Archive for the ‘Collins’ Category

Cohen, Nocera and Collins

September 20, 2014

In “We the People of Scotland” Mr. Cohen says the vote to stay in Britain amounted to a powerful reminder of the virtues of democracy.  Mr. Nocera, in “Getting it Wrong,” says speaking after one of the N.F.L.’s worst weeks, Roger Goodell, the league’s commissioner, ended up saying what he has already said before.  In “Exercising the Right to Rant” Ms. Collins says never to worry! Our elected representatives have averted a government shutdown by decreeing that we will keep spending whatever it is we’ve been spending for a while.  Here’s Mr. Cohen:

The union has survived, comfortably enough in the end. Scotland will remain part of Britain. The queen’s title will stay unchanged: Her Majesty Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God, of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and of Her Other Realms and Territories Queen, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith. Phew: In that mouthful lurks a lot of history and stability. Relief is palpable. The pound rallied. David Cameron, the Tory prime minister who risked all, exhaled.

A clear majority of 55 percent of Scots rejected independence in a referendum that had many merits. The questioning of democracy has become fashionable. Stillborn after the Arab Spring, paralyzed by discord in the United States, increasingly pliant to money, dithering in its processes beside the authoritarian systems of China and Russia, often unable to deliver growth or stem rising inequality, democracy has become the problem child of the 21st century.

This vote, in which free people expressed their will over the potential breakup of Britain, amounted to a powerful reminder of democracy’s virtues. Participation was high. Civility in disagreement prevailed. “Aye” and “Nae” did battle; then they had a beer. In the words of the defeated Scottish nationalist leader, Alex Salmond, the referendum was “a triumph of the democratic process.”

More than two in five Scots voted for independence. Many of these “Yes” voters were young or struggling or both. Another merit of this “democratic process” was to demonstrate the alienation felt toward London with its giddy self-regarding boom and toward the Tory children of privilege running Britain. Scotland did not want to go it alone. Nor does it want more of the same. Cameron will have to deliver on his promise of a radical further devolution of power to Scotland, and to other areas of Britain, if he is to respect this result. Technology is a great enabler. It can now bring democracy closer to people, somewhat in the manner of the Athenian city state 2,500 years ago. That must be democracy’s future. Spain would be wrong to deny Catalonia a similar vote. Union can only make a legitimate claim to be stronger if it is prepared to test its strength at the ballot box. Scottish independence would have created havoc for a time, but an independent Scotland was no more an inconceivable notion than an independent Catalonia.

Tolerance and good sense are the bedrock virtues of the United Kingdom. As I listened to the BBC the other day, a segment on Scotland segued into the trial in China of a prominent Uighur scholar accused of separatism, a crime that can result in the death penalty. Ilham Tohti, a critic of Chinese policies toward his Uighur minority, is widely considered a moderate voice calling for dialogue with the Han majority. In China moderate separatism equals, with luck, a moderate prison sentence rather than execution.

Beijing is the great rising power of the world, a reminder in a time of insouciance that what was embodied in the Scottish vote is worth defending. The ballot is no mere trifle. It is liberty. Scotland, nation of the Enlightenment, has given a timely lesson. That, too, was a merit of this vote.

Mine was a family of immigrants in postwar Britain. They came at a time of great transcontinental reflux from retreating empire. For many, these shores have felt like David Copperfield’s experience of coming “home” to Aunt Betsey Trotwood and being given a good, warm bath. Prejudice for incomers has been inescapable in Britain, and sometimes bigotry, but stronger still were the traditions of a liberal nation of diverse peoples. That was the most important idea conserved in this result.

Whenever I walk in lovely Regent’s Park and see the minaret of London’s Central Mosque looming, I think to myself: Is it really that complicated? Can people of different faiths not accept one another’s beliefs and find common cause? They can, sometimes, but it takes centuries. It is fitting that on the day Scotland decided to honor its embracing identity, more than 100 British Muslim imams, organizations and individuals wrote to express “horror and revulsion” at the murders perpetrated by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, whose voice at the beheadings has carried a British accent.

Scotland has given another important lesson to Cameron. It is the most pro-European corner of Britain. Part of its restiveness stemmed from the appalling spectacle of Cameron toying with British membership of the European Union as he tried to appease his little-England right wing. If re-elected, he has promised a referendum on E.U. membership. Complacency followed by panic over the Scottish vote has not enhanced Cameron’s standing, even in victory. It is time to state unambiguously that the very qualities that prevailed in Scotland — good sense, economic interest, tolerance, openness, diversity and cultural ecumenism — also make an irrefutable case for Britain in Europe.

Next up we have Mr. Nocera, who’s at his best when taking on Big Sport:

I turned on ESPN about 15 minutes before Roger Goodell’s Friday afternoon news conference. There was a round table of analysts and reporters, led by Bob Ley, the journalist who covers the serious side of sports for the network. If I hadn’t known better, I would have thought they were prepping for a coming news conference by a politician in trouble rather than the commissioner of the National Football League.

“What do we need to hear from Goodell?” Ley pressed the panel.

“He has to say concretely that this is what we are going to do,” replied Bill Polian, the former president and general manager of the Indianapolis Colts (and now an ESPN analyst).

The screen was split between Ley’s panel and the empty lectern that Goodell would soon step behind. At one point before the news conference, the network switched to a shot in Baltimore of Ravens fans standing in line to trade in their Ray Rice jerseys for a free jersey of a different Ravens player — one who hadn’t been seen in a video cold-cocking someone who was then his fiancée. The wait was several hours long.

Goodell’s news conference came at the end of one of the worst weeks in the history of professional football, a week that ranks right up there with the time Pete Rozelle, the commissioner then, instructed the league to play its games the weekend after President Kennedy was shot.

To recap quickly: The Carolina Panthers, who planned to allow Greg Hardy to play in last week’s home opener, despite his conviction for domestic assault, instead deactivated the defensive end 90 minutes before kickoff and then put him on the “exempt list.” The Minnesota Vikings reactivated their star running back Adrian Peterson after he sat out a game when he was indicted on a charge of child abuse. Then, after a furor that included the loss of a sponsor, the Radisson hotel chain, Peterson was relieved of his duties again. Incredibly, the Vikings’ management then patted themselves on the back for “getting it right.

In Arizona, the Cardinals benched a player named Jonathan Dwyer, who had just posted $25,000 bond after being arrested on charges of aggravated assault against his wife and 17-month-old son. And last Friday, the league acknowledged that one in three players would develop debilitating brain conditions.

Meanwhile, reporters and sports columnists were accusing Goodell of hiding in his bunker — he hadn’t talked to the press since one very shaky CBS interview on Sept. 10 — even as one shoe dropped after another. Far scarier for the league, a raft of sponsors were issuing statements denouncing the N.F.L.’s handling of domestic violence. One sponsor, Procter & Gamble, pulled out of a major on-field initiative for the N.F.L.’s annual Breast Cancer Awareness Month (which, it’s worth noting, is part of the league’s effort to draw more female fans). This was serious: The N.F.L.’s vaunted business model was suddenly showing cracks.

When he arrived at the podium, Goodell made a short statement in which he said … nothing. Maybe that is a little unfair, but not by much. He was sorry he had initially botched the Ray Rice case by giving him just a two-game suspension. He was going to do better. The league was going to “get it right.” He was going to bring in experts to help the league rewrite its rules about player conduct. Everyone in the league would be getting training on domestic violence and sexual abuse. He was going to establish a conduct committee to “ensure that we are always living with the best practices.” And so on.

You would have thought that if Goodell were going to hold a news conference he would have something more to say than that he was sorry and that he was going to consult experts — things he has said before. Stunningly, he didn’t, which became even clearer when reporters started asking questions.

My former Times colleague Judy Battista, who now works for the NFL Network — and thus is effectively an employee of Goodell’s — asked him bluntly what Ray Rice had initially told him and how that contrasted to what he saw months later on the video. He wouldn’t say.

“Why do you feel like you should be able to continue in this role?” he was asked. “Because I acknowledged my mistake” was his answer.

A CNBC reporter asked him to comment on the loss of the Procter & Gamble sponsorship. He answered in vague platitudes. “We’re going to clean up our house, we’re going to get this straight, and we’re going to make a difference.”

And when asked how he could conceivably have given Ray Rice that original two-game suspension, he replied that the league’s policies “had fallen behind.” Yes, that must be it. It was all the fault of the “policy.”

