Nocera, solo

October 3, 2015

Ms. Collins is off today.  In “O’Bannon’s Hollow Victory Over the N.C.A.A.” Mr. Nocera says the association is happy with a ruling that found it violated the law.  Here he is:

In the last 18 months, three government entities have concluded that theN.C.A.A. unfairly exploits college football and men’s basketball players.

First, in March 2014, Peter Sung Ohr, a regional director of the National Labor Relations Board, ruled that Northwestern University’s football team could form a union. Because the players work up to 50 hours a week on their sport, because their coach is effectively their boss and because their scholarships are a form of compensation, they are employees of the university, he said.

Five months later, a federal judge, Claudia Wilken, handed down her decision in the much-heralded O’Bannon case. After presiding over a three-week trial, she concluded that N.C.A.A. rules prohibiting college athletes from receiving cash compensation was a violation of the nation’s antitrust laws.

It was the first time any federal judge had held that the N.C.A.A.’s amateurism rules amounted to a form of price-fixing. Among other important things, she dismissed out of hand the association’s long-held claim that the Supreme Court had blessed its amateurism rules in the 1984 case N.C.A.A. v. Board of Regents — a case, I should note, the association lost.

And finally, on Wednesday, a panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, in a 2-1 decision, affirmed much of Wilken’s ruling. The judge was correct to conclude “that the N.C.A.A.’s compensation rules were an unlawful restraint of trade,” the appeals panel wrote.

And yet here we are, with the dust settling on that appeals court decision, and the N.C.A.A. not only is still standing but has barely been dented. Although Michael Hausfeld, Ed O’Bannon’s lead lawyer, quickly declared victory — and having the N.C.A.A. deemed an antitrust violator surely is a victory — the N.C.A.A. wasn’t exactly perturbed by the outcome. In a conference call, Mark Emmert, the association’s president, pronounced himself “pleased.”

As well he should be. For in each of the three rulings, the arbiters blinked.

The labor board, after hearing Northwestern’s appeal of Ohr’s decision, declined to rule on whether the football players were employees, even refusing, in a remarkable act of cowardice, to assert jurisdiction. Its abdication was a defeat for the players; one potential avenue of redress is now cut off from them.

Judge Wilken, for her part, ordered the N.C.A.A. to allow colleges to pay the full “cost of attendance” to football and men’s basketball players — that is, the difference between a player’s scholarship and the additional $3,000 to $4,000 expense of going to college. But this was something the association had already agreed to do, after pressure from the powerful conference commissioners.

She also said that schools could put up to $5,000 in a trust fund that a player could have access to once he left college. In other words, after saying that schools and the N.C.A.A. had colluded illegally, she basically agreed to sanction the collusion, just at a higher amount.

The Ninth Circuit decision was perhaps the bitterest blow of all. After spending much of their decision explaining why the amateurism rules are not exempt from antitrust scrutiny, the two judges in the majority spent the latter part of the decision echoing the N.C.A.A.’s hoary rationale that amateurism is the sine qua non of college sports. They eliminated Wilken’s $5,000 trust fund remedy on the grounds that paying cash compensation not related to education would not “preserve amateurism.” (They allowed the cost of attendance payments, however.)

It took the court’s chief justice, Sidney Thomas, to expose the fallacy of the majority’s reasoning in a stinging dissent. “The N.C.A.A. insists that this multibillion dollar industry would be lost if the teenagers and young adults who play for these college teams earn one dollar above their cost of school attendance,” he wrote. “That is a difficult argument to swallow.”

It’s not hard to understand why the courts, even now, won’t propose the obvious remedy that their antitrust rulings would seem to require: allowing the players to be paid. Decades of propaganda about the centrality of amateurism have had an effect.

But these decision makers also clearly fear that college sports will be thrown into chaos if schools can pay players — and they don’t want to be blamed. The labor board practically said as much. Of course that is also what baseball owners once said about the prospect of free agency, and Olympic officials about allowing in professional athletes. Those fears turned out to be unfounded. The same will be true if college players are paid.

On Thursday, Wilken held a hearing in another case against the N.C.A.A., called the Jenkins case. That case is intended to take the N.C.A.A.’s antitrust violations to their logical conclusion; the lawyer leading it, Jeffrey Kessler, wants to see all N.C.A.A. wage restraints abolished.

At one point during the hearing, Wilken said that the Ninth Circuit’s O’Bannon ruling won’t necessarily have any effect on the Jenkins case. We’ll find out soon enough whether she means it.

Krugman’s blog, 10/1/15

October 2, 2015

There was one post yesterday, “Prisoners of Derp:”

Matt O’Brien recalls Michael Kinsley’s pronouncement, five years ago, that inflation was coming, and his doubling down two years later. Kinsley, it turns out, remains unrepentant and very annoyed at the people who said that he didn’t know what he was talking about.

It’s really quite sad. Kinsley is a very smart guy, who also happens to have given me my big break into journalism by hiring me to write for Slate. But now he’s a prisoner of derp.

I’ve seen this a number of times, mainly in economics, although it happens in other fields (especially climate science) too. Somebody with a reputation for cleverness looks at, say, macroeconomics, and imagines himself smart enough to weigh in — not realizing that there is a technical discipline here, and that he, well, has no idea what he’s talking about.

And he chooses the wrong side, for whatever reason. I think Kinsley was, more than anything else, motivated by that TNR/Slate “counterintuitive” thing — hey, Bernanke and Krugman act like experts, but I’ll show my cleverness by taking the opposite position. For someone like Cliff Asness, it was more likely affinity fraud: the inflationistas sounded like his sort of people, and he didn’t realize that they were peddling derp.

So what do you do when it becomes clear that you did, indeed, pick the wrong side? You could pull a Kocherlakota — admit that you were wrong, and revise your world view. But that’s very rare. The great majority of people who find themselves having made an indefensible argument respond as Kinsley has, by doubling down trying to defend the indefensible — and by getting angrier and angrier at the people who warned them that they were getting it wrong.


Brooks and Krugman

October 2, 2015

Bobo, drenched in flop sweat while he whistles past the graveyard, now casts his eye to Carly.  (The Donald has them all terrified…)  In “Carly Fiorina: The Marketing Genius” he gurgles that Carly Fiorina’s rise will quickly flame out unless she develops an understanding of middle-class challenges necessary to back up her impressive rhetoric.  “Marketing genius” and “impressive rhetoric…”  Wow.  Just wow.  Here’s what “gemli” in Boston had to say in the comments:  “What an interesting rhetorical exercise this is. Brooks has penned an anti-paean, or maybe it’s an odious ode, to Carly Fiorina. He highlights her the way ISIS might highlight an ancient temple, first focusing our attention on it and then blowing it to pieces.”  Prof. Krugman tells us that “Voodoo Never Dies” and that the tax cuts favored by every Republican candidate just happen to be exactly what rich donors want.  How surprising…  Here’s Bobo:

Carly Fiorina’s presidential campaign has been built on confrontational moments. With impregnable self-confidence and a fearless intensity, she has out-Trumped Trump and landed the most telling and quotable blows on Hillary Clinton.

In such a giant field of candidates what matters most is the ability to grab the spotlight. The era of YouTube and FaceTime video links has further magnified the power of a candidate who can create significant moments. Fiorina is great at it, perfectly suited to this environment.

She can go on MSNBC or some other outlet and bludgeon a host with a barrage of forcefully delivered bullet points, which then goes viral. When challenged on the accuracy or fairness of her assertions, she blasts straight through.

Clinton and Fiorina appeared back to back on “Meet the Press” recently. Clinton was challenged on the email issue and tried affably to defend her conduct. Fiorina was challenged on the existence of a Planned Parenthood video she claims to have seen.

In contrast to Clinton, Fiorina simply refused to adopt a defensive posture. She ignored the challenges and just hit Planned Parenthood harder. The factual issue sort of got lost in her torrent. She was stylistically indomitable even if she didn’t address the substance of the critique.

She is in tune with an electorate that is disgusted with the political class. In her stump speech she tells story after story in which she walks into this or that lion’s den and takes on the establishment. Some of her stories involve taking on the male establishment in corporate America. Others involve taking on the inside-the-Beltway crowd where she lives.

