Cohen, Kristof and Collins

November 19, 2015

Well.  Mr. Cohen has decided to rattle his little saber and swing his little dick.  In “Body Bags in Paris” he snarls that the West, post-Iraq, has lost the capacity for anger, and says that is dangerous.  In the comments “craig geary” from Redlands, FL had this to say:  “Same song, different day.  Never worn a uniform, never been IN a war, Roger Cohen wants Americans sent to slaughter or to be slaughtered.”  And “Stephen LeGrand” from right here in Savannah adds:  “This is the kind of thinking that will keep us in a perpetual war in the Mideast, sucking blood and treasure with no foreseeable end.”  Not to be outdone, “Arun Gupta” from NJ kept it short and sweet:  “I think Mr Cohen should take a sabbatical until good sense returns.”  Mr. Kristof, in “Following the Terrorists’ Script,” says our disgraceful response to Jews fleeing Germany during World War II risks being repeated with Syrian refugees.  No risk at all — it IS being repeated, with 31 governors huddled under their beds, peeing their pants in fear of toddlers.  Ms. Collins gives us “A Holiday Treat From Congress,” and says most of our senators don’t want to burden private pilots with a lot of questions about their health.  Here’s Mr. Cohen, pounding his little tin drum:

The flag at half-mast atop the Grand Palais, the darkened silhouette of the Eiffel Tower, the Big Wheel at Place Concorde immobilized for days, the jumpiness at the slightest sound, the stories of friends lost or almost, the streets that feel as if the air has been sucked out of them: This is Paris, resilient but jittery.

I open the daily Le Monde and read Antoine Leiris writing about his wife, Hélène Muyal-Leiris, one of the 129 people slaughtered by the terrorists of the Islamic State: “On Friday evening, you stole the life of an exceptional being, the love of my life, the mother of my son, but you will not have my hatred.” Nor the hatred of his one-year-old son, who “will affront you by being happy and free.”

Defiance lies in remaining unbowed, in embracing the life the traffickers of death wish to extinguish. No child should be raised in hatred.

But freedom has to be fought for. It can demand anger. These killers make us hostages of our own democracies. They trample on the very border-crossing freedoms that European passports afford them. The West, post-Iraq, has lost its capacity for rage, even at this. That is dangerous.

We may not know who exactly the killers are but we know what they want to destroy. They spit at Montaigne, Voltaire and De Tocqueville. They loathe reason. They detest freedom. They cannot bear the West’s sexual mores. They would enslave the world, particularly its women, to the cruel god of their medievalist reading of Islam.

The French President, François Hollande, says France is “at war” against “a jihadi army.” France will be “pitiless.” There will be “no respite, no truce.” More than two years ago, after President Bashar al-Assad used chemical weapons, Hollande was ready to bomb Syria alongside President Obama. Then Obama wavered. Hesitation has been Obama’s modus operandi on Syria.

Now there are body bags in Paris.

Since 2013, ISIS has come to terrorize the world. Hollande will travel to Washington and Moscow next week in an attempt to forge a broad coalition to act “decisively” against it.

If the President Obama he finds is the same Obama who spoke in Turkey on Monday, the French president will be disappointed. The contrast between Hollande’s fire and Obama’s flatness as he insisted he would not put American troops on the ground to defeat ISIS was one of the stranger aspects of being in Paris this week.

It was clear again that Europe’s generational struggle for unity and freedom against totalitarian violence tends to leave this post-Atlanticist president cold. Words and body language are not everything. Still, they count.

Obama said: “We can retake territory. As long we leave our troops there, we can hold it, but that does not solve the underlying problem of eliminating the dynamics that are producing these kinds of violent extremist groups.”

True, jihadi terrorism (not “extremism”) will not disappear overnight if the United States and its allies take back the territory ISIS controls in Syria and Iraq. But the existence of this “state” is a compelling recruitment tool. It gives ISIS oil revenue (between $500 million and $1 billion a year), training camps, stature, space to enact its wanton brutality, and a base to direct international killing.

This border-straddling ISIS sanctuary must be eliminated, just as the Afghan safe haven of Al Qaeda was after 9/11 (before the disastrous distraction of Iraq). Raqqa is much closer to Europe than Tora Bora. ISIS has effective terrorists but indifferent soldiers. They are beatable. Kurdish militias — not the U.S. military by any means — have made rapid inroads. They and other local forces can help.

But Obama does not have the will. “Let’s assume we send 50,000 troops into Syria,” he said in Turkey. “What happens when there’s a terrorist attack generated from Yemen?”

