Archive for the ‘Kristof’ Category

Blow and Kristof

December 18, 2014

Ms. Collins is off today, so we have Mr. Blow and Mr. Kristof.  In “The Obamas, Race and Slights” Mr. Blow says we can talk about data on white-black bias until we are blue in the face. At some point, it simply comes down to what people believe and how they feel.  In “Welcome Back, Cuba!” Mr. Kristof says sending in gunmen to liberate the Bay of Pigs failed, but perhaps we’ll do better with diplomats, tourists and investors.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

The president and the first lady added their voices this week to the raging conversation on race following the protests that erupted in the wake of grand juries not indicting police officers who killed two unarmed black men — Michael Brown and Eric Garner.

In an interview with People magazine, Mrs. Obama recalled a trip to Target during which “the only person who came up to me in the store was a woman who asked me to help her take something off a shelf. Because she didn’t see me as the first lady, she saw me as someone who could help her. Those kinds of things happen in life. So it isn’t anything new.”

Could the Target shopper who asked Mrs. Obama for help simply not have recognized her and needed, presumably, a taller person’s assistance? Sure, in theory. Or could the encounter have been disdainful and presumptuous, a manifestation of some inherent bias? Sure, that too could have been the case.

Could there have been some combination of those forces at play? Also possible.

The truth is, we don’t know. The lady asking for help might not even know. We are not always aware of our biases, let alone are we always able to articulate them. And people can sometimes be hypersensitive to bias when they are submerged in it.

All we know is that Mrs. Obama questions the encounter and has misgivings about it. For her, it’s a feeling. Others might hear this story and feel that Mrs. Obama possibly overreacted or misconstrued the meaning of the request.

But that is, in part, what racial discussions come down to: feelings. These feelings are, of course, informed by facts, experiences, conditioning and culture, but the feelings are what linger, questions of motive and malice hanging in the air like the stench of rotting meat, knotting the stomach and chilling the skin.

As Maya Angelou once put it: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

There are facts, to be sure, reams and reams of social science that confirm the persistence of racial bias in all areas of society. The cover of the January/February 2015 issue of Mother Jones magazine stamps in white letters on a black cover: “Are You Racist? Science has the Answer.” Barely visible, printed in large glossy black letters on the matte black paper is an enormous, all-caps “YES.”

The cover story includes data from the Race Implicit Association Test on the Project Implicit Demonstration website. (Project Implicit was founded by scientists at the University of Washington, Harvard University and the University of Virginia.) The data showed that whites and East Asians had the strongest pro-white/anti-black biases. These biases were also strongest among those 65 and older, although those 18 to 24 ranked second among the age groups (this strand of bias among college aged people deserves its own study). And politically, these biases were greatest among the moderately conservative and weakest among the strongly liberal. But we can talk about data on white-black bias until we are blue in the face. At some point, it simply comes down to what people believe, and yes, how they feel.

It is into this morass of feeling that we must step when discussing race. That is why interpersonal race discussions can feel so strange, messy and uncomfortable — we must confront the amorphousness and the mythologies. We must value the questions even when we cannot answer them. We must allow ourselves to empathize with other people’s feelings.

And we have to allow people — including the First Couple — to talk about their experiences, and then try to put those experiences into a broader context.

Mrs. Obama also said her husband “had his share of troubles catching cabs” when living in Chicago, and the president, for his part, said: “There’s no black male my age, who’s a professional, who hasn’t come out of a restaurant and is waiting for their car and somebody didn’t hand them their car keys.” He indicated this had happened to him.

Mrs. Obama added another incident: “He was wearing a tuxedo at a black-tie dinner, and somebody asked him to get coffee.”

But the president wisely differentiated these slights of privilege — these upper crust indignities that might sound foreign and frivolous to people who don’t regularly dine at restaurants with valet service or attend black-tie dinners — from slights that are more common and consequential:

“It’s one thing for me to be mistaken for a waiter at a gala. It’s another thing for my son to be mistaken for a robber and to be handcuffed, or worse, if he happens to be walking down the street and is dressed the way teenagers dress.”

This gets at another subtlety of race discussions: graduations of severity. There is a difference between the rarefied racial slight and the raw racial assault, but the idea, the intellectual, rational and moral deficits from which they spring, are the same. And the feeling is the same, whether you are donning a black tie or a black hoodie.

And now that we are having these conversations, some people are getting worried. A Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll released this week found that “just 40 percent of Americans believe race relations in the U.S. are good — the lowest share registered by the poll since 1995.”

Some might see that as depressing, but I look at it optimistically. I see the result of vociferous truth-telling and justice-calling, in the face of which fairy tale obliviousness is reduced to ashes. We are being confronted and afflicted by the realities that though racial progress has been made on many measures, that progress isn’t permanent or perfect. Race remains a frame for inequality in this country.

And we can no longer dismiss racial discussions as victimhood affinity. Decrying systemic victimization is not synonymous with embracing the identity of the eternally victimized. On the contrary, identifying, condemning and relentlessly fighting oppression is part of the path to liberation.

How does all this make you feel? A little uncomfortable? Good!

And now here’s Mr. Kristof:

Is there any element of American foreign policy that has failed more abjectly than our embargo of Cuba?

When I hear hawks denouncing President Obama for resolving to establish diplomatic relations with Cuba and ease the embargo, I don’t understand the logic. Is their argument that our policy didn’t work for the first half-century but maybe will work after 100 years?

We probably helped keep the Castro regime in power by giving it a scapegoat for its economic and political failures. Look around the world, and the hard-line antique regimes that have survived — Cuba and North Korea — are those that have been isolated and sanctioned. Why do we think that isolating a regime is punishing it, rather than protecting it?

Few initiatives failed more catastrophically than the American-backed Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba in 1961. Yet while an armed invasion failed, I bet that we would have done better if we had permitted invasions of tourists, traders and investors.

American tourists in Havana are already asking plaintively why Wi-Fi is so scarce — or why the toilet paper is so rough. We need hordes of them, giggling at ancient cars held together with duct tape, or comparing salaries with Cubans.

Sometimes the power of weaponry fades next to the power of mockery.

When I was a law student in the early 1980s, I financed a visit to the Soviet Union by smuggling in bluejeans and Walkmans and selling them on the black market. My Russian customers regarded my goods with reverence, and me with jealousy. The craving for cool consumer goods was perhaps as much a factor in the toppling of the Soviet empire as the yearning for voting rights.

Our economic embargo hurt ordinary Cubans, reducing their living standards, without damaging Cuban elites. The embargo kept alive the flames of leftism in Latin America, creating a rallying cry for anti-imperialists.

The United States, over the years, considered bizarre assassination plots against Fidel Castro, like an exploding seashell. There were also proposals to humiliate him by drugging him with a hallucinogen, or using a depilatory to make his beard fall out. Our tax dollars at work.

Senator Robert Menendez, a Cuban-American Democrat, objects that “President Obama’s actions have vindicated the brutal behavior of the Cuban government.”

Likewise, Senator Marco Rubio, a Cuban-American Republican, denounces the approach as “based on an illusion, on a lie, the lie and the illusion that more commerce and access to money and goods will translate to political freedom for the Cuban people.”

The critics are absolutely right that the Cuban regime is both oppressive and economically incompetent. But wishing unpleasant governments away doesn’t have a great track record.

My views are shaped by having lived in China for a time in the 1980s when the country was opening up to the West. Waves of foreign visitors were deeply unsettling to Chinese who believed in the system.

In 1983, a British friend of mine returned to his hotel to find his contact lenses missing from their case. He asked the hotel staff, and one cleaner explained proudly that he had washed out the contact lens case in the sink.

An uproar followed. Soon all the Chinese staff in that hotel learned, with wild surmise, that Westerners had access to tiny, invisible glasses that they could put on and take off. They absorbed this with astonishment and envy.

Senator Rubio is right that encounters with new technology and wealth are not immediately lethal to authoritarianism. After all, the Chinese Communist Party is still solidly in place, and even imprisoning the great Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo.

Yet these encounters are if not lethal, at least corrosive. China has become less monolithic because of its interactions with the world. There’s no political pluralism in China, but there is economic and cultural pluralism. Maoist days are forever gone.

Likewise, I’m struck how often North Korean defectors have told me that they had a change of heart simply by visiting China or Russia and seeing themselves patronized as backward.

During the North Korean famine in the 1990s, the government there tried to console the starving population with television programs about the dangers of overeating, including a documentary about a man who ate too much rice and exploded. At the time, North Koreans would stare at the rare visiting foreigner, especially anyone a bit rotund, with a transparent range of emotions: jealousy, awe, and perhaps a bit of wariness in case of detonation.

So bravo for the new Cuba policy. Sending in gunmen to liberate the Bay of Pigs failed. Maybe we’ll do better with swarms of diplomats, tourists and investors. Preferably plump.

The Pasty Little Putz, Cohen, Friedman, Kristof and Bruni

December 14, 2014

Oh lordy…  The Pasty Little Putz has extruded a turd called “The Imitation of Marriage” in which he has a question:  Can progressive ideas really save the working-class family?  (As if he gave half a crap about the working class family…)  In the comments section “Richard” from Bozeman had this to say:  “This essay is SO smug that it ascribes values to liberals that are abhorrent to most of us. As for the sexual revolution, what would Douthat know of that?”  Well, Richard, there was the “chunky Reese Witherspoon” incident during his college years.  Mr. Cohen, in “Trying to Reinvent Italy,” says the prime minister struggles to get the country to change its ways.  The Moustache of Wisdom wants to tell us “Why 2014 Is a Big Deal.”  He says this could have been the year that tipped the scales toward action on climate change. Then the price of oil started falling.  Mr. Kristof tells us of “A Shooter, His Victim and Race.”  He says a black man did a terrible thing as a teenager and has been locked up his whole adult life. The white woman he shot in the face now wants him released. Let’s learn from them.  Mr. Bruni, who really should go back to reviewing restaurants, has decided to tell us all about “The Many Faces of Jeb.”  He squeals that we like to pigeonhole politicians, and the ones who might run for president in 2016 don’t make that easy.  Frankie, all I need to know about Jeb is his last name.  Here’s The Putz:

In the last two weeks, my colleagues at The Times’s data-driven project, The Upshot, have offered two ways of looking at the most important cleavage in America — the divide, cultural and economic, between the college educated and the struggling working class.

The first article, by Claire Cain Miller, discussed the striking decline in divorce rates among well-educated Americans, whose families seem to have adapted relatively successfully to the sexual revolution and the postindustrial economy.

The second, by Binyamin Appelbaum, looked at the decline of work itself among less-educated men, and the forces driving this decline: low wages and weak job growth, the availability of safety-net income, the burden of criminal records, and the fraying of paternal and marital bonds.

Appelbaum’s piece is a great jumping-off point for arguments about how policy might improve the fortunes of the unemployed and the working class. But the two articles read together also raise a crucial cultural question: To what extent can the greater stability of upper-class family life, and the habits that have made it possible, be successfully imitated further down the socioeconomic ladder?

Many optimistic liberals believe not only that such imitation is possible, but that what needs to be imitated most are the most socially progressive elements of the new upper class’s way of life: delayed marriage preceded by romantic experimentation, more-interchangeable roles for men and women in breadwinning and child rearing, a more emotionally open and egalitarian approach to marriage and parenting.

The core idea here is that working-class men, in particular, need to let go of a particular image of masculinity — the silent, disciplined provider, the churchgoing paterfamilias — that no longer suits the times. Instead, they need to become more comfortable as part-time homemakers, as emotionally available soul mates, and they need to raise their children to be more adaptive and expressive, to prepare them for a knowledge-based, constantly-in-flux economy.

Like most powerful ideas, this argument is founded on real truths. For Americans of every social class, the future of marriage will be more egalitarian, with more shared burdens and blurrier divisions of labor, or it will not be at all. And the broad patterns of upper-class family life do prepare children for knowledge-based work in ways that working-class family life does not.

But the idea that progressive attitudes can save working-class marriages also has some real problems. First, it underestimates the effective social conservatism of the upper-class model of family life — the resilience of traditional gender roles in work and child rearing, the continued role of religion in stabilizing well-educated family life, and the conservative messages encoded even in the most progressive education.

Notwithstanding their more egalitarian attitudes, for instance, college-educated households still tend to have male primary breadwinners: As the University of Virginia’s Brad Wilcox points out, college-educated husbands and fathers earn about 70 percent of their family’s income on average, about the same percentage as working-class married couples.

The college-educated are also now more likely to attend church than other Americans, and are much less likely to cohabit before marriage than couples without a high school degree. And despite a rhetorical emphasis on Emersonian self-reliance, children reared and educated in the American meritocracy arguably learn a different sort of lesson — the hypersupervised caution of what my colleague David Brooks once dubbed “the organization kid.

Meanwhile, as cohabitation and churchgoing trends suggest, many working-class Americans — men very much included — have gone further in embracing progressive models of identity and behavior than many realize, and reaped relatively little reward for that embrace.

Near the end of “Labor’s Love Lost,” his illuminating new book on the decline of the working-class family, the Johns Hopkins sociologist Andrew Cherlin cites research suggesting that many working-class men, far from being trapped in an antique paradigm of “restricted emotional language,” have actually thrown themselves into therapeutic, “spiritual but not religious” questing, substituting Oprah-esque self-help for more traditional forms of self-conceiving and belonging.

Cherlin, working from progressive premises, sees this as potentially good news: a sign that these men are getting over Gary Cooper and preparing to embrace the more egalitarian and emotionally open patterns of the upper class.

But given that this shift has coincided with lost ground for blue-collar men, another interpretation seems possible. We may have a culture in which the working class is encouraged to imitate what are sold as key upper-class values — sexual permissiveness and self-fashioning, spirituality and emotivism — when really the upper class is also held together by a kind of secret traditionalism, without whose binding power family life ends up coming apart even faster.

If so, it needs to be more widely acknowledged, and even preached, that what’s worth imitating in upper-class family life isn’t purely modern or progressive, but a complex synthesis of new and old.

Next up we have Mr. Cohen:

Italy has long suffered from inertia, its individual vitality smothered by the bureaucracy and opacity of the state. Italians are rich, prudent savers. Their state is poor, profligate and inefficient. For 30 years now, since I was a correspondent in Italy, I have watched the country deploy its ingenuity to evade modernization, culminating in the orgy of baroque escapism known as the Berlusconi years.

So it was with some astonishment that I found Prime Minister Matteo Renzi sweeping in to meet me the other day in jeans and a white open-neck shirt (“I hope you don’t mind, it’s casual Friday!”), without the obsequious retinue of past Italian leaders, bearing a message of change. His aim: the creation of “un paese smart” — a smart country — that has “stopped crying over itself.”

Renzi, who has been in office less than 10 months, is 39. This in itself is something unthinkable for the political gerontocracy that was Italy, the lugubrious state epitomized by the late Giulio Andreotti, who was prime minister seven times. “The new generation should do politics the American presidential way, two mandates and out,” he told me during an hourlong interview in his office at Chigi Palace. “I give myself a maximum of eight years if I win the next election, and then I’ll leave politics.”

He is a man in a hurry: constitutional reform, electoral reform, sales on eBay of a fleet of official luxury cars, women thrust into top jobs (half the cabinet is female), plans to slash the number of members of Parliament and senators (currently almost 1,000 of them). “In America, notoriously smaller and less important than Italy, you have 535 representatives and senators,” Renzi said, smiling, raising his eyebrows. Message received.

He held up his portable device and said he wants the whole labyrinthine Italian public administration simplified on an app. “This is the future of our administration!” he said. “How much pension do I get — all will be here.”

Un paese smart.

The jeans and app talk send a message — no more business as usual. As a European politician in an age when national politics often seem a charade, outpaced by borderless finance, Renzi knows that symbolism is important in producing substance. The “Jobs Act,” Renzi’s pivotal economic reform, was approved by Parliament this month. It simplifies the labor code, makes it easier for companies with over 15 employees to fire workers, and links workers’ protection to their length of service. By Italian job-for-life standards, it is a revolutionary step. To have a job was always to be “sistemato,” which roughly meant security within the system forever.

I asked Renzi why the legislation has an English name. “Because I like what Obama did,” he said. “The most interesting things he’s done have been on the domestic front. He took an economy in crisis in 2009, intervened, relaunched growth, and created jobs, all things that Europe has not succeeded in doing.”

That sounds nice, but of course the American economy is hard-wired for growth, labor mobility and innovation. Italy’s is hamstrung. It is saddled with climbing public debt and recession. Unemployment is over 13 percent. When I arrived in Italy, I found central Rome closed by protests against the “Jobs Act.” Renzi has a big fight on his hands to get Italians to change their ways.

His room to maneuver and pump up the economy is limited. The European Commission is warning that Italy may find itself in breach of the European Union’s Stability and Growth Pact, which sets tight limits on budget deficits and stringent regulations on reducing debt. Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, said this month that any breach would be “negative for Europe.”

