Why Portland, of all places, erupted

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Today's Agenda

Not so laid-back.

Photographer: Nathan Howard/Getty Images North America

Portland's Problems Are More Than Tattoo-Deep

The very first episode of the TV show "Portlandia" opens with a song about a magical place called Portland, Oregon, where "the dream of the '90s is alive." That sounds vaguely utopian, but the lyrics make clear it's a utopia about nothing (to echo a '90s comedy). It's all about getting tattoos, sleeping until 11 and forming bands. "Portland is a city where young people go to retire," one character gushes.

On the surface, Portland seemed like one of the last American cities you'd expect to be gripped by weeks of unrest and violence, as it has tragically been this year. But sometimes the boho vibe is only surface-deep. There's a reason "Portlandia" sang about "the dream of the '90s" and not, say, the '60s or even the '70s, when Portland native David Shipley notes the city truly was progressive and creative in defusing the high tensions of the times. He writes about how the city's governance has deteriorated in the decades since, as social problems have accumulated. It's a cautionary tale for a whole country that often seems inclined to keep hazy dreams alive while ignoring prickly realities. Read the whole thing.

What Is Inflation Anyway?

The Federal Reserve met yesterday and basically vowed not to tighten monetary policy again until The Rapture or 2023, whichever comes first. As John Authers notes, the economic conditions it set for raising rates are essentially utopian. Such jawboning is all the Fed can really do now that every single stop in its Church of Monetary Policy organ was pulled out long ago. As beautiful as its music may be to markets, it's not nearly as helpful to the economy as government spending, writes Bloomberg's editorial board. There's not much the Fed can do about that, aside from praying for divine intervention.

The Fed has two jobs, to boost employment and keep inflation stable. Right now the latter job involves trying to keep prices from a deflationary morass. Yet the idea of deflation may seem like a joke to people aware of their own housing, educational and health-care costs. In a series of charts, Brian Chappatta and Elaine He helpfully break down both the sources of deflation and the places where inflation is still very much kicking:

Trump's Erosion of Confidence

If President Donald Trump's term in office was a force of nature, it would be erosion: erosion of democratic norms, erosion of confidence in government, erosion of America's standing in the world.

Throughout the pandemic, for example, Trump has undermined confidence in his government's handling of the crisis, repeatedly contradicting and dismissing the warnings of his own experts, with deadly consequences. His latest target involves the timetable for producing and distributing a vaccine. As Tim O'Brien notes, Trump claims we'll have one by lunchtime next Tuesday (not exactly, but close). His experts say it's more of a third-quarter 2021 thing. The end result is that people will be wary of any vaccine that could possibly have been shoved onto the market to meet Trump's political needs.

Trump's attorney general, Bill Barr, meanwhile, undermines faith in democracy by warning of horrors that could result from voting by mail, a perfectly normal act the pandemic makes necessary. As Noah Feldman writes, Barr doesn't quite lie as enthusiastically as Trump does about this stuff. But his legalese is still dangerously misleading.

Trump has also helped stoke the toxic fires of the QAnon conspiracy whatsit, apparently because those people just seem to like him. Adherents believe a secretive cabal of liberal pedophiles runs the world, or something. It's weird and disturbingly powerful, but it's also part of the paranoid tradition in American politics, writes Stephen Mihm. Such groups tend to stick around and influence the discourse for a long time. Fun!

Trump's degradation of the post-war global order is well-known. This applies to big alliances such as NATO and smaller ones such as the Syrian Kurds. It was a millennium ago, but you may recall that last October he tossed these key allies in the fight against Islamic State to the wolves by pulling out troops and letting Turkey fill the void. This seemed like a very bad idea, and Eli Lake writes that a new report confirms just how destructive this pullout was to the Kurds in terms of lives lost and atrocities suffered. Harder to quantify but no less important is the damage to America's reputation.

Further Politics Reading: Trump needs something dramatic to happen in the closing weeks if he's to win. — Jonathan Bernstein

Telltale Charts

Pandemic lockdowns are not great in a lot of ways, but they appear to have saved the lives of many children, writes Justin Fox.

Amazon and Walmart are looking more like each other every day, though Amazon still has the edge, writes Sarah Halzack.

Further Reading

The U.K. is still struggling to test people, and it's not even fall yet. — Therese Raphael

Latin America is the perfect testing ground for a vaccine, but delivering it will be a challenge. — Mac Margolis

There's no reason to rush workers back to offices, and governments certainly shouldn't do so. — Ferdinando Giugliano

Boeing's defense business more than makes up for its commercial aircraft woes. — David Fickling

Don't expect homebuilders to solve our housing shortage. — Conor Sen

ICYMI

Republicans are still divided on stimulus.

Facebook needs Trump more than Trump needs Facebook.

Some MBA students have buyer's remorse.

Kickers

DNA shows Vikings weren't all Scandinavian. (h/t Scott Kominers)

How Italian fishermen solved overfishing and revived the sea. (h/t Alistair Lowe)

There's a 5D chess game where the pieces time-travel.

Living in an underground house isn't as great as it sounds.

Note: Please send chess pieces and complaints to Mark Gongloff at mgongloff1@bloomberg.net.

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