That’s a straw-man game unworthy of the president. Its subtext: Because you can’t solve all the problems of the world, solve none. ISIS in Syria and Iraq is the core of the terrorist threat to Europe and America today. So destroy it.

President Vladimir Putin has forces on the ground in Syria. He has at last turned Russian bombing against ISIS after the terrorist group’s downing of a Russian passenger jet. Like Hitler, ISIS may have made the fatal mistake of targeting Moscow.

Stalin was an effective Western ally in World War II. Hitler was defeated. But the division of Europe ensued and the Soviet enslavement of half the Continent. Maybe Putin can help against ISIS, but if the West is a mere spectator the result will be equally disastrous. America and its allies must be as present on the ground as Russia if they are to shape the Syrian denouement. President Assad is not part of the solution. He’s part of the problem.

I fear for Antoine Leiris’s little motherless boy. The West has lost its spine, a spine called America.

Eat a huge plate of salted rat dicks, you turd.  Send your own son.  Now here’s Mr. Kristof:

Desperate refugees flee persecution and war, but American politicians — worried about security risks — refuse to accept them.

That’s the situation today, but it’s also the shameful way we responded as Jews were fleeing Nazi Germany in the 1930s. In the shadow of one world war, on the eve of another, Americans feared that European Jews might be left-wing security threats.

“Jews are not Communists,” Rabbi Louis I. Newman of Manhattan noted, pleadingly, in December 1938, trying to assuage the xenophobia. “Judaism has nothing in common with Communism.”

Yet in January 1939, Americans polled said by a two-to-one majority that the United States should not accept 10,000 mostly Jewish refugee children from Germany. That year, the United States turned away a ship, the St. Louis, with Jewish refugee children; the St. Louis returned to Europe, where some of its passengers were murdered by the Nazis.

That is a stain on our conscience that risks being repeated. Some 26 Republican governors are trying to block entry of Syrian refugees. All the Republican presidential candidates say that we should bar Syrian refugees or apply a religious test and accept only Christians.

A tweet of a young British man’s Facebook page went viral.

Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey says we shouldn’t accept Syrians even if they are toddlers and orphans. And the House of Representatives may vote this week on legislation to impede the resettlement of Syrian refugees.

One Syrian family — a man who once ran a clothing store, his wife and their 4-year-old child — were supposed to arrive in Indiana this week. Then Gov. Mike Pence announced that Syrians were unwelcome, and the family is settling in Connecticut instead.

Remember what a Syrian immigrant looks like — the father of Steve Jobs.

Thank goodness that when my father came to America as a refugee from Eastern Europe in 1952, politicians weren’t fearmongering. My dad sailed to New York, bought a copy of the Sunday New York Times to teach himself English, and took the train across the country to a welcoming Oregon.

When Indiana today shuns desperate refugees, it is shunning people like my family.

Yes, security is critical, but I’ve known people who have gone through the refugee vetting process, and it’s a painstaking ordeal that lasts two years or more. It’s incomparably more rigorous than other pathways to the United States.

If the Islamic State wanted to dispatch a terrorist to America, it wouldn’t ask a mole to apply for refugee status, but rather to apply for a student visa to study at, say, Indiana University. Hey, governors, are you going to keep out foreign university students?

Or the Islamic State could simply send fighters who are French or Belgian citizens (like some of those behind the Paris attacks) to the U.S. as tourists, no visa required. Governors, are you planning to ban foreign tourists, too?

Refugee vetting has an excellent record. Of 785,000 refugees admitted to the United States since 9/11, just three have been arrested for terrorism-related charges, according to the Migration Policy Institute in Washington.

If Republican governors are concerned about security risks, maybe they should vet who can buy guns. People on terrorism watch lists are legally allowed to buy guns in the United States, and more than 2,000 have done so since 2004. The National Rifle Association has opposed legislation to rectify this.

Although Donald Trump fulminates about President Obama supposedly wanting to bring in 250,000 or more Syrian refugees, that’s preposterous: Obama proposes admitting 10,000 Syrian refugees over a year. That’s tiny, just 1 percent of the number that Lebanon has accepted.

The Islamic State is trying to create a religious divide and an anti-refugee backlash, so that Muslims will feel alienated and turn to extremism. If so, American and European politicians are following the Islamic State’s script.

Let’s be careful not to follow that script further and stigmatize all Muslims for ISIS terrorism. As a young British Muslim man, Kash Ali, wrote in a post that went viral on Twitter: “I don’t understand why non Muslims think we British Muslims can stop ISIS. Mate, I can’t even get a text back from the girl I like, and you expect me to stop a terrorist organization?”

