crony-capitalist paradise, this is a meaningless distinction.

At some level, Mr. Trump’s motives shouldn’t matter. We should be horrified at the spectacle of a major-party candidate casually suggesting that he might abandon American allies — just as we should be horrified when that same candidate suggests that he might welsh on American financial obligations. But there’s something very strange and disturbing going on here, and it should not be ignored.

Solo Bobo

July 19, 2016

Poor, poor Bobo.  He’s stunned, STUNNED I tell you.  It turns out that Trump is Trump after all.  In “Trump Is Getting Even Trumpier!” he finally asks himself the question:  Is the Republicans’ nominee losing it?  Bobo’s POS will be followed by a comment from “Socrates” from Downtown Verona, NJ.  Here, FSM help us all, is Bobo:

Does anybody else have the sense that Donald Trump is slipping off the rails? His speeches have always had a rambling, free association quality, but a couple of the recent ones have, as the Republican political consultant Mike Murphy put it, passed from the category of rant to the category of full on “drunk wedding toast.

Trump’s verbal style has always been distinct. He doesn’t really speak in sentences or paragraphs. His speeches are punctuated by five- or six-word jabs that are sort of strung together by connections that can only be understood through chaos theory: “They want the wall … I dominated with the evangelicals … I won in a landslide … We can’t be the stupid people anymore.”

Occasionally Trump will attempt a sentence longer than eight words, but no matter what subject he starts the sentence with, by the end he has been pulled over to the subject of himself. Here’s an example from the Mike Pence announcement speech: “So one of the primary reasons I chose Mike was I looked at Indiana, and I won Indiana big.” There’s sort of a gravitational narcissistic pull that takes command whenever he attempts to utter a compound thought.

Trump has also always been a little engine fueled by wounded pride. For example, writing in BuzzFeed, McKay Coppins recalls the fusillade of abuse he received from Trump after writing an unflattering profile (he called Mar-a-Lago a “nice, if slightly dated, hotel”).

Trump was so inflamed he tweeted retaliation at Coppins several times a day and at odd hours, calling him a “dishonest slob” and “true garbage with no credibility.” The attacks went on impressively for over two years, which must rank Coppins in the top 100,000 on the list of people Donald Trump resents.

Over the past few weeks these longstanding Trump patterns have gone into hyperdrive. This is a unique moment in American political history in which the mental stability of one of the major party nominees is the dominating subject of conversation.

Everybody is telling Trump to ratchet it down and be more sober, but at a rally near Cincinnati this month and in his Pence announcement speech on Saturday, Trump launched his verbal rocket ship straight through the stratosphere, and it landed somewhere on the dark side of Planet Debbie.

The Pence announcement was truly the strangest vice-presidential unveiling in recent political history. Ricocheting around the verbal wilds for more than twice as long as the man he was introducing, Trump even refused to remain onstage and gaze on admiringly as Pence flattered him. It was like watching a guy lose interest in a wedding when the bride appears.

The structure of his mental perambulations also seems to have changed. Formerly, as I said, his speeches had a random, free-form quality. But on Saturday his remarks had a distinct through line, anchored by the talking points his campaign had written down on pieces of paper. But Trump could not keep his attention focused on this through line — since the subject was someone else — so every 30 seconds or so he would shoot off on a resentment-filled bragging loop.

If you had to do a rough diagram of the Trump remarks it would be something like this: Pence … I was right about Iraq … Pence … Hillary Clinton is a crooked liar … I was right about “Brexit” … Pence … Hillary Clintons ads are filled with lies … We’re going to bring back the coal industry … Christians love me … Pence … I talk to statisticians … Pence is good looking My hotel in Washington is really coming along fantastically … Pence.

Donald Trump is in his moment of greatest triumph, but he seems more resentful and embattled than ever. Most political conventions are happy coronations, but this one may come to feel like the Alamo of aggrieved counterattacks.

It’s hard to know exactly what is going on in that brain, but science lends a clue. Psychologists wonder if narcissists are defined by extremely high self-esteem or by extremely low self-esteem that they are trying to mask. The current consensus seems to be that they are marked by unstable self-esteem. Their self-confidence can be both high and fragile, so they perceive ego threat all around.

Maybe as Trump has gotten more successful his estimation of what sort of adoration he deserves has increased while the outside criticism has gotten more pronounced. This combination is bound to leave his ego threat sensors permanently inflamed. So even if Candidate Trump is told to make a normal political point, Inner Boy Trump will hijack the microphone for another bout of resentful boasting.

Suddenly the global climate favors a Trump candidacy. Some forms of disorder — like a financial crisis — send voters for the calm supple thinker. But other forms of disorder — blood in the streets — send them scurrying for the brutal strongman.

If the string of horrific events continues, Trump could win the presidency. And he could win it even though he has less and less control over himself.

But so far Bobo hasn’t bothered to tell us that he’s not going to vote for the lunatic.  At least George Effing Will was that honest.  Here’s what “Socrates” had to say:

“And Brooks is getting Brooksier.

You could’ve chosen adulthood at some point, Mr. Brooks, and taken the time and dignity to mention that the horror show of Donald Trump’s reality-Presidential-candidacy is a cataclysm to be categorically rejected by reasonable voters, but instead you conclude with the theme song of the Doris Day Show.

“Que sera, sera – Whatever will be, will be – The future’s not ours to see – Que sera, sera”.

Political Frankensteins don’t just happen by themselves; Grand Old Psychopaths build them.

Mad Republican political scientists hellbent on greed and power created Trumpenstein in their Machiavellian labs through decades of market testing the darker angels of anger, racism, misogyny, cultured stupidity, religious fanaticism, flag waving war and gun anarchy.

Trump’s a political mutation created by a mutant political party that has no interest in roads, bridges, tunnels, schools, health care, technology, infrastructure, housing, public safety, civil rights, voting rights or living wages for 320 million Americans who could use a just a little decent public policy to help their everyday lives.

Trumpenstein wants to give America a 1000-mile wall magically paid for by Mexico and Vice President Mike Pence – a Salem Witch Trial cast member who adores forced pregnancies and hates homosexuals – and all you can say is “que sera sera” ?

Mr. Brooks, stand up tell the truth: GOP swindling and con-artistry and Trumpery has no place in the serious adult world.”

Bobo, solo

July 12, 2016

Oh, but this is precious.  Bobo is wringing his hands and wailing.  He has a question:  “Are We on the Path to National Ruin?”  He moans that Europe in the 1930s and America in the 1890s faced many troubling conditions like we do today. They responded with very different answers.  Here’s a brief response from “zb” in BC, with “gemli” response to follow after Bobo.  Here’s “zb:”  “For 50 years the rightwing has been promoting the notion of “national ruin” as the center piece of its political strategy (along with pandering to hate, ignorance, and hypocrisy) and now you want to play the part of an ignorant bystander to it all?  Really, give us a break.”  Now here’s Bobo, writing from San Antonio:

I never really understood how fascism could have come to Europe, but I think I understand better now. You start with some fundamental historical transformation, like the Great Depression or the shift to an information economy. A certain number of people are dispossessed. They lose identity, self-respect and hope.

They begin to base their sense of self-worth on their tribe, not their behavior. They become mired in their resentments, spiraling deeper into the addiction of their own victimology. They fall for politicians who lie about the source of their problems and about how they can surmount them. Facts lose their meaning. Entertainment replaces reality.

Once facts are unmoored, everything else is unmoored, too. People who value humility and kindness in private life abandon those traits when they select leaders in the common sphere. Hardened by a corrosive cynicism, they fall for morally deranged little showmen.

