Archive for the ‘Krugman’ Category

Blow and Krugman

June 20, 2016

In “The G.O.P.’s Cynical Gay Ploy” Mr. Blow says suggesting that Trump and the Republicans would best serve the L.G.B.T. community is absurd on many levels.  Prof. Krugman, in “A Tale of Two Parties,” asks why is Hillary Clinton holding up so well against Donald Trump? And why were establishment Republicans so hapless?  Here’s Mr. Blow:

One of the most brazen — craven even — ploys by Republicans in the wake of the Orlando massacre has been to suggest, incredibly, that they would be better for the L.G.B.T. community than the Democrats.

At a rally on Thursday, Donald Trump said “L.G.B.T is starting to like Donald Trump very much lately, I will tell you, starting to like Donald Trump very, very much lately.” He mentioned that the Clinton Foundation had taken money from countries where “they kill gays,” and continued:

“So you tell me who’s better for the gay community and who’s better for women than Donald Trump?”

As Tierney Sneed of Talking Points Memo put it last week:

“The same Republicans who have argued that gay couples should not be allowed to marry, that L.G.B.T. Americans don’t need federal anti-discrimination protections and that trans people should not use the bathroom that matches their identity are now claiming that they — not Democrats — are the party on the L.G.B.T. community’s side.”

Republican Representative Mo Brooks of Alabama took it even further, saying last week:

“The Democrats are in a perplexing position. On the one hand, they’re trying to appeal to the gay community, but, on the other hand, they’re trying to also appeal to the Muslim community, which, if it had its way, would kill every homosexual in the United States of America.”

But the L.G.B.T community is not deceived by this treachery, in which the mouth speaks of protections while the hands and heart toil away at subjugation, if not destruction.

An analysis this month by The Washington Post of state efforts to limit L.G.B.T. rights found that:

“Since 2013, legislatures have introduced 254 bills, 20 of which became law. According to data collected by the American Civil Liberties Union and analyzed by The Washington Post, the number of bills introduced has increased steadily each year. In the first half of 2016 alone, 87 bills that could limit L.G.B.T. rights have been introduced, a steep increase from previous years.”

It is no wonder then that in a May opinion piece, Gallup’s Frank Newport pointed out that just 18 percent of those who identify as L.G.B.T. held a favorable opinion of Trump.

These vacuous appeals fly in the face of facts and are simultaneously laughable and infuriating.

At first, I couldn’t figure out the motive and mechanism of these appeals.

Were they about abject silliness, or a political senility, or an exercise in depraved cynicism? In any case, it is flat out wrong and a distortion of the reality — both in the language of hate and the policies of inequality — that queers know and live.

Then it occurred to me that these weren’t appeals to the L.G.B.T. community at all. This wasn’t a way of peeling off the rainbow contingent from liberals’ rainbow coalition, but instead a way of making Republicans and amenable independents feel good about supporting the party’s schismatic policies. This was a way to salvage nobility for the homophobic, to say that there are factional benefits for tribalism, that liberalism itself is flawed because you can’t house the wolves with the rabbits.

But this too shall fail.

Republicans want us to forget that, according to the former George W. Bush campaign manager and Republican National Committee chairman Ken Mehlman (who has since come out himself as gay), Republicans like Karl Rove have used anti-gay marriage amendments in crucial states to help draw homophobes to the polls and benefit Republicans.

As The Atlantic reported in a profile of Mehlman in 2010:

“Mehlman’s leadership positions in the G.O.P. came at a time when the party was stepping up its anti-gay activities — such as the 2006 distribution in West Virginia of literature linking homosexuality to atheism, or the less-than-subtle, coded language in the party’s platform (‘Attempts to redefine marriage in a single state or city could have serious consequences throughout the country…’). Mehlman said at the time that he could not, as an individual Republican, go against the party consensus. He was aware that Karl Rove, President Bush’s chief strategic adviser, had been working with Republicans to make sure that anti-gay initiatives and referenda would appear on November ballots in 2004 and 2006 to help Republicans.”

Maybe Republicans want us to forget that, as ThinkProgress reported in December:

“Six of the Republican candidates vying for the presidency have signed a pledge promising to support legislation during their first 100 days in the White House that would use the guise of “religious liberty” to give individuals and businesses the right to openly discriminate against L.G.B.T. people.”

They want us to forget that although people of all political stripes have evolved on the issue of gay equality — including Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton —Republicans are the trailing edge of that evolution.

No amount of the exploitation of fear and the revising of history is going to change what we know about the Republican Party and their continued abysmal record on gay rights.

In the wake of tragedy, you can’t conveniently hang the L.G.B.T. community on the tree of life as a glistening ornament. You must recognize, now and always, that the L.G.B.T. community is a most natural branch of that tree.

Now here’s Prof. Krugman:

Do you remember what happened when the Berlin Wall fell? Until that moment, nobody realized just how decadent Communism had become. It had tanks, guns, and nukes, but nobody really believed in its ideology anymore; its officials and enforcers were mere careerists, who folded at the first shock.

It seems to me that you need to think about what happened to the G.O.P. this election cycle the same way.

The Republican establishment was easily overthrown because it was already hollow at the core. Donald Trump’s taunts about “low-energy” Jeb Bush and “little Marco” Rubio worked because they contained a large element of truth. When Mr. Bush and Mr. Rubio dutifully repeated the usual conservative clichés, you could see that there was no sense of conviction behind their recitations. All it took was the huffing and puffing of a loud-mouthed showman to blow their houses down.

But as Mr. Trump is finding out, the Democratic establishment is different.

As some political scientists are now acknowledging, America’s two major parties are not at all symmetric. The G.O.P. is, or was until Mr. Trump arrived, a top-down hierarchical structure enforcing a strict, ideologically pure party line. The Democrats, by contrast, are a “coalition of social groups,” from teachers’ unions to Planned Parenthood, seeking specific benefits from government action.

This diversity of interests sometimes reduces Democrats’ effectiveness: the old Will Rogers joke, “I am not a member of any organized political party — I’m a Democrat” still rings true. But it also means that the Democratic establishment, such as it is, is resilient against Trump-style coups.

But wait: Didn’t Hillary Clinton face her own insurgency in the person of Bernie Sanders, which she barely turned back? Actually, no.

For one thing, it wasn’t all that close. Mrs. Clinton won pledged delegates by almost four times Barack Obama’s margin in 2008; she won the popular vote by double digits.

Nor did she win by burying her rival in cash. In fact, Mr. Sanders outspent her all the way, spending twice on much as she did on ads in New York, which she won by 16 percentage points.

Also, Mrs. Clinton faced immense, bizarre hostility from the news media. Last week Harvard’s Shorenstein Center released a report on media treatment of the candidates during 2015, showing that Mrs. Clinton received by far the most unfavorable coverage. Even when reports focused on issues rather than alleged scandals, 84 percent of her coverage was negative — twice as high as for Mr. Trump. As the report notes, “Clinton’s negative coverage can be equated to millions of dollars in attack ads, with her on the receiving end.”

And yet she won, fairly easily, because she had the solid support of key elements of the Democratic coalition, especially nonwhite voters.

But will this resilience persist in the general election? Early indications are that it will. Mr. Trump briefly pulled close in the polls after he clinched the Republican nomination, but he has been plunging ever since. And that’s despite the refusal of Mr. Sanders to concede or endorse the presumptive nominee, with at least some Bernie or Busters still telling pollsters that they won’t back her.

Meanwhile, Mr. Trump is flailing. He’s tried all the tactics that worked for him in the Republican contest — insults, derisive nicknames, boasts — but none of it is sticking. Conventional wisdom said that he would be helped by a terrorist attack, but the atrocity in Orlando seems to have hurt him instead: Mrs. Clinton’s response looked presidential, his didn’t.

Worse yet from his point of view, there’s a concerted effort by Democrats — Mrs. Clinton herself, Elizabeth Warren, President Obama, and more — to make the great ridiculer look ridiculous (which he is). And it seems to be working.

Why is Mrs. Clinton holding up so well against Mr. Trump, when establishment Republicans were so hapless? Partly it’s because America as a whole, unlike the Republican base, isn’t dominated by angry white men; partly it’s because, as anyone watching the Benghazi hearing realized, Mrs. Clinton herself is a lot tougher than anyone on the other side.

But a big factor, I’d argue, is that the Democratic establishment in general is fairly robust. I’m not saying that its members are angels, which they aren’t. Some, no doubt, are personally corrupt. But the various groups making up the party’s coalition really care about and believe in their positions — they’re not just saying what the Koch brothers pay them to say.

So pay no attention to anyone claiming that Trumpism reflects either the magical powers of the candidate or some broad, bipartisan upsurge of rage against the establishment. What worked in the primary won’t work in the general election, because only one party’s establishment was already dead inside.

Brooks, Cohen, and Krugman

June 17, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What sweet retribution to have “Cohen” inscribed there!