This sort of talk gets Renzi exercised because he believes it makes growth impossible. His Democratic Party is just seven years old. In a Europe where extremist and xenophobic parties have been growing, a reflection of widespread anger at high unemployment and stagnation, it represents an exception: a mainstream party of the center-left that has surged.

This success has set up Renzi as perhaps the second-most-powerful politician in Europe after Merkel. In schematic terms, he’s Mr. Anti-Austerity versus Ms. Austerity. He’s also the only new game in town, with Britain caught in a debilitating debate over a possible exit from the European Union and France turning in circles under weak leadership.

“Here a lot of people have accused Merkel of being the guilty one in the crisis,” Renzi said. “But the fault is not hers. It’s ours. We got ourselves into this. If we had done labor reform 10 years ago, when Germany did it, we would have been a lot better off.” Still, he went on, something has to give in a Europe caught “in a dictatorship of bureaucrats and technocrats,” unwilling to accept that “politics is the realm of flexibility.” Iron Frau, take note.

The European economic model, Renzi declared, is wrong. “We cannot go on reasoning only on the basis of austerity and rigor. In a phase of deflation and stagnation, we can’t. We have to keep our accounts in order, spend money well, yes, because Germany is preoccupied that southern countries don’t spend money wisely — and it’s true — but the central point is that if we tackle our problems, European economics must change in favor of investment in growth.”

I asked Renzi how. He said investment in strategic areas — digital broadband, education, research, energy, the green economy — “should be outside the calculation of the Stability Pact, which is the instrument of rigidity and austerity.”

How, he asked, can he fight criminality and massive unemployment in Sicily if some Stability Pact formula on deficits and debt blocks him?

The eurozone, in which Italy is the third-largest economy, is an unwieldy entity — tied by a shared currency, divided by everything from fiscal policy to culture. Anger over stagnation is boiling over. Renzi is right: Something has to give for Europe and its jobless youth. In the past, even Germany has broken Stability Pact rules in a time of need. Now it’s payback time. But if Renzi gets some margin of budgetary flexibility, he must deliver. Waste and corruption are endemic to Italy. Curtailing them is a Sisyphean task. “First I must put my own country in order,” Renzi acknowledged. “Otherwise I will never be credible.”

A spell has been broken in Italy. Politics have shifted. He compared the country to “a sleeping beauty in the enchanted wood that can be woken up.”

The beauty is certainly stirring. Whether she will now bound forward remains to be seen. Italians, versed in the rise and fall of powers and the vanity of ambition, tend to be skeptical of transformation. It will be an arduous journey. But I’m inclined to give Renzi the benefit of the doubt.

Next up we get to The Moustache of Wisdom:

I was just about to go with a column that started like this: When they write the history of the global response to climate change, 2014 could well be seen as the moment when the balance between action and denial tipped decisively toward action. That’s thanks to the convergence of four giant forces: São Paulo, Brazil, went dry; China and the United States together went green; solar panels went cheap; and Google and Apple went home.

But before I could go further, the bottom fell out of the world oil price, and the energy economist Phil Verleger wrote me, saying: “Fracking is a technological breakthrough like the introduction of the PC. Low-cost producers such as the Saudis will respond to the threat of these increased supplies by holding prices down” — hoping the price falls below the cost of fracking and knocks some of those American frackers out. In the meantime, though, he added, sustained low prices for oil and gas would “retard” efforts to sell more climate-friendly, fuel-efficient vehicles that are helped by high oil prices and slow the shift to more climate-friendly electricity generation by wind and solar that is helped by high gas prices.

So I guess the lead I have to go with now is: When they write the history of the global response to climate change, 2014 surely would have been seen as the moment when the climate debate ended. Alas, though, world crude oil prices collapsed, making it less likely that the world will do what the International Energy Agency recently told us we must: keep most of the world’s proven oil and gas reserves in the ground. As the I.E.A. warned, “no more than one-third of proven reserves of fossil fuels can be consumed prior to 2050” — otherwise we’ll bust through the limit of a 2-degree Celsius rise in average temperature that scientists believe will unleash truly disruptive ice melt, sea level rise and weather extremes.

Technology is a cruel thing. The innovators who’ve made solar panels, wind power and batteries so efficient that they can now compete with coal and gas are the same innovators who are enabling us to extract oil and gas from places we never imagined we could go at prices we never imagined we would reach. Is a third lead sentence possible? There is. In fact, there is an amazing lead waiting to be written. It just takes the right political will. How so?

Let’s go back to my first lead. The reason I thought we were decisively tipping toward action was, in part, because of news like this from the BBC on Nov. 7 in São Paulo: “In Brazil’s biggest city, a record dry season and ever-increasing demand for water has led to a punishing drought.” When a metropolitan region of 20 million people runs dry because of destruction of its natural forests and watersheds, plus an extreme weather event scientists believe was made more intense by climate change, denialism is just not an option.

Then you have the hugely important deal that President Obama and President Xi Jinping of China struck on Nov. 12 under which the United States will reduce its carbon emissions 26 percent to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025, and China will peak its carbon emissions by or before 2030. China also committed to build by 2030 an additional 800 to 1,000 gigawatts of clean power — or nearly as much new renewable energy in China as all the electrical capacity in America today. That will greatly spur innovation in clean tech and help do for solar, wind and batteries what China did for tennis shoes — really drive down global prices.

Also, last February, Google bought Nest, for $3.2 billion. Nest makes a $250 smart thermostat that can save homeowners tons of money by learning their temperature preferences and automatically managing their air-conditioners and home heating systems for the greatest efficiency. Also this year, Apple announced the development of the Apple HomeKit, which will enable customers to remotely manage their appliances and home energy systems on their iPhones. When Apple and Google start competing to make homes more energy efficient, watch out. We will likely see nonlinear improvements.

But what if Verleger is right — that just as the cost of computing dropped following the introduction of the PC, fracking technology could flood the world with cheaper and cheaper oil, making it a barrier to reducing emissions? There is one way out of this dilemma. Let’s make a hard political choice that’s a win for the climate, our country and our kids: Raise the gasoline tax.

“U.S. roads are crumbling,” said Verleger. “Infrastructure is collapsing. Our railroads are a joke.” Meantime, gasoline prices at the pump are falling toward $2.50 a gallon — which would be the lowest national average since 2009 — and consumers are rushing to buy S.U.V.’s and trucks. The “clear solution,” said Verleger, is to set a price of, say, $3.50 a gallon for gasoline in America, and then tax any price below that up to that level. Let the Europeans do their own version. “And then start spending the billions on infrastructure right now. At a tax of $1 per gallon, the U.S. could raise around $150 billion per year,” he said. “The investment multiplier would give a further kick to the U.S. economy — and might even start Europe moving.”

So there is a way to make 2014 that truly decisive year in confronting both climate and rebuilding America, but only our political leaders can write that lead.

Next up we have Mr. Kristof, who continues to remind us that yes, Republicans, it IS about race:

Ian Manuel is a black man who has spent most of his life in prison. Yet he still has a most unusual advocate calling for his release: a white woman whom he met when he shot her in the face.

Manuel fired the bullet when he was barely 13, and he fit all too neatly into racial stereotypes, especially that of the black predator who had to be locked away forever. One of the greatest racial disparities in America is in the justice system, and fear of young black criminals like Manuel helped lead to mass incarceration policies that resulted in a sixfold increase in the number of Americans in prison after 1970. Yet, as his one-time victim points out (speaking with a reconstructed jaw), it’s complicated.

Manuel grew up in a housing project here in Tampa to a mom with drug problems, without a dad at home, and he drifted early to crime. By the time he was 13, he had had 16 arrests. He desperately needed help, but instead the authorities kept returning him to a dysfunctional home.

Then, as part of a gang initiation, he was handed a gun, and he joined a couple of other teenagers on July 27, 1990. They confronted Debbie Baigrie, a stay-at-home mom who had gone out with friends for the first time since the birth of her second child.

“Give it up!” Manuel remembers shouting, as he pulled the gun. Baigrie screamed and Manuel fired wildly and repeatedly. One .32-caliber bullet entered Baigrie’s mouth, ripped through her jaw and teeth and went out her cheek. She began running away, awkwardly on high heels, blood pouring down her face and drenching her shirt.

Manuel fired after her, missing, and then he ran away with his friends. Later, arrested in an unrelated case, he confided to a cop without realizing the trouble he could face. “You know that lady that got shot downtown the other night?” he said he told the officer. “I’m the one who did it.”

Although he had just turned 13, prosecutors charged him as an adult, and the judge sentenced him to life without the possibility of parole. Bryan Stevenson of the Equal Justice Initiative, the lawyer now representing him, says that every single child 13 or 14 years old sentenced to life without parole for a nonhomicide has been a person of color.

Manuel found himself the youngest, tiniest person in a men’s prison — by his account, abused and fearful. One day as his second Christmas behind bars approached, he placed a collect phone call to Baigrie.

Baigrie debated whether to accept the charges. She said her dentist had wept when he had seen her jaw, for the bullet had torn out five teeth and much of her gum. She faced 10 years of repeated, excruciating surgeries, requiring tissue from her palate to rebuild her gum.

Still, she was curious, so she accepted the charges. Manuel said he wanted to apologize for the shooting. Awkwardly, he wished her and her family a Merry Christmas.

“Ian,” she asked bluntly, “why did you shoot me?”

“It was a mistake,” he answered timidly.

Later he sent her a card showing a hand reaching through prison bars to offer a red rose. Baigrie didn’t know whether to be moved or revolted. “I was in such pain,” Baigrie remembers. “I couldn’t eat. I was angry. But I’d go back and forth. He was just a kid.”

Thus began a correspondence that has lasted through the decades. “You are about one in a million who would write to a person that’s tried to take their life,” he wrote in one letter.

“I wish I was free,” he wrote in another. “To protect you from that evil world out there.”

Over time, Baigrie became friendly with Manuel’s brother and mother. Baigrie began to feel sympathetic because, as she says: “When you’re 13, you do stupid stuff.”

Baigrie was also troubled by the racial dimensions of the case. “If he was a cute white boy at 13, with little dimples and blue eyes, there’s no way this would have happened,” she says.

Her husband and friends thought Baigrie was perhaps suffering from some bizarre form of Stockholm syndrome. “People were saying, ‘you’re an idiot,’ ” Baigrie recalls.

Yet she persevered and advocated for his early release. When the Supreme Court threw out life-without-parole sentences for juveniles who had not committed murder, she testified at his resentencing and urged mercy. It didn’t work: Manuel was sentenced to 65 years. He is now scheduled to be released in 2031.

Manuel, now 37, did not adjust well to prison, and his prison disciplinary record covers four pages of single-spaced entries. He was placed in solitary confinement at age 15 and remained there almost continually until he was 33. For a time, he cut himself to relieve the numbness. He repeatedly attempted suicide.

Returned to the general prison population, Manuel did better. He earned his G.E.D. with exceptional marks, including many perfect scores. He drafts poems and wrote an autobiographical essay, which Baigrie posted on her Facebook page. His mother, father and brother are now all dead; the only “family” he has left is Baigrie, who sometimes regards him as a wayward foster son.

Race in America is a dispiriting topic, a prism to confirm our own biases. Some will emphasize the unarguable brutality of Manuel’s crime, while others, myself included, will focus on the harshness of a sentence that probably would not have been given to a white 13-year-old. In other columns, I’ve focused on racism that holds back perfectly innocent people because of their skin color; those are the easiest cases, while Ian is a reminder that racial injustice also affects those who made horrific mistakes or committed brutal crimes. It’s still injustice.

There’s a tragic symmetry here. We as a society failed Manuel early on, and he, in turn, failed us. When you can predict that an infant boy of color in a particular ZIP code is more likely to go to prison than to college, it’s our fault more than his. The losers aren’t just those kids but also crime victims like Baigrie — and, in a larger sense, all of us. Manuel never had a chance to contribute to society and is costing us $47.50 each day he is in prison. That’s a waste of money, of human talent, of life itself.

Overcoming the racial gulf in this country will be a long and painful task, but maybe we can learn something from Baigrie’s empathy.

“Walk a mile in his shoes,” she says. And if Debbie Baigrie and Ian Manuel can unite and make common cause, linked by a bond of humanity that transcends the faint scar on her cheek, then maybe there’s hope for us all.

And last but not least we get to Mr. Bruni, here to tell us about a passenger in the 2016 Clown Car:

As brothers who governed large states at the same time, each Bush was bound to be defined in terms of the other. George was the impulsive one who’d stumbled and then swaggered toward success. Jeb was the cogitator, the toiler. George was the extrovert: He worked the room. Jeb was the introvert: He read the books.

That was how they were discussed back in 1999 and 2000, and the word on their ideological differences was that George was perhaps a bit more moderate, while Jeb was the truer conservative.

What a difference a decade and a half make. How the sands of politics shift.

As Jeb Bush seemingly leans toward a presidential run, many observers are casting him as a centrist. And there are indeed elements of his current message that suggest that if he won “the nomination as well as the presidency, it could reshape Republican politics for a generation,” as Jonathan Martin wrote in The Times late last week. But Martin noted other elements of Bush’s message and record as well, the ones that explain why a separate camp of observers look at him and see someone else. For instance, in Politico Magazine, the journalist S. V. Dáte observed that for him and others “who covered Jeb’s two terms in Tallahassee,” characterizations of Bush as a moderate are “mind-boggling.”

Just what kind of Republican is Jeb Bush? That question is being asked with increasing frequency. And the absence of a clear answer, coupled with the insistence on one, is instructive.

It speaks to the fact that most successful politicians aren’t fixed in one place forevermore. They’re the products of certain unwavering convictions and certain adaptations to circumstance, and the measures of each are different at different moments in their careers.

The futile tussle to define Bush also reflects the way ideological yardsticks change over time. Above all else, it exposes the poverty of our political vocabulary.

Left, center, right. Liberal, moderate, conservative. We reach fast for these labels and itch to put pols in these boxes, no matter how untidy or impermanent the fit. Some of the expected candidates for 2016 are great examples.

Hillary Clinton: liberal or moderate? Depends on which point in her past you choose. Toward the beginning of Bill’s successful 1992 quest for the presidency, she was part of his decision to steer away from the left, as The Times’s Peter Baker and Amy Chozick recently reported. They noted that in the recollection of Al From, the founder of the Democratic Leadership Council, Hillary pledged, “We’re going to be a different kind of Democrat by the convention.”

But there were chapters after Bill’s election when she came across as a familiar kind of Democrat, and then there’s the present, when she’s seen as someone so estranged from some traditional Democratic principles that there’s a movement to draft Elizabeth Warren to challenge her. It apparently gathered steam last week, just as Clinton topped a CNBC poll of 500 millionaires who were asked about their preference for president in 2016. She got 31 percent of the vote, while Bush was second with 18. I await a new “super PAC,” Mills for Hills.

The Republican field is almost always broken down into candidates of the right and those of the center: a schematic to which we journalists cling. It’s hugely flawed this time around. Rand Paul evades it so completely that he gets his own adjective — libertarian — even though some of his positions on social issues contradict it.

Chris Christie gets the moderate box, because he was twice elected governor of a blue state; signed legislation granting in-state tuition to undocumented immigrants in New Jersey; pushed criminal-justice reforms that stress rehabilitation; outlawed therapy that aims to turn gay teenagers straight; and accepted the Medicaid expansion under Obamacare. And right after Hurricane Sandy, he and President Obama had their soggy, windswept bromance.

But Christie also opposes same-sex marriage and abortion rights. He has vetoed some sensible gun-control legislation. And he sidesteps questions about immigration reform. He’s not exactly a paragon of moderation.

Marco Rubio, another possible presidential contender, isn’t easily labeled either. Back in 2010, when he won election to the Senate, he was presented as a mascot of the right, a Tea Party darling. But he has endorsed a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. And his proposals for making college more affordable and student loans less onerous aren’t just bold. They’re progressive.

Bush’s categorization as a moderate owes much to the passion he brings to the issues of immigration and education and his dissent from hard-line conservatives on both. These rebellions are meaningful.

So was his commentary from the sidelines of the 2012 presidential race. After a Republican primary debate in which all eight candidates said that they would refuse a budget deal that included $10 of reduced spending for every $1 in tax increases, he made clear that he didn’t agree with the pack. And he said that his party had drifted rightward enough that someone like Ronald Reagan would have difficulty finding a receptive home in it.

That assessment suggested one reason Bush is now deemed a centrist: The poles have moved.

But much of his record in Florida is that of the “headbanging conservative” he claimed to be during a first, unsuccessful campaign for governor in 1994. (He won the next time, in 1998.) He slashed taxes. He was a friend to gun owners: Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law was enacted on his watch.