Look, accepting 10,000 refugees is not a solution. Indeed, there is a risk that Angela Merkel’s admirable compassion will lead far larger numbers to undertake the difficult journey and die on the way. The top priority must be making Syria habitable so that refugees need not flee. This is where I believe President Obama has failed — Syria is his worst foreign policy failure — but it’s good to see him push back at the hysteria about Syrian refugees.

Helping Syrian refugees today doesn’t solve the Middle East mess any more than helping Jewish refugees in 1939 would have toppled Hitler. But it’s the right thing to do. Syrians, no less than those Jewish refugees, no less than my father, are human beings needing help, not flotsam.

And now here’s Ms. Collins:

In honor of the coming vacation travel season, the Senate is working on a bill that would loosen the requirement that pilots take medical examinations.

Yes! I know that’s been on your mind a lot, people. Next week, as you gather around the Thanksgiving table, be sure to express your gratitude to Congress. If you hear a small plane buzzing overhead, drink a toast to the future, when the folks in America’s cockpits may no longer be burdened with repressive, old-fashioned health monitoring.

Pop quiz: Which of the following aviation issues would you like to see your elected representatives resolve by the end of 2015?

— Ban those laser lights that stupid kids keep flashing in pilots’ eyes.

— Do something about all the damned drones flying around airports.

— End the passenger peril of being squashed by a reclining seat.

— Ease pilot health exams! Ease pilot health exams!

“The U.S. Senate has an excruciatingly difficult time doing anything, and here they’re dismantling something that’s been working pretty well,” complained Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut. He is opposed to the bill in question, and that puts him in pretty select company. More than two-thirds of his colleagues are co-sponsors.

We are talking here about general aviation pilots, the men and women who fly private planes. They’re currently required to get a medical exam by an F.A.A.-approved physician every five years, and then every two years once they pass 40. The pilots hatehatehate this rule. They claim the doctors are hard to find and charge too much money. But the great underlying fear is that some stranger with a stethoscope will strip them of the ability to fly.

It’s easy to understand why pilots want to stay aloft. I’ve enjoyed every non-campaign-related private flight I’ve ever taken, including in the two-seater owned by an environmentalist who once flew me over a lake full of pig feces that had been treated with chemicals that turned it the color of Pepto-Bismol.

However, I think I speak for most of America when I say that we ought to continue being a little picky about the people we let up there.

The bill’s lead sponsor, Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma, is a very enthusiastic 81-year-old pilot who starred in an exciting airborne adventure about five years ago, when he landed his Cessna at an airport in Texas despite A) The large “X” on the runway, indicating it was closed, and B) The construction crew working on said runway, which ran for their lives when he dropped in.

As a result, the senator had to take part in a remedial training program. This irritated him so much that he successfully sponsored the first Pilot’s Bill of Rights, which makes it easier to appeal that kind of harsh, unforgiving judgment.

The Senate commerce committee is now considering Inhofe’s P.B.R. 2, which would eliminate the current medical exam requirement. Instead, pilots would just write a note in their log every four years saying they’d been to a physician who said everything’s fine. The bill has 69 sponsors.

Very little in the current world of Washington is that popular. You may be wondering why. Well, although Inhofe is best known as the climate change denier who once brought a snowball into the Senate to prove the globe isn’t warming, he’s also a very powerful guy, the chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, an architect of this year’s $350 billion highway construction bill.

Plus, there are hundreds of thousands of private pilots, many of them rather wealthy. “Most of them are single-issue people, so it would be very good to join in on this,” Inhofe said pointedly in a recent Senate speech. Some small-minded observers suspect he also has personal skin in the game, what with having had quadruple bypass heart surgery and all.

The bill hit a small snag on Wednesday when Democrats on the Senate commerce committee proposed that the doctors who do the new exams — who could be anyone from a dermatologist to a golfing buddy — be given a government-approved checklist of problems to look for.

They lost on a party-line vote. “My trust is in the physician compared to the F.A.A.,” said one of the Republicans. The real problem was apparently resistance from a certain snowball-making highway bill author.

“The answer has always come back from Senator Inhofe’s staff: No,” complained Bill Nelson of Florida, the ranking Democrat on the committee. Nelson, you understand, was not arguing that a dermatologist should be off-limits as a pilot medical examiner. He just wanted to increase the chances that the patient would be asked if he was subject to dizzy spells.

At that moment the committee suddenly discovered it was lacking a quorum. But everyone expects the bill to rise again in triumph. “It would have been laughable except it’s so serious,” said Blumenthal.

Krugman’s blog, 11/17/15

November 18, 2015

There were two posts yesterday.  The first was “The Farce Is Strong In This One:”

And that one, and that one, and, well, across the board.

