Archive for the ‘Krugman’ Category

Blow and Krugman

November 23, 2015

In “Anti-Muslim Is Anti-American” Mr. Blow says demonizing a single religion is a slippery slope, with the danger of hateful acts getting progressively worse.  Oh, they will, Charles, they will…  Prof. Krugman, in “Health Reform Lives!”, says there has been some negative news lately about Obamacare, but it is still a big success story.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

There seems to be no bottom to the cesspool of Islamophobic rhetoric coming from Republican candidates.

The tone of anti-Muslim musings post-Paris attack has become so poisonous that it cannot portend anything positive.

In the latest, the Republican front-runner said the United States would have “absolutely no choice” but to close some mosques. And, when asked by a reporter, he seemed to suggest he wouldn’t have a problem registering Muslims, which many have condemned, comparing it to the way Jews were once treated. (After heavy bipartisan criticism, he tried to walk back his remarks about the registry.)

And then Dr. Ben Carson drew a tortured parallel between Syrian refugees, who are mostly Muslim, and “a rabid dog running around your neighborhood.”

Robert McCaw, spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations,told Al Jazeera that Carson’s remarks were “unthinkable,” saying, “There is only one thing you do with a rabid dog — and that’s put it down.”

Indeed, this is the problem with reckless, racist rhetoric: Each utterance tosses one more log onto the bonfire that can burn out a space for the unimaginable.

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. warned in his 1967 “The Other America” speech: “Racism is evil because its ultimate logic is genocide.” As King put it:

“If one says that I am not good enough to live next door to him; if one says that I am not good enough to eat at a lunch counter, or to have a good, decent job, or to go to school with him merely because of my race, he is saying consciously or unconsciously that I do not deserve to exist.”

Whereas these candidates may not be conscious of this “ultimate logic” or in any way approve of it, it doesn’t make their language any less dangerous when it lands on the ears of the minorities on the margins, or those looking for a reason to gussy up their wrongheadedness with righteousness.

A 2013 Carnegie Mellon University study “found that in the most Republican states in the country, employers may be less likely to interview job candidates whose social networking profiles indicate that the applicants are Muslim,” according to Pew.

As Pew explained:

“In the 10 states with the highest proportion of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney voters in the 2012 election, 17 percent of Christian applicants received interview calls, compared with 2 percent of the Muslim job candidates. There were no differences in callbacks received by the Christian and Muslim candidates in the 10 states with the lowest proportion of Romney voters.”

Late last month, Lawrence Downes reported on a poll in a red state with this caveat:

“It’s just one poll in one Southern state, North Carolina, by one polling outfit (Public Policy Polling, or PPP) with Democratic Party ties, asking questions of a few hundred Republican primary voters.”

“But still,” Downes continued, these were the results: 72 percent believed a Muslim should not be allowed to be president of the United States, and 40 percent believed that Islam should be illegal in this country.

It is no wonder, then, that a 2011 Pew Research Center Muslim American survey found that just 11 percent of Muslims identify with or lean toward Republicans, while 70 percent do likewise for Democrats.

Furthermore, a 2013 paper co-published by the Center for American Progress and the New York University School of Law’s Brennan Center for Justice found:

“A troubling trend is quickly developing in state legislatures across the country: In a thinly concealed attempt to inflame anti-Muslim attitudes, lawmakers in 32 states have moved to ban foreign or international law. The bans are based on model legislation designed by anti-Muslim activist David Yerushalmi and promoted by activists who have stirred up fears that Islamic laws and customs — commonly referred to as ‘Sharia’ — are taking over American courts. Although proponents of these bans have failed to cite a single instance where a U.S. court has relied on Sharia to resolve a dispute, foreign law bans have been enacted in Oklahoma, Kansas, Louisiana, Tennessee, and Arizona, while a related ban on religious law has been enacted in South Dakota.”

As the ACLU has written of these laws:

“Efforts to single out Muslims and to advance the ugly idea that anything Islamic is un-American are unjust and discriminatory and should be rejected. Laws that single out Sharia violate the First Amendment by treating one belief system as suspect.”

This demonizing a single religious faith is a slippery slope. It feeds something that is at odds with the most noble ambition of this country’s better angels: equality.

The 2011 Pew survey found that among Muslim Americans: “Significant numbers report being looked at with suspicion (28 percent), and being called offensive names (22 percent). And while 21 percent report being singled out by airport security, 13 percent say they have been singled out by other law enforcement. Overall, a 52 percent majority says that government antiterrorism policies single out Muslims in the U.S. for increased surveillance and monitoring.”

We must put a lid on this corrosive language. Simply put, being specifically anti-Muslim is, in a way, anti-American.

Now here’s Prof. Krugman:

To the right’s dismay, scare tactics — remember death panels? — and spurious legal challenges failed to protect the nation from the scourge of guaranteed health coverage. Still, Obamacare’s opponents insisted that it would implode in a “death spiral” of low enrollment and rising costs.

But the law’s first two years of full implementation went remarkably well. The number of uninsured Americans dropped sharply, roughly in line with projections, while costs came in well below expectations. Opponents of reform could have reconsidered their position — but that hardly ever happens in modern politics. Instead, they doubled down on their forecasts of doom, and hyped every hint of bad news.

I mention all of this to give you some perspective on recent developments that mark a break in the string of positive surprises. Yes, Obamacare has hit a few rough patches lately. But they’re much less significant than a lot of the reporting, let alone the right-wing reaction, would have you believe. Health reform is still a huge success story.

Obamacare seeks to cover the uninsured through two channels. Lower-income Americans are covered via a federally-funded expansion of Medicaid, which was supposed to be nationwide but has been rejected in many Republican-controlled states. Everyone else has access to policies sold by private insurers who cannot discriminate based on medical history; these policies are supposed to be made affordable by subsidies that depend on your income.

Nobody ever expected Obamacare to cover all the uninsured. In fact, Congressional Budget Office projections made in 2013 suggested that about 10 percent of nonelderly U.S. residents would remain uncovered: some because they are undocumented immigrants, some because of the gap created by red-state Medicaid rejection and some because they would fall through the cracks of a complicated system. But the law was nonetheless projected to produce a sharp reduction in the number of Americans without insurance, and it has, especially in states like California that have tried to make it work.

Meanwhile, both insurance premiums and the cost of subsidies designed to make them affordable came in far below expectations in both 2014 and 2015.

Sooner or later, of course, there were bound to be some negative surprises. And we’re now, finally, getting a bit of bad, or at least not-great, news about health reform.

First, premiums are going up for next year, because insurers are finding that their risk pool is somewhat sicker and hence more expensive than they expected. There’s a lot of variation across states, but the average increase will be around 11 percent. That’s a slight disappointment, but it’s not shocking, given both the good news of the previous two years and the long-term tendency of insurance premiums to rise 5-10 percent a year.

Second, some Americans who bought low-cost insurance plans have been unpleasantly surprised by high deductibles. This is a real issue, but it shouldn’t be exaggerated. All allowed plans cover preventive services without a deductible, and many plans cover other health services as well. Furthermore, additional financial aid is available to lower-income families to help cover such gaps. Some people may not know about these mitigating factors — that’s the problem with a fairly complex system — but awareness should improve over time.

Finally, UnitedHealth Group made a splash by announcing that it is losing money on the policies it sells on the Obamacare exchanges, and is considering withdrawing from the market after next year. There were some puzzling things about the announcement, leading to speculation about ulterior motives, but the main thing to realize is that UnitedHealth, while a huge provider of employment-based insurance, is actually a fairly small player in this market, and that other players are sounding much more positive.

Oh, and official projections now say that fewer people will enroll in those exchanges than previously predicted. But the main reason is that surprisingly few employers are dropping coverage; overall projections for the number of uninsured Americans still look pretty good.

So where does that leave us? Without question, the run of unexpectedly good news for Obamacare has come to an end, as all such runs must. And look, we’re talking about a brand-new system in which everyone is still learning how to function. There were bound to be some bobbles along the way.

But are we looking at the beginnings of a death spiral? Some people are indeed saying that, but as far as I can tell, they’re all people who have been predicting disaster every step of the way, and will still be predicting imminent collapse a decade from now.

The reality is that Obamacare is an imperfect system, but it’s workable — and it’s working.

Brooks and Krugman

November 20, 2015

Yowzah…  All bets are off…  In “Hillary Clinton Takes On ISIS” Bobo says she just became the first of the presidential candidates to put forward a comprehensive, mature plan to fight ISIS and Assad.  In the comments “gemli” from Boston had this to say:  “When David Brooks starts praising Hillary Clinton over the Republicans he’s devoted his life to supporting, you know we’re in uncharted territory. Normal rules of engagement don’t apply.”  In “The Farce Awakens” Prof. Krugman says Republicans’ panic over Syrian refugees fits a pattern.  Here’s Bobo:

This week we had a chance to watch Hillary Clinton respond in real time to a complex foreign policy challenge. On Thursday, six days after the Paris attacks, she gave a comprehensive antiterrorism speech at the Council on Foreign Relations.

The speech was very impressive. While other candidates are content to issue vague calls to get tough on terror, Clinton offered a multilayered but coherent framework, not only dealing with ISIS but also putting that threat within the crosscutting conflicts that are inflaming the Middle East.

For example, instead of just issuing a generic call to get tough on the terrorists, she pointed to the reality that ISIS will be toppled only if there is an uprising by fellow Sunnis. There has to be a Sunni Awakening against ISIS in 2016, like the Sunni Awakening that toppled Al Qaeda in Iraq starting in 2007.

That will not happen while President Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria is spreading mayhem, terror and genocide. As long as they find themselves in the grips of a horrific civil war, even sensible Sunnis will feel that they need ISIS as a counterpoint to the butchery coming out of Damascus.

Clinton therefore gestured to the reality that you can’t really deal with ISIS unless you are also willing to deal with Assad. Assad is not some secondary threat who we can deal with after we’ve tamed the ISIS monster. Assad created the failed state and the power vacuum that ISIS was able to fill. Assad serves as chief recruiter for ISIS every time he drops a barrel bomb on a school or a market. Assad, as Clinton pointed out, has murdered even more Syrians than ISIS has.

Dealing with both Assad and ISIS simultaneously throws you into the bitter and complex jockeying between Sunni and Shiite, between Iran and Saudi Arabia. It puts pressure on your Ukraine policy (Vladimir Putin will want concessions as a price for backing off his aggression in the Middle East). Everything is connected. Which is why the presidency is for grown-ups, not rank outsiders.

Some of Clinton’s specific prescriptions were a little too limited and Obamaesque for my taste (she didn’t even call for more American Special Operations forces to improve the bombing campaigns, though she said she would be open to it). But she is thoughtful and instructive on both the big picture and the right way forward. She seems to understand that if we end up allying with Russia in a common fight against terrorism, we will end up preserving Assad, preserving ISIS and making everything worse.

Some Republicans have stained themselves with refugee xenophobia, but there’s a bigger story here: For a time, the Middle East was held together by Arab nation-states and a belief in Arab nationalisms. Recently Arab nationalisms have withered and Arab nation-states have begun to dissolve from their own decrepitude.

Along comes ISIS filling that vacuum and trying to destroy what’s left of Arab nations. ISIS dreams of a caliphate. It erases borders. It destroys order.

