Archive for the ‘The Voice Crying in the Wilderness’ Category

Krugman’s blog, 11/18/16

November 19, 2016

There was one post yesterday, “The Sorry and the Pity:”

A lot of people in politics and the media are scrambling to normalize what just happened to us, saying that it will all be OK and we can work with Trump. No, it won’t, and no, we can’t. The next occupant of the White House will be a pathological liar with a loose grip on reality; he is already surrounding himself with racists, anti-Semites, and conspiracy theorists; his administration will be the most corrupt in America history.

How did this happen? There were multiple causes, but you just can’t ignore the reality that key institutions and their leaders utterly failed. Every news organization that decided, for the sake of ratings, to ignore policy and barely cover Trump scandals while obsessing over Clinton emails, every reporter who, for whatever reason — often sheer pettiness — played up Wikileaks nonsense and talked about how various Clinton stuff “raised questions” and “cast shadows” is complicit in this disaster. And then there’s the FBI: it’s quite reasonable to argue that James Comey, whether it was careerism, cowardice, or something worse, tipped the scales and may have doomed the world.

No, I’m not giving up hope. Maybe, just maybe, the sheer awfulness of what’s happening will sink in. Maybe the backlash will be big enough to constrain Trump from destroying democracy in the next few months, and/or sweep his gang from power in the next few years. But if that’s going to happen, enough people will have to be true patriots, which means taking a stand.

And anyone who doesn’t — who plays along and plays it safe — is betraying America, and mankind.

The New York Times is pussy footing around like a long tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs.  It’s disgusting, and the editorial staff should be ashamed.

Blow and Krugman

October 3, 2016

In “Donald Trump: Terroristic Man-Toddler” Mr. Blow says The Donald is an immature bully who lashes out when he should be embarrassed.  My guess is that he’s incapable of feeling embarrassment.  Prof. Krugman, in “Trump’s Fellow Travelers,” says they are profiles in cowardice and fecklessness.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

Donald Trump is a domestic terrorist; only his form of terror doesn’t boil down to blowing things up. He’s the 70-year-old toddler who knows nearly nothing, hurls insults, has simplistic solutions for complex problems and is quick to throw a tantrum. Also, in case you didn’t know it, this toddler is mean to girls and is a bit of a bigot.

It isn’t so much that he is a strict disciple of radical ideology, but rather that he is devoid of fixed principles, willing to do anything and everything to gain fame, fortune and power. He has an endless, consuming need for perpetual affirmation. This is a bully who just wants to be liked, a man-boy nursing a nagging internal emptiness.

He’s fickle and spoiled and rotten.

So, when he loses at something, anything, he lashes out. When someone chastises him for bad behavior, he chafes. This is the kind of silver-spoon scion quick to yell at those he views as less privileged, and therefore less-than, “Do you know who I am?”

We do now, sir.

After Trump got trounced in the first debate, he went full anti-science, insisting that flimflam applause-o-meter polls, many from conservative websites, were in fact proof positive that he had won the debate.

During the debate, Hillary Clinton delivered a devastating kidney punch, calling out Trump for his sexist, bigoted comments about a Miss Universe, Alicia Machado, who had apparently gained too much weight for Trump and his pageant.

Trump has been smarting over this ever since.

He spent the week sulking and careening from fat-shaming Machado to slut-shaming her, shooting off a manic insomniac’s witching-hour tweet storm that called Machado “disgusting” and the “worst Miss U” and encouraged his followers to “check out” an alleged “sex tape” and her past.

Trump was apparently oblivious to the can of worms this would open about his own past and that of his family.

This is the same man who marveled on television about his daughter Ivanka’s “very nice figure” and mused, “I’ve said that if Ivanka weren’t my daughter, perhaps, I would be dating her.”

This is the same man who said on a radio show that he marveled at the beauty of a 12-year-old Paris Hilton, the daughter of his friends, saying when she walked into the room — at 12! — “Who the hell is that?” He would then go on to admit that he had watched Paris’s sex tape.

This is the same man who told Esquire in 1991, “You know, it doesn’t really matter what [the media] write as long as you’ve got a young and beautiful piece of [expletive].”

This is a man who, as Buzzfeed reported Friday, made his own cameo in a Playboy porno in 2000, though thankfully not as an erotic actor.

That man is lecturing someone else about their past and calling them disgusting?

And, early Friday morning, Trump tweeted: “Anytime you see a story about me or my campaign saying ‘sources said,’ DO NOT believe it. There are no sources, they are just made up lies!”

Hours later he repeated the assertion in another tweet: “Remember, don’t believe ‘sources said’ by the VERY dishonest media. If they don’t name the sources, the sources don’t exist.”

But CNN’s Brian Stelter shot back on Twitter: “Tell that to your campaign aides who insist on anonymity.”

Then Stelter provided screen grabs, presumably from a smartphone, that Stelter described as proof of people on the Trump campaign requesting anonymity.

But perhaps even more absurd is that this admonition about sourcing comes from Trump, who often prefaces his offenses with anonymous-sourcing phrases like, “A lot of people are saying …” Just because you use that as a vehicle to spread a lie, Mr. Trump, it doesn’t mean that other people do, too.

Last week CNN obtained Trump campaign talking points which instructed his supporters to bring up Bill Clinton’s sexual scandals as an attack on Hillary.

I think Trump is falling into a trap here. I think in his anger and haste he is severely underestimating the empathy people have for a betrayed spouse, who might, in misdirected anger, blame the victim, believe the unbelievable, and grant unearned forgiveness. Love makes people do crazy things, and a broken heart isn’t a physical wound but a psychic, spiritual one. It hurts like hell and people often respond in ways that are less than honorable, but ultimately understandable.

This is the kind of childish person who, when losing, flips over the board and yells insults at his family, rather than learning from the loss so that he can get better and be in a stronger position to win the next time.

This man is a brat whose money has stunted his maturation.

He shouldn’t be ushered into the White House; he should be laughed into hiding. His querulous nature shouldn’t be coddled; it should be crushed.

America is in need of a leader, not a puerile, sophomoric sniveler who is too easily baited and grossly ill-behaved.

Go to your gilded room, Donald. The adults need to pick a president.

The assumption is that the voters will behave like adults.  I’m not all that confident…  Here’s Prof. Krugman:

Donald Trump has just had an extraordinarily bad week, and Hillary Clinton an extraordinarily good one; betting markets now put Mrs. Clinton’s odds of winning almost as high as they were just after the Democratic convention. But both Mrs. Clinton’s virtues and Mr. Trump’s vices have been obvious all along. How, then, did the race manage to get so close on the eve of the debate?

A lot of the answer, I’ve argued, lies in the behavior of the news media, which spent the month before the first debate jeering at Mrs. Clinton, portraying minor missteps as major sins and inventing fake scandals out of thin air. But let us not let everyone else off the hook. Mr. Trump couldn’t have gotten as far as he has without the support, active or de facto, of many people who understand perfectly well what he is and what his election would mean, but have chosen not to take a stand.

Let’s start with the Republican political establishment, which is supporting Mr. Trump just as if he were a normal presidential nominee.

I’ve had a lot of critical things to say about Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, and Paul Ryan, the speaker of the House. One thing of which I would never accuse them, however, is stupidity. They know what kind of man they’re dealing with — but they are spending this election pretending that we’re having a serious discussion about policy, that a vote for Mr. Trump is simply a vote for lower marginal tax rates. And they should not be allowed to flush the fact of their Trump support down the memory hole when the election is behind us.

This goes in particular for Mr. Ryan, who has received extraordinarily favorable press treatment over the years — portrayed as an honest, serious policy wonk with a sincere concern for fiscal probity. This reputation was never deserved; his policy proposals have always been obvious flimflam. But in the past, criticisms of Mr. Ryan depended on pointing out hard stuff, like the fact that his numbers didn’t add up. Now it can be made much simpler: Every time he’s held up as an example of seriousness, remember that when it mattered, he backed Donald Trump.

While almost all Republican officeholders have endorsed Mr. Trump, the same isn’t true of what we might call the G.O.P. intelligentsia – actual or at least self-proclaimed policy experts, opinion writers, and so on. For the most part, the members of this group haven’t spoken up in support of this year’s Republican nominee. For example, not a single former member of the Council of Economic Advisers has endorsed Mr. Trump. If you look at who has endorsed Mr. Trump — say, at the signatories of the statement of support from “Scholars and Writers for America” — it’s actually a fairly pathetic group.

But if you think that electing Mr. Trump would be a disaster, shouldn’t you be urging your fellow Americans to vote for his opponent, even if you don’t like her? After all, not voting for Mrs. Clinton — whether you don’t vote at all, or make a purely symbolic vote for a third-party candidate — is, in effect, giving half a vote to Mr. Trump.

To be fair, quite a few conservative intellectuals have accepted that logic, especially among foreign-policy types; you have to give people like, say, Paul Wolfowitz some credit for political courage. But there have also been many who balked at doing the right thing; when Henry Kissinger and George Schultz piously declared that they were not going to endorse anyone, it was a profile in cowardice.

And the response from sane Republican economists has been especially disappointing. Only charlatans and cranks have endorsed Mr. Trump, but only a handful have risen to the occasion and been willing to say that if keeping him out of the White House is important, you need to vote for Mrs. Clinton.

Finally, it’s dismaying to see the fecklessness of those on the left supporting third-party candidates. A few seem to believe in the old doctrine of social fascism — better to see the center-left defeated by the hard right, because that sets the stage for a true progressive revolution. That worked out wonderfully in 1930s Germany.