And then perhaps there’s a catalyzing event. Societies in this condition are culturally tense and socially isolated. That means there are a lot of lonely, alienated young men seeking self-worth through violence. Some wear police badges; some sit in their rooms fantasizing of mass murder. When they act, the results can be convulsive.

Normally, nations pull together after tragedy, but a society plagued by dislocation and slipped off the rails of reality can go the other way. Rallies become gripped by an exaltation of tribal fervor. Before you know it, political life has spun out of control, dragging the country itself into a place both bizarre and unrecognizable.

This happened in Europe in the 1930s. We’re not close to that kind of descent in America today, but we’re closer than we’ve been. Let’s be honest: The crack of some abyss opened up for a moment by the end of last week.

Blood was in the streets last week — victims of police violence in two cities and slain cops in another. America’s leadership crisis looked dire. The F.B.I. director’s statements reminded us that Hillary Clinton is willing to blatantly lie to preserve her career. Donald Trump, of course, lies continually and without compunction. It’s very easy to see this country on a nightmare trajectory.

How can America answer a set of generational challenges when the leadership class is dysfunctional, political conversation has entered a post-fact era and the political parties are divided on racial lines — set to blow at a moment’s notice?

On the other hand …

I never really understood how a nation could arise as one and completely turn itself around, but I think I’m beginning to understand now. Back in the 1880s and 1890s, America faced crises as deep as the ones we face today. The economy was going through an epochal transition, then to industrialization. The political system was worse and more corrupt than ours is today.

Culturally things were bad, too. Racism and anti-immigrant feelings were at plague-like levels. Urban poverty was indescribable.

And yet America responded. A new leadership class emerged, separately at first, but finally congealing into a national movement. In 1889, Jane Addams created settlement houses to serve urban poor. In 1892, Francis Bellamy wrote the Pledge of Allegiance to give the diversifying country a sense of common loyalty. In 1902, Owen Wister published “The Virginian,” a novel that created the cowboy mythology and galvanized the American imagination.

New sorts of political leaders emerged. In city after city, progressive reformers cleaned up politics and professionalized the civil service. Theodore Roosevelt went into elective politics at a time when few Ivy League types thought it was decent to do so. He bound the country around a New Nationalism and helped pass legislation that ensured capitalism would remain open, fair and competitive.

This was a clear example of a society facing a generational challenge and surmounting it. The Progressives were far from perfect, but they inherited rotting leadership institutions, reformed them and heralded in a new era of national greatness.

So which path will we take? The future of the world hangs on that question.

One way to think about it is this: America still has great resources at the local and social level. Here in San Antonio, there are cops who know how to de-escalate conflicts by showing dignity and respect. Everywhere I go there are mayors thinking practically and non-dogmatically. Can these local leaders move upward and redeem the national system, or will the national politics become so deranged that it will outweigh and corrupt all the good that is done block by block?

I’m betting the local is more powerful, that the healthy growth on the forest floor is more important than the rot in the canopy. But last week was a confidence shaker. There’s a cavity beneath what we thought was the floor of national life, and there are demons there.

You gotta love him citing the Pledge of Allegiance. He neglected to mention that a Republican administration added “under God”…  I can’t wait to see what Driftglass has to say about this.  Now here’s “gemli”:

“A half-truth is worse than a lie. Brooks gives us a great example when he says that our dysfunctional system is the result of a disorganized peasant revolt. He says unknown cosmic forces wrecked the economy and destabilized the government, and the people, confused and resentful, drew the wagons in a circle and started shooting each other and voting for liars.

Cosmic forces had nothing to do with it. We were on a progressive roll throughout the 20th century, undoing stupid biblical ideas about the worth of women, the resentments of race, and the normal spectrum of sexuality. We were protecting the working class as wages rose, and had woven a social safety net for people who had trouble making it.

There were some horrible setbacks, but for a bunch of recently-evolved primates we weren’t doing too badly. Things were looking up.

Then, suddenly, a few monkeys wanted all the bananas. Wages froze and people went begging, while a few banked billions. Biblical ideas reasserted themselves regarding women, non-whites and gays. There was war, social upheaval and economic abandonment of whole communities. In the turmoil that followed we locked up a lot of the victims and flooded the country with deadly weapons.

We’re all only half a chromosome removed from chimps. Some who aided and abetted the turmoil try to rewrite history, to absolve themselves of responsibility. But I’d stand back from the cage if I were you, given what we’re wont to fling.”

Brooks and Krugman

July 8, 2016

Oh, cripes.  Bobo has now decided to harangue us on “The Power of Altruism.”  He bleats that we inherently desire to do good, but society’s assumptions of selfishness affect our behavior.  His “thoughts” will be followed by a comment by “Socrates” from Downtown Verona, NJ.  Prof. Krugman considers “All the Nominee’s Enablers” and says the G.O.P. establishment, and the people behind it, will accept a lot as long as the rich ultimately benefit.  Here’s Bobo:

Western society is built on the assumption that people are fundamentally selfish. Machiavelli and Hobbes gave us influential philosophies built on human selfishness. Sigmund Freud gave us a psychology of selfishness. Children, he wrote, “are completely egoistic; they feel their needs intensely and strive ruthlessly to satisfy them.”

Classical economics adopts a model that says people are primarily driven by material self-interest. Political science assumes that people are driven to maximize their power.

But this worldview is clearly wrong. In real life, the push of selfishness is matched by the pull of empathy and altruism. This is not Hallmark card sentimentalism but scientific fact: As babies our neural connections are built by love and care. We have evolved to be really good at cooperation and empathy. We are strongly motivated to teach and help others.

As Matthieu Ricard notes in his rigorous book “Altruism,” if an 18-month-old sees a man drop a clothespin she will move to pick it up and hand it back to him within five seconds, about the same amount of time it takes an adult to offer assistance. If you reward a baby with a gift for being kind, the propensity to help will decrease, in some studies by up to 40 percent.

When we build academic disciplines and social institutions upon suppositions of selfishness we’re missing the motivations that drive people much of the time.

Worse, if you expect people to be selfish, you can actually crush their tendency to be good.

Samuel Bowles provides a slew of examples in his book “The Moral Economy.” For example, six day care centers in Haifa, Israel, imposed a fine on parents who were late in picking up their kids at the end of the day. The share of parents who arrived late doubled. Before the fine, picking up their kids on time was an act of being considerate to the teachers. But after the fine, showing up to pick up their kids became an economic transaction. They felt less compunction to be kind.

In 2001, the Boston fire commissioner ended his department’s policy of unlimited sick days and imposed a limit of 15 per year. Those who exceeded the limit had their pay docked. Suddenly what had been an ethic to serve the city was replaced by a utilitarian paid arrangement. The number of firefighters who called in sick on Christmas and New Year’s increased by tenfold over the previous year.

To simplify, there are two lenses people can use to see any situation: the economic lens or the moral lens.

When you introduce a financial incentive you prompt people to see their situation through an economic lens. Instead of following their natural bias toward reciprocity, service and cooperation, you encourage people to do a selfish cost-benefit calculation. They begin to ask, “What’s in this for me?”

By evoking an economic motivation, you often get worse outcomes. Imagine what would happen to a marriage if both people went in saying, “I want to get more out of this than I put in.” The prospects of such a marriage would not be good.

Many of our commitments, professional or civic, are like that. To be a good citizen, to be a good worker, you often have to make an altruistic commitment to some group or ideal, which will see you through those times when your job of citizenship is hard and frustrating. Whether you are a teacher serving students or a soldier serving your country or a clerk who likes your office mates, the moral motivation is much more powerful than the financial motivations. Arrangements that arouse the financial lens alone are just messing everything up.