The Arab nation-states were not great. But the nation-state system did preserve a certain order. National identities and boundaries enabled Sunnis and Shiites to live together peaceably. If nations go away in the region we’ll get a sectarian war of all against all, radiating terrorism like we’ve never seen.

The grand strategy of American policy in the Middle East, therefore, should be to do what we can to revive and reform Arab nations, to help them become functioning governing units.

That means confronting the forces that thrive in failed states. That begins with stepped-up military pressure on ISIS. Max Boot of the Council on Foreign Relations proposes a campaign like the one that allowed the Northern Alliance to overthrow the Taliban after 9/11 — a light footprint campaign using Special Operations forces and C.I.A. paramilitaries to direct allied bombing in support of locals on the ground. Once life becomes a miserable grind for ISIS soldiers, recruiting will suffer.

But it also means going hard on Assad, creating no-fly zones for sanctuaries for Syrian refugees to limit his power, ratcheting up pressure on Iran and Russia to force his departure. And it also means supporting institutional reform, as Clinton said, throughout the Arab world, to revitalize nations as functioning units. Not an unsustainable stab at nation-building, but better governance from top to bottom.

Before Paris it was possible to argue that time was on our side, that we could sit back and let ISIS collapse under the weight of its own craziness. The Paris attacks refuted that. ISIS is becoming an ever more aggressive threat. The F.B.I. already has over 900 active Islamic State investigations ongoing. Lord knows what sort of biological or other weapons the group can get its hands on.

Candidate Clinton laid out a supple and sophisticated approach. The next president will have to provide the action.

Okay.  We’re officially down the rabbit hole.  Here’s Prof. Krugman:

Erick Erickson, the editor in chief of the website, is a serious power in right-wing circles. Speechifying at RedState’s annual gathering is a rite of passage for aspiring Republican politicians, and Mr. Erickson made headlines this year when he disinvited Donald Trump from the festivities.

So it’s worth paying attention to what Mr. Erickson says. And as you might guess, he doesn’t think highly of President Obama’s antiterrorism policies.

Still, his response to the attack in Paris was a bit startling. The French themselves are making a point of staying calm, indeed of going out to cafesto show that they refuse to be intimidated. But Mr. Erickson declared on his website that he won’t be going to see the new “Star Wars” movie on opening day, because “there are no metal detectors at American theaters.”

It’s a bizarre reaction — but when you think about it, it’s part of a larger pattern. These days, panic attacks after something bad happens are the rule rather than the exception, at least on one side of the political divide.

Consider first the reaction to the Paris attacks. Lightsabers aside, are Mr. Erickson’s fears any sillier than those of the dozens of governors — almost all Republicans — who want to ban Syrian refugees from their states?

Mr. Obama certainly thinks they’re being ridiculous; he mocked politicians who claim that they’re so tough that they could stare down America’s enemies, but are “scared of widows and orphans.” (He was probably talking in particular about Chris Christie, who has said that he even wants to ban young children.) Again, the contrast with France, where President François Hollande has reaffirmed the nation’s willingness to take in refugees, is striking.

And it’s pretty hard to find anyone on that side of the aisle, even among seemingly respectable voices, showing the slightest hint of perspective. Jeb Bush, the erstwhile establishment candidate, wants to clamp down on accepting refugees unless “you can prove you’re a Christian.” The historian Niall Ferguson, a right-wing favorite, says the Paris attacks were exactly like the sack of Rome by the Goths. Hmm: Were ancient Romans back in the cafes a few days later?

But we shouldn’t really be surprised, because we’ve seen this movie before (unless we were too scared to go to the theater). Remember the great Ebola scare of 2014? The threat of a pandemic, like the threat of a terrorist attack, was real. But it was greatly exaggerated, thanks in large part to hype from the same people now hyping the terrorist danger.

What’s more, the supposed “solutions” were similar, too, in their combination of cruelty and stupidity. Does anyone remember Mr. Trump declaring that “the plague will start and spread” in America unless we immediately stopped all plane flights from infected countries? Or the fact that Mitt Romney took a similar position? As it turned out, public health officials knew what they were doing, and Ebola quickly came under control — but it’s unlikely that anyone on the right learned from the experience.

What explains the modern right’s propensity for panic? Part of it, no doubt, is the familiar point that many bullies are also cowards. But I think it’s also linked to the apocalyptic mind-set that has developed among Republicans during the Obama years.

Think about it. From the day Mr. Obama took office, his political foes have warned about imminent catastrophe. Fiscal crisis! Hyperinflation! Economic collapse, brought on by the scourge of health insurance! And nobody on the right dares point out the failure of the promised disasters to materialize, or suggest a more nuanced approach.

Given this context, it’s only natural that the right would seize on a terrorist attack in France as proof that Mr. Obama has left America undefended and vulnerable. Ted Cruz, who has a real chance of becoming the Republican nominee, goes so far as to declare that the president “does not wish to defend this country.”

The context also explains why Beltway insiders were so foolish when they imagined that the Paris attacks would deflate Donald Trump’s candidacy, that Republican voters would turn to establishment candidates who are serious about national security.

Who, exactly, are these serious candidates? And why would the establishment, which has spent years encouraging the base to indulge its fears and reject nuance, now expect that base to understand the difference between tough talk and actual effectiveness?

Sure enough, polling since the Paris attack suggests that Mr. Trump has actually gained ground.

The point is that at this point panic is what the right is all about, and the Republican nomination will go to whoever can most effectively channel that panic. Will the same hold true in the general election? Stay tuned.

All they’ve got to peddle at this point is pants-piddling panic.  And the mindless Faux Noise watching knuckle walkers eat it up with a spoon.

Blow and Krugman

November 16, 2015

In “Race, College and Safe Space” Mr. Blow says there is a place for black racial sanctuaries, just as there is a right to combat racism itself.  Prof. Krugman, in “Fearing Fear Itself,” says Terrorists won’t bring down Western civilization, and the tradeoffs we make to counter it should not include giving in to the panic they hope to create.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

Before there were the Paris terror attacks that changed everything and the second Democratic presidential debate that changed nothing, much of America had been transfixed by the scene playing out on college campuses across the country: black students and their allies demanding an insulation from racial hostility, full inclusion and administrative responsiveness.

There was a part of the debate around those protests that I have not been able to release other than by writing here, one step off the news, but hopefully in step with the history of this moment.

Last week I heard artist Ebony G. Patterson talking about the black body as a “site of contention,” and that phrase stuck with me, because it seemed to be revelatory in its simplicity, and above all, true.

Black bodies are a battlefield: black folks fight to defend them as external forces fight to destroy them; black folks dare to see the beauty in them as external forces condemn and curse them.

Or worse, most insidiously, black folk try to calibrate their bodies to avoid injury.

All my life I have noticed black people, particularly elderly ones, subconsciously turtle down their necks between their shoulders or bubble up their personas beyond their comfort to countervail a perception, to set white folks at ease, to allay some ill-conceived fear.

The ultimate offense of it all — the contorting of body and behavior to offset the deficit in another. There is a spiritual injustice in the adjustment.

But now young black folks are refusing alteration or the mollification of conformity and are simply demanding justice.

There is now an implacable yearning for society to acknowledge anti-black racism and the oppressive forces it has generated and maintained — historical ones and present ones — and to work towards a culture in which those forces are blunted, or better, dismantled.

The time of placidity is at an end. This is a new moment, a loud, disruptive one.

Even black athletes, at least at the University of Missouri, are forcing power structures to bend to monetary pressure when moral pressure alone was not sufficient. The only question remaining is whether these emerging young activists have the endurance to stick with it until the work is done.

Urgency takes on another property, elasticity, when it is draped over time that is in no hurry, time that encompasses both the moment and the ages. Battles for social justice are more often counted in decades than days, and there are many little-noticed skirmishes before the grand battle. But a morally inviolable objective, like equality, is as deep as time is long.

There will be missteps, tactical errors, assailable symbols and an army of detractors and fickle allies ready to seize upon each and exploit them.

For instance, it was not wise or right for student protesters and a faculty supporter at Missouri to try and establish a private space, a media-free safe space, on a public one.

Indeed, public justice advocates have often used media exposure to great advantage in their struggles.

However, one must condemn the forces of anti-black oppression just as vociferously as one condemns black people’s responses to those forces, including when those responses extend beyond the boundaries of social acceptability and decorous propriety. Otherwise, one’s qualms are an overture to pacification and the propping up of the status quo.

You can’t condemn the unseemly howl and not the lash.

Furthermore, I fully understand the desire for safe spaces, for racial sanctuary, particularly in times of racial trauma. I have always had these safe spaces, not by black design, but as a byproduct of white racism.

I grew up in the rural South when racial segregation was no longer the law, but remained the norm. I have gone to predominately black schools most of my life, schools that began so or became so because of white people’s deep desire to resist racial commingling. But what was born of hate, black folks infused with pride and anointed with value.

There existed for me a virtual archipelago of racial sanctuaries, places — communities, churches, schools — where I could be insulated from the racial scarring that intimate proximity to racial hostility can produce.

That is, I assume, what these students want as well.

In Henry Louis Gates Jr.’s foreword to Harvard professor emeritus Martin Kilson’s American Book Award-winning 2014 book, Transformation of the African American Intelligentsia, 1880-2012, Gates quotes an interview that Kilson gave The Crimson in 1964. Kilson said: “I suppose we’re looking for a new Negro identity, a psychological process, which has its roots in a broader Negro community.” Kilson continued, “It’s true that Negroes, like anyone else, prize individuality. But the thing the compulsive liberal can’t understand is that we also like to swing together. You know, like we did in my good father’s church back home.”

At no time is swinging together more important than when the death threats start to come and media vultures start to circle.

And now here’s Prof. Krugman:

Like millions of people, I’ve been obsessively following the news from Paris, putting aside other things to focus on the horror. It’s the natural human reaction. But let’s be clear: it’s also the reaction the terrorists want. And that’s something not everyone seems to understand.

Take, for example, Jeb Bush’s declaration that “this is an organized attempt to destroy Western civilization.” No, it isn’t. It’s an organized attempt to sow panic, which isn’t at all the same thing. And remarks like that, which blur that distinction and make terrorists seem more powerful than they are, just help the jihadists’ cause.

Think, for a moment, about what France is and what it represents. It has its problems — what nation doesn’t? — but it’s a robust democracy with a deep well of popular legitimacy. Its defense budget is small compared with ours, but it nonetheless retains a powerful military, and has the resources to make that military much stronger if it chooses. (France’s economy is around 20 times the size of Syria’s.) France is not going to be conquered by ISIS, now or ever. Destroy Western civilization? Not a chance.

So what was Friday’s attack about? Killing random people in restaurants and at concerts is a strategy that reflects its perpetrators’ fundamental weakness. It isn’t going to establish a caliphate in Paris. What it can do, however, is inspire fear — which is why we call it terrorism, and shouldn’t dignify it with the name of war.

The point is not to minimize the horror. It is, instead, to emphasize that the biggest danger terrorism poses to our society comes not from the direct harm inflicted, but from the wrong-headed responses it can inspire. And it’s crucial to realize that there are multiple ways the response can go wrong.