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

And now here’s Prof. Krugman:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Krugman, solo

June 13, 2016

In “A Party Agrift” Prof. Krugman explains why scammers rule on the right.  Here he is:

This is not a column about Donald Trump.

It’s not about the fraudulent scheme that was Trump University. It’s not about his history of failing to pay contractors, leading to hundreds of legal actions. It’s not about how he personally profited while running his casinos into the ground. It’s not even concerned with persistent questions about whether he is nearly as rich as he claims to be, and whether he’s ever done more than live off capital gains on his inheritance.

No, my question, as Democrats gleefully tear into the Trump business record, is why rival Republicans never did the same. How did someone who looks so much like a cheap con man bulldoze right through the G.O.P. nomination process?

I mean, it’s not as if any of this dirt was deeply hidden. The Trump U. story was out there long before it became the big deal it is today. It took some real reporting to flesh out the details of Mr. Trump’s other business practices, but we’re talking about ordinary if skillful journalistic legwork, not revelations from Deep Throat.

So why didn’t any of Mr. Trump’s primary opponents manage to make an issue of his sleazy business career? Were they just incompetent, or is there something structural about the modern Republican Party that makes it unable to confront grifters?

The answer, I’d argue, is the latter.

Rick Perlstein, who has documented the rise of modern conservatism in a series of eye-opening books, points out that there has always been a close association between the movement and the operations of snake-oil salesmen — people who use lists of campaign contributors, right-wing websites and so on to sell get-rich-quick schemes and miracle health cures.

Sometimes the political link is direct: dire warnings about the coming depression/hyperinflation, from which you can only protect yourself by buying Ron Paul’s DVDs (the “Ron Paul curriculum”) or gold shares hawked by Glenn Beck. Sometimes it just seems to reflect a judgment on the part of the grifters that people who can be persuaded that President Obama is Muslim can also be persuaded that there are easy money-making opportunities the establishment doesn’t want you to know about.

There’s also a notable pattern of conservative political stars engaging in what is supposed to be activism, but looks a lot like personal enrichment. For example, Sarah Palin’s SarahPAC gives only a few percent of what it raises on candidates, while spending heavily on consultants and Mrs. Palin’s travels.

Then there’s the issue of ideology. If your fundamental premise is that the profit motive is always good and government is the root of all evil, if you treat any suggestion that, say, some bankers misbehaved in the run-up to the financial crisis as proof that the speaker is anti-business if not a full-blown socialist, how can you condemn anyone’s business practices?

Consider this: Even as the newspapers are filled with stories of defrauded students and stiffed contractors, Republicans in Congress are going all-out in efforts to repeal the so-called “fiduciary rule” for retirement advisers, a new rule requiring that they serve the interests of their clients, and not receive kickbacks for steering them into bad investments. Paul Ryan, the speaker of the House, has even made repealing that rule part of his “anti-poverty plan.” So the G.O.P. is in effect defending the right of the financial industry to mislead its customers, which makes it hard to attack the likes of Donald Trump.

Finally, the con job that lies at the heart of so much Republican politics makes it hard to go after other, more commercial cons. It’s interesting to note that Marco Rubio actually did try to make Trump University an issue, but he did it too late, after he had already made himself a laughingstock with his broken-record routine. And here’s the thing: The groove Mr. Rubio got stuck in — innuendo that the president is deliberately weakening America — was a typical example of the political snake-oil the right sells along with free money and three-minute cures for high blood pressure.

The point is that Mr. Rubio was just as much a con artist as Mr. Trump – just not as good at it, which is why, under pressure, he kept repeating the same memorized words. So he, like all the G.O.P. contenders, didn’t have what it would have taken to make Mr. Trump’s grifting an issue. But at least so far it appears that Hillary Clinton and her allies won’t have the same problem.

In the months ahead Republicans will claim that there are equivalent scandals on the Democratic side, but nothing they’ve managed to come up with rises remotely to the level of even one of the many Trump scams in the news. They’ll also claim that Mr. Trump doesn’t reflect their party’s values. But the truth is that in a very deep sense he does. And that’s why they couldn’t stop him.

Brooks and Krugman

June 10, 2016

Bobo has a bad case of the flop sweats.  In “The Unity Illusion” he moans that you can’t be teammates with Donald Trump.  In the comments “Sha” from Redwood City, CA had this to say:  “Trump once said: ” I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn’t lose any voters, OK?”
Now he can confidently say he could shoot somebody and the Republican party will still support him. It’s a disgrace.”  Prof. Krugman, in “Hillary and the Horizontals,” says that in America, you can’t avoid the race question.  Oh, Paul, don’t be silly.  Ask any Republican and they’ll tell you that Nothing Is Ever About Race.  Here’s Bobo:

Paul Ryan says it’s time for Republicans to unite with the presumptive nominee Donald Trump. Sure, Trump says racist things sometimes and disagrees with most of our proposals, but Republicans have to go into this campaign as a team. There has to be a Republican majority in Congress to give ballast to a Trump presidency or block the excesses of a Clinton one. If Republicans are divided from now until Election Day they will lose everything.

Unity will also be good for the conservative agenda. Congressional Republicans are currently laying out a series of policy proposals. If they hug Trump, maybe he’ll embrace some of them. Or, as a Wall Street Journal editorial put it this week: “There’s no guarantee Mr. Trump would agree to Mr. Ryan’s agenda, but there’s no chance if Mr. Ryan publicly refuses to vote for him.”

These are decent arguments. Unfortunately, they are philosophically unsound and completely unworkable.

For starters, this line of thinking is deeply anticonservative. Conservatives believe that politics is a limited activity. Culture, psychology and morality come first. What happens in the family, neighborhood, house of worship and the heart is more fundamental and important than what happens in a legislature.

Ryan’s argument inverts all this. It puts political positions first and character and morality second. Sure Trump’s a scoundrel, but he might agree with our tax proposal. Sure, he is a racist, but he might like our position on the defense budget. Policy agreement can paper over a moral chasm. Nobody calling themselves a conservative can agree to this hierarchy of values.

The classic conservative belief, by contrast, is that character is destiny. Temperament is foundational. Each candidate has to cross some basic threshold of dependability as a human being before it’s even relevant to judge his or her policy agenda. Trump doesn’t cross that threshold.

Second, it just won’t work. The Republican Party can’t unify around Donald Trump for the same reason it can’t unify around a tornado. Trump, by his very essence, undermines cooperation, reciprocity, solidarity, stability or any other component of unity. He is a lone operator, a disloyal diva, who is incapable of horizontal relationships. He has demeaned and humiliated everybody who has tried to be his friend, from Chris Christie to Paul Ryan.

Some conservatives believe they can educate, convert or civilize Trump. This belief is a sign both of intellectual arrogance and psychological naïveté.

The man who just crushed them is in no mood to submit to them. Furthermore, Trump’s personality is pathological. It is driven by deep inner compulsions that defy friendly advice, political interest and common sense.

It’s useful to go back and read the Trump profiles in Vanity Fair and other places from the 1980s and 1990s. He has always behaved exactly as he does now: the constant flow of insults, the endless bragging, the casual cruelty, the need to destroy allies and hog the spotlight. “Donald was the child who would throw the cake at the birthday parties,” his brother Robert once said.

Psychologists are not supposed to diagnose candidates from afar, but there is a well-developed literature on narcissism that tracks with what we have seen of Trump. By one theory narcissism flows from a developmental disorder called alexithymia, the inability to identify and describe emotions in the self. Sufferers have no inner voice to understand their own feelings and reflect honestly on their own actions.

Unable to know themselves, or truly love themselves, they hunger for a never-ending supply of admiration from outside. They act at all times like they are performing before a crowd and cannot rest unless they are in the spotlight.

To make decisions, these narcissists create a rigid set of external standards, often based around admiration and contempt. Their valuing criteria are based on simple division — winners and losers, victory or humiliation. They are preoccupied with luxury, appearance or anything that signals wealth, beauty, power and success. They take Christian, Jewish and Muslim values — based on humility, charity and love — and they invert them.

Incapable of understanding themselves, they are also incapable of having empathy for others. They simply don’t know what it feels like to put themselves in another’s shoes. Other people are simply to be put to use as suppliers of admiration or as victims to be crushed as part of some dominance display.

Therefore, they go out daily in search of enemies to insult and friends to degrade. Trump, for example, reportedly sets members of his campaign staff off against each other. Each person is up one day and belittled another — always kept perpetually on edge, waiting for the Sun King to decide the person’s temporary worth.

Paul Ryan and the Republicans can try to be loyal to Trump, but he won’t be loyal to them. There’s really no choice. Congressional Republicans have to run their own separate campaign. Donald Trump does not share.

So, Bobo, who are YOU going to vote for in November?  I’ll bet I know, and I’ll bet it’s not for a Democrat, you pusillanimous turd.  Here’s Prof. Krugman:

I spent much of this politically momentous week at a workshop on inequality, where papers were presented on everything from the causes of wage disparities to the effects of inequality on happiness. As so often happens at conferences, however, what really got me thinking was a question during coffee break: “Why don’t you talk more about horizontal inequality?”