In the case of Terri Schiavo, a Florida woman deemed by many physicians to be in a persistent vegetative state, he intervened on the side of her parents — but against the wishes of her husband, who was her legal guardian — to prevent the removal of a feeding tube. And he was an assertive opponent of abortion rights. He still opposes them, and same-sex marriage.

But he learned between his 1994 defeat and 1998 victory to reach out to minorities and speak inclusively and hopefully. When he recently told an audience in Washington that a person had to be willing to lose the Republican primary to win the general election, he was in part alluding to that lesson, and he was telegraphing the tone that a Bush campaign would take. He was also signaling a suspicion of labels and boxes.

We should be similarly wary of them, because we’ve routinely seen leaders defy our assumptions. Jeb’s brother George, for example, campaigned for the presidency as someone cautious about overextending the American military and adamant about fiscal restraint. And while we took him for an inveterate backslapper, he now spends much of his time alone at an easel.

That’s how it goes with so many politicians. We think we’ve figured them out, but we’re hasty and they’re slippery.

Blow, Kristof and Collins

December 11, 2014

In “This Is Your Moment” Mr. Blow says that for young people it’s a time of civic awakening, a realization that equality must be won — by every generation — because it will never be freely granted.  Mr. Kristof asks “What if Whites Were the Minority?”  He says this could be what a white dad tells his teenage son about respecting black authority: It’s a matter of life or death.  Ms. Collins says “It’s Cruel.  It’s Useless.  It’s the C.I.A.,” and that there was a lot to digest in that big Senate Intelligence Committee report.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

I was born in 1970, on the heels of the civil rights movement. I didn’t witness my parents’ struggles and their parents’ struggles before them. What I knew of darker days I learned in school, read in books or saw on television. Therefore, as a matter of circumstance, there existed a space between that reality and me. It was more pedagogical than experiential.

As a young man, I could connect my current circumstances and present societal conditions intellectually to previous ones and form a long-arching narrative of undeniable progress from slavery to Reconstruction to Jim Crow to mass incarceration to me. But that narrative was developed in the mind. Not, more innately, written by personal tribulation or authored by the shock and horror of real events happening in real time — my time — so that the mind and spirit could unite in moral outrage and the voice lift in anguished outcry.

That changed when I reached a series of racial-justice maturation moments, two of which are particularly relevant to our current cultural discussion in this country.

One came in 1991, when I was 20 years old. Rodney King was savagely beaten — on video — by Los Angeles police officers. The video showed “officers taking turns swinging their nightsticks like baseball bats at the man and kicking him in the head as he lay on the ground early Sunday,” as The New York Times put it at the time.

Earlier in the day, before the beating, one of the officers who participated had typed a message on a computer terminal in a squad car, referring to a domestic dispute among blacks this way: “Sounds almost as exciting as our last call. It was right out of ‘Gorillas in the Mist.’ ”

One of the officers reportedly said of King and the beating during an internal affair interview: “It’s like he’s looking at me, doesn’t see me, he’s just looking right through me,” reasoning that King was under the influence of PCP. (Testing of King showed no PCP.)

This is reminiscent of the dehumanizing language used by Darren Wilson, who shot and killed Michael Brown in Ferguson,Mo. Wilson testified about Brown: “He looked up at me and had the most intense aggressive face. The only way I can describe it, it looks like a demon, that’s how angry he looked.”

The four Los Angeles police officers were acquitted of assault.

Six years after those acquittals, a black man named James Byrd Jr. was attacked by three white men, beaten, urinated on, tied by the ankle to the back of their truck, dragged on the asphalt and decapitated by a culvert.

After that, I was acutely aware of what W. E. B. Du Bois, in “The Souls of Black Folk,” called the “double consciousness”:

“One ever feels his two-ness, — an American, a Negro; two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.”

After that, all innocence inculcated and nurtured by the distance of history and the dreamy visions of perpetual progress melted. A new, harsher sensibility and an endless searching for social justice formed in its place.

I knew then that whatever progress might have been made in previous generations would not continue as a matter of perpetual momentum, but rather as a matter of constant pushing.

So I deeply understand and appreciate the feelings of the protestors — particularly the young ones — who have taken to the streets with outrage and outcry in cities across this great country over the Michael Brown and Eric Garner cases.

I even understand the sentiments, recorded by recent polls, that a majority in this country believe race relations are getting worse and that more than a third think police-minority relations are getting worse.

Obviously, in the long sweep of history, no one could make such a claim. Race relations are certainly not worse than they were 50 or 100 or 400 years ago, but there is nagging frustration that things haven’t progressed as fast as many had hoped. And change, rightly or wrongly, is often measure relative to the recent past rather than to the distant one.

Furthermore, for young people in their late teens or early 20s, like my children, whose first real memory of presidential politics was the election of the first African-American president, any seeming racial retrenchment is jarring, and for them, over the course of their lifetimes, things can feel like they are getting worse.

This is their experiential moment, that moment when the weight becomes too much, when the abstract becomes real, when expectations of continual, inexorable progress slam into the back of a slow-moving reality, plagued by fits and starts and sometimes prone to occasional regressions.

It is that moment when consciousness is raised and unwavering optimism falters, when the jagged slope of truth replaces the soft slope of fantasy, when the natural recalcitrance of youth gathers onto itself the force of purpose and righteousness, when we realize that fighting is the only way forward, that equality must be won — by every generation — because it will never be freely granted.

This is a moment of civic awakening and moral maturing for a generation, and they are stepping boldly into their moment. Yes, they are struggling to divine the most effective way forward, but they will not accept being dragged backward. It is a profound moment to which we should gladly bear witness.

Now here’s Mr. Kristof:

In the responses to my “When Whites Just Don’t Get It” series, I’ve been struck by the lack of empathy some whites show for members of minority groups. So imagine if the world were reversed. Then “the talk” might go like this:

“Son, sit down. You’re 13, old enough to have a conversation that I’ve been dreading.”

“Oh, come on, Dad. I hope this isn’t about the birds and the bees.”

“Nope. That’d be easy. Have you seen the video of the white horticulturalist being choked to death by police?”

“All the kids have seen it. He says he can’t breathe, and black cops still kill him. [Expletive!]”

“Don’t curse. It is wrong, but it’s the way the world works. And that’s why Mom and I are scared for you. With us whites in the minority, some cops are just going to see you as a threat no matter what. You’re going to get stopped by black cops, and I want you to promise you’ll never run or mouth off. Mom and I can’t protect you out there, and white kids are 21 times as likely as black kids to be shot dead by police. So even when a cop curses you, I want you to call him Sir.”

“Anybody curses me, he won’t get away with it.”

“Yes, he will. And if he shoots you, he might get away with it, too. Especially when you keep wearing clothes all the other white boys wear like those polo shirts. Black cops see you in them and suspect trouble. Black folks make the rules, and we have to live by them. Like it or not.”

“[Expletive!] Racists!”

“Hey! I told you not to curse. And don’t hold it against all blacks. Lots have joined with whites in protesting these killings. And even for those who are unsympathetic, most aren’t evil, just clueless.”

“C’mon, Dad. When a 12-year-old white kid is shot dead because he’s holding a toy gun, when a white woman professor is thrown to the ground for jaywalking, when cops smash a car window to taser a white guy in front of kids, that’s not cluelessness. That’s evil. White lives matter.”

“It’s complicated. Remember when you were suspended in the fourth grade for being disruptive?”

“That was ridiculous.”

“Yup. White kids get suspended when black kids don’t. That’s just the way it is. But the black vice principal who suspended you — he’s the same guy who enthusiastically organizes White History Month each year. Intellectually, he believes in civil rights. But he kicks out white kids for the same reason doctors give less pain medication to white patients. Same reason that in experiments a résumé that is identifiably white gets fewer callbacks than the exact same résumé from a black person. It’s not on purpose, but people ‘otherize’ us. That’s why you’ll have to work harder to succeed in life — and even then you’ll be followed around department stores by security guys.”

“O.K., Dad. Anyway, I got to go.”

“Society cares about inequality. But the big inequality debate is about rich and poor, and some folks don’t seem to notice all the inequality that comes with race. White Americans have a per capita income that’s lower than in Equatorial Guinea, and life expectancy is roughly the same as in Sri Lanka. The system here is sometimes rigged. Cops stop and frisk whites four times as often they do blacks. And that criminal record hurts your chance to get a good job, to marry, to vote. Everybody makes mistakes, but black kids get the benefit of the doubt. You don’t, simply because you’re white.”

“Dad, I got it. Can I go now?”

“I guess 13-year-olds aren’t made for listening. Look, this thing we call ‘race’ is such a petty thing in biological terms. A minor adaptation in the last 100,000 years. Race is a social construct. It shouldn’t be what defines us.”

“Hm. Feels pretty important to me.”

“Well, it kills, and that’s why we’re having this talk. But there is also great progress. It’s incredible that we finally have our very first white president.”

“Who lots of blacks say was born in Europe! And whose sons get dissed for embarrassing the White House for dressing like the rest of us.”

“I’m glad the news reports jumped all over those comments. But I wish everyone were as outraged by destructive policies. When our education policy is to send so many white kids to third-rate schools, that’s worse than any racial epithet.”

“OK. Later, Dad!”

“Just remember: Some blacks just don’t get it, but black privilege isn’t their fault. If things were reversed and we whites were in the majority, we might be just as oblivious.”

“Dad, we whites would never be like that!”

And now here’s Ms. Collins:

We learned a lot from that big Senate Intelligence Committee report on C.I.A. interrogation tactics after 9/11. It was what may be the first time in American history that the term “rectal hydration” appeared in family newspapers throughout the land.

One of the most unnerving parts involves the fact that the waterboarding, ice baths and wall-slamming were conducted under the direction of an outside contractor. It isn’t the first time the government turned to private enterprise and wound up with a human rights disaster — think Abu Ghraib. Or Blackwater. But this seems like an excellent place to demand a cease-and-desist.

The specialists’ names are James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen. Like many contractors doing work for the government, they’re former government workers themselves — in this case, military psychologists. And like virtually all contractors doing work for the government, they were making a heck of a lot more than they’d have gotten as federal employees. In this case, about $80 million.

Mitchell and Jessen had acquired their expertise by teaching Air Force officers how to resist brutal Cold War-style interrogations. Think pilots who get shot down behind enemy lines and get tortured by Communists. And for all we know, they may have done a great job showing their pupils how to withstand pressure to record a statement denouncing the United States when they crash land in North Korea.

But it’s not precisely the same thing as trying to get a suspected Al Qaeda operative to tell you where Osama bin Laden is hiding. Plus, Mitchell and Jessen had no experience as actual interrogators, did not speak any of the detainees’ languages and had no particular knowledge about Islam or Al Qaeda.

They did have some theories about other psychologists’ work subjecting dogs to random electric shocks until their will to resist was completely broken. Maybe, the two men thought, you could torment human beings into the same state of “learned helplessness.” Worth a try, right? Mitchell and Jessen set about applying the theory to prisoners the C.I.A. had collected. Some of them had already been cooperating with interrogators. Others turned out later to have had no involvement with Al Qaeda whatsoever.

Others, undoubtedly, were bad people with information the C.I.A. needed, who had resisted talking under nonviolent interrogation. The question then becomes whether they cooperated better under “learned helplessness” or simply made up stories to placate their torturers and send the C.I.A. off in the wrong direction.

There’s a lot of precedent for the making-up approach. During World War II, an American pilot was shot down over Japan just after the Hiroshima attack and was tortured repeatedly for information about the atomic bomb, of which he knew nothing. Threatened with beheading, the pilot told his captors that the U.S. had 100 atomic bombs and that Tokyo was next on the target list. The bogus information was immediately shared with the war minister and the Japanese cabinet.

The Intelligence Committee report concludes that all the torturing produced very little information that was useful and possibly quite a bit that was made-up. While we would love to believe that the human rights angle would be most effective in shocking the American people, polls show that when it comes to suspects with possible terror involvement, the public attitude toward torture is kind of meh. So, wisely, the committee’s big point was useless/counterproductive.

“It’s wrong enough that one shouldn’t do it period. But wrong and useless is a tough combination,” said Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island. He was on the Intelligence Committee when the report was being prepared and now leads a Judiciary subcommittee on crime and terrorism.

And why the private contractors? Maybe because the actual government interrogators didn’t believe torture worked either. Some complained that, after Mitchell and Jessen arrived, reasonably cooperative prisoners were suddenly brutalized under the theory that the original approach had been too “sissified.”

What made the C.I.A. decide that these guys were a good plan? Have they not watched “Homeland” this season? (Ever since Saul left the C.I.A. to become a private consultant, he’s been a disaster.) “I do think there’s something about the culture of purchase: ‘We don’t have the answer, but we can buy it,’ ” said Baher Azmy, the legal director at the Center for Constitutional Rights.

Tim Shorrock, the author of “Spies for Hire,” believes it’s just a way to hide things: “The activities of contractors are so easy to conceal in budgets.”

Naturally, defenders of the C.I.A. are rising up to challenge the report’s findings. The Associated Press got hold of James Mitchell himself, who said that the report was “just factually, demonstrably incorrect,” then declined to say exactly what the inaccuracies were.

Citing a secrecy agreement with the C.I.A., Mitchell didn’t share much else, except that being waterboarded was still better than being killed by a drone.

The Pasty Little Putz, Friedman, Kristof and Bruni

December 7, 2014

MoDo is off today.  In “The Old Journalism and the New” The Putz thinks he can tell us all about how the drama at a storied magazine points to what’s gained and lost in media’s online shift.  The Moustache of Wisdom tells us “How ISIS Drives Muslim From Islam.”  He says that young Arabs are boldly speaking out against rule by Shariah.  Mr. Kristof suggests some “Gifts That Inspire,” and says Times readers can change lives with any of these holiday gift ideas.  Mr. Bruni says “Hillary 2.0 Would Be Hillary XX” and that there are smart reasons Hillary Clinton, the Iron Lady in 2008, might campaign as the grandmother-in-chief.  Spare me Hillary.  The mere idea gives me the creeping horrors.  Here’s The Putz:

Sometimes media events synchronize almost too neatly. Last weekend, the entity known as Vox Media, whose array of properties includes this year’s big liberal-journalism start-up, Vox.com, announced that its latest round of investment had raised the company’s valuation to a robust $380 million.

Then on Thursday, The New Republic, a storied liberal magazine that’s emphatically not worth $380 million, saw its editor in chief and literary editor sacked by a pair of figures out of a Silicon Valley satire — a tech almost-billionaire, Chris Hughes, who won the meritocracy’s equivalent of the lottery when he roomed with Mark Zuckerberg at Harvard, and Hughes’s digital guru, Guy Vidra, whose plan for vertical integration with the singularity can now proceed apace.

Mass resignations followed; eulogies were penned for the T.N.R.-that-was. (And, admittedly, that hadn’t really existed for some time.) But the most interesting in memoriam came from Ezra Klein, Vox.com’s editor in chief, because he wrote as a spokesman for a new model of political journalism pronouncing a parting benediction on the old one.

“The eulogy that needs to be written,” Klein argued, is actually for an entire kind of publication — the “ambitious policy magazine,” whether on the left or right, that once set the terms of Washington’s debates.

With the emergence of the Internet, those magazines lost their monopolies, and the debate “spilled online, beyond their pages, outside their borders,” with both new competitors and specific voices (Klein kindly cites my own) becoming more important than before.

As Klein correctly implies, this shift has produced a deeper policy conversation than print journalism ever sustained. Indeed, the oceans of space online, the easy availability of studies and reports, the ability to go endless rounds on topics — plus the willingness of many experts to blog and bicker for the sheer fun of it! — has made the Internet era a golden age for technocratic argument and data-driven debate.

But there is a price to be paid as well. That price, Klein suggests, is the loss of the older magazines’ ability to be idiosyncratic and nonpandering and just tell their readers what they should care about, because more than ever before you need to care about what readers click on first (like the latest John Oliver SMACKDOWN, in the case of Vox) to get the traffic that pays for the ads that subsidize a seven-part argument about health care costs.

So as much as the new landscape has to offer, Klein concludes, “something is being lost in the transition from policy magazines to policy websites, and it’s still an open question how much of it can be regained.”

All of this is sensible and true. But there’s one large amendment that needs to be offered. The New Republic as-it-was, the magazine I and others grew up reading, was emphatically not just a “policy magazine.” It was, instead, a publication that deliberately integrated its policy writing with often-extraordinary coverage of literature, philosophy, history, religion, music, fine art.

It wasn’t just a liberal magazine, in other words; it was a liberal-arts magazine, which unlike many of today’s online ventures never left its readers with the delusion that literary style or intellectual ambition were of secondary importance, or that today’s fashions represented permanent truths.