The truth is that the N.F.L. has had a domestic violence problem for years, which Goodell and the league have largely tolerated. The Ray Rice video put that tolerance on vivid display. That is the fact that Goodell can’t say out loud — and why instead he says nothing at all.

And now we get to Ms. Collins:

Congress is gone. But not forgotten.

O.K., to be honest, they’re totally forgotten. The members of the House and Senate have been out of session for about a day and the nation has already totally wiped them from the memory bank.

Oh, America’s Legislature, we hardly knew ye.

Before decamping to go home and run for re-election, our elected representatives voted to fund the government and go to war. Pretty much ran the table on their constitutional responsibilities. Normally, that sort of thing would draw attention. “Before I came here I imagined that when war was discussed, everybody would be at their desk,” complained Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, to a rather vacant chamber.

To be fair, Congress actually just gave a vague grunt of acceptance to one part of President Obama’s strategy to combat ISIS. (It could have gone further, but you know how much these guys like leaving everything up to the president.) And it averted a government shutdown by decreeing that we will keep on spending whatever it is we’ve been spending for a couple more months.

“You don’t get perfect,” said Representative Steny Hoyer, the House minority whip.

We were all actually aware of that.

On the plus side — bipartisan! Republicans and Democrats joined together in what was the legislative version of a deep, depressive sigh.

“The bill before us is an imperfect bill.”

“I don’t think we have a better option.”

They were very possibly right. In theory, Congress is supposed to figure out how much money every federal department needs, and then pass some spending bills. However, the system’s been collapsing under partisan pressures for years. The last time it was normal to start every fiscal year with the money plan totally under control, air travel was glamorous.

And when it came to the Obama plans for Syria and Iraq, the members were faced with a rather distressing series of options: A) Give up on the whole idea of doing something about ISIS. B) Come up with their own idea for doing something about ISIS. Or C) Just stay in Washington and keep talking.

While the stay-and-talk option might have been the most honorable path, I think I speak for many Americans in saying that I cannot imagine them coming up with anything helpful. But we should at least reserve the right to rant. They went home! Early!

Let’s discuss, just for the heck of it, a couple of the things Congress did not feel constrained to do before they went back to meet the voters.

What about corporate inversion — the growing tendency of American companies to magically transform themselves into foreign entities in order to avoid paying American taxes? The White House asked Congress to pass a fairly simple plan to deal with that. No dice. Defending his members on Thursday, House Speaker John Boehner said that fixing inversion is way too low a bar and what they should really do is reform “the whole tax code.”

People, how many of you think Congress is going to fix the whole tax code? It’s like saying you aren’t going to open a door because the public really deserves to see the house levitated.

Speaking of the House, its Ways and Means Committee, which is run by Boehner’s very own party, did come up with a sweeping plan for tax reform this year. The speaker promptly made fun of it. (“Blah, blah, blah, blah.”) Having completely and thoroughly slammed the door on any discussion of the bill, he told reporters this week that he was “shocked at how little I have heard about it.”

Then there’s political intelligence. (I know, I know. Stop snickering.) Reformers want to avert the possibility that congressional insiders might pass on insider information to research firms that counsel investors. For instance, imagine there’s a change coming in government payment rates for health insurers. If, say, a Senate staffer leaked that information, it might cause the stock in said firms to soar before the world is informed of the new policy. Which actually happened last year.

Congress had tackled the problem as part of a bill barring members from insider trading that passed in 2012. The House majority leader, Eric Cantor, stripped the provision out at the last minute. Perhaps you remember Eric Cantor. He was the guy who got tossed out of office in a primary in which his totally unknown opponent claimed Cantor was a creature of crony capitalism.

A bipartisan trio of House members is now trying to revive the idea. Louise Slaughter of New York, one of the sponsors, says a bill’s been introduced. But although there is no end to the marvelous achievements people are predicting for the after-election lame-duck session. Congress reforming itself is not one of them.

“Not a snowball’s chance in hell,” said Slaughter.

Cantor is now a brand-new member of the investment banking industry. With $1.4 million in signing bonuses.

O.K., that was the rant. I feel much better.

Blow, Kristof and Collins

September 18, 2014

In “On Spanking and Abuse” Mr. Blow says drawing blood isn’t an expression of love. It’s an expression of anger and exasperation that morphs into abuse.  Mr. Kristof, in “From D.C. to Syria, a Mess,” says so far the Obama administration is bungling its mission for fighting the Islamic State in Syria.  Ms. Collins says “Sex is the Least of It,” and tells us that Representative Mark Sanford of South Carolina has gone from the Love Guv to the Facebook Congressman.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

According to reports about the Adrian Peterson felony abuse indictment, Peterson’s 4-year-old son pushed another of Peterson’s sons off a video game. Peterson then retrieved a tree branch — called a “switch” — stripped off its leaves, shoved leaves into the boy’s mouth and beat him with his pants down until he bled.

According to a CBS affiliate in Houston, Peterson texted the boy’s mother that she would be “mad at me about his legs. I got kinda good wit the tail end of the switch.”

He also reportedly texted that he “felt bad after the fact when I notice the switch was wrapping around hitting I (sic) thigh” and “Got him in nuts once I noticed. But I felt so bad, n I’m all tearing that butt up when needed! I start putting them in timeout. N save the whooping for needed memories!”

But the boy reportedly said, “Daddy Peterson hit me on my face,” that his father “likes belts and switches,” that “there are a lot of belts in Daddy’s closet,” and that he “has a whooping room.”

Spanking is not against the law in America — although some argue that it should be, as it is in Sweden and some other countries — but, as with most things in life, there are degrees beyond which even something that is generally acceptable, or at least legal, crosses a threshold and becomes not so.

This seems, on its face, from what we now know, a case in which the limits have most likely been exceeded.

Peterson released a statement that read, in part:

“I have to live with the fact that when I disciplined my son the way I was disciplined as a child, I caused an injury that I never intended or thought would happen. I know that many people disagree with the way I disciplined my child. I also understand after meeting with a psychologist that there are other alternative ways of disciplining a child that may be more appropriate.”

It is good that Peterson met with a psychologist and learned alternative disciplinary methods, but that doesn’t heal the child’s wounds, and the fact that Peterson may have been abused in this way does not make it acceptable to pass on the abuse to his own children.

He continued, setting up an even more dangerous proposition:

“I have learned a lot and have had to re-evaluate how I discipline my son going forward. But deep in my heart I have always believed I could have been one of those kids that was lost in the streets without the discipline instilled in me by my parents and other relatives. I have always believed that the way my parents disciplined me has a great deal to do with the success I have enjoyed as a man. I love my son and I will continue to become a better parent and learn from any mistakes I ever make.”

When we promulgate the notion that our success is directly measurable to the violence visited on our bodies as children, we reinforce a societal supposition that pain is an instrument of love, and establish a false binary between the streets and the strap.

I take Peterson at his word that he loves his son, but the drawing of blood isn’t an expression of love. Love doesn’t look like that. That looks like an expression of anger and exasperation that morphs into abuse.

I understand the reasoning that undergirds much of this thinking about spanking: Better to feel the pain of being punished by someone in the home who loves you than by someone outside the home who doesn’t.

But that logic simply doesn’t hold up.

As the nonpartisan research group Child Trends pointed out in a report last year:

“Use of corporal punishment is linked to negative outcomes for children (e.g., delinquency, antisocial behavior, psychological problems, and alcohol and drug abuse), and may be indicative of ineffective parenting. Research also finds that the number of problem behaviors observed in adolescence is related to the amount of spanking a child receives. The greater the age of the child, the stronger the relationship.

“Positive child outcomes are more likely when parents refrain from using spanking and other physical punishment, and instead discipline their children through communication that is firm, reasoned and nurturing. Studies find this type of discipline can foster positive psychological outcomes, such as high self-esteem and cooperation with others, as well as improved achievement in school.”

The group also pointed out just how pervasive the practice is:

“In 2012, according to a nationally representative survey, 77 percent of men, and 65 percent of women 18 to 65 years old agreed that a child sometimes needs a ‘good hard spanking.’ ”

The group continued:

“One of the most frequently used strategies to discipline a child, especially a younger child, is spanking. About 94 percent of parents of children ages 3 to 4 in the United States report having spanked their children in the previous year.”

Spanking is an age-old disciplinary technique, so turning the tide against it may be difficult. Some people even argue that it’s a necessary tool in a parent’s arsenal of options.

I think we need to reconsider that.

