Archive for the ‘Krugman’ Category

Brooks and Krugman

May 29, 2015

Bobo has decided to wax poetic (or, rather, have other people wax poetic) about “The Small, Happy Life.  He burbles that in this first batch of personal takes on how some readers found purpose in life, a surprising theme emerged.  Oh, lawdy, that implies that there will be more…  In the comments “HeyNorris” from Paris had this to say:  “It’s becoming alarmingly apparent that Mr. Brooks sees himself as Professor Pangloss, and us Tonstant Weaders as his Candides. Well, this Candide is ready to fwow up.”  Prof. Krugman, in “The Insecure American,” says a new study on the financial well-being of U.S. households shows just how little room for error there is for many of us.  Here, FSM help us, is Bobo:

A few weeks ago, I asked readers to send in essays describing their purpose in life and how they found it. A few thousand submitted contributions, andmany essays are online. I’ll write more about the lessons they shared in the weeks ahead, but one common theme surprised me.

I expected most contributors would follow the commencement-speech clichés of our high-achieving culture: dream big; set ambitious goals; try to change the world. In fact, a surprising number of people found their purpose by going the other way, by pursuing the small, happy life.

Elizabeth Young once heard the story of a man who was asked by a journalist to show his most precious possession. The man, Young wrote, “was proud and excited to show the journalist the gift he had been bequeathed. A banged up tin pot he kept carefully wrapped in cloth as though it was fragile. The journalist was confused, what made this dingy old pot so valuable? ‘The message,’ the friend replied. The message was ‘we do not all have to shine.’ This story resonated deeply. In that moment I was able to relieve myself of the need to do something important, from which I would reap praise and be rewarded with fulfillment. My vision cleared.”

Young continues, “I have always wanted to be effortlessly kind. I wanted to raise children who were kind.” She notes that among those who survived the Nazi death camps, a predominant quality she noticed was generosity.

“Perhaps,” she concludes, “the mission is not a mission at all. … Everywhere there are tiny, seemingly inconsequential circumstances that, if explored, provide meaning” and chances to be generous and kind. Spiritual and emotional growth happens in microscopic increments.

Kim Spencer writes, “I used to be one of the solid ones — one of the people whose purpose was clearly defined and understood. My purpose was seeing patients and ‘saving lives.’ I have melted into the in-between spaces, though. Now my purpose is simply to be the person … who can pick up the phone and give you 30 minutes in your time of crisis. I can give it to you today and again in a few days. … I can edit your letter. … I can listen to you complain about your co-worker. … I can look you in the eye and give you a few dollars in the parking lot. I am not upset if you cry. I am no longer drowning, so I can help keep you afloat with a little boost. Not all of the time, but every once in a while, until you find other people to help or a different way to swim. It is no skin off my back; it is easy for me.”

Terence J. Tollaksen wrote that his purpose became clearer once he began to recognize the “decision trap”: “This trap is an amazingly consistent phenomena whereby ‘big’ decisions turn out to have much less impact on a life as a whole than the myriad of small seemingly insignificant ones.”

Tollaksen continues, “I have always admired those goal-oriented, stubborn, successful, determined individuals; they make things happen, and the world would be lost without them.” But, he explains, he has always had a “small font purpose.”

“I can say it worked for me. I know it sounds so Midwest, but it’s been wonderful. I have a terrific wife, 5 kids, friends from grade school and high school, college, army, friends locally, and sometimes, best of all, horses, dogs, and cats. Finally, I have a small industrial business that I started and have run for 40 years based on what I now identify as principles of ‘Pope Francis capitalism.’ ”

Hans Pitsch wrote: “At age 85, the question of meaning in my life is urgent. The question of the purpose of my life is another matter. World War II and life in general have taught me that outcomes from our actions or inactions are often totally unpredictable and random.”

He adds, “I am thankful to be alive. I have a responsibility to myself and those around me to give meaning to my life from day to day. I enjoy my family (not all of them) and the shrinking number of old friends. You use the term ‘organizing frame’ in one’s life. I am not sure if I want to be framed by an organizing principle, but if there is one thing that keeps me focused, it’s the garden. Lots of plants died during the harsh winter, but, amazingly, the clematises and the roses are back, and lettuce, spinach and tomatoes are thriving in the new greenhouse. The weeping cherry tree in front of the house succumbed to old age. I still have to plant a new tree this year.”

This scale of purpose is not for everyone, but there is something beautiful and concrete and well-proportioned about tending that size of a garden.

One wonders why any of these people would actually write to Bobo…  Here’s Prof. Krugman:

America remains, despite the damage inflicted by the Great Recession and its aftermath, a very rich country. But many Americans are economically insecure, with little protection from life’s risks. They frequently experience financial hardship; many don’t expect to be able to retire, and if they do retire have little to live on besides Social Security.

Many readers will, I hope, find nothing surprising in what I just said. But all too many affluent Americans — and, in particular, members of our political elite — seem to have no sense of how the other half lives. Which is why a new study on the financial well-being of U.S. households, conducted by the Federal Reserve, should be required reading inside the Beltway.

Before I get to that study, a few words about the callous obliviousness so prevalent in our political life.

I am not, or not only, talking about right-wing contempt for the poor, although the dominance of compassionless conservatism is a sight to behold. According to the Pew Research Center, more than three-quarters of conservatives believe that the poor “have it easy” thanks to government benefits; only 1 in 7 believe that the poor “have hard lives.” And this attitude translates into policy. What we learn from the refusal of Republican-controlled states to expand Medicaid, even though the federal government would foot the bill, is that punishing the poor has become a goal in itself, one worth pursuing even if it hurts rather than helps state budgets.

But leave self-declared conservatives and their contempt for the poor on one side. What’s really striking is the disconnect between centrist conventional wisdom and the reality of life — and death — for much of the nation.

Take, as a prime example, positioning on Social Security. For decades, a declared willingness to cut Social Security benefits, especially by raising the retirement age, has been almost a required position — a badge of seriousness — for politicians and pundits who want to sound wise and responsible. After all, people are living longer, so shouldn’t they work longer, too? And isn’t Social Security an old-fashioned system, out of touch with modern economic realities?

Meanwhile, the reality is that living longer in our ever-more-unequal society is very much a class thing: life expectancy at age 65 has risen a lot among the affluent, but hardly at all in the bottom half of the wage distribution, that is, among those who need Social Security most. And while the retirement system F.D.R. introduced may look old-fashioned to affluent professionals, it is quite literally a lifeline for many of our fellow citizens. A majority of Americans over 65 get more than half their income from Social Security, and more than a quarter are almost completely reliant on those monthly checks.

These realities may finally be penetrating political debate, to some extent. We seem to be hearing less these days about cutting Social Security, and we’re even seeing some attention paid to proposals for benefit increases given the erosion of private pensions. But my sense is that Washington still has no clue about the realities of life for those not yet elderly. Which is where that Federal Reserve study comes in.

This is the study’s second year, and the current edition actually portrays a nation in recovery: in 2014, unlike 2013, a substantial plurality of respondents said that they were better off than they had been five years ago. Yet it’s startling how little room for error there is in many American lives.

We learn, for example, that 3 in 10 nonelderly Americans said they had no retirement savings or pension, and that the same fraction reported going without some kind of medical care in the past year because they couldn’t afford it. Almost a quarter reported that they or a family member had experienced financial hardship in the past year.

And something that even startled me: 47 percent said that they would not have the resources to meet an unexpected expense of $400 — $400! They would have to sell something or borrow to meet that need, if they could meet it at all.

Of course, it could be much worse. Social Security is there, and we should be very glad that it is. Meanwhile, unemployment insurance and food stamps did a lot to cushion unlucky families from the worst during the Great Recession. And Obamacare, imperfect as it is, has immensely reduced insecurity, especially in states whose governments haven’t tried to sabotage the program.

But while things could be worse, they could also be better. There is no such thing as perfect security, but American families could easily have much more security than they have. All it would take is for politicians and pundits to stop talking blithely about the need to cut “entitlements” and start looking at the way their less-fortunate fellow citizens actually live.

Blow, Cohen and Krugman

May 25, 2015

In “Restoring Memoriam to Memorial Day” Mr. Blow says our country keeps drifting further away from the spirit behind the holiday because fewer of us have served or have family members who serve in the military.  Mr. Cohen, in “The Great Unease,” says we have access to everything and certainty about nothing. The Day of Judgment has given way to days of endless judgment.  Prof. Krugman, in “The Big Meh,” says a growing number of economists, looking at the data on productivity and incomes, are wondering if the technological revolution has been greatly overhyped.  Oh, gawd, don’t tell The Moustache of Wisdom…  Here’s Mr. Blow:

This Memorial Day, as we head to the lake and the beach, grill and drink, shop and save, lay out in the sun or seek shady places, we must remain cognizant that the holiday didn’t begin as a day of celebration or commerce but one of solemnity and, indeed, memoriam.

As David W. Blight, a professor of history and the director of the Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance and Abolition at Yale wrote in The New York Times in 2011, during the final year of the Civil War, a racetrack was converted to an outdoor prison for Union captives; “at least 257 died of disease and were hastily buried in a mass grave behind the grandstand.”

Blight wrote: “After the Confederate evacuation of Charleston, black workmen went to the site, reburied the Union dead properly, and built a high fence around the cemetery” and the freed people, “in cooperation with white missionaries and teachers, staged a parade of 10,000 on the track.”

He continued: “After the dedication, the crowd dispersed into the infield and did what many of us do on Memorial Day: enjoyed picnics, listened to speeches and watched soldiers drill.”