It took no time at all for the right-wing response to the Paris attacks to turn into a vile caricature that has me feeling nostalgic for the restraint and statesmanship of Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney.

Marco Rubio says that we have to denounce radical Islam — as opposed to jihadists — because of Hitler; after all, making Islam the rhetorical equivalent of Nazism is just the right thing to win support from the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims.

Niall Ferguson says that a terrorist attack on a couple of sites in a huge modern metropolis by a small number of gunmen is just likethe sack of Rome by the Goths.

Hugh Hewitt thinks that taking an Obama remark totally out of context will convince anyone except the right-wing base that the man who hunted down Osama bin Laden has been an anti-American terrorist sympathizer all along.

I’ve deliberately selected people who are sometimes portrayed as moderate, smart, or both. This is what the reasonable wing of the modern right looks like.

The second post yesterday was “Terrorists and Aliens:”

The Great Depression wasn’t ended by the intellectual victory of Keynesian economics; in fact, the publication of The General Theory was followed by the great mistake of 1937, when FDR tried to balance the budget too soon and send the U.S. economy into a severe recession. What put a decisive end to the slump was World War II, which led to deficit spending on a scale that was politically impossible before.

This story is what led me to facetiously suggest that we fake a threat from space aliens, to provide a politically acceptable cover for stimulus.

Now France has been attacked, unfortunately by real terrorists instead of fake aliens, and Hollande is declaring that security must take precedence over austerity. Is this the start of something big?

OK, obligatory disclaimer that will do no good in the face of the stupidity. I am NOT saying that terrorism is a good thing, just as those of us who point to wartime fiscal stimulus aren’t saying that World War II was a good thing. (Don’t kill baby Hitler — we need him to justify stimulus!) We’re just trying to think through some side effects of the atrocity.

The question we should ask is whether the fiscal indiscipline caused by jihadists will make a significant difference to French performance.

Well, my guess is that the numbers will probably be too small. U.S. defense and security spending rose by around 2 percent of GDP after 9/11 — but that involved a much bigger military buildup than France is likely to undertake, plus the Iraq War. More likely we’re looking at fraction of a percent of GDP, which is small compared with the austerity Europe has imposed. Unless the French response is much bigger than I’m imagining, the impact on growth won’t be large.

Friedman, solo

November 18, 2015

Oh, this is too rich…  Tommy “Friedman Unit” Friedman comes now with a piece titled “Cabs, Camels or ISIS” in which he tells us that disruptive choices in the Arab world are having far-reaching effects.  Not a word about that little foray by W that he was so, so in favor of…  Here he is, writing from Dubai:

Today, I’ll talk about the Paris attacks, but before I do I want to share two news stories here, in case you missed them: The first calf to come from a cloned camel was born at a research center in Dubai and a local taxi start-up is taking on Uber in the Arab world.

You may think that these emirates start-ups — cloning camels and cabs — have nothing to do with Paris, but they do. Bear with me.

A newspaper here, The National, quoted Dr. Ali Ridha Al Hashimi, the administrative director of the Reproductive Biotechnology Center in Dubai, announcing “that Injaz, the world’s first cloned camel, gave birth to a healthy female calf weighing about 38 kilos on November 2. Injaz, whose name means ‘achievement’ in Arabic, was cloned in 2009 from the ovarian cells of a dead camel.” Previously, when the pregnancy was disclosed, the center’s scientific director, Dr. Nisar Wani, said, “This will prove cloned camels are fertile and can reproduce the same as naturally produced camels.”

Also last week, a hot local Arab ride-sharing start-up,, raised $60 million more in venture financing to take on Uber in the Arab world, using technology that allows for pre-booking of vehicles through its mobile app — ideal for Saudi Arabia, where women can’t drive and need chauffeurs to take them and their kids everywhere.

So, about 1,000 miles south of the Islamic State start-up in Iraq and Syria — where jihadists are using technology to spawn disruption on a massive scale — another group of Muslims (and non-Muslims) in another Arab country are disrupting the world of camels and cabs.

The message? The context within which Arabs and Muslims live their lives really matters. And in too many places they’ve had only two choices — SISI or ISIS — the iron fist of generals, like Egypt’s President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, who is trying to stifle all dissent, or the ISIS madness that says the only way forward is to take the Arab-Muslim world backward.

Fortunately, there is a third way: the autocracies, monarchies and a few frail democracies that have invested in their people and created islands of decency — Tunisia, Jordan, Lebanon, Kurdistan, Kuwait, Morocco and the U.A.E. — where more young Arabs and Muslims can realize their full potential and build their dignity by disrupting camels and cabs — not Paris and Beirut.