What? Horizontal inequality is the term of art for inequality measured, not between individuals, but between racially or culturally defined groups. (Of course, race itself is mainly a cultural construct rather than a fact of nature — Americans of Italian or even Irish extraction weren’t always considered white.) And it struck me that horizontal thinking is what you need to understand what went down in both parties’ nominating seasons: It’s what led to Donald Trump, and also why Hillary Clinton beat back Bernie Sanders. And like it or not, horizontal inequality, racial inequality above all, will define the general election.

You can argue that it shouldn’t be that way. One way to think about the Sanders campaign is that it was based on the premise that if only progressives were to make a clear enough case about the evils of inequality among individuals, they could win over the whole working class, regardless of race. In one interview Mr. Sanders declared that if the media was doing its job, Republicans would be a fringe party receiving only 5 or 10 percent of the vote.

But that’s a pipe dream. Defining oneself at least in part by membership in a group is part of human nature. Even if you try to step away from such definitions, other people won’t. A rueful old line from my own heritage says that if you should happen to forget that you’re Jewish, someone will remind you: a truth reconfirmed by the upsurge in vocal anti-Semitism unleashed by the Trump phenomenon.

So group identity is an unavoidable part of politics, especially in America with its history of slavery and its ethnic diversity. Racial and ethnic minorities know that very well, which is one reason they overwhelmingly supported Hillary Clinton, who gets it, over Mr. Sanders, with his exclusive focus on individual inequality. And politicians know it too.

Indeed, the road to Trumpism began with ideological conservatives cynically exploiting America’s racial divisions. The modern Republican Party’s central policy agenda of cutting taxes on the rich while slashing benefits has never been very popular, even among its own voters. It won elections nonetheless by getting working-class whites to think of themselves as a group under siege, and to see government programs as giveaways to Those People.

Or to put it another way, the G.O.P. was able to serve the interests of the 1 percent by posing as the defender of the 80 percent — for that was the white share of the electorate when Ronald Reagan was elected.

But demographic change — rapid growth in the Hispanic and Asian population — has brought the non-Hispanic white share of the electorate down to 62 percent and falling. Republicans need to broaden their base; but the base wants candidates who will defend the old racial order. Hence Trumpism.

And race-based political mobilization cuts both ways. Black and Hispanic support for Democrats makes obvious sense, given the fact that these are relatively low-income groups that benefit disproportionately from progressive policies. They have, for example, seen very sharp reductions in the number of uninsured since Obamacare went into effect. But the overwhelming nature of that support reflects group identity.

Furthermore, some groups with relatively high income, like Jews and, increasingly, Asian-Americans, also vote strongly Democratic. Why? The answer in both cases, surely, is the suspicion that the same racial animus that drives many people to vote Republican could, all too easily, turn against other groups with a long history of persecution. And as I’ve already mentioned, we are indeed seeing a lot of right-wing anti-Semitism breaking out into the open. Does anyone doubt that a reservoir of anti-Asian prejudice is similarly lurking just under the surface?

So now comes the general election. I wish I could say that it will be a battle of ideas. But it mostly won’t, and not just because Mr. Trump doesn’t have any coherent policy ideas.

No, this is going to be mostly an election about identity. The Republican nominee represents little more than the rage of white men over a changing nation. And he’ll be facing a woman — yes, gender is another important dimension in this story — who owes her nomination to the very groups his base hates and fears.

The odds are that Mrs. Clinton will prevail, because the country has already moved a long way in her direction. But one thing is for sure: It’s going to be ugly.

Blow and Krugman

June 6, 2016

In “The Madness of America” Mr. Blow says violence by either Trump supporters or those opposed to him is self-defeating.  Prof. Krugman, in “A Pause That Distresses,” says after  a disappointing jobs report: Don’t panic, but do worry.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

The candidacy of Donald Trump, the fervor of those who support it, and the fierce opposition of those who don’t is making America mad — both angry and insane, as the dual definitions of the word implies.

One of the most disturbing displays of this madness is the violence that Trump has incited in his supporters, and the violent ways in which opposition forces have responded, like the exchange we saw last week in San Jose.

Both forms of violence are unequivocally wrong, but speak to a base level of hostility that hovers around the man like the stench from rotting flesh.

What is particularly disturbing is to see anti-Trump forces lashing out at Trump’s supporters, seemingly provoked simply by a difference in political position.

This cannot be. It’s self-defeating and narrows the space between the thing you despise and the thing you become.

Listen, I understand how unsettling this man is for many.

I understand that he is elevating and normalizing a particular stance of racism and sexism that many view as a spiritual attack, a kind of psychic violence from which they cannot escape.

Furthermore, the election cycle promises at least five more months of this, until Election Day, and even more if by some tragic twist of fate Trump is actually elected.

And, if elected, the threat could move from the rhetoric to the real, wreaking havoc on millions of lives.

I understand the frightful, mind-numbing, hair-raising disbelief that can descend when one realizes that this is indeed plausible.

Recent polls have only added to this anxiety as some have shown an increasingly tight race between him and Hillary Clinton, the likely Democratic nominee; some even have him beating her.

(Now of course, these polls must be taken with a grain of salt. Trump and Clinton are in different phases of the fight: Trump is the presumptive Republican nominee with no remaining opponents and with Republicans coalescing around his candidacy; Clinton is still in a heated contest with Bernie Sanders, who has given no indication of giving up.)

I understand that Trump represents a clear and present danger, and having a passionate response that encompasses rage and fear is reasonable.

It is understandable to want to make one’s displeasure known.

But there is a line one dares not cross, and that is the one of responding to violent rhetoric with violent actions.

As I have said before, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said it best in his 1967 book “Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?,” and he is worthy of quoting here at length:

“The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth. Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate. So it goes. Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”

You may feel activated by the cause of righteousness, but violence is most often a poor instrument for its implementation. Indeed, violence corrodes righteousness. It robs it of its essence.

The best way to direct passions is not only with the bullhorn, but also at the ballot box.

In a democracy, the vote is the voice. The best way to reduce the threat Trump poses is to register and motivate people who share your view of the threat.

It is easy to look at the throngs who support and exalt this man and be discouraged, but don’t be. It is easy to look at Republicans like Paul Ryan abandoning their principles and selling their souls to fall in line behind this man and be discouraged, but don’t be. It is easy to see the media fail miserably to counter Trump and his surrogates’ Gish-gallop and be discouraged, but don’t be.

These are the moments in which the nation’s mettle — and ideals — are tested. I have a fundamental belief that although America was born and grew by violence and racial subjugation, that although it has often stumbled and even regressed, that its ultimate bearing is toward the better.

Folks must be reminded that one demagogue cannot lead to a detour or a dismantling. There is an elevated plane of truth that floats a mile above Trump’s trough of putrescence.

Trump and his millions of minions have replaced what they call “political correctness” with “ambient viciousness.”

This won’t “make America great again,” because the “again” they imagine harkens back to America’s darkness. We are the new America — more diverse, more inclusive, more than our ancestors could ever have imagined.

Don’t invalidate that by allowing yourselves to be baited into brutishness.

Now here’s Prof. Krugman:

Friday’s employment report was a major disappointment: only 38,000 jobs added, a big step down from the more than 200,000 a month average since January 2013. Special factors, notably the Verizon strike, explain part of the bad news, and in any case job growth is a noisy series, so you shouldn’t make too much of one month’s data. Still, all the evidence points to slowing growth. It’s not a recession, at least not yet, but it is definitely a pause in the economy’s progress.

Should this pause worry you? Yes. Because if it does turn into a recession, or even if it goes on for a long time, it’s very hard to envision an effective policy response.

First things first: Why is the economy slowing? The usual suspects wasted no time blaming President Obama. But you need to remember that these same people have been warning of imminent disaster ever since Mr. Obama was elected, and have been wrong every step of the way. They predicted soaring interest rates and soaring inflation; neither happened. They declared that the Affordable Care Act would be a huge job-killer; the years after the act went into full effect were marked by the best private-sector job creation since the 1990s.

And despite this disappointing report, we should remember that private job growth under Mr. Obama has vastly exceeded George W. Bush’s record, even if you leave out the economic collapse of 2008.

So what is causing the economy to slow? My guess is that the biggest factor is the recent sharp rise in the dollar, which has made U.S. goods less competitive on world markets. The dollar’s rise, in turn, largely reflected misguided talk by the Federal Reserve about the need to raise interest rates.

In a way, however, it hardly matters why the economy is losing steam. After all, stuff always happens. America has been experiencing major economic downturns at irregular intervals at least since the 1870s, for a variety of reasons. Whatever the cause of a downturn, the economy can recover quickly if policy makers can and do take useful action. For example, both the 1974-5 recession and the 1981-2 recession were followed by rapid, “V-shaped” recoveries, because the Fed drastically loosened monetary policy and slashed interest rates.