Blight concluded: “The war was over, and Memorial Day had been founded by African-Americans in a ritual of remembrance and consecration. The war, they had boldly announced, had been about the triumph of their emancipation over a slaveholders’ republic. They were themselves the true patriots.”

This is the history from which this holiday springs: honoring sacrifice. And honoring sacrifices can exist apart from endorsing missions. Many of our veterans have given life, and increasingly, limb for this country, and that must be saluted.

Some of our wars are those of disastrous execution, others of deceptive inception, some a bit of both, but they are all ours.

Yet we are drifting away from this tradition of honoring sacrifice. The public in general and the elected officials who have sanctioned and sustained our wars, sometimes over substantial public objection, have a diminishing personal stake on the battlefields — few of their own lives and the lives of their children, siblings and spouses.

President Obama isn’t a military veteran, nor are many of the presidential hopefuls who have declared or might declare a run for the White House in 2016.

Hillary Clinton, Martin O’Malley and Bernie Sanders have never served. Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, Scott Walker, Chris Christie, Ben Carson, Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum, Carly Fiorina and Bobby Jindal have not either. Only Rick Perry, Lindsey Graham and Jim Webb have.

As USA Today reported in 2012:

“In 2013, just 19 percent of the 535 combined members in the U.S. House and Senate will have active-duty military service on their résumé, down from a peak in 1977 when 80 percent of lawmakers boasted military service.”

The newspaper explained:

“The transition from the draft to an all-volunteer military in 1973 is a driving force of the decline, but veterans and their advocates say they face more challenges running for office in the modern era of political campaigns.”

As for the current Congress, as the “PBS NewsHour” noted in November: “In all, 97 members of the next session of Congress will have served in the U.S. military. That means less than 18 percent of the new congressional delegation served in the armed forces. (Note: This number includes one nonvoting delegate from the Northern Marianas.)”

Brooks and Krugman

May 22, 2015

This morning Rabbi Bobo’s sermon is all about “Building Spiritual Capital.”  He babbles that spiritual awareness is innate, and it is an important component in human development.  In the comments “Joseph Huben” from upstate New York had this to say:  “It is a bit offensive to be preached to by a proponent of incentivizing the poor by cutting food stamps, unemployment benefits and Social Security. ”  In “Trade and Trust” Prof. Krugman says all the bad arguments for the Trans-Pacific Partnership suggest that it isn’t a deal we should support.  Here’s Rabbi Bobo:

Lisa Miller is a professor of psychology and education at Columbia University. One day she entered a subway car and saw that half of it was crowded but the other half was empty, except for a homeless man who had some fast food on his lap and who was screaming at anybody who came close.

At one stop, a grandmother and granddaughter, about 8, entered the car. They were elegantly dressed, wearing pastel dresses and gloves with lace trim. The homeless man spotted them and screamed, “Hey! Do you want to sit with me?” They looked at each other, nodded and replied in unison, “Thank you” and, unlike everybody else, sat directly next to him.

The man offered them some chicken from his bag. They looked at each other and nodded and said, “No, thank you.” The homeless man offered several more times, and each time they nodded to each other and gave the same polite answer. Finally, the homeless man was calmed, and they all sat contentedly in their seats.

Miller was struck by the power of that nod. “The nod was spirituality shared between child and beloved elder: spiritual direction, values, taught and received in the loving relationship,” she writes in her book “The Spiritual Child.” The grandmother was teaching the granddaughter the wisdom that we were once all strangers in a strange land and that we’re judged by how we treat those who have the least.

Miller’s core argument is that spiritual awareness is innate and that it is an important component in human development. An implication of her work is that if you care about social mobility, graduation rates, resilience, achievement and family formation, you can’t ignore the spiritual resources of the people you are trying to help.

Miller defines spirituality as “an inner sense of relationship to a higher power that is loving and guiding.” Different people can conceive of this higher power as God, nature, spirit, the universe or just a general oneness of being. She distinguishes spirituality, which has a provable genetic component, from religious affiliation, which is entirely influenced by environment.

I’d say Miller doesn’t pay sufficient attention to the many secular, this-world ways people find to organize their lives. Still, it does seem true that most children are born with a natural sense of the spiritual. If they find a dead squirrel on the playground, they understand there is something sacred there, and they will most likely give it a respectful burial. They have a natural sense of the oneness of creation, and a sense of a transcendent, nonmaterial realm. Miller cites twin studies that suggest that the strength of a child’s spiritual awareness is about 29 percent because of broad genetic heritability, 24 percent because of family environment and 47 percent because of a person’s unique individual environment.

Spiritual awareness, she continues, surges in adolescence, at about the same time as depression and other threats to well-being. Some level of teenage depression, she says, should be seen as a normal part of the growth process, as young people ask fundamental questions of themselves. The spiritual surge in adolescence is nature’s way of responding to this normal crisis.

Taken together,” Miller writes, “research supports the idea of a common physiology underlying depression and spirituality.” In other words, teenagers commonly suffer a loss of meaning, confidence and identity. Some of them try to fill the void with drugs, alcohol, gang activity and even pregnancy. But others are surrounded by people who have cultivated their spiritual instincts. According to Miller’s research, adolescents with a strong sense of connection to a transcendent realm are 70 percent to 80 percent less likely to engage in heavy substance abuse. Among teenage girls, having a strong spiritual sense was extremely protective against serious depression. Adults who consider themselves highly spiritual at age 26 are, according to her research, 75 percent protected against recurrence of depression.

Innate spiritual capacities can wither unless cultivated — the way innate math faculties can go undeveloped without instruction. Loving families nurture these capacities, especially when parents speak explicitly about spiritual quests. The larger question, especially in this age of family disruption, is whether public schools and other institutions should do more to nurture spiritual faculties.

Public schools often give short shrift to spirituality for fear that they would be accused of proselytizing religion. But it should be possible to teach the range of spiritual disciplines, in order to familiarize students with the options, without endorsing any one.

In an era in which so many people slip off the rails during adolescence, we don’t have the luxury of ignoring a resource that, if cultivated, could see them through. Ignoring spiritual development in the public square is like ignoring intellectual, physical or social development. It is to amputate people in a fundamental way, leading to more depression, drug abuse, alienation and misery.

I think “Joseph Huben” said everything about this that needs to be said.  Here’s Prof. Krugman:

One of the Obama administration’s underrated virtues is its intellectual honesty. Yes, Republicans see deception and sinister ulterior motives everywhere, but they’re just projecting. The truth is that, in the policy areas I follow, this White House has been remarkably clear and straightforward about what it’s doing and why.

Every area, that is, except one: international trade and investment.

I don’t know why the president has chosen to make the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership such a policy priority. Still, there is an argument to be made for such a deal, and some reasonable, well-intentioned people are supporting the initiative.

But other reasonable, well-intentioned people have serious questions about what’s going on. And I would have expected a good-faith effort to answer those questions. Unfortunately, that’s not at all what has been happening. Instead, the selling of the 12-nation Pacific Rim pact has the feel of a snow job. Officials have evaded the main concerns about the content of a potential deal; they’ve belittled and dismissed the critics; and they’ve made blithe assurances that turn out not to be true.

The administration’s main analytical defense of the trade deal came earlier this month, in a report from the Council of Economic Advisers. Strangely, however, the report didn’t actually analyze the Pacific trade pact. Instead, it was a paean to the virtues of free trade, which was irrelevant to the question at hand.

First of all, whatever you may say about the benefits of free trade, most of those benefits have already been realized. A series of past trade agreements, going back almost 70 years, has brought tariffs and other barriers to trade very low to the point where any effect they may have on U.S. trade is swamped by other factors, like changes in currency values.

In any case, the Pacific trade deal isn’t really about trade. Some already low tariffs would come down, but the main thrust of the proposed deal involves strengthening intellectual property rights — things like drug patents and movie copyrights — and changing the way companies and countries settle disputes. And it’s by no means clear that either of those changes is good for America.

On intellectual property: patents and copyrights are how we reward innovation. But do we need to increase those rewards at consumers’ expense? Big Pharma and Hollywood think so, but you can also see why, for example, Doctors Without Borders is worried that the deal would make medicines unaffordable in developing countries. That’s a serious concern, and it’s one that the pact’s supporters haven’t addressed in any satisfying way.

On dispute settlement: a leaked draft chapter shows that the deal would create a system under which multinational corporations could sue governments over alleged violations of the agreement, and have the cases judged by partially privatized tribunals. Critics like Senator Elizabeth Warren warn that this could compromise the independence of U.S. domestic policy — that these tribunals could, for example, be used to attack and undermine financial reform.

Not so, says the Obama administration, with the president declaring that Senator Warren is “absolutely wrong.” But she isn’t. The Pacific trade pact could force the United States to change policies or face big fines, and financial regulation is one policy that might be in the line of fire. As if to illustrate the point, Canada’s finance minister recently declared that the Volcker Rule, a key provision of the 2010 U.S. financial reform, violates the existing North American Free Trade Agreement. Even if he can’t make that claim stick, his remarks demonstrate that there’s nothing foolish about worrying that trade and investment pacts can threaten bank regulation.

As I see it, the big problem here is one of trust.

International economic agreements are, inevitably, complex, and you don’t want to find out at the last minute — just before an up-or-down, all-or-nothing vote — that a lot of bad stuff has been incorporated into the text. So you want reassurance that the people negotiating the deal are listening to valid concerns, that they are serving the national interest rather than the interests of well-connected corporations.