It would certainly be a very bad thing if France or other democracies responded to terrorism with appeasement — if, for example, the French were to withdraw from the international effort against ISIS in the vain hope that jihadists would leave them alone. And I won’t say that there are no would-be appeasers out there; there are indeed some people determined to believe that Western imperialism is the root of all evil, and all would be well if we stopped meddling.

But real-world examples of mainstream politicians, let alone governments, knuckling under to terrorist demands are hard to find. Most accusations of appeasement in America seem to be aimed at liberals who don’t use what conservatives consider tough enough language.

A much bigger risk, in practice, is that the targets of terrorism will try to achieve perfect security by eliminating every conceivable threat — a response that inevitably makes things worse, because it’s a big, complicated world, and even superpowers can’t set everything right. On 9/11 Donald Rumsfeld told his aides: “Sweep it up. Related and not,” and immediately suggested using the attack as an excuse to invade Iraq. The result was a disastrous war that actually empowered terrorists, and set the stage for the rise of ISIS.

And let’s be clear: this wasn’t just a matter of bad judgment. Yes, Virginia, people can and do exploit terrorism for political gain, including using it to justify what they imagine will be a splendid, politically beneficial little war.

Oh, and whatever people like Ted Cruz may imagine, ending our reluctance to kill innocent civilians wouldn’t remove the limits to American power. It would, however, do wonders for terrorist recruitment.

Finally, terrorism is just one of many dangers in the world, and shouldn’t be allowed to divert our attention from other issues. Sorry, conservatives: when President Obama describes climate change as the greatest threat we face, he’s exactly right. Terrorism can’t and won’t destroy our civilization, but global warming could and might.

So what can we say about how to respond to terrorism? Before the atrocities in Paris, the West’s general response involved a mix of policing, precaution, and military action. All involved difficult tradeoffs: surveillance versus privacy, protection versus freedom of movement, denying terrorists safe havens versus the costs and dangers of waging war abroad. And it was always obvious that sometimes a terrorist attack would slip through.

Paris may have changed that calculus a bit, especially when it comes to Europe’s handling of refugees, an agonizing issue that has now gotten even more fraught. And there will have to be a post-mortem on why such an elaborate plot wasn’t spotted. But do you remember all the pronouncements that 9/11 would change everything? Well, it didn’t — and neither will this atrocity.

Again, the goal of terrorists is to inspire terror, because that’s all they’re capable of. And the most important thing our societies can do in response is to refuse to give in to fear.

Brooks and Krugman

November 13, 2015

Bobo’s got a bad case of the flop sweats.  In “The G.O.P. at an Immigration Crossroads” he wrings his hands and moans that the Republican Party is about to secure either its future or its demise.  I think I know which it will be, given the current occupants of the clown car…  Prof. Krugman considers “Republicans’ Lust for Gold” and says the party’s presidential candidates are falling in behind — and falling for — hard-money policies.  Here’s Bobo:

It’s no exaggeration to say that the next six months will determine the viability of the Republican Party. The demographics of this country are changing. This will be the last presidential election cycle in which the G.O.P., in its current form, has even a shot at winning the White House. And so the large question Republicans must ask themselves is: Are we as a party willing to champion the new America that is inexorably rising around us, or are we the receding roar of an old America that is never coming back?

Within that large question the G.O.P. will have to face several other questions.

The first is: How is 21st-century America going to view outsiders? For Republicans in the Donald Trump camp, the metaphor is very clear: A wall. Outsiders are a threat and a wall will keep them out.

Republicans in the Jeb Bush camp have a very different metaphor. As Bush and his co-author Clint Bolick wrote in their book, “Immigration Wars,” “When immigration policy is working right it is like a hydroelectric dam: a sturdy wall whose valves allow torrents of water to pour through, creating massive amounts of dynamic energy.” Under this metaphor the outside world is not a threat; it’s a source of creativity, dynamism and perpetual renewal.

The second question Republicans have to ask is: Can the party see reality? The great Victorian critic John Ruskin once wrote: “The more I think of it I find this conclusion more impressed upon me — that the greatest thing a human soul ever does in this world is to see something, and tell what it saw in a plain way. Hundreds of people can talk for one who can think, but thousands can think for one who can see.”

Some Republican leaders simply lack the ability or willingness to acknowledge reality. Deporting 11 million people is not reality. Building a physical wall across the southern border is not reality. I’m sorry, Ted Cruz, but going back to the gold standard is not reality.

The third G.O.P. question is: How does the party view leadership? For a rising number of Republicans — congregating around Trump and Ben Carson — leadership is about ignorance and inexperience. Actually having prepared for the job is a disqualifying factor. Knowing the substance of government is a negative.

On the other side, people like John Kasich and Bush are becoming more aggressive in their defense of experience, knowledge and craftsmanship. They’ve become more aggressive in making the case that governance is hard and you’ve got to know how things fit together.

In the realm of immigration, the first conclusion any pragmatist draws is that it’s ridiculous to say we just need to start enforcing the laws. The problem, as Bush has argued, is that the laws are dysfunctional. The whole system is wildly broken and it would cause massive dislocation if the rules were actually enforced. The system needs to be reformed.

The other conclusion any pragmatist draws is that for political and practical reasons, the whole system has to be reformed comprehensively and at once. You can’t do anything effective unless all the pieces fit together. As Bush and Bolick argued in their book, “A goal of sealing the border is hopeless without creating an immigration pipeline that provides a viable alternative to illegal immigration.”

As anybody with legislative experience knows, nothing can be passed unless Republican interests are rallied along with Democratic interests, unless Silicon Valley’s political influence is joined by the farm state’s political influence. Doing that requires experience and knowledge.

Republican craftsmen understand this reality. Political naïfs do not.

The fourth question is: How does the Republican Party treat the distrust that is so pervasive in our society?

For some in the Cruz, Trump and Bobby Jindal camps, this distrust is to be exploited. This produces a kind of nihilism. Tear down. Oppose. Scorn. Shut down government but do not have an actual plan to achieve your goals once it’s shut down. Depose a House speaker but have no viable path forward once he is gone.

The other approach is to see distrust as a problem that can be reduced with effective conservative governance. Under Ronald Reagan, faith in government actually rose, because people saw things like tax reform getting done. Republicans in this camp view cynicism as a poison to be drained, not a kerosene to be lit.

On all these levels, the Republican Party faces a crossroads moment. Immigration is the key issue around which Republicans will determine the course of their party. It’ll be fascinating to see which way they go.

One more point. I’m sorry, Marco Rubio, when your party faces a choice this stark, with consequences this monumental, you’re probably not going to be able to get away with being a little on both sides.

Bobo, this is what happens when you leave the lunatics in charge of the asylum.  Now here’s Prof. Krugman:

It’s not too hard to understand why everyone seeking the Republican presidential nomination is proposing huge tax cuts for the rich. Just follow the money: Candidates in the G.O.P. primary draw the bulk of their financial support from a few dozen extremely wealthy families. Furthermore, decades of indoctrination have made an essentially religious faith in the virtues of high-end tax cuts — a faith impervious to evidence — a central part of Republican identity.

But what we saw in Tuesday’s presidential debate was something relatively new on the policy front: an increasingly unified Republican demand for hard-money policies, even in a depressed economy. Ted Cruz demands a return to the gold standard. Jeb Bush says he isn’t sure about that, but is open to the idea. Marco Rubio wants the Fed to focus solely on price stability, and stop worrying about unemployment. Donald Trump and Ben Carson see a pro-Obama conspiracy behind the Federal Reserve’s low-interest rate policy.

And let’s not forget that Paul Ryan, the new speaker of the House, has spent years berating the Fed for policies that, he insisted, would “debase” the dollar and lead to high inflation. Oh, and he has flirted with Carson/Trump-style conspiracy theories, too, suggesting that the Fed’s efforts since the financial crisis were not about trying to boost the economy but instead aimed at “bailing out fiscal policy,” that is, letting President Obama get away with deficit spending.

As I said, this hard-money orthodoxy is relatively new. Republicans used to base their monetary recommendations on the ideas of Milton Friedman, who opposed Keynesian policies to fight depressions, but only because he thought easy money could do the job better, and who called on Japan to adopt the same strategy of “quantitative easing” that today’s Republicans denounce.

George W. Bush’s economists praised the “aggressive monetary policy” that, they declared, had helped the economy recover from the 2001 recession. And Mr. Bush appointed Ben Bernanke, who used to consider himself a Republican, to lead the Fed.

But now it’s hard money all the way. Republicans have turned their back on Friedman, whether they know it or not, and draw their monetary doctrine from “Austrian” economists like Friedrich Hayek — whose ideas Friedman described as an “atrophied and rigid caricature” — when they aren’t turning directly to Ayn Rand.

This turn wasn’t driven by experience. The new Republican monetary orthodoxy has already failed the reality test with flying colors: that “debased” dollar has risen 30 percent against other major currencies since 2011, while inflation has stayed low. In fact, the failure of conservative monetary predictions has been so abject that news reports, always looking for “balance,” tend to whitewash the record by pretending that Republican Fed critics didn’t say what they said. But years of predictive failure haven’t stopped the orthodoxy from tightening its grip on the party. What’s going on?

My main answer would be that the Friedman compromise — trash-talking government activism in general, but asserting that monetary policy is different — has proved politically unsustainable. You can’t, in the long run, keep telling your base that government bureaucrats are invariably incompetent, evil or both, then say that the Fed, which is, when all is said and done, basically a government agency run by bureaucrats, should be left free to print money as it sees fit.

Politicians who lump it all together, who warn darkly that the Fed is inflating away your hard-earned wealth and enabling giveaways to Those People, are always going to have the advantage in intraparty struggles.

You might think that the overwhelming empirical evidence against the hard-money view would count for something. But you’d only think that if you were paying no attention to any other policy debate.

Leading political figures insist that climate change is a gigantic hoax perpetrated by a vast international scientific conspiracy. Do you really think that their party will be persuaded to change its economic views by inconvenient macroeconomic data?

The interesting question is what will happen to monetary policy if a Republican wins next year’s election. As best as I can tell, most economists believe that it’s all talk, that once in the White House someone like Mr. Rubio or even Mr. Cruz would return to Bush-style monetary pragmatism. Financial markets seem to believe the same. At any rate, there’s no sign in current asset prices that investors see a significant chance of the catastrophe that would follow a return to gold.

But I wouldn’t be so sure. True, a new president who looked at the evidence and listened to the experts wouldn’t go down that path. But evidence and expertise have a well-known liberal bias.

Blow and Krugman

November 9, 2015

In “Ben Carson and the Truth” Mr. Blow says a mounting list of disproven claims threatens not only the Republican’s campaign, but perhaps more importantly, his lucrative celebrity.  Nah, wingnuts will still flock to him.  And he’ll keep on, just like Sarah “I can see Russia from my back porch” Palin.  Grifters gotta grift…  Prof. Krugman, in “Despair, American Style,” is searching for economic and cultural reasons why middle-aged white Americans are dying sooner.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

Ben Carson appears to have a somewhat complicated relationship with the truth, or at least that is the picture emerging of him as new challenges to the truthfulness of his biography surface.