But that won’t — in fact, can’t — happen this time. Short-term interest rates, which the Fed more or less controls, are still very low despite the small rate hike last December. We now know that it’s possible for rates to go slightly below zero, but there still isn’t much room for a rate cut.

That said, there are other policies that could easily reverse an economic downturn. And if Hillary Clinton wins the election, the U.S. government will understand perfectly well what the options are. (The likely response of a Trump administration doesn’t bear thinking about. Maybe a series of insult Twitter posts aimed at China and Mexico?) The problem is politics.

For the simplest, most effective answer to a downturn would be fiscal stimulus — preferably government spending on much-needed infrastructure, but maybe also temporary tax cuts for lower- and middle-income households, who would spend the money. Infrastructure spending makes especially good sense given the federal government’s incredibly low borrowing costs: The interest rate on inflation-protected bonds is barely above zero.

But unless the coming election delivers Democratic control of the House, which is unlikely, Republicans would almost surely block anything along those lines. Partly, this would reflect ideology: although right-wing economic predictions have been utterly wrong, there’s little indication that anyone in that camp has learned from the experience. It would also reflect an unwillingness to do anything that might help a Democrat in the White House. Remember, every Republican in the House voted against a stimulus even during the darkest days of the slump, when Mr. Obama was at the peak of his popularity.

If not fiscal stimulus, then what? For much of the past six years the Fed, unable to cut interest rates further, has tried to boost the economy through large-scale purchases of things like long-term government debt and mortgage-backed securities. But it’s unclear how much difference that made — and meanwhile, this policy faced constant attacks and vilification from the right, with claims that it was debasing the dollar and/or illegitimately bailing out a fiscally irresponsible president. We can guess that the Fed will be very reluctant to resume the program, and face accusations that it’s in the pocket of “corrupt Hillary.”

So the evidence of a U.S. slowdown should worry you. I don’t see anything like the 2008 crisis on the horizon (he says with fingers crossed behind his back), but even a smaller negative shock could turn into very bad news, given our political gridlock.

Brooks and Krugman

June 3, 2016

Bobo is convinced he knows “Where America is Working” and he gurgles that we should build on our success and not, like the Trump campaign, wallow in despair of what we’ve lost.  In the comments “Gene” from Florida had this to say:  “Wrong again. The Republicans have been riding the doom and gloom train since Obama’s first day in office. From day one they’ve been hollering about how they have to stop him from destroying America and pointing out (lying about) how bad it is in America because of him. Trump’s merely cashing in on all the Republican effort. What’s more, this is all secondary to what drives most Trump supporters. The common trait among Trump supporters is bigotry with racism at the top of the list.”  Prof. Krugman takes a look at “The Id That Ate the Planet” and says climate change can be countered and the environment saved, but not if the hair spray-obsessed, science-denying Donald Trump is elected.  Here’s Bobo:

As individuals, we all try to build on our strengths and work on our weaknesses, and it’s probably a good idea to balance these two activities. But as a country we are completely messing this up.

In this election we’ve been ignoring the parts of America that are working well and wallowing in the parts that are fading. This has led to a campaign season driven by fear, resentment and pessimism. And it will lead to worse policy-making down the road, since prosperity means building on things we do well, not obsessing over the things that we’ve lost.

The person chiefly responsible for this all-warts view of America is, of course, Donald Trump.

Trump has focused his campaign on the struggling white neighborhoods in the industrial Midwest. The prototypical Trump voter is an upscale man from a downscale place.

As Nate Silver has demonstrated, Trump voters are not poor. Their median household income is about $72,000, which is far above the national average. But they tend to be from former manufacturing hubs, which have been in decades-long decline. They tend to be from places like Kokomo, Ind., which has had a 13.5 percent decline in weekly wages since 2000, and Saginaw, Mich., which has had a 9.8 percent decline.

These areas enjoyed a brief resurgence four years ago, when manufacturing picked up. But the manufacturing economy has headed south again over the past 19 months, thanks to low foreign demand. People in such places are so desperate for any sort of change that they’re willing to overlook all the baggage that comes with Donald Trump.

Trump’s general election focus on the swing states of the industrial Midwest means that Hillary Clinton will have to focus her efforts there, too. The whole tenor of the fall campaign will be shaped by the pain of towns that are in long-term decline — where people feel economically adrift and culturally left behind.

Energy issues will play an outsized role. As Ronald Brownstein of The Atlantic has shown, Republicans tend to do well in industrial places heavily reliant on carbon-intensive fuels. Democrats tend to do well in postindustrial places where carbon output is low. Trump will hit Clinton for supporting environmental regulations that hurt the manufacturing economy. Clinton will rally her people with efforts to address climate change.

This style of campaign could also pave the way for a longer-term realignment. Michael Lind of New America argues in an essay in Politico that Republicans are becoming a Midwestern, white working-class party that embraces economic nationalism — walling out immigrants and global economic competition. The Democrats are becoming a multicultural globalist coalition that will see national boundaries as obsolete.

But there’s another America out there, pointing to a different political debate. For while people are flooding out of the Midwest, they are flooding into the South and the West. The financial crisis knocked many Sun Belt cities to their knees, but they are back up and surging. Jobs and people are now heading to Orlando, Phoenix, Nashville, Charlotte, Denver and beyond.

There are two kinds of places that are getting it right. The first we might call Richard Florida cities, after the writer who champions them. These are dense, highly educated, highly communal places with plenty of hipsters. These cities, like Austin, Seattle and San Francisco, have lots of innovation, lots of cultural amenities, but high housing prices and lots of inequality.

The second kind of cities we might call Joel Kotkin cities, after the writer who champions them. These are opportunity cities like Houston, Dallas and Salt Lake City. These places are less regulated, so it’s easier to start a business. They are sprawling with easy, hodgepodge housing construction, so the cost of living is low. Immigrants flock to them.

As Kotkin and Tory Gattis pointed out in an essay in The City Journal, Houston has been a boomtown for the past two decades. It’s America’s fourth-largest city, with 35 percent metro area population growth between 2000 and 2013. It’s the most ethnically diverse city in America and has had a surge in mid-skill jobs. Houston’s diversified its economy, so even the energy recession has not derailed its progress.

We should be having a debate between the Kotkin model and the Florida model, between two successful ways to create prosperity, each with strengths and weaknesses. That would be a forward-looking debate between groups who are open, confident and innovative. That would be a debate that, while it might divide by cultural values and aesthetics, wouldn’t divide along ugly racial lines.

We should be focusing on the growing, dynamic places and figuring out how to use those models to nurture inclusive opportunity and rejuvenate the places that aren’t. Instead, this campaign will focus on the past: who we need to shut out to get back what we lost.

The future is being built right now. The prevailing sense of public despair is just wrong.

That deserves one more reply, this time from “soxared040713” from Crete, IL:  “Mr. Brooks, the demonization of President Obama, now in its eighth year, was created by your party. You have done no small part to fan the flames of despair these past seven-plus years ginning up a mob-like resentment against not only him, but Democrats in general. … House Speaker Paul Ryan’s cowardly capitulation to Trump yesterday is merely the latest in a continuing cascade of reasons our “prevailing sense of public despair” is so great.  Are you happy now?”  And now here’s Prof. Krugman:

On Tuesday the political arm of the Natural Resources Defense Council, one of America’s most influential environmentalist groups, made its first presidential endorsement ever, giving the nod to Hillary Clinton. This meant jumping the gun by a week on her inevitable designation as the presumptive Democratic nominee, but the NRDC Action Fund is obviously eager to get on with the general election.

And it’s not hard to see why: At this point Donald Trump’s personality endangers the whole planet.

We’re at a peculiar moment when it comes to the environment — a moment of both fear and hope. The outlook for climate change if current policies continue has never looked worse, but the prospects for turning away from the path of destruction have never looked better. Everything depends on who ends up sitting in the White House for the next few years.

On climate: Remember claims by climate denialists that global warming had paused, that temperatures hadn’t risen since 1998? That was always a garbage argument, but in any case it has now been blown away by a series of new temperature records and a proliferation of other indicators that, taken together, tell a terrifying story of looming disaster.

At the same time, however, rapid technological progress in renewable energy is making nonsense — or maybe I should say, further nonsense — of another bad argument against climate action, the claim that nothing can be done about greenhouse gas emissions without crippling the economy. Solar and wind power are getting cheaper each year, and growing quickly even without much in the way of incentives to switch away from fossil fuels. Provide those incentives, and an energy revolution would be just around the corner.

So we’re in a state where terrible things are in prospect, but can be avoided with fairly modest, politically feasible steps. You may want a revolution, but we don’t need one to save the planet. Right now all it would take is for America to implement the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan and other actions — which don’t even require new legislation, just a Supreme Court that won’t stand in their way — to let the U.S. continue the role it took in last year’s Paris agreement, guiding the world as a whole toward sharp reductions in emissions.

But what happens if the next president is a man who doesn’t believe in climate science, or indeed in inconvenient facts of any kind?