Instead of addressing real concerns, however, the Obama administration has been dismissive, trying to portray skeptics as uninformed hacks who don’t understand the virtues of trade. But they’re not: the skeptics have on balance been more right than wrong about issues like dispute settlement, and the only really hackish economics I’ve seen in this debate is coming from supporters of the trade pact.

It’s really disappointing and disheartening to see this kind of thing from a White House that has, as I said, been quite forthright on other issues. And the fact that the administration evidently doesn’t feel that it can make an honest case for the Trans-Pacific Partnership suggests that this isn’t a deal we should support.

Blow and Krugman

May 18, 2015

In “Unaffiliated and Underrepresented” Mr. Blow points out that members of Congress remain more Christian by percentage than the people they serve.  Well, Mr. Blow, I’d quibble that they claim Christianity but certainly don’t act on it.  Prof. Krugman, in “Errors and Lies,” says the  Iraq war, based on lies, was more than a mistake.  True.  Let’s call it what it was, a colossal clusterfck.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

President Obama is a Christian (despite the fact that most Republicans apparently still believe that his “deep down” beliefs are Muslim, according to one poll conducted last year.)

In fact, according to the Public Religion Research Institute, there have only been four “religiously unaffiliated heads of state in American history,” the last being Rutherford B. Hayes, who left office in 1881. This, however, does not mean that they did not believe in God.

Perhaps the most famous unaffiliated president was Abraham Lincoln, whowrote in 1846:

“That I am not a member of any Christian Church, is true; but I have never denied the truth of the Scriptures; and I have never spoken with intentional disrespect of religion in general, or of any denomination of Christians in particular.”

Now it is almost unconscionable to think of a president who didn’t believe in God. In fact, a poll last year by the Pew Research Center found that not believing in God was the most negative trait a presidential candidate could have among a variety of options, even more negative than having an extramarital affair.

Furthermore, in the House and Senate at the beginning of this session of Congress, 92 percent of members were Christian, 5 percent were Jewish, 0.4 percent each were Buddhist and Muslim and just 0.2 percent were unaffiliated. For those doing the math, that leaves only one member unaffiliated: Representative Kyrsten Sinema, a Democrat from Arizona.

But how long can this overrepresentation of Christianity and underrepresentation of the unaffiliated last in government? According to a Pew report released last week, “The Christian share of the U.S. population is declining, while the number of U.S. adults who do not identify with any organized religion is growing.” In fact, the percentage of adults who “describe themselves as Christians has dropped by nearly eight percentage points in just seven years,” from 78.4 percent in 2007 to 70.6 percent in 2014.

But the report also found, “Over the same period, the percentage of Americans who are religiously unaffiliated — describing themselves as atheist, agnostic or ‘nothing in particular’ — has jumped more than six points, from 16.1 percent to 22.8 percent.” Much of the change comes from younger people. According to the report, “About a third of older millennials (adults currently in their late 20s and early 30s) now say they have no religion, up nine percentage points among this cohort since 2007, when the same group was between ages 18 and 26.”

This begs the question: How much longer will this be thought of as a strictly Christian nation (if it ever really was one) with an overwhelming Christian government?

In March, Kevin M. Kruse, a professor of history at Princeton University,argued in The New York Times Sunday Review that “the founding fathers didn’t create the ceremonies and slogans that come to mind when we consider whether this is a Christian nation. Our grandfathers did.” This, according to Kruse, began with anti-New Deal business leaders in the 1930s who linked capitalism to Christianity as a public relations move.

From there, the idea of America as a Christian nation grew and expanded so that, according to Kruse: “Public Policy Polling reported that 57 percent of Republicans favored officially making the United States a Christian nation. But in 2007, a survey by the First Amendment Center showed that 55 percent of Americans believed it already was one.”

Cohen and Krugman

May 15, 2015

In “This Angry Arab Moment” Mr. Cohen says the United States can walk and chew gum in the Middle East, and it should.  Prof. Krugman, in “Fraternity of Failure,” says in the modern Republican Party, catastrophic error seems to have become a required credential.  Here’s Mr. Cohen, writing from Dubai:

When Amr Moussa, the former secretary general of the Arab League, spoke here of the Arab world’s humiliation by three non-Arab states — Iran, Israel and Turkey — and the way they had, through their “hegemony,” turned Arabs into a “laughingstock,” I asked him what exactly he meant.

His response focused on Iran. This in itself was interesting. Statements from Tehran about Iran calling the shots in several Arab capitals — including Damascus, Baghdad and Sana — had “enraged many of us,” he said, leaving Arabs humiliated that any power “would dare say that.”

As this remark suggests, Iran these days is a greater focus of Arab ire and disquiet than Israel, a country with which many Arab states have aligned but unsayable interests.

Cut to Camp David and President Obama’s attempt to reassure Persian Gulf leaders that the United States can, in Secretary of State John Kerry’s words, “do two things at the same time” — that is, conclude a nuclear deal with Shiite Iran and honor its alliances with the Sunni monarchies, whose oil is now of less strategic importance to an America in the midst of an oil boom.

The walk-and-chew-gum American argument is a tough sell because Arab honor and Arab humiliation are in play. That’s why King Salman of Saudi Arabia stayed away from Camp David. That’s why the Saudis started a bombing campaign in Yemen: to stop the Houthis, portrayed in Riyadh as pure Iranian proxies. That’s why much of what you hear these days in Dubai (where many Iranians live and trade) is talk of Obama’s betrayal of the Arabs through infatuation with Iran.

Arabs are saying: Enough! They are, in Moussa’s words at the Arab Media Forum here, in the midst of an “awakening.”

Let’s walk this bristling cat back a little, but perhaps not as far as Western colonialism in the Middle East and the century-old, now collapsing Sykes-Picot order. Let’s set aside Israel, seen by many Arabs as an extension of that colonialism. But let’s go far enough back to encompass the American invasion of Iraq a dozen years ago and the consequent overturn of Saddam Hussein’s Sunni domination in favor of the Shiite majority and, behind it, Iran. And certainly as far as the ongoing Syrian debacle, Obama’s abandoned “red line” against the Iran-backed Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons, and the Arab conclusion that fecklessness was the name of the game in Obama’s Washington.

Yes, Arabs have talked themselves into a state of high dudgeon. They are convinced that Iran’s imperial designs on the region will be reinforced by an eventual nuclear deal that would bring Tehran and Washington closer and offer the Islamic Republic a cash windfall from sanctions relief. Think of the Saudi bombs on Aden as a warning shot to Obama (whatever his support for “Operation Decisive Storm”) and Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

To all of which the right response is for Obama to hold the line on Iran and decline to hold the Saudis’ hands.

First, Iran built up its current Middle Eastern reach in the absence of a nuclear deal, not with one. It was unconstrained by any accord with major powers drawing it closer to a world of rules. It vastly expanded its nuclear program. What is more threatening to the Arab world — a nuclear-armed Iran or one whose nuclear program is ring-fenced, reduced and intensely monitored?

Second, the Arab sense of humiliation is at least as much internally generated as externally. Like any other power, Arabs control their own destiny. Millions of young Arabs rose up a few years ago to demand empowerment and opportunity. These hopes are on hold, at least outside Tunisia and booming Dubai. No bombing of Yemen, damning of Iran or ritual tirade against Israel will offset the disappointment.

Third, there is the hard-line, expansive Iran of Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, and the reformist Iran bent on renewed ties with the West of President Hassan Rouhani. For now they are roughly in balance. Each needs the other to survive. The Gulf Cooperation Council should focus more on which faction is likely to be reinforced over time by a nuclear deal.

Fourth, Iran is a major Middle Eastern power. The short-term strategic interest of Arab states may appear to be the maintenance of an unsatisfactory status quo that preserves Iran’s rogue status and leaves America’s allegiances unaltered. In fact, the real interest of Arab states must be an Iran no longer going freelance, constrained by its accords with major powers, benefiting from regional economic cooperation, and pushed by its youth toward reform.

Einstein’s definition of insanity — doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results — needs an addendum. Madness is doing the same thing over and over in the Middle East and expecting a different outcome.

Obama is a walk-and-chew-gum kind of guy. There are risks to an Iran nuclear deal but the risks without one are far greater.

Now here’s Prof. Krugman:

Jeb Bush wants to stop talking about past controversies. And you can see why. He has a lot to stop talking about. But let’s not honor his wish. You can learn a lot by studying recent history, and you can learn even more by watching how politicians respond to that history.

The big “Let’s move on” story of the past few days involved Mr. Bush’s response when asked in an interview whether, knowing what he knows now, he would have supported the 2003 invasion of Iraq. He answered that yes, he would. No W.M.D.? No stability after all the lives and money expended? No problem.

Then he tried to walk it back. He “interpreted the question wrong,” and isn’t interested in engaging “hypotheticals.” Anyway, “going back in time” is a “disservice” to those who served in the war.

Take a moment to savor the cowardice and vileness of that last remark. And, no, that’s not hyperbole. Mr. Bush is trying to hide behind the troops, pretending that any criticism of political leaders — especially, of course, his brother, the commander in chief — is an attack on the courage and patriotism of those who paid the price for their superiors’ mistakes. That’s sinking very low, and it tells us a lot more about the candidate’s character than any number of up-close-and-personal interviews.

Wait, there’s more: Incredibly, Mr. Bush resorted to the old passive-voice dodge, admitting only that “mistakes were made.” Indeed. By whom? Well, earlier this year Mr. Bush released a list of his chief advisers on foreign policy, and it was a who’s-who of mistake-makers, people who played essential roles in the Iraq disaster and other debacles.