But for most it seems to be about politics as personal expression: they dislike Mrs. Clinton — partly because they’ve bought into a misleading media image — and plan to express that dislike by staying at home or voting for someone like Gary Johnson, the Libertarian candidate. If polls are to be believed, something like a third of young voters intend to, in effect, opt out of this election. If they do, Mr. Trump might yet win.

In fact, the biggest danger from Mr. Trump’s terrible week is that it might encourage complacency and self-indulgence among voters who really, really wouldn’t want to see him in the White House. So remember: Your vote only counts if you cast it in a meaningful way.

Brooks and Krugman

September 23, 2016

Oh, fergawdsake…  Bobo used the word “fogeyish” to describe Clinton’s campaign.  As we all know Bobo is a member in EXCELLENT standing of the Old Fogey’s Club, where he regularly dismays his poor dog Moral Hazard.  (Thanks, Charlie Pierce!)  Bobo has extruded an extraordinary pile of turds called “The Clinton Calendar” in which he opines that Clintonworld lives in one century and the rest of us in another.  In this pile of turds he also informs us that the Republicans are running on “big ideas.”  As usual, “gemli” from Boston will have something to say about this.  Prof. Krugman, in “The Lying Game,” says in covering the presidential debates, and the campaign, the press needs to stand up for the truth amid Donald Trump’s fairy tales.  [snort] [guffaw]  This is why I call Krugman the Voice Crying in the Wilderness.  Brace yourself, Maggie, here’s Bobo:

Hillary Clinton made a very pertinent comment this week: “‘Why aren’t I 50 points ahead?’ you might ask.”

Indeed we might!

Clinton is running against a man whose approval ratings are under 40 percent and his disapproval rating is the highest of any candidate in American history. Only 38 percent of Americans think Donald Trump is even qualified to be president, according to a Quinnipiac survey.

Trump has practically no campaign to speak of while Clinton has a very professional one. Clinton is swamping Trump on the airwaves. Estimates vary by source, but according to Advertising Age, $145 million has been spent on pro-Clinton TV and radio ads while only $4 million has been spent on pro-Trump ads.

Meanwhile, the Trump scandals blow through like hurricanes in the tropics at peak season. Thanks to reporting by The Washington Post, we’ve learned that the Trump Foundation makes Trump University look like a model of moral rectitude. Donations Trump raised through that foundation went to pay his company’s legal bills and to buy two portraits of himself.

Every week he manages to stain his character a deeper shade of black. Trump has filled the culture with lies for the past many decades, but all those lies must bow down in reverence before the epic, galactic, gravity-reversing lies he just told about the birther nonsense.

And still he is within two or three points of Clinton nationally and leading in a bunch of the key swing states. In Ohio by five. In Iowa by six. In Florida by one. When you look at the secondary questions in the polls, Trump is doing miserably, but in the top-line “Who are you going to vote for?” question, he’s doing decently.

What is going on here?

Tyler Cowen recently gathered some of the more interesting theories on his blog Marginal Revolution: America is not ready for a woman president. The Democrats have a lot of policy proposals, but the Republicans are running on big ideas. A more diverse country is a more fractious and polarized country, and over the past few weeks white Republicans have been coming home to their candidate.

I see some truth in those theories, especially the last one. But my single explanation would be this: Clintonworld is a semi-closed system that operates according to its own calendar. Donald Trump is egregious, but at least he’s living in the 21st century, as was Bernie Sanders. Clintonworld operates according to its own time-space continuum that is slightly akilter from our own.

In the 21st century, politics operates around a different axis. It’s not left/right, big government/small government. It’s openness and dynamism versus closedness and security. It’s between those who see opportunity and excitement in the emerging globalized, multiethnic meritocracy against those who see their lives and communities threatened by it.

In the 21st century, the parties are amassing different coalitions. People are dividing along human capital lines, with the college educated flocking to the Democrats and the non-college educated whites flocking to the G.O.P. Democrats do great in America’s 100 most crowded counties, but they struggle in the 3,000 less crowded ones.

Clintonworld is a decades-old interlocking network of donors and friends that hasn’t quite caught up to these fundamental shifts. That’s because Clintonworld, in the Hillary iteration, is often defensive, distrusting and oriented around avoiding errors. In each of her national campaigns, Clinton has run against in-touch-with-the-times men who were more charismatic and generated more passion than she did. She’s always been the duller, unfashionable foil.

Her donor base and fund-raising style is out of another era. Obama and Sanders tapped into the energized populist base, but Clinton has Barbra Streisand, Cher and a cast of Wall Street plutocrats. Her campaign proposals sidestep the cutting issues that have driven Trump, Sanders, Brexit and the other key movements of modern politics. Her ideas for reducing poverty are fine, but they are circa Ed Muskie: more public works jobs, housing tax credits, more money for Head Start.

Her out-of-time style costs her big with millennials. If she loses this election it will be because younger voters just don’t relate to her and flock to Gary Johnson instead. It also leads to a weird imbalance in the national debate.

We have an emerging global system, with relatively open trade, immigration, multilateral institutions and ethnic diversity. The critics of that system are screaming at full roar. The champions of that system — and Hillary Clinton is naturally one — are off in another world.

There is a strong case to be made for an open world order, and a huge majority coalition to be built in support of it. But she is disengaged.

Don’t get me wrong. I still think she’ll eke out a win. I just hope her administration is less fogyish than her campaign.

I can’t wait until Driftglass sinks his teeth into this.  Until then, here’s what “gemli” had to say:

“We keep hearing pundits make this argument, and it’s becoming tiresome. Americans are in a candy store. There aren’t many choices. We can pick a boring, somewhat gummy and old-fashioned Clinton Chew, or a new confection that’s made of radioactive medical waste, hair and resentment. Nearly half of Americans are going for the Trump Lump. When asked why, they say they like the orange glow and the odd smell.

This election isn’t about dowdy ideas, or policy differences or polarization. It’s about a country that has lost its collective mind. Hillary Clinton isn’t perfect, but Trump is broken and leaking. She’s secretive, which is a turn-off. He makes no secret of the fact that he doesn’t have a clue and has no intention of getting one. We find that refreshing. She’s disengaged. His gears don’t mesh.

Conservatives have been telling the big lie for so long that many of us don’t know what the truth is anymore. Obama is the anti-Christ. Medical care for all is an abomination. The filthy rich are looking out for the poor. Women are weak, gays are disgusting and education is overrated. Bibles are the best, because, like, uh, God and what-not.

So let’s build a big ol’ wall. We’ll double down on burning coal and fracking the earth’s crust to bits. Let’s ignore climate change. Heck, I’m bettin’ that the rising sea levels will put out the forest fires! It’s a win-win!

And gimme another Trump Lump, please.”

Now here’s Prof. Krugman, crying in the wilderness:

Here’s what we can be fairly sure will happen in Monday’s presidential debate: Donald Trump will lie repeatedly and grotesquely, on a variety of subjects. Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton might say a couple of untrue things. Or she might not.

Here’s what we don’t know: Will the moderators step in when Mr. Trump delivers one of his well-known, often reiterated falsehoods? If he claims, yet again, to have opposed the Iraq war from the beginning — which he didn’t — will he be called on it? If he claims to have renounced birtherism years ago, will the moderators note that he was still at it just a few months ago? (In fact, he already seems to be walking back his admission last week that President Obama was indeed born in America.) If he says one more time that America is the world’s most highly taxed country — which it isn’t — will anyone other than Mrs. Clinton say that it isn’t? And will media coverage after the debate convey the asymmetry of what went down?

You might ask how I can be sure that one candidate will be so much more dishonest than the other. The answer is that at this point we have long track records for both Mr. Trump and Mrs. Clinton; thanks to nonpartisan fact-checking operations like PolitiFact, we can even quantify the difference.

PolitiFact has examined 258 Trump statements and 255 Clinton statements and classified them on a scale ranging from “True” to “Pants on Fire.” One might quibble with some of the judgments, but they’re overwhelmingly in the ballpark. And they show two candidates living in different moral universes when it comes to truth-telling. Mr. Trump had 48 Pants on Fire ratings, Mrs. Clinton just six; the G.O.P. nominee had 89 False ratings, the Democrat 27.

Unless one candidate has a nervous breakdown or a religious conversion in the next few days, the debate will follow similar lines. So how should it be reported?

Let’s take it as a given that one can’t report at length on every questionable statement a candidate makes — time, space and the attention of readers and viewers are all limited. What I suggest is that reporters and news organizations treat time and attention span as a sort of capital budget that must be allocated across coverage.

What businesses do when they must allocate capital is to establish a “hurdle rate,” a minimum rate of return a project must offer if it is to be undertaken. In terms of reporting falsehoods, this would amount to devoting on-air time or column inches to statements whose dishonesty rises above a certain level of outrageousness — say, outright falsity with no redeeming grain of truth. In terms of PolitiFact’s ratings, this might correspond to statements that are False or Pants on Fire.

And if the debate looks anything like the campaign so far, we know what that will mean: a news analysis that devotes at least five times as much space to Mr. Trump’s falsehoods as to Mrs. Clinton’s.

If your reaction is, “Oh, they can’t do that — it would look like partisan bias,” you have just demonstrated the huge problem with news coverage during this election. For I am not calling on the news media to take a side; I’m just calling on it to report what is actually happening, without regard for party. In fact, any reporting that doesn’t accurately reflect the huge honesty gap between the candidates amounts to misleading readers, giving them a distorted picture that favors the biggest liar.