In 1776, Adam Smith defined capitalism as a machine that takes private self-interest and organizes it to produce general prosperity. A few years later America’s founders created a democracy structured to take private factional competition and, through checks and balances, turn it into deliberative democracy. Both rely on a low but steady view of human nature and try to turn private vice into public virtue.

But back then, there were plenty of institutions that promoted the moral lens to balance the economic lens: churches, guilds, community organizations, military service and honor codes.

Since then, the institutions that arouse the moral lens have withered while the institutions that manipulate incentives — the market and the state — have expanded. Now economic, utilitarian thinking has become the normal way we do social analysis and see the world. We’ve wound up with a society that is less cooperative, less trusting, less effective and less lovely.

By assuming that people are selfish, by prioritizing arrangements based on selfishness, we have encouraged selfish frames of mind. Maybe it’s time to upend classical economics and political science. Maybe it’s time to build institutions that harness people’s natural longing to do good.

Great.  Let’s start by destroying the Republican party and everything it currently stands for.  They don’t call Paul Ryan the “Zombie-Eyed Granny Starver” for nothing, Bobo.  Here’s the comment by “Socrates:”

“Machiavelli would be perfectly at home moored in the bay of one of today’s 0.1% Cayman Island or Panamanian tax havens, napping peacefully on his 500-foot super yacht on a bed of red roses handpicked by serfs this morning.. “completely egoistic; feeling his needs intensely and striving ruthlessly to satisfy” his insatiable greed.

0.1% individuals and their families have as much as $32 trillion of hidden financial assets in offshore tax havens, according to the Tax Justice Network, and economist James Henry.

0.1% trillions of graft and greed is held in tax havens by private elites and puts it beyond the reach of tax authorities and excludes it from the common good.

Research estimates that since the 1970s, the richest citizens of 139 countries had amassed $7.3 to $9.3 trillion of “unrecorded offshore wealth” by 2010.

Private wealth held offshore represents “a subterranean” systemic “economic equivalent of an astrophysical black hole” of 0.1% greed in the world economy.

The $32T estimate is roughly twice the size of the US GDP —- offshored ‘altruism’ and compassionate 0.1% conservatism at its truly finest.

“Wall Street and other major banks manage the tax havens — their business is fraud and grand theft. Private banking operations yield huge profits. Keeping funds secreted tax free attracts rich clients and criminals – funds are welcome from anyone, “no questions asked”, wrote Stephen Lendman of Global Research.

The Power Of Greed is a timeless psychopathy, Mr. Brooks.”

And now here’s Prof. Krugman, the voice crying in the wilderness:

A couple of weeks ago Paul Ryan, the speaker of the House, sort of laid out both a health care plan and a tax plan. I say sort of, because there weren’t enough details in either case to do any kind of quantitative analysis. But it was clear that Mr. Ryan’s latest proposals had the same general shape as every other proposal he’s released: huge tax cuts for the wealthy combined with savage but smaller cuts in aid to the poor, and the claim that all of this would somehow reduce the budget deficit thanks to unspecified additional measures.

Given everything else that’s going on, this latest installment of Ryanomics attracted little attention. One group that did notice, however, was Fix the Debt, a nonpartisan deficit-scold group that used to have substantial influence in Washington.

Indeed, Fix the Debt issued a statement — but not, as you might have expected, condemning Mr. Ryan for proposing to make the deficit bigger. No, the statement praised him. “We are concerned that the policies in the plan may not add up,” the organization admitted, but it went on to declare that “we welcome this blueprint.”

And there, in miniature, is the story of how America ended up with someone like Donald Trump as the presumptive Republican nominee and possible next president. It’s all about the enablers, and the enablers of the enablers.

At one level, all Mr. Trump has done is to channel the racism that has always been a part of our political life — it’s literally as American as apple pie — and hitch it to the authoritarian impulse that has also always lurked behind democratic norms. But there’s a reason these tendencies are sufficiently concentrated in the G.O.P. that Trumpism could triumph in the primaries: a cynical political strategy that the party’s establishment has pursued for decades.

To put it bluntly, the modern Republican Party is in essence a machine designed to deliver high after-tax incomes to the 1 percent. Look at Mr. Ryan: Has he ever shown any willingness, for any reason, to make the rich pay so much as a dime more in taxes? Comforting the very comfortable is what it’s all about.

But not many voters are interested in that goal. So the party has prospered politically by harnessing its fortunes to racial hostility, which it has not-so-discreetly encouraged for decades.

These days, former President George H.W. Bush is treated as an elder statesman, too gentlemanly to endorse the likes of Donald Trump — but remember, he’s the one who ran the Willie Horton ad. Mitt Romney is also sitting this one out — but he was happy to accept Mr. Trump’s endorsement back when the candidate was best known for his rabid birtherism.

And Mr. Ryan, after a brief pretense of agonizing about Mr. Trump, is now in full attack-dog mode on the candidate’s behalf. After all, the Trump tax plan would be a huge windfall for the wealthy, while Hillary Clinton would surely sustain President Obama’s significant tax hike on high incomes, and try to push it further.

I’m not saying that all leading Republicans are racists; most of them probably aren’t, although Mr. Trump probably is. It is that in pursuit of their economic — actually, class-interest — goals they were willing to act as enablers, to make their party a safe space for prejudice. And the result is a party base that is strikingly racist, in which a plurality of voters believe that Mr. Obama is a Muslim, and more — a base just waiting for a candidate willing to blurt out what the establishment conveyed by innuendo.

But there’s one more crucial element here: We wouldn’t have gotten to this point if so many people outside the G.O.P. — in particular, journalists and self-proclaimed centrists — hadn’t refused to acknowledge what was happening.

Political analysts who tried to talk about the G.O.P.’s transformation, like Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute, were effectively ostracized for years. Instead, the respectable, “balanced” thing was to pretend that the parties were symmetric, to turn a blind eye to the cynicism of the modern Republican project.

Which brings me back to Mr. Ryan, the de facto leader of his party until the Trumpocalypse. How did he reach that position? Not by inspiring deep loyalty in the base, but rather by getting incredibly favorable treatment from journalists and centrists eager to show their bipartisanship by finding a serious, honest Republican to praise — or at least someone able to do a passable job of playing that character on TV. And as the latest from Fix the Debt shows, the charade is still going on.

The point is that this kind of false balance does real harm. The Republican establishment directly enabled the forces that led to Trump; but many influential people outside the G.O.P. in effect enabled the enablers. And so here we are.

Solo Bobo

July 5, 2016

In “Choosing Leaders: Clueless or Crazy” Bobo gurgles that British political party members and Republican presidential primary voters have all faced dilemmas.  His bleating will be followed by an extensive comment from “Socrates” from Downtown Verona, NJ.  Here’s Bobo:

These days, if you want to elect a leader, you generally have two choices: a sensible, establishment figure who is completely out of touch, or a populist outsider who is incompetent, crazy or both.

That was the choice British Labour Party members faced in 2015, when they were picking a new leader. They went with the incompetent, inexperienced outsider, Jeremy Corbyn. He recently lost a no-confidence vote among members of Parliament in his own party, 172 to 40.

That was the choice Republican voters in the states faced throughout the primaries. Passing up the out-of-touch insiders, they went for an overflowing souffle of crazy incompetence in the form of Donald Trump.

And this is certainly the choice that confronts members of the British Conservative Party. Calm cluelessness comes to them in the form of David Cameron. He was a good prime minister, but he called for a “Brexit” referendum for short-term political gain, blithely unaware of what was happening in his own nation.

Crazy incompetence comes in the forms of the two leading pro-Brexit campaigners, Boris Johnson and Michael Gove.

Johnson is a witty, rakish showman who always puts himself at the center of attention and is willing to put up with a lot of scandal and disapproval in order to stay there.