Unlike our era’s ascendant data journalism, it also never implied that technocracy was somehow a self-sustaining proposition, or that a utilitarianism of policy inputs and social outcomes suffices to understand every area of life. (And unlike many liberal outlets, in its finest years it published, employed and even occasionally was edited by people on the right of center — something some of us particularly appreciated.)

So when we talk about what’s being lost in the transition from old to new, print to digital, it’s this larger, humanistic realm that needs attention. It isn’t just policy writing that’s thriving online; it’s anything that’s immediate, analytical, data-driven — from election coverage to pop culture obsessiveness to rigorous analysis of baseball’s trade market.

Like most readers, I devour this material. Like most journalists, I write some of it. I’m grateful that the outlets that produce it all exist.

But among publications old and new and reinvented, it’s also hard not to notice that John Oliver videos — or, more broadly, the array of food and sports and gadget sites that surround Klein’s enterprise at Vox Media — aren’t just paying for the policy analysis. They’re actively displacing other kinds of cultural coverage and interaction, in which the glibness of the everyday is challenged by ideas and forms older than a start-up, more subtle than a TV recap, more rigorous than a comedian’s monologue.

And since today’s liberalism is particularly enamored of arc-of-history arguments that either condemn or implicitly whisk away the past, this may be a particular problem for the Internet-era progressive mind.

The peril isn’t just that blithe dot-com philistines will tear down institutions that once sustained a liberal humanism. It’s that those institutions’ successors won’t even recognize what’s lost.

Next up we have The Moustache of Wisdom:

The Islamic State has visibly attracted young Muslims from all over the world to its violent movement to build a caliphate in Iraq and Syria. But here’s what’s less visible — the online backlash against the Islamic State, also known as ISIS and ISIL, by young Muslims declaring their opposition to rule by Islamic law, or Shariah, and even proudly avowing their atheism. Nadia Oweidat, a senior fellow at the New America Foundation, who tracks how Arab youths use the Internet, says the phenomenon “is mushrooming — the brutality of the Islamic State is exacerbating the issue and even pushing some young Muslims away from Islam.”

On Nov. 24, BBC.com published a piece on what was trending on Twitter. It began: “A growing social media conversation in Arabic is calling for the implementation of Shariah, or Islamic law, to be abandoned. Discussing religious law is a sensitive topic in many Muslim countries. But on Twitter, a hashtag which translates as ‘why we reject implementing Shariah’ has been used 5,000 times in 24 hours. The conversation is mainly taking place in Saudi Arabia and Egypt. The debate is about whether religious law is suitable for the needs of Arab countries and modern legal systems. Dr. Alyaa Gad, an Egyptian doctor living in Switzerland, started the hashtag. ‘I have nothing against religion,’ she tells BBC Trending, but says she is against ‘using it as a political system.’ ”

The BBC added that “many others joined in the conversation, using the hashtag, listing reasons why Arabs and Muslims should abandon Shariah. ‘Because there’s not a single positive example of it bringing justice and equality,’ one man tweeted. … A Saudi woman commented: ‘By adhering to Shariah we are adhering to inhumane laws. Saudi Arabia is saturated with the blood of those executed by Sharia.’ ”

Ismail Mohamed, an Egyptian on a mission to create freedom of conscience there, started a program called “Black Ducks” to offer a space where agnostic and atheist Arabs can speak freely about their right to choose what they believe and resist coercion and misogyny from religious authorities. He is part of a growing Arab Atheists Network. For Arab news written by Arabs that gets right in the face of autocrats and religious extremists also check out freearabs.com.

Another voice getting attention is Brother Rachid, a Moroccan who created his own YouTube network to deliver his message of tolerance and to expose examples of intolerance within his former Muslim faith community. (He told me he’s converted to Christianity, preferring its “God of love.”)

In this recent segment on YouTube, which has been viewed 500,000 times, Brother Rachid addressed President Obama:

“Dear Mr. President, I must tell you that you are wrong about ISIL. You said ISIL speaks for no religion. I am a former Muslim. My dad is an imam. I have spent more than 20 years studying Islam. … I can tell you with confidence that ISIL speaks for Islam. … ISIL’s 10,000 members are all Muslims. … They come from different countries and have one common denominator: Islam. They are following Islam’s Prophet Muhammad in every detail. … They have called for a caliphate, which is a central doctrine in Sunni Islam.”

He continued: “I ask you, Mr. President, to stop being politically correct — to call things by their names. ISIL, Al Qaeda, Boko Haram, Al Shabab in Somalia, the Taliban, and their sister brand names, are all made in Islam. Unless the Muslim world deals with Islam and separates religion from state, we will never end this cycle. … If Islam is not the problem, then why is it there are millions of Christians in the Middle East and yet none of them has ever blown up himself to become a martyr, even though they live under the same economic and political circumstances and even worse? … Mr. President, if you really want to fight terrorism, then fight it at the roots. How many Saudi sheikhs are preaching hatred? How many Islamic channels are indoctrinating people and teaching them violence from the Quran and the hadith? … How many Islamic schools are producing generations of teachers and students who believe in jihad and martyrdom and fighting the infidels?”

ISIS, by claiming to speak for all Muslims — and by promoting a puritanical form of Islam that takes present-day, Saudi-funded, madrassa indoctrination to its logical political conclusion — has blown the lid off some long simmering frustrations in the Arab Muslim world.

As an outsider, I can’t say how widespread this is. But clearly there is a significant group of Muslims who feel that their government-backed preachers and religious hierarchies have handed them a brand of Islam that does not speak to them. These same authorities have also denied them the critical thinking tools and religious space to imagine new interpretations. So a few, like Brother Rachid, leave Islam for a different faith and invite others to come along. And some seem to be quietly detaching from religion entirely — fed up with being patronized by politically correct Westerners telling them what Islam is not and with being tyrannized by self-appointed Islamist authoritarians telling them what Islam is. Now that the Internet has created free, safe, alternative spaces and platforms to discuss these issues, outside the mosques and government-owned media, this war of ideas is on.

And now we get to Mr. Kristof:

Along with falling leaves and first snows, it’s time for my annual holiday gift guide, offering suggestions for presents with meaning.

At a time of racial division and inequity in America, Equal Justice Initiative, eji.org, fights on behalf of low-income people snared unfairly by the justice system. The group is led by Bryan Stevenson, an African-American lawyer whom Desmond Tutu has called America’s Mandela.

Equal Justice Initiative fights an uphill battle against mass incarceration. It is a lifeline for innocent people who have been railroaded, and for children in prison. Donations finance its work as the conscience of the justice system.

Camfed, or the Campaign for Female Education, camfed.org, supports girls’ education in Africa.

Supporting Camfed is a way to stand up for girls’ education, especially after the terrorist group Boko Haram kidnapped nearly 300 schoolgirls in northern Nigeria earlier this year. Just $10 buys a girl a school-supplies kit for elementary school. Or $25 buys her the shoes she must have to attend school. Or $300 sends her to a year of high school.

Evidence Action, evidenceaction.org, started by economist geeks, applies lessons from randomized trials to spend money in the most cost-effective ways. For example, a bleach dispenser provides a family with clean drinking water for a year and significantly reduces disease at a cost of just 70 cents per person.

Or 50 cents will deworm a child, making that child less anemic, more healthy and better able to thrive in school. Millions of children worldwide still carry intestinal parasites that impair their learning as well as their health and nutrition.

Red Cloud Indian School is a private Lakota and Jesuit K-12 school educating 600 children on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. On a reservation notorious for alcoholism, unemployment and poverty, the Red Cloud school, redcloudschool.org, is a beacon of hope.

Students volunteer on the reservation, and they go on to some of the best universities in the country, returning as leaders. The school accepts donations and full-time volunteers, and it also sells holiday gifts on its website — including nifty earrings and bracelets made out of porcupine quills, for $18 and up.

Future Doctors for South Sudan, futuredoctors.org, was started by Dr. Ken Waxman, an American physician in Santa Barbara, Calif. He was working in war-torn South Sudan, where a girl is more likely to die in childbirth than to learn to read — partly because there are so few doctors. Dr. Waxman realized that one solution is to train talented young South Sudanese to become doctors themselves.

So he and others are sponsoring brilliant South Sudanese students to attend medical schools in Kenya or Uganda and then go home to practice and help build up their own country.

OneGoal, onegoalgraduation.org, tackles head-on one of the great gaps in this country: 82 percent of American kids from high-income families graduate from college, but only 8 percent of low-income children do. OneGoal offers a three-year program designed to coach disadvantaged high school students to put them on track to success in college.

A new University of Chicago study found that OneGoal lowered arrest rates in high school and made students more likely to enroll in and graduate from college, and thus break the cycle of poverty.

A group called 20/20/20 helps the blind see. It provides free cataract surgery to impoverished people abroad who otherwise might end up beggars. The cost is just $35 per adult or $300 per child (because children require general anesthesia). Imagine being blind for want of $35!

Visit the 20/20/20 website at 20x20x20.org to see a video of two sisters in India who were blind from cataracts and received this surgery. When the bandages come off their eyes and they take in their surroundings, chills will go down your spine. You’ll understand why my purpose is to provide an opportunity to share gifts of hope.

It’s also time to announce my next annual win-a-trip contest, in which I take a university student with me on a reporting trip to the developing world. The winner will write posts for my blog on the New York Times website. I’ve been holding the win-a-trip contest since 2006, and one former winner, Mitch Smith, is now a Times reporter.

One possible destination for our 2015 trip is Congo; another is India and Nepal. Information about the contest and how to apply is at my blog, nytimes.com/ontheground. As before, the Center for Global Development in Washington will screen applications and pick finalists. I’m looking for a smart undergraduate or graduate student with great storytelling skills who wants to help shine a light on neglected issues and doesn’t mind bedbugs or warlords. Please pass the word if you know just the candidate.

Last but not least here’s Mr. Bruni:

November 2016 is still a long way off, but it’s hard to imagine that the presidential campaign will provide any bit of advertising as strangely entertaining and revealing as a video put online recently by Stand With Hillary, a new “super PAC.”

Haven’t seen it? Oh you must. Right now. I give you leave from this column to go take a look, but hurry back. There’s a lot to talk about.

It spotlights a man in a cowboy hat who croons in a country-and-western twang about how darned much he adores that there Hillary Clinton. “Hindsight’s always right,” he sings, a clear dig at Barack Obama, the candidate chosen over her in the Democratic primaries. There are images of construction work, a welder, a pickup truck, a tractor, a big red barn, cows. It’s the unveiling of Hard-Hat Hillary. Rodeo Hillary. Hillary, Patron Saint of the Prairie.

But it positions her first and foremost as all woman. The references are incessant. The chorus goes like this: “Thinking about one great lady like the women in my life. She’s a mother, a daughter and through it all, she’s a loving wife.”

A man with a sledgehammer shatters a panel of glass — twice. And the cowboy exhorts his brethren: “Put your boots on and let’s smash this ceiling.” Just in case there was any doubt about what that glass meant.

The video wasn’t produced by Clinton or her aides. But the people who did put it together clearly followed the cues that they felt they were getting, and they read her intentions right. If she runs, she’ll do so with more focus on her gender and a greater emphasis on making history than she did in 2008.

And that’ll be the smart move, because her gender is precisely what offsets certain of her weaknesses as a candidate. To double down on the double X may be her best way to mitigate several otherwise big vulnerabilities.

Back in 2008, “Clinton seemed to develop a tortured approach toward her gender on the campaign trail, sometimes embracing it, sometimes dismissing it, sometimes appearing to overcompensate for it — but rarely appearing at ease with it,” wrote Anne Kornblut of The Washington Post in her 2009 book about that race, “Notes From the Cracked Ceiling.”

She observed that some of Clinton’s key advisers felt that partly because of her gender, she had to routinely assert toughness and be America’s own Iron Lady. There were boxing gloves at her events, along with music from “Rocky.”

Kornblut recalled the time when she was told by a proud Clinton adviser that it was “as though his boss were running with a penis.” And at one campaign event, a labor leader introduced her as “the candidate with ‘testicular fortitude,’ ” Kornblut wrote.

Clinton never gave a gender speech that rivaled Obama’s race speech.

Additionally, “When Obama won the Iowa caucuses, everybody wrote and talked about it as historic,” Kornblut told me last week. “But Jesse Jackson had won primaries. When Hillary Clinton won New Hampshire, it was historic. But the coverage was, ‘Hillary made a comeback. She’s the comeback kid, just like her husband was.’ ”

Kornblut said that, belatedly, a few members of Clinton’s inner circle came to believe that her frequently gender-neutral approach wasn’t just “a big mistake of the campaign. That was the big strategic mistake.”

But with an even longer résumé now, Clinton could emphasize her trailblazing womanhood for 2016 without the worry that many voters would misinterpret it as the main qualification that she’s claiming. And after four years as a secretary of state more hawkish than the president she served, she wouldn’t have to push the image of a dauntless world leader.

Americans’ economic anxieties will almost surely be at the center of the race, and with the right language, Clinton might have “the ability to talk as mom and grandmom about the need to make sure government is on the side of our families,” Chris Lehane, a Democratic strategist who recently addressed the group Ready for Hillary, told me.

“Being a woman translates into great politics,” he said.

Clinton seemingly agrees. Over the last year she has weighed in strongly on issues like equal pay and child care. She has done women-themed events galore.

In a speech at Georgetown University last week, she said: “We know when women contribute in making and keeping peace, entire societies enjoy better outcomes. Women leaders, it has been found, are good at building coalitions across ethnic and sectarian lines and speaking up for other marginalized groups.”

It’s possible that Clinton has noticed polls. In one by Gallup early this year, when Americans were asked what about a Clinton presidency would be most exciting, the answer given more than any other was that she would be the first woman in the job.

It’s her “unique selling proposition,” wrote Frank Newport, Gallup’s editor in chief, in an analysis of those results.

And that proposition is potentially an inoculation.

Yes, she’s been around forever and isn’t a fresh face. But she can’t be yesterday’s news when she’s tomorrow’s precedent.

Yes, there’s a whiff of dynasty about her. But maybe she gets some of the “new car smell” that Obama said voters were looking for by promising a new altitude of female accomplishment.

Yes, a contest between her and Jeb Bush would be one of two surnames from the past. But only she can claim to represent an uncharted future, at least in one sense.

Yes, detractors will say that she’s a third term of Obama: business as usual. Her supporters can answer that she’s history’s unfinished business.

Yes, she’s now wealthy and well-connected, and would be starting the race with titanic advantages. But if she’s willing to talk about her experience as a woman, she can talk about what it’s been like to make her way in a man’s world. She’s a leader of the pack who can make some underdog noises, an ultimate insider who can potentially connect with outsiders — thanks to gender.

Lehane called it “a sword and a shield.”

When she ran the last time around, Rush Limbaugh asked, “Will Americans want to watch a woman get older before their eyes on a daily basis?” It was a sexist question, but this can be a sexist country, and even some Democrats had that concern.

It’s more than six years later, and Ruth Marcus of The Washington Post recently noted Clinton’s “full-on embrace of grandma-hood, tweeting out pictures of her new granddaughter despite the twin pitfalls of gender and age.” For Clinton 2016, gender might not be a pitfall at all.

Jeez, Frank, shill much do you?

Blow, Cohen, Kristof and Collins

December 4, 2014

In “The Perfect-Victim Pitfall” Mr. Blow says following the non-indictments in Ferguson and Staten Island, don’t fall for some counternarrative that doesn’t apply. Change is what we need, badly.  In “The Consolations of Italy” Mr. Cohen says Italy needs the reforms Prime Minister Renzi is pushing, but its resistance to change is also a strength.  Mr. Kristof, in “Abusing Chickens We Eat,” has a question:  When the label says “raised cage free” and has the U.S.D.A.’s seal of approval, you should be able to trust that the animals weren’t tortured, right?  Ms. Collins writes “Of Taxes, Pigs, and Congress” and says we should pay attention! Congress is hard at work on the bill of the month.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

At some point between the moment a Missouri grand jury refused to indict a police officer who had shot and killed Michael Brown on a Ferguson street and the moment a New York grand jury refused to indict a police officer who choked and killed Eric Garner on a Staten Island sidewalk — on video, as he struggled to utter the words, “I can’t breathe!” — a counternarrative to this nation’s calls for change has taken shape.

This narrative paints the police as under siege and unfairly maligned while it admonishes — and, in some cases, excoriates — those demanding changes in the wake of the Ferguson shooting. (Those calling for change now include the president of the United States and the United States attorney general, I might add.)

The argument is that this is not a perfect case, because Brown — and, one would assume, now Garner — isn’t a perfect victim and the protesters haven’t all been perfectly civil, so therefore any movement to counter black oppression that flows from the case is inherently flawed. But this is ridiculous and reductive, because it fails to acknowledge that the whole system is imperfect and rife with flaws. We don’t need to identify angels and demons to understand that inequity is hell.