Peterson also texted the boy’s mother: “Never do I go overboard! But all my kids will know, hey daddy has the biggie heart but don’t play no games when it comes to acting right.” Actually, Peterson did go overboard, and now the legal system will decide if and how he will be punished for it.

Words fail me.  Here’s Mr. Kristof:

President Obama’s rollout of a military campaign in Syria against the Islamic State gets messier by the day.

Obama’s initial framing of the campaign, as a limited effort in partnership with allies, to degrade the Islamic State, which is also known as ISIS, made sense, and it was encouraging that Obama dampened expectations and clearly understood how much could go wrong.

Then things went downhill. A “senior administration official,” in a briefing posted on the White House website, explained why Saudi Arabia would be a good partner in battling ISIS: “Saudi Arabia has an extensive border with Syria.”

Oh?

Actually, Saudi Arabia and Syria have no border at all. Always be skeptical when the White House goes to war with a country that it misplaces on a map.

Soon the administration, after initially avoiding the word “war,” dropped the euphemisms. It announced from multiple podiums that what we’re engaging in actually is a war after all.

The latest puzzle relates to ground troops. Obama seemed to rule them out last week, saying that American troops “will not have a combat mission.” Then on Tuesday, Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that, if necessary, he might recommend “the use of U.S. military ground forces.”

Uh-oh.

Mr. President, you make it so hard for those of us who are basically sympathetic to your foreign policy. All this feels chaotic, poorly informed and uncoordinated — indeed, like a potential “slippery slope,” as a New York Times editorial warned.

Of course, it’s easy for us in the grandstands to criticize those walking the tightrope. I agree with Obama’s essential plan of authorizing airstrikes in Syria, if done cautiously and in conjunction with air forces of Sunni allies. But we can’t want to defeat ISIS more than the countries in its path, and right now we do.

American involvement must be predicated on an inclusive Iraqi government so that Sunni tribes confront ISIS. It must entail cooperation from Turkey to disrupt ISIS financing. It should incorporate a social media arm to counter ISIS propaganda, cyberwarfare to spy on ISIS and disrupt it, and additional intelligence gathering to monitor foreign fighters who may return home. And Obama is right that Congress should finance and arm some Free Syrian Army commanders, as a counterweight to ISIS. Some fighters have joined ISIS simply because it offers better pay.

We should finance Syrian rebels in part because our past policy — staying aloof — failed and made the problem worse. Nearly 200,000 Syrians have died; Jordan and Lebanon have been destabilized; extremism has grown; and Iraq has now effectively been dismembered and atrocities committed against Yazidis, Christians and other minorities.

The trouble is that alarm and revulsion at ISIS beheadings is creating a rush to intervene, so that some want us to leap from the sidelines right into the fray — even with ground troops. That would backfire by aggravating nationalists.

While I cautiously favor airstrikes, we need to be up front about risks:

First, airstrikes almost inevitably will mean accidental civilian casualties. ISIS would release videos of injured children to argue that America is at war with Islam. That may bolster extremist groups from Africa to Asia.

Second, more fighting in Syria could increase the refugee flow to Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. It would be tragic if we inadvertently degraded not ISIS but Jordan.

Third, it seems entirely possible that ISIS filmed and released the beheading videos precisely with the intention of luring America into a war. Its Syrian stronghold of Raqqa would be difficult to bomb without causing civilian casualties, and ISIS may have figured that it could parlay American attacks into new recruits, prestige and influence.

We also have enormous challenges at home and abroad that we may be able to do more about than Syria. A few months ago, we were on alert over a Nigerian terrorist group, Boko Haram, kidnapping several hundred schoolgirls and threatening to sell them into slavery. Those girls are still missing, and Boko Haram has gained even more ground in northern Nigeria. Let’s not become so obsessed with ISIS that we become distracted from other threats.

I see military force as just one more tool. Sometimes it saves lives (Kosovo, Iraqi no-fly zones), and sometimes it costs lives (Iraq, Vietnam). Syria could be the right occasion to use it, but only if we act as if we’re facing a yellow traffic light, not a green one.

For now, we seem to be setting out on an uncertain mission with unclear objectives on an unknown timetable using ambiguous methods with unreliable allies. Some of that is inevitable, for foreign policy is usually conducted in a fog, but I’d be more reassured if the White House could at least locate its enemy on the map.

It would appear that the MOTU have decided it’s time for another shootin’ war.  JUST what we need…  Here’s Ms. Collins:

Let us all contemplate the fact that Representative Mark Sanford of South Carolina is running for re-election unopposed.

Sanford was, of course, the governor who snuck off to Argentina for an assignation while his befuddled aides claimed he was hiking on the Appalachian Trail.

Now he’s the Facebook Congressman, who announced his breakup with his Argentine-squeeze-turned-fiancée in a 2,346-word posting that was mainly a whine about his ex-wife, the divorce settlement and visitation rules. “I think I owe you my thinking on this personal, but now public matter,” he told the world. Which most definitely had not asked for the information.

This is precisely the sort of thing his constituents should have been dreading when they gave the 54-year-old Republican another chance in a special House election last year. Sanford’s problem is less his libido than his remarkable, garrulous self-absorption. The man can’t stop sharing. Returning from his Argentina foray, he gave an interview to The Associated Press, in which he philosophized about the “sex line” that set his mistress, María Belén Chapur, apart from other women for whom he’d lusted.

And he held an endless press conference, perhaps the only moment in American political history in which a politician talked about his illicit sex life so much that everybody got bored with the subject. (“I’ll tell you more detail than you’ll ever want. …”) This was the same appearance in which he made the memorable announcement: “I spent the last five days crying in Argentina.”

And thus was born a legend.

Sanford got a clean start by running for Congress in a campaign that was long on the power of divine forgiveness and short on appearances by Chapur. Once elected, he kept a low profile. Then came the Facebook posting, yet another reminder of the importance of keeping elected officials away from social media.

Sanford ranted about a recent family court filing in which his ex-wife, Jenny, asked that he be required to undergo a psychiatric evaluation and complete an anger management program. The congressman defended himself by sounding both angry and crazy. “I cannot do this anymore,” he wrote, launching into a litany of complaints about Jenny and the lawyers, along with repeated references to his own incredible self-restraint.

In what sounded almost like an afterthought, he announced that he was also breaking up with Chapur. “Maybe there will be another chapter when waters calm with Jenny, but at this point the environment is not conducive to building anything given no one would want to be caught in the middle of what’s now happening,” he wrote.

In fact, his fiancée totally did want to be caught in the middle, and had been demanding that Sanford finally come through with a wedding ring. He had been stalling five years. Once it turned out that he was running without an opponent this fall, Chapur might have reasonably expected that the moment had arrived. Sanford then decreed that he needed to wait two more years until his youngest son was no longer a minor.

Chapur declined. She told The Times’s Jim Rutenberg that she didn’t expect her ex-fiancé to keep it a secret. But she had presumably expected a more tasteful announcement — say pamphlets tossed out of a hot air balloon.

“I learned it from the press today,” she told Rutenberg.

So Sanford has defined himself as the exact incumbent you’d make a special trip to the polls to vote against. But there’s no Democrat in the race. “It wasn’t for lack of trying,” said Jaime Harrison, the Democratic state chairman, in a phone interview. The party, he explained, had high hopes of defeating Sanford last year when its candidate was Elizabeth Colbert Busch. When she lost by nine percentage points, “that kind of deflated the spirits of some people.”

You can understand the Democrats feeling as if there are some things worse than a blank space on the ballot. Last election cycle they failed to keep a close eye on who was running in their senate primary and wound up with an unemployed man who was facing obscenity charges for showing a female college student a pornographic picture. Then, the party was preoccupied with fending off another Senate hopeful who had pleaded guilty to three felony charges related to his business dealings.

Stuff happens in South Carolina. Who can forget the time the agriculture commissioner was indicted for taking payoffs to protect a cockfighting ring? Or Thomas Ravenel, the state treasurer who pleaded guilty to buying cocaine and spent 10 months in prison? He’s now running for the Senate as an independent and appearing in a reality TV show called “Southern Charm” in which he got one of his co-stars pregnant during the first season.

You have to wonder how much space there is between Mark Sanford and reality TV. The voters should demand assurances that he isn’t signed up for an upcoming season of “The Bachelor.” Although if he is, there’s not a heck of a lot they can do about it now.