And yet for all her feisty outsider bravado, if you actually look at her views on substance and her behavior in the past, she is a completely conventional Republican. She was a strong supporter of John McCain and Mitt Romney, the last two nominees. A lot of her language is the normal, vague corporate-speak about “leadership,” “unlocking potential,” and understanding the economy.

On policy grounds her views are orthodox. She doesn’t want to move the party to the left or right, or in a more populist, libertarian or moderate direction. Her core argument on the stump is that government has gotten too big and is crushing business, which is hardly an innovative message in a Republican primary.

On issues where her views once contradicted the current fashion, like No Child Left Behind, and a path to citizenship for immigrants, she has moved to be where Republican voters now are. She is where the consumers want her to be.

In short, stylistically she is a renegade outsider, but substantively she’s completely establishmentarian. Another way to say it is that her campaign is brilliantly creative in its marketing arm, but unimaginative when it comes to product development.

And this is where her business background comes into view. When she ran Hewlett-Packard the core critique against her was that she was really good at marketing but not good at tech or operations.

Different people have very different takes on her performance at HP, but when you talk to close observers and read some of the voluminous literature on her tenure, it’s hard to come away feeling sanguine. Most tellingly, she made the classic marketer’s error, letting her promises get far out in front of reality. As my colleague Joseph Nocera pointed out, under her, HP failed to meets it revenue and profit projections nine times. One time it missed its earnings projections by a gigantic 23 percent.

The positive theory of her campaign is that she’s perfectly suited for a Republican electorate that wants to vent its outrage at the political class and the timid party leadership, but which doesn’t really believe in any alternative direction. She gives the G.O.P. establishment rebellious fire, but is actually one of them.

The more likely scenario is that Fiorina fades over the next few months. In this race there’s been a huge gap between the campaigners, like Trump, Carson and Fiorina, and the governors — those with actual experience in government.

In this early phase the voters are indulging in a little free outrage, enjoying the campaigners. But history teaches that parties invariably nominate government officials. Sooner or later, voters want a candidate rooted in something more than a marketing strategy. They want someone authentically connected to middle-class concerns and with strategies for their specific challenges, like wage stagnation.

Opposing the political class is not an agenda. Unless Fiorina can become a lot more creative and sympathetically connected to working-class voters, she’ll fall to an opponent who will turn to her in debate and ask, “Where’s the beef?”

Now here’s Prof. Krugman:

So Donald Trump has unveiled his tax plan. It would, it turns out, lavish huge cuts on the wealthy while blowing up the deficit.

This is in contrast to Jeb Bush’s plan, which would lavish huge cuts on the wealthy while blowing up the deficit, and Marco Rubio’s plan, which would lavish huge cuts on the wealthy while blowing up the deficit.

For what it’s worth, it looks as if Trump’s plan would make an even bigger hole in the budget than Jeb’s. Jeb justifies his plan by claiming that it would double America’s rate of growth; The Donald, ahem, trumps this by claiming that he would triple the rate of growth. But really, why sweat the details? It’s all voodoo. The interesting question is why every Republican candidate feels compelled to go down this path.

You might think that there was a defensible economic case for the obsession with cutting taxes on the rich. That is, you might think that if you’d spent the past 20 years in a cave (or a conservative think tank). Otherwise, you’d be aware that tax-cut enthusiasts have a remarkable track record: They’ve been wrong about everything, year after year.

Some readers may remember the forecasts of economic doom back in 1993, when Bill Clinton raised the top tax rate. What happened instead was a sustained boom, surpassing the Reagan years by every measure.

Undaunted, the same people predicted great things as a result of George W. Bush’s tax cuts. What happened instead was a sluggish recovery followed by a catastrophic economic crash.

Most recently, the usual suspects once again predicted doom in 2013, when taxes on the 1 percent rose sharply due to the expiration of some of the Bush tax cuts and new taxes that help pay for health reform. What happened instead was job growth at rates not seen since the 1990s.

Then there’s the recent state-level evidence. Kansas slashed taxes, in what its right-wing governor described as a “real live experiment” in economic policy; the state’s growth has lagged ever since. California moved in the opposite direction, raising taxes; it has recently led the nation in job growth.

True, you can find self-proclaimed economic experts claiming to find overall evidence that low tax rates spur economic growth, but such experts invariably turn out to be on the payroll of right-wing pressure groups (and have an interesting habit of getting their numbers wrong). Independent studies of the correlation between tax rates and economic growth, for example by the Congressional Research Service, consistently find no relationship at all. There is no serious economic case for the tax-cut obsession.

Still, tax cuts are politically popular, right? Actually, no, at least when it comes to tax cuts for the wealthy. According to Gallup, only 13 percent of Americans believe that upper-income individuals pay too much in taxes, while 61 percent believe that they pay too little. Even among self-identified Republicans, those who say that the rich should pay more outnumber those who say they should pay less by two to one.

So every Republican who would be president is committed to a policy that is both demonstrably bad economics and deeply unpopular. What’s going on?

Well, consider the trajectory of Marco Rubio, who may at this point be the most likely Republican nominee. Last year he supported a tax-cut plan devised by Senator Mike Lee that purported to be aimed at the poor and the middle class. In reality, its benefits were strongly tilted toward high incomes — but it still drew harsh criticism from the right for giving too much to ordinary families while not cutting taxes on top incomes enough.

So Mr. Rubio came back with a plan that eliminated taxes on dividends, capital gains, and inherited wealth, providing a huge windfall to the very wealthy. And suddenly he was gaining a lot of buzz among Republican donors. The new plan would add trillions to the deficit, which conservatives claim to care about, but never mind.

In other words, it’s straightforward and quite stark: Republicans support big tax cuts for the wealthy because that’s what wealthy donors want. No doubt most of those donors have managed to convince themselves that what’s good for them is good for America. But at root it’s about rich people supporting politicians who will make them richer. Everything else is just rationalization.

Of course, once the Republicans settle on a nominee, an army of hired guns will be mobilized to obscure this stark truth. We’ll see claims that it’s really a middle-class tax cut, that it will too do great things for economic growth, and look over there — emails! And given the conventions of he-said-she-said journalism, this campaign of obfuscation may work.

But never forget that what it’s really about is top-down class warfare. That may sound simplistic, but it’s the way the world works.

Krugman’s blog, 9/30/15

October 1, 2015

There were four posts yesterday.  The first was “Tontines Explained:”

Trying to drag myself back to the real world — although my head still feels stuffed full of cotton. But I did want to weigh in on a Wonkblog piece from a couple of days ago about the possible virtues of tontines — retirement schemes in which the payouts go only to surviving members of a group. The article does reference a Simpsons episode; but surely we can’t tackle this subject without mentioning the movie The Wrong Box, with a plot that hinges on two brothers who are the sole survivors of a tontine. Here’s how the rest of the group went:

That’s one of the funniest movies ever made.  If you haven’t seen it, hie thee to Netflix…  Yesterday’s second post was “Commodities and Cranks:”

Does anyone remember the heyday of the inflationistas, when they were berating Ben Bernanke for debasing the dollar? One of their key arguments was that commodity prices were rising, and that this was a harbinger of soaring overall inflation.

So now, the same people are worried about deflation, and urging Janet Yellen to keep her pedal to the metal. Right? Right?

Funny how that doesn’t happen.

The third post yesterday was “Jeb Goes Galt:”

This is amazing:

“I think the left wants slow growth because that means people are more dependent upon government,” Bush told Fox Business’ Maria Bartiromo.

Remember, this is the establishment candidate for the GOP nomination — and he thinks he’s living in Atlas Shrugged.

They all do.  They’re the mole people.  And pray God they ALL “go Galt” so we don’t have to deal with them any more.  Yesterday’s last post was “The Fed Puzzle:”

OK, maybe it’s the ear infection, but I’m having a very hard time understanding what Peter Gourevitch is saying in this article name-checking me. Stuff is complicated? What?

