Archive for the ‘Collins’ Category

Nocera and Collins

August 23, 2014

In “Lessons Not Learned” Mr. Nocera says the S.&L. crisis could have helped us avoid the financial crisis.  File this under “No shit, Sherlock.”  He also managed to write the history without the name “McCain,” one of the Keating 5.  Ms. Collins looks at “Gift Horses Gone Wild” and has a question:  Who’s been following the trial of Bob McDonnell in Virginia and knows what FLOVA means?  Here’s Mr. Nocera:

The death of Fernand St Germain last week, at the age of 86, got me thinking about the financial calamity that he was long associated with: the savings and loan crisis of the late 1980s. There are things it could have — and should have — taught us as we spiraled toward the financial crisis less than two decades later.

“Freddie” St Germain was the sort of congressman you don’t see much anymore: the lovable rogue, a backslapping, deal-making legislator who saw nothing particularly wrong with taking advantage of his position to feather his own nest. As The Times pointed out in its obituary, he liked to joke that he didn’t put a period after “St” because he was hardly a saint. Entering Congress in 1961, when he was 32 years old, he steadily climbed the seniority ladder until he was the chairman of the House Committee on Banking, Finance and Urban Affairs in 1981.

It was a terrible time for the nation’s 4,600 or so S.&L.’s. Inflation was raging, and interest rates spiked as high as 21.5 percent. But the interest rate that S.&L.’s could offer their depositors was fixed at 5.25 percent, an amount established by government regulation. As consumers realized that the value of their deposits was being eroded by inflation, they began to move their money to a newfangled financial device being offered by mutual fund companies: the money market fund, which paid competitive rates of interest.

It was Congress’s view — and it was certainly St Germain’s view — that the S.&L. industry was vital to the American dream of homeownership. Indeed, back then, the only loans the industry was allowed to make were mortgages. Thus, in 1982, Congress passed the Garn-St Germain Depository Institutions Act — which St Germain wrote with Edwin “Jake” Garn, the Republican senator from Utah — which essentially deregulated the industry, allowing S.&L.’s not only to pay market interest rates, but to make loans far afield from home mortgages.

The idea was that S.&L.’s needed to be able to make more profitable loans since they were going to be paying much higher interest rates to gain deposits. What nobody seemed to realize was that financial deregulation was bound to have unintended consequences. S.&L.’s went from being the most cautious of financial institutions to the most heedless. S.&L. operators dove into all kinds of exotic areas. By the late 1980s, it had all come a cropper; ultimately more than 1,000 S.&L.’s — one out of every three still operating in 1988 — went under. The industry’s collapse cost the taxpayers nearly $125 billion.

In some ways, the legislators who deregulated the S.&L. industry felt that they had no choice — if they didn’t act, the S.&L.’s would have been in terrible trouble, just of a different kind. Seventeen years later, when Congress repealed the Glass-Steagall Act — thus deregulating the entire financial services industry — it didn’t have that excuse. The drive to abolish Glass-Steagall was ideologically inspired, the core belief being that the market would keep the industry honest. But the S.&L. crisis had proved that wasn’t true.

Rather, bankers were only too happy to privatize profits and socialize losses. During the S.&L. crisis, bankers fueled an unsustainable commercial real estate bubble, sold bonds to customers that turned out to be worthless, and, generally, used shoddy business practices to enrich themselves. In the years leading up to the 2008 financial crisis, bankers handed out mortgages to millions of people who lacked the ability to repay them, and then bundled those mortgages into toxic subprime mortgage bonds. It was just a variation on a theme.

There is another lesson from the S.&L. crisis. In its aftermath, there were somewhere around 1,100 prosecutions, the most famous of which was that of Charles Keating, the chairman of the Lincoln Savings and Loan Association, an institution that cost the government $3.4 billion when it collapsed. A few years ago, I asked someone who had been involved in prosecuting S.&L. operators why the government had been so intent on putting them in prison. “Because the country demanded it,” he said.

In the wake of the financial crisis, the Department of Justice also set up a task force to root out the wrongdoing that led to the financial crisis. But it has mostly been a joke. The prosecutions have been mostly small-time stuff: homeowners who lied on liar loans, for instance. Meanwhile, not one single employee of Countrywide Financial has been prosecuted, even though Countrywide loans were at the very heart of the financial crisis.

Earlier this week, Bank of America agreed to pay $16.65 billion to settle a handful of government investigations. Bank of America, of course, bought Countrywide in 2008, and the huge sum it was paying was the government’s way of showing that it was tough on financial crime after all.

But it’s not the same as prosecuting those responsible. After all, the country is still demanding it.

Now here’s Ms. Collins:

It’s a tribute to the level of terrible news we’ve been inundated with this summer that the corruption trial of ex-Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell may qualify as a feel-good story. Unless, of course, you are McDonnell.

The former governor and his wife, Maureen, took about $177,000 in gifts and loans from Jonnie Williams, the maker of Anatabloc, a dietary supplement that was recently withdrawn from the market under pressure from a deeply unenthusiastic Food and Drug Administration. But back at the time of the gift-giving, Williams, who touts Anatabloc as the best thing since penicillin, was hoping the McDonnells would help him promote it. (We are already feeling cheery, realizing that this is not going to be the sort of alleged misdeed that requires us to say: “There but for the grace of God …”)

McDonnell used to be regarded as a Republican rising star, and Mitt Romney invited the then-governor and his wife on a campaign bus ride during veep-hunting season. We learned during the trial that while they were driving around, Maureen McDonnell tried to convince Ann Romney that Anatabloc would be good for her multiple sclerosis.

Romney picked Paul Ryan. We do not know if there was any connection.

The McDonnells, who hosted a launch party for Anatabloc in the governor’s mansion, most definitely took a pile of presents from Williams. However, it turns out that’s totally legal in Virginia. As long as an elected official reports gifts and there’s no quid pro quo, he can accept a bar of gold from a lobbyist every day. Virginians have always believed that their political culture was too upright to require ethics laws. Because, you know, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson.

When it comes to lessons learned from the McDonnell debacle, No. 1 is: Do not work under the assumption that your officials will do the right thing because you live in a very honest state. This is probably not a problem you need to worry about if you are in, say, New York or Illinois.

Bob McDonnell has told the jury a lot about his firmness in rejecting some of the goodies that Maureen wanted — like a designer dress for the inaugural. However, he seems to have been far less resolute when Jonnie Williams was doling out things he liked: a luxury vacation, or the use of a private jet. McDonnell told his sons to give back expensive golf clubs (the sons ignored him), but then he accepted a custom golf bag for himself.

The defense is taking the interesting line that Williams could not have gotten any direct benefit from his largess because the McDonnell marriage was too much of a mess for the couple to deliver. They never talked. Maureen was a harridan who ranted at her staff. Plus, she had a crush on Jonnie Williams, to whom she texted after an earthquake: “I just felt the earth move and I wasn’t having sex!!!!”

Bob McDonnell, who turned down a prosecution offer to let him save his wife from trial by pleading guilty to one felony count, has moved out of the family house and is bunking in the rectory with his parish priest. He offered up an email he had sent Maureen describing his “great heartache” over their discord, although he did praise her for doing well on the “FLOVA job.”

FLOVA means First Lady of Virginia. It’s a take on FLOTUS, which is a term for Michelle Obama. It made me wonder if other states do that. Is the wife of the governor of Ohio FLOOH? New York’s would be FLONY, except, of course, we don’t have one since our governor is divorced and living with a celebrity cookbook writer.

Which seems, in this context, like a real selling point for Andrew Cuomo. Another lesson from the trial is that you should never vote for somebody because his family looks nice. When McDonnell ran for governor his campaign aired ads showing the candidate in front of his home, high-fiving the kids and hugging his wife. Now, Virginians could point out the sons who took the golf clubs, the daughter who got $15,000 for her wedding catering, and, of course, the wife who spent way, way more time on the phone with the diet supplement salesman than with her husband.

Both spouses agree that Bob McDonnell was almost never around. This was due, the governor said, both to the demands of his job and the fact that he was committed to raising $55 million for the Republican Governors Association.

I think I speak for many of us when I say that it would be one thing to have your husband absent for days on end because the state was in a budget crisis, and another to have him ditch you because he had to collect donations for the Republican governors.

Maybe our final lesson is: Do not marry a politician.

Or never consort with Republicans…

Blow and Collins

August 21, 2014

Today we have just Mr. Blow and Ms. Collins, since Mr. Kristof is off.  In “Constructing a Conversation on Race” Mr. Blow says true racial dialogue is not one-directional — from minorities to majorities — but multidirectional.  In “Tell It to the Camera,” Ms. Collins says let’s hear it for the long-shot candidates this year. Like the high school math teacher running for the U.S. Senate in Montana.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

The killing of an unarmed teenager, Michael Brown, by a police officer, Darren Wilson, and the protests that have followed have brought about calls for the much-ballyhooed — or bemoaned, depending on your perspective — conversation about race.

I wish these calls were not so episodic and tied to tragedies. I also wish this call for a conversation wasn’t tied to protests. Protests have life cycles. They explode into existence, but they all eventually die. They build like pressure in the volcano until they erupt. Then there is quiet until the next eruption. The cycle is untenable and nearly devoid of aim and the possibility of resolution.

What we must discuss is best discussed during the dormancy.

The discussion just needs some guidance.

Let’s start with understanding what a racial conversation shouldn’t look like. It shouldn’t be an insulated, circular, intra-racial dialogue only among people who feel aggrieved.

A true racial dialogue is not intra-racial but interracial. It is not one-directional — from minorities to majorities — but multidirectional. Data must be presented. Experiences must be explored. Histories and systems must be laid bare. Biases, fears, stereotype and mistrust must be examined. Personal — as well as societal and cultural — responsibility must be taken.

And privileges and oppressions must be acknowledged. We must acknowledge how each of us is, in myriad ways, materially and spiritually affected by a society in which bias has been widely documented to exist and in which individuals also acknowledge that it exists.

Take the results of a CBS News poll released in July. While three-fourths of respondents believe, rightly, that progress has been made to get rid of racial discrimination, most Americans acknowledge that discrimination against blacks still exists today.

It may come as little surprise that 88 percent of blacks gauged that level of discrimination as “a lot” or “some” as opposed to “only a little” or “none at all,” but 65 percent of whites agree the level of discrimination against blacks rises to “a lot” or “some.”

Yet when asked whether whites or blacks have a better chance of getting ahead today, 63 percent of whites and 43 percent of blacks said that the chances were equal. (By comparison, 28 percent of whites and 46 percent of blacks said whites had a better chance of getting ahead, and only 5 percent of whites and 4 percent of black said blacks had a better chance.)

We have to stop here and really process what we are saying: that even though we acknowledge the existence of discrimination, we still expect those who are the focus of it to succeed, or “get ahead,” at the same rate as those who aren’t. In effect, we are expecting black people to simply shoulder the extra burden that society puts on their shoulders — oppression — while others are free to rise, or even fall, without such a burden — privilege.

Understanding this fundamental inequality, one that trails each of us from cradle to grave, is one of the first steps to genuine, honest dialogue, because in that context we can better understand the choice that people make and the degree to which personal responsibility should be taken or the degree to which it is causative or curative.

And while acknowledging the inequality, and hopefully working to remedy it, we have to find ways to encourage and fortify its targets. I often tell people that while I know well that things aren’t fair or equal, we still have to decide how we are going to deal with that reality, today. The clock on life is ticking. If you wait for life to be fair you may be waiting until life is over. I urge people to fight on two fronts: Work to dismantle as much systematic bias as you can, as much for posterity as for the present, and make the best choice you can under the circumstances to counteract the effects of these injustices on your life right now.

Next, understand that race is a weaponized social construct used to divide and deny.

According to a policy statement on race by the American Anthropological Association, “human populations are not unambiguous, clearly demarcated, biologically distinct groups” and “there is greater variation within ‘racial’ groups than between them.”

The statement continues:

“How people have been accepted and treated within the context of a given society or culture has a direct impact on how they perform in that society. The ‘racial’ worldview was invented to assign some groups to perpetual low status, while others were permitted access to privilege, power, and wealth. The tragedy in the United States has been that the policies and practices stemming from this worldview succeeded all too well in constructing unequal populations among Europeans, Native Americans, and peoples of African descent.”

It ends:

“We conclude that present-day inequalities between so-called ‘racial’ groups are not consequences of their biological inheritance but products of historical and contemporary social, economic, educational, and political circumstances.”

And yet, we have tuned our minds to register this difference above all others, in the blink of an eye. As National Geographic reported in October, “A study of brain activity at the University of Colorado at Boulder showed that subjects register race in about one-tenth of a second, even before they discern gender.” This means that racial registration — and responses to any subconscious bias we may have attached to race — are most likely happening ahead of any deliberative efforts on our part to be egalitarian.