For me, the big strategic question in Iraq and Syria is: What would it take to uproot ISIS and create a Sunni island of decency in its place? For starters, that requires an honest assessment of how big the challenge is.

Sixty years ago Asian dictators told their people in effect, “I am going to take away your freedom — but give you the best education, export-led economics and infrastructure that money can buy — and in a half-century you’ll build a middle class that will gradually take your freedom back.” In the Arab world, 60 years ago dictators told their people, in effect, “I am going to take away your freedom and give you the Arab-Israeli conflict, a shiny object to distract you from my corruption and predation.”

That difference, 60 years later, has produced the Asian economic miracle and fueled the Arab civilizational meltdown/disorder in Yemen, Libya, Syria and Iraq.

Given that, I believe U.S. foreign policy out here should progress as follows: Where there is disorder, help create order, because without order nothing good can happen. I will take Sisi over the Muslim Brotherhood. But where there is order, we need to push for it to become more decent and forward-looking. That is where Sisi is failing: His vision is just order for order’s sake, with no positive slope. Where there is decent order, like the U.A.E., Jordan or Kurdistan, encourage it to gradually become more open and constitutional. And where there is constitutional order, as in Tunisia, protect it like a rare flower.

An Iraqi friend with family still in ISIS-controlled Mosul tells me that President Obama’s stepped-up bombing and special operations with the Kurds are hurting ISIS a lot. It was in part to disguise this that ISIS unleashed its death parade in Paris. But these ISIS guys are smart and still very dangerous. I’d support more bombing and special ops to further weaken and contain them.

But before we go beyond that, we need to face this fact: To sustainably defeat bad ISIS Sunnis you need good non-ISIS Sunnis to create an island of decency in their place. And right now, alas, finding and strengthening good non-ISIS Sunnis is the second priority of all the neighbors.

Turkey cares more about defeating Kurds; Saudi Arabia and its Arab Gulf allies care more about defeating Iran and its proxies in Iraq, Yemen and Syria; Qatar cares more about promoting the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria and annoying Saudi Arabia; Iran cares more about protecting Shiites in Iraq and Syria than creating a space for decent Sunnis to thrive; and many of the non-ISIS Sunni activists in Syria and Iraq are still Islamists — and they’re not going away. How do you weave a decent carpet from these threads?

I don’t know — and until I do I’d be cautious about going far beyond what we’re already doing. Paris may be totally different today. The Middle East is not.

And let’s not gloss over that thing about how Saudi women “can’t drive.”  No, Tommy, it’s not that they “can’t,” is that they’re forbidden by religious extremists.  The same ones who financed and supplied the 9/11 attack.

Krugman’s blog, 11/16/15

November 17, 2015

There was one post yesterday, “Serious Delusions:”

Greg Sargent mocks pundits declaring that the attacks in Paris will finally convince Republican primary voters that they need to get serious, and deflate the Trump/Carson bubble. This time it will really happen!

Or not.

As Sargent says, these pundits have been wrong again and again — and with holidays coming up and then the start of actual voting, there isn’t much time for bubble-deflation left. But there’s more.

For one thing, who exactly are the serious candidates on national security? Jeb!, who thinks that a relative handful of terrorists can destroy the West, one rock concert at a time? Rubio, who mumbled something about a clash of civilizations?

For another, pretty much the same people claiming that it’s time to get serious are attacking Democrats for … not using the right catchphrases, out of petty concerns like trying not to insult a whole religion. Say it loud and proud: radicalIslamradicalIslamradicalIslam. See? Terrorism defeated.

Finally, remember how we got serious after 9/11?

Given what we’ve seen in the past, this might even favor Trump, who can yell “You’re fired!” at the terrorists, or Carson, who might be able to defeat them with the help of Klingon Jesus.

Update: A reminder of how knowledgable Bush and Rubio are about foreign policy — remember Chang, the mystic warrior?

Solo Bobo

November 17, 2015

Oh, FSM have mercy on us all.  Bobo has extruded something titled “Finding Peace Within the Holy Texts” in which he babbles that the answer to ending religious violence will probably be found within religion itself.  In the comments “Joe Walters” from New Jersey had this to say:  “Does Mr Brooks have any suggestions on how to deal with the religious fundamentalists that are persecuting homosexuals, want women to return to a medieval role in the home and who deny modern science, believing fantastical ideas such as the earth being only six thousand years old.  I’m not talking about ISIS, though of course they want the same. I had in mind the Presidential candidates of the party that Mr Brooks supports.  If he had some ideas on how to deal with that crazy bunch of dangerous extremists we’d all like to hear them.”  So would we all, Joe, but don’t hold your breath…  Here’s Bobo:

It’s easy to think that ISIS is some sort of evil, medieval cancer that somehow has resurfaced in the modern world. The rest of us are pursuing happiness, and here comes this fundamentalist anachronism, spreading death.

