Blow, Nocera and Kristof

Apparently Ms. Collins will appear tomorrow.  Mr. Blow did an “Election Data Dive” and says the election is over. President Obama won. And there are lots of interesting facts and figures for you to use to impress your friends.  Mr. Nocera asks “No Heat Till Christmas?”  He says Mayor Bloomberg once said New York City didn’t need FEMA’s help. A visit to the Rockaways shows the city needs all the help it can get.  Mr. Kristof has a question in “When War Comes Home:”  Did war turn a decorated soldier into a murderer?  Here’s Mr. Blow:

Since this may be my last column about the 2012 elections, let’s have some fun. Allow me to arm you with a collection of facts and data about the election results that you can use at your next cocktail party, during your next coffee break or during your next P.T.A. meeting.

First, a comment about the exit polls from which most of these data are drawn: They were conducted only in 30 states. And, unfortunately, the balance of states polled tilted heavily toward those won by President Obama. Of the 25 states Obama won, exit polls were conducted in all but three. Obama also won the District of Columbia, which had no exit polls. Of the 24 states Mitt Romney won, exit polls were conducted only in eight.

(Obama is leading in Florida, which would be a 26th state won by Obama and a state for which there are exit polls. However, The New York Times had not yet called the state at the time of publication.)

With those caveats, let’s dive in:

• My analysis of the 2008 election found that even if every black person in America had stayed home on Election Day, Obama would still have won the presidency. That’s because the white vote and Hispanic vote were strong enough to push him over the needed 270 votes to win the Electoral College.

This year is a different story. This year, his path to victory required a broader coalition.

Without the Democratic black vote joining with that of liberal whites and Hispanics on Tuesday, Obama would likely have lost half the states that he won. This fact may embolden those who say that the president should more directly address issues facing the African-American community.

• There may have been a backlash against voter suppression laws, bringing more minorities to the polls, not fewer. The share of Hispanic voters rose in many states won by Obama. That can be attributed both to the surging Hispanic population in the country and to the Obama campaign’s incredible get-out-the-vote operation. It is less clear why the black vote held steady or grew in many of those states. In Ohio, for example, blacks jumped from being 11 percent of the voters in 2008 to 15 percent this year. Threaten to steal something, and its owner’s grip grows tighter.

• Romney won nine of the 11 states that were once in the Confederacy.

• Romney also won eight of the 10 states with the lowest population density: Alaska, Wyoming, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Idaho, Nebraska and Utah. Obama won New Mexico and Nevada. (Hello. Hello. Hello. Is there an echo in here?)

• Romney’s biggest margin of victory came in Utah, home of the Mormon Church. Utah was one of three states in which Romney won every county. The other two were West Virginia and Oklahoma. Obama won every county in four states: Hawaii, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Vermont.

• This year was the first presidential election in which there were more Asian-American voters (11 percent) in California than African-American ones (8 percent). In 2008, 6 percent were Asian-American and 10 percent were African-American. In fact, there were more Asian-American voters than African-American voters in Washington and Oregon, the other two Pacific Coast states, this year, too.

• Among the states in which exit polls were conducted, Obama won the lowest percentage of the white vote in the state with the highest percentage of black voters. That state was the ever-reliable Mississippi, where Romney made his famous “I like grits” comment. Thirty-six percent of the voters in Mississippi are black. Obama won a mere 10 percent of the white vote there.

Conversely, Obama won one of his highest percentages of white voters in the state with the fewest minority voters: Maine. Ninety-five percent of Maine’s voters were white, and 57 percent of them voted for Obama. That ties with one other state for the highest percent of whites voting for Obama: Massachusetts, where 86 percent of the voters are white.

In fact, Obama won the white vote only in states with small minority voting populations. The others Obama won were Iowa (93 percent white), New Hampshire (93 percent white), Oregon (88 percent white), Connecticut (79 percent white) and Washington State (76 percent white).

This is quite a curious phenomenon.

• Obama won all four states that begin with “New” (New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico and New York), but he lost all five that begin with a direction (North Carolina, South Carolina, North Dakota, South Dakota and West Virginia). O.K., I threw that one in for fun.

Now, political junkies, go forth and spout facts!

Ah, grist for my mill!  Here’s Mr. Nocera:

On Friday morning, I drove out to the Rockaways with Nan Shipley, a 48-year-old real estate broker and mother of three. Though we barely know each other, she had been sending me e-mails all week, updating me about the problems facing residents of the Rockaways, the thin peninsula on the southern edge of Queens that had been decimated by Hurricane Sandy.

Shipley, who lives in Manhattan, had been going out there every day since last Saturday, volunteering in the hard-hit enclave of Belle Harbor, where a Roman Catholic church, St. Francis de Sales, had essentially been taken over by relief workers. She had expected to help out for a day or two, assuming that the Red Cross, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or state and city workers would quickly take over.