It’s not clear Johnson was really in favor of Britain leaving the European Union, but leading a campaign for it seemed to be the quickest way to make himself prime minister. When his side of the referendum surprisingly won, he emerged ashen-faced, like a boy who’d had fun playing with matches but accidentally blew up his own house.

His first response apparently was denial. He had no post-referendum plan and canceled a meeting with M.P.s 15 minutes before it was due to start, but, according to British newspapers, did manage to spend a day playing cricket with his friend Earl Spencer at Althorp House, Princess Diana’s ancestral estate. The next day he hosted a barbecue at his house in Oxfordshire that was described in The Telegraph as “boozy, shambolic, disorganized and ill-disciplined” — which sounds fun but maybe not for a politician in the middle of a world crisis.

Then came the backpedaling. He wrote an op-ed piece for The Telegraph headlined “I Cannot Stress Too Much That Britain Is Part of Europe — and Always Will Be,” which went beyond reassuring the markets and left the impression that nothing very important had happened at all.

The week ended with him abandoning his campaign to become prime minister — an astounding feat of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory that must make some of history’s all-time choke artists gape and applaud.

Gove, on the other hand, is earnestly sincere, with a manner that would get him kicked off many math teams for being too nerdy. Two years earlier, Gove had expressed disdain for Johnson, reportedly telling a crowd after a long dinner: “Boris is incapable of focusing on serious issues and has no gravitas. He isn’t a team player and plays to the gallery the whole time.” But during the Brexit campaign, Gove was Johnson’s deputy and seemed destined to be his No. 2 in the government.

But sometime in the days following the victory he decided that Johnson was wobbly and that he himself should really be No. 1. Gove’s doubts were fortified by an email from his wife, the Daily Mail columnist Sarah Vine. She reminded her husband that party members were skeptical of Johnson but found him reassuring. “Do not concede any ground. Be your stubborn best,” she wrote to him.

How an email from a wife to a husband got leaked to the press is a question for another day.

Gove shockingly announced that rather than support Johnson, he would run against him. This may have been an act of principle, but it left the impression, as one Tory party leader told The Telegraph, that Gove is a “Machiavellian psychopath” who had planned to stab his friend in the back “from the beginning.”

In any case, they are both now thoroughly in disgrace, Johnson out of the race and Gove languishing.

The big historical context is this: Something fundamental is shifting in our politics. The insiders can’t see it. Outsiders get thrown up amid the tumult, but they are too marginal, eccentric and inexperienced to lead effectively.

Without much enthusiasm, many voters seem to be flocking to tough, no-nonsense women who at least seem sensible: Angela Merkel, Hillary Clinton and, now, the Conservative Party front-runner, Theresa May.

We probably need a political Pope Francis-type figure, who comes up from the bottom and understands life there, but who can still make the case for an open dynamic world, with free-flowing goods, ideas, capital and people. Until that figure emerges, we could be in for a set of serial leadership crises.

Gee — doesn’t that “Pope Francis-type figure” sound an AWFUL lot like Obama?  Now here’s the comment from “Socrates:”

“Clueless and crazy is what you get when you intentionally dumb down the voter, Mr. Brooks, and when it comes to drowning the collective IQ of a nation’s IQ in a fear and disinformation bathtub, nobody does it better than the right-wing and its media puppets on both sides of the pond.

Here are some of the headline stories the British tabloid fearmongers ran in advance of the Brexit vote:

“Britons could lose control of their coastline.”

“England could be scrapped or merged with France.”

“Prospect of a ban on its kettles” in a nation in which tea-making is a daily ritual.

A Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism study found that of 928 articles on the referendum, 45% were in favor of leaving, while only 27% were in favor of remaining, with the remaining stories considered neutral.

The Mail ran an editorial under the headline: “If you believe in Britain, vote Leave.”

The Sun, owned by Fox News zillionaire and propagandist Rupert Murdoch, urged readers earlier this month to “beLEAVE in Britain.”

After the Brexit vote, jubilant headlines rang out from UK tabloids.

“We’re Out!” said The Daily Mail.

“See EU Later!” yelled The Sun.

The Frenchman Joseph de Maistre said “Every nation gets the government it deserves”.

It turns out that every nation gets the idiotic, self-destructive outcome the right-wing scare-mongering fear-mongering press puts in the paper and on TV for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Perhaps the press should stop pushing the stupidity drug to voters.”

Bobo, solo

July 1, 2016

Bobo has extruded something called “The Coming Political Realignment” in which he bleats about how Trump is smashing everything.  The comment from “gemli” will follow, but “DL” from Pittsburgh had this to say:  “Typically, Brooks assumes a pose of even-handedness while parroting GOP talking-points about “squirrelly” Clinton. Trump’s promise to bring steel jobs back to Pittsburgh is, like every single word Trump says, a pure con job. Brooks is obviously smart enough to recognize that Trump is a con artist whom no one should ever take at his word. So why can’t he bring himself to acknowledge it in print?”  Because, “DL,” that would require honesty.  Bobo’s fresh out at this point.  Here he is:

Donald Trump has done something politically smart and substantively revolutionary. He is a Republican presidential candidate running against free trade and, effectively, free markets.

By putting trade at the top of the conversation he elevates the issue on which Hillary Clinton is the most squirrelly, where her position reinforces the message that she will say anything to get power.

But mostly it’s politically smart because Donald Trump’s only shot of winning the presidency is to smash and replace the entire structure of the American political debate. For the past 80 years that debate has been about the size of government — Republicans for less government and more market and Democrats for more government and less market.

If that debate structures this election, Trump will get somewhere between 38 and 44 percent of the votes — where he’s been polling all year.

Trump’s only hope is to change the debate from size of government to open/closed. His only hope is to cast his opponents as the right-left establishment that supports open borders, free trade, cosmopolitan culture and global intervention. He would stand as a right-left populist who supports closed borders, trade barriers, local and nationalistic culture and an America First foreign policy.

In an age of anxiety, that closed posture might have a shot at winning. On trade, for example, 60 percent of Republicans, 49 percent of Democrats and 50 percent of independents believe that trade agreements are mostly harmful, according to a Brookings Institution/Public Religion Research Institute study.

I personally doubt that Trump will be able to pull off a right-left populist coalition. His views on women and minorities are unacceptable to nearly everybody on the left. There’s no evidence that he’s winning over many Sanders voters or downscale progressives.

But where Trump fails, somebody else will succeed. And that’s where he’s substantively revolutionary. The old size-of-government question was growing increasingly archaic and obsolete. In country after country the main battle lines of debate are evolving toward the open/closed framework.

If you don’t like our current political polarization, wait 10 years. One way or another it will go away. When the frame of debate shifts to open/closed, sometime soon, the old coalitions will smash apart and new ones will form. Politics will be unrecognizable.

It’s significant that Trump gave his big anti-trade speech in the Pittsburgh area. That part of Western Pennsylvania illustrates in a very concrete way how the open/closed debate will play out.

Pittsburgh is a great renaissance story. I recently got a tour of it from the mayor, Bill Peduto. We visited a beautiful, tight Italian community with family-owned businesses stretching back generations. We visited a resurging African-American community where local activists were building a cultural center in the home of the great playwright August Wilson. Mostly we just saw acres and acres of new development: new restaurants, new museums, new loft-style office spaces and several gleaming new hospitals.

Pittsburgh has come so far from the deindustrialization days of the 1970s and 1980s.

But then I drove through the steel mill towns along the Monongahela and other rivers. The storefronts and banks were boarded up, the downtowns deserted. The mills are still operating, but they are so efficient they’re eerily empty of human presence. The towns still have residents, but not much is going on. I drove for miles, unable to find even a diner for lunch.