After Politico checked into Carson’s claim that he had received an offer of a “full scholarship” to West Point, his campaign was forced to concede that he had never actually applied and been granted admission, but the campaign “attempted to recast his previous claims of a full scholarship to the military academy — despite numerous public and written statements to the contrary over the last few decades,” the news outlet reported.

(Politico came under scrutiny itself for the way it initially characterized Carson’s concession.)

On Friday, The Wall Street Journal looked into another episode: “In his 1990 autobiography, ‘Gifted Hands,’ Mr. Carson writes of a Yale psychology professor who told Mr. Carson, then a junior, and the other students in the class — identified by Mr. Carson as Perceptions 301 — that their final exam papers had ‘inadvertently burned,’ requiring all 150 students to retake it. The new exam, Mr. Carson recalled in the book, was much tougher. All the students but Mr. Carson walked out. ‘The professor came toward me. With her was a photographer for the Yale Daily News who paused and snapped my picture,’ Mr. Carson wrote. ‘ “A hoax,” the teacher said. “We wanted to see who was the most honest student in the class.” ’ Mr. Carson wrote that the professor handed him a $10 bill.”

But here is the kicker, according to The Journal: “No photo identifying Mr. Carson as a student ever ran, according to the Yale Daily News archives, and no stories from that era mention a class called Perceptions 301. Yale Librarian Claryn Spies said Friday there was no psychology course by that name or class number during any of Mr. Carson’s years at Yale.”

Sunday on ABC News, Carson claimed to have found the newspaper article about the incident published in the Yale Daily News and said that his campaign planned to release it. But also during that interview, he suggested that his autobiography wasn’t “100 percent accurate.”

And last week, CNN tried to find someone who could corroborate Carson’s account of having tried as a young man to stab a friend. The network interviewed nine friends, classmates and neighbors from Carson’s childhood, but none could remember the outburst. A 10th person initially said he had no recollections of any violent incidents, but when asked directly about the stabbing incident, “said he had heard talk about an incident like that back in those days, but didn’t know ‘if it was just a rumor or what.’ ” That’s clearly not proof that it didn’t happen, but it begs for some proof, anything or anyone (besides Carson), to say that it in fact did happen.

Maybe people might be a bit more willing to excuse some of these biographical blips if Carson hadn’t already been caught being dishonest on so many other subjects during the campaign.

The Journal pointed out that Carson falsely claimed last week in a Facebook post that “Every signer of the Declaration of Independence had no elected office experience.” The paper interviewed Benjamin L. Carp, an associate professor of history at Brooklyn College and author of books on the American Revolution. According to The Journal’s article on the matter: “Mr. Carp said Thomas Jefferson, Samuel Adams, John Hancock and many other signers had been elected members of their colonial assemblies, prior to signing the Declaration.”

In comparing the success of his Carson Scholars Fund to other nonprofits, Carson has repeatedly claimed that “nine out of 10 nonprofits fail,” a claim that The Washington Post Fact Checker has rated false with four Pinocchios, the worst rating — what the newspaper simply calls “whoppers.”

Of the 19 claims of Carson the fact checking site PolitiFact has delved into, none have been ruled true and only one mostly true. Indeed most — like Carson’s claim that he “ ‘didn’t have an involvement with’ nutritional supplement company Mannatech” — have either been ruled false or what the site calls “pants on fire,” a statement the site rules as not only not accurate, but “ridiculous.”

Carson has pushed back on the biographical charges with more verve that he has exhibited at any of the debates. That is because the biographical charges don’t simply threaten the Carson campaign, they threaten Carson the corporation — the former I have always contended was simply a vehicle for the latter. Has no one else wondered why Carson’s chief media surrogate isn’t his campaign manager or communications director, but his business manager, Armstrong Williams?

Carson may no longer be a practicing physician, but he is a full-time profiteer, selling his story in books and speeches and paid handsomely to do so. Good work, if you can get it. But these new charges threaten to reduce the legend to a fairy tale, and thereby threaten the checks to be cashed after the votes have been cashed.

Media observers seem to me too focused on Ben Carson the candidate. I remain focused on Ben Carson the enterprise, and apparently, so is he.

Now here’s Prof. Krugman:

A couple of weeks ago President Obama mocked Republicans who are “down on America,” and reinforced his message by doing a pretty good Grumpy Cat impression. He had a point: With job growth at rates not seen since the 1990s, with the percentage of Americans covered by health insurance hitting record highs, the doom-and-gloom predictions of his political enemies look ever more at odds with reality.

Yet there is a darkness spreading over part of our society. And we don’t really understand why.

There has been a lot of comment, and rightly so, over a new paper by the economists Angus Deaton (who just won a Nobel) and Anne Case, showing that mortality among middle-aged white Americans has been rising since 1999. This deterioration took place while death rates were falling steadily both in other countries and among other groups in our own nation.

Even more striking are the proximate causes of rising mortality. Basically, white Americans are, in increasing numbers, killing themselves, directly or indirectly. Suicide is way up, and so are deaths from drug poisoning and the chronic liver disease that excessive drinking can cause. We’ve seen this kind of thing in other times and places – for example, in the plunging life expectancy that afflicted Russia after the fall of Communism. But it’s a shock to see it, even in an attenuated form, in America.

Yet the Deaton-Case findings fit into a well-established pattern. There have been a number of studies showing that life expectancy for less-educated whites is falling across much of the nation. Rising suicides and overuse of opioids are known problems. And while popular culture may focus more on meth than on prescription painkillers or good old alcohol, it’s not really news that there’s a drug problem in the heartland.

But what’s causing this epidemic of self-destructive behavior?

If you believe the usual suspects on the right, it’s all the fault of liberals. Generous social programs, they insist, have created a culture of dependency and despair, while secular humanists have undermined traditional values. But (surprise!) this view is very much at odds with the evidence.

For one thing, rising mortality is a uniquely American phenomenon – yet America has both a much weaker welfare state and a much stronger role for traditional religion and values than any other advanced country. Sweden gives its poor far more aid than we do, and a majority of Swedish children are now born out of wedlock, yet Sweden’s middle-aged mortality rate is only half of white America’s.

You see a somewhat similar pattern across regions within the United States. Life expectancy is high and rising in the Northeast and California, where social benefits are highest and traditional values weakest. Meanwhile, low and stagnant or declining life expectancy is concentrated in the Bible Belt.

What about a materialist explanation? Is rising mortality a consequence of rising inequality and the hollowing out of the middle class?

Well, it’s not that simple. We are, after all, talking about the consequences of behavior, and culture clearly matters a great deal. Most notably, Hispanic Americans are considerably poorer than whites, but have much lower mortality. It’s probably worth noting, in this context, that international comparisons consistently find that Latin Americans have higher subjective well-being than you would expect, given their incomes.

So what is going on? In a recent interview Mr. Deaton suggested that middle-aged whites have “lost the narrative of their lives.” That is, their economic setbacks have hit hard because they expected better. Or to put it a bit differently, we’re looking at people who were raised to believe in the American Dream, and are coping badly with its failure to come true.

That sounds like a plausible hypothesis to me, but the truth is that we don’t really know why despair appears to be spreading across Middle America. But it clearly is, with troubling consequences for our society as a whole.

In particular, I know I’m not the only observer who sees a link between the despair reflected in those mortality numbers and the volatility of right-wing politics. Some people who feel left behind by the American story turn self-destructive; others turn on the elites they feel have betrayed them. No, deporting immigrants and wearing baseball caps bearing slogans won’t solve their problems, but neither will cutting taxes on capital gains. So you can understand why some voters have rallied around politicians who at least seem to feel their pain.

At this point you probably expect me to offer a solution. But while universal health care, higher minimum wages, aid to education, and so on would do a lot to help Americans in trouble, I’m not sure whether they’re enough to cure existential despair.

Gee — maybe the uneducated are finally coming to grips with the fact that they’ve been being lied to for 40 years by the people they’ve voted into office.  And that those people are the cause of their suffering.

Brooks and Krugman

November 6, 2015

This must have just about KILLED Bobo.  In “Great News! We’re Not Doomed By Soaring Healthcare Costs” he was forced to admit that there are lots of different ways to read what is happening, but overall there does seem to be some lasting improvement.  Prof. Krugman, in “Austerity’s Grim Legacy,” says the deficit fetishism that led to government cutbacks has been more destructive in the long run than even its critics anticipated.  Here’s Bobo:

It really matters who the next president is. But there are other things that matter just as much to the nation’s future prosperity. One of them is: What is happening to health care costs?

If health care costs start to rise again the way they did before, then health care spending will swallow the economy and bankrupt the federal government. If they are contained, then suddenly there’s a lot more money for everything else, like schools, antipoverty efforts and wages.

The good news is that recently health care inflation has been at historic lows. As Jason Furman, the chairman of President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers, put it in a speech to the Hamilton Project last month, “Health care prices have grown at an annual rate of 1.6 percent since the Affordable Care Act was enacted in March 2010, the slowest rate for such a period in five decades, and those prices have grown at an even slower 1.1 percent rate over the 12 months ending in August 2015.”

As a result of the slowdown in health care inflation, the Congressional Budget Office keeps reducing its projections of the future cost of federal health programs like Medicare. As of October, projections for federal health care spending in the year 2020 were $175 billion lower than the projections made in August 2010. That would be a huge budget improvement.

The big question is whether these trends will continue. Many people believe that health care inflation came down for entirely temporary reasons and that over the long run we’re still doomed.

One group in this camp emphasizes that the economy went into the tank, so of course people went to the doctor less often. As history demonstrates, it can take up to six years for a recession’s impact to work its way through the system; then health care costs shoot up just as before.

Another group emphasizes that health care inflation is down because general inflation is down, and once general inflation is back to normal, health care costs will shoot upward.

A third group argues that we’ve recently had a decline in technological innovation. Not many useful but costly new drugs or machines have come on the market over the past few years, but if innovation resumes then so will rising costs.

But other experts say the reduction in health care inflation is partly structural and therefore more longstanding. Some point out that health care inflation really began trending downward in 2003 or 2004, during George W. Bush’s first term and long before the recession hit. Second, the reduction in health care cost growth seems to be global. Health cost growth has slowed in just about every high-income country since 2000, possibly as efficiencies are passed from place to place.

Members of the Obama administration like to argue that Obamacare has pushed things along. For example, the Affordable Care Act pushed providers into Accountable Care Organizations. Instead of getting paid for doing more tests and procedures, providers have a greater incentive to just keep people healthy.

The law also encouraged bundling. If you go in to get a hip replacement, the government makes a single payment for all services associated with that episode of care. The law also penalizes hospitals when patients have to be readmitted. There’s been a significant drop in readmissions.

There’s still a lot of uncertainty about which side of the debate is right. The most recent numbers have indicated a scary surge in health care prices, and some firms are projecting 6.5 percent inflation for 2016. While parts of the law reduce spending, other parts may lead to more spending, especially as the industry gets more concentrated.

And yet the weight of the evidence suggests that part of the change is permanent. Moving away from the bad old fee-for-service system has got to be a good thing. The greater pressures providers feel to reduce costs have got to be a good thing, at least fiscally.

Last March, Jonathan Rauch wrote a report for the Brookings Institution, arguing that the health care market is more open to normal business model innovation than ever before. The quality of health care data and analytics is improving exponentially. Pressures to reduce costs are ratcheting up. Profitable niches are growing for efficiency improving products.