There’s a lot of crazy here in Savannah, but we’re really terrified that the weaponized lunacy in South Carolina will waft across the river, the only thing between us and them…

Nocera and Collins

September 13, 2014

In “N.F.L. Stands By Its Leader” Mr. Nocera says Roger Goodell is very good at doing exactly what his owners want.  In “Candidates Playing Possum” Ms. Collins says control Control of the Senate hinges on the outcome of just a few close races.  She has a question:  Which candidates will show up and debate their opponents?  Here’s Mr. Nocera:

In 2006, the year Roger Goodell was named commissioner of the National Football League, the Washington Redskins were the most valuable team in football, according to Forbes magazine, with a valuation of $1.4 billion. Washington’s revenue that year was $303 million, with profits of more than $108 million. In second place came the New England Patriots, valued by Forbes at $1.18 billion, followed by the Dallas Cowboys at $1.17 billion.

Fast forward to Forbes’s most recent financial analysis of N.F.L. teams, published earlier this month. Today, the Dallas Cowboys, the No. 1 team, are valued at $3.2 billion, almost triple their valuation of just eight years ago, with revenue of $560 million and profits of $246 million. The New England Patriots, meanwhile, saw their valuation jump to $2.6 billion. The Washington team, though now in third place, is still worth $1 billion more than it was in 2006.

And these numbers are, if anything, an understatement: The Buffalo Bills were just sold for $1.4 billion, a record price for a professional football team. Forbes had estimated the Bills’ value at “only” $935 million.

If you want to understand why Goodell’s job is almost certainly safe, despite his complete botch of the Ray Rice domestic violence case and the many calls for his ouster, this is why: The only people who can fire him are the 32 N.F.L. owners — and they have zero interest in letting him go. After all, he makes them money. Currently, the N.F.L. takes in about $10 billion overall; Goodell has told the owners he wants to make it a $25 billion business by the year 2027. You can practically see their mouths watering at the prospect.

Just listen to them circling the wagons: John Mara, the co-owner of the New York Giants, has said flatly that Goodell’s job is not in jeopardy. Robert Kraft, the owner of the New England Patriots, has come to his defense. In 2012, the owners paid Goodell a staggering $44.2 million. “I think he’s worth it,” Kraft told The Times’s Ken Belson in February, when Goodell’s pay was revealed.

Of course there is another reason the owners think he is “worth it.” He takes the heat for them when they need him to. Daniel Snyder, the owner in Washington, is adamant that he will never give up the nickname “Redskins,” even though it is deeply insulting to Native Americans. Goodell backs him up. The owners don’t want to pay pensions to their referees? Goodell locks them out. “It’s a mistake to view Goodell as powerful,” says Gregg Easterbrook, the author of “The King of Sports: Why Football Must Be Reformed.” “The owners have all the power.”

And so it is in the recent controversy. Football is a violent game, and though they’d never say so out loud, N.F.L. owners accept some violence outside the white lines as an inevitable consequence. Indeed, it happens frequently enough that USA Today compiles a database of N.F.L. players who have been arrested.

The website Sidespin, using that database, found 56 examples of domestic violence committed by pro football players in the years since Goodell became commissioner. Once, in 2011, a player was suspended for the rest of the season — but that was by his team, the Minnesota Vikings, not Goodell. Another time, in 2006, a player was suspended by the league for two games. In every other instance where N.F.L. headquarters mandated a punishment, it was only a one-game suspension. According to Sidespin, in nearly three dozen cases of domestic violence, the N.F.L. took no action at all.

No wonder Goodell thought that his original two-game suspension of Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice for knocking his then-fiancée out cold was enough: He had never given out a longer suspension for domestic violence during his time as commissioner. Then came the leak of the video of Rice’s punch — followed by the scene of him dragging his unconscious fiancée out of the elevator door — which was so horrifying that even the N.F.L. couldn’t look the other way.

Goodell suspended Rice indefinitely and gave an interview to CBS News in which he tried to accept the blame for his mistake but came across as evasive and defensive. And he ordered up an internal investigation to be headed by Robert Mueller, the former F.B.I. director.

There is a small chance, I suppose, that Mueller will discover that Goodell lied when he said he had not seen the video before it became public earlier this week. In that case, the owners would have no choice but to fire him. But I don’t think that’s going to happen. What is far more likely is that Goodell will survive the calls for his ouster and go back to doing the one thing he truly knows how to do: Make money for his overlords, pro football’s owners.

Now here’s Ms. Collins:

Election season! Tension mounts! Longtime public servants are aware that the least little slip and they could be out the door. Forced, like ousted House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, to labor in the sweatshops of the investment banking industry.

With $1.4 million in signing bonuses. Do you think that’s why he quit the House early, people? I totally believed he just wanted to give his successor a head start.

I digress. We’re talking today about democracy. And debates. Candidates should all feel obliged to debate their opponents. It’s a sign of respect to the public. Even for incumbents who are so safe that they could get caught having an assignation with an armadillo and still get 60 percent of the vote.

Our fixation on debates goes back to that Illinois Senate race when Abraham Lincoln faced off seven times against Stephen Douglas. Their battles were so electric that Lincoln published transcripts in a book, which his fans scooped up eagerly. Voters today may wonder why their Senate debates can’t be like Lincoln-Douglas. Senate candidates today may wonder why their audiences can’t be like the ones in 1858, when people sat enthralled while one man spoke for 60 minutes, followed by a 90-minute response and then a final 30-minute comeback.

This year, control of the Senate hinges on the outcome of a handful of states. Almost all of them are going to involve debates, and I can pretty much guarantee none of them will later be published as best-selling books.

Several have already degenerated into debates about the debates. Former Minnesota Senator Norm Coleman, a Republican, said his successor, Democrat Al Franken, gave the state a “big middle corn dog” when Franken declined the traditional debate at the Minnesota State Fair. That state fair can be a pretty rowdy venue. I know you think all Minnesotans are calm and well-behaved, but really, give them enough deep-fried foods and they can get carried away.

Franken, who did spend seven days campaigning at the fair, posing for selfies and eating what his campaign spokesperson said was a large quantity of roasted Minnesota sweet corn, has already done one debate and is scheduled for three more, so I don’t think he can be accused of dissing his constituents.

However, it’s sort of sad when the old political traditions fall by the wayside. This year in Florida, the gubernatorial candidates failed to show up for the annual Wausau Possum Festival, which is usually a must-show event. Perhaps Gov. Rick Scott and Democrat Charlie Crist don’t like possums. Maybe they were averse to the custom of politicians walking onstage and dangling the animals by their tails. Really, it’s the kind of thing that can come back to bite you.

We have mixed feelings about the possums. However, we do want debates. Even if we are planning to totally ignore them, we want our candidates out there.

And, in most of the major races, they’re ready to go. Although in Michigan, the Republican Senate candidate, Terri Lynn Land, is pursuing a kind of stealth strategy, in which she seems to become less and less visible as the campaign goes on. Her opponent, Representative Gary Peters, appeared on the date of a previously scheduled debate this week, sharing the stage with an empty chair before an enthusiastic crowd of more than 30 people. “This is not the ideal format,” he understated.

The empty chair is the traditional prop in these circumstances. However in Alabama, where Gov. Robert Bentley is resisting debates, Democrat Parker Griffith has been toting around an inflatable duck. I have fond memories of a New York City mayoral candidate waving a rubber chicken that was supposed to be the absent Rudy Giuliani.

Giuliani’s defense was that he didn’t want to appear in debates that included distracting third-party candidates. This is a longstanding argument. Do you want to watch the Democrat and Republican go head-to-head? Or do you want to be inclusive? And, if so, how far are you prepared to go? Right now in North Carolina, the Senate hopefuls include a former town councilman who is best known for having submitted his resignation letter in Klingon.

“I’ve been in many debates that I think were a disservice to democracy,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York said during this year’s gubernatorial primary. He was perhaps referring to his run for governor in 2010, when he wound up on stage with six other candidates, including a woman whose claim to fame was running a prostitution ring and the nominee of the Rent Is Too Damn High Party.

There are some problems with Cuomo’s analysis, only one of which is that he was using it as an excuse to avoid any debates whatsoever during the primary this year. While the thing with the madam and the rent guy was pretty weird, that was possibly the most memorable gubernatorial debate in state history.

And, of course, we appreciated that everybody had the decency to show up.