It occurred to me the Pittsburgh renaissance didn’t really grow up out of the metro Pittsburgh of old. Instead one Carnegie-Mellon type layer of prosperity and innovation had grown on top of the old working-class layer, which was still there and in bad shape.

When you’re in the top layer you see why free trade is so good. Living standards are rising. A study by the Peterson Institute found that past trade liberalization laws added between $7,100 to 12,900 in additional income to the average household. A study by Peter Petri and Michael Plummer estimates that the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which Trump opposes and Clinton sort of opposes, would boost American incomes by $131 billion.

You also see how an efficient manufacturing sector makes it possible to divert resources into things that improve the quality of life. As Neil Irwin pointed out in The Times, Pittsburgh has lost 5,100 steel jobs since 1990. But it has also gained 66,000 health care jobs over the same time.

The problem is getting people from the bottom layer to the top layer — a 30-minute drive, but a universe away.

The prophets of closedness will argue that the problem is trade. The prophets of openness will argue that we need the dynamism that free trade brings. We just need to be more aggressive in equipping people to thrive in that dynamic landscape. If facts still matter in this debate — and I’m not sure they do — the proponents of openness are massively right.

Here’s “gemli” in response:

“Republicans don’t despise big government. They despise the people that big government serves. They love big government when it’s taxing the middle class, waging endless wars, using its might to subpoena abortion providers or defending the Second Amendment with the blood of innocents.

Trump wants to use the power of a more massive, ignorant government to build unbuildable walls, eject undesirables, and torture our enemies. This kind of government doesn’t embrace free anything, whether it’s trade, thought or religion.

Free Trade sounds like a great idea when it’s revitalizing moribund communities in the U.S. But when conservatives tout its advantages, they’re usually not talking about the kind of free trade that the British enjoyed between itself and other members of the EU. David Brooks is more concerned with things like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (“The Democratic Tea Party,” 6/16/2015).

This kind of free trade is not free for everyone, least of all not the foreign workers who face exploitation of long hours, low wages and poor regulation. It hardly matters if foreigners are being abused by a wingnut president in this country, or if they get the same abuse working for starvation wages in the countries of their birth. In the zero-sum game of economic survival, where does the $131 billion in extra American income come from?

Fixing our own crumbling infrastructure would go a long way toward rebuilding cities like Pittsburgh, while it employed our own workers.”

Solo Bobo

June 28, 2016

Oh, cripes.  Bobo’s been out of the house again and howls that the working class is revolting or something.  In “Revolt of the Masses” he gurgles on about the loyalty culture and the flavor of the working-class rebellion.  He’s simply unbearable.  The invaluable “gemli” will follow.  Here’s Bobo:

Anybody who spends time in the working-class parts of America (and, one presumes, Britain) notices the contagions of drug addiction and suicide, and the feelings of anomie, cynicism, pessimism and resentment.

Part of this pain arises from deindustrialization. Good jobs are hard to find. But hardship is not exactly new to these places. Life in, say, a coal valley was never a bouquet of roses.

What’s also been lost are the social institutions and cultural values that made it possible to have self-respect amid hardship — to say, “I may not make a lot of money, but people can count on me. I’m loyal, tough, hard-working, resilient and part of a good community.”

We all have a sense of what that working-class honor code was, but if you want a refresher, I recommend J.D. Vance’s new book “Hillbilly Elegy.” Vance’s family is from Kentucky and Ohio, and his description of the culture he grew up in is essential reading for this moment in history.

He describes a culture of intense group loyalty. Families might be messed up in a million ways, but any act of disloyalty — like sharing personal secrets with outsiders — is felt acutely. This loyalty culture helps people take care of their own, but it also means there can be hostility to those who want to move up and out. And there can be intense parochialism. “We do not like outsiders,” Vance writes, “or people who are different from us, whether difference lies in how they look, how they act, or, most important, how they talk.”

It’s also a culture that values physical toughness. It’s a culture that celebrates people who are willing to fight to defend their honor. This is something that progressives never get about gun control. They see a debate about mass murder, but for many people guns are about a family’s ability to stand up for itself in a dangerous world.

It’s also a culture with a lot of collective pride. In my travels, you can’t go five minutes without having a conversation about a local sports team. Sports has become the binding religion, offering identity, value, and solidarity.

Much of this pride is nationalistic. Vance’s grandparents, he writes, “taught me that we live in the best and greatest country on earth. This fact gave meaning to my childhood.”

When I lived in Brussels, this sort of intense personal patriotism was simply not felt by the people who ran the E.U., but it was felt by a lot of people in the member states.

This honor code has been decimated lately. Conservatives argue that it has been decimated by cosmopolitan cultural elites who look down on rural rubes. There’s some truth to this, as the reactions of smug elites to the Brexit vote demonstrate.

But the honor code has also been decimated by the culture of the modern meritocracy, which awards status to the individual who works with his mind, and devalues the class of people who work with their hands.

Most of all, it has been undermined by rampant consumerism, by celebrity culture, by reality-TV fantasies that tell people success comes in a quick flash of publicity, not through steady work. The sociologist Daniel Bell once argued that capitalism would undermine itself because it encouraged hedonistic short-term values for consumers while requiring self-disciplined long-term values in its workers. At least in one segment of society, Bell was absolutely correct.

There’s now a rift within the working class between mostly older people who are self disciplined, respectable and, often, bigoted, and parts of a younger cohort that are more disordered, less industrious, more celebrity-obsessed, but also more tolerant and open to the world.

Trump (and probably Brexit) voters are in the first group. They are not poor, making on average over $70,000 a year. But they perceive that their grandchildren’s world is quickly coming apart.

From 1945 to 1995, conservative and liberal elites shared variations of the same vision of the future. Liberals emphasized multilateral institutions and conservatives emphasized free trade. Either way, the future would be global, integrated and multiethnic.

But the elites pushed too hard, and now history is moving in the opposite direction. The less-educated masses have a different conception of the future, a vision that is more closed, collective, protective and segmented.

Their pain is indivisible: economic stress, community breakdown, ethnic bigotry and a loss of social status and self-worth. When people feel their world is vanishing, they are easy prey for fact-free magical thinking and demagogues who blame immigrants.

We need a better form of nationalism, a vision of patriotism that gives dignity to those who have been disrespected, emphasizes that we are one nation and is confident and open to the world. I’m thinking we have a lot to learn from Theodore Roosevelt, but that’s a topic for another day.

Oh, for the love of all that’s holy will someone PLEASE hit him with a taser and lock him up inside until the election is over?  It would be a form of national service.  Here’s “gemli” from Boston in response to Bobo:

“Most of us are miserable sods who get our cultural values from what we see going on around us, but Mr. Brooks writes as though individual people consciously create their culture.

He laments the loss of how things were in those non-existent good old days. This is a tediously predictable conservative lament: if only several million folks would get their collective acts together, the world would be a predictable, orderly paradise once more.

It’s like blaming the little wooden blocks when the Jenga tower falls, and ignoring the fact that outside forces were pulling things apart and weakening the structure.

It’s easy to feel national pride when everyone in the nation is in the same boat. It’s harder when you look around and realize that you’re in a leaky canoe while others are sailing by in yachts. It’s harder to maintain the illusion that we’re greatest nation on earth, especially when we’re declining on every scale on which great nations are measured.

Brooks takes a predictable swipe at liberal elites. Clearly they’re at fault, because they devalue people who work with their hands. But in reality we devalue people because we don’t pay them. But let’s be fair to the rabid conservative industrialists. They can’t create the extreme level of modern-day income inequality and at the same time pay people.

Here’s a radical thought. Maybe we’ll get a better form of nationalism when everyone shares in the nation’s wealth.”