But in his book “Not in God’s Name: Confronting Religious Violence,” the brilliant Rabbi Jonathan Sacks argues that ISIS is in fact typical of what we will see in the decades ahead.

The 21st century will not be a century of secularism, he writes. It will be an age of desecularization and religious conflicts.

Part of this is simply demographic. Religious communities produce lots of babies and swell their ranks, while secular communities do not. The researcher Michael Blume looked back as far as ancient India and Greece and concluded that every nonreligious population in history has experienced demographic decline.

Humans also are meaning-seeking animals. We live, as Sacks writes, in a century that “has left us with a maximum of choice and a minimum of meaning.” The secular substitutes for religion — nationalism, racism and political ideology — have all led to disaster. So many flock to religion, sometimes — especially within Islam — to extremist forms.

This is already leading to religious violence. In November 2014, just to take one month, there were 664 jihadist attacks in 14 countries, killing a total of 5,042 people. Since 1984, an estimated 1.5 million Christians have been killed by Islamist militias in Sudan.

Sacks emphasizes that it is not religion itself that causes violence. In their book Encyclopedia of Wars, Charles Phillips and Alan Axelrod surveyed 1,800 conflicts and found that less than 10 percent had any religious component at all.

Rather, religion fosters groupishness, and the downside of groupishness is conflict with people outside the group. Religion can lead to thick moral communities, but in extreme forms it can also lead to what Sacks calls pathological dualism, a mentality that divides the world between those who are unimpeachably good and those who are irredeemably bad.

The pathological dualist can’t reconcile his humiliated place in the world with his own moral superiority. He embraces a politicized religion — restoring the caliphate — and seeks to destroy those outside his group by apocalyptic force. This leads to acts of what Sacks calls altruistic evil, or acts of terror in which the self-sacrifice involved somehow is thought to confer the right to be merciless and unfathomably cruel.

That’s what we saw in Paris last week.

Sacks correctly argues that we need military weapons to win the war against fanatics like ISIS, but we need ideas to establish a lasting peace. Secular thought or moral relativism are unlikely to offer any effective rebuttal. Among religious people, mental shifts will be found by reinterpreting the holy texts themselves. There has to be a Theology of the Other: a complex biblical understanding of how to see God’s face in strangers. That’s what Sacks sets out to do.

The great religions are based on love, and they satisfy the human need for community. But love is problematic. Love is preferential and particular. Love excludes and can create rivalries. Love of one scripture can make it hard to enter sympathetically into the minds of those who embrace another.

The Bible is filled with sibling rivalries: Ishmael and Isaac, Esau and Jacob, Joseph and his brothers. The Bible crystallizes the truth that people sometimes find themselves competing for parental love and even competing for God’s love.

Read simplistically, the Bible’s sibling rivalries seem merely like stories of victory or defeat — Isaac over Ishmael. But all three Abrahamic religions have sophisticated, multilayered interpretive traditions that undercut fundamentalist readings.

Alongside the ethic of love there is a command to embrace an ethic of justice. Love is particular, but justice is universal. Love is passionate, justice is dispassionate.

Justice demands respect of the other. It plays on the collective memory of people who are in covenantal communities: Your people, too, were once vulnerable strangers in a strange land.

The command is not just to be empathetic toward strangers, which is fragile. The command is to pursue sanctification, which involves struggle and sometimes conquering your selfish instincts. Moreover, God frequently appears where he is least expected — in the voice of the stranger — reminding us that God transcends the particulars of our attachments.

The reconciliation between love and justice is not simple, but for believers the texts, read properly, point the way. Sacks’s great contribution is to point out that the answer to religious violence is probably going to be found within religion itself, among those who understand that religion gains influence when it renounces power.

It may seem strange that in this century of technology, peace will be found within these ancient texts. But as Sacks points out, Abraham had no empire, no miracles and no army — just a different example of how to believe, think and live.

Why not go on another $120,000 vacation, Bobo, and STFU for a while…  (

Krugman’s blog, 11/15/15

November 16, 2015

There was one post yesterday, “Fear and Friends:”

The news from Paris was horrifying, and deserved a break in the usual round of commentary, but surely nobody who has been paying attention was completely shocked. We know that there are jihadists out there, and even the best efforts at prevention will fail sometimes. We’ll have to see how this fairly elaborate plot went undetected, but really nothing about the story so far suggests that it should fundamentally change how we see the world.