Yet there are, of course, intense pressures on the news media to engage in that distortion. Point out a Trump lie and you will get some pretty amazing mail — and if we set aside the attacks on your race or ethnic group, accusations that you are a traitor, etc., most of it will declare that you are being a bad journalist because you don’t criticize both candidates equally.

One all-too-common response to such attacks involves abdicating responsibility for fact-checking entirely, and replacing it with theater criticism: Never mind whether what the candidate said is true or false, how did it play? How did he or she “come across”? What were the “optics”?

But theater criticism is the job of theater critics; news reporting should tell the public what really happened, not be devoted to speculation about how other people might react to what happened.

Now, what will I say if Mr. Trump lies less than I predict and Mrs. Clinton more? That’s easy: Tell it like it is. But don’t grade on a curve. If Mr. Trump lies only three times as much as Mrs. Clinton, the main story should still be that he lied a lot more than she did, not that he wasn’t quite as bad as expected.

Again, I’m not calling on the news media to take sides; journalists should simply do their job, which is to report the facts. It may not be easy — but doing the right thing rarely is.

Blow, Cohen and Krugman

November 2, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“We rate Carson’s claim False.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And now here’s Prof. Krugman:

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

Well, we can agree on that much.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blow, Cohen and Kristof

August 27, 2015

In “Enough Is Enough” Mr. Blow says that when people refer to the press as the fourth estate, it shouldn’t be confused with a Trump property.  Mr. Cohen, in “Middle Eastern Zen,” says don’t worry about the Middle East. Worry about China. The Middle East (unlike a large chunk of your portfolio) will still be around tomorrow.  Mr. Kristof ponders “Lessons From the Murders of TV Journalists in the Virginia Shooting” and says Wednesday’s killings provide further evidence of the need for more restrictive gun policies in the United States.  Which will happen, Nick, when pigs fly.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

When Donald Trump’s security escorted the Univision anchor Jorge Ramos out of a news conference on Tuesday, I decided that I was officially done.

Maybe I should have been long before that.

Maybe I should have been done the one and only time I ever met Trumpand his first words to me were a soliloquy about how black people loved him, and he was the most popular white man among black people.

Maybe I should have been done when Trump demanded to see the president’s birth certificate.

Maybe I should have been done any number of times over the years when Trump made any number of racist, sexist comments.

Earlier this month, Politico rounded up 199 of his greatest — and vilest — hits. Here are just a few from the magazine:

9. “I have black guys counting my money. … I hate it. The only guys I want counting my money are short guys that wear yarmulkes all day.” (USA Today, May 20, 1991)

23. “Oftentimes when I was sleeping with one of the top women in the world I would say to myself, thinking about me as a boy from Queens, ‘Can you believe what I am getting?’ ” (“Think Big: Make it Happen in Business and Life,” 2008)

32. “… she does have a very nice figure. I’ve said if Ivanka weren’t my daughter, perhaps I’d be dating her.” (ABC’s “The View,” March 6, 2006)

35. “If Hillary Clinton can’t satisfy her husband what makes her think she can satisfy America?” (Twitter, April 16, 2015)

117. “Rosie’s a person that’s very lucky to have her girlfriend. And she better be careful or I’ll send one of my friends over to pick up her girlfriend. Why would she stay with Rosie if she had another choice?” (“Entertainment Tonight,” Dec. 21, 2006)

121. Arianna Huffington is “a dog.” (Twitter, April 6, 2015)

Need I go on? (Thanks, Politico!)

Maybe I should have been done when Trump announced his candidacy this year with an attack on Mexican immigrants, saying:

“When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best — they’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems … drugs … crime … rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”

The Ramos episode wasn’t worse than these; it was just the last straw. A member of the media who dared to raise a truly substantive issue, even out of turn, was dismissed and removed. And yet the band played on. The live coverage continued. In that moment, I was disgusted at Trump’s contempt and the press’s complicity in the shallow farce that is his candidacy. Trump is addicted to press, but the press is also addicted to him, and the entire spectacle is wide and shallow.

(Ramos was allowed back in and permitted to ask his question. I had to see this later, because when he was ejected, I stopped watching.)

Yes, the Republican Party created this Frankenstein of hatred, hubris, narcissism and nativism, but the media is giving it life.

The never-ending, exhaustive, even breathless coverage of every outrage that issues forth from this man’s mouth is not news. Every offense and attack is not news.

Every morning that Trump rolls out of bed and calls in to a news show is not news.

Covering a political phenomenon as news is one thing. See the coverage of Bernie Sanders. Creating a political phenomenon and calling it news is quite another.

I reasoned in a 2010 column that Sarah Palin was no longer an elected official and wasn’t seeking elected office, and was therefore not worthy of constant attacks. But more important, the attacks were elevating her profile, not diminishing it. As I wrote:

“This is it. This is the last time I’m going to write the name Sarah Palin until she does something truly newsworthy, like declare herself a candidate for the presidency. Until then, I will no longer take part in the left’s obsessive-compulsive fascination with her, which is both unhealthy and counterproductive.”

I kept that promise. The only other time she appeared by name in one of my columns was in a passing reference to her speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference in 2013. This column is only the second reference.

The same is true of Trump. The constant harping on him only helps him.

He is different from Palin in 2010, however. He is not only running for office, he’s leading in the polls among Republican candidates. He can’t be ignored. But coverage is not the same as drooling over the daily shenanigans of a demagogue.

I will cover Trump as he addresses issues with specific policy prescriptions and details, like answers to the question Ramos asked.

Until then, this man is not worthy of the attention he’s garnering. We in the media have to own our part in this. We can’t say he’s not serious and then cover him in a way that actually demonstrates that we are not serious.

Is he an easy target for righteous criticism? Of course he is. But is he aware that criticism from the mainstream media is invaluable among certain segments of the political right? Of course he is. Is he also aware that he’s getting more free publicity for being outrageous than he would ever be willing to buy? Of course he is.

The media is being trolled on a massive scale and we look naïve and silly to have fallen for it, even if he draws readers and viewers. When people refer to the press as the fourth estate, it shouldn’t be confused with a Trump property.

Allow me to share one more of Trump’s quotes from Politico:

89. “My brand became more famous as I became more famous, and more opportunities presented themselves.” (Amazon.com, 2007)

Next up we have Mr. Cohen:

In case the gyrations in global markets have you confused, here’s anupdated Middle Eastern primer that will make you feel better:

1) The United States invasion of Iraq in 2003 brought the Shiite majority to power, so advancing the interests of Shiite Iran, America’s enemy. It ousted the Sunnis, upsetting the Sunni-Shiite balance in the Middle East. This infuriated Sunni Saudi Arabia, America’s ally, in theory.

2) The wealthy Saudi royal family underwrites a conservative Wahhabi Islam whose teachings are fiercely anti-American (don’t ask about the Saudi-American alliance). The Saudis have backed Sunni Islamists in war-ravaged Syria against the country’s Iranian-backed despot, Bashar al-Assad, who is from the quasi-Shiite Alawite sect. This maneuver backfired. A barbaric, tech-savvy, knife-wielding Sunni group calling itself Islamic State swept across Syria and Iraq, beheading and raping and destroying great treasures in pursuit of a medieval caliphate that would stretch across territory including modern-day Saudi Arabia. Talk about unintended consequences! Meanwhile the Saudis have bankrolled the destruction of Sunni Islamists in Egypt. This other bad sort of Sunni extremist, known as the Muslim Brotherhood, committed the ultimate lèse-majesté of believing in the ballot box as a source of authority.

3) Sunni-Shiite tensions have become regional. Saudi Arabia and other gulf monarchies are now so convinced that the United States is pro-Shiite (read pro-Iran!), and so persuaded of Iran’s anti-Sunni imperial designs, that they have embarked on a bombing campaign in — you guessed it! — Yemen. The purported aim is to stop the Houthis, seen in Riyadh as Iranian proxies.

4) In the aftermath of the Arab Spring (see below) the main functioning, stable states in the Middle East are non-Arab: Israel, Turkey and Iran. Israel has been in a stop-go war with Arabs since 1948, but is most exercised about Iran, which is not Arab, not Sunni, not on its border and not nuclear armed (see below).

5) The old Middle Eastern order is in tatters. Post-Ottoman states that were not nations, with century-old borders drawn up by Europeans, have split along sectarian lines and made nonsense of those borders. A metastasizing jihadi ideology driven by hatred of Western modernity, colonialism and perceived decadence has proved of unquenchable appeal. An independent Kurdistan, omitted from the post-Ottoman order, is now pretty close to realization. Cocktail-party nugget: Kurds and Israelis are tight.

6) The Obama administration called Syria’s Assad toast without having the means to turn him into toast. This was a huge blunder. A void ensued. Nobody loves a void like a jihadi. Enter Islamic State. America is now in a half-war with Islamic State. Half-war is like half-pregnancy: an illusory impossibility. America is still casting around for palatable nonfundamentalist Syrian opposition groups — a fool’s errand. Syria is gone, baby, gone.

7) Saudi views are increasingly identical to Israeli views (don’t sweat the details), especially on Iran. Wahhabi Islam, however, views Zionism as its implacable enemy. Hence identity of view does not translate into diplomatic rapprochement.

8) The Middle East has a longstanding cottage industry called the peace process. Palestinians are represented by the Palestinian Authority, an authority that has no authority over Palestinians in Gaza, no democratic legitimacy, no obvious claim to represent anything but itself, and no determination to change the status quo. Israel has a right-wing government with no interest in peace and every interest in quashing the very notion of Palestinian statehood — even of Palestinians themselves! The status quo suits Israel, although it involves intermittent small wars.