But that hadn’t happened. As one day bled into the next, the volunteers had organized themselves. Leaders emerged who, with no prior experience, figured out how to help people in a disaster. They found restaurants willing to donate hot meals, rented buses to truck in more volunteers and brought in supplies to help residents battle the cold weather.

By Friday, when I arrived in Belle Harbor with Shipley, the church had been transformed into a model of efficient distribution. A volunteer disaster relief organization, Team Rubicon, made up of military veterans, had parachuted in and organized it to a fare-thee-well: meals given out on this side, diapers and baby food over there. To the extent that there was a government presence, it consisted mainly of a Medicare truck parked outside.

Near the church, I could see homes that had burned down. Most of the other houses were uninhabitable. Cars were sometimes strewed up on sidewalks. Nobody had power. “Things have gotten a lot better,” Shipley said, as I looked at the scene in amazement. “The Sanitation Department has done a great job of cleaning up the debris.”

We drove farther east to Far Rockaway, a much poorer area. There were long lines at various churches that were serving as distribution centers. Although there were police officers everywhere, the hard work of getting Far Rockaway residents help had, once again, fallen to volunteers.

At the Church of the Nazarene in Far Rockaway, however, I did see a FEMA presence; I was told that FEMA had arrived on Thursday. You would think that FEMA, with all its expertise, would be coordinating the relief effort. But you would be wrong. When I asked one FEMA official what his workers were doing, he said they were mainly trying to make sure that residents applied for assistance. That is not insignificant, of course, but it’s not exactly leading the charge.

In a nearby building, the office of the local city councilman, James Sanders Jr., had been transformed into a mini-disaster-relief headquarters. Sanders sounded deeply frustrated. “It is getting cold out here,” he said.

He had just come from a meeting with the Long Island Power Authority, where he had been informed that no one would get power until an electrician had inspected the homes. “I told them that was impossible,” he said. “People aren’t going to have heat until Christmas.”

When I called Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s office to ask why so much of the relief effort had been left to volunteers, I got immense pushback. Cas Holloway, one of Bloomberg’s deputy mayors, told me that the city had handed out two million meals. The city was coordinating with the Salvation Army, he said, and was a big presence in the Rockaways. It had set up five distribution centers there. It was paying food trucks to give out free food.

Be that as it may, I can tell you that that is not the experience of many volunteers — or residents — of the Rockaways. Before the storm hit, Mayor Bloomberg said that New York City didn’t need FEMA’s help because the city had “everything under control.” You don’t have to spend much time in Queens to realize that New York City needs all the help it can get. It is extremely fortunate that it is getting so much help from volunteers.

Before we left the Rockaways, Shipley and I met a man who had come into Sanders’s office looking for help. He had two children, he said, including a 2-month-old baby who had had bronchitis and had just gotten out of the hospital. “Our house is too cold,” he kept saying, wiping tears from his eyes. “The baby will get sick again. We need a place to stay.”

After talking to the man, Shipley walked back to the Church of the Nazarene to see if one of the FEMA officials could do something.

A few minutes later, she came back frowning. “He said to call 911,” she said.

Now here’s Mr. Kristof, writing from Wilmington, Delaware:

A decorated combat veteran, Staff Sgt. Dwight L. Smith Jr. seemed the perfect soldier. Until, that is, he visited his familyin Delaware last Christmas and, as he later told the police, “clicked on.”Inexplicably one morning, while driving his bright red Hummer on a public street, he ran down a 65-year-old woman, Marsha Lee, as she walked her dog, according to police accounts. Then, as a witness watched, he got out and threw Ms. Lee, injured and screaming, into the back seat and drove off.

Ms. Lee’s body, naked except for socks, was found discarded in a wooded area half a mile away. Her head had been bashed in with a heavy, sharp object, perhaps a rock. The police later established that she had been raped.

Police officers searched frantically for the Hummer, and that evening they arrested Sergeant Smith as he drove such a vehicle, still spattered with blood. A police affidavit says that Sergeant Smith admitted to the slaying that night, explaining that he had decided that he “wanted to kill someone.”

Ms. Lee was much loved in the community, for she had devoted herself nearly full time to local causes like an animal shelter and a home for the elderly. Her funeral was one of the biggest anyone can remember in Delaware, and the town has honored her by giving her street a second name: Marsha Lee Way. Her husband, Scottie Lee, declined to speak to me at the request of prosecutors. But family friends see this as straightforward: a case of a young man committing an act of pure evil.

Sergeant Smith, now 25, is in prison, and a trial is still more than a year off, but this may emerge as the pre-eminent American case exploring whether soldiers’ brain injuries and trauma overseas can lead to crimes committed later. The basic question is whether Ms. Lee, as she walked her dog on a quiet street here, became an indirect casualty of our foreign wars.