In any case, however, Gourevitch seems to have missed a crucial point about my puzzlement over the Fed’s eagerness to raise rates. I’m not saying “I’m smart, so why aren’t they listening to me?” Yes, people can have different views about how the world works.

But the strange thing here is that as far as anyone can tell, the people inside the Fed who are eager to hike and the people outside the Fed who think it’s premature have more or less the same economic models in their heads. It’s not just me; Larry Summers, the IMF (presumably reflecting Olivier Blanchard), the World Bank, and more are aghast at the urge to hike; and the thing is, all of the outsiders come from the same Cambridge 1970s updated Keynesian school of macro as the key insiders. Most of us were Stan Fischer’s students!

So we’re trying to understand why the insiders have such a different view of appropriate policy from the outsiders when their intellectual apparatus is the same. If you don’t get that, you’re missing the point.

Blow, Kristof and Collins

October 1, 2015

In “Jeb Bush: Crying Out Loud” Mr. Blow says most of his speeches ooze over him like cold gruel. But there’s one special phrase, when he hears it, that tells him to perk up and pay attention.  In “The Most Important Thing, and It’s Almost a Secret” Mr. Kristof says everyone knows about the spread of war and the hopeless intractability of poverty. But everyone is wrong.  In “Planned Parenthood Talks” Ms. Collins says the only game in town goes into extra innings in Congress.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

In an interview this week with Sirius XM’s POTUS channel, the presidential candidate and former Florida governor Jeb Bush said that Washington Redskins was not an offensive team name. As Bush put it, “It’s a sport, for crying out loud. It’s a football team.” He continued, “I’m missing something here, I guess.”

Ah, Mr. Bush, you always seem to be missing something.

As The New York Times reported, But Change the Mascot, an advocacy group that represents Native American tribes, responded in a statement that read:

“What is surprising is that in promoting the use of this slur, the governor somehow believes he speaks for Native Americans and can assert that Native American people do not find this slur offensive.”

The Times also reported that according to a Federal Election Commission filing, the Redskins owner, Dan Snyder, “donated $100,000 this year to Right to Rise, the super PAC that supports Mr. Bush.”

As always, follow the money.

But there is something else that I also follow when it comes to Bush: his penchant for saying “for crying out loud,” particularly when his back is a bit against the wall and he realizes that what he’s saying will be found controversial by some. It seems to be his way of dampening backlash before it happens.

As a person who uses language for a living, I find it hard not to notice rhetorical quirks committed by others.

It has become something of a parlor game for me to note whenever he says “for crying out loud,” which always seems to signal some level of exasperation. And, somewhere around that phrase, he seems to say something interesting, sometimes something careless, nearly always something that makes news.

It’s one of those subconscious things that speakers do — like scratching their nose while telling a lie or taking a drink of water when listening to a question that makes them uncomfortable — that journalists learn to pay attention to.

For instance, while in Berlin during the summer, Bush addressed turmoil in his campaign, saying:

“This is an adjustment based on the skills of people that I got to know during the last three months. … It’s June, for crying out loud, so we’ve got a long way to go.”

When complaining that the Democratic presidential candidate Martin O’Malley should not have apologized for conflating “all lives matter” with “black lives matter,” Bush said:

“No, for crying out loud, no. We’re so uptight and so politically correct now that we apologize for saying lives matter?”

He continued:

“Life is precious. It’s a gift from God. I frankly think that it’s one of the most important values that we have. I know in the political context it’s a slogan, I guess. Should he have apologized? No.”

When a Democratic National Committee spokeswoman asserted in March that Republican hopefuls were being disingenuous in their attacks on Hillary Clinton over her email, and specifically asked “what emails has Jeb Bush not turned over?” Bush responded that he was “totally transparent. I have a BlackBerry as part of my official portrait, for crying out loud. There was nothing to hide.”

In August, Bush complained about the impracticality of building a border wall between the United States and Mexico, a plan advocated by the Republican front-runner. Bush detailed his own plan, which included beefing up the border patrol and local law enforcement along the border as well as using more technology like drones and GPS. Yet he demanded, “But do it as a conservative, for crying out loud.” He continued, “I don’t think we should spend hundreds of billions of dollars with an impractical solution.”

As a person who uses language for a living, I find it hard not to notice rhetorical quirks committed by others.

It has become something of a parlor game for me to note whenever he says “for crying out loud,” which always seems to signal some level of exasperation. And, somewhere around that phrase, he seems to say something interesting, sometimes something careless, nearly always something that makes news.

It’s one of those subconscious things that speakers do — like scratching their nose while telling a lie or taking a drink of water when listening to a question that makes them uncomfortable — that journalists learn to pay attention to.

For instance, while in Berlin during the summer, Bush addressed turmoil in his campaign, saying:

“This is an adjustment based on the skills of people that I got to know during the last three months. … It’s June, for crying out loud, so we’ve got a long way to go.”

When complaining that the Democratic presidential candidate Martin O’Malley should not have apologized for conflating “all lives matter” with “black lives matter,” Bush said:

“No, for crying out loud, no. We’re so uptight and so politically correct now that we apologize for saying lives matter?”

He continued:

“Life is precious. It’s a gift from God. I frankly think that it’s one of the most important values that we have. I know in the political context it’s a slogan, I guess. Should he have apologized? No.”

When a Democratic National Committee spokeswoman asserted in March that Republican hopefuls were being disingenuous in their attacks on Hillary Clinton over her email, and specifically asked “what emails has Jeb Bush not turned over?” Bush responded that he was “totally transparent. I have a BlackBerry as part of my official portrait, for crying out loud. There was nothing to hide.”

In August, Bush complained about the impracticality of building a border wall between the United States and Mexico, a plan advocated by the Republican front-runner. Bush detailed his own plan, which included beefing up the border patrol and local law enforcement along the border as well as using more technology like drones and GPS. Yet he demanded, “But do it as a conservative, for crying out loud.” He continued, “I don’t think we should spend hundreds of billions of dollars with an impractical solution.”

He was asked at a campaign event in Florida in July about his commitment to overhauling the immigration system. “Yes, for crying out loud,” he said. “It’s a broken system used as a wedge issue for political purposes.”

Many conservatives have accused Bush of supporting what they call amnesty and what others simply call a path to citizenship for some immigrants now illegally in the country. And of course, there was the conservative outrage over Bush saying that many immigrants come illegally as “an act of love.”

In an interview with Georgia Public Broadcasting following the first presidential debate in which Bush bombed, he blasted the front-runner for his criticism of one of the moderators, saying:

“Megyn Kelly is a top-notch journalist. And the fact that she asked the guy tough questions … I mean, if you’re running for president of the United States and you think this is tough, try dealing with Putin for crying out loud.”

Bush has been struggling to get his footing in the race and rebuff and detract from an onslaught of insults coming his way.

While campaigning in New Hampshire in August, Bush commented on the huge Republican field — trying to deflect attention from the fact that he was no longer the G.O.P. front-runner — and how the candidates compared with the Democratic front-runner:

“There’s a lot of differences amongst ourselves but the differences pale in comparison to the differences that I have with Hillary Clinton, for crying out loud.”

The list of Bush’s nervous usage of the idiom goes on and on. I could have filled every one of these column inches with examples.

But Mr. Bush, I must say that I appreciate your little quirk. Most of the time your speeches ooze over me like cold gruel. At least now, when I hear your say “for crying out loud,” I know to perk up and pay attention.

Just think … Jeb! is supposed to be “the smart one.”  Here’s Mr. Kristof:

We journalists are a bit like vultures, feasting on war, scandal and disaster. Turn on the news, and you see Syrian refugees, Volkswagen corruption, dysfunctional government.

Yet that reflects a selection bias in how we report the news: We cover planes that crash, not planes that take off. Indeed, maybe the most important thing happening in the world today is something that we almost never cover: a stunning decline in poverty, illiteracy and disease.

Huh? You’re wondering what I’ve been smoking! Everybody knows about the spread of war, the rise of AIDS and other diseases, the hopeless intractability of poverty.