Seriously, consider that list, which includes such luminaries as Paul Wolfowitz, who insisted that we would be welcomed as liberators and that the war would cost almost nothing, and Michael Chertoff, who as director of the Department of Homeland Security during Hurricane Katrina was unaware of the thousands of people stranded at the New Orleans convention center without food and water.

In Bushworld, in other words, playing a central role in catastrophic policy failure doesn’t disqualify you from future influence. If anything, a record of being disastrously wrong on national security issues seems to be a required credential.

Voters, even Republican primary voters, may not share that view, and the past few days have probably taken a toll on Mr. Bush’s presidential prospects. In a way, however, that’s unfair. Iraq is a special problem for the Bush family, which has a history both of never admitting mistakes and of sticking with loyal family retainers no matter how badly they perform. But refusal to learn from experience, combined with a version of political correctness in which you’re only acceptable if you have been wrong about crucial issues, is pervasive in the modern Republican Party.

Take my usual focus, economic policy. If you look at the list of economists who appear to have significant influence on Republican leaders, including the likely presidential candidates, you find that nearly all of them agreed, back during the “Bush boom,” that there was no housing bubble and the American economic future was bright; that nearly all of them predicted that the Federal Reserve’s efforts to fight the economic crisis that developed when that nonexistent bubble popped would lead to severe inflation; and that nearly all of them predicted that Obamacare, which went fully into effect in 2014, would be a huge job-killer.

Given how badly these predictions turned out — we had the biggest housing bust in history, inflation paranoia has been wrong for six years and counting, and 2014 delivered the best job growth since 1999 — you might think that there would be some room in the G.O.P. for economists who didn’t get everything wrong. But there isn’t. Having been completely wrong about the economy, like having been completely wrong about Iraq, seems to be a required credential.

What’s going on here? My best explanation is that we’re witnessing the effects of extreme tribalism. On the modern right, everything is a political litmus test. Anyone who tried to think through the pros and cons of the Iraq war was, by definition, an enemy of President George W. Bush and probably hated America; anyone who questioned whether the Federal Reserve was really debasing the currency was surely an enemy of capitalism and freedom.

It doesn’t matter that the skeptics have been proved right. Simply raising questions about the orthodoxies of the moment leads to excommunication, from which there is no coming back. So the only “experts” left standing are those who made all the approved mistakes. It’s kind of a fraternity of failure: men and women united by a shared history of getting everything wrong, and refusing to admit it. Will they get the chance to add more chapters to their reign of error?

Blow, Cohen and Krugman

May 11, 2015

Sorry for the absence — I’ve had a bout of what we refer to as the “Savannah Crud.”  Not fun…  Mr. Blow, in “Of Museums and Racial Relics,” says the first lady draws fire from those employing wishful thinking about the state of cultural bias.  Mr. Cohen ponders “Italian Curves, Italian Cures” and says people return to Italy for its beauty, of course, but also for a refuge from relentlessness.  Prof. Krugman considers “Wall Street Vampires” and says the plot against financial reform continues, despite the fact that one important measure is actually working.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

Recently, Rush Limbaugh lambasted the first lady, Michelle Obama, for bringing up the idea of diversity among museum visitors at the opening of the new Whitney Museum in New York.

According to Limbaugh, the first lady said: “Museums and concert halls just don’t welcome nonwhite visitors — especially children — the way they welcome white people.”

What the first lady actually said was:

“You see, there are so many kids in this country who look at places like museums and concert halls and other cultural centers and they think to themselves, well, that’s not a place for me, for someone who looks like me, for someone who comes from my neighborhood.  In fact, I guarantee you that right now, there are kids living less than a mile from here who would never in a million years dream that they would be welcome in this museum.”

Then, she went on to laud the Whitney for its efforts at inclusion and diversity: “And with this inaugural exhibition, the Whitney is really sending the same message to young people and to people of every background across this country. You’re telling them that their story is part of the American story, and that they deserve to be seen. And you’re sending that message not just with the art you display, but with the educational programming you run here. You’re reaching out to kids from all backgrounds, exposing them to the arts, showing them that they have something to contribute.”

It was a rather mild, if not flattering way to acknowledge a disparity while also encouraging efforts to counter it.

And, the first lady was right. A 2010 report by the Center for the Future of Museums (an initiative of the American Association of Museums) found that:

“African-Americans and Latinos have notably lower rates of museum attendance than white Americans. Why is that so? In part, it is the legacy of historic discrimination. A summary study of S.P.P.A. [Survey of Public Participation in the Arts] data from the 1980s on white and black attendance at arts events concluded that the measurable difference in participation could be tied to ‘subtle forms of exclusion.’ ”

The report cited data that shows “historic patterns of segregation and exclusion as one reason that fewer African-American families instill museum-going habits in their young children. More recent studies have identified a distinct cultural psychology among African-Americans, rooted in historical and social experience, which has produced heightened sensitivity to stereotypes and real or perceived racism.”

But for Limbaugh, this wasn’t about museum attendance at all. It was simply another opportunity to excrete the tired banalities about the Obamas as failed racial messiahs at best, and active racial agitators at worst.

As Limbaugh put it:

“Everything has to be about race with these people! You know, we were supposed to be post-racial with the election of Obama. We’re supposed to have put all that behind us. His election was supposed to mean something. It was supposed to signify that we had overcome and gotten past the original sin of slavery. And instead, as I knew would be the case, it’s gotten worse by design. And this is one of the reasons why.

And this isn’t only Limbaugh’s view. This is the view of many Americans, whether they tune in to Limbaugh or not.

Obama’s sin, using this line of logic, is that he failed to undo the system of oppression that he had no hand in constructing. It is that 400 years of damage was not undone in two terms. It is that he didn’t encourage silence about inequity so that its benefactors could enjoy the cumulative fruit of centuries of racial graft without current-day guilt.

They wanted some mythical receipt of satisfaction of the debt. Let bygones be bygones. All is forgotten and forgiven. Clean slate. Fresh start.

If only it were that simple. But it’s not. This whole line of reasoning is racial claptrap.

Professorial provocateur Shelby Steele wrote in The Los Angeles Times the day after Obama was first elected in 2008: “Obama’s post-racial idealism told whites the one thing they most wanted to hear: America had essentially contained the evil of racism to the point at which it was no longer a serious barrier to black advancement.”

But, Steele countered:

“I don’t think whites really want change from Obama as much as they want documentation of change that has already occurred. They want him in the White House first of all as evidence, certification and recognition.”

And yet, all of America must face the reality that for as much progress as has been made, much remains to be made. America must face the fact that the electorate is an of-the-moment entity, but racial oppression is an of-the-ages monstrosity. It is a resilient relic. And it was never within Obama’s capacity to dismantle it. This structure must be demolished by its architects.

Now here’s Mr. Cohen, writing from Milan:

I was talking to an Italian couple whose daughter had gone to live for a while in the United States before returning to run a restaurant on Lake Garda. They have a modest apartment in Santa Margherita on the coast of Liguria. The garden is bigger than the living quarters, filled with lemon trees (their fruit as big as baseballs), orange trees and orchids. The couple, now retired, has time to linger in the fragrant air of the dusk.

In the kitchen, it seemed to me, they have all they need: a machine to slice wafer-thin prosciutto, a toaster capacious enough for glistening focaccia, a scale to weigh out 200 grams of pasta. They prepared a rabbit simmered in an unctuous sauce of olives, pine nuts, sausage and rabbit liver, accompanied by perfect little cubes of sautéed potatoes that are time-consuming to prepare but worth every patient flip and stir.

Rabbit is underrated, a culinary victim of prejudice or misplaced affection, but not by Italians, who consume it often and with gusto.

In any event, my host, Sergio, was recalling visits to the United States to see their daughter. There were memorable renderings of “O Sole Mio” on gondolas in Las Vegas (beneath the Rialto Bridge on the “Grand Canal”), and then there was the time they were in New Mexico and “drove for 85 miles in a dead straight line.”

He looked me: “Not one curve. Can you believe it?”

I could — made me think of Highway 101 in California. He couldn’t. Life in Italy is a series of curves to which you adapt. There is zero scope for autopilot.

Adaptation and adjustment are the name of the game. This can be trying. On the other hand you can enjoy lemon zest from your own lemons, perhaps with salmon and those 200 grams of penne.

It was May 1, International Workers’ Day, a holiday. Yet, most people were working, a lot of stores open. I heard the following exchange:

“It’s the workers’ holiday and everyone is working!”

“Yes, I know, but of course they don’t work the rest of the time!”

“That’s true.”

There’s still a continuous banter in the streets of Italy, as when I lived here 30 years ago. Italy has cherry-picked modernity, taking only so much. Something in it has resisted the reduction of human interaction to the transactional minimum. Something in it has resisted the squeezing of the last cent of profit from every exchange. Something in it recognizes the human need for community and what a couple of sentences to a stranger can do. There are still innocent smiles in Italy, something you can only call humility. They don’t teach you that at marketing school. They don’t tell you how monotonous self-promotion can become, how tiresome, and finally inhuman. People return to Italy for its beauty, of course, but also for a refuge from relentlessness. Conversations veer here and there in the elasticity of Italian time, loosened from the constraints of time as a metric of productivity.

At the pharmacy, where it’s better to have a prescription but rules can be bent, I heard this:

“We don’t live in Italy.”

“Better that way!”

“Why?”