The Mike-or-Eric-as-faces-of-black-oppression arguments swing too wide, and they miss. So does the protesters-as-movement-killers argument.

The responses so far have only partly been specific to a particular case. Much of it is about something larger and more general: racial inequality and criminal justice. People want to be assured of equal application of justice and equal — and appropriate — use of police force, and to know that all lives are equally valued.

The data suggests that, in the nation as a whole, that isn’t so. Racial profiling is real. Disparate treatment of black and brown men by police officers is real. Grotesquely disproportionate numbers of killings of black men by the police are real.

No one denies that police officers have hard jobs, but they volunteer to enter that line of work. There is no draft. So these disparities cannot go unaddressed and uncorrected. To be held in high esteem you must also be held to a higher standard.

And no one denies that high-crime neighborhoods disproportionately overlap with minority neighborhoods. But the intersections don’t stop there. Concentrated poverty plays a consequential role. So does the school-to-prison pipeline. So do the scars of historical oppression. In fact, these and other factors intersect to such a degree that trying to separate any one — most often, the racial one — from the rest is bound to render a flimsy argument based on the fallacy of discrete factors.

Yet people continue to make such arguments, which can usually be distilled to some variation of this: Black dysfunction is mostly or even solely the result of black pathology. This argument is racist at its core because it rests too heavily on choice and too lightly on context. If you scratch it, what oozes out reeks of race-informed cultural decay or even genetic deficiency and predisposition, as if America is not the progenitor — the great-grandmother — of African-American violence.

And yes, racist is the word that we must use. Racism doesn’t require the presence of malice, only the presence of bias and ignorance, willful or otherwise. It doesn’t even require more than one race. There are plenty of members of aggrieved groups who are part of the self-flagellation industrial complex. They make a name (and a profit) saying inflammatory things about their own groups, things that are full of sting but lack context, things that others will say only behind tightly shut doors. These are often people who’ve “made it” and look down their noses with be-more-like-me disdain at those who haven’t, as if success were merely a result of a collection of choices and not also of a confluence of circumstances.

Today, too many people are gun-shy about using the word racism, lest they themselves be called race-baiters. So we are witnessing an assault on the concept of racism, an attempt to erase legitimate discussion and grievance by degrading the language: Eliminate the word and you elude the charge.

By endlessly claiming that the word is overused as an attack, the overuse, through rhetorical sleight of hand, is amplified in the dismissal. The word is snatched from its serious scientific and sociological context and redefined simply as a weapon of argumentation, the hand grenade you toss under the table to blow things up and halt the conversation when things get too “honest” or “uncomfortable.”

But people will not fall for that chicanery. The language will survive. The concept will not be corrupted. Racism is a real thing, not because the “racial grievance industry” refuses to release it, but because society has failed to eradicate it.

Racism is interpersonal and structural; it is current and historical; it is explicit and implicit; it is articulated and silent.

Biases are pervasive, but can also be spectral: moving in and out of consideration with little or no notice, without leaving a trace, even without our own awareness. Sometimes the only way to see bias is in the aggregate, to stop staring so hard at a data point and step back so that you can see the data set. Only then can you detect the trails in the dust. Only then can the data do battle with denial.

I would love to live in a world where that wasn’t the case. Even more, I would love my children to inherit a world where that wasn’t the case, where the margin for error for them was the same as the margin for error for everyone else’s children, where I could rest assured that police treatment would be unbiased. But I don’t. Reality doesn’t bend under the weight of wishes. Truth doesn’t grow dim because we squint.

We must acknowledge — with eyes and minds wide open — the world as it is if we want to change it.

The activism that followed Ferguson and that is likely to be intensified by what happened in New York isn’t about making a martyr of “Big Mike” or “Big E” as much as it is about making the most of a moment, counternarratives notwithstanding.

In this most trying of moments, black men, supported by the people who understand their plight and feel their pain, are saying to the police culture of America, “We can’t breathe!”

Next up we have Mr. Cohen, writing from Rome:

It is always a pleasure to return to Rome and find that some things never change. I dissipated part of my youth here in a trance of happiness and, even at this distance, I find that happiness accessible. As we grow older memory gains in importance, a labyrinth of infinite possibility.

So much of life today is jolting that a measure of dilatory inefficiency becomes comforting. The transactional relationships of London or New York or Singapore give way to the human relationship of Rome. People actually take a few seconds to look at each other. They chat without purpose.

The heavy hotel room key (rather than anonymous key card); the perfect carciofi alla Romana (little artichokes Roman style) dissolving in the mouth; the unchanging answer to any man-in-the-street question about the state of the Italian Republic (“fa schifo” – it stinks); the “manifestazione,” or demonstration, that closes a wide area of central Rome; the style of the “barista” making three espressos, two lattes and two cappuccinos at once (eat your heart out, plodding Starbucks); the focus of the maître grating truffles with the clinical majesty of a matador; the grumbling and the small courtesies; the sound of voices rather than engines; the high-ceilinged apartments in their cool half-light; the whining scooters on the banks of the muddy Tiber; the shutters clattering down on stores at lunch time, only to reopen in the late afternoon. All of this consoles in its familiarity.

Rush on world, the voice of Rome seems to murmur: ambition will founder, conquest will unravel, riches will be lost, power will be dissipated, palaces will crumble, great loves will end, borders will be redrawn; and you, shed at last of your illusions, will be left to find comfort in beauty, family, your corner of the city, and a steaming plate of bucatini all’amatriciana.

It was Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa who observed that everything must change so that everything stays the same. Here it sometimes seems that everything must stay the same so that one or two things may change (the city clocks, unlike when I lived here 30 years ago, now tend to function).

Then, of course, there is politics. Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, aged 39, is a revolutionary politician in that his youth, direct language, dynamism and relative transparency have shaken up old habits. There is something of the young Tony Blair about him. He is a showman pushing change through force of character. His ambition for Italy, he has said, “is not to do better than Greece but to do better than Germany.”

Fighting words: After the Berlusconi years, Italy needed this shake-up desperately. Renzi’s “Jobs Act,” the cause of the current demonstrations, is an attempt to make it a little easier for corporations to fire employees.

That, by Italian standards, would be big. Renzi’s slogan, in effect, is change or die. Unemployment is over 13 percent, public debt continues to climb, and Italy has known three recessions in six years. The country is problematic. Still, caution with official numbers is advisable. Family solidarity, private wealth and the black economy cushion the crisis the statistics declare. Italy is poor; Italians are richer than it.

Like almost all Europeans, they are being outpaced by the hunger for wealth, long working days and unregulated economies of the emergent world, where most people scarcely know what social security means. Still, Italians contrive to live better than seems possible in a declining economy.

There is nothing that unusual for a Roman about going home for lunch (or even having “la Mamma” prepare it). Resistance to change can also be healthy. It is a buffer against dislocation and loneliness, preserving the ties of family and sociability. Cultural skepticism about change runs deep. Unlike Americans, Italians have no desire to reinvent themselves. Rome restrains the itch to believe all can be changed utterly. Style is its refuge.

Italy needs change; Renzi is right to push for it. New investment will only come when the bureaucratic rigidities that curtail the economy are overcome. But change will always have its limits here. Behind Italian frivolity lies a deep-seated prudence.

The past year has been sobering. A quarter-century on from the fall of the Berlin Wall we see how deluded we were to imagine, even for a moment, that the old battles of nation-states and rival ideologies would give way to a world driven by enlightened self-interest and the shared embrace of Western liberal democracy and the rule of law.

Al Qaeda, Vladimir Putin and the Chinese Communist Party thought otherwise. Powers still do what they do: seek to further their interests, accumulate resources and advance their ideologies, at the expense of others if necessary. Beheadings and plague have not been banished from the world.

Italians tend to shrug. They knew this all along. There are compelling reasons to prefer beauty to the squalid affairs of the world.

And next up we have Mr. Kristof:

If you buy a Perdue chicken in the grocery store, you might think it had lived a comfortable avian middle-class existence.

“Doing the right thing is things like treating your chickens humanely,” Jim Perdue, the company’s chairman, says in a promotional video. The company’s labels carry a seal of approval from the Department of Agriculture asserting that the bird was “raised cage free,” and sometimes “humanely raised,” although it says it is phasing that one out.

Customers approve. Most of us are meat-eaters who still want animals treated humanely, and one survey found that 85 percent of consumers would prefer to buy chicken with a cage-free “humanely raised” label like Perdue’s.

Enter Craig Watts, 48, a North Carolina farmer who says he raises about 720,000 chickens each year for Perdue. He watched the video of Jim Perdue and had an attack of conscience. “My jaw just dropped,” he said. “It couldn’t get any further from the truth.”

So Watts opened his four chicken barns to show how a Perdue chicken lives. It’s a hellish sight.

Watts invited an animal welfare group, Compassion in World Farming, to document conditions, and it has spent months doing so. The organization has just released the resulting video on its website.

Most shocking is that the bellies of nearly all the chickens have lost their feathers and are raw, angry, red flesh. The entire underside of almost every chicken is a huge, continuous bedsore. As a farmboy who raised small flocks of chickens and geese, I never saw anything like that.

One reason seems to be modern breeding: Chickens are now bred to have huge breasts, and they often end up too heavy for their legs. Poultry Science journal has calculated that if humans grew at the same rate as modern chickens, a human would weigh 660 pounds by the age of eight weeks.

These chickens don’t run around or roost as birds normally do. They stagger a few steps, often on misshapen legs, and then collapse onto the excrement of tens of thousands of previous birds. It is laden with stinging ammonia that seems to eat away at feathers and skin.

I called Perdue to see what the company had to say. Jim Perdue declined to comment, but a company spokeswoman, Julie DeYoung, agreed that undersides of chickens shouldn’t be weeping red. She suggested that the operator was probably mismanaging the chicken house.

That doesn’t go over well with Watts, whose family has owned the farm since the 1700s and says he has been raising chickens for Perdue since 1992, meticulously following its requirements.

As Watts sees it, Perdue realized that consumers were concerned about animal welfare and food safety, and decided to manipulate the public.

The claim about the chickens being raised “cage free” is misleading because birds raised for meat are not in cages. It’s egg-laying chickens that are caged, not the ones we eat. So “cage free” is meaningful for eggs but not for chicken meat. Moreover, Perdue’s chickens are crammed so tightly in barns that they might as well be in cages. Each bird on the Watts farm gets just two-thirds of a square foot.

So why is our government giving its seal of approval to these methods as humane, in ways that seem to mislead consumers?

“U.S.D.A. is the accomplice of Perdue in the fooling of consumers,” says Leah Garces, American director of Compassion in World Farming, who calls it a marketing scam.

Perdue may now be backing away from some of its claims. It settled a suit with the Humane Society of the United States by agreeing to remove the “humanely raised” line from some packaging, even as it denied wrongdoing.

All this leaves millions of Americans, me included, in a bind. We eat meat, yet we want to minimize cruelty to animals. This is an uncertain, inconsistent and perhaps hypocritical path, and it’s hard enough without giant food companies manipulating us — in collusion with our own government.

Garces suggests that such consumers look for labels that say “certified humane,” “global animal partnership” or “animal welfare approved.” But they’re expensive and harder to find.

Perdue’s methods for raising chickens are typical of industrial agriculture. So the conundrum is this. Big Ag has been stunningly successful in producing cheap food — the price of chicken has fallen by three-quarters in real terms since 1930. Yet there are huge external costs, such as antibiotic resistance and water pollution, as well as a routine cruelty that we tolerate only because it is mostly hidden.

Torture a single chicken and you risk arrest. Abuse hundreds of thousands of chickens for their entire lives? That’s agribusiness.

I don’t know where to draw the lines. But when chickens have huge open bedsores on their undersides, I wonder if that isn’t less animal husbandry than animal abuse.

And last but not least we have Ms. Collins:

Great news! After a year of hapless floundering, Congress appears well on its way to passing a major tax bill that will be signed by President Obama.

The bill, which the House approved on Wednesday, takes 50-odd expired tax breaks and extends them — for several weeks.

“It will die on Jan. 1. It’s for last year!” said Representative James McDermott of Washington during a rather desultory House debate.

“I’m gonna vote yes like everybody else. But it makes no sense,” McDermott added helpfully.

Well, if that’s the bar, nothing is ever going to get done.

Most of the tax breaks that expired at the start of the year because of Congressional inaction are helpful to businesses. If the bill becomes law, they’ll be retroactively revived. Employers who have been making investments out of blind faith will be rewarded. Then it’ll be 2015 and the whole drama starts all over again.

People, does that make sense to you? Well, it did to the House, which easily passed the bill after a brief debate during which members from both parties came together and agreed that their work was “not perfect.”

“A terrible way to make tax policy,” said Dave Camp, the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, which makes, um, tax policy.

Camp, who is retiring, got many, many plaudits during the debate for his efforts to produce serious tax reform this year. At the time, his fellow Republicans were horrified by his proposal to make modest reductions in the top business tax rate by closing beloved tax loopholes. Speaker John Boehner made fun of him. The bill never got out of Camp’s own committee.

On the plus side, he was really popular on Wednesday as he introduced what was left of his tax bill, which was the legislative equivalent of a wilted piece of arugula.

“I would prefer to be debating reform,” said Representative Pete Sessions, the powerful chairman of the Rules Committee. This was shortly after he acknowledged the bill was “far from perfect.”

Sessions is from Texas. Next year, the House will have six committee chairs from Texas, while John Cornyn of Texas will be No. 2 leader in the Senate. Also, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas is clearly running for president, as is Gov. Rick Perry. This has nothing to do with the tax bill. I just thought you ought to be prepared.

But about taxes. Everybody agrees we need tax reform. Our current tax policy has about as many fans as that airplane passenger who took a pet pig to her seat as an “emotional support animal.”

There is not going to be any major tax reform. There are members of Congress, like Camp and the Senate Finance chairman Ron Wyden who believe there’s got to be a way. If you run into either of them on the street, give him a hearty handshake. But don’t hold your breath.

The latest battle over those expired tax breaks began when the House Republicans tried to make some permanent. And, really, they ought to be forever or not at all. But it created a problem for lawmakers who were worried about low-wage workers. There are parts of the earned-income tax credit and the child tax credit that expire in 2017, at which point their supporters expected to trade extensions with the business advocates.

There was a time when we thought that kind of trading was depressing sausage-making. Now, of course, we regard the era when that stuff worked as Athens in the age of Pericles.

Senator Wyden says he thought negotiations were going along pretty well for a plan that made both the most important business tax breaks and the biggest ones for low-income workers permanent. Then, he said, the Republicans disappeared.

What do you think was bothering the Republicans? A) The sudden realization that tax cuts actually do add to the federal deficit. Or B) President Obama’s executive order giving undocumented immigrants the right to stay in the country.

Yes! Some Republicans said they were worried that the tax breaks for low-wage workers would help the undocumented immigrants. We do not need to discuss whether or not this is actually a problem. We just need to acknowledge that whenever the Republicans do not want to do something for the next two years, they’re going to play the immigrant card.

Enter Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, who was possibly interested in a deal that dropped the breaks for low-wage workers but added a permanent sales tax deduction for people who live in states without income taxes. Such as Nevada.

Returning from Thanksgiving vacation, Wyden said, “I heard all these rumors about what was being worked out. And about an hour later the president called and said he was going to veto what was being discussed.”

And here we are. With maximum effort, it’s possible Congress might manage to pass a last-minute retroactive bill to keep some popular tax cuts alive for the holiday season. Which Obama would sign.

But I have seen the future, and it’s worse.

The Pasty Little Putz, Kristof and Bruni

November 30, 2014

MoDo and The Moustache of Wisdom are off today.  In “The Retreat to Identity” The Pasty Little Putz says that after Ferguson, it’s harder to make a case for optimism about race and politics in America.  In the comments “Karen Garcia” from New Paltz, NY had this to say:  “In pretending to diss identity politics, Ross perpetuates them. This dog-whistle of a screed immediately signals its intent with the specious claim that “racial cleavages are still less dramatic” than in days of yore. What a shame that the reality had to impinge upon his lollipops-and-roses world. So he has to do a quick propaganda reset, in which liberals still have the chutzpah to talk about a fair economy! And the GOP, for some reason unfathomable to Ross, just can’t get its family values message to resonate with “those people” even as its plutocrat-friendly policies absolutely guarantee their continued misery and oppression.”  Putzy obviously didn’t read Mr. Kristof’s column, “When Whites Just Don’t Get It, Part 5,” in which he asks a question:  How can we address the racial biases embedded in our society?  In “Just Plane Ugly” Mr. Bruni says Look! Up in the sky! It’s the very worst of us.  Here, FSM help us, is the Putz:

Last summer, around the anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, I wrote a column making — gingerly — a case for optimism about race and politics in America.