One survey found that two-thirds of Americans believed that the proportion of the world population living in extreme poverty has almost doubled over the last 20 years. Another 29 percent believed that the proportion had remained roughly the same.

That’s 95 percent of Americans — who are utterly wrong. In fact, the proportion of the world’s population living in extreme poverty hasn’t doubled or remained the same. It has fallen by more than half, from 35 percent in 1993 to 14 percent in 2011 (the most recent year for which figures are available from the World Bank).

When 95 percent of Americans are completely unaware of a transformation of this magnitude, that reflects a flaw in how we journalists cover the world — and I count myself among the guilty. Consider:

• The number of extremely poor people (defined as those earning less than $1 or $1.25 a day, depending on who’s counting) rose inexorably until the middle of the 20th century, then roughly stabilized for a few decades. Since the 1990s, the number of poor has plummeted.

• In 1990, more than 12 million children died before the age of 5; this toll has since dropped by more than half.

• More kids than ever are becoming educated, especially girls. In the 1980s, only half of girls in developing countries completed elementary school; now, 80 percent do.

Granted, some 16,000 children still die unnecessarily each day. It’s maddening in my travels to watch children dying simply because they were born in the wrong place at the wrong time.

But one reason for our current complacency is a feeling that poverty is inevitable — and that’s unwarranted.

The world’s best-kept secret is that we live at a historic inflection point when extreme poverty is retreating. United Nations members have just adopted 17 new Global Goals, of which the centerpiece is the elimination of extreme poverty by 2030. Their goals are historic. There will still be poor people, of course, but very few who are too poor to eat or to send children to school. Young journalists or aid workers starting out today will in their careers see very little of the leprosy, illiteracy, elephantiasis and river blindness that I have seen routinely.

“We live at a time of the greatest development progress among the global poor in the history of the world,” notes Steven Radelet, a development economist and Georgetown University professor, in a terrific book coming in November, “The Great Surge: The Ascent of the Developing World.”

“The next two decades can be even better and can become the greatest era of progress for the world’s poor in human history,” Radelet writes.

I write often about inequality, a huge challenge in the U.S. But globally, inequality is diminishing, because of the rise of poor countries.

What does all this mean in human terms? I was thinking of that last week while interviewing Malala Yousafzai, the teenage Nobel Peace Prize winner. Malala’s mother grew up illiterate, like the women before her, and was raised to be invisible to outsiders. Malala is a complete contrast: educated, saucy, outspoken and perhaps the most visible teenage girl in the world.

Even in countries like Pakistan, the epoch of illiterate and invisible women like Malala’s mother is fading; the epoch of Malala is dawning. The challenge now is to ensure that rich donor nations are generous in supporting the Global Goals — but also that developing countries do their part, rather than succumbing to corruption and inefficiency. (I’m talking to you, Angola!)

There’s one last false argument to puncture. Cynics argue that saving lives is pointless, because the result is overpopulation that leads more to starve. Not true. Part of this wave of progress is a stunning drop in birthrates.

Haitian women now average 3.1 children; in 1985, they had six. In Bangladesh, women now average 2.2 children. Indonesians, 2.3. When the poor know that their children will survive, when they educate their daughters, when they access family planning, they have fewer children.

So let’s get down to work and, on our watch, defeat extreme poverty worldwide. We know that the challenges are surmountable — because we’ve already turned the tide of history.

And now here’s Ms. Collins:

Ten years ago, did you imagine that Planned Parenthood would be the center of our national political life? No, 10 years ago we were just worried about George W. Bush and high oil prices. Sometimes I miss high oil prices.

On Wednesday the House passed a bill to keep the government running until December. Only 91 Republicans supported the idea, because it included funding for Planned Parenthood. (Thank you for keeping the national parks open, Nancy Pelosi.) John Boehner resigned because he was exhausted with the fight.

Right now the House of Representatives has at least three different committees investigating Planned Parenthood. That’s a lot of committees, although you do have to remember that there were once seven investigating what happened in Benghazi. And the current House specialBenghazi investigation has now taken longer than the one that looked into Watergate.

“Everybody thought Hillary Clinton was unbeatable, right? But we put together a Benghazi special committee, a select committee. What are her numbers today? Her numbers are dropping,” Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy bragged to Sean Hannity on Fox News. McCarthy is hoping to succeed John Boehner as speaker, and he’s probably nervous about all the praise Boehner has been getting lately for evenhanded leadership. McCarthy’s remarks sounded awful to innocent bystanders — aren’t these things supposed to at least pretend to be fair? But it was probably meant to reassure his supporters that the team has never really faltered in its commitment to insanely irrational partisanship.

We will look forward to the questioning when Clinton appears before that special committee on Oct. 22. But about Planned Parenthood…

This week’s episode involved an appearance by Planned Parenthood head Cecile Richards before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. Some critics have claimed the members made no attempt to actually get any information from their witness, but just made speeches for the cameras. Well, duh. At least they let Richards into the room. Which is more than you could say for the Judiciary Committee’s recent hearing on “Planned Parenthood Exposed: Examining the Horrific Abortion Practices at the Nation’s Largest Abortion Provider.”

Richards was fine, whenever she could get a word in edgewise. She explained several times that Planned Parenthood’s federal funding was mainly just Medicaid payments for treating low-income patients. However this is a concept that her opponents made it clear they plan to never get their heads around.

Peering down at Richards, Representative John Duncan Jr., a Tennessee Republican, noted that the Boys & Girls Clubs of America “received $26 million from the federal government, compared to your $528 million. Seems a little bit lopsided to me.”

Richards mildly noted that as much as she respected the Boys & Girls Clubs, it doesn’t do a whole lot in the way of providing health care services to Medicaid recipients. Unmoved, Duncan then demanded to know if Richards would defend “the sale of baby body parts.”

This is of course a reference to those heavily doctored videos that are supposed to prove that Planned Parenthood sells fetal tissue for a profit. They have been determined to be false, false, false on one count after another, but the anti-abortion activist who made them has never been invited to a congressional hearing to explain anything.

The committee members are also sure that Planned Parenthood is replaceable. In the immortal words of Representative Jim Jordan of Ohio, they believe they can just “shift the money from an organization caught doing what they were caught doing and give it to the community health centers.” You can tell them a million times that there aren’t nearly enough providers to take care of all those low-income patients. You can show them congressional studies. You can also tell them that Planned Parenthood wasn’t caught doing anything. Never mind. It’s hopeless.

Several Democrats on the committee charged their Republican colleagues with sexism because they continually interrupted Richards and talked over her answers. (Representative Gerry Connolly of Virginia complained about “the disrespect, the misogyny rampant here today.”) But to be fair, this is really standard operating procedure in the House these days, and Richards, who is the daughter of former Texas Gov. Ann Richards, is not exactly a delicate flower.

Her interrogators also harped on her salary, which is more than $520,000 a year. It’s a lot of cash, but not a stunning amount of money for a job at that level, even for a normal large nonprofit where the challenges are mainly administration and fund-raising. Being at the helm of Planned Parenthood in the current climate is more like steering a boat carrying unstable explosives through a rocky and narrow channel while surrounded on both sides by enemy pirates throwing burning torches and threatening to close down the government.

The base salary for the head of the Boys & Girls Clubs, by the way, is $576,000.

Krugman’s blog, 9/29/15

September 30, 2015

There was one post yesterday, “And Then There Were None:”

Well, predictions of full recovery were premature — that is, of my recovery from the nasty cold of the past few days. Hence no posting: microbe economics overwhelmed macroeconomics.

But I do want to weigh in for a minute on Donald Trump’s tax plan — which would, surprise, lavish huge cuts on the wealthy while blowing up the deficit. That’s in contrast to Jeb Bush’s plan, which would lavish huge cuts on the wealthy while blowing up the deficit, and Marco Rubio’s plan, which would lavish huge cuts on the wealthy while blowing up the deficit.

At this point there are no Republican candidates deviating at all from the usual pattern. Why, it’s almost as if nobody in the party ever cared about deficits except as an excuse to slash social spending, and is totally committed to redistributing income upward.

And there is, of course, no evidence — zero, nada, zilch — that cutting taxes on the rich will yield large economic benefits.