Another step is that we must understand that race is not an isolated construct or consideration. Race and class, education and economics, crime and justice, and family and culture all overlap and intersect. We can’t treat the organ as if it is separate from the organism.

Lastly, some immunity must be granted. Assuming that the conversational engagement is honest and earnest, we must be able to hear and say things that some might find offensive as we stumble toward interpersonal empathy and understanding.

We can talk this through. We can have this conversation. We must. Hopefully this provides a little nudge and a few parameters.

Now here’s Ms. Collins:

Amanda Curtis, a 34-year-old high school math teacher, is now the Democrats’ U.S. Senate candidate in Montana. Finally, a strategy for bringing down the average age of a senator, which is around 62.

Plus, a math teacher would come in handy. “Elect somebody who knows how to count” would be an awesome campaign ad. If Curtis had the money to pay for any ads, which currently does not seem all that likely.

“I told my husband: ‘Kevin, I’m really sorry I got us into this,’ ” she recalled in a phone interview. “And he said: ‘Why do you have to be so blanking awesome?’ He’s very supportive.”

I believe I speak for all Americans when I say that we are totally in favor of Kevin Curtis as a senatorial spouse.

It’s doubtful that we’ll be seeing any Curtis in Washington anytime soon. But in a week of so much dreadful news from every corner of the world, let’s take an opportunity to sing a happy chorus to this season’s super-long-shot candidates. Really, where would we be without them? Staring at a ballot full of pre-elected public officials, that’s where.

Montana Democrats have been going through what you might call a rough patch. First, Senator Max Baucus announced that he was not going to run again for his seat. Baucus gave out the news early so he could concentrate on “serving Montana.”

Then President Obama offered him an ambassadorship to China and Baucus flat-out quit.

John Walsh, the Democratic lieutenant governor, was appointed to take his place. Then The Times’s Jonathan Martin reported that Walsh had plagiarized a lot of his final paper as a master’s candidate at the Army War College. The senator of six months announced that he was not going to run for a full term against the wealthy congressman Republicans had nominated, because he wanted to devote all his time to his “fight for Montana.”

None of the well-known Democratic names in the state were interested in taking Walsh’s place. Or the somewhat-known names.

“I was scraping and glazing and puttying my storm windows,” said Curtis, who was chosen last weekend by a party convention. “And the phone rang. It was a reporter saying: ‘John Walsh dropped out and they can’t find any other politician to run.’ The storm windows are still leaning against my house.”

Montana has only sent one woman to Congress: Jeannette Rankin, a suffragist and pacifist who was elected in 1916. She was sworn in the same day that Woodrow Wilson asked Congress to declare war on Germany. Rankin voted no and was decried by a Helena newspaper as “a dupe of the Kaiser, a member of the Hun army in the United States, and a crying schoolgirl.” That was pretty much that. Rankin ran again more than two decades later and was elected just before the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, giving her the opportunity to cast the only vote against entering World War II. “Montana is 100 percent against you,” her brother wired encouragingly. That was the end of her congressional career. But she held up the torch, and in 1968, at 87, went back to Washington to lead 5,000 demonstrators in a women’s march against the war in Vietnam.

Always happy to have a chance to mention Jeannette Rankin, who teaches us that fighting for a losing cause most definitely does not make you a losing person.

Amanda Curtis grew up in a family rocked by divorce, alcoholism, financial struggles and violence. She fought her way through college and into a teaching career. Her experience with students, she said, taught her that what she thought was a uniquely terrible childhood was actually not all that unusual in Montana. She began to get involved in community groups, and, in 2012, she was elected to the State House of Representatives.

Once in the office, Curtis began posting videos at the end of every day in the Legislature in which she stood in her office or kitchen, sometimes looking perky, sometimes looking exhausted, and talked into the camera. (“Day 73 and wait until you hear this …”) Her mission was part educational, with heavy emphasis on the workings of the Business and Labor Committee.

On the other hand, it was partly pure venting. “It was so hard to … not to walk across the floor and punch him,” she said, in a rant that Montana Republicans have already included in a mash-up of video highlights. Their collection does not note that Curtis was talking about a debate over gay rights in which another lawmaker insinuated that homosexuals lacked moral character.

Imagine what it would be like if our senators all came home every night and posted their real thoughts. When they were too tired to self-censor. Maybe we should make that a requirement.

Cohen and Collins

August 16, 2014

Mr. Nocera is off today, probably busy writing a puff piece about fracking.  In “The Draw of the New City-States” Mr. Cohen says the superrich who trash the West trust the West with their money.  In “Northern Exposure” Ms. Collins says in Alaska’s Senate primaries, the candidates are answering some extremely important questions. Guess who ate salmon this week?  Here’s Mr. Cohen:

London is in the midst of a boom so giddy it has parted company with the rest of Britain. Construction is everywhere, from the new towers of the City of London (a global financial center larger than Wall Street) to the mansions of Kensington (where the world’s superwealthy burrow below ground to accommodate staff quarters and the de rigueur swimming pool) to ever-hipper eastern districts like Hoxton (sought after by the ordinary mortals driven from the center).

Money does not precisely gush from every home, business and storefront in central London, as it did before the meltdown of 2008, but it oozes again in sticky abundance. House prices in London have jumped about 19 percent in a year. The London economy is set to grow by over 4 percent this year in a nation that, elsewhere, struggles to shake off stagnation. The capital has become a glittering enclave in a country often resentful of its dominance. It presides with spiffy superiority, like squeaky-clean Singapore looking down on dusty Southeast Asia.

There is talk of a bubble. Nobody cares. Foreign money pours in, to the City of course, where the Shard skyscraper now rises over 1,000 feet, but also into houses and apartments often used only a few weeks a year. In Belgravia, Mayfair and Marylebone the oligarchs of Kazakhstan, the oil-rich of the Gulf and the newly affluent of Asia bivouac with their staffs. They shop, oblivious to the displaced masses with day jobs. The average masters of the universe in London, unlike those in the United States, can enjoy residency without being taxed on global income.

Large numbers of luxury properties sit empty most of the time, palatial slivers of big portfolios. If Vladimir V. Putin is serious about defending Russian speakers wherever they are, he may have to annex the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, where Russian is a lingua franca on the King’s Road.

None of this will be unfamiliar to New Yorkers. The other great global city — like London a magnet to strivers of every kind and home to every kind of bad English — has its own bubble. It sucks in money from across the globe, even without those tax advantages. Real estate prices soar. Ordinary people are pushed out. As in London, far-flung districts rise. Bushwick has arrived; East New York looms. New York is a world apart, even if its relative weight in the national economy is much smaller than that of the British capital.

What draws the world to London and New York is opportunity. That’s fine, of course. But they are also magnets to people looking for a safe place for their money. Having made it big in autocratic countries with parlous legal systems (if that), a cowed press and rampant corruption — say, Russia and China — oligarchs and crony capitalists wake up one day and find that, gosh, they like nothing as much as democratic systems under the rule of law held accountable by an independent press. Having trashed the West, they trust the West with their money.

This then is the way the world works: Autocratic hypercapitalism without Western checks and balances produces new elites whose dream is an American or British lifestyle and education for their children, and whose other goal, knowing how their own capricious systems really function, is to buy into the rule of law by acquiring real estate, driving up prices in prime markets to the point where the middle classes of those countries, with incomes often stagnant or falling, are pushed aside.

This process is mirrored at the national level, where the bargain is that American debt is bought by Asian governments, notably the Chinese, and Asians make money through access to credit-fueled American markets and consumers. Asians lend America money to police the world: Their new wealth depends on American-underwritten stability. They know it. Surface conflict often masks inextricable connectedness.

London and New York, with roughly the same populations, have become booming city-states that reflect 21st-century openness and fluidity, but also the skewed economics and growing inequalities of a world where finance has outflanked the law and the global rich find ways to game a system that holds the majority in its grip.

In London during these boom times, the disparities can feel obscene. Still, London does the public sphere, like bike schemes, road surfaces and the subway, much better than New York. It is a European city, after all. But it sits in a middling nation well past its zenith. New York does power, directness and steak a lot better than London. It races and churns. London carries on.

Take your pick. In the end it’s personal. Waiting for a table the other day in a New York restaurant, I was asked for my name. As I spelled it out, the maître d’hôtel interrupted me: “Of course, of the priestly class,” he said, referring to the name Cohen given to the high priests of ancient Israel.

That would not happen in London.

Now here’s Ms. Collins:

“Are you afraid of heights?” a questioner asked Alaskan Senate candidates in a debate this week.

The three men onstage, all running for the Republican nomination in next week’s primary, vigorously denied they suffered from acrophobia.

“Have you eaten salmon this week?” Yes! Yes! Yes!

We definitely need more of this kind of query in our political debates. First of all, it perks up an audience. And you learn stuff. As the yes-or-no segment went on, we discovered that all the candidates had gotten speeding tickets and that the Tea Party guy was once charged with carrying a gun in an airport.

Alaska is one of the states that will decide which party controls the Senate next term. The incumbent, Democrat Mark Begich, is running hard as a moderate who works hand-in-hand with Alaska’s Republican senator, Lisa Murkowski. (Murkowski recently served Begich with a cease-and-desist letter, demanding that he stop running ads showing them smiling at each other.)

One of the Republican contenders, Joe Miller, is so far to the right that he’s practically in Canada. Miller, who’s obsessed with immigration and “amnesty,” recently sent out a mailer covered with pictures of scary-looking, tattooed Hispanic men. “Begich wants them to vote. And if 20 million illegals vote, you can kiss the 2nd amendment goodbye,” it read.

Besides being racist and incredibly offensive, the flier appeared to be arguing that criminals are sneaking across our southern border bent on making firearms illegal. “Now who would be more against gun control than Salvadoran gangsters?” wondered Michael Carey, a columnist for the Alaska Dispatch.

Four years ago, Miller actually won the Republican Senate nomination, knocking out Murkowski after claiming she had changed her positions “more often than a moose sheds its antlers.” The moose ad was the high point of his campaign, as opposed to, say, the time his security guards handcuffed a reporter.

Cooler heads prevailed in November, and Murkowski got re-elected as a write-in candidate. In the Senate, she votes with the Republicans most of the time, but she works well with Democrats. Except Mark Begich who, really, was just there in the room when she was smiling at an amusing joke she happened to remember.

The two normal Republicans in the race — Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell and former Attorney General Dan Sullivan — are pretty much sticking to running against federal spending. “I’m not going to Washington with a gunny sack to bring home federal money,” Treadwell announced during the debate. “I’m going with a crowbar to pry loose our liberties.”

Yet — you’ve already guessed this, right? — Alaska gets more federal money per person than any other state. And there’s virtually no discussion of eliminating anything its residents — who pay no state income tax or sales tax — get now. During the debate, all three Republicans supported more spending on the military and a continuation of Alaska’s super-subsidized mail service.

We have been through this before in Mississippi. First, the candidate decries Washington spendthrifts. Then, when pressed for ideas on ways to cut back, he comes up with Obamacare and something totally unrelated to his home state. In Mississippi, it was Alaska’s Bridge to Nowhere. However, many Alaskans still believe that $398 million span between Ketchikan and Gravina Island was a perfectly reasonable idea.

During the debate, Sullivan referred to any federal program he liked as “infrastructure.” Treadwell said his fiscal restraint did not cover stuff his state actually needs. (“If we need an icebreaker with 44,000 miles of coastline, I’m going to fight for it. If we need sanitation, I’m going to fight for it.”)

If the Senate nomination was the only thing on the ballot Tuesday, we could anticipate a turnout of about somewhere from 6 to 16 people, depending on how many of Joe Miller’s eight children are old enough to vote. But there’s more! Including a big referendum on taxing oil companies, with Sarah Palin urging her fans to tax the rich.

Palin has been a wing nut for so long that we’ve forgotten that she made her name in Alaska as an actual reformer. Her great achievement as governor was a law that taxed oil companies at rates between 25 percent and 75 percent, depending on their profits. After she abandoned the state midterm for the glories of reality television and Fox News commentary, the Legislature backtracked and eventually replaced the sliding scale with a flat tax of 35 percent.

Grass-roots opponents collected enough signatures to get a vote on restoring the old system. Unfortunately, the roots are being outspent about 100 to 1 by the oil companies. And Palin’s 18-minute monologue in support of her signature reform — broadcast on her SarahPalin channel — has the overall effect of being trapped in an airplane with a seatmate who has inhaled helium.

“Look them in the eye and say: ‘You’d better look Big Oil in the eye!’ ” Palin said. As only she can.