Bobo, solo

June 24, 2016

Bobo’s desperate.  He’s frantically searching for a way out…  In “At the Edge of Inside” he babbles that organizations have insiders and outsiders, and then there’s a third position.  The response from “gemli” in Boston will follow, but here’s Bobo, whistling happily past the graveyard:

In any organization there are some people who serve at the core. These insiders are in the rooms when the decisions are made. Hillary Clinton, for example, is now at the core of the Democratic Party.

Then there are outsiders. They throw missiles from beyond the walls. They are untouched by internal loyalties and try to take over from without. Donald Trump is a Republican outsider.

But there’s also a third position in any organization: those who are at the edge of the inside. These people are within the organization, but they’re not subsumed by the group think. They work at the boundaries, bridges and entranceways. Senator Lindsey Graham, for example, is sometimes on the edge of the inside of the G.O.P.

I borrow this concept from Richard Rohr, a Franciscan priest who lives in Albuquerque. His point is that people who live at the edge of the inside have crucial roles to play. As he writes in his pamphlet “The Eight Core Principles,” when you live on the edge of any group, “you are free from its central seductions, but also free to hear its core message in very new and creative ways.”

A person at the edge of inside can see what’s good about the group and what’s good about rival groups. Rohr writes, “A doorkeeper must love both the inside and the outside of his or her group, and know how to move between these two loves.”

A person at the edge of inside can be the strongest reformer. This person has the loyalty of a faithful insider, but the judgment of the critical outsider. Martin Luther King Jr. had an authentic inner experience of what it meant to be American. This love allowed him to critique America from the values he learned from America. He could be utterly relentless in bringing America back closer to herself precisely because his devotion to American ideals was so fervent.

A person on the edge of the inside knows how to take advantage of the standards and practices of an organization but not be imprisoned by them. Rohr writes, “You have learned the rules well enough to know how to ‘break the rules properly,’ which is not really to break them at all, but to find their true purpose: ‘not to abolish the law but to complete it.’”

When the behavioral economist Richard Thaler uses the lessons of psychology to improve economic modeling, he is operating just inside the edge of his own discipline and making it better.

The person on the edge of inside is involved in constant change. The true insiders are so deep inside they often get confused by trivia and locked into the status quo. The outsider is throwing bombs and dreaming of far-off transformational revolution. But the person at the doorway is seeing constant comings and goings. As Rohr says, she is involved in a process of perpetual transformation, not a belonging system. She is more interested in being a searcher than a settler.

Insiders and outsiders are threatened by those on the other side of the barrier. But a person on the edge of inside neither idolizes the Us nor demonizes the Them. Such a person sees different groups as partners in a reality that is paradoxical, complementary and unfolding.

There are downsides to being at the edge of inside. You never lose yourself in a full commitment. You may be respected and befriended, but you are not loved as completely as the people at the core, the band of brothers. You enjoy neither the purity of the outsider nor that of the true believer.

But the person on the edge of inside can see reality clearly. The insiders and the outsiders tend to think in dualistic ways: us versus them; this or that. But, as Rohr would say, the beginning of wisdom is to fight the natural tendency to be dualistic; it is to fight the natural ego of the group. The person on the edge of inside is more likely to see wholeness of any situation. To see how us and them, which seem superficially opposed, are actually in complementary relationship within some larger process.

Lincoln could see the divisions between North and South, but in his Second Inaugural he transcended these divisions and saw both North and South as actors and partners in a larger human drama.

When people are afraid or defensive, they have no tolerance for the person at the edge of inside. They want purity, rigid loyalty and lock step unity. But now more than ever we need people who have the courage to live on the edge of inside, who love their parties and organizations so much that they can critique them as a brother, operate on them from the inside as a friend and dauntlessly insist that they live up to their truest selves.

He’s probably one government shut-down from a complete nervous breakdown.  Here’s what “gemli” had to say to him:

“That’s the trouble with these cutesy constructs that oversimplify complicated issues. You can make them say anything you want.

A case in point is Lindsey Graham, who was practically the co-host of Face the Nation for a couple of years doing nothing but attacking Hillary Clinton. If you asked him for the time of day he’d yell “Benghazi!” That wasn’t edge-talk. He was in deep.

And good luck trying to make us think Donald Trump is a Republican outsider. He’s at their true core, the singularity at the center of a black hole of ignorance and denial. He gave birth to the birther movement, the illegitimate offspring of greed and power that sought to undermine the president’s legitimacy.

Now that the G.O.P. has fomented chaos for the past two decades, engaging in ruinous wars, wrecking the economy, and embracing fundamentalist zealots, science deniers and a level of income inequality that would embarrass a banana-republic dictator, David Brooks wants us to leave the chaotic center and move to the edge. Can’t we all just get along?

Brooks helped create the mess we’re in, sneering at those who occupied Wall Street, opposing a higher minimum wage, telling gay people they should go slower in their quest for dignity. Now he drags in the name of Martin Luther King, Jr. as a role model of moderation.

If Republicans had embraced Dr. King when he was alive, they wouldn’t be circling the drain, trying to escape a maelstrom of their own making. Good luck at the center of that.”

Brooks, solo.

June 21, 2016

Oh, gawd…  Bobo’s been out and about in America and he’s reporting back to us.  Happy, happy, joy, joy!  In “A Nation of Healers” he babbles that even from the hardest places to live there are upbeat dispatches.  (Mr. Kristof had a column too, but I’ll get to him tomorrow.  Today is Bobo’s turn to “shine.”)  Followed by a comment from the invaluable “gemli” from Boston.  Here, FSM help us all, is Bobo:

I’ve been traveling around to the most economically stressed parts of this country.

You see a lot of dislocation on a trip like this. In New Mexico, for example, I met some kids who lost their parents — to drugs, death, deportation or something else.

They get run through a bunch of systems, including homeless shelter, foster care, mental health and often juvenile justice. They’re like any kids — they turn hungrily to any beam of friendship. But for these kids, life has been a series of temporary stops at impersonal places. They sometimes have only the vaguest idea where they are going next month. “I’m going back into the foster care system,” one teenager told me, without affect either way.

You meet people who are uncomfortable with the basics of the modern economy.

I met a woman in West Virginia who had just learned, to great relief, that she didn’t have to give an anticipated speech at church. “We’re not word people,” she explained. Those words hang in the air. A lot of wonderful people speak through acts of service, but it’s hard to thrive in the information age if you don’t feel comfortable with verbal communication.

You see the ravages of drugs everywhere. I ran into a guy in Pittsburgh who hires people for his small plant. He has to give them drug tests because they’re operating heavy equipment. If he pulls in 100 possible hires, most of them either fail the drug test or don’t show up for it because they know they will fail.

But this kind of tour is mostly uplifting, not depressing. Let me just describe two people I met on Saturday in Albuquerque.

At the New Day Youth and Family Services program I was introduced to an 18-year-old woman who’d been born to heroin and meth addicts. She’d spent her early girlhood riding along as they trafficked drugs from Mexico. When they were unable to take care of her, she cycled through other homes where she was physically abused. She fell into relationships with men who mistreated her, was hounded in school for being (supposedly) obese and was sent to psych wards for depression.

Yet this woman glows with joy and good cheer. She’d built a family out of her friendships. She’d completed high school, learned to express her moods through poetry and novellas, found a place to live through New Day’s Transitional Living Program, found a job and had plans to go to community college.

I have no idea how a person this beautiful can emerge from a past that hard, and yet you meet people like this all the time. Their portion of good luck may have been small, but their capacity for gratitude is infinite.

Earlier in the day I’d met Jade Bock. When she was 17, Bock lost her father to a workplace accident. Now she’s found her calling directing the Children’s Grief Center.