What we’re seeing here is a party completely incapable of reforming …

Friedman and Bruni

September 30, 2015

In “Syria, Obama and Putin” TMOW says it’s better to be wary of getting involved in Syria than rushing to do so.  What a surprise — he’s not immediately banging on his little tin war drum.  Mr. Bruni has written a disgraceful POS called “Hillary Clinton’s Pajama Party” in which he channels MoDo and hisses that with Lena Dunham, the candidate gives us a fresh glimpse of her labored spontaneity.  In the comments “Rosa” from CA had this to say:  “It was your choice to write this silly article about pajamas and penises. Too bad you wasted the space. But I’m getting used to wasted space when it comes to the Times and Clinton. Whether it is Benghazi or emails, I am so beyond caring. I no longer listen to you. No matter what it is, she won’t get a fair shake and I won’t get any information on what she REALLY is doing…. unless I go elsewhere, and I do.  Now, here’s a real news flash for you: It seems that Kevin McCarthy may not be a shoo-in. The Hard Right Crazies are working to get Trey Gowdy to replace Boehner. You know Gowdy: the one who’s run the Benghazi Committee for years. He hates her with a passion. Swears he’ll get her on something. I believe he has a penis, too. You can write about him. You can even write about him in glowing terms like you and the Times do on all those Klowns.  Don’t become as irrelevant as Maureen Dowd, Frank.”  Amen, sister.  Here’s TMOW:

Your Honor, I rise again in defense of President Barack Obama’s policy on Syria.

Obama has been right in his ambivalence about getting deeply involved in Syria. But he’s never had the courage of his own ambivalence to spell out his reasoning to the American people. He keeps letting himself get pummeled into doing and saying things that his gut tells him won’t work, so he gets the worst of all worlds: His rhetoric exceeds the policy, and the policy doesn’t work.

Meanwhile, Obama’s Republican critics totally lack the wisdom of our own experience. They blithely advocate “fire, ready, aim” in Syria without any reason to believe their approach will work there any better than it did for us in Iraq or Libya. People who don’t know how to fix inner-city Baltimore think they know how to rescue downtown Aleppo — from the air!

Personally, I’ll take the leader who lacks the courage of his own ambivalence over the critics who lack the wisdom of their own experience. But ambivalence is not a license to do nothing. We can do things that make a difference, but only if we look at our enemies and allies in Syria with clear eyes.

For instance, today’s reigning cliché is that the wily fox, President Vladimir Putin of Russia, has once again outmaneuvered the flat-footed Americans, by deploying some troops, planes and tanks to Syria to buttress the regime of President Bashar al-Assad and to fight the Islamic State forces threatening him. If only we had a president who was so daring, so tough, so smart.

Really? Well think about this: Let’s say the U.S. did nothing right now, and just let Putin start bombing ISIS and bolstering Assad. How long before every Sunni Muslim in the Middle East, not to mention every jihadist, has Putin’s picture in a bull’s eye on his cellphone?

The Sunni Muslims are the vast majority in Syria. They are the dominant sect in the Arab world. Putin and Russia would be seen as going all-in to protect Assad, a pro-Iranian, Alawite/Shiite genocidal war criminal. Putin would alienate the entire Sunni Muslim world, including Russian Muslims.

Moreover, let’s say by some miracle the Russians defeat ISIS. The only way to keep them defeated is by replacing them with moderate Sunnis. Which moderate Sunnis are going to align with Russia while Putin is seen as the prime defender of the barrel-bombing murderer of more Sunnis than anyone on the planet, Bashar al-Assad?

Putin stupidly went into Syria looking for a cheap sugar high to show his people that Russia is still a world power. Well, now he’s up a tree. Obama and John Kerry should just leave him up there for a month — him and Assad, fighting ISIS alone — and watch him become public enemy No. 1 in the Sunni Muslim world. “Yo, Vladimir, how’s that working for you?”

The only way Putin can get down from that tree is with our help in forging a political solution in Syria. And that only happens if the Russians and the Iranians force Assad — after a transition — to step down and leave the country, in return for the opposition agreeing to protect the basic safety and interests of Assad’s Alawite community, and both sides welcoming an international force on the ground to guarantee the deal.

But to get there we need to size our rhetoric with our interests in Syria as well. Our interests right now are to eliminate or contain the two biggest metastasizing threats: ISIS — whose growth can threaten the islands of decency in the region like Lebanon, the Kurds and Jordan — and the tragedy of Syrian refugees, whose numbers are growing so large they are swamping Lebanon and Jordan and, if they continue, could destabilize the European Union, our vital partner in the world.

If we want something better — multisectarian democracy in Syria soon — we would have to go in and build it ourselves. The notion that it would only take arming more Syrian moderates is insane.

During the weekend The Times reported that “nearly 30,000 foreign fighters have traveled to Iraq and Syria from more than 100 countries since 2011.” So 30,000 people have gone to Syria to join ISIS to promote jihad and a caliphate. How many Arabs and Muslims have walked to Syria to promote multisectarian democracy? Apparently zero.

Why do we have to search for moderates like a man with a dowsing rod looking for water, and then train them, while no one has to train the jihadists, who flock there? It’s because the jihadists are in the grip of ideals, albeit warped ones. There is no critical mass of Syrian moderates in the grip of ideals; they will fight for their own homes and families, but not for an abstract ideal like democracy. We try to make up for that with military “training,” but it never works.

Are there real democrats among the Syrian opposition? You bet, but not enough, not with the organization, motivation and ruthlessness of their opponents.

Everyone wants an immaculate intervention in Syria, one where you look like you’re doing something, but without the political cost of putting troops on the ground or having to make unpleasant compromises with unsavory people. There is no such option.

I think Putin’s rash rush into Syria may in the end make him more in need of a deal, or at least a lasting cease-fire, that stops the refugee flows. If we can do that, for now, we will have done a lot.

And now here’s Mr. Bruni’s disgraceful offering:

She had a law career, an ambitious agenda as first lady, an industrious stint in the Senate, those years and miles as secretary of state.

And it has come to this: In a bid to seem less stuffy and turn the page on a beleaguered (yet again) presidential campaign, Hillary Clinton is chatting with Lena Dunham about the singer Lenny Kravitz’s penis.

You can watch the video yourself. It’s a jokey promotion for an interview of Clinton just published in a new newsletter that Dunham is putting out. You can also see a comedic sketch of Dunham’s arrival at Clinton’s campaign headquarters in Brooklyn and the make-believe refusal of a Clinton gatekeeper to let her in. There’s even a cameo by Amy Schumer.

The interview itself covers Clinton’s biography and some serious terrain, including feminism and the relationship between African-Americans and the police.

But it’s in large part a Dunham-Clinton love-in, a pajama party minus the pajamas, ostensibly in keeping with the Clinton campaign’s recent pledge to roll out a warmer, funnier version of the candidate. I’ve lost count of which version we’re on.

In the promotional video, Clinton kids that because Dunham’s newsletter and the website associated with it are called Lenny, she half expected that the person coming to question her might be Kravitz.

Dunham then mentions some viral footage of a Kravitz wardrobe malfunction: “His stuff fell out of his pants.”

Clinton feigns fascination. “I’ll look for that,” she says.

I blame us in part. For years we’ve demanded that she show us something more raw, that she weep or bleed or chirp or quip, that a policy wonk isn’t enough, that a résumé is only the start.

We’ve reminded her of how nimbly her husband pivoted from noonday speech to late-night saxophone. We’ve insisted that our presidents and would-be presidents not only inspire but also divert us. And we’ve pumped up the scandals, ratcheting up the pressure on her to feed us distractions.

But still I’m baffled. How can her response to charges that she’s too packaged and calculating be this packaged and calculated? And to counter her image as entrenched political royalty, why would she enlist stars whose presence merely emphasizes her pull with, and membership in, the glittery world of celebrity?

“Insane,” said one Democratic operative when I sought his reaction.

“It’s a transparent and ham-handed attempt to appeal to a niche audience that the campaign has identified as a critical target,” he added, referring to progressive young women. “But if they’re not already getting Lena Dunham and her cohorts, they’re in even bigger trouble than I thought.”