About half a million American soldiers have suffered from brain-rattling concussions in Afghanistan or Iraq, and one result is an epidemic of traumatic brain injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder. We’re seeing many more suicides among recent veterans than among earlier generations, probably because of repeated, extended deployments in combat, coupled with an increase in improvised explosive devices and concussions.

We still aren’t doing nearly enough to provide timely mental health services for these soldiers and veterans. The administration and members of Congress talk a good game about honoring young men and women who went to war, but they don’t allocate the resources necessary to care of them. A result is certainly disability and suicides. Could it also include brutal crimes like this one?

“I know my child,” said Sergeant Smith’s father, Dwight Sr., a 49-year-old manager in the Philadelphia schools. “This isn’t my kid. He was a goofy kid. This isn’t the same man that I sent over.”

The father was sitting morosely in his dimly lit dining room, the curtains all drawn. In the corner of the room was the purple heart that Dwight Jr. earned in Afghanistan, and in the living room just beyond was his wedding photo and a military portrait. It’s impossible to reconcile that beaming young man in the photos with the one who murdered and raped Ms. Lee.

“This is a tragedy for two families,” Mr. Smith added. “I just don’t think my son was ready to come back in regular society.”

Mr. Smith thinks that his son’s mind became poisoned by war, and Dwight Jr. seems to think that as well. I couldn’t get access to him in prison, but in a recent handwritten letter to his father (which is posted with the online version of this column), he wrote:

“I am going to be honest with you dad. I have killed a lot of men and children. Some that didn’t even do anything for me to kill them. Also some that begged for mercy. I have a problem. I think I got addicted to killing people. I could kill someone go to sleep wake up and forget that it ever happened. It got normal for me to be that way. I never wanted to be this way. I just took my job way to serious. I took things to the extreme. Anyone can tell you that I changed. It is like being a completely different person.”

If Sergeant Smith did indeed randomly kill civilians in Iraq or Afghanistan, I could find no record of that. What is clearer is that he was exposed to concussions while in combat, apparently at least two of them. One occurred when he was in Iraq and his Humvee was thrown into the air in an explosion. He was not visibly injured.

Then, in March 2011, a mortar shell landed near him in Afghanistan and blew him 15 feet in the air, shattering a ceramic plate in his body armor, according to his public defender, Bradley V. Manning. Sergeant Smith was hospitalized, flown back to the United States, and given a diagnosis of a traumatic brain injury with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Jasmin Smith, a 29-year-old German woman who is now his wife, and was then his girlfriend, recalls seeing him in the hospital shortly after his return.

“He was in a wheelchair,” she said. “His hand was shaking. He looked pretty bad. He didn’t say anything for 15 or 20 minutes. At the beginning, he didn’t even recognize me.”

She says they celebrated his apparent recovery by marrying two months later. But the recovery seemed fleeting, she says, for he began to abuse alcohol and prescription painkillers and would sometimes fly into violent rages.

“He was always angry about little things,” Mrs. Smith said. “He would throw laptops, punch holes in walls.”

“He used to go crazy,” she added. “He stood in front of me one time and said, ‘I should kill you, I should kill you.’ ”

Mrs. Smith says that he did once choke her and, fearing for her safety, she flew back to Germany. “I didn’t tell him I was leaving, because I was scared.”

Dwight Sr. says his son called then, despondent. “Dad, I don’t know what’s wrong with me,” the father quoted his son as telling him. “I just get mad. I can’t help myself.” Eventually, after he promised to control himself, Mrs. Smith did return to his base at Fort Drum, N.Y., and they resumed married life.

TWO months later, on the day of the murder, they were at Dwight Sr.’s home for Christmas vacation. Jasmin says that her husband asked her to go jogging in the morning, but she declined. Then he left the house — and allegedly killed and raped Ms. Lee.

He seemed relatively normal when he returned, Mrs. Smith told me, and they went Christmas shopping that afternoon. After he was arrested that evening, she spoke briefly to her husband; she says that his only explanation for the crime was that he had become enraged while running that he wasn’t physically fit enough. Sometimes since, she says, he has suggested that he blacked out and can’t remember exactly what happened. He also says that he wants to apologize to Ms. Lee’s family.

Rape hasn’t been part of the typical pattern of crimes committed by returning soldiers with T.B.I. or PTSD. But Bennet Omalu, an expert on brain injuries who is also a clinical professor of pathology at University of California, Davis, told me that T.B.I. could indeed lead to such sexual violence. Indeed, Dr. Omalu said he had recently performed an autopsy on an elderly woman who had been randomly raped and murdered by an Iraq war veteran.