Blow, Kristof and Collins

August 14, 2014

In “Michael Brown and Black Men” Mr. Blow says the killing is a wrenching reminder of the criminalization of black and brown bodies from the moment they are introduced to society.  Mr. Kristof says “Don’t Dismiss the Humanities,” and that the humanities aren’t obscure, arcane or irrelevant. They awaken our souls, influence how we think about inequality, and help us adapt to a changing world.  Ms. Collins asks “What’s Next With Hillary?”  She says Clinton and Obama are together again. She said something. He forgave her. You would think they were professional politicians!  Here’s Mr. Blow:

The killing of Michael Brown has tapped into something bigger than Michael Brown.

Brown was the unarmed 18-year-old black man who was shot to death Saturday by a policeman in Ferguson, Mo. There are conflicting accounts of the events that led to the shooting. There is an investigation by local authorities as well as one by federal authorities. There are grieving parents and a seething community. There are swarms of lawyers and hordes of reporters. There has been unrest. The president has appealed for reflection and healing.

There is an eerie echo in it all — a sense of tragedy too often repeated. And yet the sheer morbid, wrenching rhythm of it belies a larger phenomenon, one obscured by its vastness, one that can be seen only when one steps back and looks from a distance and with data: The criminalization of black and brown bodies — particularly male ones — from the moment they are first introduced to the institutions and power structures with which they must interact.

Earlier this year, the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights released “the first comprehensive look at civil rights from every public school in the country in nearly 15 years.” As the report put it: “The 2011-2012 release shows that access to preschool programs is not a reality for much of the country. In addition, students of color are suspended more often than white students, and black and Latino students are significantly more likely to have teachers with less experience who aren’t paid as much as their colleagues in other schools.”

Attorney General Eric Holder, remarking on the data, said: “This critical report shows that racial disparities in school discipline policies are not only well-documented among older students, but actually begin during preschool.”

But, of course, this criminalization stalks these children throughout their school careers.

As The New York Times editorial board pointed out last year: “Children as young as 12 have been treated as criminals for shoving matches and even adolescent misconduct like cursing in school. This is worrisome because young people who spend time in adult jails are more likely to have problems with law enforcement later on. Moreover, federal data suggest a pattern of discrimination in the arrests, with black and Hispanic children more likely to be affected than their white peers.”

A 2010 report by the Southern Poverty Law Center found that while the average suspension rate for middle school students in 18 of the nation’s largest school districts was 11.2 percent in 2006, the rate for black male students was 28.3 percent, by far the highest of any subgroup by race, ethnicity or gender. And, according to the report, previous research “has consistently found that racial/ethnic disproportionality in discipline persists even when poverty and other demographic factors are controlled.”

And these disparities can have a severe impact on a child’s likelihood of graduating. According to a report from the Everyone Graduates Center at Johns Hopkins University that looked at Florida students, “Being suspended even once in 9th grade is associated with a two-fold increase in the risk for dropping out.”

Black male dropout rates are more than one and a half times those of white males, and when you look at the percentage of black men who graduate on time — in four years, not including those who possibly go on to get G.E.D.s, transfer to other schools or fail grades — the numbers are truly horrific. Only about half of these black men graduate on time.

Now, the snowball is rolling. The bias of the educational system bleeds easily into the bias of the criminal justice system — from cops to courts to correctional facilities. The school-to-prison pipeline is complete.

A May report by the Brookings Institution found: “There is nearly a 70 percent chance that an African American man without a high school diploma will be imprisoned by his mid-thirties.”

This is in part because trending policing disparities are particularly troubling in places like Missouri. As the editorial board of The St. Louis Post-Dispatch pointed out this week: “Last year, for the 11th time in the 14 years that data has been collected, the disparity index that measures potential racial profiling by law enforcement in the state got worse. Black Missourians were 66 percent more likely in 2013 to be stopped by police, and blacks and Hispanics were both more likely to be searched, even though the likelihood of finding contraband was higher among whites.”

And this is the reality if the child actually survives the journey. That is if he has the internal fortitude to continue to stand with the weight on his shoulders. That is if he doesn’t find himself on the wrong end of a gun barrel. That is if his parents can imbue in him a sense of value while the world endeavors to imbue in him a sense of worthlessness.

Parents can teach children how to interact with authority and how to mitigate the threat response their very being elicits. They can wrap them in love to safeguard them against the bitterness of racial suspicion.

It can be done. It is often done. But it is heartbreaking nonetheless. What psychic damage does it do to the black mind when one must come to own and manage the fear of the black body?

The burden of bias isn’t borne by the person in possession of it but by the person who is the subject of it. The violence is aimed away from the possessor of its instruments — the arrow is pointed away from the killer and at the prey.

It vests victimhood in the idea of personhood. It steals sometimes, something precious and irreplaceable. It breaks something that’s irreparable. It alters something in a way that’s irrevocable.

We flinchingly choose a lesser damage.

But still, the hopelessness takes hold when one realizes that there is no amount of acting right or doing right, no amount of parental wisdom or personal resilience that can completely guarantee survival, let alone success.

Brown had just finished high school and was to start college this week. The investigation will hopefully clarify what led to his killing. But it is clear even now that his killing occurred in a context, one that we would do well to recognize.

Brown’s mother told a local television station after he was killed just weeks after his high school graduation: “Do you know how hard it was for me to get him to stay in school and graduate? You know how many black men graduate? Not many. Because you bring them down to this type of level, where they feel like they don’t got nothing to live for anyway. ‘They’re going to try to take me out anyway.’ ”

Next up is Mr. Kristof:

What use could the humanities be in a digital age?

University students focusing on the humanities may end up, at least in their parents’ nightmares, as dog-walkers for those majoring in computer science. But, for me, the humanities are not only relevant but also give us a toolbox to think seriously about ourselves and the world.

I wouldn’t want everybody to be an art or literature major, but the world would be poorer — figuratively, anyway — if we were all coding software or running companies. We also want musicians to awaken our souls, writers to lead us into fictional lands, and philosophers to help us exercise our minds and engage the world.

Skeptics may see philosophy as the most irrelevant and self-indulgent of the humanities, but the way I understand the world is shaped by three philosophers in particular.

First, Sir Isaiah Berlin described the world as muddled and complex, with many competing values yet no simple yardstick to determine which should trump the others. We yearn for One True Answer, but it’s our lot to struggle to reconcile inconsistent goals. He referred to this as pluralism of values.

Yet Sir Isaiah also cautioned against the hand-wringing that sometimes paralyzes intellectuals, the idea that everything is so complex, nuanced and uncertain that one cannot act. It’s the idea pilloried by Yeats: “The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.”

Sir Isaiah argued for acknowledging doubts and uncertainty — and then forging ahead. “Principles are not less sacred because their duration cannot be guaranteed,” he wrote. “Indeed, the very desire for guarantees that our values are eternal and secure in some objective heaven is perhaps only a craving for the certainties of childhood.”

Second, John Rawls offers a useful way of thinking about today’s issues such as inequality or poverty, of institutionalizing what our society gravely lacks: empathy. He explores basic questions of fairness, leading to a compelling explanation for why we should create safety nets to support the poor and good schools to help their kids achieve a better life.

Rawls suggests imagining that we all gather to agree on a social contract, but from an “original position” so that we don’t know if we will be rich or poor, smart or dumb, diligent or lazy, American or Bangladeshi. If we don’t know whether we’ll be born in a wealthy suburban family or to a single mom in an inner city, we’ll be more inclined to favor measures that protect those at the bottom.

Or, in the context of today’s news, we may be less likely to deport Honduran children back to the desolate conditions from which they have fled.

We still will allow for inequality to create incentives for economic growth, but Rawls suggests that, from an original position, we will choose structures that allow inequality only when the least advantaged members of society also benefit.

Third, Peter Singer of Princeton University has pioneered the public discussion of our moral obligations to animals, including those we raise to eat. Singer wrote a landmark book in 1975, “Animal Liberation,” and cites utilitarian reasoning to argue that it’s wrong to inflict cruelty on cows, hogs or chickens just so that we can enjoy a tasty lunch.

It has long been recognized that we have some ethical obligations that transcend our species; that’s why we’re arrested if we torture kittens or organize dog fights. But Singer focused squarely on industrial agriculture and the thrice-daily question of what we put on our plates, turning that into not just a gastronomical issue but also a moral one.

I’m not a vegetarian, although I’m sometimes tempted, but Singer’s arguments still apply. Do we skip regular eggs or pay more for cage-free? Should I eat goose liver pâté (achieved by torturing geese)? Do we give preference to restaurants that try to source pork or chicken in ways that inflict less pain?

So let me push back at the idea that the humanities are obscure, arcane and irrelevant. These three philosophers influence the way I think about politics, immigration, inequality; they even affect what I eat.

It’s also worth pointing out that these three philosophers are recent ones. To adapt to a changing world, we need new software for our cellphones; we also need new ideas. The same goes for literature, for architecture, languages and theology.

Our world is enriched when coders and marketers dazzle us with smartphones and tablets, but, by themselves, they are just slabs. It is the music, essays, entertainment and provocations that they access, spawned by the humanities, that animate them — and us.

So, yes, the humanities are still relevant in the 21st century — every bit as relevant as an iPhone.

And now here’s Ms. Collins:

Well, let’s hope that’s over.

President Obama was in Martha’s Vineyard, playing golf. Hillary Clinton arrived, ready to sign books. They were headed for the same birthday party where, a Clinton aide said, they intended to “hug it out.” Peace was declared. Extraordinary! You would think they were both professional politicians.

As the whole world now knows, Clinton gave an interview to The Atlantic last week in which she took issue with President Obama’s “don’t do stupid stuff” foreign policy mantra, pushed a harder line than the White House on Iran, and disagreed with Obama’s refusal to arm the rebels in Syria.

The Clinton camp insists she had no intention of breaking with the president. But if that’s the case, then the former secretary of state had trouble saying precisely what she wanted to say about foreign policy. That just doesn’t sound like Hillary Clinton, who is a great conversationalist off the record, yet has an absolute genius way of saying nothing exciting whatsoever when the tape recorder is running.

Some people think that after years on the diplomacy trail, she may have lost her edge. “I don’t know if her political instincts are in top shape,” said a Friend of Obama. But then, you know, F.O.B.

Given all the options, I’d prefer to think it was a minor betrayal. Loyalty may be an overrated virtue in high-level politics. Really, nobody cares if a president back-bites a former colleague or dumps a best friend. Just keep the country running and we’re good.

Anyway, he forgives her! Hugs scheduled for the birthday party for Vernon Jordan’s wife.

It’s only been six years since Obama and Clinton ran against each other, but, wow, does it feel longer. Watching Obama, I remembered a time during the 2008 campaign when he told a story about a woman who’d “seen some years,” adding: “She’s maybe close to 60.” Some of the middle-aged women in the crowd started to hiss.

Now, the president himself looks as though he’s seen some years. He’s long since gotten his first AARP mailings. And Clinton has been heir apparent — forever. Democrats have gotten so used to thinking of her as the next president that they’ve stopped seriously evaluating her as a candidate for their nomination.

The Atlantic interview sort of bounced everything back into perspective. Liberals with dovish leanings raced to Google to see whether any high-ranking Democrats have been sighted at the Iowa State Fair. What does Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley think about uranium enrichment negotiations with Iran? (We always describe him as “Maryland governor” because nobody outside of his home state knows who Martin O’Malley is.) Has Elizabeth Warren totally ruled out running? (Yes.)

Hillary’s still got the virtues her base has always admired: intelligence, experience, remarkable ability to take a punch and keep on running. Everybody loves the woman who showed up on “The Colbert Report” the other night, having a name-dropping contest with the host. Everybody remembers her determination to lift up women’s rights in Asia and Africa, her unflagging energy as secretary of state (956,733 miles traveled; total travel time, 2,084 hours).

But now that she’s brought up actual issues, the party’s rank-and-file deserves some more information.

Back in the 2008 primaries, Obama was arguing that with the right leadership in the White House, America could get rid of the old brain-dead partisanship of the past and reach a new era of bipartisan cooperation. Hillary, working off long experience, said the real world was tougher and more complicated than that. After the election, as Washington ground to a hopeless, vicious, zombified halt, she was proved right.

In foreign affairs, too, Clinton reflected what she’d learned when her husband was president. Airstrikes worked in Kosovo. Bill Clinton brought Israel and the Palestinians right to the edge of a peace deal, but the Palestinians backed away. The president failed to intervene in Rwanda, and regretted it forever. The bad guys only understood a firm hand. During the debates, she refused to say that during her first year in office she’d be open to meeting with leaders of countries like Cuba or North Korea. If the Iranians declared nuclear war on Israel, she told an interviewer, as president she would “totally obliterate” them.