We also knew that the usual suspects would react badly — but there, I think, there has been a surprise on the downside. As far as I can tell, nobody in the GOP field wants to say anything positive about the strength of Western democracy, or make a remark about the nature of a cause that has nothing going for it except the ability to kill innocent civilians. Instead, we have Jeb! insisting that we’re looking at a plan to destroy Western civilization, and Ted Cruz declaring that what we need to do is abandon our own scruples about killing innocent bystanders. Seize the moral high ground!

Meanwhile, the Democrats had a bizarrely rational and well-informed debate. By today’s standards, that’s positively un-American.

Blow and Krugman

November 16, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And now here’s Prof. Krugman:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Krugman’s blog, 11/13/15

November 14, 2015

There was one post yesterday, “The Regime Change Problem in American Politics:”

This post isn’t about what you think it’s about. I’m not talking about a looming coup; I’m talking about the problems facing political science, which — it recently occurred to me — are a bit like the problems facing macroeconomics after 2008.

First things first: I’m a big admirer of political science, and a fairly heavy consumer of the more quantitative end. Larry Bartels, McCarty/Poole/Rosenthal, Alan Abramowitz, Andrew Gelman, and more have helped shape my understanding of what is going on in this country; I get more out of any one of their papers than out of a whole election cycle’s worth of conventional horse-race punditry. Studying what actually happens in elections, as opposed to spinning tales based on a few up-close-and personal interviews, is definitely the way to go.

Yet I don’t think I’m being unfair in saying that so far this cycle the political scientists aren’t doing too well. In particular, standard models of how the nomination process works seem to be having trouble with the durability of clowns. Things don’t seem to be working the way they used to.

And this makes me think of the way some economic analysis went astray after 2008. In particular, I’m reminded of the way many fairly reasonable analysts underestimated the adverse effects of austerity. They looked at historical episodes, and this led them to expect around a half point of GDP contraction for every point of fiscal tightening. What actually seems to have happened was around three times that much.

Now, as it happens we know why — and some people (e.g., me) predicted this in advance: the conditions under which past austerity took place were different from the recent episode, in which monetary policy was constrained by the zero lower bound and unable to offset fiscal contraction. But the point was that the world had entered a different regime, in which historical relationships could be and were misleading.

And surely it’s not too much of a stretch to say that something equally or more fundamental has happened to US politics. Partisan divisions run deeper; establishment figures are widely distrusted; the GOP base has gone mad; and so on. History is just less of a guide than it used to be.

In the case of macroeconomics, fortunately, we had models that allowed us to make reasonably good predictions about how the regime would shift at the ZLB. If there’s anything comparable in political science, I don’t know about it (but would be happy to be enlightened.)

I’ll still take academic analysis over horserace punditry any day. But we really do know less than ever.

Collins, flying solo

November 14, 2015

Ms. Collins has the place to herself, which is probably just as well since it’s “Date Night With the Democrats.”  She says we should get ready to settle down Saturday night with Martin, Bernie and Hillary.  Here she is:

This weekend’s Democratic debate is going to be a tough sell. Two hours on a Saturday night, and not a single candidate who appears to be certifiably deranged.

There are only three Democrats left in the contest, and none of them has compared the competition to a child molester. None seems to have an unusually creative theory on why the pyramids were built. Yawn. CBS News, which is airing the debate, has promised to focus on the economy, so there probably won’t even be a pop quiz about which woman the candidates would like to see on the 10-dollar bill. Although I suspect they’d all have a better answer than Jeb Bush’s “Margaret Thatcher.”

Maybe there will be music. Requests from the audience? Martin O’Malley plays in a band. And Bernie Sanders actually once made an album. In fact, if you’re going to watch this event, an excellent way to prepare would be by listening to Sanders talk his way through “This Land Is Your Land.”

The debate is being held in Des Moines, where the Democratic trio is battling for the heart of Iowa. Both the Sanders and O’Malley campaigns will tell you that their man is running “the old-school retail way,” which basically means attempting to have at least one meal with every single person in the state.

Iowans expect that kind of behavior — ask average voters why they prefer Candidate X, and they’ll quote something he told them at brunch last Sunday. But they’re impossible to satisfy. In 2008, then-Connecticut Senator Christopher Dodd got less than 1 percent of the vote even after he moved his family to Iowa and enrolled his daughter in kindergarten there.

Another great tradition of Iowa presidential campaigns is megapandering to farming interests, and perhaps we will get a debate question about the federal government’s expensive ethanol program, which does zip for the environment but uses a hell of a lot of corn in the process. Both Sanders and O’Malley seem generally pro-ethanol. As a senator from New York, Hillary Clinton was a staunch critic, but since she’s moved on to the presidential arena she has evolved and now promises to … um, make it better.