In the past, most innovation involved improving quality of care at high cost. Rauch described many entrepreneurs who are providing innovations that maintain current quality of care but at lower cost.

We seem to be making at least some incremental progress toward a structural reduction in health care inflation. Many Americans are feeling gloomy about accomplishing anything these days, but progress is possible. We haven’t whipped health care inflation, or defeated our intractable budget issues. But the evidence suggests we’re landing a few serious blows.

And of course the mole people will no doubt try another 50 times to repeal Obamacare…  Here’s Prof. Krugman:

When economic crisis struck in 2008, policy makers by and large did the right thing. The Federal Reserve and other central banks realized that supporting the financial system took priority over conventional notions of monetary prudence. The Obama administration and its counterparts realized that in a slumping economy budget deficits were helpful, not harmful. And the money-printing and borrowing worked: A repeat of the Great Depression, which seemed all too possible at the time, was avoided.

Then it all went wrong. And the consequences of the wrong turn we took look worse now than the harshest critics of conventional wisdom ever imagined.

For those who don’t remember (it’s hard to believe how long this has gone on): In 2010, more or less suddenly, the policy elite on both sides of the Atlantic decided to stop worrying about unemployment and start worrying about budget deficits instead.

This shift wasn’t driven by evidence or careful analysis. In fact, it was very much at odds with basic economics. Yet ominous talk about the dangers of deficits became something everyone said because everyone else was saying it, and dissenters were no longer considered respectable — which is why I began describing those parroting the orthodoxy of the moment as Very Serious People.

Some of us tried in vain to point out that deficit fetishism was both wrongheaded and destructive, that there was no good evidence that government debt was a problem for major economies, while there was plenty of evidence that cutting spending in a depressed economy would deepen the depression.

And we were vindicated by events. More than four and a half years have passed since Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles warned of a fiscal crisis within two years; U.S. borrowing costs remain at historic lows. Meanwhile, the austerity policies that were put into place in 2010 and after had exactly the depressing effects textbook economics predicted; the confidence fairy never did put in an appearance.

Yet there’s growing evidence that we critics actually underestimated just how destructive the turn to austerity would be. Specifically, it now looks as if austerity policies didn’t just impose short-term losses of jobs and output, but they also crippled long-run growth.

The idea that policies that depress the economy in the short run also inflict lasting damage is generally referred to as “hysteresis.” It’s an idea with an impressive pedigree: The case for hysteresis was made in a well-known 1986 paper by Olivier Blanchard, who later became the chief economist at the International Monetary Fund, and Lawrence Summers, who served as a top official in both the Clinton and the Obama administrations. But I think everyone was hesitant to apply the idea to the Great Recession, for fear of seeming excessively alarmist.

At this point, however, the evidence practically screams hysteresis. Even countries that seem to have largely recovered from the crisis, like the United States, are far poorer than precrisis projections suggested they would be at this point. And a new paper by Mr. Summers and Antonio Fatás, in addition to supporting other economists’ conclusion that the crisis seems to have done enormous long-run damage, shows that the downgrading of nations’ long-run prospects is strongly correlated with the amount of austerity they imposed.

What this suggests is that the turn to austerity had truly catastrophic effects, going far beyond the jobs and income lost in the first few years. In fact, the long-run damage suggested by the Fatás-Summers estimates is easily big enough to make austerity a self-defeating policy even in purely fiscal terms: Governments that slashed spending in the face of depression hurt their economies, and hence their future tax receipts, so much that even their debt will end up higher than it would have been without the cuts.

And the bitter irony of the story is that this catastrophic policy was undertaken in the name of long-run responsibility, that those who protested against the wrong turn were dismissed as feckless.

There are a few obvious lessons from this debacle. “All the important people say so” is not, it turns out, a good way to decide on policy; groupthink is no substitute for clear analysis. Also, calling for sacrifice (by other people, of course) doesn’t mean you’re tough-minded.

But will these lessons sink in? Past economic troubles, like the stagflation of the 1970s, led to widespread reconsideration of economic orthodoxy. But one striking aspect of the past few years has been how few people are willing to admit having been wrong about anything. It seems all too possible that the Very Serious People who cheered on disastrous policies will learn nothing from the experience. And that is, in its own way, as scary as the economic outlook.

Blow, Cohen and Krugman

November 2, 2015

In “Gotcha, G.O.P.” Mr. Blow says the Republican candidates, especially Ben Carson, appear to want to say little and avoid tough questions.  Mr. Cohen, in “Erdogan’s Violent Victory,” says the Turkish president played with fire and turned “stability” into the key word of the campaign.  Prof. Krugman, in “Partisan Growth Gaps,” says Republicans make big boasts, but things go better under Democrats.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

Here we go again with attacks on the “mainstream media” and the invocation of the dreaded “gotcha question” to excuse poor performance and intellectual flat-footedness.

After being asked at last week’s debate about his ties to the shady nutritional supplement company Mannatech and saying “I didn’t have an involvement with them” and dismissing claims of a connection as “total propaganda,” Ben Carson called Thursday for an overhaul of Republican debate formats.

“Debates are supposed to be established to help the people get to know the candidate,” Carson said, according to The Washington Post. “What it’s turned into is — gotcha! That’s silly. That’s not helpful to anybody.”

I think the question was a fair one, and I’m not alone. Carson’s business manager, Armstrong Williams, said Thursday on CNN that the question wasn’t a gotcha one but an “absolutely” fair one.

And on the credibility of Carson’s denial, PolitiFact ruled:

“As far as we can tell, Carson was not a paid employee or official endorser of the product. However, his claim suggests he has no ties to Mannatech whatsoever. In reality, he got paid to deliver speeches to Mannatech and appeared in promotional videos, and he consistently delivered glowing reviews of the nutritional supplements. As a world-renowned surgeon, Carson’s opinion on health issues carries weight, and Mannatech has used Carson’s endorsement to its advantage.

“We rate Carson’s claim False.”

The idea of the gotcha question and gotcha journalism have decades-long roots, at least. In 1999, Calvin Trillin in Time Magazinecalled gotcha journalism, “campaign coverage dominated by attempts to reveal youthful misbehavior.” But the questions the Republican candidates received were not of that genre.

In a 1992 New York Times Magazine articleabout Barbara Walters, one of her producers told Bill Carter that Walters always went for the “gotcha question, the one that reveals the person.”

But the idea of the “gotcha question” gained new primacy in the 2008 election, whenWilliam Safire wrote in The Times of MSNBC’s Chris Matthews’s prediction that “The gotcha politics will begin,” and noted that “Howard Dean, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, used the word in defense of having the audience question candidates at a CNN/YouTube debate instead of allowing reporters to have at his party’s candidates. He preferred to ‘let the American people back in’ than endure questions ‘from a press corps that wants to play gotcha!’ ”

But perhaps it has its most resonance because of its use by the disastrously ill-equipped Republican vice presidential candidate, who repeatedly used the phase as an excuse for her train wreck interviews.

Gotcha questions have come to mean any question one doesn’t want to answer, any question whose answer would or could reveal something unflattering. In a way, a question is simply a question and only becomes a gotcha if you, the answerer, feel convicted and unsettled by it. Gotcha is in the mind — and spine — of the interviewee.

Carson simply wasn’t prepared for the Mannatech question and wasn’t completely honest in the answer. If that is gotcha journalism, I’m here for it “every day of the week and twice on Sunday,” to borrow a phrase from Mike Huckabee.

This is not to say that the debate wasn’t a bit of a mess. It was. Nor is it to say that some of the questions weren’t questionable. They were. But questions that seek clarification of a candidate’s past are fair.

Yet Republicans have decided that attacking the media makes good optics. Not only is the party considering overhauling the debate process, it has suspended an upcoming NBC debate because, according to the Republican National Committee chairman, Reince Priebus, “CNBC’s moderators engaged in a series of ‘gotcha’ questions, petty and meanspirited in tone, and designed to embarrass our candidates.”

But gotcha questions aren’t the Republicans’ problem. A frustration among Republican voters with political professionalism and a hodgepodge of fatally flawed candidates is. The more traditional portion of the Republican field is littered with candidates with strong résumés — I use the word strong here loosely, to mean the existence of governmental experience, not the quality of it — but relatively weak rhetorical skills.

Of the nontraditional lot, there is a former neurosurgeon whose strategy seems to be to appear barely awake while delivering word salads of outlandishness in a murmur, a real-estate mogul full of bluster and bawdiness, and a fired C.E.O. engaged in a breathtaking example of pink-slip revisionism.

Marco Rubio is thought to have won the last debate, not so much because he brilliantly articulated reasonable, or intellectually invigorating policy — “I’m against anything that’s bad for my mother” is a kindergarten truism, not a nuanced policy position — but because he remained relatively even and unperturbed.

And yet, it’s Carson who is now the front-runner, one of the candidates who spoke the least during the last debate and who seemed to want to say nothing at all. And that candidate is the one worrying about the precious few questions he will have to answer. That is the elephant party’s problem: They’re betting on someone who’s using ostrich logic.

Next up we have Mr. Cohen, writing from Istanbul:

For President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, violence made all the difference. It turned “stability” into the key word of an election that ushered his Justice and Development Party, or A.K.P., to the decisive victory denied it in the June 7 vote. One-party rule is back in Turkey and one man pulls the strings.

Improbably, Erdogan was able to embody stability when the politics of instability have been his modus operandi over the past five months. Or perhaps not so improbably — Erdogan, in power now for a dozen years, understands the psychology of fear and the force of Sunni Turkish nationalism, especially when the old specter of the Kurdish conflict appears.

The president has played with fire. His stance toward the terror-wielding jihadis of the Islamic State has married symbolic opposition to benign negligence, enough anyway to produce two terrorist attacks, one near the Syrian border on July 20 and one last month in Ankara, that left about 130 people dead. Most of the victims were Kurds. Goaded and attacked on several fronts in recent months, inside and beyond Turkish borders, the militants of the Kurdistan Workers Party, or P.K.K., returned to violence, killing two Turkish policemen on July 22. The old war stirred. It allowed Erdogan to suggest that only he stood between Turkey and the mayhem in neighboring states.

That, in a nutshell, is what changed between June and now. Erdogan did not respect the will of the people, of which he likes to speak. The June result was not to his liking; he set out, by all means, to overturn it and secure a parliamentary majority. Fragility was his political ally.

The A.K.P., embodying the conservative Sunni nationalism of the Anatolian heartland against the republican secularism of the coast, leapt to 49.3 percent of the vote from 40.9 percent in June. It took 316 seats, enough to govern alone, against 258 five months ago. A far-right party and the Kurdish-dominated People’s Republic Party, or H.D.P., lost votes as extreme nationalists and conservative Kurds opted for Erdogan. The scale of the shift, in short order, was extraordinary.

Still, the H.D.P., the new kid on the Turkish political block, managed to pass — just — the 10 percent legal threshold to enter Parliament. That was critical. Without the H.D.P., the A.K.P. dominance would have been so crushing as to enable Erdogan to change the Constitution and create an executive presidency on a whim. He will still push for that, but there will be pushback. Turkey, long the best hope for a Middle Eastern Muslim democracy, has not yet disappeared entirely over the authoritarian brink, but it is close.