I think that Clinton is actually in less trouble than we sometimes speculate. She remains the overwhelming favorite for the Democratic nomination.

But her campaign so far is an unimpressive dress rehearsal for the general election. It’s devoid of soul and sweep, a series of labored gestures and precisely staked positions. Constituency by constituency, leftward adjustment by leftward adjustment, she and her aides slog and muscle their way forward.

And they contradict the adage that a politician campaigns in poetry and governs in prose. Clinton campaigns in something more like a PowerPoint presentation. Prose would be an upgrade. Poetry is light years away.

That’s what the Democratic strategist David Axelrod was getting at when, about two weeks ago, he tweeted: “It’s still HRC’s to lose, despite new polls. But it’s hard to inspire w/grinding, tactical race. ‘Hillary: Live With It’ is no rallying cry!”

No it isn’t, not even if Dunham and Schumer put funny faces on it.

It’s to Dunham’s shrewd credit that she grabbed a piece of the action. It serves her well.

But for Clinton? It’s a contrivance.

Earlier this month, The Times’s Amy Chozick interviewed her aides and reported that there would be “new efforts to bring spontaneity to a candidacy that sometimes seems wooden and overly cautious.”

An effort at spontaneity: that’s the prompt for sitting down with Dunham — who assures Clinton that she’s a fashion icon and implores her to wear dresses that show her shoulders — and it’s the oxymoronic story of Clinton’s political life.

She is routinely reintroducing herself, forever trumpeting the real Hillary this time, constantly promising the unguarded Hillary at long last.

But the real Hillary has always been there, the thread running through all the changes in costumes and hairstyles and campaign events.

She is fiercely intelligent but, yes, wildly defensive. She does her homework with uncommon diligence and earnestness but can be a dud on the stump. She’s impressively controlled. She’s distressingly controlling.

There’s more than enough good in that mix for voters to make peace with it. But first Clinton has to make peace with it herself.

He should be ashamed of himself.  Actually, he should write an apology and then STFU about politics and go back to being a restaurant reviewer.

Brooks and Nocera

September 29, 2015

Bobo, FSM help us, has decided to grapple with “The Prison Problem.”  He gurgles that the war on drugs and sentencing laws are often blamed for packed cells, but that explanation’s wrong, and the true causes are even harder to reverse.  Of course there’s one cause that Bobo didn’t bother to factor into his babbling.  In the comments “Mark” from Cheboyagen, MI asks the blindingly obvious question:  “Doesn’t the for profit prison system bear mentioning?”  Not if you’re Bobo, it doesn’t.  Mr. Nocera has a question:  “Is Donald Trump Serious?”  He says The Donald says yes, but his positions on the issues suggest otherwise.  Here’s Bobo:

Pretty much everybody from Barack Obama to Carly Fiorina seems to agree that far too many Americans are stuck behind bars. And pretty much everybody seems to have the same explanation for how this destructive era of mass incarceration came about.

First, the war on drugs got out of control, meaning that many nonviolent people wound up in prison. Second, mandatory-minimum sentencing laws led to a throw-away-the-key culture, with long, cruel and pointlessly destructive prison terms.

It’s true that mass incarceration is a horrific problem. Back in the 1970s the increase in incarceration did help reduce the crime rate, maybe accounting for a third of the drop. But today’s incarceration levels do little to deter crime while they do much to rip up families, increase racial disparities and destroy lives.

The popular explanation for how we got here, however, seems to be largely wrong, and most of the policy responses flowing from it may therefore be inappropriate.

The drug war is not even close to being the primary driver behind the sharp rise in incarceration. About 90 percent of America’s prisoners are held in state institutions. Only 17 percent of these inmates are in for a drug-related offense, or less than one in five.

Moreover, the share of people imprisoned for drug offenses is dropping sharply, down by 22 percent between 2006 and 2011. Writing in Slate, Leon Neyfakh emphasized that if you released every drug offender from state prison today, you’d reduce the population only to 1.2 million from 1.5 million.

The war on drugs does not explain the rocketing rates of incarceration, and ending that war, wise or not, will not solve this problem.

The mandatory-minimum theory is also problematic. Experts differ on this, but some of the most sophisticated work with the best data sets has been done by John Pfaff of Fordham Law School. When I spoke with Pfaff on Monday I found him to be wonderfully objective, nonideological and data-driven.

His research suggests that while it’s true that lawmakers passed a lot of measures calling for long prison sentences, if you look at how much time inmates actually served, not much has changed over the past few decades. Roughly half of all prisoners have prison terms in the range of two to three years, and only 10 percent serve more than seven years. The laws look punitive, but the time served hasn’t increased, and so harsh laws are not the main driver behind mass incarceration, either.

So what does explain it? Pfaff’s theory is that it’s the prosecutors. District attorneys and their assistants have gotten a lot more aggressive in bringing felony charges. Twenty years ago they brought felony charges against about one in three arrestees. Now it’s something like two in three. That produces a lot more plea bargains and a lot more prison terms.

I asked Pfaff why prosecutors are more aggressive. He’s heard theories. Maybe they are more political and they want to show toughness to raise their profile to impress voters if they run for future office. Maybe the police are bringing stronger cases. Additionally, prosecutors are usually paid by the county but prisons by the state, so prosecutors tend not to have to worry about the financial costs of what they do.

Pfaff says there’s little evidence so far to prove any of these theories, since the prosecutorial world is largely a black box. He also points out that we have a radically decentralized array of prosecutors, with some elected and some appointed. Changing their behavior cannot be done with one quick fix.

Some politicians and activists suggest that solving this problem will be easy — just release the pot smokers and the low-level dealers. In reality, reducing mass incarceration means releasing a lot of once-violent offenders. That may be the right thing to do in individual cases, but it’s a knotty problem.

Two final points. Everybody is railing against the political establishment and experts and experienced politicians. But social problems are invariably more complex than they look. The obvious explanation for most problems is often wrong. It takes experience and craftsmanship to design policies that grapple with the true complexity of reality.

Finally, recategorizing a problem doesn’t solve it. In the 1970s, we let a lot of people out of mental institutions. Over the next decades we put a lot of people into prisons. But the share of people kept out of circulation has been strangely continuous. In the real world, crime, lack of education, mental health issues, family breakdown and economic hopelessness are all intertwined.

Changing prosecutor behavior might be a start. Lifting the spirits of inmates, as described in the outstanding Atlantic online video “Angola for Life,” can also help. But the fundamental situation won’t be altered without a comprehensive surge, unless we flood the zone with economic, familial, psychological and social repair.

Now here’s Mr. Nocera:

As part of his ongoing effort to make a mockery of the American political process, Donald Trump released his tax plan on Monday morning. This is the third official policy position he has laid out in the three and a half months he’s been running for president.

His opening salvo, of course, was his absurd proposal to round up the 11 million illegal immigrants living in this country and deport them, en masse, while also building an impenetrable wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. “It’ll actually be a wall that will look good,” he actually told Scott Pelley on “60 Minutes” on Sunday night.

His second position paper, which hasn’t gotten nearly the attention it deserves, is a no-holds-barred defense of the Second Amendment that the National Rifle Association could have written. Among other things, Trump says that we don’t need expanded background checks, and that concealed carry permits — he has one himself, in case you were wondering — should be valid in all 50 states, just like a driver’s license.

His tax plan, at least, is not completely irrational. Then again, “a broken clock is right twice a day,” as Edward Kleinbard, a law professor and tax expert at the University of Southern California’s Gould School of Law, puts it.

Kleinbard told me he likes the fact that Trump wants to tax profits that companies earn abroad at the time they are earned, just like domestic profits. That would help end the practice of American companies parking their profits overseas, because they are now taxed only upon repatriation. (Trump also wants to impose a one-time tax on those overseas profits, which would raise some $200 billion.)

A second tax expert I spoke to, Robert Willens, noted that Trump’s plan would end corporate “inversions,” whereby companies list an overseas “headquarters” to take advantage of another country’s lower tax rate. The reason, though, is that Trump’s proposed 15 percent corporate tax rate is so low that companies wouldn’t need to leave to enjoy drastically lower taxes.