This is the Hillary who popped back up this week. She was probably being neither politically calculating nor blundering in the Atlantic interview, but simply being unusually clear about what she believes. And we need to hear more, not less. Does she really think the Syrian disaster could have been averted if the United States had helped the rebels? In The Atlantic, she was a little oblique on that point. Maybe a debate with Joe Biden. …

“I’m excited about signing my books,” Clinton said Wednesday night, when a reporter asked how she feels about Obama’s Iraq policy. It’s August, everybody’s friends, and we may not hear another serious conversation on these matters until 2015.

If Hillary Clinton is the best that the Democratic party can do we’re doomed.

Nocera and Collins

August 9, 2014

In “This Is Reform?” Mr. Nocera says the real reformer is Judge Claudia Wilken, not the college sports establishment.  In “It’s a Can’t-Lose Year” Ms. Collins says seriously, people. It’s only a bad year if you’re Santa Claus.  Here’s Mr. Nocera:

Too little, too late.

On Thursday, the 18 members of the N.C.A.A.’s Division 1 board of directors voted 16 to 2 to allow the five richest conferences to play by their own rules, at least a little bit.

Those who have been advocating this “reform” — especially the athletic directors and conference commissioners of the Big 5 conferences — have talked endlessly about how it is all about giving the athletes at the 65 big-time schools that make up their conferences a better deal.

If only. To be sure, the new Division 1 plan would give the players some help that they haven’t had before. The schools would be able to offer their athletes a small stipend so their athletic scholarships would cover the “full cost of attendance.” They could pass rules giving their athletes better medical insurance. The players could gain the ability to hire agents and advisers while they are still playing college ball. And so on.

But these changes hardly constitute wholesale reform. Rather, the big conferences thought they were doing the minimum they could get away with to make their problems go away, even as lawsuits have been bearing down on them, a union drive has taken place among the Northwestern University football players, and critics have given full-throated voice to the enormous inequities in big-time college football and men’s basketball, the two sports that generate billions of dollars for everyone in college athletics except the athletes themselves.

Bob Bowlsby, the commissioner of the Big 12, admitted as much to my colleague Juliet Macur the other day. He told her, as she put it in her Times column on Friday, that the conferences “had to make a pre-emptive move to try to save themselves.” Precisely.

As it turns out, it didn’t work. On Friday, in California, Judge Claudia Wilken, who presided over the so-called O’Bannon case in June, ruled that, by limiting the amount of scholarship money the players could get, the N.C.A.A. was in violation of the nation’s antitrust laws. She ruled that not only should players get the full cost of attendance, but that trust funds should be set up for players that could contain $5,000 a year. That may not sound like much, but according to the plaintiffs’ lawyers I spoke to, it could add up to some $300 million.

In a recent article on the sports website Deadspin, the economist Andy Schwarz shrewdly noted that there are actually two very distinct schools of N.C.A.A. critics. He called them Team Reform and Team Market.

Team Reform, he wrote, consists of those who believe that college sports have gotten out of hand, and are not reflective of the values of higher education. They want to put the genie back in the bottle — and they are unlikely to be happy with the judge’s decision.

Team Market, to which Schwarz (and I) belong, believes that there’s nothing all that wrong with commercialized college sports — which has tens of millions of followers, after all — so long as the value, as he puts it, goes to the value creators, which most definitely include the players. Team Market is thrilled with the judge’s decision.

The N.C.A.A. and the big-time college sports establishment are not terribly worried about Team Reform, which has generally been toothless and has no real way to effect its agenda. But they have long been terrified of Team Market, which has the potential to truly change the nature of college sports. The O’Bannon case is only the first lawsuit to go to trial; there are other antitrust lawsuits coming down the pike that could force even bigger changes.

I know there are those who complain that all these changes will allow the rich in college sports to becoming richer, at the expense of all the other schools in Division I. To which I say: so what.

In fact, I think that could potentially be a good thing. If you separate off the 65 schools in the Big 5 conferences — plus a few others like Boise State in football and the University of Connecticut in basketball — and allow their athletic departments to become ever richer and more powerful, they will be more easily seen for what they are: a form of professionalized and commercialized entertainment that has very little to do with higher education. They are the ones that can afford to put money in trust for players — and that is what is likely to happen. They are not going to suddenly join Team Reform.

At the same time, the also-ran schools may be forced to rethink athletics entirely. Unable to pay their players, perhaps they’ll decide that the better part of valor is to de-emphasize sports and make them truly collegiate activities rather than part of a multibillion dollar entertainment complex.

Ultimately the Big 5 conferences hoped the changes they were making would be the last in a process that would shut off further reform. As we learned on Friday, it is more likely to be just the beginning.

Now here’s Ms. Collins:

Wow, it appears that Republicans in Tennessee just gave a vote of confidence to a right-wing congressman-doctor who has a history of having sex with his patients and encouraging the women in his life to end inconvenient pregnancies by abortion.

This would be Representative Scott DesJarlais, one of the most conservative members of the House of Representatives. The vote in Thursday’s primary was so close that they may still be recounting on Inauguration Day.

But the real point is that DesJarlais did not get resoundingly repudiated. When the campaign began, almost everybody expected him to lose big, including the Republican establishment in Tennessee, which piled support and money on his opponent, a state senator named Jim Tracy.

Tracy was, by most reports, a better retail politician. And the only genuine policy issue appeared to be whether the district would rather have, as its socially conservative representative, the doctor who was fined for carrying on sexual affairs with his patients or the other guy.

So how the heck did DesJarlais end up doing so well? Maybe it’s just because he’s already there. It’s been a terrific primary season for incumbents. Only three members of Congress have lost their seats: the House majority leader, Eric Cantor; 91-year-old Representative Ralph Hall of Texas; and Representative Kerry Bentivolio, a Michigan reindeer farmer who once said in a deposition that he sometimes believed he was truly Santa Claus. Bentivolio sort of fell into office two years ago, when a judge tossed the incumbent Republican off the primary ballot for submitting forged nominating petitions.

So despite all the whining about unpredictable voters, a seat in Congress is still a hard thing to lose. Unless you’re over 90. Or if your nickname is “the accidental congressman.” Or you’re so pompous and self-satisfied you become the kind of guy who spends Primary Day out of town, having coffee with lobbyists at a Washington, D.C., Starbucks.

DesJarlais had argued that his sins — which included affairs with patients that won him a fine from the Tennessee Board of Medical Examiners — were all in the distant past.

Indeed, the hanky-panky that’s been made public all dates back before his 2001 divorce. And there definitely should be a statute of limitations on this sort of thing. For instance, absolutely nothing a politician did in college counts, and we have totally forgotten the thing about Rand Paul kidnapping a member of the Baylor swim team and telling her to bow down and worship the god Aqua Buddha. Wiped it from the memory bank.

DesJarlais was first elected during the big anti-Obama Republican sweep of 2010. The stories of his sexual transgressions weren’t really confirmed until the end of the 2012 campaign. But, since then, voters have heard quite a lot about how their anti-abortion congressman’s first wife had two abortions with his consent. DesJarlais said in his divorce trial that the first was “therapeutic” and the second was because “things were not going well between us.”

The transcript from the divorce proceedings also included a phone conversation in which DesJarlais nagged an ex-lover to end her pregnancy. (“You told me you’d have an abortion, and now we’re getting too far along without one.”) He claimed he actually just wanted her to admit that she was making the whole pregnancy story up. In the annals of explanations, it ranks right up there with “I’m leaving you because you’re too good for me.”

It was quite a bit of information for the voters to get past, but many of them did. Maybe the key was right-wing radio hosts, who stuck with their Tea Party favorite. Maybe it was his second wife, who campaigned loyally at his side in yet another example of why being a political spouse is the worst job in America.

Maybe it was God. “I’ve heard him say ‘God has forgiven me’ many times,” said Chas Sisk, the state government reporter for The Tennessean.

Americans do love a repentant sinner, and, to tell the truth, having to campaign through a sexual scandal is punishment enough for a lot of bad behavior.

But then there’s the part about abortion. As a member of Congress, DesJarlais eagerly and persistently urged that women be deprived of the right to do the very thing that he seemed so enthusiastic about when an unwanted pregnancy interfered with his own life. “Dr. D’s Prescription for Tennessee: Protect our traditional Tennessee values: Scott is pro-gun, pro-life and pro-marriage and PROUD OF IT,” announced his first campaign website.

So, at best, we have a man who made a decision that worked for him at the time. Then he regretted it and changed his moral principles. Then he decided that nobody else was ever going to have the right to make that moral choice for herself, if he had anything to do with it.

Some things are really unforgivable.

Blow, Kristof and Collins

August 7, 2014

In “War Against Whites? I Think Not” Mr. Blow say despite a Republican’s claim that Democrats are waging a divisive campaign, the G.O.P. has long been digging its own grave on issues of racial inclusion.  In “Fighting Ebola for Us All” Mr. Kristof says the outbreak of the Ebola virus underscores that we have both a humanitarian interest and a national interest in addressing global health.  Ms. Collins considers “The Panda Angle” and says pay attention, people! The midterm races are getting so heated that the latest debate is over whether New York needs a couple of bears from China.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

When Representative Mo Brooks, Republican of Alabama, claimed earlier this week that Democrats were waging a “war on whites,” he lifted the lid on a simmering resentment that is very real and very resilient and feeds on anxiety — and fear — about a changing America, and the possibility of those changes upending historical architectures of privilege.

On Monday, Brooks was on Laura Ingraham’s radio show to talk about Republicans’ deportation policies. She played a clip of Ron Fournier of The National Journal on Fox News saying:

“The fastest-growing voting block in this country thinks the Republican Party hates them. This party, your party, cannot be the party of the future beyond November if you’re seen as the party of white people.”

Ingraham asked Brooks to respond to the clip, and he did:

“This is a part of the war on whites that’s being launched by the Democratic Party. And the way in which they’re launching this war is by claiming that whites hate everybody else. It’s part of the strategy that Barack Obama implemented in 2008, continued in 2012, where he divides us all on race, on sex, greed, envy, class warfare, all those kinds of things.”

This is a paranoid delusion wrapped in a staggering deflection inside an utter lack of personal — or party — accountability.

Republicans have been digging a trench between themselves and racial minorities for decades. One could argue that it began when President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and reportedly lamented that, in doing so, he was assuring that Democrats had lost the South for a generation, a kind of political white flight of Southern whites to the Republican Party.

The racial divisiveness became part of the party plan in the 1970s with the “Southern Strategy,” when Richard Nixon’s political strategist Kevin Phillips told The New York Times Magazine: “The more Negroes who register as Democrats in the South, the sooner the Negrophobe whites will quit the Democrats and become Republicans.”

Then Nixon declared a war on drugs in 1971, which is one of the longest-running, most disastrous programs — in both wasted money and wasted lives — in the history of this country.

After more than 40 million drug arrests and $1 trillion spent, what do we have to show for it? For one, an obscene, bloated mass-incarceration system. According to the Sentencing Project, “The United States is the world’s leader in incarceration with 2.2 million people currently in the nation’s prisons or jails — a 500 percent increase over the past thirty years.”

Furthermore, the antidrug campaign has become increasingly focused on arrests for marijuana — a substance that is now legal in some states and whose potential legality is picking up steam in others — and among those arrested exists an unconscionable racial disparity. As the A.C.L.U. has pointed out:

“Despite the fact that whites engage in drug offenses at a higher rate than African-Americans, African-Americans are incarcerated for drug offenses at a rate that is 10 times greater than that of whites.”

The racial divisiveness was further accelerated in the 1976 presidential campaign, when Ronald Reagan continually invoked the specter of a lecherous welfare-abusing woman from Chicago — the “Welfare Queen,” the media dubbed her — who, he said:

“Has 80 names, 30 addresses, 12 Social Security cards and is collecting veteran’s benefits on four nonexisting deceased husbands. And she is collecting Social Security on her cards. She’s got Medicaid, getting food stamps, and she is collecting welfare under each of her names. Her tax-free cash income is over $150,000.”

The object of the anecdote was reported to be a woman named Linda Taylor.

Only, as a Washington Star article printed in The Times pointed out in February of 1976, “The problem is that the story does not quite check out.”

As the article explained:

“After a series of indictments each one of which was replaced by another indictment, winnowing down the number of charges, Miss Taylor is now charged with using not 80 aliases but four. The amount the state is charging that she received from her alleged fraud is not $150,000 but $8,000.”

The article concluded, “The ‘welfare queen’ item in Mr. Reagan’s repertoire is one of several that seem to be at odds with the facts.”

The racial divisiveness continued in 1988, when George Bush’s supporters used the Willie Horton attack ad against Michael Dukakis.