This is a center for kids who, given the stress and poverty all around, have often lost their fathers to suicide, drugs or accidents.

The young kids are anxious about who is going to die next. They don’t really understand what death is and wonder if their loved one is going to be wet and cold if it’s raining on his grave.

The older kids are sometimes trapped in magical thinking: Maybe if I’d gotten better grades, he wouldn’t be gone. Sometimes they will start dressing, talking and acting like the deceased.

Many teenagers don’t want the other kids in school to know, so they go through life as if nothing is wrong. Then three years later when they suffer some breakup or setback, it all comes barreling out because it hasn’t been processed up until now.

Along with a hundred other volunteers and staff members, Bock gets these kids to process their grief. She sits with them in group after group, tender but in a realistic no-nonsense sort of way. She’ll cry and be present, but she won’t let you escape the task of moving through it. If it’s mentionable it’s manageable. Pain that is not transformed is transmitted.

The social fabric is tearing across this country, but everywhere it seems healers are rising up to repair their small piece of it. They are going into hollow places and creating community, building intimate relationships that change lives one by one.

I know everybody’s in a bad mood about the country. But the more time you spend in the hardest places, the more amazed you become. There’s some movement arising that is suspicious of consumerism but is not socialist. It’s suspicious of impersonal state systems but is not libertarian. It believes in the small moments of connection.

I remember watching an after-school counselor in Texas sitting in a circle of little girls who had nowhere else to go. She offered them a tongue twister: “O.K.,” she said chirpily, “who can say ‘Unique New York’ six times fast?”

Lord God above, but he’s insufferable.  Here’s what “gemli” had to say:

“Yes, it’s fun to visit the poverty zoo. Some of the little ones are so cute. They scamper around, clearly uncomfortable with the basics of the modern economy, buy they delight us in the way they clamber over the obstacles of broken families, poverty, drug abuse and lack of basic needs. Darn if some of them don’t actually manage to eke out a meager existence.

Sometimes, amid the millions who don’t make it, you’ll meet a one or two people in Albuquerque who will make your day. In a grim, soulless world that makes drug addiction commonplace and yet a crime, it’s a treat to see the few who somehow manage to get through the gauntlet.

Fortunately, there are local community volunteers to deal with crushing childhood anxiety, depression and unprocessed grief. Sure, it’s hit or miss, but if not for those volunteers, government would have to step in and provide actual social services and qualified counselors.

It’s good that we look for small moments of connection. The alternative would involve reining in rampant unfettered capitalism, and asking the poor, put-upon 0.1 percent to pony up a few bucks to save children’s lives.

Little girls in Texas with nowhere else to go will sit in a circle and get tongue twisters instead of sex education. With no access to family planning services, they’ll have lots of unwanted babies who will then sit in other circles, and around and around it goes.

Who can say Rubber Republican Baby Buggy Bumpers six times real fast?”

Brooks, Cohen, and Krugman

June 17, 2016

In “Religion’s Wicked Neighbor” Bobo gurgles that terrorism isn’t central to Islam, and terrorists aren’t practicing religion.  In the comments “Don Shipp” from Homestead, FL had this to say:  “David Brooks is misrepresenting Obama’s position. He is not “asserting that Islamist terrorism has nothing to do with Islam”. He is simply saying that by avoiding its usage he is preventing his words from being conflated by extremists to apply to all of Islam. Most devoutly religious people and Republicans don’t do verbal nuance, they do dogma, distortion, and demonization.”  Mr. Cohen says “Brexit Would Be a Colossal Blunder” and that a British vote to leave would be a colossal risk to no good end.  In “Fear, Loathing and Brexit” Prof. Krugman says Britons have a choice between bad and worse.  Here’s Bobo:

Barack Obama is clearly wrong when he refuses to use the word “Islam” in reference to Islamist terrorism. The people who commit these acts are inflamed by a version of an Islamist ideology. They claim an Islamist identity. They swear fealty to organizations like ISIS that govern themselves according to certain interpretations of the Quran.

As Peter Bergen writes in his book “The United States of Jihad,” “Assertions that Islamist terrorism has nothing to do with Islam are as nonsensical as claims that the Crusades had nothing to do with Christian beliefs about the sanctity of Jerusalem.”

On the other hand, Donald Trump is abhorrently wrong in implying that these attacks are central to Islam. His attempt to ban Muslim immigration is an act of bigotry (applying the sins of the few to the whole group), which is sure to incite more terrorism. His implication that we are in a clash of civilizations is an insult to those Muslims who have risked and lost their lives in the fight against ISIS and the Taliban.

The problem is that these two wrongs are feeding off each other. Obama is using language to engineer a reaction rather than to tell the truth, which is the definition of propaganda. Most world leaders talk about Islamist terror, but Obama apparently thinks that if he uses the phrase “Islamic radicalism” the rest of us will be too dim to be able to distinguish between the terrorists and the millions of good-hearted Muslims who want only to live in fellowship and peace.

Worst of all, his decision to dance around an unpleasant reality is part of the enveloping cloud of political correctness that drives people to Donald Trump. Millions of Americans feel they can’t say what they think, or even entertain views outside the boundaries laid down by elites, and so are drawn to the guy who rails against taboos and says what he believes.

The fact is that 15 years after 9/11 we still haven’t arrived at a true understanding of our enemy. How much is religion involved in jihadism, or psychology, or politics?

And the core of our confusion is that we are unclear about what a religion is, and how it might relate to violence sometimes carried out in its name.

For clarity on that question, it helps to start with William James’s classic work, “The Varieties of Religious Experience.” In that book, James distinguishes between various religious experiences and “religion’s wicked practical partner, the spirit of corporate dominion, and religion’s wicked intellectual partner, the spirit of dogmatic dominion, the passion for laying down the law.”

In other words, there is the spirit of religion and, frequently accompanying it, its wicked neighbors, the spirit of political and intellectual dominion.

It seems blindingly obvious to say, but the spirit of religion begins with a sense that God exists. God is the primary reality, and out of that flows a set of values and experiences: prayer, praise, charity, contrition, grace and the desire to grow closer toward holiness. Sincere faith begins with humility in relation to the Almighty and a sense of being strengthened by his infinite love.

In some sense the phrase “Islamic radicalism” is wrong because terrorism is not a radical extension of this kind of faith. People don’t start out with this kind of faith and then turn into terrorists because they became more faithful.

The spirit of dominion, on the other hand, does not start with an awareness of God. It starts with a sense of injury and a desire to heal injury through revenge and domination.

For the terrorist, a sense of humiliation is the primary reality. Terrorism emerges from a psychic state, not a spiritual one. This turns into a grievance, the belief that some external enemy is the cause of this injury, rather than some internal weakness.

This then leads to what the forensic psychologist Reid Meloy calls “vicarious identification” — the moral outrage that comes from the belief that my victimization is connected to the larger victimization of my group.

It’s only at this point in the pathway that religion enters the picture, or rather an absolutist, all-explaining political ideology that is the weed that grows up next to religion. Bin Ladinism explains all of history, and gives the injured a course of action that will make them feel grandiose and heroic. It is the human impulse for dominance and revenge that borrows righteous garb.

For the religious person it’s about God. For the terrorist, it’s about himself. When Omar Mateen was in the midst of his rampage, he was posting on Facebook and calling a TV station. His audience was us, not the Divine.

Omar Mateen wanted us to think he was martyring himself in the name of holiness. He was actually a sad loser obliterating himself for the sake of revenge.

Next up we have Mr. Cohen, writing from Bari, Italy:

The prospect that Britain might next week commit an act of national folly by voting to leave the European Union has politicians throughout Europe alarmed. Integration has been the Continent’s leitmotif for more than six decades. Fracture would suddenly be underway. And what would be left?