“Everything is difficult here.”

It is. Efficiency was not one of the cherry-picked items. Arriving at Milan Linate airport for the first time in decades, I found the same cumbersome buses from aircraft to terminal. The ATM machine was broken, the Information Desk unmanned. Strange, the Milan world’s fair, Expo 2015, has just opened — a time, if any, to spruce things up. The themes of the fair are guaranteeing food security; combating waste (Italy has much to do); improving nutrition (I can’t see that rabbit being beaten); and preserving the environment.

On opening day, May 1, a bunch of hooded anti-capitalist thugs calling themselves “Black bloc” smashed up the center of Milan in a mindless protest against Expo-as-capitalist-enterprise. Policemen were beaten, cars set on fire. Over the following weekend the people of Milan took to the streets armed with sponges, cloths, solvents and soap, determined to clean up their city. They did, in short order.

The state is still weak in Italy. But community — family, friends, city, region — is often powerful. Assessments of Italy’s condition tend to underestimate the effectiveness of these hardship-cushioning ties.

Matteo Renzi, the young prime minister, has just pushed through an important electoral reform law aimed at ending semi-chronic government instability. Broadly, it gives the winning party, provided it has 40 percent of the vote, a bonus that guarantees it 340 seats in the 630-seat chamber. (If no party has 40 percent, there is a runoff between the two largest parties).

Perhaps this will, as Renzi hopes, produce more straight lines — full five-year terms for governments. Italy could benefit from that. But there will still be plenty of curves.

And now we get to Prof. Krugman:

Last year the vampires of finance bought themselves a Congress. I know it’s not nice to call them that, but I have my reasons, which I’ll explain in a bit. For now, however, let’s just note that these days Wall Street, which used to split its support between the parties, overwhelmingly favors the G.O.P. And the Republicans who came to power this year are returning the favor by trying to kill Dodd-Frank, the financial reform enacted in 2010.

And why must Dodd-Frank die? Because it’s working.

This statement may surprise progressives who believe that nothing significant has been done to rein in runaway bankers. And it’s true both that reform fell well short of what we really should have done and that it hasn’t yielded obvious, measurable triumphs like the gains in insurance thanks to Obamacare.

But Wall Street hates reform for a reason, and a closer look shows why.

For one thing, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau — the brainchild of Senator Elizabeth Warren — is, by all accounts, having a major chilling effect on abusive lending practices. And early indications are that enhanced regulation of financial derivatives — which played a major role in the 2008 crisis — is having similar effects, increasing transparency and reducing the profits of middlemen.

What about the problem of financial industry structure, sometimes oversimplified with the phrase “too big to fail”? There, too, Dodd-Frank seems to be yielding real results, in fact, more than many supporters expected.

As I’ve just suggested, too big to fail doesn’t quite get at the problem here. What was really lethal was the interaction between size and complexity. Financial institutions had become chimeras: part bank, part hedge fund, part insurance company, and so on. This complexity let them evade regulation, yet be rescued from the consequences when their bets went bad. And bankers’ ability to have it both ways helped set America up for disaster.

Dodd-Frank addressed this problem by letting regulators subject“systemically important” financial institutions to extra regulation, and seize control of such institutions at times of crisis, as opposed to simply bailing them out. And it required that financial institutions in general put up more capital, reducing both their incentive to take excessive risks and the chance that risk-taking would lead to bankruptcy.

All of this seems to be working: “Shadow banking,” which created bank-type risks while evading bank-type regulation, is in retreat. You can see this in cases like that of General Electric, a manufacturing firm that turned itself into a financial wheeler-dealer, but is now trying to return to its roots. You can also see it in the overall numbers, where conventional banking — which is to say, banking subject to relatively strong regulation — has made a comeback. Evading the rules, it seems, isn’t as appealing as it used to be.

But the vampires are fighting back.

O.K., why do I call them that? Not because they drain the economy of its lifeblood, although they do: there’s a lot of evidence that oversize, overpaid financial industries — like ours — hurt economic growth and stability. Even the International Monetary Fund agrees.

But what really makes the word apt in this context is that the enemies of reform can’t withstand sunlight. Open defenses of Wall Street’s right to go back to its old ways are hard to find. When right-wing think tanks do try to claim that regulation is a bad thing that will hurt the economy, their hearts don’t seem to be in it. For example, the latest such “study,” from theAmerican Action Forum, runs to all of four pages, and even its author, the economist Douglas Holtz-Eakin, sounds embarrassed about his work.

What you mostly get, instead, is slavery-is-freedom claims that reform actually empowers the bad guys: for example, that regulating too-big-and-complex-to-fail institutions is somehow doing wheeler-dealers a favor, claims belied by the desperate efforts of such institutions to avoid the “systemically important” designation. The point is that almost nobody wants to be seen as a bought and paid-for servant of the financial industry, least of all those who really are exactly that.

And this in turn means that so far, at least, the vampires are getting a lot less than they expected for their money. Republicans would love to undo Dodd-Frank, but they are, rightly, afraid of the glare of publicity that defenders of reform like Senator Warren — who inspires a remarkable amount of fear in the unrighteous — would shine on their efforts.

Does this mean that all is well on the financial front? Of course not. Dodd-Frank is much better than nothing, but far from being all we need. And the vampires are still lurking in their coffins, waiting to strike again. But things could be worse.

Blow and Krugman

May 4, 2015

In “Restoring Faith in Justice” Mr. Blow says charges against six Baltimore police officers may be one step in repairing the system.  Prof. Krugman, in “Race, Class and Neglect,” says the many casualties of inequality can be helped by providing more resources and opportunities, which we can afford.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

Last week, Baltimore’s chief prosecutor, Marilyn J. Mosby, charged six officers in the death of Freddie Gray. The charges included second-degree murder, manslaughter, assault, misconduct in office and false imprisonment.

(These were only charges. There will be a defense and a trial. The officers remain innocent until and unless proven guilty.)

Mosby said at a news conference on Friday as she laid out the case and announced the charges: “To the people of Baltimore and the demonstrators across America: I heard your call for ‘No justice, no peace.’ ” She continued: “Last but certainly not least, to the youth of the city. I will seek justice on your behalf. This is a moment. This is your moment. Let’s ensure we have peaceful and productive rallies that will develop structural and systemic changes for generations to come. You’re at the forefront of this cause and as young people, our time is now.”

Mosby seemed to recognize in that moment that this case and others like it are now about more than individual deaths and individual incidents, but about restoration — or a formation — of faith for all of America’s citizens in the American justice system itself.

Faith in the system is the bedrock of the system. Without it, the system is drained of its inviolable authority. This is the danger America now faces.

After George Zimmerman shot Trayvon Martin through the chest and walked free. After there was no indictment of the officer who choked the life out of Eric Garner on video. After an officer shot and killed John Crawford in an Ohio Walmart as he walked around the store with an air rifle he’d picked up off the store’s own shelves, and another officer grilled his girlfriend until she cried, “accusing her of lying, threatening her with jail time and suggesting she could be on drugs,” according to CNN.

After the city of Cleveland claimed — then apologized for claiming — that Tamir Rice was responsible for his own death when officers shot him in the stomach — an injury he would later die from — in a park as he played with a toy gun.

According to The Washington Post:

“In the court filing, which was a formal response from the city to a federal lawsuit by the Rice family, city attorneys declare that Tamir and his family ‘were directly and proximately caused by their own acts…’ and added that Tamir caused his own death ‘by the failure… to exercise due care to avoid injury.’”

And after Anthony Ray Hinton sat on Alabama’s death row for 30 years — “one of the longest serving death row prisoners in Alabama history,”according to the Equal Justice Initiative, which won his release last month — for murders he didn’t commit. He was arrested and charged based on the assertion that a revolver taken from his mother’s home was used in two capital murders and a third uncharged crime. Even after experts found in 2002 that the gun didn’t match the crime evidence, prosecutors refused to revisit the case.

It took more than a decade of addition litigation before a judge threw out the case. Prosecutors finally conceded that the crime bullets couldn’t be matched to the Hinton weapon. “For all of us that say that we believe in justice, this is the case to start showing, because I shouldn’t have (sat) on death row for 30 years, Hinton told the press. “All they had to do was test the gun.”

Last year Glenn Ford, Louisiana’s longest-serving death row prisoner, was also set free after nearly 30 years facing execution for a murder that he also did not commit. According to The New York Daily News: “A judge freed Ford from the Louisiana State Penitentiary a year ago when evidence, believed to have been suppressed during the trial, surfaced exonerating him from the all-white jury’s decision in the murder of a nearly blind Shreveport watchmaker, Isadore Rozeman.”

The lead prosecutor in the Ford case, A.M. Stroud III, apologized in a column published by The Shreveport Times, saying: “In 1984, I was 33 years old. I was arrogant, judgmental, narcissistic and very full of myself. I was not as interested in justice as I was in winning. To borrow a phrase from Al Pacino in the movie ‘And Justice for All,’ ‘Winning became everything.’ ” He concluded: “How totally wrong was I.”

After last month N.P.R. reported that Mayor Rahm Emmanuel of Chicago was supporting a $5.5 million reparations package for victims of a former police commander and his officers in that city. As MSNBC’s Trymaine Lee put it, they “for decades ran a torture ring that used electrical shock, burning and beatings on more than 100 black men.”

All of this and more eats away at public confidence in equal justice under the law and reaffirms people’s worst fears: that the eyes of justice aren’t blind but jaundiced. As Langston Hughes once wrote:

“That Justice is a blind goddess / Is a thing to which we black are wise: / Her bandage hides two festering sores / That once perhaps were eyes.”