Republican hostility to climate science and climate action is usually attributed to ideology and the power of special interests, and both of these surely play important roles. Free-market fundamentalists prefer rejecting science to admitting that there are ever cases when government regulation is necessary. Meanwhile, buying politicians is a pretty good business investment for fossil-fuel magnates like the Koch brothers.

But I’ve always had the sense that there was a third factor, which is basically psychological. There are some men — it’s almost always men — who become enraged at any suggestion that they must give up something they want for the common good. Often, the rage is disproportionate to the sacrifice: for example, prominent conservatives suggesting violence against government officials because they don’t like the performance of phosphate-free detergent. But polluter’s rage isn’t about rational thought.

Which brings us to the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, who embodies the modern conservative id in its most naked form, stripped of the disguises politicians usually use to cloak their prejudices and make them seem respectable.

No doubt Donald Trump hates environmental protection in part for the usual reasons. But there’s an extra layer of venom to his pro-pollution stances that is both personal and mind-bogglingly petty.

For example, he has repeatedly denounced restrictions intended to protect the ozone layer — one of the great success stories of global environmental policy — because, he claims, they’re the reason his hair spray doesn’t work as well as it used to. I am not making this up.

He’s also a bitter foe of wind power. He likes to talk about how wind turbines kill birds, which they sometimes do, but no more so than tall buildings; but his real motivation seems to be ire over unsuccessful attempts to block an offshore wind farm near one of his British golf courses.

And if evidence gets in the way of his self-centeredness, never mind. Recently he assured audiences that there isn’t a drought in California, that officials have just refused to turn on the water.

I know how ridiculous it sounds. Can the planet really be in danger because a rich guy worries about his hairdo? But Republicans are rallying around this guy just as if he were a normal candidate. And if Democrats don’t rally the same way, he just might make it to the White House.

Blow and Krugman

May 30, 2016

In “The Ghosts of Old Sex Scandals” Mr. Blow points out the obvious, that if Donald Trump dwells on Bill Clinton’s misdeeds, we should remember Trump’s and other Republicans’ hypocrisy on such matters.  In “Feel the Math” Prof. Krugman takes a look at numbers and the state of politics.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

We are now being forced to relive the decades-old sex scandals of Bill Clinton, as Donald Trump tries desperately to shield and inoculate himself from well-earned charges of misogyny.

I say, if we must go there, let’s go all the way. Let’s do this dirty laundry, as Kelly Rowland, former Destiny’s Child, once crooned.

First, multiple women have accused Clinton of things ranging from sexual misconduct to rape. Paula Jones famously brought a sexual harassment case against Clinton. The case was dismissed, but on appeal, faced with the prospect of having to testify under oath, Clinton settled the case out of court.

Clinton has maintained that he had inappropriate sexual relationships with only two women: Gennifer Flowers, a model and actress, and Monica Lewinsky, a White House intern.

Clinton was impeached on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice in connection with his affair with Lewinsky.

Let’s just say this: Clinton was as wrong as the day is long for his affairs. There is no way around that.

But the problem was that many of the men condemning the beam in Clinton’s eye were then shown to have one in their own.

Newt Gingrich, who was so incredibly disliked that he stepped down not only from his speakership in the House of Representatives, but also from Congress altogether, later admitted cheating on his first wife (with whom he discussed divorce terms while she was in the hospital for cancer) and on his second (that cheating occurred whileGingrich led the Clinton impeachment proceedings).

Into the void created by Gingrich’s departure stepped speaker-to-be Robert L. Livingston of Louisiana.

But, as The Chicago Tribune reported at the time:

“On the eve of the House debate to impeach President Clinton for lying about sex with Monica Lewinsky, House Speaker-elect Bob Livingston told his Republican colleagues Thursday night that he had strayed from his marriage and had adulterous affairs. Only a few hours after Livingston decided to proceed with the impeachment debate despite U.S. forces being engaged in hostilities in Iraq, he admitted in a G.O.P. caucus that he had “on occasion” committed infidelity and in ‘doing so nearly cost me my marriage and family.’”

And Livingston wasn’t the only Republican moving to impeach Clinton for lying about a sexual affair who would be forced out of the shadows for his own sexual scandals.

J. Dennis Hastert, who became speaker in 1999, pleaded guilty last year to illegally structuring bank withdrawals in order to pay what prosecutors contend was hush money to a man Hastert had sexually abused as a child. Indeed, as The Times reported in April, federal prosecutors asserted that Hastert “molested at least four boys, as young as 14, when he worked as a high school wrestling coach decades ago,” before the Clinton impeachment hearings.

Henry Hyde, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, who The Times reported had raised “the specter of the Watergate era” when discussing Clinton, admitted to a journalist during the proceedings that he’d had a five-year affair with a married woman decades earlier.

Dan Burton, House Government Reform and Oversight Committee chairman, who The Washington Post described as “one of President Clinton’s most persistent and combative critics,” was forced to admit that he had a secret love child.

And, just last week, The Times reported:

“Kenneth W. Starr, the former independent counsel who delivered a report that served as the basis for President Bill Clinton’s impeachment in 1998, was removed as president of Baylor University on Thursday after an investigation found the university mishandled accusations of sexual assault against football players.”

The sweep of karma and the level of hypocrisy is just staggering.

No wonder nearly two-thirds of Americans opposed Clinton’s impeachment, and he emerged from the impeachment with record-high approval ratings.

Now, Trump wants to dip into this muck again, even though he has had his own extramarital affair.

Indeed, nine days after Clinton admitted his affair with Lewinsky, Trump seemed to support him and find kinship, saying, “Paula Jones is a loser, but the fact is that she may be responsible for bringing down a president indirectly.” Trump also mused on the prospect of his own run for public office, saying, “Can you imagine how controversial that’d be? You think about him with the women. How about me with the women? Can you imagine…”

I can, actually.

Last week, when the Trump lawyer Michael Cohen was confronted on CNN with Trump’s defenses of Clinton during the sex scandals, Cohen responded that at the time Trump was simply trying to “protect a friend.” And yet, this is the same camp lambasting Hillary Clinton as an “enabler” for trying to protect a husband?

It’s all incredibly distasteful, yes, but it also doesn’t jibe. And, aside from the unshakable feeling that there is something tragically off about using a husband’s philandering as a weapon against a betrayed wife, I also doubt the public will have much stomach for these stories, just as it didn’t in the 1990s.

Dirty laundry, done.

But, of course, as we all know IOKIYAR.  As an aside, it’s rather telling that the Times isn’t allowing comments on this.  Here’s Prof. Krugman:

This is my fifth presidential campaign as a New York Times columnist, so I’ve watched a lot of election coverage, and I came into this cycle prepared for the worst. Or so I thought.

But I was wrong. So far, election commentary has been even worse than I imagined it would be. It’s not just the focus on the horse race at the expense of substance; much of the horse-race coverage has been bang-your-head-on-the-desk awful, too. I know this isn’t scientific, but based on conversations I’ve had recently, many people — smart people, who read newspapers and try to keep track of events — have been given a fundamentally wrong impression of the current state of play.

And when I say a “wrong impression,” I don’t mean that I disagree with other people’s takes. I mean that people aren’t being properly informed about the basic arithmetic of the situation.

Now, I’m not a political scientist or polling expert, nor do I even try to play one on TV. But I am fairly numerate, and I assiduously follow real experts like The Times’s Nate Cohn. And they’ve taught me some basic rules that I keep seeing violated.

First, at a certain point you have to stop reporting about the race for a party’s nomination as if it’s mainly about narrative and “momentum.” That may be true at an early stage, when candidates are competing for credibility and dollars. Eventually, however, it all becomes a simple, concrete matter of delegate counts.

That’s why Hillary Clinton will be the Democratic nominee; she locked it up over a month ago with her big Mid-Atlantic wins, leaving Bernie Sanders no way to overtake her without gigantic, implausible landslides — winning two-thirds of the vote! — in states with large nonwhite populations, which have supported Mrs. Clinton by huge margins throughout the campaign.

And no, saying that the race is effectively over isn’t somehow aiding a nefarious plot to shut it down by prematurely declaring victory. Nate Silver recently summed it up: “Clinton ‘strategy’ is to persuade more ‘people’ to ‘vote’ for her, hence producing ‘majority’ of ‘delegates.’” You may think those people chose the wrong candidate, but choose her they did.

Second, polls can be really helpful at assessing the state of a race, but only if you fight the temptation to cherry-pick, to only cite polls telling the story you want to hear. Recent hyperventilating over the California primary is a classic example. Most polls show Mrs. Clinton with a solid lead, but one recent poll shows a very close race. So, has her lead “evaporated,” as some reports suggest? Probably not: Another poll, taken at the very same time, showed an 18-point lead.

What the polling experts keep telling us to do is rely on averages of polls rather than highlighting any one poll in particular. This does double duty: it prevents cherry-picking, and it also helps smooth out the random fluctuations that are an inherent part of polling, but can all too easily be mistaken for real movement. And the polling average for California has, in fact, been pretty stable, with a solid Clinton lead.