9) Israel has a nuclear deterrent. The United States and Israel have agreed never to talk about the Jewish state’s alleged nuclear weapons (again, don’t ask).

10) Several despots were swept out in the Arab Spring in 2011. But instead of bringing empowerment and agency through new forms of citizenship, the revolutions folded into sectarianism. Sectarianism means favoring your own and brutalizing the rest (see Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, etc.).

11) Iran is a theocracy split between hard-liners and reformists. The United States, China, Russia, Britain, France and Germany have reached a nuclear accord with Iran. It has stopped Iran’s nuclear program in its tracks. It is, on balance, the most effective way to keep Iran from a bomb. Still, every Republican member of Congress opposes the deal. They believe the White House, China, Russia, Britain, France and Germany are all deluded and they know better! Yep, they do. Plunging oil prices and America’s energy revolution have opened new strategic possibilities in the Middle East. The nuclear deal, too, could in time open new avenues for America to pursue its Middle Eastern interests. A region of recast alliances is anathema to status quo powers like Israel and the Sunni monarchies.

12) Got it? If not, don’t worry. Be Zen. There’s only so much anyone can worry about. Focus on China for now. My guess is the Middle East (unlike a large chunk of your portfolio) will still be around tomorrow.

And last but not least here’s Mr. Kristof:

The slaying of two journalists Wednesday as they broadcast live to a television audience in Virginia is still seared on our screens and our minds, but it’s a moment not only to mourn but also to learn lessons.

The horror isn’t just one macabre double-murder, but the unrelenting toll of gun violence that claims one life every 16 minutes on average in the United States. Three quick data points:

■ More Americans die in gun homicides and suicides every six months than have died in the last 25 years in every terrorist attack and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq combined.

■ More Americans have died from guns in the United States since 1968than on battlefields of all the wars in American history.

■ American children are 14 times as likely to die from guns as children in other developed countries, according to David Hemenway, a Harvard professor and author of an excellent book on firearm safety.

Bryce Williams, as the Virginia killer was known to viewers when he worked as a broadcaster, apparently obtained the gun used to murder his former co-workers Alison Parker and Adam Ward in response to the June massacre in a South Carolina church — an example of how gun violence begets gun violence. Williams may have been mentally disturbed, given that he videotaped Wednesday’s killings and then posted them on Facebook.

“I’ve been a human powder keg for a while … just waiting to go BOOM!!!!,” Williams reportedly wrote in a lengthy fax sent to ABC News after the killings.

Whether or not Williams was insane, our policies on guns are demented — not least in that we don’t even have universal background checks to keep weapons out of the hands of people waiting to go boom.

The lesson from the ongoing carnage is not that we need a modern prohibition (that would raise constitutional issues and be impossible politically), but that we should address gun deaths as a public health crisis. To protect the public, we regulate toys and mutual funds, ladders and swimming pools. Shouldn’t we regulate guns as seriously as we regulate toys?

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has seven pages ofregulations concerning ladders, which are involved in 300 deaths in America annually. Yet the federal government doesn’t make what I would call a serious effort to regulate guns, which are involved in the deaths of more than 33,000 people in America annually, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (that includes suicides, murders and accidents).

Gun proponents often say things to me like: What about cars? They kill, too, but we don’t try to ban them!

Cars are actually the best example of the public health approach that we should apply to guns. Over the decades, we have systematically taken steps to make cars safer: We adopted seatbelts and airbags, limited licenses for teenage drivers, cracked down on drunken driving and established roundabouts and better crosswalks, auto safety inspections and rules about texting while driving.

This approach has been stunningly successful. By my calculations, if we had the same auto fatality rate as in 1921, we would have 715,000 Americans dying annually from cars. We have reduced the fatality rate by more than 95 percent.

Yet in the case of firearms, the gun lobby (enabled by craven politicians) has for years tried to block even research on how to reduce gun deaths. The gun industry made a childproof gun back in the 19th century but today has ferociously resisted “smart guns.” If someone steals an iPhone, it requires a PIN; guns don’t.

We’re not going to eliminate gun deaths in America. But a serious effort might reduce gun deaths by, say, one-third, and that would be 11,000 lives saved a year.

The United States is an outlier, both in our lack of serious policies toward guns and in our mortality rates. Professor Hemenway calculates that the U.S. firearm homicide rate is seven times that of the next country in the rich world on the list, Canada, and 600 times higher than that of South Korea.

We need universal background checks with more rigorous screening, limits on gun purchases to one a month to reduce trafficking, safe storage requirements, serial number markings that are more difficult to obliterate, waiting periods to buy a handgun — and more research on what steps would actually save lives. If the federal government won’t act, states should lead.

Australia is a model. In 1996, after a mass shooting there, the country united behind tougher firearm restrictions. The Journal of Public Health Policy notes that the firearm suicide rate dropped by half in Australia over the next seven years, and the firearm homicide rate was almost halved.

Here in America, we can similarly move from passive horror to take steps to reduce the 92 lives claimed by gun violence in the United States daily. Surely we can regulate guns as seriously as we do cars, ladders and swimming pools.

When there’s bacon in the branches…

Brooks, Bruni and Krugman

August 7, 2015

Bobo has decided to tell us all about “3 U.S. Defeats: Vietnam, Iraq and now Iran.”  He gurgles that we should call the Iran nuclear deal what it is: a partial U.S. surrender.  In the comments “AlinZurich” from Zurich had this to say:  “Your mindset is completely in line with every neo-con who brought us into the catastrophic Iraq war. You, who constantly scold and hold yourself up as some kind of moral arbiter, have utterly no capacity for self-reflection.”  In a short, sweet comment “whweller” from Burnsville, NC had this to say:  “Don’t forget Mr. Brooks is a Chickenhawk.”  Mr. Bruni, in “A Foxy, Rowdy Republican Debate,” says for two hours in Cleveland, it was moderators on the attack and red-faced candidates on edge.  Prof. Krugman says “From Trump on Down, the Republicans Can’t Be Serious” and that Donald Trump is fundamentally absurd, but so are his rivals, and that’s what their party requires.  Let’s get Bobo out of the way:

The purpose of war, military or economic, is to get your enemy to do something it would rather not do. Over the past several years the United States and other Western powers have engaged in an economic, clandestine and political war against Iran to force it to give up its nuclear program.

Over the course of this siege, American policy makers have been very explicit about their goals. Foremost, to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power. Second, as John Kerry has said, to force it to dismantle a large part of its nuclear infrastructure. Third, to take away its power to enrich uranium.

Fourth, as President Obama has said, to close the Fordo enrichment facility. Fifth, as the chief American negotiator, Wendy Sherman, recently testified, to force Iran to come clean on all past nuclear activities by the Iranian military. Sixth, to shut down Iran’s ballistic missile program. Seventh, to have “anywhere, anytime 24/7” access to any nuclear facilities Iran retains. Eighth, as Kerry put it, to not phase down sanctions until after Iran ends its nuclear bomb-making capabilities.

As a report from the Foreign Policy Initiative exhaustively details, the U.S. has not fully achieved any of these objectives. The agreement delays but does not end Iran’s nuclear program. It legitimizes Iran’s status as a nuclear state. Iran will mothball some of its centrifuges, but it will not dismantle or close any of its nuclear facilities. Nuclear research and development will continue.

Iran wins the right to enrich uranium. The agreement does not include “anywhere, anytime” inspections; some inspections would require a 24-day waiting period, giving the Iranians plenty of time to clean things up. After eight years, all restrictions on ballistic missiles are lifted. Sanctions are lifted once Iran has taken its initial actions.

Wars, military or economic, are measured by whether you achieved your stated objectives. By this standard the U.S. and its allies lost the war against Iran, but we were able to negotiate terms that gave only our partial surrender, which forces Iran to at least delay its victory. There have now been three big U.S. strategic defeats over the past several decades: Vietnam, Iraq and now Iran.

The big question is, Why did we lose? Why did the combined powers of the Western world lose to a ragtag regime with a crippled economy and without much popular support?

The first big answer is that the Iranians just wanted victory more than we did. They were willing to withstand the kind of punishment we were prepared to mete out.

Further, the Iranians were confident in their power, while the Obama administration emphasized the limits of America’s ability to influence other nations. It’s striking how little President Obama thought of the tools at his disposal. He effectively took the military option off the table. He didn’t believe much in economic sanctions. “Nothing we know about the Iranian government suggests that it would simply capitulate under that kind of pressure,” he argued.

The president concluded early on that Iran would simply not budge on fundamental things. As he argued in his highhanded and counterproductive speech Wednesday, Iran was never going to compromise its sovereignty (which is the whole point of military or economic warfare).

The president hoped that a deal would change the moral nature of the regime, so he had an extra incentive to reach a deal. And the Western, Russian and Chinese sanctions regime was fragile while the Iranians were able to hang together.

This administration has given us a choice between two terrible options: accept the partial-surrender agreement that was negotiated or reject it and slide immediately into what is in effect our total surrender — a collapsed sanctions regime and a booming Iranian nuclear program.

Many members of Congress will be tempted to accept the terms of our partial surrender as the least bad option in the wake of our defeat. I get that. But in voting for this deal they may be affixing their names to an arrangement that will increase the chance of more comprehensive war further down the road.

Iran is a fanatical, hegemonic, hate-filled regime. If you think its radicalism is going to be softened by a few global trade opportunities, you really haven’t been paying attention to the Middle East over the past four decades.