Blow, Kristof and Collins

September 11, 2014

In “The Cost of War” Mr. Blow says Americans must think about what it means to engage in another foreign war, and weigh that against the urgent needs we have at home.  Mr. Kristof offers a “Critique From an Obama Fan” and says the president is right to expand the attack on ISIS into Syria if it’s done prudently with modest goals.  In “A Man With a Plan” Ms. Collins says President Obama makes a comeback from weeks in which he was attacked for everything from playing golf to saying “we don’t have a strategy yet.”  Here’s Mr. Blow:

Here we go again.

Wednesday night, during a prime-time speech, the president laid out his plan for dealing with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, known as ISIS.

He made clear that “while we have not yet detected specific plotting against our homeland,” he still “will not hesitate to take action against ISIL in Syria, as well as Iraq.”

He called it “a comprehensive and sustained counter-terrorism strategy” and not a war. Yet, for all practical purposes, a war seems to be what it will be.

And most Americans, before the speech, seemed to be on board if not leading the way.

According to a Washington Post/ABC News poll published Tuesday, a vast majority of Americans see ISIS as a threat to the United States, a slight majority believe the president hasn’t moved aggressively enough, and most support expanding United States airstrikes into Syria.

But I implore the president and the nation to proceed with caution.

We can kill anti-American fighters and even their leaders, but we can’t kill anti-American sentiment. To some degree, every time we commit our forces in the Middle East we run the risk of further inflaming that sentiment.

For every action, there is a reaction. And there are also consequences, some of them unintended.

The president said that his plan “will not involve American combat troops fighting on foreign soil.” But this seems a hard thing to completely guarantee. It seems reasonable to worry that it could lead to at least some American boots on the ground and some American blood soaked into it.

The president did, however, say:

“We will send an additional 475 service members to Iraq. As I have said before, these American forces will not have a combat mission — we will not get dragged into another ground war in Iraq.”

But missions creep, wars get foggy and the very definition of victory can become elusive.

And need I remind you, we’ve been here before, worked up into a patriotic tizzy, fears stoked and muscles flexed. Although nothing may soon rival the staggering deception and disaster of the Iraq war, it still stands as our most recent and most instructive lesson about committing to armed conflict. George Bush and Dick Cheney are in a category of their own.

When we invaded Iraq in 2003, about three out of four Americans approved of President Bush’s handling of the situation, according to a USA Today/Gallup poll. Three years later, that approval had fallen by half.

We don’t want to look back three years from now and ask, “What have we done?”

An ABC News poll in early March of 2003 found that most Americans believed the Iraq war would last several months at most — it officially lasted nearly nine years — and nearly eight in 10 thought Iraq posed a direct threat to the United States at the time.

And the cost of that war, particularly in death toll, was staggering.

According to the website Iraqbodycount.org, more than 4,800 members of United States and coalition forces were killed between 2003 and 2013, as well as 468 contractors.

An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll conducted the month we invaded found that nearly seven in 10 Americans thought the final result of the Iraq war would be that we would “win,” whatever that meant. Most Americans also thought that we should do everything we could to minimize Iraqi civilian casualties.

And while it is not clear how many civilian deaths resulted solely from United States military action in that country, Iraqbodycount.org puts the total number of Iraqi civilian deaths “from violence” since 2003 as high as 144,000.

Furthermore, a March 2013 study estimated that the financial cost of the Iraq war could be more than $2 trillion.

And now, to compound the waste of money, with our air offensive we are essentially paying to blow up millions of dollars of our own equipment that we left behind in Iraq, as Jason Fields wrote for Reuters last month.

As Fields puts it:

“And Islamic State’s captured an enormous amount of U.S. weaponry, originally intended for the rebuilt Iraqi Army. You know — the one that collapsed in terror in front of the Islamic State, back when they were just ISIL? The ones who dropped their uniforms, and rifles and ran away? They left behind the bigger equipment, too, including M1 Abrams tanks (about $6 million each), 52 M198 howitzer cannons ($527,337), and MRAPs (about $1 million) similar to the ones in use in Ferguson.”

Fields continues:

“Now, U.S. warplanes are flying sorties, at a cost somewhere between $22,000 to $30,000 per hour for the F-16s, to drop bombs that cost at least $20,000 each, to destroy this captured equipment. That means if an F-16 were to take off from Incirlik Air Force Base in Turkey and fly two hours to Erbil, Iraq, and successfully drop both of its bombs on one target each, it costs the United States somewhere between $84,000 to $104,000 for the sortie and destroys a minimum of $1 million and a maximum of $12 million in U.S.-made equipment.”

We are doing this at a time when many of our roads and bridges are crumbling beneath us. The American Society of Civil Engineers estimates that we need to invest $3.6 trillion in infrastructure by 2020.

The Department of Agriculture released a report this month saying that the percentage of Americans who are “food insecure” (lacking “access to enough food for an active, healthy life”) has remained relatively unchanged (14.3 percent) since the numbers spiked during the recession in 2008.

And yet, in February, the 2014 Farm Bill was signed into law, a bill that will, according to MSNBC, “cut $8.7 billion in food stamp benefits over the next 10 years, causing 850,000 households to lose an average of $90 per month.”

We are still arguing about the cost of the Affordable Care Act and Republicans are still wasting time and money trying to repeal it.

We, as Americans, must think long and hard about what it will really mean for us to engage in another foreign war and weigh that against the urgent needs we have right here at home.

Next up we have Mr. Kristof:

I’m probably one of the few Americans left with some sympathy for President Obama’s foreign policy, and even I have to admit that his Syria policy has been a mess.

His “red line” about chemical weapons turned out to be more like a penciled suggestion. His rejection of the proposal by Hillary Rodham Clinton and David Petraeus to arm moderate Syrian factions tragically empowered both the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, and President Bashar al-Assad of Syria.

Dismissing ISIS as a “J.V. team,” as Obama did in January, was silly — compounded by the White House’s contorted attempts to deny that he had said that. Obama’s ambassador to Syria, Robert Ford, resigned this year because he found our government’s policy impossible to defend.

The tragedy in Syria isn’t Obama’s fault, but that of Syrians; still, the president has been painfully passive toward what has unfolded: the deaths of nearly 200,000 Syrians, the destabilization of neighboring countries by three million refugees, the near collapse of Iraq, the beheading of two American journalists, mass atrocities against Yazidi and Christian religious minorities and growing risks of ISIS terrorism against American and European targets.

And, yes, that’s the judgment of an Obama fan.

So it’s just as well that the president is trying for a reset — oops, wrong word — let’s just say “a new strategy” in Syria.

“America will lead a broad coalition to roll back this terrorist threat,” Obama declared in his speech Wednesday night. He described it as a “counterterrorism campaign” that would “degrade and ultimately destroy” ISIS.

There’s some inconsistency there. Counterterrorism is the right prism through which to approach this, rather than all-out war, but it’s unlikely to destroy ISIS any more than it did the Taliban or militancy in Yemen.

Indeed, the president, in his speech, said that his strategy in  Syria “is one that we have successfully pursued in Yemen and Somalia for years.” That’s a plausible comparison, but Obama may be the only person in the world who would cite conflict-torn Yemen and Somalia as triumphs.

Unfortunately, there are more problems than solutions in international relations, and calls for more aggressive action by some Republican critics could make things worse. Dick Cheney has compiled an almost perfect record of being wrong on foreign affairs, so, on Wednesday, when he called for the United States to be more aggressive and get “back on offense,” we should all insist upon caution.

My take is that Obama is right to expand military action against ISIS into Syria if it’s done prudently with modest goals of containing and degrading a terror group. ISIS is a proper target, having butchered Americans, dismembered Iraq and attempted genocide against minorities like the Yazidis.

A 17-year-old Yazidi girl told the Italian newspaper La Repubblica in a phone call that she was being kept by ISIS as a sex slave along with many others. The newspaper got her cellphone number from her parents, who are in a refugee camp.

“They treat us as if we are their slaves,” the newspaper quoted the girl as saying. “The men hit us and threaten us when we try to resist. Often I wish that they would beat me so severely that I would die.”

ISIS also could pose a terror threat within the United States. At least 100 and perhaps many more Americans have traveled to Syria to join jihadi groups, and some could return to carry out attacks.

So striking ISIS in Syria makes sense, but we also have to recognize that airstrikes will be of limited benefit and carry real risks as well.

“We’re going to war because we’ve been spooked,” notes Joshua Landis, a Syria specialist at the University of Oklahoma. “But if we do it wrong, we could ensure that the violence spreads.”