It continues as Republicans trade racial terms for culture-centric euphemisms. Newt Gingrich, in 2011: “Really poor children in really poor neighborhoods have no habits of working and have nobody around them who works,” although most poor people of working age work. Paul Ryan, earlier this year: “We have got this tailspin of culture, in our inner cities in particular, of men not working and just generations of men not even thinking about working or learning the value and the culture of work.” And Bill O’Reilly said recently in a discussion about legalizing marijuana that the left’s position was that marijuana was harmless and “It’s blacks, you know, you get, you’re trapping the blacks because in certain ghetto neighborhoods it’s part of the culture.”

Add the Obama birthers, voter suppression laws, congressional obstruction and Republicans in the House voting to sue the president, and it becomes clear: Democrats didn’t drive a wedge between Republicans and blacks; Republicans drove blacks away. Blacks have voted more than 80 percent Democratic in every election since at least 1972 and that percentage was over 90 percent in both of Obama’s elections.

And in the Obama era — despite what Mo Brooks says — Republicans are not only solidifying their division with blacks but solidifying a divide with Hispanics as well.

(In 2008, most of the people voting for Barack Obama were white. In fact, as I’ve pointed out before, even if every black person in America had stayed home on Election Day that year, Obama would still have won.)

But during Obama’s term, as a Gallup poll found in March, more whites have moved away from the Democratic Party and toward the Republican Party. It was yet more white flight.

As for Hispanics, Republicans seemed to make some headway when George W. Bush, who supported a pathway to citizenship, was in the White House. They shrank a 50-point Democratic advantage among Hispanic voters in 1982 to just 12 points in 2004. But, congressional Republicans destroyed that trend by passing an enforcement-only immigration bill in 2005, sparking nationwide protests, and leading to a 2006 midterm election in which the Democratic advantage among Hispanic voters for House races soared again to 48 percentage points.

Since then, we have seen further anti-immigrant legislation like Arizona’s Show-Me-Your-Papers law, Congress’s failure to move on comprehensive immigration and opposition to efforts to help the Dreamers. It has now culminated in an ugly conservative reaction to the humanitarian crisis of undocumented children from Central American arriving at our southern border.

(It should be noted here that Hispanic is an ethnicity, not a race. Hispanics can be of any race and a recent Pew Research report found that they are increasingly identifying themselves as white.)

Whites are not under attack by Democrats; Republicans like Brooks are simply stoking racial fears to hide their history of racially regressive policies.

Now here’s Mr. Kristof:

On July 23, Dr. Kent Brantly woke up with a fever. He immediately quarantined himself, and three days later a test confirmed his nightmare. He had the Ebola virus.

Brantly, 33, emailed a friend and said that he was “terrified,” for he knew better than anyone the horror of the virus. He had been treating patients in West Africa with it for many weeks, watching as they vomited, hemorrhaged internally and sometimes bled from multiple orifices — then weakened and died.

Some people have blamed Brantly and another American missionary infected, Nancy Writebol, for bringing the danger to themselves, even objecting to their return to Atlanta to be treated for the disease at Emory University Hospital. For example, Donald Trump argued that Brantly and Writebol should not be brought back to the United States because of the risks involved.

“People that go to far away places to help out are great — but must suffer the consequences!” Trump said on Twitter.

On the contrary, this Ebola outbreak underscores why we have not only a humanitarian interest in addressing global health, but also a national interest in doing so. Brantly and Writebol are moral leaders in this effort and underscore the practical imperative of tackling global contagions early on. They deserve our gratitude and admiration because in Liberia they were protecting us as well as Liberians.

The human mind is very sensitive to threats from the likes of Al Qaeda. We are less attuned to public health threats, even those that claim more lives: Some 15,000 people with AIDS still die in the United States every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It’s better to address a contagious disease at its source rather than allow it to spread.

“If we don’t fight to contain it there, we’re going to fight to contain it somewhere else,” notes Ken Isaacs of Samaritan’s Purse, the Christian aid group for which Brantly works.

The World Bank has pledged $200 million to try to control the Ebola outbreak, but a tiny fraction of that sum might have contained it early on.

Dr. Thomas Frieden, the director of the C.D.C., cites an American-backed program in Uganda to train health workers to diagnose and contain Ebola. It worked. In 2011, a 12-year-old girl there caught the Ebola virus and died from it — but no one else was infected. It was an exceptionally rare Ebola episode that stopped after just a single case.

A similar program in West Africa might likewise have limited the human and financial cost of this outbreak, Frieden noted, adding: “An outbreak anywhere is a risk everywhere.”

This isn’t true only of the Ebola virus. Frieden recalls caring in New York for a patient from India with extensively drug-resistant tuberculosis, a complex case that cost $100,000 to cure. Later, a program was set up in the patient’s native village that could have resolved the case early for $10.

New York hospitals have been on alert for Ebola, but diagnosis and segregation are complicated. I know because I was once such a suspected case.

Years ago, when I lived in Japan, I returned to Tokyo from Congo at the time of an Ebola outbreak there. One night a week later, I came down with a high fever. It felt like malaria, so I made inquiries about what hospital in Tokyo could best treat malaria the next day.

The health authorities heard “Congo” and “fever” and sent an ambulance staffed with people in what looked like spacesuits to rush me to a hospital. My neighbors were taken aback by the scene.

But, at the hospital, the emergency room night doctor knew nothing about tropical diseases. He poked me a bit, shrugged and told me to go home. (The next day, I confirmed that it was malaria.)

So don’t see Brantly and Writebol as reckless curiosities who somehow brought Ebola upon themselves. See them as leaders on the front line of an effort to help and protect Americans and Africans alike. We sometimes forget that health workers can brave significant risks — of infection with H.I.V., with tuberculosis, or even with the Ebola virus. Indeed, the staff treating Brantly and Writebol in Atlanta volunteered for that duty, and some offered to cancel vacation plans to help.

Bravo to them, and to so many health workers in Africa and America who try to halt the spread of disease — because it’s where humanitarian interests and national interests coincide.

“It’s natural to feel sorry for Kent” Brantly, a former medical school professor of his, Richard Gunderman, wrote in The Indianapolis Star. “But I wonder if Kent wouldn’t turn this around. Instead, he might feel sorry for some of us, at least those of us shaking our heads in dismay at anyone who would travel halfway across the world to do what he did. A ship may be safest in harbor, but that is not what ships are for.”

And now here’s Ms. Collins:

About politics and pandas …

This is obviously an attempt to get your attention by bringing up a cute and cuddly animal. But give me a break. It’s August.

Congress, as you know, has gone on vacation after setting a spectacular record for nonachievement. Some members are now home, preparing for hard-fought re-election battles in districts where nobody can predict the outcome. That would be about 12 of them. Others are preparing to campaign obsessively even though it’s already obvious that they’re going to win.

And then a bunch of them are off on trips. Because, August.

Representative Carolyn Maloney, a veteran New York Democrat, is in China on an expedition financed by the Chinese People’s Institute of Foreign Affairs. While she’s there, she’ll be making the usual round of meetings and tours. Also, she’ll be visiting a national panda research base — from which, Maloney has suggested a time or 12, she would like to get a couple of bears for New York City. “The greatest city in the world deserves two pandas,” she told The Daily News.

Controversy arose when Maloney’s Republican opponent, Nick Di Iorio, complained that the congresswoman should be thinking about serious problems like jobs and Israel, where he is going on his trip. “It’s not a time we have a luxury of bringing back animals for a zoo,” he declared in a phone interview.

I’m not sure this is true. We all know that we’re not going to be getting a thing out of Congress next year, no matter who wins the elections. In that case, wouldn’t it be cool to have a panda?

It’s kind of metaphysical, really.

Or pragmatic. A happy electorate is an electorate with extremely low expectations. Congress never should have abolished earmarks. If we still had earmarks, we could just send these people off to Washington, cross our fingers, and hope they’ll come home with a new highway exit.

While it is true that I once wrote that Carolyn Maloney is the kind of politician who would pander to a doorknob, this bear quest seems like a totally worthy endeavor. Even though there are no zoos in her district.

On the other hand, you cannot blame Di Iorio for raising the issue, since his options for getting media attention are pretty much limited to walking down Broadway naked or mentioning an adorable animal. (Or maybe starring in a reality TV show about hopeless congressional candidates. This did come up, but Di Iorio says he decided to drop the idea even before it became clear that the promoter was not going to be able to sell the series.)

Anyhow, the district is so heavily Democratic that the panda itself would win if it had the party line on the ballot. “Carolyn Maloney couldn’t lose if she tried,” said David Wasserman of The Cook Political Report.

Most Americans already know that their congressional elections are foregone conclusions. The Cook Report estimates 364 of the House races are in that general category. Meanwhile, there are 16 that are really competitive, about two dozen that are sort of competitive, and 32 others in which the challenger at least has a reason to get out of bed in the morning.

So Maloney’s constituents may look back at the panda exchange as the dramatic high point of the election season. And they will be luckier than a lot of other voters. I live in a district where the Democratic congressional candidate once won even though he was dead. Another time the Democrat was alive, but his challenger was a convicted arsonist.

Of course, there’s no such thing as an absolute shoo-in. Remember Eric Cantor! Cantor’s defeat showed that the system really did work and that even the House majority leader can lose a can’t-lose contest if he has an extremely irritating personality and spends the first half of Election Day out of town having breakfast with lobbyists. So there’s that.

Everyone’s been wondering whether California’s new nonpartisan primary system will improve the caliber of candidates, including long-shot challengers. We will see. This fall, in the district that includes Santa Barbara, Lois Capps, the Democratic incumbent, is facing Chris Mitchum, the 70-year-old son of Robert Mitchum whose own acting career included an important role in “Real Men Don’t Eat Gummi Bears.” It’s a liberal district, and Chris Mitchum is a Tea Party stalwart who claims he was blacklisted by Hollywood for having accepted a part in a John Wayne movie. Really, Carolyn Maloney constituents, thank your lucky stars.

But we were talking about the metaphysical implications of the panda controversy.

The biggest of which involves an important detail: Maloney is not literally getting anything in China. “It’s a long-term project,” said a spokesman. “She will not be returning from this particular trip with a panda.”

Democrat proposes panda. Republican complains about panda. There actually is no panda. It’s the circle of life.

Nocera and Collins

August 2, 2014

In “Sympathy for the Devil” Mr. Nocera has a question:  Should we care if a big corporation that did an awful thing is being hosed?  He’s playing Gunga Din for BP again.  Ms. Collins, in “Congress: The Road to Roads,” says you thought the current Congress never got any work done. Well, how about that Highway Trust Fund fix?  Here’s Gunga Din Mr. Nocera:

What does it mean for a company “to do the right thing” after an industrial accident?

It used to be standard operating procedure that when something went wrong, companies immediately took to the courts to fight over who got compensated and for how much, trying to minimize their own financial liability. Those fights could take years to resolve, with no guarantee that the plaintiffs would be compensated justly.

But then came the Deepwater Horizon spill, which killed 11 people and spewed oil into the Gulf of Mexico for 87 days in the spring and summer of 2010. BP, whose negligence was largely responsible for the spill, decided to take a different tack. It decided to try to make amends immediately, without waiting to get sued. “It was a shocking tragedy,” recalled Bob Dudley, BP’s American-born chief executive, who spoke to me in New York on Thursday in the midst of a day of meetings with investors. (BP had just announced its second-quarter earnings.) “And we immediately knew we wanted to do the right thing.”

BP spent billions on environmental cleanup and billions more compensating the economic victims of the spill. It waived liability limits. It vowed — to the president of the United States, no less — to put aside $20 billion for compensation alone. Most intriguingly, it brought in Ken Feinberg to oversee a claims process that avoided the court system. Feinberg wound up paying $6.3 billion to around 200,000 claimants, people who could show that the spill had in some way harmed them or their businesses economically.

Why? No doubt the awful P.R. that came from having the country watch the oil gushing from the broken well, day after day, had something to do with it. And no doubt only a company as big as BP could spend the billions required to undo the damage of such a massive spill. (It has spent a total of $27 billion so far, much of which came from selling assets.) But, Dudley says, it was also the company’s objective “to reach reasonable settlements and put this behind us. I don’t regret what we did. I feel proud of us as a company.”

As it turns out, the regret came a little later. Despite the Feinberg claims process — and the billions he doled out — the plaintiffs’ bar still wanted its piece of the action. So a group called the Plaintiffs’ Steering Committee sued BP. After that suit was settled, Feinberg was let go, replaced by a local Louisiana lawyer named Patrick Juneau. And Juneau began approving claims from all sorts of businesses that, by any reasonable standard, were never harmed by the oil spill.