Iran will use its $150 billion windfall to spread terror around the region and exert its power. It will incrementally but dangerously cheat on the accord. Armed with money, ballistic weapons and an eventual nuclear breakout, it will become more aggressive. As the end of the nuclear delay comes into view, the 45th or 46th president will decide that action must be taken.

Economic and political defeats can be as bad as military ones. Sometimes when you surrender to a tyranny you lay the groundwork for a more cataclysmic conflict to come.

You can tell he’s just DYING to dust off his little “let’s cheer for the war” pom-poms…  He’s a toad.  Now here’s Mr. Bruni:

The first question to Chris Christie was about the nine credit downgrades that New Jersey had suffered since he became its governor.

Ben Carson was reminded of his domestic-policy blunders, of his foreign-policy blunders, of a whole raft of loopy statements that raise serious questions about how well he understands the country and globe. Could he reassure voters?

And Donald Trump had to listen obediently, even meekly, as Megyn Kelly—the one woman on Fox News’s panel of three debate moderators—recited a squirm-inducing litany of his misogynistic remarks through time.

“You’ve called women you don’t like fat pigs, dogs, slobs and disgusting animals,” Kelly said, and if she was trying to hide her revulsion, she wasn’t doing an especially deft job. She recalled that Trump once told a contestant on “The Celebrity Apprentice” that “it would be a pretty picture to see her on her knees.” And she wondered how he’d ever stand up to inevitable charges from Hillary Clinton that he was a carrot-haired corporal in “the war on women.”

This wasn’t a debate, at least not like most of those I’ve seen.

This was an inquisition.

On Thursday night in Cleveland, the Fox News moderators did what only Fox News moderators could have done, because the representatives of any other network would have been accused of pro-Democratic partisanship.

They took each of the 10 Republicans onstage to task. They held each of them to account. They made each address the most prominent blemishes on his record, the most profound apprehensions that voters feel about him, the greatest vulnerability that he has.

It was riveting. It was admirable. It compels me to write a cluster of words I never imagined writing: hooray for Fox News.

Did Fox take this combative approach because it was theatrical? Because it promised tension, promoted unease and was a sure route to reddened faces and raised voices?

Of course. Nothing scares a network more than the prospect of a political snooze-fest, and candidates left to their own devices are candidates who drone on and on.

But Fox accomplished something important. It prevented the Republican contenders from relying on sound bites and hewing to scripts that say less about their talents and more about the labors of their well-paid handlers.

And the questions that the moderators asked weren’t just discomfiting, humiliating ones. They were the right ones, starting with a brilliant opener: Was there any candidate who was unwilling to pledge support to the eventual Republican nominee and swear off a third-party run?

Trump alone wouldn’t make those promises, even though the moderator who asked that question, Bret Baier, pointed out that such a third-party run would likely hand the presidency to the Democratic nominee.

And thus, in the first minute of the debate, Trump was undressed and unmasked, and he stood there as the unprincipled, naked egomaniac that he is. He never quite recovered. His admission of political infidelity was the prism through which all of his subsequent bluster had to be viewed.

By putting the candidates on the defensive and on edge, Fox created the mood for an exchange as raw and revealing as one between Christie and Rand Paul over national security, federal eavesdropping and the collection of personal data.

That back-and-forth was debate platinum, because it was simultaneously fiery and substantive, impassioned and important, a perfect distillation of the two sides of an essential, necessary argument.

Paul said that he didn’t want less federal surveillance of terrorists, just of innocent Americans. Christie said that that was a “ridiculous answer,” because it’s impossible to know who’s who at the start. Paul would get that, Christie said, if he wasn’t “sitting in a subcommittee, just blowing hot air.”

“You fundamentally misunderstand the Bill of Rights,” Paul shot back, later adding: “I don’t trust President Obama with our records. I know you gave him a big hug.” It was a reference to the way Christie welcomed the president to New Jersey after Hurricane Sandy.

Christie: “The hugs that I remember are the hugs that I gave to the families who lost their people on September 11th.”

They both scored points. They both made sense. And they both came out ahead—because they articulated their positions with clarity and passion.

All in all, the large number of candidates made it difficult for anyone to stand out much, so it’s impossible to come up with any sweeping, definitive list of winners and losers.

I do think that Trump lost: He said nothing, not one syllable, that infused his candidacy with any of the gravitas that it sorely needs, and there was something pouty and petulant about his whole performance. Some of his rivals managed, even under the Fox fire, to look grateful to be there and to enjoy themselves, at least a bit. Marco Rubio did.

I also think that Ted Cruz lost, inasmuch as I forgot he was there for most of the debate. I also lost track of Carson, up until a surprisingly charming closing statement, and of Mike Huckabee, until his hilarious conflation of Trump and Clinton at the very end.

Jeb Bush avoided any gaffes and discovered a bit of the spark that he often lacks. John Kasich charted a humane midcourse for Republicans trying to reconcile personal misgivings over same-sex marriage with how the Supreme Court has ruled. Will it do him any favors with Republican primary voters? Maybe not. But he sounded like a leader, and he sounded like a decent man.

No one made as vivid an impression as Carly Fiorina did during a shorter meeting earlier in the evening of the seven runners-up, for what one of them, Lindsey Graham, labeled the “happy hour” debate. (If that’s a happy hour, I don’t think that I could survive a sad one.)

Fiorina weds Trump’s anger to an uncommon precision and propulsion: She’s a human torpedo. She may not have any business running for president, but she’s zooming for all she’s worth.

The moderators for that happy hour didn’t needle the candidates. The moderators for the main event did. And because their questions were so well researched and so barbed, the television audience sometimes learned more about the candidates from what they were asked than from how they answered.

“When did you actually become a Republican?” Kelly said to Trump after another savage recitation, this one of his many past Democratic positions. She was his appointed slayer. She visibly relished the role.

Trump was also pressed to defend his many corporate bankruptcies. Bush was pressed to explain his inability months ago to say whether, knowing all that we know now, he would have invaded Iraq. Cruz was pressed about his famously obnoxious demeanor on Capitol Hill.

Scott Walker was pressed on job creation in Wisconsin, which isn’t all that he claims it to be.

“Given your record in Wisconsin, why should voters believe you?” said Chris Wallace, the third Fox moderator.

We shouldn’t. Candidates should have to convince us. They should square their slogans with their records, and that’s what Fox made them do. On this night, the network that pampers Republicans provoked them instead. It was great television, and even better politics.

Yeah, right, Frankie.  Here’s what “Operadoc” from Newport News had to say about your offering:  “Fox asked “all the right questions”? I guess I missed the discussions of student debt, Citizens United; the role of money in political campaigns, the Koch Brothers, climate issues and income inequality. But always good to have God as a topic regarding the leadership of a government which is supposed to remain separate from religion.”  Cripes…  Now here’s Prof. Krugman:

This was, according to many commentators, going to be the election cycle Republicans got to show off their “deep bench.” The race for the nomination would include experienced governors like Jeb Bush and Scott Walker, fresh thinkers like Rand Paul, and attractive new players like Marco Rubio. Instead, however, Donald Trump leads the field by a wide margin. What happened?

The answer, according to many of those who didn’t see it coming, is gullibility: People can’t tell the difference between someone who sounds as if he knows what he’s talking about and someone who is actually serious about the issues. And for sure there’s a lot of gullibility out there. But if you ask me, the pundits have been at least as gullible as the public, and still are.

For while it’s true that Mr. Trump is, fundamentally, an absurd figure, so are his rivals. If you pay attention to what any one of them is actually saying, as opposed to how he says it, you discover incoherence and extremism every bit as bad as anything Mr. Trump has to offer. And that’s not an accident: Talking nonsense is what you have to do to get anywhere in today’s Republican Party.

For example, Mr. Trump’s economic views, a sort of mishmash of standard conservative talking points and protectionism, are definitely confused. But is that any worse than Jeb Bush’s deep voodoo, his claim that he could double the underlying growth rate of the American economy? And Mr. Bush’s credibility isn’t helped by his evidence for that claim: the relatively rapid growth Florida experienced during the immense housing bubble that coincided with his time as governor.

Mr. Trump, famously, is a “birther” — someone who has questioned whether President Obama was born in the United States. But is that any worse than Scott Walker’s declaration that he isn’t sure whether the president is a Christian?

Mr. Trump’s declared intention to deport all illegal immigrants is definitely extreme, and would require deep violations of civil liberties. But are there any defenders of civil liberties in the modern G.O.P.? Notice how eagerly Rand Paul, self-described libertarian, has joined in the witch hunt against Planned Parenthood.

And while Mr. Trump is definitely appealing to know-nothingism, Marco Rubio, climate change denier, has made “I’m not a scientist” his signature line. (Memo to Mr. Rubio: Presidents don’t have to be experts on everything, but they do need to listen to experts, and decide which ones to believe.)

The point is that while media puff pieces have portrayed Mr. Trump’s rivals as serious men — Jeb the moderate, Rand the original thinker, Marco the face of a new generation — their supposed seriousness is all surface. Judge them by positions as opposed to image, and what you have is a lineup of cranks. And as I said, this is no accident.

It has long been obvious that the conventions of political reporting and political commentary make it almost impossible to say the obvious — namely, that one of our two major parties has gone off the deep end. Or as the political analysts Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein put it in their book “It’s Even Worse Than It Looks,” the G.O.P. has become an “insurgent outlier … unpersuaded by conventional understanding of facts, evidence, and science.” It’s a party that has no room for rational positions on many major issues.

Or to put it another way, modern Republican politicians can’t be serious — not if they want to win primaries and have any future within the party. Crank economics, crank science, crank foreign policy are all necessary parts of a candidate’s resume.