My argument was basically this: As much as racial controversy has marked the presidency of Barack Obama, our race-related policy cleavages are still less dramatic than at any previous point in America’s history. It isn’t just that there’s no contemporary equivalent of the conflict over Jim Crow, in which one side had to be defeated utterly for racial progress to be possible. It’s that on many racially entangled issues, from education to criminal justice to various socioeconomic challenges, the key policy debates are less polarized than in the 1970s and 1980s, and the impact of potential reforms on whites and blacks seems much less zero sum.

But after watching as Ferguson, Mo., seethed and smoldered, it’s worth offering a case for greater pessimism. Not because the optimistic arguments are no longer credible, but because we’ve just had an object lesson in why they might be proved wrong.

This lesson isn’t exactly new; indeed, it’s been offered by both parties throughout this presidency. Ultimately, being optimistic about race requires being optimistic about the ability of our political coalitions to offer colorblind visions of the American dream — the left’s vision stressing economics more heavily, the right leaning more on family and community, but both promising gains and goods and benefits that can be shared by Americans of every racial background.

In the Obama era, though, neither coalition has done a very good job selling such a vision, because neither knows how to deliver on it. (The left doesn’t know how to get wages rising again; the right doesn’t know how to shore up the two-parent family, etc.) Which has left both parties increasingly dependent on identity-politics appeals, with the left mobilizing along lines of race, ethnicity and gender and the right mobilizing around white-Christian-heartland cultural anxieties.

For a while the media has assumed that this kind of identity-based politics inevitably favors the left, because 21st-century America is getting less white every day.

But that’s too simplistic, in part because the definitions of “white” and “minority” are historically elastic. If a “white party” seems sufficiently clueless and reactionary, it will lose ground to a multicultural coalition. But as African-Americans know from bitter experience, “whiteness” has sustained itself by the inclusion of immigrants as well as by the exclusion and oppression of blacks. That history suggests that a “multicultural party” may always be at risk of being redefined as a grievance-based “party of minorities” that many minorities would prefer to leave behind. (And leadership matters, too: A protean figure like Barack Obama can put together a genuine rainbow coalition, but it’s not clear how many other politicians can do the same.)

The key point here, though, is that whichever coalition is ascendant in this scenario, a politics divided primarily by identity is likely to be more poisonous than one in which both parties are offering more-color-blind appeals.

Unfortunately, identity is also the most primal, reliable form of political division. And Ferguson has provided a case study in exactly how powerfully it works.

There was a moment, early in the debate over the death of Michael Brown, when it felt as if this story might vindicate the case for optimism about racial politics — that the original tragedy might be sufficiently transparent, the subsequent police misconduct in quelling protests sufficiently clear-cut, for Ferguson to become a more powerful exhibit in the increasingly bipartisan case for various criminal justice reforms.

But then it became clear that the situation was murkier — that the cop had witnesses and physical evidence supporting his side of the story, that police had to deal with looters as well as peaceful protesters. As John McWhorter wrote in Time magazine, by the time the grand jury handed down its non-indictment the original narrative about Ferguson could only survive with “a degree of elision” and “adjustment.” Which meant, predictably, that the potential for consensus receded, and how people felt about the story became primarily a matter of identification instead.

Do you identify more with a black teenager or with a cop? With protesters menaced by playing-soldier cops or with business owners menaced by the protest’s violent fringe? With various government spokesmen or with, say, Al Sharpton?

Again, this is not unusual; this is how political division and racial division often interact.

And there’s still nothing inevitable about this interaction. Rand Paul, the Republican who’s pushed hardest to change the old paradigm on race and crime, is still talking about criminal justice reform in the wake of Ferguson. The path to a less identity-driven kind of politics is still open.

But it’s clearer today how easy, how human, it will be to leave that path untaken.

Now here’s Mr. Kristof.  Maybe somebody will sit Putzy down and read this to him:

We Americans are a nation divided.

We feud about the fires in Ferguson, Mo., and we can agree only that racial divisions remain raw. So let’s borrow a page from South Africa and impanel a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to examine race in America.

The model should be the 9/11 commission or the Warren Commission on President Kennedy’s assassination, and it should hold televised hearings and issue a report to help us understand ourselves. Perhaps it could be led by the likes of Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush and Oprah Winfrey.

We as a nation need to grapple with race because the evidence is overwhelming that racial bias remains deeply embedded in American life. Two economists, Joseph Price and Justin Wolfers, found that white N.B.A. referees disproportionally call fouls on black players, while black refs call more fouls on white players. “These biases are sufficiently large that they affect the outcome of an appreciable number of games,” Price and Wolfers wrote.

If such racial bias exists among professional referees monitored by huge television audiences, imagine what unfolds when an employer privately weighs whom to hire, or a principal decides whether to expel a disruptive student, or a policeman considers whether to pull over a driver.

This “When Whites Just Don’t Get It” series is a call for soul-searching. It’s very easy for whites to miss problems that aren’t our own; that’s a function not of being white but of being human. Three-quarters of whites have only white friends, according to one study, so we are often clueless.

What we whites notice is blacks who have “made it” — including President Obama — so we focus on progress and are oblivious to the daily humiliations that African-Americans endure when treated as second-class citizens.

“In the jewelry store, they lock the case when I walk in,” a 23-year-old black man wrote in May 1992. “In the shoe store, they help the white man who walks in after me. In the shopping mall, they follow me.”

He described an incident when he was stopped by six police officers who detained him, with guns at the ready, and treated him for 30 minutes as a dangerous suspect.

That young man was future Senator Cory Booker, who had been a senior class president at Stanford University and was a newly selected Rhodes Scholar. Yet our law enforcement system reduced him to a stereotype — so young Booker sat trembling and praying that he wouldn’t be shot by the police.

My sense is that part of the problem is well-meaning Americans who disapprove of racism yet inadvertently help perpetuate it. We aren’t racists, yet we buttress a system that acts in racist ways. It’s “racism without racists,” in the words of Eduardo Bonillo-Silva, a Duke University sociologist.

This occurs partly because of deeply embedded stereotypes that trick us, even when we want to be fair. Researchers once showed people sketches of a white man with a knife confronting an unarmed black man in the subway. In one version of the experiment, 59 percent of research subjects later reported that it had been the black man who held the knife.

I don’t know what unfolded in Ferguson between Michael Brown, a black teenager, and Darren Wilson, a white police officer. But there is a pattern: a ProPublica investigation found that young black men are shot dead by police at 21 times the rate of young white men.

If you’re white, your interactions with police are more likely to have been professional and respectful, leaving you trustful. If you’re black, your encounters with cops may leave you dubious and distrustful. That’s why a Huffington Post/YouGov poll found that 64 percent of African-Americans believe that Officer Wilson should be punished, while only 22 percent of whites think so.

That’s the gulf that an American Truth and Reconciliation Commission might help bridge just a little. In 1922, a Chicago Commission on Race Relations (composed of six whites and six blacks) examined the Chicago race riots of 1919. More recently, President Clinton used an executive order to impanel an advisory board on race that focused on how to nurture “one America.”

A new commission could jump-start an overdue national conversation and also recommend evidence-based solutions to boost educational outcomes, improve family cohesion and connect people to jobs.

White Americans may protest that our racial problems are not like South Africa’s. No, but the United States incarcerates a higher proportion of blacks than apartheid South Africa did. In America, the black-white wealth gap today is greater than it was in South Africa in 1970 at the peak of apartheid.

Most troubling, America’s racial wealth gap, pay gap and college education gap have all widened in the last few decades.

There are no easy solutions. But let’s talk.

And now we get to Mr. Bruni:

The woman in 27E doesn’t have only one carry-on plus a small bag for a laptop or personal items. She has one carry-on plus a purse the size of a bassinet plus some canvas vessel for all of her electronics plus two different plastic totes for various pillows, blankets and possibly an ottoman and a coffee table. Shuffling down the aisle, she looks more like a Peruvian llama than anything human. She grunts and buckles.

She must have heard the announcement that the flight was full and the plea that everyone not bring too much aboard, because those words blared every 45 seconds. But there’s no selective hearing loss like that of the airline passenger. She reaches her row, predictably discovers that there’s insufficient space under the seat in front of hers and proceeds to colonize the space under the seat in front of yours. You arrive to find that what little legroom you’d counted on is gone. She pretends not to see that you’re glaring at her.

A tiff has erupted in Row 18. The man in Seat C has used the overhead for his jacket, which is lovingly folded there, and is protesting any and all attempts to move it. He has miles. He has status. That’s why he was invited to board the aircraft earlier than almost everybody else, and he’s hellbent on milking that privilege for all that it’s worth.

I’m not describing a flight that I just took. Among my Thanksgiving blessings was an avoidance of the unfriendly skies. I’m describing every other flight that I’ve taken over the last year. I’m describing a flight that many Americans surely suffered through this weekend.

And I’m doing it not simply to rue the horrors of air travel these days, which have been rued aplenty. I’m doing it because there are few better showcases of Americans’ worst impulses, circa 2014, than a 757 bound from New York to Los Angeles or from Sacramento to St. Louis. It’s a mile-high mirror of our talent for pettiness, our tendency toward selfishness, our disconnection from one another and our increasing demarcation of castes. It’s a microcosm at 30,000 to 45,000 feet.

Most of the passengers start out in a bad mood, because there’s no good way to get to the airport. The thrifty, efficient rail links that exist in many Asian and European cities remain uncommon in the United States, a reflection of our arrogant and damnable inattention to infrastructure. Even in recent years, during an economic downturn that cried out for the kinds of big projects that create jobs, we made only meager investments. Our airports and the roads and nonexistent tracks around them show it.

“Our infrastructure is on life support right now,” Ray LaHood, the former transportation secretary, told Steve Kroft in a segment of “60 Minutes” from one week ago. It was titled, fittingly, “Falling Apart.”

Kroft noted that there was “still no consensus on how to solve the problem,” which had grown more severe because of “political paralysis in Washington.”

One of the impediments to consensus is manifest on a plane: There’s little sense of a common good, no rules that everybody follows so that nobody gets a raw deal. Instead there’s an ethic of every passenger for himself or herself. The existence of, and market for, the Knee Defender, that device that prohibits the person in front of you from reclining, says it all.

On second thought, no, this does: Immediately following news coverage of a flight that had to be diverted when two passengers scuffled over a Knee Defender’s use, sales of the device reportedly increased.

Courtesy is dead. The plane is its graveyard. There’s a scrum at the gate and then another scrum in the aisle that defy any of the airline’s attempts at an orderly boarding process. There’s no restraint in the person who keeps smacking the back of your chair; no apology from the parent whose child keeps kicking it; no awareness that certain foods, unwrapped in a tight space, turn one traveler’s lunch into every traveler’s olfactory reality.

And nobody really communicates. Conversation between strangers becomes rarer as gadgets get better, enabling everyone to hunker down with his or her own music and own movies and own video games, to shrink the world to the dimensions of a smartphone’s or tablet’s screen, to disappear into a personalized bubble of ceaseless entertainment and scant enlightenment.

On the plane, as in the economy, most people are feeling squeezed. Financially, every flight is a death by a dozen cuts. There’s the baggage fee, the meal fee, the wireless fee. All the base price gets you is a perch that’s tighter than ever and getting tighter still. In The Daily Beast two days before Thanksgiving, Clive Irving described airlines’ sophisticated, inch-by-inch stratagems to “engineer you out of room,” and they sounded like experiments in orthopedic torture. What the rack was to medieval times, Seat 39B is to modern ones.

But Seat 2A? That’s a different story. A different world. The gap between first class and everyone else is writ vivid on a plane, and crossing from one side of the divide to the other seems to be growing more difficult. Frequent-flier programs are being tweaked to reward dollars spent on tickets instead of miles flown, and to give more bonus miles to people who are already at a high status than to people who aspire to be.

“United Continental’s Miles Program to Penalize Average Fliers,” said a headline in The Wall Street Journal earlier this year. The article went on to explain that the airline was “becoming the latest carrier to shift its loyalty program to favor bigger spenders.”

A recent story in The Journal explored this further, noted that Delta was making similar adjustments, and explained, “People who fly on expensive business-class and first-class tickets and have top-tier status in frequent-flier programs will see their accounts flooded with miles.”

In the clouds as on land, the rich get richer, social mobility wanes and people are funneled ever more ruthlessly into gradations of privilege: those in sections with names like “economy comfort”; those eligible for the exit row; those who get to board in the first, second or third waves; those consigned to later stages and middle seats.

Some blot out all of this sorting with Candy Crush. Some seethe. Too many of us lose sight of more than the earth. We forget that simply being up in the air is an experience that others seldom if ever get. If there’s one thing in even shorter supply than legroom, it’s empathy.

Blow, Cohen, Kristof and Collins

November 27, 2014

In “Fury After Ferguson” Mr. Blow points out that this is about whether black boys and men, as well as the people who love them, must fear both the criminal and the cop.  Mr. Cohen, in “Get Real, Boris Johnson!,” says London’s mayor, an American citizen, goes mano a mano with the Internal Revenue Service. He should give up and pay up.  Mr. Kristof considers “Bill Cosby, U.V.A. and Rape” and says recent high-profile reports of sexual assaults should make us all pause and reflect on a culture that enables violence against women.  Ms. Collins is “Counting Benghazi Blessings.”  She says Congress has been very busy this year, so let’s give thanks for all the investigations into the 2012 attack on an American compound in Libya.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

The reaction to the failure of the grand jury to indict in the shooting of an unarmed black teenager, Michael Brown, by a white police officer, Darren Wilson, touched something deep and ancient and anguished in the black community.

Yes, on one level, the reaction was about the particulars of this case.

It was about whether Wilson’s use of force was appropriate or excessive that summer day when he fired a shot through Brown’s head and ended his life.

It was about whether police officers’ attitudes towards the people they serve are tainted. Why was Wilson’s description of Brown in his testimony so laced with dehumanizing rhetoric, the superhuman predator and subhuman evil, “Hulk Hogan” and the “demon”?

It was about whether the prosecutor performed his role well or woefully inadequately in pursuit of an indictment. Why did he take this course of action? Why didn’t he aggressively question Wilson when Wilson presented testimony before the grand jury? Why did he sound eerily like a defense attorney when announcing the results?

And yet the reaction was also about more than Wilson and Brown. It was about faith in fundamental fairness. It was about whether a population of people with an already tenuous relationship with the justice system — a system not established to recognize them, a system used for generations to deny and subjugate them, a system still rife with imbalances toward them — would have their fragile and fraying faith in that system further shredded.

As President Obama put it: “The fact is, in too many parts of this country, a deep distrust exists between law enforcement and communities of color. Some of this is the result of the legacy of racial discrimination in this country.”

He continued, “There are still problems and communities of color aren’t just making these problems up.”

No, they are not. An October analysis by ProPublica of police shootings from 2010 to 2012 found that young black males are 21 times more likely to be shot dead by police officers than their white counterparts.

And yet, people like the former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani want to blame the victims. On “Meet the Press,” he dodged the issue of white police forces policing black populations, and raised another: intra-racial murder statistics in the black community. After proclaiming that “93 percent of blacks are killed by other blacks,” he asked a fellow panelist, Michael Eric Dyson, a black Georgetown University professor, “why don’t you cut it down so so many white police officers don’t have to be in black areas?”

Classic blame-the-victims deflection and context-free spouting of facts. What Giuliani failed to mention, what most people who pay attention to murder statistics understand, is that murder is for the most part a crime of intimacy. People kill people close to them. Most blacks are killed by other blacks, and most whites are killed by other whites.

In fact, it is so intimate that one study has found that people likely to be involved in murder cases can be predicted by their social networks. A Yale study last year examining “police and gun homicide records from 2006 to 2011 for residents living within a six-square-mile area that had some of the highest rates for homicide in Chicago” found that “6% of the population was involved in 70% of the murders, and that nearly all of those in the 6% already had some contact with the criminal justice or public health systems.”

As a co-author of the study put it, the relationship among killers and those killed was like a virus: “It’s not unlike needle sharing or unprotected sex in the spread of H.I.V.”

So, what are we saying to the vast majority that are not involved: that they must accept the unconscionable racial imbalance in the police shooting numbers as some sort of collateral damage in a war on crime? No!

It’s an unfathomable, utterly immoral argument, and let’s not give Giuliani a pass for making it. After all, New York’s obscenely race-biased stop-and-frisk program was introduced under Giuliani, and some of the most notorious police violations of black men in recent history happened on his watch. As The New York Times recounted in a lengthy 2001 profile:

“In the summer of 1997, a police officer brutalized a Haitian immigrant named Abner Louima in a bathroom of a Brooklyn station house. In the winter of 1999, four members of the Police Department’s Street Crime Unit, searching the Bronx streets for a rapist, shot and killed an unarmed African immigrant named Amadou Diallo; they had mistaken his wallet for a gun. And in the winter of 2000, just as Mr. Giuliani was gearing up his candidacy for the United States Senate, an undercover officer shot and killed an unarmed black security guard named Patrick Dorismond after a brief struggle in Midtown; the victim had been offended by the undercover officer’s inquiries about buying some drugs.”