Now here’s Prof. Krugman:

Every time you’re tempted to say that America is moving forward on race — that prejudice is no longer as important as it used to be — along comes an atrocity to puncture your complacency. Almost everyone realizes, I hope, that the Freddie Gray affair wasn’t an isolated incident, that it’s unique only to the extent that for once there seems to be a real possibility that justice may be done.

And the riots in Baltimore, destructive as they are, have served at least one useful purpose: drawing attention to the grotesque inequalities that poison the lives of too many Americans.

Yet I do worry that the centrality of race and racism to this particular story may convey the false impression that debilitating poverty and alienation from society are uniquely black experiences. In fact, much though by no means all of the horror one sees in Baltimore and many other places is really about class, about the devastating effects of extreme and rising inequality.

Take, for example, issues of health and mortality. Many people have pointed out that there are a number of black neighborhoods in Baltimore where life expectancy compares unfavorably with impoverished Third World nations. But what’s really striking on a national basis is the way class disparities in death rates have been soaring even among whites.

Most notably, mortality among white women has increased sharply since the 1990s, with the rise surely concentrated among the poor and poorly educated; life expectancy among less educated whites has been falling at rates reminiscent of the collapse of life expectancy in post-Communist Russia.

And yes, these excess deaths are the result of inequality and lack of opportunity, even in those cases where their direct cause lies in self-destructive behavior. Overuse of prescription drugs, smoking, and obesity account for a lot of early deaths, but there’s a reason such behaviors are so widespread, and that reason has to do with an economy that leaves tens of millions behind.

It has been disheartening to see some commentators still writing as if poverty were simply a matter of values, as if the poor just mysteriously make bad choices and all would be well if they adopted middle-class values. Maybe, just maybe, that was a sustainable argument four decades ago, but at this point it should be obvious that middle-class values only flourish in an economy that offers middle-class jobs.

The great sociologist William Julius Wilson argued long ago that widely-decried social changes among blacks, like the decline of traditional families, were actually caused by the disappearance of well-paying jobs in inner cities. His argument contained an implicit prediction: if other racial groups were to face a similar loss of job opportunity, their behavior would change in similar ways.

And so it has proved. Lagging wages — actually declining in real terms for half of working men — and work instability have been followed by sharp declines in marriage, rising births out of wedlock, and more.

As Isabel Sawhill of the Brookings Institution writes: “Blacks have faced, and will continue to face, unique challenges. But when we look for the reasons why less skilled blacks are failing to marry and join the middle class, it is largely for the same reasons that marriage and a middle-class lifestyle is eluding a growing number of whites as well.”

So it is, as I said, disheartening still to see commentators suggesting that the poor are causing their own poverty, and could easily escape if only they acted like members of the upper middle class.

And it’s also disheartening to see commentators still purveying another debunked myth, that we’ve spent vast sums fighting poverty to no avail (because of values, you see.)

In reality, federal spending on means-tested programs other than Medicaid has fluctuated between 1 and 2 percent of G.D.P. for decades, going up in recessions and down in recoveries. That’s not a lot of money — it’s far less than other advanced countries spend — and not all of it goes to families below the poverty line.

Despite this, measures that correct well-known flaws in the statistics show that we have made some real progress against poverty. And we would make a lot more progress if we were even a fraction as generous toward the needy as we imagine ourselves to be.

The point is that there is no excuse for fatalism as we contemplate the evils of poverty in America. Shrugging your shoulders as you attribute it all to values is an act of malign neglect. The poor don’t need lectures on morality, they need more resources — which we can afford to provide — and better economic opportunities, which we can also afford to provide through everything from training and subsidies to higher minimum wages. Baltimore, and America, don’t have to be as unjust as they are.

Brooks and Krugman

May 1, 2015

Oh, sweet God…  Bobo has decided to take it upon himself to educate us all on “The Nature of Poverty.”  He informs us that our efforts to fight urban poverty will continue to fail unless we change the fundamental lens through which we view the problem.  In the comments “gemli” from Boston had this to say:  “I was wondering when we were going to get tough on victims. They’ve had it easy for far too long, and it’s good to see Mr. Brooks taking them to task.”  Prof. Krugman, in “Ideology and Integrity,” says if character is going to be a part of the 2016 campaign, let’s make sure to focus on the right things.  Here, FSM help us all, is Bobo:

Lately it seems as though every few months there’s another urban riot and the nation turns its attention to urban poverty. And in the midst of every storm, there are people crying out that we should finally get serious about this issue. This time it was Jon Stewart who spoke for many when he said: “And you just wonder sometimes if we’re spending a trillion dollars to rebuild Afghanistan’s schools, like, we can’t build a little taste down Baltimore way. Like is that what’s really going on?”

The audience applauded loudly, and it’s a nice sentiment, but it’s not really relevant.

The problem is not lack of attention, and it’s not mainly lack of money. Since 1980 federal antipoverty spending has exploded. As Robert Samuelson of The Washington Post has pointed out, in 2013 the federal government spent nearly $14,000 per poor person. If you simply took that money and handed it to the poor, a family of four would have a household income roughly twice the poverty rate.

Yet over the last 30 years the poverty rate has scarcely changed.

In addition, American public spending on schools is high by global standards. As Peter Wehner pointed out in Commentary, in 2011 Baltimore ranked second among the nation’s largest 100 school districts in how much it spent per pupil, $15,483 per year.

The Sandtown-Winchester area of Baltimore, where Freddie Gray lived, has not lacked for attention either. In the late 1980s, Baltimore’s then-Mayor Kurt Schmoke decided he would make the neighborhood a model of urban restoration. He gathered public and private actors like developer James Rouse and Habitat for Humanity. They raised more than $130 million and poured it into everything from new homes, new school curriculums, new job training programs and new health care centers. Townhouses were built for $87,000 and sold to residents for $37,000.

The money was not totally wasted. By 2000, the poverty rate in the area had dropped by 4.4 percent. The share of residents who lived in owner-occupied homes had risen by 8.3 percent, according to a thorough study by The Abell Foundation. But the area was not transformed. Today there are no grocery stores in the neighborhood and no restaurants. Crime is rampant. Unemployment is high.

Despite all these efforts, there are too many young men leading lives like the one Gray led. He was apparently a kind-hearted, respectful, popular man, but he was not on the path to upward mobility. He won a settlement for lead paint poisoning. According to The Washington Post, his mother was a heroin addict who, in a deposition, said she couldn’t read. In one court filing, it was reported that Gray was four grade levels behind in reading. He was arrested more than a dozen times.

It is wrong to say federal efforts to tackle poverty have been a failure. The $15 trillion spent by the government over the past half-century has improved living standards and eased burdens for millions of poor people. But all that money and all those experiments have not integrated people who live in areas of concentrated poverty into the mainstream economy. Often, the money has served as a cushion, not a ladder.

Saying we should just spend more doesn’t really cut it. What’s needed is a phase shift in how we think about poverty. Renewal efforts in Sandtown-Winchester prioritized bricks and mortar. But the real barriers to mobility are matters of social psychology, the quality of relationships in a home and a neighborhood that either encourage or discourage responsibility, future-oriented thinking, and practical ambition.

Jane Jacobs once wrote that a healthy neighborhood is like a ballet, a series of intricate interactions in which people are regulating each other and encouraging certain behaviors.

In a fantastic interview that David Simon of “The Wire” gave to Bill Keller for The Marshall Project, he describes that, even in poorest Baltimore, there once were informal rules of behavior governing how cops interacted with citizens — when they’d drag them in and when they wouldn’t, what curse words you could say to a cop and what you couldn’t. But then the code dissolved. The informal guardrails of life were gone, and all was arbitrary harshness.

That’s happened across many social spheres — in schools, families and among neighbors. Individuals are left without the norms that middle-class people take for granted. It is phenomenally hard for young people in such circumstances to guide themselves.

Yes, jobs are necessary, but if you live in a neighborhood, as Gray did, where half the high school students don’t bother to show up for school on a given day, then the problems go deeper.

The world is waiting for a thinker who can describe poverty through the lens of social psychology. Until the invisible bonds of relationships are repaired, life for too many will be nasty, brutish, solitary and short.

Now here’s Prof. Krugman:

The 2016 campaign should be almost entirely about issues. The parties are far apart on everything from the environment to fiscal policy to health care, and history tells us that what politicians say during a campaign is a good guide to how they will govern.

Nonetheless, many in the news media will try to make the campaign about personalities and character instead. And character isn’t totally irrelevant. The next president will surely encounter issues that aren’t currently on anyone’s agenda, so it matters how he or she is likely to react. But the character trait that will matter most isn’t one the press likes to focus on. In fact, it’s actively discouraged.

You see, you shouldn’t care whether a candidate is someone you’d like to have a beer with. Nor should you care about politicians’ sex lives, or even their spending habits unless they involve clear corruption. No, what you should really look for, in a world that keeps throwing nasty surprises at us, is intellectual integrity: the willingness to face facts even if they’re at odds with one’s preconceptions, the willingness to admit mistakes and change course.

And that’s a virtue in very short supply.

As you might guess, I’m thinking in particular about the sphere of economics, where the nasty surprises just keep coming. If nothing that has happened these past seven years or so has shaken any of your long-held economic beliefs, either you haven’t been paying attention or you haven’t been honest with yourself.