Until now, however, leading Republicans have generally tried to preserve a facade of respectability, helping the news media to maintain the pretense that it was dealing with a normal political party. What distinguishes Mr. Trump is not so much his positions as it is his lack of interest in maintaining appearances. And it turns out that the party’s base, which demands extremist positions, also prefers those positions delivered straight. Why is anyone surprised?

Remember how Mr. Trump was supposed to implode after his attack on John McCain? Mr. McCain epitomizes the strategy of sounding moderate while taking extreme positions, and is much loved by the press corps, which puts him on TV all the time. But Republican voters, it turns out, couldn’t care less about him.

Can Mr. Trump actually win the nomination? I have no idea. But even if he is eventually pushed aside, pay no attention to all the analyses you will read declaring a return to normal politics. That’s not going to happen; normal politics left the G.O.P. a long time ago. At most, we’ll see a return to normal hypocrisy, the kind that cloaks radical policies and contempt for evidence in conventional-sounding rhetoric. And that won’t be an improvement.

Krugman, solo

July 10, 2015

In “Greece’s Economy Is a Lesson for Republicans in the U.S.” Prof. Krugman says economic policy promoted by American conservatives is how Greece got in severe trouble.  Here he is:

Greece is a faraway country with an economy roughly the size of greater Miami, so America has very little direct stake in its ongoing disaster. To the extent that Greece matters to us, it’s mainly about geopolitics: By poisoning relations among Europe’s democracies, the Greek crisis risks depriving the United States of crucial allies.

But Greece has nonetheless played an outsized role in U.S. political debate, as a symbol of the terrible things that will supposedly happen — any day now — unless we stop helping the less fortunate and printing money to fight unemployment. And Greece does indeed offer important lessons to the rest of us. But they’re not the lessons you think, and the people most likely to deliver a Greek-style economic disaster here in America are the very people who love to use Greece as a boogeyman.

To understand the real lessons of Greece, you need to be aware of two crucial points.

The first is that the “We’re Greece!” crowd has a truly remarkable track record when it comes to economic forecasting: They’ve been wrong about everything, year after year, but refuse to learn from their mistakes. The people now saying that Greece offers an object lesson in the dangers of government debt, and that America is headed down the same road, are the same people who predicted soaring interest rates and runaway inflation in 2010; then, when it didn’t happen, they predicted soaring rates and runaway inflation in 2011; then, well, you get the picture.

The second is that the story you’ve heard about Greece — that it borrowed too much, and its excessive debt led to the current crisis — is seriously incomplete. Greece did indeed run up too much debt (with a lot of help from irresponsible lenders). But its debt, while high, wasn’t that high by historical standards. What turned Greek debt troubles into catastrophe was Greece’s inability, thanks to the euro, to do what countries with large debts usually do: impose fiscal austerity, yes, but offset it with easy money.

Consider Greece’s situation at the end of 2009, when its debt crisis burst into the open. At that point Greek government debt was near 130 percent of gross domestic product, which is definitely a big number. But it’s by no means unprecedented. As it happens, Greece’s debt ratio in 2009 was about the same as America’s in 1946, just after the war. And Britain’s debt ratio in 1946 was twice as high.

Today, however, Greek debt is over 170 percent of G.D.P. and still rising. Is that because Greece just kept on borrowing? Actually, no — Greek debt is up only 6 percent since 2009, although that’s partly because it received some debt relief in 2012. The main point, however, is that the ratio of debt to G.D.P. is up because G.D.P. is down by more than 20 percent. And why is GDP down? Largely because of the austerity measures Greece’s creditors forced it to impose.

Does this mean that austerity is always self-defeating? No, there are cases — for example, Canada in the 1990s — of countries that slashed their debt while maintaining growth and reducing unemployment. But if you look at how they managed this, it involved combining fiscal austerity with easy money: Canada in the ’90s drastically reduced interest rates, encouraging private spending, while allowing its currency to depreciate, encouraging exports.

Greece, unfortunately, no longer had its own currency when it was forced into drastic fiscal retrenchment. The result was an economic implosion that ended up making the debt problem even worse. Greece’s formula for disaster, in other words, didn’t just involve austerity; it involved the toxic combination of austerity with hard money.

So who wants to impose that kind of toxic policy mix on America? The answer is, most of the Republican Party.

On one side, just about everyone in the G.O.P. demands that we reduce government spending, especially aid to lower-income families. (They also, of course, want to reduce taxes on the rich — but that wouldn’t do much to boost demand for U.S. products.)

On the other side, leading Republicans like Representative Paul Ryan incessantly attack the Federal Reserve for its efforts to boost the economy, delivering solemn lectures on the evils of “debasing” the dollar — when the main difference between the effects of austerity in Canada and in Greece was precisely that Canada could “debase” its currency, while Greece couldn’t. Oh, and many Republicans hanker for a return to the gold standard, which would effectively put us into a euro-like straitjacket.

The point is that if you really worry that the U.S. might turn into Greece, you should focus your concern on America’s right. Because if the right gets its way on economic policy — slashing spending while blocking any offsetting monetary easing — it will, in effect, bring the policies behind the Greek disaster to America.

Blow and Krugman

December 1, 2014

In “Crime and Punishment” Mr. Blow outlines how racial bias distorts the way we talk about justice.  Prof. Krugman has a question in “Being Bad Europeans:”  Whose irresponsible behavior is at the core of the region’s slow-motion disaster?  Here’s Mr. Blow:

One thing the grand jury decision in Ferguson, Mo., has sent back to the surface is just how difficult it is to have cross-racial discussions about crime and punishment in this country. That is largely because, perceptually and experientially, we live in vastly different worlds, worlds in which phrases like “bad choices,” “personal responsibility” and “tailspin of culture” must battle for primacy with “structural inequity,” “systemic bias” and “culture of oppression.”

Let’s begin to unpack this by pointing to what the data say about our distortions of perception when it comes to crime.

A September report by the Sentencing Project found that “white Americans overestimate the proportion of crime committed by people of color, and associate people of color with criminality.” For some crimes, the overestimation was “by 20-30 percent.”

This is particularly significant in light of the fact that Americans overestimate the presence of crime in general. As a Gallup report pointed out recently: “For more than a decade, Gallup has found the majority of Americans believing crime is up, although actual crime statistics have largely shown the crime rate continuing to come down from the highs in the 1990s and earlier.”

If we continue to think that crime is up, data be damned, and we associate people of color with that crime, of course our concepts of guilt, innocence, veracity and compassion in encounters between police and people of color will be affected.

This is not to say that statistics don’t tell us that crime rates are disproportionately high in minority neighborhoods, but rather than ascribe that to some racial pathology — and doing so is racist on its face — we must consider the intersection of race and concentrated poverty, which is attended by everything from poorer-performing schools to fewer job opportunities.

And these areas of concentrated poverty are growing, according to a July Brookings report: “As poverty increased and spread during the 2000s, the number of distressed neighborhoods in the United States — defined as census tracts with poverty rates of 40 percent or more — climbed by nearly three-quarters.”

The report continued: “The population living in such neighborhoods grew by similar margins (76 percent, or 5 million people) to reach 11.6 million by 2008-2012.”

Are people of color simply choosing to live in high-poverty, high-crime neighborhoods, or have these residential patterns been imposed by generations of discriminatory housing and employment practices, and been exacerbated by the Great Recession, which was disproportionately brutal for black people?

For instance, as a 2011 report of the Center for Responsible Lending said:

“African-American and Latino borrowers are almost twice as likely to have been impacted by the crisis. Approximately one-quarter of all Latino and African-American borrowers have lost their home to foreclosure or are seriously delinquent, compared to just under 12 percent for white borrowers.”

When the police and justice systems become involved, more bias is introduced.

First of all, as The Washington Post reported, “more than three-quarters of cities on which the Census Bureau has collected data have a police presence that’s disproportionately white relative to the local population.” This is the case even though 46 percent of whites and 56 percent of blacks in an August New York Times/CBS New poll thought that “the racial makeup of a community’s police department should be similar to the racial makeup of that community as a whole.”

This continues, in part, because of a cycle of mistrust and abuse of power. As the International Business Times put it in August: “Law enforcement agencies, therefore, are often hard pressed to find black applicants. Recruiters want to fill their ranks with officers of all backgrounds, experts say, but cultural biases put them at a disadvantage.”

Would you want to join a force that you saw as oppressive and discriminatory toward your community? For some, the answer may be yes, to effect change or just because they are so drawn to the profession. But obviously for many the answer is no.

The Times/CBS poll found that 45 percent of African-Americans, compared with just 7 percent of whites, believed they had experienced a specific instance of discrimination by the police because of their race. Thirty-one percent of whites even acknowledge that police in most neighborhoods are more likely to use deadly force against a black person.

This is not unfounded. Young blacks are significantly more likely than young whites to be arrested for things like drug usage although their usage is roughly the same as whites.

This conversation is hard because we are yelling across a canyon of disparity. Maybe the first thing to do is to work on filling the canyon, leveling the field — that will help bridge the gap.

Now here’s Prof. Krugman:

The U.S. economy finally seems to be climbing out of the deep hole it entered during the global financial crisis. Unfortunately, Europe, the other epicenter of crisis, can’t say the same. Unemployment in the euro area is stalled at almost twice the U.S. level, while inflation is far below both the official target and outright deflation has become a looming risk.