Trump says his plan will also prevent American companies from moving jobs overseas. But it won’t. Companies might move their headquarters back to the U.S., but the main job sources — factories — will remain in countries that have lower labor costs, not lower taxes. And neither Trump nor anyone else running for president can fix that.

What is irrational is Trump’s belief that he can cut corporate taxes from 35 to 15 percent, can cut the top income tax rate from 39.6 to 25 percent, can allow millions of additional Americans to go untaxed completely (they’ll be able to fill out a form that says “I win”), can abolish the estate tax and can lower the maximum capital gains tax from 23.8 percent to 20 percent, and still be “revenue neutral.”

Where will the revenue come from to make up for those tax cuts? It’s not going to come from whacking the “hedge fund guys,” as he likes to call them. Though Trump proposes to end their “carried interest” tax break, his new maximum individual rate of 25 percent means their tax burden would barely budge. And though he claims he will get rid of various unspecified deductions, he didn’t dare touch the one individual deduction that matters: the mortgage interest deduction. Somebody must have told him that that would cost him in the polls.

Like almost everything else about the Trump campaign, his tax plan is hard to take seriously. (To be fair, most of the tax plans put forth by his Republican rivals are hard to take seriously.) During the “60 Minutes” interview, Trump told Pelley that he would force the Chinese to “do something” about North Korea’s nuclear program — while also preventing them from devaluing their currency! — that he would get rid of Obamacare — while instituting universal coverage! — and that he was on more magazine covers than “almost any supermodel.”

You could see Pelley struggling to keep a straight face.

I wonder, in fact, whether even now Trump is a serious candidate, or whether this is all a giant publicity ploy. Once a real developer, Trump is largely a licenser today; the more famous he becomes, the more he can charge to slap his name on buildings or perfume or men’s suits.

I’m not alone in wondering this, of course. Several Republican consultants I spoke to openly questioned whether Trump is in it for the long haul. “You would see him spending a lot more money if he were putting together a true national infrastructure,” said Rick Wilson, a Republican strategist.

There’s one other thing. All his life, Trump has had a deep need to be perceived as a “winner.” He always has to be perceived coming out on top. That’s why, ultimately, I don’t think he’ll ever put himself at the mercy of actual voters in a primary. To do so is to risk losing. And everyone will know it.

He’ll be out before Iowa. You read it here first.

From your pixels to the FSM’s noodly appendage…

Krugman’s blog, 9/26/15

September 28, 2015

There was one post on Saturday, “Economics: What Went Right:”

Sorry about lack of music. I was traveling while suffering from a cold, and the combination of congestion and pressure changes was really, really unpleasant. OK now, I think.

I’m at EconEd; here are my slides for later today. The theme of my talk is something I’ve emphasized a lot over the past few years: basic macroeconomics has actually worked remarkably well in the post-crisis world, with those of us who took our Hicks seriously calling the big stuff — the effects of monetary and fiscal policy — right, and those who went with their gut getting it all wrong. (Matt O’Brien has been reminding us of Michael Kinsley’s insistence that inflation was coming — and his refusal to conclude from the experience that people like me might, you know, actually know something.)

One thing I do try is to concede that one piece of the conventional story hasn’t worked that well, namely the Phillips curve, where the “clockwise spirals” of previous protracted large output gaps haven’t materialized. Maybe it’s about what happens at very low inflation rates.

What’s notable about the Fed’s urge to raise rates, however, is that Fed officials, including Janet Yellen, are acting as if they have high confidence in their models of inflation dynamics –which is the one thing we really haven’t done well at recently. I really fear that we’re looking at incestuous amplification here.

Blow, Cohen and Krugman

September 28, 2015

In “Jeb Bush, ‘Free Stuff’ and Black Folks” Mr. Blow says this is more of the paternalistic attitude that ignores racism and assumes that blacks want to be victims.  In “An Unreliable Germany and the Volkswagen Debacle” Mr. Cohen says Volkswagen cheats, a timely reminder that German leadership will fail if the temptation to hand out lessons is not resisted.  In “The Blackmail Caucus. a.k.a. the Republican Party” Prof. Krugman says the Republican Party in the Boehner era has had little understanding of economic or political facts, and it will probably get worse.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

At a campaign event in South Carolina on Thursday, Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush was asked how he planned to include black people in his campaign and get them to vote for him.

Bush responded, “Our message is one of hope and aspiration.” But he didn’t stop there. He continued: “It isn’t one of division and get in line and we’ll take care of you with free stuff. Our message is one that is uplifting — that says you can achieve earned success.”

There it is! If you let people talk long enough, the true self will always be revealed. Not only is there a supreme irony in this racial condescension that casts black people, whose free labor helped establish the prosperity of this country and who were systematically excluded from the full benefits of that prosperity for generations, as leeches only desirous of “free stuff,” this line of reasoning also infantilizes black thought and consciousness and presents an I-know-best-what-ails-you paternalism about black progress.

It echoes the trope about lazy “welfare queens,” although as a report last year from the Congressional Research Service makes clear: “Historically, nonwhite women had a higher labor force participation rate than did white women. This especially held true for married women.”

Furthermore, although blacks are disproportionately the recipients of programs likes the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, a 2013 report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities found that most households with at least one working-age, non-disabled adult receiving the benefit work, and of those with families, “almost 90 percent work in the prior or subsequent year.”

The problem isn’t refusal to work, but inability to find work that is stable and pays a living wage, thereby pushing them out of need and eligibility.

Bush’s comment also hints at the role of black men without acknowledging the disastrous toll racially skewed patterns of mass incarceration have taken on the fortunes of black families by disproportionately ensnaring black men.

All history and context are cast aside in support of a specious argument: That the black community is plagued by pathological dependence and a chronic, self-defeating posture of victimization.

And this is not some one-time slip of the tongue for Bush. In Bush’s book written two decades ago, “Profiles in Character,” he wrote: “Since the 1960s, the politics of victimization has steadily intensified. Being a victim gives rise to certain entitlements, benefits, and preferences in society. The surest way to get something in today’s society is to elevate one’s status to that of the oppressed. Many of the modern victim movements — the gay rights movement, the feminist movement, the black empowerment movement — have attempted to get people to view themselves as part of a smaller group deserving of something from society. It is a major deviation from the society envisioned by Martin Luther King, who would have had people judged by the content of their character and not by the color of their skin — or sexual preference or gender or ethnicity.”

Not only does this completely ignore the historical and structural effect of America’s endemic anti-black racism, it also misinterprets King’s own understanding of this phenomenon.

As King told an audience at Stanford University in 1967, he understood that the dismantling of legal segregation was in a way, the easy part. It was the structural racism, not written in law but on in the minds of men, that was harder to change.

He blasted “large segments of white society” for being “more concerned about tranquillity and the status quo than about justice, equality, and humanity.” He slammed what he calls the “white backlash” for being the cause of black discontent and shouts for Black Power, rather than the result of it, calling it “merely a new name for an old phenomenon.” And he declared that true integration “is not merely a romantic or aesthetic something where you merely add color to a still predominantly white power structure.”

You see, King wasn’t naïvely oblivious to structural racism and how it cloistered power and inhibited mobility and equality; he was acutely aware of it and adamantly opposed to it. It wasn’t about victimization, but honest appraisal. Most black people don’t want America’s prescriptions, pittances or pity, and never have.

James Baldwin told The Paris Review three decades ago that he refused to think of himself as a victim, and that “perhaps the turning point in one’s life is realizing that to be treated like a victim is not necessarily to become one.” As Baldwin explained it, “if I took the role of a victim then I was simply reassuring the defenders of the status quo; as long as I was a victim they could pity me and add a few more pennies to my home-relief check.”

Pity doesn’t dismantle privilege, but supports it. Pity requires a perch. It rolls down. Pity reinforces imbalances of power. It can be violence operating as benevolence.

Black folk don’t want “free stuff” as much as the fulfillment of the promise of freedom: true equality of access, opportunity and justice. Bush — and America — would do well to consider that.