Polls can, of course, be wrong, and have been a number of times this cycle. But they’ve worked better than many people think. Most notably, Donald Trump’s rise didn’t defy the polls — on the contrary, he was solidly leading the polls by last September. Pundits who dismissed his chances were overruling what the surveys were trying to tell them.

Which brings us to the general election. Here’s what you should know, but may not be hearing clearly in the political reporting: Mrs. Clinton is clearly ahead, both in general election polls and in Electoral College projections based on state polls.

It’s true that her lead isn’t as big as it was before Mr. Trump clinched the G.O.P. nomination, largely because Republicans have consolidated around their presumptive nominee, while many Sanders supporters are still balking at saying that they’ll vote for her.

But that probably won’t last; many Clinton supporters said similar things about Barack Obama in 2008, but eventually rallied around the nominee. So unless Bernie Sanders refuses to concede and insinuates that the nomination was somehow stolen by the candidate who won more votes, Mrs. Clinton is a clear favorite to win the White House.

Now, obviously things can and will change over the course of the general election campaign. Every one of the presidential elections I’ve covered at The Times felt at some point like a nail-biter. But the current state of the race should not be a source of dispute or confusion. Barring the equivalent of a meteor strike, Hillary Clinton will be the Democratic nominee; despite the reluctance of Sanders supporters to concede that reality, she’s currently ahead of Donald Trump. That’s what the math says, and anyone who says it doesn’t is misleading you.

Brooks and Krugman

May 27, 2016

Sigh.  Bobo now thinks he can Bobosplain what goes on “Inside Student Radicalism.”  He gurgles that a clash of experiences at Oberlin College demonstrates the difficulty of reconciling identity politics with a meritocracy.  In the comments “gemli” from Boston had this to say:  “This is rich. A vulgar conservative uber-capitalist ignoramus will be the Republican presidential nominee, but David Brooks says it’s the liberal meritocracy that has become amoral. He diagnoses this liberal illness from a spasm of outrage elicited by a few students at a small performing arts college.  It’s more likely that these students are canaries in a political and social coalmine. They’re awakening to the difference between our country’s ideals and the deep, ingrained unfairness that is its reality. Most of us older folks take for granted the de facto racism, sexism and homophobia that permeate and pollute our national psyche.”  Prof. Krugman addresses “Trump’s Delusions of Adequacy” and says no, businessmen aren’t economic experts.  Here, gawd help us, i

Today’s elite college students face a unique set of pressures. On the professional side life is competitive, pressured, time-consuming, capitalistic and stressful. On the political side many elite universities are home to an ethos of middle-aged leftism. The general atmosphere embraces feminism, civil rights, egalitarianism and environmentalism, but it is expressed as academic discourse, not as action on the streets.

This creates a tension in the minds of some students. On the professional side they are stressed and exhausted. On the political, spiritual and moral side they are unfulfilled.

On the professional side some students are haunted by the anxiety that they are failing in some comprehensive but undefinable way. On the spiritual side they hunger for a vehement crusade that will fulfill their moral yearnings and produce social justice.

This situation — a patina of genteel progressivism atop a churning engine of amoral meritocracy — is inherently unstable and was bound to produce a counterreaction. In his essay “The Big Uneasy,” in the current issue of The New Yorker, Nathan Heller describes life at Oberlin College in Ohio. In his penetrating interviews with the activist students you can see how the current passion for identity politics grows, in part, as a reaction against both sides of campus life.

The students Heller interviewed express a comprehensive dissatisfaction with their lives. “I’m actually still trying to reconcile how unhappy I’ve been here with how happy people were insisting I must be,” one student says. “Whatever you do at Oberlin as a person of color or a low-income person, it just doesn’t work,” says another.

Many of these students have rejected the meritocratic achievement culture whole cloth — the idea that life is about moving up the ladder. “I don’t want to assimilate into middle-class values,” one student tells Heller. “I’m going home, back to the ‘hood’ of Chicago, to be exactly who I was before I came to Oberlin.”

“Working my piece of land somewhere and living autonomously — that’s the dream,” another says. “Just getting … out of America. It’s a sinking ship.”

On the other hand they want a moral life that is more vehement, more strenuous than anything being offered by their elders. Oberlin College is as progressive as the day is long. But in mid-December, a group of students gave the Oberlin administration a list of 50 nonnegotiable demands, asserting that “this institution functions on the premises of imperialism, white supremacy, capitalism, ableism, and a cissexist heteropatriarchy.”

The identity politics the students have produced inverts the values of the meritocracy. The meritocracy is striving toward excellence; identity politics is deeply egalitarian. The meritocracy measures you by how much you’ve accomplished; identity politics measures you by how much you’ve been oppressed. In the meritocracy your right to be heard is earned through long learning and quality insight; in identity politics your right to be heard is earned by your experience of discrimination. The meritocracy places tremendous emphasis on individual agency; identity politics argues that agency is limited within a system of oppression.

The meritocracy sees the university as a gem tumbler, a bouncing place where people crash off one another and thereby hone their thoughts and skills. The students Heller describes sense the moral emptiness of the current meritocracy and are groping for lives of purpose. At the same time they feel fragile and want protection — protection from rejection, failure or opposing or disturbing ideas.

What one sees in the essay are the various strains of American liberalism crashing into one another: the admiration for achievement clashing against the moral superiority of the victim; the desire to let students run free, clashing against the desire to protect the oppressed from psychologically unsafe experiences.

The current identity politics movement, like all previous forms of campus radicalism, is sparked by genuine social injustices. Agree or disagree with these students, it’s hard not to admire the impulse to serve a social good and commit to some lofty purpose.

On the other hand, this movement does not emerge from a place of confidence and strength. It emerges from a place of anxiety, lostness and fragility. It is distorted by that soil. Movements that grant themselves the status of victim lack both the confidence to lead change and the humility to converse with others. People who try to use politics to fill emotional and personal voids get more and more extreme and end up as fanatics.

There is a vacuum at the heart of things here. The meritocracy has become amoral. We ask students to work harder and harder while providing them with less and less of an idea of how they might find a purpose in all that work.

If we slowed down the frenetic pace of competition, and helped students think about vocation — the meaning and purpose of work — then life would have a firmer base. Political life — whether left or right, radical or moderate — wouldn’t be distorted so much by inner pain.

Oh, FFS…  In the comments “trillo” from Massachusetts summed this up very succinctly:  “Another data-free column from Brooks. Firm conclusions drawn from thin air, and cast in lofty, moralistic terms. Such pious, self-righteous nonsense.”  In other words, par for the course for Bobo.  Here’s Prof. Krugman:

In general, you shouldn’t pay much attention to polls at this point, especially with Republicans unifying around Donald Trump while Bernie Sanders hasn’t conceded the inevitable. Still, I was struck by several recentpolls showing Mr. Trump favored over Hillary Clinton on the question of who can best manage the economy.

This is pretty remarkable given the incoherence and wild irresponsibility of Mr. Trump’s policy pronouncements. Granted, most voters probably don’t know anything about that, in part thanks to substance-free news coverage. But if voters don’t know anything about Mr. Trump’s policies, why their favorable impression of his economic management skills?

The answer, I suspect, is that voters see Mr. Trump as a hugely successful businessman, and they believe that business success translates into economic expertise. They are, however, probably wrong about the first, and definitely wrong about the second: Even genuinely brilliant businesspeople are often clueless about economic policy.

An aside: In part this is surely a partisan thing. Over the years, polls have generally, although not universally, shown Republicans trusted over Democrats to manage the economy, even though the economy has consistently performed better under Democratic presidents. But Republicans are much better at promoting legends — for example, by constantly hyping economic and jobs growth under Ronald Reagan, even though the Reagan record was easily surpassed under Bill Clinton.

Back to Mr. Trump: One of the many peculiar things about his run for the White House is that it rests heavily on his claims of being a masterful businessman, yet it’s far from clear how good he really is at the “art of the deal.” Independent estimates suggest that he’s much less wealthy than he says he is, and probably has much lower income than he claims to have, too. But since he has broken with all precedents by refusing to release his tax returns, it’s impossible to resolve such disputes. (And maybe that’s why he won’t release those returns.)

Remember, too, that Mr. Trump is a clear case of someone born on third base who imagines that he hit a triple: He inherited a fortune, and it’s far from clear that he has expanded that fortune any more than he would have if he had simply parked the money in an index fund.

But leave questions about whether Mr. Trump is the business genius he claims to be on one side. Does business success carry with it the knowledge and instincts needed to make good economic policy? No, it doesn’t.

True, the historical record isn’t much of a guide, since only one modern president had a previous successful career in business. And maybe Herbert Hoover was an outlier.

But while we haven’t had many business leaders in the White House, we do know what kind of advice prominent businessmen give on economic policy. And it’s often startlingly bad, for two reasons. One is that wealthy, powerful people sometimes don’t know what they don’t know — and who’s going to tell them? The other is that a country is nothing like a corporation, and running a national economy is nothing like running a business.