Selahattin Demirtas, the charismatic leader of the H.D.P., said, “Maybe we lost one million votes but we are a party that managed to stand up against all massacre policies.” That, he suggested, was a “great victory.” Certainly, it was a significant one.

The H.D.P. is wounded but not moribund, despite widespread arrests of its members. Its future may hinge on how far Demirtas, criticized for not condemning P.K.K. violence with sufficient stringency, is able to chart a new, inclusive and nonviolent Kurdish course. Its appeal to non-Kurdish voters, the surprising development of June, hinges on that.

But Demirtas is vulnerable to Erdogan’s machinations. It is unclear how far the turbulent downward spiral of the past five months can be contained. The president’s genie of violence is out of the bottle. He has attacked a free press, undermined the rule of law, polarized the country and instilled an atmosphere where any opponent is “anti-nation” and treasonous.

“Let’s work together toward a Turkey where conflict, tension and polarization are nonexistent,” Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, declared in victory. That, from Erdogan’s man, sounded like hypocrisy at best.

Turkey for now seems set on the intolerant path of the 21st century authoritarian democracies that owe much to President Vladimir Putin of Russia — societies where dominance of the media, manipulation of conflict, unbound nationalism and the trashing of the rule of law allow the creation of a democratic masquerade. This represents a betrayal of the fuller democracy, freed of the threat of military coups, Erdogan promised Turkey a dozen years ago and seemed for a moment to represent.

It is time to end that betrayal. The alternative is more violence. This was victory in a democracy undermined.

I spoke to Ahmet Hakan, a prominent journalist beaten up during the campaign by unknown assailants. Hakan comes from a background of A.K.P. sympathy but has become critical. “My biggest criticism is that they do not tolerate criticism,” he told me. “I am not categorically against the government but they are so intolerant they cannot tolerate this. I saw the A.K.P. as trying to democratize Turkey, but step by step it became a one-man party.”

I asked who attacked him. Government cronies? He declined to say. “But the political atmosphere under this government makes this possible.”

And now here’s Prof. Krugman:

Last week The Wall Street Journal published an op-ed article by Carly Fiorina titled “Hillary Clinton Flunks Economics,” ridiculing Mrs. Clinton’s assertions that the U.S. economy does better under Democrats. “America,” declared Ms. Fiorina, “needs someone in the White House who actually knows how the economy works.”

Well, we can agree on that much.

Partisan positioning on the economy is actually quite strange. Republicans talk about economic growth all the time. They attack Democrats for “job-killing” government regulations, they promise great things if elected, they predicate their tax plans on the assumption that growth will soar and raise revenues. Democrats are far more cautious. Yet Mrs. Clinton is completely right about the record: historically, the economy has indeed done better under Democrats.

This contrast raises two big questions. First, why has the economy performed better under Democrats? Second, given that record, why are Republicans so much more inclined than Democrats to boast about their ability to deliver growth?

Before I get to those questions, let’s talk about the facts.

The arithmetic on partisan differences is actually stunning. Last year the economists Alan Blinder and Mark Watson circulated a paper comparing economic performance under Democratic and Republican presidents since 1947. Under Democrats, the economy grew, on average, 4.35 percent per year; under Republicans, only 2.54 percent. Over the whole period, the economy was in recession for 49 quarters; Democrats held the White House during only eight of those quarters.

But isn’t the story different for the Obama years? Not as much as you think. Yes, the recovery from the Great Recession of 2007-2009 has been sluggish. Even so, the Obama record compares favorably on a number of indicators with that of George W. Bush. In particular, despite all the talk about job-killing policies, private-sector employment is eight millionhigher than it was when Barack Obama took office, twice the job gains achieved under his predecessor before the recession struck.

Why is the Democratic record so much better? The short answer is that we don’t know.

Mr. Blinder and Mr. Watson look at a variety of possible explanations, and find all of them wanting. There’s no indication that the Democratic advantage can be explained by better monetary and fiscal policies. Democrats seem, on average, to have had better luck than Republicans on oil prices and technological progress. Overall, however, the pattern remains mysterious. Certainly no Democratic candidate would be justified in promising dramatically higher growth if elected. And in fact, Democrats never do.

Republicans, however, always make such claims: Every candidate with a real chance of getting the G.O.P. nomination is claiming that his tax plan would produce a huge growth surge — a claim that has no basis in historical experience. Why?

Part of the answer is epistemic closure: modern conservatives generally live in a bubble into which inconvenient facts can’t penetrate. One constantly hears assertions that Ronald Reagan achieved economic and job growth never matched before or since, when the reality is that Bill Clinton surpassed him on both measures. Right-wing news media trumpet the economic disappointments of the Obama years, while hardly ever mentioning the good news. So the myth of conservative economic superiority goes unchallenged.

Beyond that, however, Republicans need to promise economic miracles as a way to sell policies that overwhelmingly favor the donor class.

It would be nice, for variety’s sake, if even one major G.O.P. candidate would come out against big tax cuts for the 1 percent. But none have, and all of the major players have called for cuts that would subtract trillions from revenue. To make up for this lost revenue, it would be necessary to make sharp cuts in big programs — that is, in Social Security and/or Medicare.

But Americans overwhelmingly believe that the wealthy pay less than their fair share of taxes, and even Republicans are closely divided on the issue. And the public wants to see Social Security expanded, not cut. So how can a politician sell the tax-cut agenda? The answer is, by promising those miracles, by insisting that tax cuts on high incomes would both pay for themselves and produce wonderful economic gains.

Hence the asymmetry between the parties. Democrats can afford to be cautious in their economic promises precisely because their policies can be sold on their merits. Republicans must sell an essentially unpopular agenda by confidently declaring that they have the ultimate recipe for prosperity — and hope that nobody points out their historically poor track record.

And if someone does point to that record, you know what they’ll do: Start yelling about media bias.

Brooks, Cohen, and Krugman

October 30, 2015

Bobo haz a BIG happy!  In “The Paul Ryan and Marco Rubio Moment” he squeals that the Republicans just picked one capable leader for the House and have another ready for their presidential nomination.  It is to larf.  In the comments “Sudhakar” from St. Louis had this to say:  “Seriously, why does David Brooks still get an editorial column? Paul Ryan and Marco Rubio as leaders is a “pretty excellent outcome”? Marco Rubio actually offering serious tax policy? All of this is dead wrong and shows how clueless David really is.”  Mr. Cohen, in “Ripples of the Iran Deal,” says Iranian- American dialogue is a rebuke to the sterile evasions of Abbas and Netanyahu.  In “Springtime for Grifters” Prof. Krugman says the scammers — some looking for votes, some just to line their pockets — figure their victims won’t believe the truths presented by mainstream media.  Here’s Bobo, and his big happy:

So after all the meshugas on the right over the past few years, the Republicans could wind up with two new leaders going into this election, Marco Rubio and Paul Ryan. That’s a pretty excellent outcome for a party that has shown an amazing tendency to inflict self-harm.

Ryan is the new House speaker and right now Rubio is the most likely presidential nominee. The shape of the presidential campaign is coming into focus. It’s still wise to expect (pray) that the celebrity candidates will fade as the shopping phase ends and the buying phase begins.

Voters don’t have to know the details of their nominee’s agenda, but they have to know that the candidate is capable of having an agenda. Donald Trump and Ben Carson go invisible when the subject of actual governance comes up.

Jeb Bush’s problems are temperamental and thus most likely permanent. He would probably be a very effective president. And he would have been a very effective candidate — but in 1956. These are harsher times.

Ted Cruz looks likely to emerge as the candidate of the disaffected white working class — the noncollege-educated voters who are now registering their alienation and distrust with Trump. But there aren’t enough of those voters in the primary electorate to beat Rubio, and Cruz just isn’t likable enough to build a national campaign around. Rubio, meanwhile, has no natural enemies anywhere in the party, he has truly impressive natural skills and his greatest weakness is his greatest strength: his youth.

While other candidates are repeating the formulas of the 1980s and 1990s, Rubio is a child of this century. He understands that it’s no longer enough to cut taxes and say bad things about government to produce widespread prosperity. In a series of major policy speeches over the past two years (he’s one of the few candidates who actually gives them), Rubio has emphasized that newstructural problems threaten the American dream: technology displacing workers, globalization suppressing wages and the decline of marriage widening inequality.

His proposals reflect this awareness. At this stage it’s probably not sensible to get too worked up about the details of any candidate’s plans. They are all wildly unaffordable. What matters is how a candidate signals priorities. Rubio talks specifically about targeting policies to boost middle- and lower-middle-class living standards.

For example, Rubio’s tax policy starts where all Republican plans start. He would simplify the tax code, reduce rates and move us toward a consumption-based system by reducing taxes on investment.

But he understands that overall growth no longer translates directly to better wages. He adds a big $2,500 child tax credit that is controversial among conservative economists, but that would make life easier for working families.

His antipoverty programs are the biggest departure from traditional Republicanism. America already spends a fair bit of money aiding the poor — enough to lift most families out of poverty if we simply wrote them checks. But the money flows through a hodgepodge of programs and creates perverse incentives. People are often better off over all if they rely on government rather than getting an entry-level job. As Oren Cass of the Manhattan Institute has pointed out, there are two million fewer Americans working today than before the recession and two million more receiving disabilities benefits.

Influenced by Cass’s work, Rubio has tried to offer people who aren’t working some basic security, while also championing wage subsidies that would encourage people to get entry-level jobs. The idea is to reward people who get on the ladder of opportunity, and to compensate for the decline in low-skill wages.

Rubio would reform the earned-income tax credit and extend it to cover childless workers. He would also convert most federal welfare spending into a “flex fund” that would go straight to the states. Rules for these programs would no longer be written in Washington. The state agencies that implement welfare policies would have more freedom to design them. He’d maintain overall welfare spending, adjusting it for inflation and poverty levels, but he’d allow more room for experimentation.

Republican debates rarely touch on education for some reason, but Rubio also has a slew of ideas to reform it. He says the higher education system is controlled by a cartel of well-established institutions that block low-cost competitors from entering the market. He wants student loan costs to be based on an affordable percentage of a person’s income.

Of all the candidates, Rubio has done the most to harvest the work of Reform Conservatism, which has been sweeping through the think tank world. In a year in which many candidates are all marketing, Rubio is a balance of marketing and product.

If Ryan and Rubio do emerge as the party’s two leaders, it will be the wonkiest leadership team in our lifetime. That’s a good thing.

It’s obvious that Bobo has never bothered to read Krugman on either of those clowns.  But that would harsh his mellow…  Here’s Mr. Cohen:

There was never any chance the Iran nuclear deal would be hermetic. One of its merits is to condemn the United States and Iran to a relationship, however hostile, over the next decade and a half at least. Now, within months, it has led to Iran’s presence at peace negotiations on Syria. That’s a good thing.

It’s a good thing because no end to the Syrian civil war is possible without the involvement of all the actors. Iran is one, directly and through its surrogate Hezbollah. It’s a good thing because it demonstrates, once again, that defiant Iranian rhetoric is often a distraction from Iranian actions, which may be more pragmatic.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, had ruled out cooperation beyond the nuclear deal. The fact is neither Khamenei, a hard-liner, nor the reformists led by President Hassan Rouhani can ignore the other. Their respective power is in delicate equilibrium, an unusual situation in the 36-year history of the Islamic Republic and one the West must continue to probe.