There will also be debate on tax issues, and bank regulation — no better way to spend a weekend night than cuddling up by the fire and listening to people argue about the Glass-Steagall Act. But even when everyone onstage is issue-oriented to an extreme, there’s still always the possibility something exciting and cheesy will happen.

Maybe somebody will ask Clinton about joining the Marines. She recently said in New Hampshire that when she was 27, she tried to enlist and was told that a woman her age would be better off checking in with the Army. The first time she recounted this tale, as first lady in 1994, it was greeted with extreme skepticism, given the fact that she was describing a point in her life when she was an accomplished Washington lawyer, soon to be married to a man who was clearly planning a political career in Arkansas.

But now she’s brought it up again, with no additional context. Maybe Clinton was just testing the Marines to see if they were sexist. Or maybe she was having second thoughts about getting married. If that’s the story I would definitely like to hear more.

There’s been a lot of debate on vetting stories candidates tell about their personal history. This kind of reporting is absolutely essential if the person in question has nothing but a personal history. It does seem less crucial for contenders whose websites have issues sections the size of an encyclopedia. You could still ask O’Malley if he was the inspiration for the crafty mayor in “The Wire,” if only to introduce a discussion of popular TV shows that are not “The Celebrity Apprentice.” But further probing into that sex-fantasy essay Sanders wrote in 1972 seems unnecessary.

Sanders is still running a principled, no-frills campaign, but he’s not doing all that well in the polls. So do you think he’ll suddenly decide that everybody does care about those damned emails? He and O’Malley will both certainly argue that while their positions are almost all longstanding, Clinton has a tendency to shift with the political winds. What do you think she’ll say if someone demands to know why her opposition to the Obama Trans-Pacific trade agreement is so … recent?

A) “Nobody told me it included New Zealand.”

B) “The opportunity to speak one-on-one with the American people during this campaign has given me a whole new appreciation of the yarn situation.”

C) “It’s a deal that was designed for China.”

Better not to use the last option because 1) It’s a quote from Donald Trump and 2) China isn’t part of the agreement.

Krugman’s blog, 11/12/15

November 13, 2015

There were two posts yesterday.  The first was “Being An Inflation Hawk Means Never Having To Say You’re Sorry:”

Jeffrey Lacker, president of the Richmond Fed, is worried about inflation unless the Fed tightens quickly, ignoring the worriers. Here’s what he just said:

If we hope to keep inflation in check, we cannot be paralyzed by patches of lingering weakness.

Oh, wait: That’s what he said six years ago. It is, however, pretty much indistinguishable from what he is saying now.

It seems to me that this is a bit of much-needed context.

Yesterday’s second post was “Arguments From Irrelevant Authority:”

One curious aspect of economic debate these past five years or so has been the extent to which people demanding fiscal austerity and/or higher interest rates rely on what I think of as spurious authority figures — people who are well-known for some reason that has nothing at all to do with expertise in the subject at hand. I remember being told that the deficit must be a terrible threat because Admiral Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said so; so, are we going to rely on Janet Yellen to set naval strategy?

William Cohan’s latest attack on easy money is another illustration of the genre. (Here’s my reaction to an earlier venture.) Rather than making a coherent argument against Ben Bernanke, Cohan appeals to authority:

[His view] is also shared by, among others, a diverse group of smart people such as David Stockman, the former budget director for President Reagan; Kevin Warsh, a former Fed governor whom Mr. Bernanke thanks in his new best-selling memoir “The Courage to Act”; and Stanley Druckenmiller, the billionaire former hedge fund manager.

OK, so we have someone who Ronald Reagan appointed to high office almost 35 years ago, and who has spent recent years incessantly warning against looming hyperinflation (Neil Irwin calls his book “spittle-filled“); someone George W. Bush appointed to the Fed board, with no known track record of insightful pronouncements on economics, but a fairly long history of warning that something bad will happen any day now from loose money; and a very rich investor who got out of the business after making a bad bet on interest rates. This is not what I’d call a particularly diverse group. But more to the point, two out of the three are prominent only because someone appointed them to office, and the third has achieved impressive stuff, but not in an area relevant to this discussion.

Look, in general you should argue based on logic and evidence, not authority figures, whenever possible. Sometimes there is technical detail that forces reliance on experts to summarize the evidence — but in that case you should cite experts in the relevant area, not people who are or were important for reasons that have nothing to do with the subject. Arguments from irrelevant authority are a sign that you don’t have a substantive case, you’re lazy, or both.


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