Here’s a specific, and relevant, example of the difference. Last fall, the now-presumed Republican nominee declared: “Our wages are too high. We have to compete with other countries.” Then, as has happened often in this campaign, Mr. Trump denied that he had said what he had, in fact, said — straight talker, my toupee. But never mind.

The truth is that wage cuts are the last thing America needs right now: We sell most of what we produce to ourselves, and wage cuts would hurt domestic sales by reducing purchasing power and increasing the burden of private-sector debt. Lower wages probably wouldn’t even help the fraction of the U.S. economy that competes internationally, since they would normally lead to a stronger dollar, negating any competitive advantage.

The point, however, is that these feedback effects from wage cuts aren’t the sort of things even very smart business leaders need to take into account to run their companies. Businesses sell stuff to other people; they don’t need to worry about the effect of their cost-cutting measures on demand for their products. Managing national economic policy, on the other hand, is all about the feedback.

I’m not saying that business success is inherently disqualifying when it comes to policy making. A tycoon who has enough humility to realize that he doesn’t already know all the answers, and is willing to listen to other people even when they contradict him, could do fine as an economic manager. But does this describe anyone currently running for president?

The truth is that the idea that Donald Trump, of all people, knows how to run the U.S. economy is ludicrous. But will voters ever recognize that truth?

Oh, fergawdsake, Teh Donald bankrupted four casinos.  CASINOS!  You know, those places where the house always wins…

Blow and Krugman

May 23, 2016

In “Election From Hell” Mr. Blow hears echoes of another political contest that pushed the bounds of extremism and ugliness.  Prof. Krugman, in “Remembrance of Booms Past,” makes note of Clinton I’s economic lessons for Clinton II.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

Sometimes people are surprised, or even unsettled, by how sanguine I can be about the coming election. I sometimes say that it’s not that I have some magic foresight about the outcome — I don’t make predictions like that; anything could happen — but it is rather that I have been here before. One of the first elections I ever voted in had candidates who were even moreflawed and was even more of a circus. Hard to believe, I know, but it’s true.

And there are eerie similarities that I can’t shake.

The Democrat, who had occupied the white-columned home of the executive during an earlier period of prosperity, had testified more than 15 times before grand jury investigations and had twice been tried, but never convicted, on felony charges.

The Republican, a divorcé, was a well-known racist and demagogue who tried to disavow his past and who once said his plan to deal with illegal immigration was to heavily fortify the Mexican-American border and round up and deport all illegal aliens.

As Bill Turque wrote in Newsweek at the time, the Republican was “attempting to run from his past by repackaging himself as a populist. His affable, game-show-host looks and just-folks manner have been insidiously successful in blunting the impact of a past pocked with racism, Jew-hating and revisionisms.”

Turque wrote that for thousands of “whites angry with hard times and high taxes, his is the ultimate ‘no bull’ campaign. His coded distillations of white economic and racial resentment are by now the most thoroughly decoded in American politics.”

The New York Times reported at the time that the Republican’s “evolution from a lifetime at the fringes of racial politics to a new life as an aspiring national politician is largely the result of his symbiotic relationship with broadcast journalism.” A Democratic leader complained about the media’s role in the Republican’s ascendance: “The media have made him a legitimate candidate.” The venerable Ted Koppel said at the time that television and the Republican candidate “were made for each other.”

A former newspaper editor called the Republican’s support “impenetrable,” cautioning that the Democrat depended on winning over members of his own party who had recently despised him. Some in the polling and pundit class even worried about a “hidden vote” for the Republican, which would come from a group who wouldn’t publicly say they supported him, but would vote for him on Election Day.

There were lingering questions about the sincerity of the Republican’s recently professed Christianity.

Writing about one of the Republican’s previous races, the author Tyler Bridges said that at his rallies supporters “were angry” and “they thrust their fists in the air, stomped their feet, and chanted his name over and over.” Bridges wrote that the rallies had an “us-versus-them atmosphere” in which “supporters frequently heckled reporters.”

One of the most memorable bumper stickers from the campaign was for the Democrat and read, “Vote for the crook. It’s important.” (Ironically, both candidates would later be convicted of crimes following F.B.I. investigations.)

The year was 1991. I was a college student in my home state of Louisiana. And the race was a gubernatorial runoff between the Democrat Edwin Edwards (who reportedly once counseled Bill Clinton on how to deal with the Gennifer Flowers scandal) and the Republican David Duke, a former grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan (who this year endorsed Donald Trump). It was the first gubernatorial election in which I voted.

Indeed, Edwards was such a brazen, unrepentant skirt chaser that he joked to a reporter during that campaign about similarities between him and Duke: “The only thing we have in common is we’re both wizards under the sheets.”

People called it the “election from hell” or the “race from hell,” depending on the person and the conversation. Voters had to choose the lesser of two evils, the same choice Bernie Sanders suggested this weekend that a Trump vs. Clinton contest would present. Some people were nervous and scared.

I’m recalling it now because the current race is reminiscent of it and because I think the outcome and lasting legacy of the Louisiana race may be instructive. In the end, Edwards won with a coalition of blacks and affluent, “business-oriented conservatives” in a record turnout for a state gubernatorial general election, but Duke did win the majority of the white vote.

Though he didn’t win, Duke’s imprint on the state was real. As The Times reported in 2014: “Two decades later, much of his campaign has merged with the political mainstream here, and rather than a bad memory from the past, Mr. Duke remains a window into some of the murkier currents in the state’s politics, where Republicans have sought and eventually won Mr. Duke’s voters, while turning their back on him.”

Whether or not Trump loses in November to “crooked Hillary,” as he has dubbed her, he may well be an important part of the future of his party. He has given his Republican supporters permission to vocalize their anti-otherness rage, and that will not easily be undone.

As a Louisiana boy experiencing a confounding sense of déjà vu, let me assure you: There is no way to un-cook the gumbo.

Trump took the dog whistles and turned them into klaxons.  Now here’s Prof. Krugman:

If Hillary Clinton wins in November, Bill Clinton will occupy a doubly unique role in U.S. political history — not just as the first First Husband, but also as the first First Spouse who used to be president. Obviously he won’t spend his time baking cookies. So what will he do?

Last week Mrs. Clinton stirred up a flurry of comments by suggesting that Mr. Clinton would be “in charge of revitalizing the economy.” You can see why she might want to say that, since people still remember the good times that prevailed when he was in office. How his role might be defined in practice is much less clear.

But never mind. What I want to do right now is talk about the lessons the Clinton I boom actually holds for a potential Clinton II administration.

First of all, it really was a very impressive boom, and in a way it’s odd that Democrats don’t talk about it more. After all, Republicans constantly invoke the miracles of Saint Reagan to justify their faith in supply-side economics. Yet the Clinton-era expansion surpassed the Reagan economy in every dimension. Mr. Clinton not only presided over more job creation and faster economic growth, his time in office was also marked by something notably lacking in the Reagan era: a significant rise in the real wages of ordinary workers.

But why was the Clinton economy so good? It wasn’t because Mr. Clinton had a magic touch, although he did do a good job of responding to crises. Mostly, he had the good luck to hold office when good things were happening for reasons unrelated to politics.

Specifically, the 1990s were the decade in which American business finally figured out what to do with computers — the decade in which offices became networked, in which retailers like Wal-Mart learned to use information technology to manage inventories and coordinate with suppliers. This led to a surge in productivity, which had grown only sluggishly for the previous two decades.

The technology takeoff also helped fuel a surge in business investment, which in turn produced job creation at a pace that, by the late 1990s, brought America truly full employment. And full employment was the force behind the rising wages of the 1990s.

Oh, and yes, there was a technology bubble at the end of the decade, but that was a fairly minor part of the overall story — and because there wasn’t a big rise in private debt, the damage done when the tech bubble burst was much less than the wreckage left behind by the Bush-era housing bubble.

But back to the boom: What was Mr. Clinton’s role? Actually, it was fairly limited, since he didn’t cause the technology takeoff. On the other hand, his policies obviously didn’t get in the way of prosperity.

And it’s worth remembering that in 1993, when Mr. Clinton raised taxes on the wealthy, Republicans uniformly predicted disaster. It will “kill the recovery and put us back in a recession,” predicted Newt Gingrich. It will put the economy “in the gutter,” declared John Kasich. None of that happened, which didn’t stop the same people from making the same predictions when President Obama raised taxes in 2013 – a move followed by the best job growth since the 1990s.

One big lesson of the Clinton boom, then, is that the conclusion conservatives want you to draw from their incessant Reaganolatry — that lavishing tax cuts on the rich is the key to prosperity, and that any rise in top tax rates will bring retribution from the invisible hand — is utterly false. Mrs. Clinton is currently proposing roughly a trillion dollars in additional taxes on the top 1 percent, to pay for new programs. If she takes office, and tries to implement that policy, the usual suspects will issue the usual dire warnings, but there is absolutely no reason to believe that her agenda would hurt the economy.