The Obama administration has ignored the weary Friday-prayer refrain of “Death to America” in order to do business with Tehran. That was smart. If Israel displayed similar pragmatism, and a similar capacity to ignore vile Iranian outbursts, it would come to the conclusion that a deal that has reversed the direction of Iran’s nuclear program for the first time in many years and bound Iran to a verifiable bomb-preventing international contract is in its interest.

But Iran has long been a useful distraction from Israel’s core problem, Palestine. Iran is far away from Jerusalem and Iranians seldom think about Israel. Ramallah is very close to Jerusalem and Palestinians think about Israel all the time. Sometimes they rise in fury against their overlord and wield knives.

Oppressed people will do such things. The oppression does not make random Palestinian stabbings of Israelis defensible. They are vicious crimes against innocent people. But it makes them understandable. Violence is the other face of the so-called status quo that Prime MinisterBenjamin Netanyahu believes to be in Israel’s interest. Violence is inextricable from the Israeli occupation of the West Bank that is almost a half-century old. Stateless non-citizens, living behind a high-tech wall among colonial settler garrisons, will not all acquiesce to their fate.

Palestinian violence and provocations can no more be an excuse for Israel’s status-quo policy than Iranian outbursts. Serious negotiation, serious diplomacy, can change dangerous situations — slowly and painfully.

No sentient human being can contemplate the Israeli-Palestinian conflict today and not feel disgust at its cynicism. It defies words. Every word has been exhausted on its blood-soaked sterility. President Mahmoud Abbas and Netanyahu have played games while their people die — and while President Obama and Rouhani negotiated a transformative deal that is an admonishment to them both.

The liberal Israeli newspaper Haaretz quoted Netanyahu recently saying that “we will forever live by the sword” and that he does not want a binational state but “we need to control all of the territory for the foreseeable future.” All the territory is binational. Therefore to control it in the way Netanyahu envisages, democracy must be sacrificed. The Jewish and democratic state of Israel withers.

The Palestinian leadership thinks it is playing a long game. It should look at the history of the last 68 years to see what such long games yield. Palestine withers. That is a historic fact.

History and narratives are dangerous things in the Holy Land. That has long been so. But Netanyahu’s outrageous suggestion that the grand mufti of Jerusalem gave Hitler the idea of annihilating European Jewry (when about a million European Jews were already dead in the Baltic states and elsewhere) represents a new low. Netanyahu has a hard time with history. He compared Yitzhak Rabin to Chamberlain and he called the Iran deal “a historic mistake.

This is what happens when history is a tool in the cynical kick-the-can-down-the-road pursuit of status-quo Israeli dominance.

The course of history can be changed. Iran’s presence at the table will not alter the fact that any end to the Syrian war is unlikely. The forces driving the war — a region-wide Sunni-Shiite confrontation, jihadi fundamentalism, the reactionary desperation of the old mukhabarat-controlled Arab state, the Kurdish question, sectarian enmity, and the thirst of many Syrian people for reform — are greater than the capacity of a fractured country to control them.

The war has gone too far. Backed by Iran and Russia, President Bashar al-Assad started killing his people on day one. His purpose has been to radicalize, portray himself as the murderer-savior. In a way, he has succeeded.

Still, Iran’s involvement, side-by-side with Russia and the United States, as well as other European and regional powers, is positive. The right people are at the table. For Israel-Palestine there is no table. There is nothing but more of the same. There is nothing but dangerous fantasies.

And now here’s Prof. Krugman:

At one point during Wednesday’s Republican debate, Ben Carson was asked about his involvement with Mannatech, a nutritional supplements company that makes outlandish claims about its products and has been forced to pay $7 million to settle a deceptive-practices lawsuit. The audience booed, and Mr. Carson denied being involved with the company. Both reactions tell you a lot about the driving forces behind modern American politics.

As it happens, Mr. Carson lied. He has indeed been deeply involved with Mannatech, and has done a lot to help promote its merchandise. PolitiFact quickly rated his claim false, without qualification. But the Republican base doesn’t want to hear about it, and the candidate apparently believes, probably correctly, that he can simply brazen it out. These days, in his party, being an obvious grifter isn’t a liability, and may even be an asset.

And this doesn’t just go for outsider candidates like Mr. Carson and Donald Trump. Insider politicians like Marco Rubio are simply engaged in a different, classier kind of scam — and they are empowered in part by the way the grifters have defined respectability down.

About the grifters: Start with the lowest level, in which marketers use political affinity to sell get-rich-quick schemes, miracle cures, and suchlike. That’s the Carson phenomenon, and it’s just the latest example of a long tradition. As the historian Rick Perlstein documents, a “strategic alliance of snake-oil vendors and conservative true believers” goes back half a century. Direct-mail marketing using addresses culled from political campaigns has given way to email, but the game remains the same.

At a somewhat higher level are marketing campaigns more or less tied to what purports to be policy analysis. Right-wing warnings of imminent hyperinflation, coupled with demands that we return to the gold standard, were fanned by media figures like Glenn Beck, who used his show to promote Goldline, a firm selling gold coins and bars at, um, inflated prices. Sure enough, Mr. Beck has been a vocal backer of Ted Cruz, who has made a return to gold one of his signature policy positions.

Oh, and former Congressman Ron Paul, who has spent decades warning of runaway inflation and is undaunted by its failure to materialize, is very much in the business of selling books and videos showing how you, too, can protect yourself from the coming financial disaster.

At a higher level still are operations that are in principle engaging in political activity, but mainly seem to be generating income for their organizers. Last week The Times published an investigative report on some political action committees raising money in the name of anti-establishment conservative causes. The report found that the bulk of the money these PACs raise ends up going to cover administrative costs and consultants’ fees, very little to their ostensible purpose. For example, only 14 percent of what the Tea Party Leadership Fund spends is “candidate focused.”

You might think that such revelations would be politically devastating. But the targets of such schemes know, just know, that the liberal mainstream media can’t be trusted, that when it reports negative stories about conservative heroes it’s just out to suppress people who are telling the real truth. It’s a closed information loop, and can’t be broken.

And a lot of people live inside that closed loop. Current estimates say that Mr. Carson, Mr. Trump and Mr. Cruz together have the support of around 60 percent of Republican voters.

Furthermore, the success of the grifters has a profound effect on the whole party. As I said, it defines respectability down.

Consider Mr. Rubio, who has emerged as the leading conventional candidate thanks to Jeb Bush’s utter haplessness. There was a time when Mr. Rubio’s insistence that $6 trillion in tax cuts would somehow pay for themselves would have marked him as deeply unserious, especially given the way his party has been harping on the evils of budget deficits. Even George W. Bush, during the 2000 campaign, at least pretended to be engaged in conventional budgeting, handing back part of a projected budget surplus.

But the Republican base doesn’t care what the mainstream media says. Indeed, after Wednesday’s debate the Internet was full of claims that John Harwood, one of the moderators, lied about Mr. Rubio’s tax plan. (He didn’t.) And in any case, Mr. Rubio sounds sensible compared to the likes of Mr. Carson and Mr. Trump. So there’s no penalty for his fiscal fantasies.

The point is that we shouldn’t ask whether the G.O.P. will eventually nominate someone in the habit of saying things that are demonstrably untrue, and counting on political loyalists not to notice. The only question is what kind of scam it will be.

Maybe Bobo will take the time to read this piece by Prof. Krugman, but since he’s inside the bubble…

Blow, Cohen and Krugman

October 26, 2015

In “Hillary Clinton Wins Again” Mr. Blow says the Benghazi committee embarrassed itself, and instead of weakening Mrs. Clinton, it bolstered her standing with potential voters.  Mr. Cohen, in “Britain’s ‘Brexit’ Folly,” says say it, Mr. Cameron: An “out” vote is a vote for decline, illusion, the past and marginalization.  In “Free Mitt Romney!” Prof. Krugman says the  former Massachusetts governor should be proud of helping to pave the way for Obamacare, but in today’s Republican Party that is viewed as a crime.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

On the heels of a strong Democratic debate performance, last week Vice President Joe Biden — whose candidacy would surely have drawn support away from her — dismounted the fence and decided not to run for president himself. And then came the spectacular debacle of the Benghazi committee hearing.

At one point during the hearing, Chairman Trey Gowdy, a Republican, said: “This is not a prosecution.” But it was an attempted persecution. It simply failed.

It was a televised witch trial. But the tribunal had before it a woman who would not confess transgression and who defied the flame.

Instead, she was poised, knowledgeable and unflappable. She turned the tables. The committee was on trial, and found wanting in motives, authorities and class.

I keep being surprised by the astonishing degree to which Clinton’s opponents continue to underestimate her.

She is far from flawless, but she is no slouch or dummy. She is sharp and tough and resilient. She is a rock, and she is not to be trifled with.

The Clintons as a couple, and individually, are battle-hardened. They are not new to this. They are survivors. Even when they lose, they survive. No upstart congressman or woman can do more damage than has already been done and dealt with.

Why can’t these people see that? Oh well…

Even before the hearings began, they had been hobbled.

Several Republicans had suggested what many already assumed: that the committee was established — or strayed from its course — in an effort to hurt Clinton’s political prospects.

Make no mistake: this field has been well plowed. This investigation is looking increasingly like a boondoggle: a spectacular waste of time and money.

As a Democratic congressman, Adam Schiff, put it: “The reality is that after 17 months, we have nothing new to tell the families. We have nothing new to tell the American people. We have discovered nothing that alters the core conclusions of the eight investigations that went on before.”

A CNN/ORC poll released last week found that:

“Seventy-two percent of all Americans say they see the Benghazi committee as mostly using its investigative mission for political gain, just 23 percent think it is conducting an objective investigation. Even Republicans are skeptical on this measure, with 49 percent saying the committee is trying to score political points vs. 47 percent who say it is conducting an objective investigation.”

Last week, four top Senate Democrats even demanded in a letter to the Republican National Committee chairman, Reince Priebus, that it pay for the nearly $5 million price tag of the committee, writing “that the Select Committee has conducted a political inquisition aimed at former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.” This of course was political theory, and will never happen, but needed to be said.

But the spectacle of the hearing itself was an injury different and apart from the motive. Clinton was more composed and commanding, while her Republican questioners vacillated from condescending to pugnacious.

They embarrassed themselves.

And in Clinton’s corner were the Democratic members of the committee, including ranking member Elijah Cummings, who all day delivered blistering repudiations to the committee itself.

Toward the end of the 11-hour hearing, Cummings said to Clinton:

“You have laid it out. I think — you’ve said — this has not been done perfectly. You wish you could do it another way, and then the statement you made a few minutes ago when you said, you know, I have given more thought to this than all of you combined. So I don’t know what we want from you. Do we want to badger you over and over again until you get tired, until we do get the gotcha moment he’s talking about?”

He continued:

“We’re better than that. We are so much better. We are a better country. And we are better than using taxpayer dollars to try to destroy a campaign. That’s not what America is all about.

As he put it: “I just had to get that off my chest.”