One danger is that if our bombs kill innocents, ISIS would use its video-making and social media skills to galvanize the Sunni Islam world, saying the American “infidels” who are slaughtering Sunni children must be punished. That’s why it’s crucial to have Sunni partners, including United Arab Emirates, Turkey and Saudi Arabia.

We also need a partner on the ground to take advantage of airstrikes and seize back territory. That means moderate Syrian rebels, but there are many fewer of them now than there were two years ago. The middle has been vanishing.

Bolstering the Syrian opposition is still worth trying, and a senior administration official says that the White House will try to expand support. But there’s a danger that more arms will lead not to the destruction of ISIS but to the creation of another Somalia.

So let’s move ahead with eyes wide open. We’ve seen the perils of Obama’s inaction, and let’s now avoid the perils of excessive action.

And now here’s Ms. Collins:

It’s a tough time to be a concerned citizen. The truth of the matter is, the job has always been messy.

But it’s way worse when the subject is foreign policy.

We gathered around our TVs and computers and peered at our smartphones Wednesday night to hear President Obama explain his plan for combating ISIS, even though we have pretty much lost faith in plans when it comes to the United States involvement in the Middle East.

He sounded very strong. And, really, that’s something. We’d have been happy to come away just saying something like “he appeared to believe he’s on the right track.”

The problem with the substance was that when it comes to Iraq and Syria, we’re too good at imagining the downside. The president said he had waited to launch his plan until Iraq got an inclusive government. That certainly made sense. Except that we have children entering middle school who had not been born when we started waiting for Iraq to get an inclusive government.

Then there’s the arming of Syrian rebels. No surprise that Obama wants an ally that isn’t the Assad regime. But some of the fighters in ISIS were Syrian rebels. Obviously, the administration feels its rebels are not going to become anti-Western terrorists. But the anti-Western terrorists in ISIS are waving around a ton of our weaponry that they took from the allies we armed in Iraq. Just saying.

Obama promised no American combat troops would be sent into battle. We don’t want boots on the ground. The idea of airstrikes sound much safer. Unless you happen to be an innocent civilian in the vicinity.

The president assured the American people that the strategy of air power plus “support for partner forces” would work because it’s already been a big success in Yemen and Somalia. Concerned citizens then turned to each other and said: “Yemen and Somalia?”

The hardest thing for average Americans is knowing just how worried to be. The tone of alarm in Washington has been hyper-shrill. Denouncing the president’s failure to take on ISIS faster, Representative Michele Bachmann told The Huffington Post: “We haven’t seen anything like this since Hitler and the blitzkrieg in World War II.”

Well, Michele Bachmann. Who is a member of the House Intelligence Committee.

During the run-up to the speech, Republicans had been irate about the president’s failure to act sooner, explain his plan faster and, in general, be tougher. Never had so many people demanded specifics without ever offering any of their own.

“President Obama’s chronic passivity has helped the jihadists,” John Cornyn of Texas, the second-ranking Senate Republican, said in a floor speech this week. Cornyn slammed the administration’s “don’t do stupid stuff” mantra, claiming Obama “doesn’t seem to fully grasp the magnitude of the threats and challenges that America is now dealing with.”

Cornyn mixed up Iranians and Iraqis a few times, but concerned citizens understand that these things get complicated. More to the point, not doing something stupid is actually a super foreign policy goal. Just look back on our recent history of meddling in the Middle East and what do you see? A heck of a lot of stupid stuff we wish we hadn’t done.

In his speech, the president was pushing back after weeks in which he was attacked for everything from playing golf on his vacation to saying “we don’t have a strategy yet” on the ISIS surge in Syria. On that, the critics had a point. You’re not supposed to say you don’t have a strategy. Even when everything on the ground has shifted and you need to consult your allies, get the Iraqi government to reorganize and collect new intelligence. You still don’t say “no strategy.” You say, “I’ll discuss strategy after I brief the congressional leaders.” And then fail to invite them.

Anyway, now there’s definitely a strategy. The hawks in Congress were not all necessarily overwhelmed. “The president doesn’t really have a grasp of how serious the threat of ISIS is,” said Senator John McCain on CNN. Other Republicans, like House Speaker John Boehner, issued responses that began with, “Finally …”

And how about the concerned citizens? We’re feeling insecure. It’s comforting to have Dick Cheney around, so we can at least know what we definitely want to avoid. This week, in a Washington speech, the former vice president said Obama has to “understand we are at war and that we must do what it takes, for as long as it takes, to win,” and spend way more money on defense.

Which means that:

A) Fighting ISIS is going to be more complicated than just war.

B) The president should put timetables on everything.

C) The defense budget needs to go down.

Remember that no matter what else happens, Dick Cheney will never steer us right.

Nocera and Collins

September 6, 2014

In “The Price of Glory” Mr. Nocera says college football coaches are grossly overpaid — just like C.E.O.s.  In “Passion for the Pill” Ms. Collins says in Congressional races across the country, women’s issues are looming large. Just listen to some of the Republican candidates.  Here’s Mr. Nocera:

“Are Football Coaches Overpaid?” asks a new paper by two Vanderbilt University professors, Randall S. Thomas of the law school, and R. Lawrence Van Horn of the school of management. It’s amazing the things academics can find worthy of study, isn’t it?

My answer is: Of course they are. At a time when state legislatures are cutting back their support for public universities, when most big athletic programs lose money, when tuition has never been higher, there is something terribly askew about the skyrocketing compensation of college football (and men’s basketball) coaches. At the University of Alabama, Nick Saban makes a reported $6.9 million a year, more than most professional football coaches. At Ohio State, Urban Meyer makes $4.6 million. At the University of Texas, Mack Brown made more than $5 million before he resigned last December. Navy’s football coach, Ken Niumatalolo, makes over $1.5 million. Navy, no less!

But as my colleague Steve Eder reported in The Times earlier this week, the Thomas and Van Horn paper comes to a very different conclusion. According to the paper, football coaches are not overpaid. Why not? Because their jobs — and their employment contracts — are very similar to those of chief executives.

“While university presidents are nominally the C.E.O. of the university,” they write, “there are many commentators, including some presidents, who believe that the football coach retains the role as the most powerful decision maker. Football coaches have many of the same job characteristics as C.E.O.s of public companies — they run large organizations with many employees that generate hundreds of millions of dollars in revenues.”

The idea that football coaches, who run programs made up of maybe 200 people and generating at most $100 million (and that’s at the top) are comparable to public university presidents with budgets of $2 billion is just silly. But there is something apt about comparing them to chief executives. After all, in the land of the overpaid, chief executives are at the top of the heap.

The justification for outlandish executive compensation is that chief executives are being rewarded for performance. But it doesn’t always work that way. In truth, far too many corporate chieftains take home millions of dollars each year whether their companies perform well or not. It’s a rigged game: The board that sets chief executive pay is often made up of other C.E.O.s, who are deeply sympathetic to the man whose pay they are setting. Performance measures can be changed to make the chief executive look good. And so on.

Thomas and Van Horn make the point that it is much easier to measure the performance of a college football coach — he either wins games or he doesn’t. The average tenure of a Division 1 football coach, they report, is just three years, so the coach has every incentive to maximize his earnings. That may indeed explain why football coaches seek bigger salaries, but it doesn’t explain why they are getting them.

There are really two reasons, one of which Thomas and Van Horn mention and the other of which they don’t. The one they mention is television money, which has flooded into college sports in recent years. They point out that after the Pac-12 Conference negotiated an expansive TV deal in 2011 — nearly quadrupling television revenue for some teams in the conference, Washington State was able to pay its new football coach $2.25 million, up from $600,000. “A windfall,” one athletic director calls it.

What they don’t mention is that other than facilities, travel costs and coaches’ salaries, there aren’t many other places to spend the money. The players don’t get paid, but the money has to go somewhere. So the coaches grab the lion’s share. Economists call this rent-seeking behavior.

In the recent O’Bannon decision, the judge ruled that universities would have to up the value of their athletic scholarships to cover the full cost of attendance. In most cases, that means an increase of between $1,000 to $3,000 per scholarship.

Not long ago, the News & Observer of Raleigh, N.C., interviewed Bubba Cunningham, the athletic director at the University of North Carolina, about his concerns in the wake of the O’Bannon decision. Cunningham estimated that adding on the full cost of attendance would cost his university $1.8 million. At U.N.C. the football coach, Larry Fedora, makes around $1.7 million. The basketball coach, Roy Williams, makes a little over $1.8 million.