Investors have taken notice: European interest rates have plunged, with German long-term bonds yielding just 0.7 percent. That’s the kind of yield we used to associate with Japanese deflation, and markets are indeed signaling that they expect Europe to experience its own lost decade.

Why is Europe in such dire straits? The conventional wisdom among European policy makers is that we’re looking at the price of irresponsibility: Some governments have failed to behave with the prudence a shared currency requires, choosing instead to pander to misguided voters and cling to failed economic doctrines. And if you ask me (and a number of other economists who have looked hard at the issue), this analysis is essentially right, except for one thing: They’ve got the identity of the bad actors wrong.

For the bad behavior at the core of Europe’s slow-motion disaster isn’t coming from Greece, or Italy, or France. It’s coming from Germany.

I’m not denying that the Greek government behaved irresponsibly before the crisis, or that Italy has a big problem with stagnating productivity. But Greece is a small country whose fiscal mess is unique, while Italy’s long-run problems aren’t the source of Europe’s deflationary downdraft. If you try to identify countries whose policies were way out of line before the crisis and have hurt Europe since the crisis, and that refuse to learn from experience, everything points to Germany as the worst actor.

Consider, in particular, the comparison between Germany and France.

France gets a lot of bad press, with much talk in particular about its supposed loss in competitiveness. Such talk greatly exaggerates the reality; you’d never know from most media reports that France runs only a small trade deficit. Still, to the extent that there is an issue here, where does it come from? Has French competitiveness been eroded by excessive growth in costs and prices?

No, not at all. Since the euro came into existence in 1999, France’s G.D.P. deflator (the average price of French-produced goods and services) has risen 1.7 percent per year, while its unit labor costs have risen 1.9 percent annually. Both numbers are right in line with the European Central Bank’s target of slightly under 2 percent inflation, and similar to what has happened in the United States. Germany, on the other hand, is way out of line, with price and labor-cost growth of 1 and 0.5 percent, respectively.

And it’s not just France whose costs are just about where they ought to be. Spain saw rising costs and prices during the housing bubble, but at this point all the excess has been eliminated through years of crushing unemployment and wage restraint. Italian cost growth has arguably been a bit too high, but it’s not nearly as far out of line as Germany is on the low side.

In other words, to the extent that there’s anything like a competitiveness problem in Europe, it’s overwhelmingly caused by Germany’s beggar-thy-neighbor policies, which are in effect exporting deflation to its neighbors.

But what about debt? Isn’t non-German Europe paying the price for past fiscal irresponsibility? Actually, that’s a story about Greece and nobody else. And it’s especially wrong in the case of France, which isn’t facing a fiscal crisis at all; France can currently borrow long-term at a record low interest rate of less than 1 percent, only slightly above the German rate.

Yet European policy makers seem determined to blame the wrong countries and the wrong policies for their plight. True, the European Commission has floated a plan to stimulate the economy with public investment — but the public outlay is so tiny compared with the problem that the plan is almost a joke. And meanwhile, the commission is warning France, which has the lowest borrowing costs in its history, that it may face fines for not cutting its budget deficit enough.

What about resolving the problem of too little inflation in Germany? Very aggressive monetary policy might do the trick (although I wouldn’t count on it), but German monetary officials are warning against such policies because they might let debtors off the hook.

What we’re seeing, then, is the immensely destructive power of bad ideas. It’s not entirely Germany’s fault — Germany is a big player in Europe, but it’s only able to impose deflationary policies because so much of the European elite has bought into the same false narrative. And you have to wonder what will cause reality to break in.

Brooks and Krugman

November 28, 2014

In “The Ambition Explosion” Bobo ‘splains to us that China’s future may be determined as much by its spiritual struggle as by its new capitalist ethos.  Prof. Krugman considers “Pollution and Politics” and says like Obamacare, Republicans went on the attack over the E.P.A.’s proposed regulations to curb emissions of ozone. And we know why.  Here’s Bobo:

In 1976, Daniel Bell published a book called “The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism.” Bell argued that capitalism undermines itself because it nurtures a population of ever more self-gratifying consumers. These people may start out as industrious, but they soon get addicted to affluence, spending, credit and pleasure and stop being the sort of hard workers capitalism requires.

Bell was right that there’s a contradiction at the heart of capitalism, but he got its nature slightly wrong. Affluent, consumerist capitalists still work hard. Just look around.

The real contradiction of capitalism is that it arouses enormous ambition, but it doesn’t help you define where you should focus it. It doesn’t define an end to which you should devote your life. It nurtures the illusion that career and economic success can lead to fulfillment, which is the central illusion of our time.

Capitalism on its own breeds people who are vaguely aware that they are not living the spiritually richest life, who are ill-equipped to know how they might do so, who don’t have the time to do so, and who, when they go off to find fulfillment, end up devoting themselves to scattershot causes and light religions.

To survive, capitalism needs to be embedded in a moral culture that sits in tension with it, and provides a scale of values based on moral and not monetary grounds. Capitalism, though, is voracious. The personal ambition it arouses is always threatening to blot out the counterculture it requires.

Modern China is an extreme example of this phenomenon, as eloquently described by Evan Osnos in his book, “Age of Ambition,” which just won the National Book Award for nonfiction.

As Osnos describes it, the capitalist reforms of Deng Xiaoping raised the ambition levels of an entire society. A people that had been raised under Mao to be a “rustless screw in the revolutionary machine” had the chance, in the course of one generation, to achieve rags-to-riches wealth. This led, Osnos writes, to a hunger for new sensations, a ravenous desire to make new fortunes.

Osnos describes the “English fever” that swept some Chinese youth. Li Yang was a shy man who found that the louder he bellowed English phrases the bolder he felt as a human being. Li filled large arenas, charging more than a month’s wages for a single day of instruction. He had the crowds shouting English phrases en masse, like “I would like to take your temperature!” and repeating his patriotic slogans, “Conquer English to make China stronger!”

Osnos interviewed a member of the Li cult who called himself Michael and considered himself a “born-again English speaker.” For Michael, learning English was intermingled with the aspirational mantras he surrounded himself with: “The past does not equal the future. Believe in yourself. Create miracles.”

It was this ambition explosion as much as anything else that created China’s prosperity. One mother who called herself “Harvard Mom” had her daughter hold ice cubes in her hands for 15 minutes at a time to teach fortitude. Soon China was building the real estate equivalent of Rome every fortnight.

But the fever, like communism before it, stripped away the deep rich spiritual traditions of Buddhism and Taoism. Society hardened. Corruption became rampant. People came to believe that society was cruel and unforgiving. They hunkered down. One day, a little girl was hit by a bread truck in the city of Foshan. Seventeen people passed and did nothing as she lay bleeding on the ground. The security video of the incident played over and over again on TV, haunting the country.

Li Yang, the English teacher, turned out to be a notorious wife-beater. His disciple, Michael, became embittered. The optimistic slogans now on his wall had undertones of frustration: “I have to mentally change my whole life’s destiny!” and “I can’t stand it anymore!”

This led, as it must among human beings who are endowed with a moral imagination that can be suppressed but never destroyed, to a great spiritual searching. Osnos writes that many Chinese sensed that there was a spiritual void at the core of their society. They sought to fill it any way they could, with revived Confucianism, nationalism, lectures by the Harvard philosopher Michael Sandel and Christianity.

Osnos writes that this spiritual searching is going out in all directions at once with no central melody. One gets the sense that the nation’s future will be determined as much by this quest as by political reform or capitalist innovation.

China is desperately searching for a spiritual and humanist nest to hold capitalist ambition. Those of us in the rest of the world are probably not searching as feverishly for a counterculture, but the essential challenge is the same. Capitalist ambition is an energizing gale force. If there’s not an equally fervent counterculture to direct it, the wind uproots the tender foliage that makes life sweet.

Now here’s Prof. Krugman:

Earlier this week, the Environmental Protection Agency announced proposed regulations to curb emissions of ozone, which causes smog, not to mention asthma, heart disease and premature death. And you know what happened: Republicans went on the attack, claiming that the new rules would impose enormous costs.

There’s no reason to take these complaints seriously, at least in terms of substance. Polluters and their political friends have a track record of crying wolf. Again and again, they have insisted that American business — which they usually portray as endlessly innovative, able to overcome any obstacle — would curl into a quivering ball if asked to limit emissions. Again and again, the actual costs have been far lower than they predicted. In fact, almost always below the E.P.A.’s predictions.

So it’s the same old story. But why, exactly, does it always play this way? Of course, polluters will defend their right to pollute, but why can they count on Republican support? When and why did the Republican Party become the party of pollution?

For it wasn’t always thus. The Clean Air Act of 1970, the legal basis for the Obama administration’s environmental actions, passed the Senate on a bipartisan vote of 73 to 0, and was signed into law by Richard Nixon. (I’ve heard veterans of the E.P.A. describe the Nixon years as a golden age.) A major amendment of the law, which among other things made possible the cap-and-trade system that limits acid rain, was signed in 1990 by former President George H.W. Bush.

But that was then. Today’s Republican Party is putting a conspiracy theorist who views climate science as a “gigantic hoax” in charge of the Senate’s environment committee. And this isn’t an isolated case. Pollution has become a deeply divisive partisan issue.

And the reason pollution has become partisan is that Republicans have moved right. A generation ago, it turns out, environment wasn’t a partisan issue: according to Pew Research, in 1992 an overwhelming majority in both parties favored stricter laws and regulation. Since then, Democratic views haven’t changed, but Republican support for environmental protection has collapsed.

So what explains this anti-environmental shift?