Frankly, I hesitated to write this column. I feel strongly that we as a nation have let down our veterans, failing to provide the mental health services they need, and we owe them better. But I can’t be sure that the murder of Ms. Lee is related to these failures. In the end, I decided to go ahead because here’s a young man with no adult criminal record who was promoted rapidly within the military and then suffered brain injuries. And then on his return he allegedly committed a horrific rape and murder that do not make any sense — not to me, not to you, not to his family.

“You lie next to your husband every night,” Mrs. Smith said. “I know he had anger issues, but didn’t think he would do something like that.”

Could the Army have done a better job screening Sergeant Smith’s mental health and addressing his needs? The Army does indeed ask returning soldiers questions about mental health, but self-reporting doesn’t work well because soldiers don’t answer questions honestly. “They don’t want to get kicked out of the Army, and they don’t want to admit anything is wrong,” Mrs. Smith said.

Dwight Sr. notes that his son’s PTSD wasn’t diagnosed until after his arrest and thinks the Army should have given him more help after his brain injury in 2011. “I believe if he’d been in a program, I don’t think we’d be sitting here talking,” he said.

Stephen N. Xenakis, a psychiatrist and retired brigadier general who has advised the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff on military mental health issues, agrees that we have failed our service members exposed to blasts. He compares it to the runaround soldiers were given for decades about damage from Agent Orange.

What the military most needs, he says, isn’t new weapons systems but a “surge against brain disease” to invest in protecting its most valuable assets — its people.

To its credit, the military this year has stepped up efforts to elevate mental health concerns. But the Defense Department and Department of Veterans Affairs will have to do far more — and this will suck up resources that planners may prefer to invest in ships and planes.

Another lesson has to do with the larger cost of war: President George W. Bush’s worst mistake was the Iraq war, and President Obama’s was roughly tripling the number of troops in Afghanistan. Let’s hope that future presidents remember that the cost of dispatching ground troops on foreign battlefields isn’t measured only in lives and limbs lost but also in the invisible mental health toll on warriors and those around them.

Mr. Manning, the public defender, is himself a veteran, and he thinks that there are going to be many more crimes like this. He declined to discuss his strategy for the trial, which is set for early 2014 because of the complex mental health issues involved, but added, “It’s hard to make sense of, but when you take somebody’s brain and rattle it around, it damages it in ways they don’t understand.”

I don’t know just what could have led an apparently normal young man to commit such a crime. All we know for certain is that a caring, much loved woman here in Delaware has been horrifically murdered, leaving a vacuum of sadness and a vexing uncertainty about whether there is a link to distant wars.

This country worships “the troops” until they’ve been wounded.  Then they get shoved out of sight, left to struggle for help.  It’s disgusting.

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2 Responses to “Blow, Nocera and Kristof”

  1. Willie Boy 3 Says:

    I have a little trouble reconciling the unemployment rate with corporate earnings. What, Mr. Bernanke, was the rate in the mid to late 80’s when corporate raiders were reducing labor costs? Well that’s irrelevant. Very few of the companies I watch have done poorly in the past five years. Labor shouldn’t even be a major expense. What do CEO’s call it when they babble about their quarterly expenses. SGA or something. BS. The problem and here I go with the country is a lack of education. How can u possibly be possessed by ideology over common sense? Maybe u need clarification? When brilliant minds analyze the electorate and scratch their noggins than I know only one way the voting outcome got the way it did. On the night when Obama promised to keep going forward and the opponent said keep sending me your money in brown paper bags in small denominations I knew – nothing. I knew nothing and less than nothing Albert.
    I was told not to mention the evangelical wing of the establishment. They couldn’t account for all those low density red counties. How far could ignorance travel by mouth? Whenever I watched Romney stump I was stumped. What on earth are they cheering for? They’re not all in the top 2%. What do they imagine he’ll do for them. This high flying retreat from reality by Brooks is met head on with the wind tunnel from Fox’s guest alien and head racist O’Reilly. There’s not a kind word I have for this thing. He claims he grew up in a tough town. Is he kidding? Levittown, LI? They had the one good movie theater and a nice mall of sorts. Jahns Ice Cream Parlor. The Kitchen Sink. Tough? Here’s where Twitter meets Nostalgia. He is corrupt. Morning Joe corrupt. These are not just mouth pieces. These are part of the Goebbels communications empire. Someone with great resources needs to stop them before it’s too late.

  2. Trinidad Says:

    Today, I went to the beachfront with my children.
    I found a sea shell and gave it to my 4 year old daughter and said “You can hear the ocean if you put this to your ear.” She put the shell to her ear
    and screamed. There was a hermit crab inside and it pinched her ear.
    She never wants to go back! LoL I know this is entirely off topic but I had to tell someone!

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