“If a British withdrawal were seen by Germany as opening the way to govern Europe as a Germanic federation, the European Union will fall apart,” Michele Emiliano, the president of the southern Puglia region, told me in an interview. “Europe can only function as a union of equal states. Under German dominion, it would contain the genes of its dissolution.”

Germany has already become what the postwar strategic architecture of Europe was designed to prevent: the Continent’s most powerful nation. But Britain, through the size of its economy, has played an offsetting role. Absent Britain, Germany would loom larger still, a source of alarm to the economically weaker Mediterranean states.

Postwar Italy was fragile, torn between the West and Communism, between “scaling the Alps” and succumbing to the Mafia-suffused inertia of the south, or mezzogiorno. European Union membership was the country’s anchor and magnet, securing it in the free and democratic Western family, luring it toward prosperity. Now that role is played most conspicuously for newer members of the union. But its importance persists.

Emiliano, a former mafia-combating public prosecutor, heads a region that is its own tribute to the union’s quiet miracles. Puglia, long a languishing part of the chronically underdeveloped south, is now an area of fast-growing industry and tourism, the poster child of the generally depressed mezzogiorno. Like other outlying regions of the E.U., it has been slowly tugged through stability toward the living standards of the European core.

In a Facebook post, Martin Fletcher, a former foreign editor of The Times of London, put these European Union achievements well. “Contrary to the cartoon caricature of the E.U. we read about in the national press,” he wrote, the union “has cemented peace in Europe. It allows younger generations to live and work anywhere in Europe in a way my generation could only dream about. It has vastly simplified travel across the Continent. It has brought Eastern Europe into the family of free, democratic nations after decades of Soviet control. It has broken up powerful monopolies and cartels in a way national governments acting alone could not. It has forced member states to clean up the environment.”

He continued: “We would be willfully removing ourselves from a single market of 500 million people without the faintest idea whether, or on what terms, we would be allowed to continue trading with 27 E.U. states who would want to punish us. Why on earth would we take such a monumental risk?”

The answer is that this huge gamble would be taken for the chimera of restored “sovereignty.” It would reflect petulant nationalism, base bigotry and laughable little England pretensions. Fletcher expressed the reality behind all this with laconic bluntness: “As a single country we would have minimal influence on world affairs. Does anyone seriously think the prospect of British sanctions would alarm Vladimir Putin, or have persuaded Iran to curtail its nuclear program?”

The European Union has significant failings, many of them precipitated by the sudden end of the Cold War, the reach to embrace states formerly enslaved in Moscow’s imperium, and the flawed attempt to contain a united Germany by integrating it into a common currency called the euro. It is, as an overarching European structure, short on democracy and long on bureaucracy. But, as Italy’s postwar development demonstrates, its achievements far outweigh its problems, which Britain could play a leading role in addressing.

“Politics is about seizing the moment, interpreting what history has given you the responsibility to do,” Emiliano told me. “Thanks to the Americans who landed on Sicilian beaches, I have the freedom to speak and you the freedom to write. I never forget this. If politics is not about respecting the past to secure the future, it is merely a mirror you gaze in, a form of narcissism.”

Such narcissism is rampant in Britain and America these days. For Britain to succumb to its delusions and leave the union would be a colossal blunder of historic proportions.

When in Italy, I often think of my late uncle, Bert Cohen, who, as an officer of the 6th South African Armored Division, 19th Field Ambulance, fought the entire Italian campaign, moving up the peninsula from south to north. After the Allied victory, he visited Berchtesgaden in the Bavarian Alps, on September 2, 1945, and went up to Hitler’s mountain retreat, the Eagle’s Nest. He etched his name on the Führer’s table.

What sweet retribution to have “Cohen” inscribed there!

Later, he made his life in Britain — the home of a freedom that, to him, was not insular but European and universal. To vote out would also betray that inscription and all it stands for.

And now here’s Prof. Krugman:

There are still four and a half months to go before the presidential election. But there’s a vote next week that could matter as much for the world’s future as what happens here: Britain’s referendum on whether to stay in the European Union.

Unfortunately, this vote is a choice between bad and worse — and the question is which is which.

Not to be coy: I would vote Remain. I’d do it in full awareness that the E.U. is deeply dysfunctional and shows few signs of reforming. But British exit — Brexit — would probably make things worse, not just for Britain, but for Europe as a whole.

The straight economics is clear: Brexit would make Britain poorer. It wouldn’t necessarily lead to a trade war, but it would definitely hurt British trade with the rest of Europe, reducing productivity and incomes. My rough calculations, which are in line with other estimates, suggest that Britain would end up about two percent poorer than it would otherwise be, essentially forever. That’s a big hit.

There’s also a harder to quantify risk that Brexit would undermine the City of London — Britain’s counterpart of Wall Street — which is a big source of exports and income. So the costs could be substantially bigger.

What about warnings that a Leave vote would provoke a financial crisis? That’s a fear too far. Britain isn’t Greece: It has its own currency and borrows in that currency, so it’s not at risk of a run that creates monetary chaos. In recent weeks the odds of a Leave vote have clearly risen, but British interest rates have gone down, not up, tracking the global decline in yields.

Still, as an economic matter Brexit looks like a bad idea.

True, some Brexit advocates claim that leaving the E.U. would free Britain to do wonderful things — to deregulate and unleash the magic of markets, leading to explosive growth. Sorry, but that’s just voodoo wrapped in a Union Jack; it’s the same free-market fantasy that has always and everywhere proved delusional.

No, the economic case is as solid as such cases ever get. Why, then, my downbeat tone about Remain?

Part of the answer is that the impacts of Brexit would be uneven: London and southeast England would be hit hard, but Brexit would probably mean a weaker pound, which might actually help some of the old manufacturing regions of the north.

More important, however, is the sad reality of the E.U. that Britain might leave.

The so-called European project began more than 60 years ago, and for many years it was a tremendous force for good. It didn’t only promote trade and help economic growth; it was also a bulwark of peace and democracy in a continent with a terrible history.

But today’s E.U. is the land of the euro, a major mistake compounded by Germany’s insistence on turning the crisis the single currency wrought into a morality play of sins (by other people, of course) that must be paid for with crippling budget cuts. Britain had the good sense to keep its pound, but it’s not insulated from other problems of European overreach, notably the establishment of free migration without a shared government.

You can argue that the problems caused by, say, Romanians using the National Health Service are exaggerated, and that the benefits of immigration greatly outweigh these costs. But that’s a hard argument to make to a public frustrated by cuts in public services — especially when the credibility of pro-E.U. experts is so low.

For that is the most frustrating thing about the E.U.: Nobody ever seems to acknowledge or learn from mistakes. If there’s any soul-searching in Brussels or Berlin about Europe’s terrible economic performance since 2008, it’s very hard to find. And I feel some sympathy with Britons who just don’t want to be tied to a system that offers so little accountability, even if leaving is economically costly.

The question, however, is whether a British vote to leave would make anything better. It could serve as a salutary shock that finally jolts European elites out of their complacency and leads to reform. But I fear that it would actually make things worse. The E.U.’s failures have produced a frightening rise in reactionary, racist nationalism — but Brexit would, all too probably, empower those forces even more, both in Britain and all across the Continent.

Obviously I could be wrong about these political consequences. But it’s also possible that my despair over European reform is exaggerated. And here’s the thing: As Oxford’s Simon Wren-Lewis points out, Britain will still have the option to leave the E.U. someday if it votes Remain now, but Leave will be effectively irreversible. You have to be really, really sure that Europe is unfixable to support Brexit.

So I’d vote Remain. There would be no joy in that vote. But a choice must be made, and that’s where I’d come down.


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