You might be tempted simply to blame money in politics, and there’s no question that gushers of cash from polluters fuel the anti-environmental movement at all levels. But this doesn’t explain why money from the most environmentally damaging industries, which used to flow to both parties, now goes overwhelmingly in one direction. Take, for example, coal mining. In the early 1990s, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, the industry favored Republicans by a modest margin, giving around 40 percent of its money to Democrats. Today that number is just 5 percent. Political spending by the oil and gas industry has followed a similar trajectory. Again, what changed?

One answer could be ideology. Textbook economics isn’t anti-environment; it says that pollution should be limited, albeit in market-friendly ways when possible. But the modern conservative movement insists that government is always the problem, never the solution, which creates the will to believe that environmental problems are fake and environmental policy will tank the economy.

My guess, however, is that ideology is only part of the story — or, more accurately, it’s a symptom of the underlying cause of the divide: rising inequality.

The basic story of political polarization over the past few decades is that, as a wealthy minority has pulled away economically from the rest of the country, it has pulled one major party along with it. True, Democrats often cater to the interests of the 1 percent, but Republicans always do. Any policy that benefits lower- and middle-income Americans at the expense of the elite — like health reform, which guarantees insurance to all and pays for that guarantee in part with taxes on higher incomes — will face bitter Republican opposition.

And environmental protection is, in part, a class issue, even if we don’t usually think of it that way. Everyone breathes the same air, so the benefits of pollution control are more or less evenly spread across the population. But ownership of, say, stock in coal companies is concentrated in a few, wealthy hands. Even if the costs of pollution control are passed on in the form of higher prices, the rich are different from you and me. They spend a lot more money, and, therefore, bear a higher share of the costs.

In the case of the new ozone plan, the E.P.A.’s analysis suggests that, for the average American, the benefits would be more than twice the costs. But that doesn’t necessarily matter to the nonaverage American driving one party’s priorities. On ozone, as with almost everything these days, it’s all about inequality.

Blow and Krugman

November 24, 2014

In “Bigger Than Immigration” Mr. Blow says that for conservatives, this debate is really about the fear of seeing traditional power slip away.  Prof. Krugman, in “Rock Bottom Economics,” says it’s amazing and depressing that we’ve spent six years at the big zero.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

Don’t let yourself get lost in the weeds. Don’t allow yourself to believe that opposition to President Obama’s executive actions on immigration is only about that issue, the president’s tactics, or his lack of obsequiousness to his detractors.

This hostility and animosity toward this president is, in fact, larger than this president. This is about systems of power and the power of symbols. Particularly, it is about preserving traditional power and destroying emerging symbols that threaten that power. This president is simply the embodiment of the threat, as far as his detractors are concerned, whether they are willing or able to articulate it as such.

A Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll last week found that the public “wants immigration policy along the lines of what President Barack Obama seeks but is skeptical of the executive action.” When The Journal looked at some of the people who “say they want to see a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants — which is beyond what Mr. Obama’s executive order would do — but say they disapprove of presidential executive action,” it found that the group was “overwhelmingly white and more likely to be Republican than not” and some said that they simply “don’t like anything associated with the president.”

Pay attention to the overall response from all sources, particularly the rhetoric in which it is wrapped.

Speaker John Boehner has accused Obama of acting like a “king” and an “emperor.” Representative Louie Gohmert referred to Obama’s “ new royal amnesty decree.”

Andrew C. McCarthy, in National Review, went further, suggesting that Obama’s legal justification was a slippery slope to all manner of crime and vice:

“Can the president make fraud and theft legal? How about assault? Cocaine use? Perjury? You’d have to conclude he can — and that we have supplanted the Constitution with a monarchy — if you buy President Obama’s warped notion of prosecutorial discretion.”

There is no denying the insinuations in such language: a fear of subjugation by people like this president, an “other” person, predisposed to lawlessness.

As usual, issue-oriented opposition overlaps with a historical undercurrent, one desperate for demonstration (of liberal folly) and preservation (of conservative principles and traditional power).

From this worldview, liberalism isn’t simply an alternate political sensibility, but a rot, an irreparable ruination, a violation of the laws of the land as the founding fathers (most of whom owned slaves at some point) envisioned, but also of the laws of nature, which they see as being directed by God. There are so many examples of this: opposition to L.G.B.T. rights, to the science undergirding climate change and efforts to arrest that change, and to allowing women a full range of reproductive options.

Maybe that’s why the president cited Scripture when laying out his immigration plan: “Scripture tells us that we shall not oppress a stranger, for we know the heart of a stranger — we were strangers once, too.”

But that is surely to have fallen on deaf ears, if not hostile ones. Conservatives slammed the usage, and Mike Huckabee went so far as to accuse the president of trying to rewrite the Bible while bizarrely invoking the Bill Cosby sexual assault allegations:

“I always thought that Scripture was eternal and unchanging, but apparently, now that Obama is president, Scripture gets rewritten more often than Bill Cosby’s Wikipedia entry.”

How dare the president — seen by some as a threat to Christianity — invoke Christianity in his defense!

As Paul Ryan put it in 2012, the president’s policies put us on a “dangerous path,” one that “grows government, restricts freedom and liberty, and compromises those values, those Judeo-Christian, Western civilization values that made us such a great and exceptional nation in the first place.”

Senator Tom Coburn upped the rhetoric last week, suggesting to USA Today that there could be a violent reaction to the president’s actions:

“You’re going to see — hopefully not — but you could see instances of anarchy.”

He added, “You could see violence.”

This is not completely unlike the language used by Joni Ernst, just elected senator in Iowa, who spoke during a 2012 N.R.A. event of her gun and the “right to defend myself,” possibly “from the government, should they decide that my rights are no longer important.”

Make no mistake: This debate is not just about this president, this executive order or immigration. This is about the fear that makes the face flush when people stare into a future in which traditional power — their power — is eroded, and about their desperate, by-any-means determination to deny that future.

Now here’s Prof. Krugman:

Six years ago the Federal Reserve hit rock bottom. It had been cutting the federal funds rate, the interest rate it uses to steer the economy, more or less frantically in an unsuccessful attempt to get ahead of the recession and financial crisis. But it eventually reached the point where it could cut no more, because interest rates can’t go below zero. On Dec. 16, 2008, the Fed set its interest target between 0 and 0.25 percent, where it remains to this day.

The fact that we’ve spent six years at the so-called zero lower bound is amazing and depressing. What’s even more amazing and depressing, if you ask me, is how slow our economic discourse has been to catch up with the new reality. Everything changes when the economy is at rock bottom — or, to use the term of art, in a liquidity trap (don’t ask). But for the longest time, nobody with the power to shape policy would believe it.

What do I mean by saying that everything changes? As I wrote way back when, in a rock-bottom economy “the usual rules of economic policy no longer apply: virtue becomes vice, caution is risky and prudence is folly.” Government spending doesn’t compete with private investment — it actually promotes business spending. Central bankers, who normally cultivate an image as stern inflation-fighters, need to do the exact opposite, convincing markets and investors that they will push inflation up. “Structural reform,” which usually means making it easier to cut wages, is more likely to destroy jobs than create them.

This may all sound wild and radical, but it isn’t. In fact, it’s what mainstream economic analysis says will happen once interest rates hit zero. And it’s also what history tells us. If you paid attention to the lessons of post-bubble Japan, or for that matter the U.S. economy in the 1930s, you were more or less ready for the looking-glass world of economic policy we’ve lived in since 2008.

But as I said, nobody would believe it. By and large, policy makers and Very Serious People in general went with gut feelings rather than careful economic analysis. Yes, they sometimes found credentialed economists to back their positions, but they used these economists the way a drunkard uses a lamppost: for support, not for illumination. And what the guts of these serious people have told them, year after year, is to fear — and do — exactly the wrong things.

Thus we were told again and again that budget deficits were our most pressing economic problem, that interest rates would soar any day now unless we imposed harsh fiscal austerity. I could have told you that this was foolish, and in fact I did, and sure enough, the predicted interest rate spike never happened — but demands that we cut government spending now, now, now have cost millions of jobs and deeply damaged our infrastructure.

We were also told repeatedly that printing money — not what the Fed was actually doing, but never mind — would lead to “currency debasement and inflation.” The Fed, to its credit, stood up to this pressure, but other central banks didn’t. The European Central Bank, in particular, raised rates in 2011 to head off a nonexistent inflationary threat. It eventually reversed course but has never gotten things back on track. At this point European inflation is far below the official target of 2 percent, and the Continent is flirting with outright deflation.

But are these bad calls just water under the bridge? Isn’t the era of rock-bottom economics just about over? Don’t count on it.

It’s true that with the U.S. unemployment rate dropping, most analysts expect the Fed to raise interest rates sometime next year. But inflation is low, wages are weak, and the Fed seems to realize that raising rates too soon would be disastrous. Meanwhile, Europe looks further than ever from economic liftoff, while Japan is still struggling to escape from deflation. Oh, and China, which is starting to remind some of us of Japan in the late 1980s, could join the rock-bottom club sooner than you think.

So the counterintuitive realities of economic policy at the zero lower bound are likely to remain relevant for a long time to come, which makes it crucial that influential people understand those realities. Unfortunately, too many still don’t; one of the most striking aspects of economic debate in recent years has been the extent to which those whose economic doctrines have failed the reality test refuse to admit error, let alone learn from it. The intellectual leaders of the new majority in Congress still insist that we’re living in an Ayn Rand novel; German officials still insist that the problem is that debtors haven’t suffered enough.

This bodes ill for the future. What people in power don’t know, or worse what they think they know but isn’t so, can very definitely hurt us.