Times like these call for a combination of open-mindedness — willingness to entertain different ideas — and determination to do the best you can. As Franklin Roosevelt put it in a celebrated speech, “The country demands bold, persistent experimentation. It is common sense to take a method and try it: If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something.”

What we see instead in many public figures is, however, the behaviorGeorge Orwell described in one of his essays: “Believing things which we know to be untrue, and then, when we are finally proved wrong, impudently twisting the facts so as to show that we were right.” Did I predict runaway inflation that never arrived? Well, the government is cooking the books, and besides, I never said what I said.

Just to be clear, I’m not calling for an end to ideology in politics, because that’s impossible. Everyone has an ideology, a view about how the world does and should work. Indeed, the most reckless and dangerous ideologues are often those who imagine themselves ideology-free — for example, self-proclaimed centrists — and are, therefore, unaware of their own biases. What you should seek, in yourself and others, is not an absence of ideology but an open mind, willing to consider the possibility that parts of the ideology may be wrong.

The press, I’m sorry to say, tends to punish open-mindedness, because gotcha journalism is easier and safer than policy analysis. Hillary Clinton supported trade agreements in the 1990s, but now she’s critical. It’s a flip-flop! Or, possibly, a case of learning from experience, which is something we should praise, not deride.

So what’s the state of intellectual integrity at this point in the election cycle? Pretty bad, at least on the Republican side of the field.

Jeb Bush, for example, has declared that “I’m my own man” on foreign policy, but the list of advisers circulated by his aides included the likes of Paul Wolfowitz, who predicted that Iraqis would welcome us as liberators, and shows no signs of having learned from the blood bath that actually took place.

Meanwhile, as far as I can tell no important Republican figure has admittedthat none of the terrible consequences that were supposed to follow health reform — mass cancellation of existing policies, soaring premiums, job destruction — has actually happened.

The point is that we’re not just talking about being wrong on specific policy questions. We’re talking about never admitting error, and never revising one’s views. Never being able to say that you were wrong is a serious character flaw even if the consequences of that refusal to admit error fall only on a few people. But moral cowardice should be outright disqualifying in anyone seeking high office.

Think about it. Suppose, as is all too possible, that the next president ends up confronting some kind of crisis — economic, environmental, foreign — undreamed of in his or her current political philosophy. We really, really don’t want the job of responding to that crisis dictated by someone who still can’t bring himself to admit that invading Iraq was a disaster but health reform wasn’t.

I still think this election should turn almost entirely on the issues. But if we must talk about character, let’s talk about what matters, namely intellectual integrity.

Blow and Krugman

April 27, 2015

In “‘Lynch Mob:’ Misuse of Language” Mr. Blow says neither partisans nor protesters should be equated with killers.  In “Nobody Said That” Prof. Krugman says that in the age of unacknowledged error, soul-searching and apologies about faulty predictions are conspicuously missing.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

Last week, the Baltimore police union president, Gene Ryan, compared those protesting the death of Freddie Gray to a “lynch mob.”

Freddie Gray was the 25-year-old Baltimore man who died of grave, mysterious injuries after being taken into police custody. Gray’s family, citizens of Baltimore and indeed those of the nation have questions. And yes, there is a palpable frustration and fatigue that yet another young person of color has died after an encounter with police officers.

So, there have been protests. But protests are not the same as a lynch mob, and to conflate the two diminishes the painful history of this country and unfairly slanders the citizens who have taken to the streets. Maybe Mr. Ryan is unaware not only of the history of lynching and lynch mobs in America overall, but also in Maryland itself.

For instance, according to the Maryland Historical Society Library: “Mary Denston, the elderly wife of a Somerset County farmer, was returning to her home in Princess Anne on the morning of October 17, 1933 when she was attacked by an assailant. A manhunt quickly began for the alleged perpetrator, 22-year-old African-American George Armwood. He was soon arrested and charged with felonious assault. By 5:00 pm, an angry mob of local white residents had gathered outside the Salisbury jail where the suspect had been taken. In order to protect Armwood from the increasingly hostile crowd, state police transferred him to Baltimore. But just as quickly he was returned to Somerset County. After assuring Maryland Governor Albert Ritchie that Armwood’s safety would be guaranteed, Somerset County officials transferred Armwood to the jail house in Princess Anne, with tragic consequences.”

The report continued: “Sources are conflicting regarding many of the details of the assault on Denston and the subsequent murder of George Armwood, but what is certain is that on the evening of October 18 a mob of a thousand or more people stormed into the Princess Anne jail house and hauled Armwood from his cell down to the street below. Before he was hung from a tree some distance away, Armwood was dragged through the streets, beaten, stabbed, and had one ear hacked off. Armwood’s lifeless body was then paraded through the town, finally ending up near the town’s courthouse, where the mob doused the corpse with gasoline and set it on fire.”

As Baltimore’s Afro-American newspaper reported at the time, in addition to Armwood’s blackened skin, mutilated face and missing ear, his tongue was “clenched between his teeth,” giving “evidence of his great agony before death.” It continued: “There is no adequate description of the mute evidence of gloating on the part of whites who gathered to watch the effect upon our people.”

Additionally, according to the historical society, there were 32 lynchings in Maryland between 1882 and 1931.

Perhaps Mr. Ryan had never heard the haunting rendition of “Strange Fruit” recorded in 1939 by Billie Holiday, with its plaintive lyrics shining light on the depravity of lynchings:

“Southern trees bear a strange fruit / Blood on the leaves and blood at the root / Black bodies swingin’ in the Southern breeze / Strange fruit hangin’ from the poplar trees.”

Maybe Mr. Ryan does not appreciate the irony that it was not the officers’ bodies that video showed being dragged limp and screaming through the street, but that of Mr. Gray. Maybe Mr. Ryan does not register coincidence that actual lynching often damages or cuts the spinal cord, and according to a statement by the Gray family’s attorney, Gray’s spine was “80 percent severed at his neck.”

And this is not the first protest of the killing of people of color where “lynch mobs” have been invoked.

Fox News’s Howard Kurtz accused “some liberal outlets” of “creating almost a lynch mob mentality” in Ferguson.”

Possible presidential candidate Mike Huckabee also compared Ferguson protesters to lynch mobs, as did Laura Ingraham, FrontPage magazine and an opinion piece on The Daily Caller.

In 2013, after almost completely peaceful protests the weekend after George Zimmerman was found not guilty in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, Newt Gingrich said that protesters were “prepared, basically, to be a lynch mob.”

These “lynch mob” invocations are an incredible misuse of language, in which the lexicon of slaughter, subjugation and suffering are reduced to mere colloquialism, and therefore bleached of the blood in which it was originally written and used against the people who were historically victims of the atrocities.

“Lynch mob” is the same ghastly rhetorical overreach that is often bandied about in political discussions — including in this column I wrote seven years ago. It was a too-extreme comparison then, and it’s a too-extreme comparison now.

Nothing that political partisans or protesters have done — nothing! — comes remotely close to the barbarism executed by the lynch mobs that stain this country’s history.

Now here’s Prof. Krugman:

Imagine yourself as a regular commentator on public affairs — maybe a paid pundit, maybe an supposed expert in some area, maybe just an opinionated billionaire. You weigh in on a major policy initiative that’s about to happen, making strong predictions of disaster. The Obama stimulus, you declare, will cause soaring interest rates; the Fed’s bond purchases will “debase the dollar” and cause high inflation; the Affordable Care Act will collapse in a vicious circle of declining enrollment and surging costs.

But nothing you predicted actually comes to pass. What do you do?

You might admit that you were wrong, and try to figure out why. But almost nobody does that; we live in an age of unacknowledged error.

Alternatively, you might insist that sinister forces are covering up the grim reality. Quite a few well-known pundits are, or at some point were,“inflation truthers,” claiming that the government is lying about the pace of price increases. There have also been many prominent Obamacare truthersdeclaring that the White House is cooking the books, that the policies are worthless, and so on.

Finally, there’s a third option: You can pretend that you didn’t make the predictions you did. I see that a lot when it comes to people who issued dire warnings about interest rates and inflation, and now claim that they did no such thing. Where I’m seeing it most, however, is on the health care front. Obamacare is working better than even its supporters expected — but its enemies say that the good news proves nothing, because nobody predicted anything different.

Go back to 2013, before reform went fully into effect, or early 2014, before the numbers on first-year enrollment came in. What were Obamacare’s opponents predicting?The answer is, utter disaster. Americans, declared a May 2013 report from a House committee, were about to face a devastating “rate shock,” with premiums almost doubling on average.

And it would only get worse: At the beginning of 2014 the right’s favored experts — or maybe that should be “experts” — were warning about a“death spiral” in which only the sickest citizens would sign up, causing premiums to soar even higher and many people to drop out of the program.

What about the overall effect on insurance coverage? Several months into 2014 many leading Republicans — including John Boehner, the speaker of the House — were predicting that more people would lose coverage than gain it. And everyone on the right was predicting that the law would cost far more than projected, adding hundreds of billions if not trillions to budget deficits.

What actually happened? There was no rate shock: average premiums in 2014 were about 16 percent lower than projected. There is no death spiral: On average, premiums for 2015 are between 2 and 4 percent higher than in 2014, which is a much slower rate of increase than the historical norm. The number of Americans without health insurance has fallen by around 15 million, and would have fallen substantially more if so many Republican-controlled states weren’t blocking the expansion of Medicaid. And the overall cost of the program is coming in well below expectations.

One more thing: You sometimes hear complaints about the alleged poor quality of the policies offered to newly insured families. But a new surveyby J. D. Power, the market research company, finds that the newly enrolled are very satisfied with their coverage — more satisfied than the average person with conventional, non-Obamacare insurance.