The wireless phone retailer who was awarded more than $135,000, even though its building had burned down before the spill. The attorney who was awarded more than $172,000, even though his license had been revoked in 2009. There were dozens — nay, hundreds — of bogus claims like those.

At one point, BP, through Juneau, was spending $100 million a week in claims. Indeed, in the space of two years, Juneau has awarded some $4 billion.

Should you care that a big corporation that did an awful thing — and that has paid mightily for doing so — is now being hosed? “First of all,” said Dudley, “this is the shareholders’ money, not some faceless corporation’s.” Second, said Dudley, it causes other companies to think twice about investing in America. And third, “It’s just not right for people to cash in on an industrial tragedy when they weren’t actually involved.”

So about a year ago, BP changed tack again: It decided to fight the plaintiffs’ lawyers and Juneau’s claims process. Although the plaintiffs say that BP signed a bad agreement — and that it always knew that people who weren’t harmed by the spill were going to get money — BP has put “causation” at the center of its legal claims. In other words, it is arguing that you can’t litigate on behalf of a class of people who weren’t harmed by the accident.

The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against BP, in a divided vote. But other circuits have voted the other way in different cases — ruling that no matter what the terms of a settlement, no judge can approve it if there is no causal link between the class members and the accident itself.

Not surprisingly, on Friday afternoon, the day after I spoke to Dudley, BP made a filing to the Supreme Court, asking the court to rule on the Fifth Circuit’s decision. The question remains a simple one: Can you have a class-action lawsuit in which large numbers of the class members have never been harmed by the defendant?

I know what my answer to that question is. Assuming it takes the case, it will be interesting to see what the Supreme Court has to say.

Now here’s Ms. Collins:

Well, all I can say is thank God we’ve got that Highway Trust Fund fixed.

Congress raced for its August break on Friday, with many complaints about voting on legislation nobody had ever seen (“What bill are we talking about?”) and plaintive cries of: “We can do better than this!”

There is actually no evidence whatsoever that the current Congress can do better than this. But good news — the House and Senate did manage a last-minute agreement to keep the nation’s road-building programs going for a few more months by putting some cash into the exhausted Highway Trust Fund.

The money will mainly come from “pension smoothing.” Perhaps you have never heard of pension smoothing. It involves allowing companies to put less than the required amount into their pension funds, thus creating more profit, which leads to more tax revenue for the government. Until later, when the whole thing turns into geysers of red ink.

I think I speak for us all when I respond: “Say what?”

“It’s traditional that if you’re trying to fund something and you don’t have the funds, you screw around with pensions,” sighed Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute. The current session seems to have nearly exhausted Ornstein’s capacity for shock and awe, but he did call the Highway Trust Fund gambit “outrageous.”

House Republicans rejected an attempt by the Senate to drop the pension smoothing. I would not be wowed by the Democrats’ high sense of fiscal integrity on this point, since they did try to use the very same maneuver earlier this year, in an unsuccessful attempt to extend unemployment benefits. On the other hand, the Democrats are not the party that spends all of its time yelling about unfunded entitlements.

In a perfect world, Congress would figure out a serious, long-term plan to fix bridges, improve roads and update airports. We now make about half as much fiscal effort as Europe does on these matters. You may be tired of hearing people ask why we can’t have day care like Sweden. But it does not seem too much to demand a Spanish level of commitment to infrastructure repair.

The best way to get the things back on track would be by raising the gas tax. Such a plan was proposed in the Senate by Democrat Chris Murphy of Connecticut and Republican Bob Corker of Tennessee. This fine, bipartisan effort went nowhere whatsoever.

“I’ve been here seven and a half years,” Corker said in a phone interview. “We have not solved one single problem since I’ve been here. It’s just so frustrating.”

But thanks to Congress, the Highway Trust Fund lives! For a minute. And in another burst of action, the Senate and House approved a $17 billion bill for veterans’ health care. Without, once again, actually financing it.

And then came the border. President Obama had asked Congress for $3.7 billion to take care of the crisis created when tens of thousands of children from Central America’s most violence-ridden countries began crossing over and asking for permission to stay.

So the Senate:

A. Took up a bill to give the president $2.7 billion. The White House seemed pretty satisfied, since half a loaf is now regarded as the height of near-unattainable bipartisan statesmanship. The bill also included $615 million to fight wildfires and $225 million for Israeli defense systems.

B. Killed the border bill on a 50-to-44 vote when Republicans demand changes in the law that guarantees those children immigration court hearings. We will try not to dwell on the fact that the law in question was passed during the Bush administration to combat child sex trafficking.

C. Failed to approve the nomination of an ambassador to Guatemala, one of the countries at the center of the current crisis. Because they were ticked off about something Majority Leader Harry Reid did. Last year. About procedure.

D. Rallied at the last minute and passed the part about Israeli defense systems.

And what, you may ask, was the House doing all this time? At its highest moment of functionality, the House was considering a $659 million border bill that turned the Senate’s half a loaf into a crouton.

From there things slid downhill. Judge their new leadership’s performance for yourself by choosing among the following:

• Wow! The new House leadership had the chops to pass a bill that will never become law.

• Yipes! The new House leadership could not even pass a bill that will never become law without the help of Michele Bachmann. (Bachmann bragged that she and her cohorts had “completely gutted” the leadership’s own version.)

• Remind me again what their names are? Is John Boehner still around?

During a deeply depressing and meaningless debate about deporting children, Representative Louise Slaughter, Democrat of New York, complained that all the House had done in its last week was vote to “sue the president and deregulate pesticides.”

Not true. Highway Fund. Highway Fund. Highway Fund.

Blow, Kristof and Collins

July 31, 2014

In “Age of Identity” Mr. Blow says the struggle against conformity and control is a shared, unifying experience.  Mr. Kristof has a question in “Our Blind Spot About Guns:”  We have made cars safer with sensible regulations. Why can’t we do the same with guns?  Well, Nick, you’re a respected columnist for The Newspaper of Record.  Go ask Wayne LaPierre — I’m sure he’d give you an interview.  Ms. Collins says “None Dare Call it Impeachment,” and that whether you’re a Democrat or Republican, you’ve surely heard the utterance of the I-word recently.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

“Hair is political.”

That was the line that stuck with me when my 17-year-old daughter recently regaled me with the minutiae of a lighthearted argument she’d had with a friend. It was about my daughter’s staunch resistance to straightening or altering her hair in any way.

The friend had insisted that such alterations were no big deal, to which my daughter took umbrage and shot back, “Hair is political.”

In my daughter’s view, such alterations were a sign of suppressive concepts of worth and beauty of which she would have no part. Presenting herself as nature made her was an act of self-loving defiance that demanded not her alteration but the alteration of others’ attitudes about how we expect people to bend in order to belong, about how many destructive subliminal messages we’ve all absorbed and how we must search ourselves for the truth of our own prejudices.

It reminded me of the profound commentary on the subject by the actress Tracie Thoms in Chris Rock’s 2009 documentary “Good Hair”: “To keep my hair the same texture as it grows out of my head is looked at as revolutionary. Why is that?”

But to me, my daughter’s message was bigger than her, or hair, or a debate between teenagers. It was a life lesson that we all have to learn, over and over: Self-acceptance, of all stripes, large and small, is always an inherently political and profoundly revolutionary act.

We are so suffused in a mix of misogyny, patriarchy, racism, sexism, homophobia and hetero-normative exclusionary idealism that we can easily lose sight of the singular acts of ordinary bravery that each of us displays every time we choose not to play along.

Life is an endless negotiation with ourselves and with the world about who we are — the truest truth of who we are — and whether we have the mettle to simply be us, all of us, as we are, backlash notwithstanding.

And every time we answer “yes” to the question of courage, we stand an inch taller and we rise closer to the light.

In fact, Michaela Angela Davis, a self-described “image activist,” calls this the “Age of Identity and Intersections.”

It is a time when more people are asserting themselves as nonconformists as they recognize that there is a variety of intersections to subjugation. It’s a twist on the idea of diversity: not simply honoring a variety of origins as positive, but uniting under a banner that reminds us that the diminution of the very concept of variance has been a historical tool of psychic violence against those deemed “different.”

It is about developing kinship and alliance among the historically alienated.

It is about understanding that open hatred of — or even subtle, sometimes subconscious devaluing of — women, minorities (racial, ethnic, religious or otherwise) and people who don’t hew to sexual or gender norms are not discrete dysfunctions, but are of a kind, a cousin of flawed consciousness.

And when that is understood, the fight against them all becomes more focused. You stop hacking at the branches and start digging at the root.

Sometimes, when we are confronted by another overt act of intolerance in the news — another racial epithet, a further effort to erode women’s access to a full range of reproductive options, one more state attempting to hold on to its bans against marriage equality, another manifestation of rape culture — it can seem that we are going backward in this fight rather than forward.

But I don’t think so. I think that, as the saying goes, it’s darkest before the dawn, that these cases stand out not necessarily because they are growing, but because they are so at odds with this country’s moral trajectory. (Although, it must be said that there are increasing efforts, particularly in Republican-controlled states, to restrict women’s health care.)

Young people in America are growing up in a country that is quickly becoming brown, where women outnumber men in colleges, where acknowledgment of sexual identity is increasingly met with shrugs.

This doesn’t mean that they are immune to bias, but it does give hope that bias will diminish as difference becomes more mainstream, historical privileges become more identified and gender roles become less rigid.

That is why I greet with overwhelming optimism the continuous stream of people who refuse to conform and who insist on acknowledgment of their own identities, as they are, in all of their inherent glories and by way of their “revolutionary acts.”

E.E. Cummings once put it: “To be nobody-but-yourself — in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else — means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting.”

And when we understand that that struggle against conformity and control is a shared, unifying experience, the accomplishment is made a little bit easier — and a whole lot sweeter.

Truth is political.

And has an obvious liberal bias…  Here’s Mr. Kristof:

If we had the same auto fatality rate today that we had in 1921, by my calculations we would have 715,000 Americans dying annually in vehicle accidents.

Instead, we’ve reduced the fatality rate by more than 95 percent — not by confiscating cars, but by regulating them and their drivers sensibly.

We could have said, “Cars don’t kill people. People kill people,” and there would have been an element of truth to that. Many accidents are a result of alcohol consumption, speeding, road rage or driver distraction. Or we could have said, “It’s pointless because even if you regulate cars, then people will just run each other down with bicycles,” and that, too, would have been partly true.

Yet, instead, we built a system that protects us from ourselves. This saves hundreds of thousands of lives a year and is a model of what we should do with guns in America.

Whenever I write about the need for sensible regulation of guns, some readers jeer: Cars kill people, too, so why not ban cars? Why are you so hypocritical as to try to take away guns from law-abiding people when you don’t seize cars?

That question is a reflection of our national blind spot about guns. The truth is that we regulate cars quite intelligently, instituting evidence-based measures to reduce fatalities. Yet the gun lobby is too strong, or our politicians too craven, to do the same for guns. So guns and cars now each kill more than 30,000 in America every year.

One constraint, the argument goes, is the Second Amendment. Yet the paradox is that a bit more than a century ago, there was no universally recognized individual right to bear arms in the United States, but there was widely believed to be a “right to travel” that allowed people to drive cars without regulation.

A court struck down an early attempt to require driver’s licenses, and initial attempts to set speed limits or register vehicles were met with resistance and ridicule. When authorities in New York City sought in 1899 to ban horseless carriages in the parks, the idea was lambasted in The New York Times as “devoid of merit” and “impossible to maintain.

Yet, over time, it became increasingly obvious that cars were killing and maiming people, as well as scaring horses and causing accidents. As a distinguished former congressman, Robert Cousins, put it in 1910: “Pedestrians are menaced every minute of the days and nights by a wanton recklessness of speed, crippling and killing people at a rate that is appalling.”

Courts and editorial writers alike saw the carnage and agreed that something must be done. By the 1920s, courts routinely accepted driver’s license requirements, car registration and other safety measures.

That continued in recent decades with requirements of seatbelts and air bags, padded dashboards and better bumpers. We cracked down on drunken drivers and instituted graduated licensing for young people, while also improving road engineering to reduce accidents. The upshot is that there is now just over 1 car fatality per 100 million miles driven.

Yet as we’ve learned to treat cars intelligently, we’ve gone in the opposite direction with guns. In his terrific new book, “The Second Amendment: A Biography,” Michael Waldman, the president of the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law, notes that “gun control laws were ubiquitous” in the 19th century. Visitors to Wichita, Kan., for example, were required to check their revolvers at police headquarters.

And Dodge City, symbol of the Wild West? A photo shows a sign on the main street in 1879 warning: “The Carrying of Fire Arms Strictly Prohibited.”

The National Rifle Association supported reasonable gun control for most of its history and didn’t even oppose the landmark Gun Control Act of 1968. But, since then, most attempts at safety regulation have stalled or gone backward, and that makes the example of cars instructive.