Indeed, when Gowdy was asked in a press conference following the marathon hearing what new information he had gathered, he responded:

“I think some of Jimmy Jordan’s questioning — well, when you say new today, we knew some of that already. We knew about the emails. In terms of her testimony? I don’t know that she testified that much differently today than she has the previous times she’s testified.”

That’s right, much of nothing. What a waste.

But not for Clinton. For her, it was a boon. She won another one. It bolstered her image as a warrior and it helped to shore up her support from waffling voters.

This doesn’t guarantee her the presidency of course, or even the nomination, but Republicans did her a tremendous favor with these hearings. The Benghazi committee became a Clinton campaign benefactor.

Next up we have Mr. Cohen:

The little Englanders and their enablers determined to takeBritain out of the European Union believe the perfect storm is upon them.

Look across the Channel, they argue, and see the hordes of desperate refugees intent on disrupting the British way of life (whatever they imagine that to be) and living off British welfare. Look beyond them and see the 19-member eurozone mired in the agony of its flawed creation. Look at the whole European Continent, with its sluggish economies and myriad regulations, and imagine a glorious island nation freed from the burdens of an unhappy association with the complex-ridden losers of World War II!

It’s all baloney, and dangerous baloney at that, fanned by the Murdoch press, the anti-immigrant hatemongers of the U.K. Independence Party, and the sovereignty-obsessed conservative backbenchers of Prime Minister David Cameron who believe Britain can boss it again in the world if unbound from the shackles of Brussels and bureaucrats intent on stipulating the shape of cucumbers.

The fact is the European Union has been good for Britain — its economy, its openness, its culture, its financial services and its global clout. Postwar imperial decline has been offset by European construction. The British overcoat has become ampler. But such is the jingoistic clamor that Cameron has blinked and, either next year or the year after that, Britain will vote (for the first time since 1975) on whether to remain part of the European Union. The vote will be definitive.

“It’s losable,” Pat McFadden, a Labour Party member of Parliament and staunch supporter of continued membership, told me. “It’s winnable, too. Neither side should make assumptions. You could have a nationalist anti-immigration thing that comes together at the very moment when the euro and the refugee crisis are being discussed.”

A vote to leave, for McFadden, would be a disaster — not just for the economy, trade, investment and jobs — but also for Britain’s place in the world. Britain does nearly half its trade with other European Union countries and, as an E.U. member, is part of a $18.5 trillion economy, larger than that of the United States. Exports to the European Union support over 4 million jobs, directly or indirectly. On its own, Britain is a significant pygmy, with less than 1 percent of the world’s population and less than 3 percent of global output; it is not in the 21st-century major league.

Moreover, as McFadden told me, “If Britain leaves the E.U., Scotland will leave Britain.” A pro-European Scotland, now a virtual Scottish nationalist one-party state, will be able to argue circumstances have changed since the referendum last year produced a majority for remaining part of the United Kingdom. Scotland will demand another vote. And so a British exit from Europe could well mean the end of the very Great Britain proudly invoked by the shoot-yourself-in-the-foot “Brexit” brigade.

Brooks and Krugman

October 23, 2015

Oh, lordy help us all, Bobo just LURVES him some Lady Gaga.  In “Lady Gaga and the Life of Passion” he babbles that those who immerse themselves in their pursuits show courage in exploring their inner selves and in getting past worrying about what others think.  In the comments “David Henry” from Walden Pond sums it up for us:  “Pop psychology from Mr. Brooks: undefined terms, misty
ruminations, and simplistic assumptions.”  In other words, a typical Bobo offering.  Prof. Krugman, in “Keynes Comes to Canada,” says the Liberal platform that Justin Trudeau won with promises a break with recent Western fiscal orthodoxy on public spending.  Here’s Bobo:

Earlier this week I watched some young musicians perform Lady Gaga songs in front of Lady Gaga. As India Carney’s voice rose and swooped during the incredible anthemic versions of her dance hits, Gaga sat enraptured. Her eyes moistened. Occasionally her arms would fling up in amazement. Finally, she just stood up and cheered.

It was at a dinner hosted by Americans for the Arts, a leading nonprofit organization promoting the arts and arts education. Gaga received an award, along with Sophia Loren, Herbie Hancock and others. Her acceptance speech was as dramatic as the music. Tears flowing, she said that this blessing of respectability was “the best thing that’s ever happened to me.” And she remembered her childhood dreams this way: “I suppose that I didn’t know what I would become, but I always wanted to be extremely brave and I wanted to be a constant reminder to the universe of what passion looks like. What it sounds like. What it feels like.”

That passage stuck in the head and got me thinking. When we talk about living with passion, which is sort of a cliché, what exactly do we mean?

I suppose that people who live with passion start out with an especially intense desire to complete themselves. We are the only animals who are naturally unfinished. We have to bring ourselves to fulfillment, to integration and to coherence.

Some people are seized by this task with a fierce longing. Maybe they are propelled by wounds that need urgent healing or by a fear of loneliness or fragmentation. Maybe they are driven by some glorious fantasy to make a mark on the world. But they often have a fervent curiosity about their inner natures and an unquenchable thirst to find some activity that they can pursue wholeheartedly, without reservation.

They construct themselves inwardly by expressing themselves outwardly. Members of the clergy sometimes say they convert themselves from the pulpit. By speaking out their faith, they make themselves faithful. People who live with passion do that. By teaching or singing or writing or nursing or parenting they bring coherence to the scattered impulses we are all born with inside. By doing some outward activity they understand and define themselves. A life of passion happens when an emotional nature meets a consuming vocation.

Another trait that marks them is that they have high levels of both vulnerability and courage. As Martha Nussbaum wrote in her great book “Upheavals of Thought,” to be emotional is to attach yourself to something you value supremely but don’t fully control. To be passionate is to put yourself in danger.

Living with this danger requires a courage that takes two forms. First, people with passion have the courage to dig down and play with their issues. We all have certain core concerns and tender spots that preoccupy us through life. Writers and artists may change styles over the course of their careers, but most of them are turning over the same few preoccupations in different ways. For Lady Gaga fame and body issues predominate — images of mutilation recur throughout her videos. She is always being hurt or thrown off balconies.

Passionate people often discover themselves through play. Whether scientists, entrepreneurs, cooks or artists, they explore their issues the way children explore the possibilities of Play-Doh. They use imagination to open up possibilities and understand their emotional histories. They delight in new ways to express themselves, expand their personalities and move toward their goals. Gaga, to continue with today’s example, has always had a sense of humor about her projects, about the things that frighten and delight her.

Second, people with passion have the courage to be themselves with abandon. We all care what others think about us. People with passion are just less willing to be ruled by the tyranny of public opinion.

As the saying goes, they somehow get on the other side of fear. They get beyond that fog that is scary to approach. Once through it they have more freedom to navigate. They opt out of things that are repetitive, routine and deadening. There’s even sometimes a certain recklessness there, a willingness to throw their imperfect selves out into public view while not really thinking beforehand how people might react. Gaga is nothing if not permanently out there; the rare celebrity who is willing to portray herself as a monster, a witch or disturbing cyborg — someone prone to inflicting pain.

Lady Gaga is her own unique creature, whom no one could copy. But she is indisputably a person who lives an amplified life, who throws her contradictions out there, who makes herself a work of art. People like that confront the rest of us with the question a friend of mine perpetually asks: Who would you be and what would you do if you weren’t afraid?

And if you were a tree what kind of tree would you be?   Here’s Prof. Krugman:

Canada has a reputation for dullness. Back in the 1980s The New Republic famously declared “Worthwhile Canadian Initiative” the world’s most boring headline. Yet when it comes to economic policy the reputation is undeserved: Canada has surprisingly often been the place where the future happens first.

And it’s happening again. On Monday, Canadian voters swept the ruling Conservatives out of power, delivering a stunning victory to the center-left Liberals. And while there are many interesting things about the Liberalplatform, what strikes me most is its clear rejection of the deficit-obsessed austerity orthodoxy that has dominated political discourse across the Western world. The Liberals ran on a frankly, openly Keynesian vision, and won big.

Before I get into the implications, let’s talk about Canada’s long history of quiet economic unorthodoxy, especially on currency policy.

In the 1950s, everyone considered it essential to peg their currency to the U.S. dollar, at whatever cost — everyone except Canada, which let its own dollar fluctuate, and discovered that a floating exchange rate actually worked pretty well. Later, when European nations were scrambling to join the euro — amid predictions that any country refusing to adopt the common currency would pay a severe price — Canada showed that it’s feasible to keep your own money despite close economic ties to a giant neighbor.

Oh, and Canadians were less caught up than the rest of us in the ideology of bank deregulation. As a result, Canada was spared the worst of the 2008 financial crisis.

Which brings us to the issue of deficits and public investment. Here’s what the Liberal Party of Canada platform had to say on the subject: “Interest rates are at historic lows, our current infrastructure is aging rapidly, and our economy is stuck in neutral. Now is the time to invest.”

Does that sound reasonable? It should, because it is. We’re living in a world awash with savings that the private sector doesn’t want to invest, and is eager to lend to governments at very low interest rates. It’s obviously a good idea to borrow at those low, low rates, putting those excess savings, not to mention the workers unemployed due to weak demand, to use building things that will improve our future.

Strange to say, however, that hasn’t been happening. Across the advanced world, the modest-size fiscal stimulus programs introduced in 2009 have long since faded away. Since 2010 public investment has been falling as a share of G.D.P. in both Europe and the United States, and it’s now well below pre-crisis levels. Why?

The answer is that in 2010 elite opinion somehow coalesced around the view that deficits, not high unemployment and weak growth, were the great problem facing policy makers. There was never any evidence for this view; after all, those low interest rates showed that markets weren’t at all worried about debt. But never mind — it was what all the important people were saying, and all that you read in much of the financial press. And few politicians were willing to challenge this orthodoxy.

Most notably, those who should have stood up for public spending suffered a striking failure of nerve. Britain’s Labour Party, in particular, essentially accepted Conservative claims that the nation was facing a fiscal crisis, and was reduced to arguing at the margin about what form austerity should take. Even President Obama temporarily began echoing Republican rhetoric about the need to tighten the government’s belt.

And having bought into deficit panic, center-left parties found themselves in an extremely weak position. Austerity rhetoric comes naturally to right-wing politicians, who are always arguing that we can’t afford to help the poor and unlucky (although somehow we’re able to afford tax cuts for the rich). Center-left politicians who endorse austerity, however, find themselves reduced to arguing that they won’t inflict quite as much pain. It’s a losing proposition, politically as well as economically.

Now come Justin Trudeau’s Liberals, who are finally willing to say what sensible economists (even at places like the International Monetary Fund) have been saying all along. And they weren’t punished politically — on the contrary, they won a stunning victory.

So will the Liberals put their platform into practice? They should. Interest rates remain incredibly low: Canada can borrow for 10 years at only 1½ percent, and its 30-year inflation-protected bonds yield less than 1 percent. Furthermore, Canada is probably facing an extended period of weak private demand, thanks to low oil prices and the likely deflation of a housing bubble.

Let’s hope, then, that Mr. Trudeau stays with the program. He has an opportunity to show the world what truly responsible fiscal policy looks like.


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