This is what policy success looks like, and it should have the critics engaged in soul-searching about why they got it so wrong. But no.

Instead, the new line — exemplified by, but not unique to, a recent op-ed article by the hedge-fund manager Cliff Asness — is that there’s nothing to see here: “That more people would be insured was never in dispute.” Never, I guess, except in everything ever said by anyone in a position of influence on the American right. Oh, and all the good news on costs is just a coincidence.

It’s both easy and entirely appropriate to ridicule this kind of thing. But there are some serious stakes here, and they go beyond the issue of health reform, important as it is.

You see, in a polarized political environment, policy debates always involve more than just the specific issue on the table. They are also clashes of world views. Predictions of debt disaster, a debased dollar, and Obama death spirals reflect the same ideology, and the utter failure of these predictions should inspire major doubts about that ideology.

And there’s also a moral issue involved. Refusing to accept responsibility for past errors is a serious character flaw in one’s private life. It rises to the level of real wrongdoing when policies that affect millions of lives are at stake.

Brooks and Krugman

April 24, 2015

In “Love and Merit” Bobo babbles that parenting in America is experiencing a silent epidemic of conditional love.  In the comments “gemli” from Boston had this to say:  “From what muck-filled pond does David Brooks dredge these ideas? Not that there isn’t precedent– Brooks always spits on the ground when he mentions meritocracy, but this is taking things a bit too far. It’s important to realize that Brooks despises meritocracy because it’s a form of liberalism. It suggests that anyone can rise to power, which might threaten the aristocracy or the plutocracy or some other less egalitarian –ocracy that he thinks should rightly run the show.”  Also in the comments “Glenn Cheney” from Hanover, CT says “I wish someone would pay me to promulgate my presumptions and unjustified generalizations as if they were facts.”  Prof. Krugman, in “Zombies of 2016,” says the Republican presidential hopefuls are resurrecting long-refuted ideas as if they actually worked.  Here’s Bobo:

There are two great defining features of child-rearing today. First, children are now praised to an unprecedented degree. As Dorothy Parker once joked, American children aren’t raised; they are incited. They are given food, shelter and applause. That’s a thousand times more true today. Children are incessantly told how special they are.

The second defining feature is that children are honed to an unprecedented degree. The meritocracy is more competitive than ever before. Parents are more anxious about their kids getting into good colleges and onto good career paths. Parents spend much more time than in past generations investing in their children’s skills and résumés and driving them to practices and rehearsals.

These two great trends — greater praise and greater honing — combine in intense ways. Children are bathed in love, but it is often directional love. Parents shower their kids with affection, but it is meritocratic affection. It is intermingled with the desire to help their children achieve worldly success.

Very frequently it is manipulative. Parents unconsciously shape their smiles and frowns to steer their children toward behavior they think will lead to achievement. Parents glow with extra fervor when their child studies hard, practices hard, wins first place, gets into a prestigious college.

This sort of love is merit based. It is not simply: I love you. It is, I love you when you stay on my balance beam. I shower you with praise and care when you’re on my beam.

The wolf of conditional love is lurking in these homes. The parents don’t perceive this; they feel they love their children in all circumstances. But the children often perceive things differently.

Children in such families come to feel that childhood is a performance — on the athletic field, in school and beyond. They come to feel that love is not something that they deserve because of who they intrinsically are but is something they have to earn.

These children begin to assume that this merit-tangled love is the natural order of the universe. The tiny glances of approval and disapproval are built into the fabric of communication so deep that they flow under the level of awareness. But they generate enormous internal pressure, the assumption that it is necessary to behave in a certain way to be worthy of love — to be self-worthy. The shadowy presence of conditional love produces a fear, the fear that there is no utterly safe love; there is no completely secure place where young people can be utterly honest and themselves.

On the one hand, many of the parents in these families are extremely close to their children. They communicate constantly. But the whole situation is fraught. These parents unconsciously regard their children as an arts project and insist their children go to colleges and have jobs that will give the parents status and pleasure — that will validate their effectiveness as dads and moms.

Meanwhile, children who are uncertain of their parents’ love develop a voracious hunger for it. This conditional love is like an acid that dissolves children’s internal criteria to make their own decisions about their own colleges, majors and careers. At key decision-points, they unconsciously imagine how their parents will react. They guide their lives by these imagined reactions and respond with hair-trigger sensitivity to any possibility of coldness or distancing.

These children tell their parents those things that will elicit praise and hide the parts of their lives that won’t. Studies by Avi Assor, Guy Roth and Edward L. Deci suggest that children who receive conditional love often do better in the short run. They can be model students. But they suffer in the long run. They come to resent their parents. They are so influenced by fear that they become risk averse. They lose a sense of agency. They feel driven by internalized pressures more than by real freedom of choice. They feel less worthy as adults.

Parents two generations ago were much more likely to say that they expected their children to be more obedient than parents today. But this desire for obedience hasn’t gone away; it’s just gone underground. Parents are less likely to demand obedience with explicit rules and lectures. But they are more likely to use love as a tool to exercise control.

The culture of the meritocracy is incredibly powerful. Parents desperately want happiness for their children and naturally want to steer them toward success in every way they can. But the pressures of the meritocracy can sometimes put this love on a false basis. The meritocracy is based on earned success. It is based on talent and achievement. But parental love is supposed to be oblivious to achievement. It’s meant to be an unconditional support — a gift that cannot be bought and cannot be earned. It sits outside the logic of the meritocracy, the closest humans come to grace.

This is the sort of crap you come up with when you’re wandering around your vast spaces for entertaining.  Here’s Prof. Krugman:

Last week, a zombie went to New Hampshire and staked its claim to the Republican presidential nomination. Well, O.K., it was actually Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey. But it’s pretty much the same thing.

You see, Mr. Christie gave a speech in which he tried to position himself as a tough-minded fiscal realist. In fact, however, his supposedly tough-minded policy idea was a classic zombie — an idea that should have died long ago in the face of evidence that undermines its basic premise, but somehow just keeps shambling along.

But let us not be too harsh on Mr. Christie. A deep attachment to long-refuted ideas seems to be required of all prominent Republicans. Whoever finally gets the nomination for 2016 will have multiple zombies as his running mates.

Start with Mr. Christie, who thought he was being smart and brave by proposing that we raise the age of eligibility for both Social Security and Medicare to 69. Doesn’t this make sense now that Americans are living longer?

No, it doesn’t. This whole line of argument should have died in 2007, when the Social Security Administration issued a report showing that almost allthe rise in life expectancy has taken place among the affluent. The bottom half of workers, who are precisely the Americans who rely on Social Security most, have seen their life expectancy at age 65 rise only a bit more than a year since the 1970s. Furthermore, while lawyers and politicians may consider working into their late 60s no hardship, things look somewhat different to ordinary workers, many of whom still have to perform manual labor.

And while raising the retirement age would impose a great deal of hardship, it would save remarkably little money. In fact, a 2013 report from the Congressional Budget Office found that raising the Medicare age would save almost no money at all.

But Mr. Christie — like Jeb Bush, who quickly echoed his proposal — evidently knows none of this. The zombie ideas have eaten his brain.

And there are plenty of other zombies out there. Consider, for example, the zombification of the debate over health reform.

Before the Affordable Care Act went fully into effect, conservatives made a series of dire predictions about what would happen when it did. It would actually reduce the number of Americans with health insurance; it would lead to “rate shock,” as premiums soared; it would cost the government far more than projected, and blow up the deficit; it would be a huge job-destroyer.

In reality, the act has produced a dramatic drop in the number of uninsured adults; premiums have grown much more slowly than in the years before reform; the law’s cost is coming in well below projections; and 2014, the first year of full implementation, also had the best job growth since 1999.

So how has this changed the discourse? On the right, not at all. As far as I can tell, every prominent Republican talks about Obamacare as if all the predicted disasters have, in fact, come to pass.

Finally, one of the interesting political developments of this election cycle has been the triumphant return of voodoo economics, the “supply-side” claim that tax cuts for the rich stimulate the economy so much that they pay for themselves.

In the real world, this doctrine has an unblemished record of failure. Despite confident right-wing predictions of doom, neither the Clinton tax increase of 1993 nor the Obama tax increase of 2013 killed the economy (far from it), while the “Bush boom” that followed the tax cuts of 2001 and 2003 was unimpressive even before it ended in financial crisis. Kansas, whose governor promised a “real live experiment” that would prove supply-side doctrine right, has failed even to match the growth of neighboring states.

In the world of Republican politics, however, voodoo’s grip has never been stronger. Would-be presidential candidates must audition in front of prominent supply-siders to prove their fealty to failed doctrine. Tax proposals like Marco Rubio’s would create a giant hole in the budget, then claim that this hole would be filled by a miraculous economic upsurge. Supply-side economics, it’s now clear, is the ultimate zombie: no amount of evidence or logic can kill it.

So why has the Republican Party experienced a zombie apocalypse? One reason, surely, is the fact that most Republican politicians represent states or districts that will never, ever vote for a Democrat, so the only thing they fear is a challenge from the far right. Another is the need to tell Big Money what it wants to hear: a candidate saying anything realistic about Obamacare or tax cuts won’t survive the Sheldon Adelson/Koch brothers primary.

Whatever the reasons, the result is clear. Pundits will try to pretend that we’re having a serious policy debate, but, as far as issues go, 2016 is already set up to be the election of the living dead.


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