“We didn’t ban cars, or send black helicopters to confiscate them,” notes Waldman. “We made cars safer: air bags, seatbelts, increasing the drinking age, lowering the speed limit. There are similar technological and behavioral fixes that can ease the toll of gun violence, from expanded background checks to trigger locks to smart guns that recognize a thumbprint, just like my iPhone does.”

Some of these should be doable. A Quinnipiac poll this month found 92 percent support for background checks for all gun buyers.

These steps won’t eliminate gun deaths any more than seatbelts eliminate auto deaths. But if a combination of measures could reduce the toll by one-third, that would be 10,000 lives saved every year.

A century ago, we reacted to deaths and injuries from unregulated vehicles by imposing sensible safety measures that have saved hundreds of thousands of lives a year. Why can’t we ask politicians to be just as rational about guns?

Now here’s Ms. Collins:

Let’s talk about something cheerful. How about impeachment?

Hey, it’s been a depressing month for news. If you want to look on the bright side, you’ve got to work with what you’ve got.

The possibility of actual impeachment is not something that keeps Barack Obama up at night. Modern history suggests there’s nothing Congress could do that the American public would hate more. Yet impeachment talk has been bounding around the Republican right for ages. The South Dakota Republican Party passed a resolution calling for impeachment at their annual convention this year. (We all know the famous saying: “As South Dakota goes, so goes North Dakota.”) Sarah Palin brings up impeachment virtually every day. Some members of Congress use it to energize the crazy base.

For instance, Representative Ted Yoho of Florida once posted a list of arguments for impeachment on his campaign website. I am mentioning this in part because it’s always fun to write “Ted Yoho.” Also because I don’t think I’ve ever had an opportunity to note that during his previous election season, Ted Yoho told a church group that he wished the right to vote was limited to property owners.

Last week, the Democrats started picking up the impeachment banner in the form of pretending to take the Republican threats seriously. White House senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer said it would be “foolish to discount the possibility.” Democratic fund-raisers sent out warnings of impending impeachment danger to their own base and were tickled by the enthusiastic response.

Now, Republican leaders are desperately trying to change the subject. The House speaker, John Boehner, called impeachment talk “a scam started by Democrats at the White House.” Karl Rove claimed Obama was trying to create a “constitutional crisis where none exists.”

“Do you think anyone in Washington in the G.O.P. is serious about impeachment?” demanded the radio host Glenn Beck. “Do you think one person? Have you spoken to one person? No one. So who wants it? The president does.” Actually, as Kendall Breitman pointed out in Politico, Beck had called for impeachment his very own self about a year earlier.

Meanwhile, in the House of Representatives, the majority party was busy showing the nation its serious side by voting to sue President Obama for violating the Constitution. Look, everybody has their own way of demonstrating that they’re sticking to the business at hand. Republicans are upset about the president’s attempt to deal with problems by executive order when Congress fails to address them with legislation. Obama’s record when it comes to executive orders is actually rather paltry compared with some of his Republican predecessors. Nevertheless, the Republicans have many, many complaints, all of which involve mention of the founding fathers.

You could not help but suspect that if Speaker Boehner had it to do all over again, he’d never have brought this idea up. Democrats cheerfully urged a really, really long debate on the subject, but the Republican-dominated Rules Committee decided that the whole thing should be dispatched with as quickly as possible. So fast, in fact, that it gave the lawsuit against the president the same debate time as a bill on deregulating pesticides.

The Republicans focused on — yes! — the founding fathers. It was, said Representative Candice Miller of Michigan, a battle against “tyranny, Mr. Speaker. Tyranny.” She is the leader of the Committee on House Administration, the only woman to lead a House committee under the current leadership. We will not dwell on the fact that Miller’s committee is basically in charge of housekeeping.

Meanwhile, the Democrats kept bringing up the I-word. “I sincerely believe that you are trying to set the stage for a despicable impeachment proceeding,” said Representative G.K. Butterfield of North Carolina. Representative Pete Sessions of Texas, the House Rules chairman, denied that suing the president was a step on the slippery slope to impeachment. He did that by defending the impeachment of President Clinton, which was, of course, so exceedingly successful that Clinton now is the most popular individual in the nation except perhaps for Boo the World’s Cutest Dog and the hamster that eats tiny burritos.

Rather than suing the president for everything he’s ever done, the Republicans tried to improve their legal prospects by picking a particular executive order. They settled on the one postponing enforcement of part of Obamacare that requires businesses to provide health coverage for their employees. “Are you willing to let any president choose what laws to execute and what laws to change?” demanded Boehner.

“Not a single one of them voted for the Affordable Care Act,” said Louise Slaughter, the top Democrat on the House Rules Committee. “They spent $ 79 million holding votes to kill it. And now they’re going to sue him for not implementing it fast enough.”

We will look back on this moment in Washington as The Week That Irony Died.

Nocera and Collins

July 12, 2014

In “American Apparel Is a Lesson in How Not to Run a Company” Mr. Nocera says the juvenile antics of American Apparel’s founder finally catch up with him.  Ms. Collins has some “Rules to Run By.”  She says there’s good news, people!  There have already been many insightful and helpful hints gleaned from this election year that we can now share with 2014 hopefuls.  Here’s Mr. Nocera:

In the same week that a hedge fund, Standard General, essentially took over American Apparel, Bloomberg Businessweek published an eye-opening story about the company and its founder and former chief executive, Dov Charney. Eye-opening not in the usual manner when it comes to Charney: The magazine didn’t uncover any new allegations of sexual harassment, nor did the reporter watch him engaging in oral sex, as a writer from Jane magazine once famously witnessed.

Instead, the Businessweek story focused primarily on Charney as a businessman. That’s pretty salacious too, or at least it is if you’re a management wonk. As it turns out, both Charney and the American Apparel board offer a case study in how not to run a company. Here’s the money quote: “All along they were thinking that anything goes in Charneyville,” Thomas White, a professor of business ethics at Loyola Marymount University, told Businessweek, speaking of the directors. “They only started to worry when they looked up and saw financial disaster.”

Anything goes indeed. That infamous Jane magazine story was written a decade ago: That is how long the board has known about his antics. By the middle of 2005, reports Businessweek, Charney was facing two sexual harassment suits. (One was dismissed in arbitration; the other was settled for $1.3 million.) Yet when asked about these early allegations, Allan Mayer, a public relations executive who is co-chair of the board, said, “One of the things you learn when you do crisis management is that where there is smoke, there isn’t always fire.” Of course, another thing you learn in crisis management is that quite often when there is smoke, there really is fire. But Mayer and the rest of the board simply didn’t want to know about it.

Why was the board so willing to look the other way? One reason is that Charney had founded the company. Its identity and that of its founder were intertwined. Charney himself had no other interests outside his company — and his sex life. He viewed himself as indispensable, and the board went along with him. And if his sexually charged advertising helped make American Apparel a hit, well, you could hardly expect the office to be run like a convent.

But he also had the classic flaws of a founder. Though his passion got the company up and running, he lacked the skills necessary for guiding a large enterprise. His micromanaging drove off virtually every talented executive he ever hired. In 2007, after the company went public and he had to bring in a chief financial officer, he told The Wall Street Journal that the man he hired was a “complete loser.” Which of course caused the man to quit.

He dreamed oversized dreams — even Charney now acknowledges that after the company’s I.P.O. he probably expanded more quickly than he should have. He took pride in the fact that American Apparel’s clothes were made in America, but when the company was subjected to an immigration audit in 2009, it had to lay off half of its factory workers, according to Businessweek. “The disruption led to delayed shipments and an expensive hiring and training program.”

It has basically been downhill ever since. The company has consistently lost money — while piling up expensive debt — over the last four years. Its sales slowed dramatically. The stock has tanked. It built a new automated distribution center in 2013 that was supposed to save $5 million a year. Instead, it was so error-riddled that it cost the company “at least $15 million,” says Businessweek.

In February, Mayer, the board director, and a consultant close to Charney took him out to dinner and advised him to bring in some seasoned executives. Instead, in May, Charney forced out the general counsel.

To Businessweek — and to anyone else who will listen — Mayer insists that the board fired him because of his behavior. But it is hard to imagine that it would have done so if the company was still making money. Although American Apparel is still using Charney as a consultant, my guess is that he’ll never have a meaningful role at the company again. It needs executives who are grown-ups.

One person who saw it all coming was Robin Lewis, who writes The Robin Report, a blog about retailing. In 2011, he noted the departure of a man named Marty Staff, who had been American Apparel’s president of business development — and the former chief executive of Hugo Boss. Describing the loss of a pro like Staff as American Apparel’s “last chance for survival, lost,” he wrote: “Quite frankly, it amazes me that as C.E.O. of a publicly owned company, given American Apparel’s financial condition and his questionable and storied behavior, Charney still has a job.”

And to think: It only took the American Apparel board three more years to come to the same obvious conclusion.

Now here’s Ms. Collins:

The 2014 election year is just kicking into gear, but we’ve learned so much already. Among the political pointers for candidates of the future:

Do not attempt to curry favor with the voters by changing your name.

Scott Fistler tried to improve his extremely remote chance of winning the Democratic Congressional nomination in a largely Hispanic Arizona district by legally changing his name to Cesar Chavez. After a relative of the deceased farm labor leader filed a complaint, Fistler/Chavez was thrown off the ballot. The disappointed ex-candidate told reporters that politics is “a vicious game.”

… although it’s totally fair to go with the one you’ve already got.

Beleaguered Democrats in Texas are nurturing at least faint hopes for their current attorney general candidate, Sam Houston. “I try not to be so cynical to think that people just go in and vote for a name,” Houston said.

Try not to run ads with pictures of local residents who are actually Parisian office workers.

Mike Rounds, a Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate in South Dakota, unveiled a video in which he bragged about how much the rest of the country could learn from the folks who live in his state. It was illustrated with stock photos of models portraying wholesome average citizens, one of whom turned out to be a woman holding a pen in an office in Paris.

… or European coal miners.

Alison Grimes, the Democratic Senate candidate in Kentucky, sent reporters copies of an ad she planned to run expressing her wrath at President Obama’s new clean air rules and showing an angry-looking miner. The man was actually a Ukrainian model holding up a piece of coal. Grimes campaign aides said they had discovered the problem themselves and replaced it with a picture of an American model holding up a piece of coal.

… or maybe you should just take the pictures yourself.

Joni Ernst, the Republican Senate candidate in Iowa, became famous for her video bragging that she had spent her youth on a farm castrating hogs. She urged voters to watch the video in a posting that featured a stock photo of a pig from Denmark.

Try not to compare things to slavery.

Dr. Ben Carson, up-and-coming star of the G.O.P. right wing, spent a good part of the season denying that he had compared the Affordable Care Act to African-American enslavement. When all he actually said was that Obamacare is “the worst thing that has happened in this nation since slavery, and … it is slavery in a way because it is making all of us subservient to the government.”

… or spousal abuse.

Sarah Palin, calling for the impeachment of the president, said the influx of young illegal immigrants over the southern border “is the last straw that makes the battered wife say, ‘no mas.’ ”

Have a staff aide explain how people can take videos of you talking to private groups even when you’re totally off the record.

At a fund-raiser in Texas, Bruce Braley, a candidate for the Senate in Iowa, got caught warning a group of well-to-do trial lawyers that if Democrats don’t keep control of the Senate, the Judiciary Committee would be run by “a farmer from Iowa who never went to law school.”

Watch it when you bring up people’s sexual preference.

Texas governor and potential presidential candidate Rick Perry said people could decide whether or not they wanted to be homosexual just as “I may have the genetic coding that I’m inclined to be an alcoholic, but I have the desire not to do that.”

… or fantasy abductors.

“What are your thoughts about Thad Cochran being in with Slender Man?” Glenn Beck asked Chris McDaniel, who was running against Senator Cochran in the Mississippi Republican primary. Slender Man is a weird Internet character who abducts children. McDaniel, who laughed, lost the primary.

When you get the urge to suggest that a politician might be assassinated, repress it.

Johnny Rhoda, a Republican official in Arkansas, said that if Hillary Clinton returned there as a presidential candidate “she’d probably get shot at the state line.” He claimed he was quoted out of context, then turned in his resignation.

… in fact, think twice before discussing anything that involves people being shot.

A candidate for a Republican Congressional nomination in Arizona apologized after saying during a debate that “99 percent” of the mass shootings in America “have been by Democrats.”

If you can’t say anything nice …

Eric Cantor used part of his vast pile of campaign cash to launch a series of attack ads against his totally unknown primary opponent in Virginia. Cantor’s constituents were surprised and delighted to hear that there was actually someone running against him, and promptly voted the House majority leader out of office.