The other big lesson from the Clinton I boom is that while there are many ways policy makers can and should try to raise wages, the single most important thing policy can do to help workers is aim for full employment.

Unfortunately, we can’t count on another spontaneous surge in technology-driven private investment to drive job creation. But some kinds of private investment might grow rapidly if we take long-overdue steps to address climate change.

And in any case, not all productive investment is private. We desperately need to repair and upgrade our infrastructure; meanwhile, the federal government can borrow money incredibly cheaply. So there’s an overwhelming case for a surge in public investment – and one side benefit of such a surge would be full employment, which would help produce another era of rising wages.

So, will Bill Clinton play an important role if Mrs. Clinton wins? I have no idea, and don’t much care. But it will be important to remember what went right and why on Bill’s watch.

Brooks and Krugman

May 20, 2016

Bobo is still wringing his hands over “The Fragmented Society” and says Yuval Levin offers a gripping diagnosis of changes in society in his new book.  I guess he and/or the NYT got tired of Bobo being taken to the woodshed because comments have been turned off.  I’ll just point out that one of the “authorities” that Bobo cites is Charles Murray.  Here’s what the Southern Poverty Law Center has to say about him.  Prof. Krugman considers “Obama’s War on Inequality” and says two events this week highlight little-known progressive successes.  Here’s Bobo:

There are just a few essential reads if you want to understand the American social and political landscape today. Robert Putnam’s “Our Kids,” Charles Murray’s “Coming Apart” and a few other books deserve to be on that list. Today, I’d add Yuval Levin’s fantastic new book, “The Fractured Republic.”

Levin starts with the observation that our politics and much of our thinking is drenched in nostalgia for the 1950s and early 1960s. The left is nostalgic for the relative economic equality of that era. The right is nostalgic for the cultural cohesion. The postwar era has become our unconscious ideal of what successful America looks like. It was, Levin notes, an age of cohesion and consolidation.

But we have now moved to an age of decentralization and fragmentation. At one point in the book he presents a series of U-shaped graphs showing this pattern.

Party polarization in Congress declined steadily from 1910 to 1940, but it has risen steadily since. We are a less politically cohesive nation.

The share of national income that went to the top 1 percent declined steadily from 1925 to about 1975, but has risen steadily since. We are a less economically cohesive nation.

The share of Americans who were born abroad dropped steadily from 1910 to 1970. But the share of immigrants has risen steadily ever since, from 4.7 percent of the population to nearly 14 percent. We are a more diverse and less demographically cohesive nation.

In case after case we’ve replaced attachments to large established institutions with commitments to looser and more flexible networks. Levin argues that the Internet did not cause this shift but embodies today’s individualistic, diffuse society.

This shift has created some unpleasant realities. Levin makes a nice distinction between centralization and consolidation. In economic, cultural and social terms, America is less centralized. But people have simultaneously concentrated off on the edges —- separated into areas of, say, concentrated wealth and concentrated poverty. The middle has hollowed out in sphere after sphere. Socially, politically and economically we’re living within “bifurcated concentration.”

For example, religious life has bifurcated. Church attendance has declined twice as fast among people without high school diplomas as among people with college degrees. With each additional year of education, the likelihood of attending religious services rises by 15 percent.

We’re also less embedded in tight, soul-forming institutions. Levin makes another distinction between community — being part of a congregation — and identity — being, say, Jewish. Being part of community takes time and involves restrictions. Merely having an identity doesn’t. In our cultural emphasis and life, we’ve gone from a community focus to an identity focus.

Our politicians try to find someone to blame for these problems: banks, immigrants or, for Donald Trump, morons generally. But that older consolidated life could not have survived modernity and is never coming back. It couldn’t have survived globalization, feminism and the sexual revolution, the rising tide of immigration and the greater freedom consumers now enjoy.

Our fundamental problems are the downsides of transitions we have made for good reasons: to enjoy more flexibility, creativity and individual choice. For example, we like buying cheap products from around the world. But the choices we make as consumers make life less stable for us as employees.

Levin says the answer is not to dwell in confusing, frustrating nostalgia. It’s through a big push toward subsidiarity, devolving choice and power down to the local face-to-face community level, and thus avoiding the excesses both of rigid centralization and alienating individualism. A society of empowered local neighborhood organizations is a learning society. Experiments happen and information about how to solve problems flows from the bottom up.

I’m acknowledged in the book, but I learned something new on every page. Nonetheless, I’d say Levin’s emphasis on subsidiarity and local community is important but insufficient. We live within a golden chain, connecting self, family, village, nation and world. The bonds of that chain have to be repaired at every point, not just the local one.

It’s not 1830. We Americans have a national consciousness. People who start local groups are often motivated by a dream of scaling up and changing the nation and the world. Our distemper is not only caused by local fragmentation but by national dysfunction. Even Levin writes and thinks in nation-state terms (his prescription is Wendell Berry, but his intellectual and moral sources are closer to a nationalist like Abraham Lincoln).

That means there will have to be a bigger role for Washington than he or current Republican orthodoxy allows, with more radical ideas, like national service, or a national effort to seed locally run early education and infrastructure projects.

As in ancient Greece and Rome, local communities won’t survive if the national project disintegrates. Our structural problems are national and global and require big as well as little reforms.

And now here’s Prof. Krugman:

There were two big economic policy stories this week that you may have missed if you were distracted by Trumpian bombast and the yelling of the Sanders dead-enders. Each tells you a lot about both what President Obama has accomplished and the stakes in this year’s election.

One of those stories, I’m sorry to say, did involve Donald Trump: The presumptive Republican nominee — who has already declared that he will, in fact, slash taxes on the rich, whatever he may have said in the recent past — once again declared his intention to do away with Dodd-Frank, the financial reform passed during Democrats’ brief window of congressional control. Just for the record, while Mr. Trump is sometimes described as a “populist,” almost every substantive policy he has announced would make the rich richer at workers’ expense.

The other story was about a policy change achieved through executive action: The Obama administration issued new guidelines on overtime pay, which will benefit an estimated 12.5 million workers.

What both stories tell us is that the Obama administration has done much more than most people realize to fight extreme economic inequality. That fight will continue if Hillary Clinton wins the election; it will go into sharp reverse if Mr. Trump wins.

Step back for a minute and ask, what can policy do to limit inequality? The answer is, it can operate on two fronts. It can engage in redistribution, taxing high incomes and aiding families with lower incomes. It can also engage in what is sometimes called “predistribution,” strengthening the bargaining power of lower-paid workers and limiting the opportunities for a handful of people to make giant sums. In practice, governments that succeed in limiting inequality generally do both.

We can see this in our own history. The middle-class society that baby boomers like me grew up in didn’t happen by accident; it was created by the New Deal, which engineered what economists call the “Great Compression,” a sharp reduction in income gaps. On one side, pro-labor policies led to a striking expansion of unions, which, along with the establishment of a fairly high minimum wage, helped raise wages, especially at the bottom. On the other side, taxes on the wealthy went up sharply, while major programs like Social Security aided working families.

We can also see this in cross-country comparisons. Among advanced countries, the U.S. has the highest level of inequality, Denmark the lowest. How does Denmark do it? Partly with higher taxes and bigger social programs, but it starts with lower inequality in market incomes, thanks in large part to high minimum wages and a labor movement representing two-thirds of workers.

Now, America isn’t about to become Denmark, and Mr. Obama, facing relentless opposition in Congress, has never been in a position to repeat the New Deal. (Even F.D.R. made limited headway against inequality until World War II gave the government unusual influence over the economy.) But more has happened than you might think.

Most obviously, Obamacare provides aid and subsidies mainly to lower-income working Americans, and it pays for that aid partly with higher taxes at the top. That makes it an important redistributionist policy — the biggest such policy since the 1960s.

And between those extra Obamacare taxes and the expiration of the high-end Bush tax cuts made possible by Mr. Obama’s re-election, the average federal tax rate on the top 1 percent has risen quite a lot. In fact, it’s roughly back to what it was in 1979, pre-Ronald Reagan, something nobody seems to know.

What about predistribution? Well, why is Mr. Trump, like everyone in the G.O.P., so eager to repeal financial reform? Because despite what you may have heard about its ineffectuality, Dodd-Frank actually has put a substantial crimp in the ability of Wall Street to make money hand over fist. It doesn’t go far enough, but it’s significant enough to have bankers howling, which is a good sign.

And while the move on overtime comes late in the game, it’s a pretty big deal, and could be the beginning of much broader action.

Again, nothing Mr. Obama has done will put more than a modest dent in American inequality. But his actions aren’t trivial, either.

And even these medium-size steps put the lie to the pessimism and fatalism one hears all too often on this subject. No, America isn’t an oligarchy in which both parties reliably serve the interests of the economic elite. Money talks on both sides of the aisle, but the influence of big donors hasn’t prevented the current president from doing a substantial amount to narrow income gaps — and he would have done much more if he’d faced less opposition in Congress.

And in this as in so much else, it matters hugely whom the nation chooses as his successor.


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