“We don’t have $1.8 million discretionary,” he said, referring to the full cost of attendance. “That’s going to create challenges.” He suggested that certain minor sports might be “at risk.” But he also said that certain other options “aren’t realistic.”

“Like what?” asked the interviewer.

“Slowing down facility expansion, or salaries,” he replied.

Which is the final way C.E.O. compensation resembles the pay of college football coaches: It never goes down.

Now here’s Ms. Collins:

Republican candidates are falling madly in love with contraception.

Who knew?

“I believe the pill ought to be available over the counter, round the clock, without a prescription — cheaper and easier, for you,” declares Colorado Senate candidate Cory Gardner in a new ad. He’s running against the Democratic incumbent, Mark Udall, in a close race.

Meanwhile, in North Carolina, during a Senate debate this week, Republican Thom Tillis announced that he, too, strongly believed “over-the-counter oral contraception should be available without a prescription.”

Tillis, a longtime politician, had never mentioned this big idea before. Until the debate, his most famous collision with women’s reproductive rights came when, as speaker of the State House, he allowed the Republican majority to add a last-minute amendment to a bill on motorcycle safety reducing access to abortions.

So big surprise from Thom Tillis. The same thing, more or less, has happened in Senate races in Virginia and Minnesota. Republicans in close elections suddenly turn into cheerleaders for over-the-counter birth control pills. A negative and suspicious mind might almost suspect they were following a script.

During one recent U.S. House debate in Colorado, the Republican incumbent, Mike Coffman, said in an answer to a moderator’s question that he was pro-life, then quickly added: “But I support a woman’s access to … to, uh …

“Um, certainly to this Hobby Lobby decision, to get …”

Painful moments of groping, flailing. What the heck do you call that stuff? Finally, a merciful member of the audience shouted: “Birth control.”

“Birth control!” cried Coffman with relief.

We’re entering another election season in which women’s issues loom large. (In North Carolina, one recent poll showed the gender gap between Tillis and his Democratic opponent, Senator Kay Hagan, is 32 percent.) The Republicans are trying to avoid the disastrous tone-deafness that cropped up two years ago when a leading Senate candidate suggested that a gal could not get pregnant if she was raped. This season, Democrats have been eagerly looking for similar fodder. So far, there’s been nothing quite that awful, although it’s pretty clear there are folks who still haven’t gotten with the program. Male invitees to an event for Florida Congressman Steve Southerland were told to “tell the misses not to wait up” because “the after-dinner whiskey and cigars will be smooth & the issues to discuss are many.”

A spokesman for Southerland indignantly told BuzzFeed, which first obtained the invitation, that “rather than focusing on nonsense stories,” reporters should be asking Southerland’s opponent about Obamacare. Truly, there is nothing that cannot be dismissed by bringing up the Affordable Care Act. Total miracle that the ex-governor of Virginia chose to defend himself against corruption charges by claiming his wife was a terrible person when he could just as easily have argued that taking money from a dietary supplement salesman was not nearly as bad as Obamacare.

I digress. About the pill. There was a time when the Republican Party championed family planning and access to contraception. But that was, you know, before disco. Now it’s a rare Republican candidate who can latch onto a major nomination without calling for an end to abortion rights and the defunding of Planned Parenthood. Many of them have also signed on to the personhood movement, which wants to provide legal rights to every fertilized egg in the country. This idea, with its potential impact on access to birth control, is so unpopular that it failed by a landslide in Mississippi.

All this can create problems for the women’s vote in general elections. In Colorado, the Democrats have pointed out endlessly that Cory Gardner supported personhood amendments to the State Constitution. After he seemed to be losing ground, Gardner said that when personhood came up in 2008 and 2010 he did not really understand the possible consequences. (“This was a bad idea driven by good intentions.”)

Now think about this for a minute. Imagine you’re a politician in a state that’s considering an amendment to the state constitution that is very controversial and all about women’s reproduction. Pretend it’s on the ballot the same time when you’re running for Congress. Pretend you’re very, very concerned with women’s access to contraception.

At what point would you say to yourself: “Wow, I wonder if this could have any impact on birth control?” Choose from the following:

A) First time the subject came up.

B) Not actually until a week before the election because it was a tough year and I had home repair issues to deal with.

C) Some undetermined point between the day the amendment failed by 3 to 1 and, um, right this minute.

Yes! In Gardner’s case the answer is C.

In every election, voters ask the candidates: “What have you done for me lately?” In this case, we might also want to know what they were doing last year.

Blow, Kristof and Collins

September 4, 2014

In “ISIS, Deep in the Heart of Texas” Mr. Blow says a legitimate threat from foreign forces should not be used as fodder for anti-immigrant, enforcement-over-citizenship border politicians.  In “When Reporting is Dangerous” Mr. Kristof says Steven Sotloff, James Foley and other journalists on the front lines make us better informed.  Ms. Collins takes a look at “The Down Side of Reclining” and says the airplane-seat debate has become a bit of an aviation crisis, so maybe it’s time for Congress to take up the issue.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, is coming … to Texas? Yes, if you listen to conservatives, particularly those from Texas.

First, let’s say this flatly: ISIS is an outrageously barbaric group that poses a real threat to the Middle East in the short term and possibly to Western countries in the long term.

And watching the beheading of American journalists by ISIS is most unsettling, to say nothing of the pain and torment it must cause the victims’ families. It offends and infuriates. The heart breaks and the eyes water. And there is a natural revulsion and rousing of anger.

But through the anger we must still stay levelheaded, and not allow politicians and pundits to talk us into armed conflict without clarity of mission and scope. And we also mustn’t allow them to inflate the image of the enemy to such a degree that we feel that caution and patience are not options.

The latter seems to be very much underway. ISIS is being presented as so great a threat that action cannot be forestalled, and that amplification of threat is even being used as a political tool in the immigration debate.

The conservative website WND “reported” in July that “a top U.S. Defense Department analyst under President Bush says ISIS, the Islamic jihadists creating a Muslim caliphate in Iraq and beyond, could use the Mexican border to infiltrate America, and it could happen ‘sooner rather than later.’”

The site continued, “ISIS may be working to infiltrate’ the U.S. with the aid of transnational drug cartels, he said, citing the violent Mexican criminal gang MS-13 as a highly likely candidate for the partnership.”

WND was not the only one to hype the cartel line. Representative Ted Poe of Texas said in August that there was interaction between ISIS and Mexican drug cartels and that they were “talking to each other.”

Fox News “reported” Friday on a so-called “situational awareness” bulletin sent out by the Texas Department of Public Safety and obtained by the “news” network. According to Fox, the bulletin read, “A review of ISIS social media messaging during the week ending August 26 shows that militants are expressing an increased interest in the notion that they could clandestinely infiltrate the southwest border of U.S., for terror attack.”

And members of the Obama administration — wittingly or not — fed the frenzy. In a joint news conference in August, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey, further inflated ISIS and raised the issue of immigration and the border.

Hagel called ISIS an “imminent threat to every interest we have” and said, “This is beyond anything we’ve seen. We must prepare for everything.”

Dempsey said, “Because of open borders and immigration issues, it’s an immediate threat, that is to say, the fighters who may leave the current fight and migrate home. Longer-term, it is about ISIS’ vision.”

Broadly speaking, this is all true. Everything is possible, and one should never underestimate an enemy. But, neither should one inflate the image of the enemy. And a legitimate threat from foreign forces should not be used as political fodder for anti-immigrant, enforcement-over-citizenship border politicians.

And yet, that appears to be what it has become.

Gov. Rick Perry of Texas recently hinted that ISIS fighters might have already crossed the U.S.-Mexico border. According to Perry, “There’s the obvious great concern that because of the condition of the border, from the standpoint of it not being secure and us not knowing who is penetrating across, that individuals from ISIS or other terrorist states could be.” Perry continued, “I think it’s a very real possibility that they may have already used that.”

Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, said on CNN, however, that although ISIS had a desire to strike Western targets, there was “no information that leads us to believe” that ISIS fighters had crossed the border.

The Conservative Judicial Watch issued a statement last week claiming:

“Islamic terrorist groups are operating in the Mexican border city of Ciudad Juárez and planning to attack the United States with car bombs or other vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices (VBIED). High-level federal law enforcement, intelligence and other sources have confirmed to Judicial Watch that a warning bulletin for an imminent terrorist attack on the border has been issued. Agents across a number of Homeland Security, Justice and Defense agencies have all been placed on alert and instructed to aggressively work all possible leads and sources concerning this imminent terrorist threat.”