Also, race is not the best lens through which to consider criminality. Concentrated poverty may be a better lens. According to a July Brookings report:

“Poor individuals and families are not evenly distributed across communities or throughout the country. Instead, they tend to live near one another, clustering in certain neighborhoods and regions. This concentration of poverty results in higher crime rates, underperforming public schools, poor housing and health conditions, as well as limited access to private services and job opportunities.”

If we are serious about fighting crime, we must seriously consider the reason— on both an individual and systemic level — these pockets of concentrated poverty developed, are maintained, and have in fact grown and spread.

But this is not about Giuliani and the police aggression apologists. This is about whether black boys and men, as well as the people who love them, must fear both the criminal and the cop.

Sadly, for many, the Ferguson case reaffirmed a most unsettling sense that they are under siege from all sides.

So people took to the streets. Who could really blame them?

Some simply saw protests marred by senseless violence. I saw that, to be sure, and my heart hurt seeing it. But I also saw decades, generations, centuries of pain and frustration erupting once more into view. I saw hearts crying and souls demanding to be heard, to be seen, to be valued.

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “A riot is the language of the unheard.” King, a great champion of nonviolence, wasn’t advocating rioting, but rather honoring hearing.

Even long-suffering people will not suffer forever. Patience expires. The heart can be broken only so many times before peace is broken. And the absence of peace doesn’t predicate the presence of violence. It does, however, demand the troubling of the comfortable. When the voice goes unheard, sometimes it must be raised. Sometimes when calls for justice go unmet, feet must meet pavement. Sometimes when you are unseen, you can no longer remain seated. Sometimes you must stand and make a stand.

No one of good character and conscience condones rioting or looting or any destruction of property. Those enterprises aren’t only criminal, they’re fruitless and counterproductive and rob one’s own neighborhood of needed services and facilities and unfairly punish the people who saw fit to follow a dream and an entrepreneurial spirit, and invest in themselves and those communities in the first place.

But people absolutely have a right to their feelings — including anger and frustration. Only the energies must be channeled into productive efforts aimed at delivering the changes desired. That is the hard work. That is where stamina is required. That is where the long game is played.

As the old Negro spiritual proclaims: “Walk together children/Don’t you get weary/Oh, talk together children/Don’t you get weary.”

Next up we have Mr. Cohen:

Come on, Boris!

The mayor of London and would-be prime minister of Britain is funny, smart, erudite and charming. He’s franker than most politicians. He runs a booming city in a boozing country, even if central London has become a private club for the world’s super-rich. He’s a lovable rogue adept at getting out of tight corners of his own creation. He uses a cultivated dishevelment to disarm stuffier fellow Tories and stiffer opponents of the left. But this time bustling, bristling Boris Johnson has gone too far.

It is one thing to flip-flop on immigration (one minute he’s sort of for it, then he’s really against it), or make unsubstantiated claims about European Union regulations, or be the loosest of political cannons. It is another for Johnson, who was born in New York and is a United States citizen, to declare himself above American law and refuse to pay the tax he owes. Blond-haired provocateur takes on the United States Internal Revenue Service: This could get interesting.

In a recent interview with National Public Radio during an American book-promotion tour, Johnson said, “The United States comes after me, would you believe it, for capital gains tax on the sale of your first residence, which is not taxable in Britain.” Asked if he would pay the tax bill, the mayor replied: “No is the answer. I think it’s absolutely outrageous. Why should I?” He then indulged in some whining about how he hadn’t lived in the United States since he was five and paid his taxes in Britain “where I live and work.” The whole “doctrine of global taxation” applied by the United States was, he declared, “incredible.”

Come on, Boris! Give us a break. Get used to it.

All American citizens (even those who have presided over the London Olympics) are, last time I checked, legally obliged to file a tax return and liable for United States taxes on their global income. Even green card holders (permanent residents) are taxable on what they earn worldwide. It is safe to say that no American expat loves this. We may well find it unreasonable, unjust and preposterous. We may envy the Russian and Arab and French and Chinese high-rollers holed up in Mayfair and Knightsbridge and Chelsea, whose global income is not taxed by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, as it would be if they lived in the United States.

As principles of Western democracies go, equality before the law is important, indeed fundamental. Under United States law, a capital gain on the sale of a first residence is not fully tax-exempt, as in Britain.

“Absolutely outrageous,” angry Johnson declared.

“Why should I?” poor Johnson asked.

It’s the law, that’s why. You can avoid everything in life but death and the tax man. They will come get you.

Johnson could, of course, have given up his American citizenship. In 2006, he wrote he was “getting a divorce from America.” But he never broke the bond, presumably because his inner American — the loud, freedom-loving, rambunctious character wrapped up inside a Latin-spouting eccentric Englishman — resisted.

Johnson has in the past been assiduous on tax matters. Louis Susman, the former American ambassador to Britain, once told me of his embarrassment when, in 2011, Johnson buttonholed President Obama at Buckingham Palace and, by way of opening gambit, demanded from him a check for several million pounds to cover unpaid congestion charges of diplomats at the United States Embassy. The president was not amused.

The United States, along with other countries, argues that diplomatic immunity covers the charge for bringing a vehicle into central London during office hours. William Hague, the former British foreign secretary, said last year that the embassy had 63,000 fines for a total of 7.2 million pounds, or about $11.3 million at current rates. The United States, at that time, was the highest debtor, followed by Russia, which owed £4.89 million from 42,310 fines and Japan, which owed £4.85 million from 42,206 fines.

(Nigerian diplomats owed the most in parking fines, followed by Saudi Arabia, and the worst offenders for alleged drunk driving were Russian diplomats.)

The holiday season is upon us. It’s a time of celebration, reflection and reconciliation. Pay up, Boris. Why? Because it’s the right thing to do — and then fight like crazy to change the law, if you will.

As for those congestion charges, their applicability to diplomats is unclear. Are they a tax, from which diplomats would be exempt, or a “service rendered,” for which they could be considered liable?

It’s Thanksgiving, a day to give thanks, even for the taxman, who reminds us that we’re all in this together. I think Matthew Barzun, the American ambassador, who knows Johnson well, might consider a compromise that settles the matter before the embassy moves south of the River Thames in 2017 to a site outside the congestion zone.

Next up we have Mr. Kristof:

The world’s wrath and revulsion seem to be focused on Bill Cosby these days, as he goes in the public mind from “America’s Dad” to an unofficial serial rape suspect.

Yet that’s a cop-out for all of us. Whatever the truth of the accusations against Cosby — a wave of women have now stepped forward and said he drugged and raped them (mostly decades ago), but his lawyer denies the allegations — it’s too easy for us to see this narrowly as a Cosby scandal of celebrity, power and sex. The larger problem is a culture that enables rape. The larger problem is us.

We collectively are still too passive about sexual violence in our midst, too willing to make excuses, too inclined to perceive shame in being raped. These are attitudes that facilitate violence by creating a protective blanket of silence and impunity. In that sense, we are all enablers.

The revelation of an alleged gang rape at a University of Virginia fraternity by Rolling Stone underscores how thin our veneer of civilization sometimes is. The article, whose account is unconfirmed, describes an 18-year-old freshman at the university who goes to her first frat party and is led upstairs by her date, pinned down, beaten and punched, and raped by seven men.

Administration policy makes matters even worse. A dean acknowledged in an interview with student-run media that even students at the university who admit to sexual assault invariably avoid expulsion, and that no student had been expelled for rape in years. The student’s report pointed out that the University of Virginia treats cheating more seriously than rape.

The problem once more isn’t just one university, but the broader culture. It’s ubiquitous. This month an inspector-general report in New Orleans revealed that only 14 percent of sexual assault cases referred to the special victims unit there were even investigated. A 2-year-old was treated in a hospital emergency room for a sexual assault and had a sexually transmitted disease, yet detectives closed the case without an investigation.

Meanwhile, prison rape, mostly of men and boys, is too often treated as a joke rather than an appalling human rights abuse. A Justice Department report last year found that in juvenile detention centers, almost 1 youth in 10 had been sexually abused in the course of a single year. At two juvenile centers, the rate of abuse was 30 percent or more.

Then there’s sex trafficking. Ernie Allen, the former president of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, estimates that 100,000 children in the United States are trafficked into the sex trade annually. Police and prosecutors often respond by arresting the victims — the kids — rather than the pimps and the johns.

Too often boys are socialized to see women and girls as baubles, as playthings. The upshot is that rapists can be stunningly clueless, somehow unaware that they have committed a crime or even a faux pas. The Rolling Stone article describes how the rape victim at the University of Virginia, two weeks after the incident, ran into her principal assailant.

“Are you ignoring me?” he blithely asked. “I wanted to thank you for the other night. I had a great time.”

Likewise, a university student shared with me a letter her ex-boyfriend wrote her after brutally raping her in her dorm room. He apologized for overpowering her, suggested that she should be flattered and proposed that they get back together. Huh?

Granted, humans are infinitely complex, and consent and coercion represent two poles on a continuum that can fade into grays. We shouldn’t short-circuit the rights of men accused of misconduct, and frustratingly often it may be impossible to attain certainty beyond a reasonable doubt.

Yet let’s be real. The dominant problem is not an epidemic of men falsely accused of rape, but of women who endure sexual violence — including about one female college student in five, according to the White House.

One study published in 2002 found that about 90 percent of college rapes were committed by a tiny number of serial rapists.

So bravo to those speaking up, male and female alike. In Norman, Okla., high school students say that a male student raped several girls and distributed a pornographic video of one of them. Frustrated by what they saw as administration passivity, the students have been waging protests to educate school officials about right and wrong.

Sure, sexual violence may be embedded in parts of American culture, but, in my lifetime, we’ve changed other cultural norms. Drunken driving is no longer comical or silly, but repugnant. What will it take to get a serious response to all accusations of rape?

Last but not least here’s Ms. Collins:

This year, in a break from tradition, I am giving thanks for the House Intelligence Committee’s final report on Benghazi.

Also family and friends. But I give thanks for them every year. This is our first opportunity to be grateful for the House Intelligence Committee’s Benghazi report. So let’s jump at it.

Really, you don’t get good news like this all the time. The committee spent two years conducting a bipartisan investigation into the terrible night in 2012 when four Americans, including the Libyan ambassador, were killed in a violent attack on an American compound. It found that while mistakes were made, the Americans on the ground in Libya made reasonable decisions, as did the people trying to support them. The C.I.A. was brave and effective. Nobody in the White House thwarted a possible rescue or deliberately tried to mislead the public about what happened.

Whew. You can imagine the excitement when this report was unveiled. Or, actually, quietly posted on the committee’s website. On Friday evening. On the eve of a holiday week.

The Intelligence Committee is, of course, led by members of the Republican majority. The only time Republicans don’t talk about Benghazi, it turns out, is when they report about their findings.

The silence was pretty deafening. Except for Senator Lindsey Graham, who helpfully told CNN: “I think the report’s full of crap.” And Newt Gingrich, who theorized that the Intelligence Committee had been “co-opted by the C.I.A.”

Newt knows. (“I’ve talked to four different people who have a real interest in this topic at a professional level. They are appalled by this report.”)

There have always been two ways of looking at Benghazi. One is as a terrible loss that might have been mitigated if the diplomatic compounds had been better protected, and that the State Department needs to rethink its traditional bureaucratic approach to overseeing security. The other, far more exciting, possibility is that this is all about Obama-Clinton perfidy. Was there a team of potential rescuers who were kept away from the fray because the administration didn’t want to admit it had underestimated the terror threat in Libya? Representative Darrell Issa, chairman of the House Oversight Committee, confided at a Republican fund-raising dinner that he had “suspicions” that Hillary Clinton told then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta “to stand down.” The Intelligence Committee didn’t find any evidence whatsoever that that had occurred. But they were, you know, co-opted.

The committee and its staff spent what one Democratic member said was “thousands of hours” reading intelligence reports, cables and emails about the incident. It was a heck of a commitment. Although, to be fair, surely no more than the House Armed Services Committee, the House Foreign Affairs Committee, the Senate Intelligence Committee and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which have been looking into exactly the same events and coming up with pretty much the same conclusions.

Still to come: A special $3.3 million House Committee that Speaker John Boehner has created to pursue what Chairman Trey Gowdy of South Carolina says will be the “final, definitive accounting of the attack.” The effort is needed, Boehner said, because the “American people still have far too many questions” to let the inquiries drop now after nobody has had a chance to look into the matter except a special independent review board, the House Intelligence Committee, the House Armed Services Committee, the House Foreign Affairs Committee, the Senate Intelligence Committee and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

And then, of course, there’s the House Oversight Committee, under the irrepressible Representative Issa, which shows no sign of wrapping up its Benghazi investigations. Issa has already sent Gowdy a 37-page letter listing what he said were State Department efforts to obstruct his probes. But he’s required to step down as chairman at the end of the year, and his replacement, Jason Chaffetz of Utah, seems to be planning a less lively approach. The top Democrat on the committee, Elijah Cummings, said Chaffetz had shown “a sincere interest in working together,” as opposed to Issa’s sincere interest, at one point, in cutting off Cummings’s microphone at a public hearing.

We give thanks for all the congressional investigations into Benghazi. Who says Congress can’t reduce unemployment? In March, the Defense Department said that it had devoted “thousands of man-hours to responding to numerous and often repetitive congressional requests regarding Benghazi, which includes time devoted to approximately 50 congressional hearings, briefings and interviews” at a cost of “millions of dollars.”

Meanwhile, there are rumblings from some Senate Republicans that what the next Congress needs is a good joint House-Senate Benghazi investigation. On the other hand, the House Agricultural Committee seems to have no interest whatsoever in initiating a probe. For this, we are truly thankful.

Kristof and Nocera

November 22, 2014

Ms. Collins is off today.  In “Immigration Enriches You and Me” Mr. Kristof says immigration has not diminished our country, but hugely enriched it.  Mr. Nocera considers “Uber’s Rough Ride” and says the car-service app has engineering talent and business savvy. All it lacks is some grown-ups to manage it.  Here’s Mr. Kristof:

A book, “The Christian Examiner,” warns that “ill-clad and destitute” immigrants are “repulsive to our habits and our tastes.”

A former mayor of New York City cautions that they bring disease, “wretchedness and want” to America. And Harper’s Weekly despairs that these immigrants are “steeped in ignorance” and account for a disproportionate share of criminals.

Boy, those foreigners were threatening — back in the mid-1800s when those statements were made about Irish immigrants.

Once again, the United States is split by vitriolic debates about how to handle immigrants, following President Obama’s executive action to shield millions of undocumented immigrants from deportation. To me, the outrage seems driven by three myths:

Immigrants threaten our way of life.

Many Americans see foreigners moving into their towns, see signs in Spanish, and fret about changes to the traditional fabric of society.

That’s an echo of the anxiety Theodore Roosevelt felt in 1918 when, referring to German and other non-Anglo European immigrants, he declared, “Every immigrant who comes here should be required within five years to learn English or leave the country.” That’s an echo of the “yellow peril” scares about Chinese and Japanese immigrants.

It’s true that undocumented immigrants may lower wages in some sectors, harming low-skilled native-born Americans who compete with them. One study suggests that a 10 percent increase in the size of a skill group lowers the wages of blacks in that group by 2.5 percent.

Yet just look around. Immigration has hugely enriched our country. For starters, unless you are a full-blooded American Indian, we have you.

Nations, like carpets, benefit from multiple kinds of threads, and Tony Blair, the former British prime minister, was right: “It is a good rule of thumb to ask of a country: Are people trying to get into it or out of it?”

Immigrants today are different because they’re illegals. They’re parasites.

Look, people aren’t legal or illegal, behaviors are. If an investment banker is convicted of insider trading, he doesn’t become an illegal. So let’s refer not to “illegal immigrants” but to “undocumented immigrants.”

They have contributed $100 billion to Social Security over a decade without any intention of collecting benefits, thus shoring up the system, according to Stephen C. Goss, the chief actuary for the Social Security Administration.

At the state and local level, households headed by unauthorized immigrants paid another $11 billion in taxes in 2010 alone.

If these migrants are given work permits and brought into the system, they will contribute $45 billion over five years in payroll taxes to the United States economy, according to the Center for American Progress.

Parasites? No, they’re assets.

Immigration reform is an unconstitutional power grab by a dictator.

Senator Ted Cruz compared Obama’s executive action to the Catiline conspirators seeking to overthrow the Roman Republic. House Speaker John Boehner suggested that it was the action of an “emperor.”

Look, I’ve reported in many dictatorships (and been detained in some of them). And Obama is no dictator.