… really, stop advertising.

A new report from the Brookings Institution suggests higher spending on anti-Obamacare ads may lead to higher Obamacare enrollment.

Blow, Kristof and Collins

July 10, 2014

Mr. Blow considers “The Crisis of Children at the Border” and says don’t call the president and his administration lawless on the one hand, then blame them for proper law enforcement on the other.  Mr. Kristof, in “Religious Freedom in Peril,” says this is no Supreme Court case. This is about intolerance in some Muslim-majority countries.  Ms. Collins considers “The Rant Agenda” and says from a Congress that is always on vacation, to all those political fund-raisers, to Rick Perry, to Sarah Palin, we the people have a lot to discuss!  Here’s Mr. Blow:

The humanitarian crisis of unaccompanied minors from Central America arriving at our Southwest border has brought out the worst in some of our politicians.

The amount of double-speak coming from fork-tongued conservatives on this issue is sickening. It wraps faux-concern around unwavering, and even emboldened, anti-immigrant, border-militarization rhetoric.

On his show this week, Sean Hannity interviewed Senator Ted Cruz. Hannity ended one statement by asking:

“This is getting out of hand, all because the government refuses to send people home. I’m not sure why we refuse to enforce our laws.”

Cruz responded:

“Sean, it’s a terrific question. What is happening with these children is heartbreaking. And, the president is right that it’s a humanitarian crisis, but it is a crisis of his own creation. This is the direct consequence of President Obama’s lawlessness.”

One of the things Cruz pointed out as Obama’s “lawlessness” was a 2012 executive order that allows Dream Act-eligible students to be taken out of the deportation process and granted work permits.

As then-Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said at the time:

“This grant of deferred action is not immunity… It is not amnesty. It is an exercise of discretion so that these young people are not in the removal system. It will help us to continue to streamline immigration enforcement and ensure that resources are not spent pursuing the removal of low-priority cases involving productive young people.”

But amnesty is precisely what conservatives called it, and they were — and remain — furious about it. So, they are using this crisis to hammer the president, and Democrats in general, on immigration policy

Furthermore, they basically argue that because the administration is enforcing the law, one signed by President George W. Bush and meant to protect children from human trafficking, the administration is encouraging more people from Central America to send their children here.

But one can’t call the president and his administration lawless on the one hand, then blame them for proper law enforcement on the other.

If Congress wants to change or tweak the law about unaccompanied minors arriving in this country — and many conservatives are itching to do so — it can, but it would be creating a “solution” to a “problem” that Congress itself created.

To follow that line of reasoning, one must also accept the premise that the whole of a law designed to protect children arriving alone from dangerous parts of the world is not noble and humane. I reject that logic.

These are children we are talking about, not just numbers, not just data, not political pawns. And, although most may not meet the refugee threshold needed to stay in the United States, many may. How are we supposed to hold our heads high on humanitarian issues if, in our haste for a fix and our fixation on deterrence, we return even a few children to a place where their lives are in danger?

As the White House has put it, this is “an urgent humanitarian situation.”

According to Customs and Border Protection, 52,193 “unaccompanied alien children” were apprehended on the Southwest border of the United States from the beginning of the 2014 fiscal year through June (Oct. 1, 2013 to June 15, 2014). That was nearly twice the number apprehended during the same period in the last fiscal year.

And, as The New York Times reported last month:

“According to an internal draft Homeland Security document, officials recently revised their projections on unaccompanied minors. They now expect more than 90,000 in the 2014 fiscal year, an increase of nearly 20,000 from the previous projection.”

This surge is driven largely by children arriving from a few Central American countries. A United States Department of Homeland Security document obtained by the Pew Research Center found:

“For example, many Guatemalan children come from rural areas, indicating they are probably seeking economic opportunities in the U.S. Salvadoran and Honduran children, on the other hand, come from extremely violent regions where they probably perceive the risk of traveling alone to the U.S. preferable to remaining at home.”

And the top municipalities by far are in Honduras, the murder capital of the world.

Ask yourself this: If in fact, these children were simply arriving due to the attraction of amnesty, why haven’t we seen the same surge from other nations, including other countries south of us, like Mexico

Many of these children are not safe at home or on the run. There are no easy answers for them and their families, no safe happy places where childhood innocence is protected.

To be sure, sending an unaccompanied child, alone, with a “coyote,” for a treacherous trip hundreds of miles long, is not safe. The children are vulnerable to all manner of mistreatment, and may in fact not even make it.

But that is precisely why we must treat the children who do arrive with compassion. Children aren’t caught up in the politics of this. They are just doing as they’re told, many no doubt shadowed by fear, moving surreptitiously through unknown lands toward the dream of a brighter tomorrow. They dream as any child dreams — of happiness and horrors.

And their parents are no doubt like any parents, forced to make the most wrenching of decisions, sometimes about whether to leave a child in a never-ending hell or have them risk a hellish journey to a better place.

No parent makes such a choice lightly.

Next up we have Mr. Kristof:

A Sudanese court in May sentences a Christian woman married to an American to be hanged, after first being lashed 100 times, after she refuses to renounce her Christian faith.

Muslim extremists in Iraq demand that Christians pay a tax or face crucifixion, according to the Iraqi government.

In Malaysia, courts ban some non-Muslims from using the word “Allah.”

In country after country, Islamic fundamentalists are measuring their own religious devotion by the degree to which they suppress or assault those they see as heretics, creating a human rights catastrophe as people are punished or murdered for their religious beliefs.

This is a sensitive area I’m wading into here, I realize. Islam-haters in America and the West seize upon incidents like these to denounce Islam as a malignant religion of violence, while politically correct liberals are reluctant to say anything for fear of feeding bigotry. Yet there is a real issue here of religious tolerance, affecting millions of people, and we should be able to discuss it.

I’ve been thinking about this partly because of the recent murder of a friend, Rashid Rehman, a courageous human rights lawyer in Multan, Pakistan. Rashid, a Muslim, had agreed to defend a university lecturer who faced the death penalty after being falsely accused of insulting the Prophet Muhammad. This apparently made Rashid a target as well, for two men walked into his office and shot him dead.

No doubt the killers thought themselves pious Muslims. Yet such extremists do far more damage to the global reputation of Islam than all the world’s Islamophobes put together.

The paradox is that Islam historically was relatively tolerant. In 628, Muhammad issued a document of protection to the monks of St. Catherine’s Monastery.

“No compulsion is to be on them,” he wrote. “If a female Christian is married to a Muslim, it is not to take place without her approval. She is not to be prevented from visiting her church to pray.”

Anti-Semitism runs deep in some Muslim countries today, but, for most of history, Muslims were more tolerant of Jews than Christians were. As recently as the Dreyfus Affair in France more than a century ago, Muslims defended a Jew from the anti-Semitism of Christians.

Likewise, the most extreme modern case of religious persecution involved Europeans trying to exterminate Jews in the Holocaust. Since then, one of the worst religious massacres was the killing of Muslims by Christians at Srebrenica in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

It’s also true that some of the bravest champions of religious freedom today are Muslim. Mohammad Ali Dadkhah, an Iranian lawyer, represented a Christian pastor pro bono, successfully defending him from charges of apostasy. But Dadkhah was then arrested himself and is now serving a nine-year prison sentence.

Saudi Arabia may feud with Iran about almost everything else, but they are twins in religious repression. Saudis ban churches; it insults Islam to suggest it is so frail it cannot withstand an occasional church.

Particularly insidious in conservative Muslim countries is the idea that anyone born Muslim cannot become a Christian. That’s what happened in the case I mentioned in Sudan: The court considered the woman, Meriam Ibrahim, a Muslim even though she had been raised a Christian by her mother. The court sentenced her to die for apostasy; that was overturned, and she is now sheltering with her family in the United States Embassy in Sudan, trying to get permission to leave the country.

A Pew Research Center study found Muslims victims of religious repression in about as many countries as Christians. But some of the worst abuse actually takes place in Muslim-dominated countries. In Pakistan, for example, a brutal campaign has been underway against the Shiite minority. Likewise, Iran represses the peaceful Bahai, and similarly Pakistan and other countries brutally mistreat the Ahmadis, who see themselves as Muslims but are regarded as apostates. Pakistani Ahmadis can be arrested simply for saying, “peace be upon you.”

All this is a sad index of rising intolerance, for Pakistan’s first foreign minister was an Ahmadi; now that would be impossible.

I hesitated to write this column because religious repression is an awkward topic when it thrives in Muslim countries. Muslims from Gaza to Syria, Western Sahara to Myanmar, are already enduring plenty without also being scolded for intolerance. It’s also true that we in the West live in glass houses, and I don’t want to empower our own chauvinists or fuel Islamophobia.

Yet religious freedom is one of the most basic of human rights, and one in peril in much of the world. Some heroic Muslims, like my friend Rashid in Pakistan, have sacrificed their lives to protect religious freedom. Let’s follow their lead and speak up as well, for silence would be a perversion of politeness.

And now we get to Ms. Collins:

So little time, so much bad behavior to complain about.

Congress is back! Thank heavens, because there’s a crisis at the border, and the Highway Trust Fund is about to expire. Plus, the Export-Import Bank is teetering on the brink of disaster. (Days ago, we had no idea there was an Export-Import Bank, let alone what it did. Now we’re just getting acquainted, and they want to rip it away.)

And, of course, a huge pile of normal stuff has piled up: hearings, meetings, appropriations bills, plots to destroy Obamacare. It’s all a rush, given that Congress is scheduled to go on another five-week vacation beginning Aug. 1.

So the House speaker, John Boehner, wants to get cracking on the matter of suing the president.

“The legislative branch has an obligation to defend the rights and responsibilities of the American people and America’s constitutional balance of powers — before it is too late,” Boehner said, in an op-ed article posted on the CNN website.

I believe I speak for us all when I respond — say what? According to Boehner’s memo to Republican troops, the crisis that calls out for formal litigation involves “matters ranging from health care and energy to foreign policy and education.” Also, the president acting with “king-like authority.”

People, have you been hanging around this country for the past couple of years? Have you noticed any king-like chief executives? When you make a list of the things you would like to see Congress do before they go back on vacation, how many of you put “curbing the effectiveness of the White House” on the top of the list?

Feel free to rant.

“So sue me,” said the president, when news of Boehner’s alleged plan reached the White House. Remember when he first won the nomination by promising to end partisan gridlock? Do you think Hillary Clinton watches this stuff and laughs bitterly?

On Wednesday, the president arrived in Texas, the epicenter of the humanitarian crisis involving a flood of Central American children crossing the Mexican border. He was there for some previously scheduled fund-raisers. Also feel free to rant about fund-raisers.

The situation is terrible. More than 52,000 unaccompanied children have crossed the border since last fall. The administration is supposed to provide them with access to counsel and supervision by the Department of Health and Human Services while they’re taken through the required legal channels. There’s a two-year waiting list to see an immigration judge.

Part of the backlog is because of a law passed at the end of the George W. Bush administration. We are not going to complain about this law, since it was aimed at combating child sex trafficking. If you’re going to rant about George W. Bush, you should really focus on the invasion of Iraq and the ruining of the economy.

President Obama has asked for $3.7 billion to take care of the children and hire more people to process the cases. Speaker Boehner countered that the president should call out the National Guard. That should be extremely helpful in discouraging the flood of young, desperate immigrants, who almost invariably throw themselves into the arms of the first American uniform they see.

The House chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Bob Goodlatte, called the president’s request for money a “slap in the face to the taxpayers of the United States.” However, he did suggest that he might be able to maybe perhaps do something about fixing the current law. This was during a brief interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, in which Goodlatte used the word “tweak” three times.

Boehner and the House Republicans do not appear to feel any compunction to revisit the Senate’s bipartisan immigration reform bill. Or to take any responsibility for the current crisis. Since, you know, Obama has plenty of power and he should just use it and leave Congress alone.

In Texas, the president met with Gov. Rick Perry, who has complained about the issue of children at the border. He has also suggested that the whole thing might be an Obama plot. (“… I hate to be conspiratorial, but, I mean, how do you move that many people from Central America, across Mexico, into the United States without there being a fairly coordinated effort?”)

Feel free to rant about Rick Perry.

Meanwhile, Sarah Palin announced that Congress should respond to the desperate humanitarian situation by — yes! — impeaching Obama. Boehner, she said dismissively, was trying to bring a “lawsuit to a gunfight.” Always charming the way Palin brings guns into the political debate.

Actually, if the impeachment idea caught on it would be the best possible thing for the White House. Modern history suggests there is nothing the American public hates more than Congress trying to impeach the president. Except maybe a Congress trying to sue the president. And then leaves for vacation.


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