The National Counterterrorism Center director, Matthew Olsen, said that while ISIS did pose “significant threat to us” it was not “Al Qaeda pre-9/11” and “we have no credible information” that ISIS is planning to attack the United States.

The ISIS-at-the-border hype appears to simply be an attempt to kill two birds with one stone — be pro-war and anti-immigration at the same time.

Next up we have Mr. Kristof:

My heart broke for Steven Sotloff, the second American journalist beheaded in Syria, not only because of the barbarity ISIS inflicted on him but also because he died trying to push back against the trend in news coverage.

Over the last couple of decades, we’ve all seen trivialization of news, a drift toward celebrity, scandal and salaciousness.

So far this year, nightly newscasts on ABC, CBS and NBC have offered a combined total of 3 minutes of coverage of the civil war and impending famine in South Sudan, and 9 minutes about mass atrocities in Central African Republic, according to Andrew Tyndall of the Tyndall Report, which tracks such things. In contrast, the missing Malaysian airliner drew 304 minutes (almost five times as much as the Syrian civil war).

That’s why this is a moment to honor Sotloff — and James Foley, the other American journalist executed, and so many others out on the front lines — not just for his physical courage, but also for his moral courage in trying to focus attention on neglected stories. He shone a spotlight in dark nooks of the world to help shape the global agenda.

It was a struggle for him.

“I’ve been here over a week and no one wants freelance because of the kidnappings,” Sotloff emailed another journalist while in Syria before his kidnapping, according to Reuters. “It’s pretty bad here. I’ve been sleeping at a front, hiding from tanks the past few nights, drinking rainwater.”

One of the biggest changes that I’ve seen in my career is that journalists and aid workers have become targets. Virulent extremist groups now see journalists as enemies, and subject captives to abuse and torture. For instance, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria reportedly waterboarded Foley before murdering him.

In addition, in conflict areas, any petty criminal with a gun can kidnap a journalist or aid worker and sell him or her to a group that will demand a ransom. European nations pay these ransoms, which both enrich the terror groups and create an incentive to kidnap other foreigners.

A Times investigation found that Al Qaeda and its direct affiliates had raised at least $125 million from kidnappings since 2008. That’s a powerful business model for a terror group, and it’s one reason journalism and aid work is more dangerous today.

Last year, 70 journalists were killed for doing their jobs, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. Over the last few years, some 70 journalists have been killed while covering the Syrian conflict, and about 20 are missing.

Most of those are Syrian, and let’s remember that the greatest danger is faced not by the Western journalists but by local ones — or by the local translators and drivers working for Western journalists.

In Darfur once, my interpreter and I were frantically interviewing villagers as a warlord was approaching to massacre them. Finally, my interpreter said: We’ve just got to go. If they catch us, they’ll hold you for ransom. But they’ll just shoot me.

We fled.

One way to honor Foley and Sotloff (and Daniel Pearl and many others killed over the years) would be for the United States to speak up more forcefully for journalists imprisoned by foreign governments — often by our friends, like Turkey or Ethiopia. Think of Eskinder Nega, serving an 18-year sentence in Ethiopia, or Somyot Prueksakasemsuk, a Thai serving 11 years for publishing articles deemed insulting to the king of Thailand.

Today there are Steven Sotloffs covering war in Ukraine, Ebola in Liberia, malnutrition in India — and also covering unemployment and crime in American cities.

They are indefatigable and relentless. Once while I was covering the Congo civil war with a group of Africa-based reporters, our plane crashed. It was terrifying for me, but another passenger (a reporter based in Nairobi) told me it was her third plane crash. Yet another colleague on that plane was later killed covering a conflict in West Africa.

A special shout-out to the photojournalists and video journalists, for they often take the greatest risks. A reporter like myself can keep a distance, while that’s useless for those with cameras. My first rule of covering conflicts is never to accept a ride from photographers, because when they hear gunfire they rush toward it. Just Wednesday, it was confirmed that a Russian photojournalist, Andrei Stenin, had been killed in Ukraine.

So, to Steven Sotloff and James Foley and all brave journalists putting themselves in harm’s way, whatever nationality, this column is a tribute to you — and to your loved ones, who suffer as well.

We mourn you; we miss you; and, we admire you. And your commitment to the serious over the salacious elevates not only journalism but the entire global society.

And now here’s Ms. Collins:

I am trying to imagine how our national leaders would react if they got caught in a reclining airplane seat crisis. You know what I mean. If they were flying to some important meeting and the person in front flopped back into their personal space, crunching a laptop or bruising a knee.

Obviously, this doesn’t happen to real national leaders. Their airplanes have rooms, for heaven’s sake. But if it did.

President Obama would not yell. He would sigh a deep sigh. The atmosphere around him would grow very cold. More sighs. Time passes very slowly.

John Boehner might yell, but he would not actually expect anyone to pay any attention.

It is possible that Hillary Clinton would not know the seat in front of her had reclined, since she is famous for being able to fall asleep at will. Nancy Pelosi’s staff says she, too, is often conked out before the plane even takes off. Perhaps this is a woman thing, but, speaking as a woman, I doubt it.

Bill Clinton might simply regard the reclinee as a new listener who had entered his orbit unexpectedly, and begin recounting a very long story.

Joe Biden: “Now that you’re in my lap, would you mind taking a selfie?”

The reclining-seat debate has become a bit of an aviation crisis. We had three flight diversions in eight days recently because of it. The latest occurred this week when an elderly woman who was knitting dropped her seat back, bonking the woman sitting behind her, who had been resting her head on a tray table. You could see why the victim would be irked, but demanding that the pilot “put this plane down now” seems a bit much.

A flight from Miami to Paris wound up on the ground in Boston after a Frenchman took offense at being reclined upon. And then, of course, there was the United Airlines passenger who locked the seat in front of him into an upright position with a Knee Defender, and got a glass of soda thrown in his face. Two weeks ago, most of us had no idea something called a Knee Defender existed, and now we have intense opinions about whether or not it should be legal.

“I’d never heard of that product, but I think it’s a crazy idea,” said Representative Rick Larsen of Washington. Larsen is the lead Democrat on the House Aviation Subcommittee.

I think Washington needs to look into this. Americans want to know more about the airline recliner options, mainly because, at the moment, this is the only current affair that is not incredibly frightening or depressing. It could be the 2014 version of a feel-good public hearing. Yet no. “While he’s had his fair share of bruised knees and close quarters with his fellow passengers, Congressman LoBiondo does not believe this is an issue for Congress to tackle,” said a spokesman for Representative Frank LoBiondo, the chairman of the House Aviation Subcommittee.

Well, maybe they’ll have a hearing about the theft of the naked movie star pictures.

Members of Congress do sometimes fly coach. The ones who’ve been around for a while often move into perpetual upgrade territory because they’ve been on so many airplanes they reach frequent-flier nirvana, like George Clooney in that movie. But most have their coach moments. Representative Larsen says he definitely does not yell when somebody reclines into his space. “In my job, I don’t want to be the person who makes someone else mad on an airplane,” he said. “No way.”

We all know, of course, that air travel is extremely uncomfortable. That your average economy seat is now 17 inches wide and has about 31 inches of space before the one in front. That the flights are frequently jam-packed, that the air terminals generally have the ambience of a North Korean hotel and the comfort of a mammogram.

Nobody expects a tasty snack or space in the overhead compartment. The reclining seat is the last remaining marketing symbol of travel comfort.

“ ‘Sit back, relax and enjoy your flight’ — I’ve been hearing that since I started doing this work,” said Sara Nelson, the president of the Association of Flight Attendants.

Maybe the airlines should just admit the truth. Instead of telling the benumbed passengers about their flotation devices, maybe the announcer could warn them, at the beginning of their flight, that reclining their chairs will probably create discomfort for the person behind them, and that they might want, at minimum, to go back gradually so the poor soul behind has a moment to adjust to the inevitable.

“We’ve not taken a position on that,” said Jean Medina, a spokeswoman for an airline trade association.

Passengers might behave better if they were encouraged to abandon hope. Instead of “Welcome Aboard,” the airlines could leave a message in the seat pockets: “Face it: You’re going to be uncomfortable and wide-awake for the next several hours.”

Unless you’re Nancy Pelosi.

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.


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