Next up we have Mr. Cohen:

Germany’s leading company has toyed with the air people breathe. That’s shocking. In historical context, it’s devastating.

The Volkswagen scandal elicits more than dismay. It is one of those moments when the entire culture of a nation — in this case one of scrupulous honesty, acceptance of rules, reliability, environmental sensitivity and atoning dedication to the common good — is called into question.

Germany is never quite what it seems. There is a strain between its order and its urges. Formality may mask frenzy. When things go wrong, they tend to go wrong in a big way.

Postwar suspicion of it led other European nations and the United States to devote the bulk of their strategic energy to ensuring that Germany would never be all-powerful again. That, in fact, was their overriding concern.

The nation’s Constitution, its federal political architecture, its membership in the European Union, its place in NATO, even its adoption of the euro, were all in some ways constraining measures designed to avoid what has now come about: German dominance of Europe.

This development probably makes Germans themselves and other Europeans uneasy in equal measure. Europe needs leadership. But Germany is reluctant to lead: been there, tried that. Europeans, in turn, are reluctant to be led by a German chancellor. Self-righteous finger wagging from Germany, of the kind meted out in large doses to a near-bankrupt Greece, tends to rankle.

And at this moment, when all eyes are on German leadership — a phrase that long seemed oxymoronic — along comes the company perhaps most synonymous with Germany to install “defeat device” technology on its cars, cheat on emissions tests, spew deadly pollutants into the atmosphere from 11 million diesel cars, and declare in effect that it does not give a damn about people’s health so long as it becomes the world’s biggest automaker.

“I am not aware of any wrongdoing on my part,” said Martin Winterkorn, who quit last week as Volkswagen’s chief executive. “Volkswagen needs a fresh start.”

Talk about tone deaf. The wrongdoing has a name: Nitrogen oxides.

The man who led Volkswagen for eight years says he’s not aware he did anything wrong as he oversaw the biggest corporate scandal in the carmaker’s history — a massive, multiyear exercise in deception backed by persistent obfuscation when confronted with evidence of cheating.

Winterkorn is right. Volkswagen, with its 600,000 employees worldwide, needs a fresh start. Its engineers — adorned with angel wings, no less, in some ads because they were supposedly doing genial things — in fact plotted a nasty scam. But a fresh start won’t come through denial of personal responsibility.

Nor was the speed with which Winterkorn was replaced from within encouraging. It gave the appearance that no time was given to consideration of outside candidates. Matthias Müller, the former head of Porsche who became the new chief executive, is close to the Piëch and Porsche families, who together control a majority of Volkswagen’s voting shares. With a reputation for bluntness, he may prove the best man for the job. But the appointment smacked of cozy arrangements and a quick fix at a time when the company needs a harsh and deliberate appraisal of how things went so disastrously wrong.

Volkswagen is not the first company to cut corners to make money. It is not the first big company to betray trust and show contempt for society. It is not even the first global corporation to demonstrate a reckless disregard for people’s health and the environment. To state the obvious, there is nothing peculiarly German about such behavior.

But there is something peculiarly German about the chasm between professed moral rectitude and reckless wrongdoing, between high culture and low conduct, between angels’ wings and nitrogen oxides; and there is something peculiarly German about the devastating impact this has. Volkswagen should be mindful of the extent of the debacle as it assesses how to rectify the damage to its global clients, itself and Germany. Winterkorn’s throwaway line was shameful.

Germany has been pretty relentless about Greek cheating on its public accounts, tax evasion, nepotism, lax work habits and the rest. It had a case. Greece did all the above to get itself and the eurozone into their current hole. But its prescription — be more like hardworking, honest, reliable, virtuous Germany and get there through austerity alone — was far too rigid, and now all those lessons about cheating smack of gross hypocrisy. Leadership from the new Germany will fail if the temptation to hand out lessons is not resisted.

Earlier this year the chairman of another major German company, Lufthansa, initially insisted his company had done everything right after the co-pilot of its Germanwings jet deliberately crashed in France, killing himself and the other 149 people on board. Then he backed down and apologized for an oversight.

It’s time for some serious German soul-searching. Leadership demands that.

It’s WAY past time for some of the MOTU like those in charge of Volkswagen to be tossed into the sneezer.  Now here’s Prof. Krugman:

John Boehner was a terrible, very bad, no good speaker of the House. Under his leadership, Republicans pursued an unprecedented strategy of scorched-earth obstructionism, which did immense damage to the economy and undermined America’s credibility around the world.

Still, things could have been worse. And under his successor they almost surely will be worse. Bad as Mr. Boehner was, he was just a symptom of the underlying malady, the madness that has consumed his party.

For me, Mr. Boehner’s defining moment remains what he said and did as House minority leader in early 2009, when a newly inaugurated President Obama was trying to cope with the disastrous recession that began under his predecessor.

There was and is a strong consensus among economists that a temporary period of deficit spending can help mitigate an economic slump. In 2008 astimulus plan passed Congress with bipartisan support, and the case for a further stimulus in 2009 was overwhelming. But with a Democrat in the White House, Mr. Boehner demanded that policy go in the opposite direction, declaring that “American families are tightening their belts. But they don’t see government tightening its belt.” And he called for government to “go on a diet.”

This was know-nothing economics, and incredibly irresponsible at a time of crisis; not long ago it would have been hard to imagine a major political figure making such a statement. Did Mr. Boehner actually believe what he was saying? Was he just against anything Mr. Obama was for? Or was he engaged in deliberate sabotage, trying to block measures that would help the economy because a bad economy would be good for Republican electoral prospects?

We’ll probably never know for sure, but those remarks set the tone for everything that followed. The Boehner era has been one in which Republicans have accepted no responsibility for helping to govern the country, in which they have opposed anything and everything the president proposes.

What’s more, it has been an era of budget blackmail, in which threats that Republicans will shut down the government or push it into default unless they get their way have become standard operating procedure.

All in all, Republicans during the Boehner era fully justified the characterization offered by the political analysts Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein, in their book “It’s Even Worse Than You Think.” Yes, the G.O.P. has become an “insurgent outlier” that is “ideologically extreme” and “unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science.” And Mr. Boehner did nothing to fight these tendencies. On the contrary, he catered to and fed the extremism.

So why is he out? Basically because the obstructionism failed.

Republicans did manage to put a severe crimp on federal spending, which has grown much more slowly under Mr. Obama than it did under George W. Bush, or for that matter Ronald Reagan. The weakness of spending has, in turn, been a major headwind delaying recovery, probably the single biggest reason it has taken so long to bounce back from the 2007-2009 recession.

But the economy nonetheless did well enough for Mr. Obama to win re-election with a solid majority in 2012, and his victory ensured that his signature policy initiative, health-care reform — enacted before Republicans took control of the House — went into effect on schedule, despite the dozens of votes Mr. Boehner held calling for its repeal. Furthermore, Obamacare is working: the number of uninsured Americans has dropped sharply even as health-care costs seem to have come under control.

In other words, despite all Mr. Boehner’s efforts to bring him down, Mr. Obama is looking more and more like a highly successful president. For the base, which has never considered Mr. Obama legitimate — polling suggests that many Republicans believe that he wasn’t even born here — this is a nightmare. And all too many ambitious Republican politicians are willing to tell the base that it’s Mr. Boehner’s fault, that he just didn’t try blackmail hard enough.

This is nonsense, of course. In fact, the controversy over Planned Parenthood that probably triggered the Boehner exit — shut down the government in response to obviously doctored videos? — might have been custom-designed to illustrate just how crazy the G.O.P.’s extremists have become, how unrealistic they are about what confrontational politics can accomplish.

But Republican leaders who have encouraged the base to believe all kinds of untrue things are in no position to start preaching political rationality.

Mr. Boehner is quitting because he found himself caught between the limits of the politically possible and a base that lives in its own reality. But don’t cry for (or with) Mr. Boehner; cry for America, which must find a way to live with a G.O.P. gone mad.

I’d be reveling in schadenfreude if I weren’t so terrified…


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