It’s difficult for me to judge the legality of Obama’s executive action, because I’m not an expert on legal issues like prosecutorial discretion. But neither are critics furious at Obama. We have a broken, byzantine immigration system — anybody who deals with it is staggered by the chaos — because politicians are too craven to reform it. At least Obama is attempting to modernize it.

Yes, it’s troubling that Obama previously argued he didn’t have this authority. Yes, his executive action is on a huge scale — but it is not entirely new. Obama’s action affects 45 percent of undocumented immigrants, compared to the 40 percent affected by President George H.W. Bush’s in 1990. Let’s leave the legal dispute for the experts to resolve.

I see a different hypocrisy in Obama’s action. He spoke eloquently Thursday evening about the need to treat migrants humanely — and yet this is the “deporter in chief” who has deported more immigrants than any of his predecessors. We as taxpayers have spent vast sums breaking up families and incarcerating honest men and women who just want to work. By a 2011 estimate, more than 5,000 children who are United States citizens are with foster families because their parents have been detained or deported.

We need empathy, and humility. My father, a refugee from Eastern Europe, was preparing a fraudulent marriage to an American citizen as a route to this country when he was sponsored, making fraud unnecessary. My wife’s grandfather bought papers from another Chinese villager to be able to come to the United States.

So remember: What most defines the 11 million undocumented immigrants in America is not illegality but undaunted courage and ambition for a better life. What separates their families from most of ours is simply the passage of time — and the lottery of birth.

And now here’s Mr. Nocera:

The Uber app is a thing of beauty.

You click a button, and it immediately shows you your location. You hit another button, and it tells you how quickly an Uber car will arrive to take you where you want to go. If you want a ride during a heavy commuter time, it will charge you more — surge pricing, as they call it at Uber — but you’ll know in advance how much extra, and you’ll be given a chance to decide whether to accept or not. On the app, you can keep track of the car that is coming to get you. Sure enough, the car arrives, you hop in and off you go. The fare is charged via the app, so no cash changes hands between the driver and the customer.

Uber does what the best Internet companies do. It disrupts a business model that has existed for a very long time. In the case of Uber, that industry is the taxi business, which, almost everywhere, is highly regulated. Taxi drivers hate Uber. In many cities, they protest against it — or fight it in court. In some cities, a service like Uber’s is against the law.

But, if you live in a place like New York City, Uber is a godsend. It is nearly impossible to get a cab in Manhattan when it is raining, or during the “shift change” that starts at around 4 o’clock or 5 o’clock in the afternoon, right when people are getting out of work and need a taxi most. There are only 14,000 or so yellow cabs in Manhattan, which is not nearly enough. Thanks to Uber, getting a ride someplace is much easier than it was before the company arrived on the scene.

What’s more, unlike many start-ups, Uber appears to be a pretty well-run company. Though it is now five years old, it is already in more than 200 cities. It dominates the rival car services like Lyft. And it has a valuation of around $17 billion.

So how does all of that — the cleverness to come up with the idea, the skill to create the company, the discipline to make it work — square with the portrait of Uber that has emerged this week? It appears to be a company run by juveniles.

On Monday, Ben Smith, the editor of Buzzfeed, published an article about a conversation he had had with Emil Michael, a top Uber executive, in which Michael suggested that Uber might do “opposition research” into the private lives of reporters, especially Sarah Lacy of Pando Daily, who has been a fierce critic of the company. Michael thought that he was speaking off the record, but even so. It’s the sort of revenge fantasy that one would expect a serious corporate executive to have outgrown.

The Buzzfeed article unleashed a torrent of other criticism about the company. Uber’s chief executive, Travis Kalanick, once told GQ magazine that the company should be called “Boober” because it made it so easy for him to get women. The company has reportedly run a dirty-tricks campaign against Lyft, including ordering rides that are then canceled, and trying to damage its ability to complete a round of financing. Uber has been rumored to track the rides of its customers, in violation of its own privacy rules. And so on. Peter Thiel, the well-known investor, has described Uber as the most “ethically challenged” company in Silicon Valley. (Thiel, it should be noted, has money in Lyft.)

Part of the problem is that, to an unusual degree, Uber has an “us-versus-them” mentality. That attitude manifests itself when the company is fighting taxi regulations or other obstacles the taxi establishment places in its path. But it also seeps into the way it views everyone it comes into contact with, including journalists.

But part of it is that there simply isn’t anybody in Silicon Valley willing to tell Uber’s principals to grow up. They have a hot company that is disrupting an outmoded industry — and, therefore, they are lionized, not matter how boorish their behavior. They are like the star football player at State U. who can get away with anything because he scores touchdowns on Saturday. Engineering talent and business savvy don’t necessarily impute maturity.

One of the smartest things Google’s founders did was hire Eric Schmidt, a technology veteran, to be the chief executive until one founder, Larry Page, felt he was ready to run the company. Ditto for Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s founder, who hired Sheryl Sandberg to give the company the ballast he wasn’t ready to provide.

Companies that never grow up tend to go the way of Groupon or MySpace, two now-faded comets. As good as Uber’s app is, there are limits to how much bad publicity it can absorb before it hurts the bottom line.

At Uber, the inmates are running the asylum. That needs to change, while there’s still time.

Blow, Kristof and Collins

November 20, 2014

In “The Solid South Will Rise Again” Mr. Blow points out the obvious:  The region has become so Republican, particularly since President Obama was elected, that there isn’t much left there for the Democrats to salvage.  Well, decades of tinkering with gerrymandered districts has helped too…  Mr. Kristof has a question:  “Do Politicians Love Kids?”  He says if American politicians are looking for a genuinely bipartisan issue to work together on, here’s a suggestion: invest in early education.  That’ll likely happen when pigs fly.  Ms. Collins, in “Tough Times for Penguins,” says that new era of bipartisan cooperation in Washington didn’t last long. Still, we’re doing better than the king penguins.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

Democrats have abandoned Senator Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, who is in a tough runoff election. (Tough is the mild way of putting it. Polls show her down by double digits to her Republican opponent.)

Not only has the Democratic Party pulled its financial support for her campaign, but this week Senate Democrats refused to rally around her push for passage of the Keystone XL pipeline bill.

Maybe Democrats are simply giving up on Landrieu. Or maybe it’s something bigger: They’re giving up on the South, at least in the short term.

This region has become so solidly Republican, particularly since President Obama was elected, that there isn’t much left there for the Democratic Party to defend or salvage. For instance, prior to the 2010 midterms there were 54 Blue Dog Democrats in Congress. In the outgoing Congress, there are only 19 left, including eight from the South.

And Republican gerrymandering has further weakened Democratic power, even when Democrats vote in high numbers. As Lee Fang wrote this month at Republic Report, “Republican gerrymandering means Democratic voters are packed tightly into single districts, while Republicans are spread out in such a way to translate into the most congressional seats for the G.O.P.”

After the midterms, The Associated Press provided this tally:

“In January, the G.O.P. will control every governor’s office, two U.S. Senate seats, nearly every majority-white congressional district and both state legislative chambers in North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, Mississippi, Arkansas and Texas.”

It is important and relevant that The Associated Press pointed out the racial dichotomy because, in the South, ideology and racial identity are nearly inseparable.

I’m reminded of the story that one of my brothers told about being transferred along with a white co-worker to Mississippi. He and the co-worker were shopping for homes at the same time. The co-worker was aghast at what he saw as redlining on the part of the real estate agent, who never explicitly mentioned race. When the coworker had inquired about a neighborhood that included black homeowners, the agent responded, “You don’t want to live there. That’s where the Democrats live.” The co-worker was convinced that “Democrats” was code for “black.”

He may well have been right. Mississippi is among the most racially bifurcated states politically, with one of the highest percentage of black voters in the country. In 2012, 96 percent of blacks voted for the Democratic presidential ticket, according to exit polling data, while 89 percent of whites voted for the Republican ticket.

Landrieu’s Louisiana isn’t much different. In 2012, Obama won only 10 of the state’s 64 parishes. Most of the 10 had a majority-black population, and the rest had black populations approaching 50 percent. Earlier this month, Landrieu got 94 percent of the black vote but only 18 percent of the white vote.

Pat Buchanan has echoed The Associated Press in his assessment of the near complete political and racial divide in the South, writing last week, “South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Arkansas will not send a single white Democrat to Congress, if Mary Landrieu loses her runoff. The only Democrats in the House from Deep South states will be African-Americans.”

As Gallup pointed out in March, “Whites have become increasingly Republican, moving from an average 4.1-point Republican advantage under Clinton to an average 9.5-point advantage under Obama.”

And this increasingly homogenous Southern delegation is likely to wield increased influence, as The Associated Press points out:

“In Washington, Senate Republicans haven’t parceled out leadership assignments, but Southerners figure prominently among would-be major committee chairmen: Mississippi’s Thad Cochran (Appropriations); Alabama’s Jeff Sessions (Budget) and Richard Shelby of Alabama (Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs); Bob Corker of Tennessee (Foreign Relations); Richard Burr of North Carolina (Intelligence); Lamar Alexander of Tennessee (Health, Education, Labor and Pensions); Johnny Isakson of Georgia (Veterans Affairs).”

Furthermore, many of the likely most talked about Republican presidential candidates are from the South: Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz, Bobby Jindal, Rand Paul, Rick Perry, Marco Rubio and Mike Huckabee.

The degree to which the South remains solidly Republican may well depend on the changing racial composition of Southern states, specifically a rise in their non-white population.

According to the Census Bureau, six of the 10 states with the largest “black alone-or-in-combination populations” in 2010 were Southern states: Florida, Texas, Georgia, North Carolina, Maryland and Virginia. And the four that experienced substantial growth between 2000 and 2010 in their black alone-or-in-combination populations were all Southern: “Florida grew by 29 percent, Georgia by 28 percent, Texas by 27 percent and North Carolina by 21 percent.”

In addition, as the Pew Research Center’s Hispanic Trends Project pointed out last year, nine of the 10 states with the fastest-growing Hispanic populations were also in the South: Alabama, South Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, Arkansas, North Carolina, Mississippi, Maryland and Georgia.

This regional hyper-racialization of our politics has many origins, some historical and some current, but it does not bode well for the future of the country as a whole.

We are self-sorting ourselves into hardened, impenetrable citadels of ideological sameness that harks back to the nation’s darker days.

You’ll notice that there’s not a word about Howard Dean and his 50 State Strategy, you know, the strategy that was actually working until Dean was kicked to the curb…  Here’s Mr. Kristof:

We Americans love children.

Indeed, we love them so much that, on average, child care workers earn almost as much per hour ($10.33) as workers who care for animals ($10.82), according to a new study from the University of California, Berkeley.

We love them so much that only 38 percent of American 3-year-olds are enrolled in education programs. The average is 70 percent among the 34 industrialized countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

So if politicians are genuinely looking for a bipartisan issue to break through the Washington gridlock, here’s a suggestion: invest in early education.

A poll over the summer found that 71 percent of voters supported a major federal investment in early education, including huge majorities of Democrats, Republicans and independents alike. Leaders in doing this have been tinted both blue (New York City) and red (the State of Oklahoma) — as well as camouflage green (the United States military has an excellent preschool program). Jim Messina, the campaign manager for President Obama in 2012, and Kevin Madden, a senior adviser to Mitt Romney’s rival campaign that year, this month wrote a joint memo advocating that both parties back investments in early education.

“Perhaps the biggest political opportunity for both parties lies in the nonpartisan issue of early childhood education,” Messina and Madden wrote.

Early education is the low-hanging fruit of public policy. It has the approval in principle of both President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner, and abundant research suggests that early help for disadvantaged children could chip away at inequality, save public money and help those children reach the starting line.

I dropped in the other day on James Heckman, an owlish University of Chicago professor and Nobel Prize-winning economist who is the leading scholarly advocate of early interventions. He’s a numbers geek who advocates investing in early childhood programs simply because that is where society gets the most bang for the buck — returns of 7 percent to 10 percent per year, by his calculations.

Heckman argues that the cheapest way to reduce crime is to invest in early childhood programs for at-risk kids. He has crunched the numbers and found that to get the same reduction in crime by adding police officers would cost at least five times as much.

At 70 and showing no signs of slowing down, Heckman co-authored two major studies published in Science this year that underscored that the real question isn’t whether we can afford early education initiatives, but whether we can afford not to provide them:

• One follow-up found that adults who, as disadvantaged children, had been randomly assigned to attend an excellent preschool were much healthier than those who had been randomly assigned to the control group.

Now in their mid-30s, the men who had gone to the preschool had average blood pressure of 126 over 79; the controls were a much more worrisome 143 over 92. Those men who had attended the preschool were less than one-third as likely to be severely obese. Because they were also doing better in life, those preschool graduates were far more likely to have health insurance.

• Another follow-up looked at adults in Jamaica who 20 years earlier had been growth-stunted toddlers. At that time, some had been assigned to a control group and some to get a weekly one-hour visit from a health aide who coached parents on doing more to engage their children. Again, the results were stunning. Those who as children had been in the group getting the weekly visits were less likely to commit violent crimes than those in the control group. They stayed in school longer, and they earned 25 percent more as adults.

“It blew me away,” Heckman said of the Jamaica study. What was remarkable was how simple and low-cost the assistance was — a one-hour weekly visit by a health aide — yet it changed the lives of the children who participated.

“Early education” isn’t just about pre-K but rather an umbrella term for all interventions between pregnancy and age 5. Some of the most effective seem to occur during pregnancy and infancy, counseling at-risk women not to drink, smoke or take drugs while expecting, and then after birth, helping them breast-feed and read to the child, while avoiding lead paint and other toxins.

Why are these early interventions so effective? Apparently because the first few years are the window when the brain is forming and when basic skills like self-control and grit are developed.

Washington will probably be a discouraging gridlocked mess for the next couple of years. But here’s a rare issue where it’s just conceivable that we could make progress and build a stronger and more equitable future for our nation.

If our politicians really do love children, here’s a way to prove it.

The love the IDEA of children, not the messy, needy little creatures themselves.  Here’s Ms. Collins:

Scientists say that fur seals in the Antarctic are having sex with the penguins.

This may have been going on for some time. A South African research team has published a paper on it, “Multiple Occurrences of King Penguin Sexual Harassment by Antarctic Fur Seals.” There’s also a video featuring a rather large seal and a really unhappy looking bird.

“This may be an emergent behavior,” the team wrote ominously.

I am bringing you this disturbing news because it may make you feel better about politics, Congress, and the general state of the nation. True, virtually everything that’s happened since the election suggests things are going to get worse rather than better. But hey, at least we’re not being governed by seals.

All this brings us to Washington, where congressional leaders from both parties have been making copious promises about seeking common ground. Generally, the specifics end with some vague reference to doing “tax reform.”

“Reagan and Tip O’Neill saved Social Security for a generation, did the last comprehensive tax reform. We need to do that again,” said Mitch McConnell, the next Senate majority leader, in his paean to bipartisan cooperation.

Reagan and Tip O’Neill agreed to the largest peacetime tax increase in American history. Do you think that’s what McConnell has in mind? Otherwise, one is forced to consider the possibility that he is making things up. The Democrats and Republicans are definitely in accord about the need for tax reform. However, given the fact that they disagree completely about what that reform should entail, chances of progress do not seem great.

But maybe wishing can make it so. Even as young fur seals are apparently compensating for the shortage of mating partners by looking at a king penguin and imagining that it is a female seal.

On Thursday, President Obama is expected to announce he’s protecting millions of undocumented immigrants from deportation through use of his executive power. And that will probably be the end of the talk of amity. The Republicans feel that if Obama usurps the congressional prerogative to make immigration policy, he will have poisoned the well, waved the red flag and generally ruined all the possibility for a new era of cooperation. They were saying that all this week, as they worked feverishly to pass a bill that would override the executive branch’s power to grant permits for projects that cross the national border.

That would be the Keystone pipeline bill. It failed when Senate supporters fell one vote short of the 60 needed to stop a Democratic filibuster. This happened on the same day that a bill to get the federal government out of the business of collecting citizens’ phone records died in a Republican filibuster.

Yes, people, both parties did it. However, since the Republicans are the ones promising to usher in a new order, we are going to pay special attention to them.

“I thought we had a new day coming, when McConnell said he wanted to go back to the regular order of having votes, and amendments and all,” said Patrick Leahy, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. This was in a phone interview, so it was hard to determine conclusively whether Leahy was being somewhat wry. “He said the next few weeks would set a positive tone for Congress.”

Leahy’s bill, the USA Freedom Act, was a response to the Edward Snowden leaks, particularly the revelation that the federal government is stockpiling everybody’s phone records. It was the bipartisan product of six public hearings and painful negotiations that attracted the support of über-conservative senators like Ted Cruz of Texas and Mike Lee of Utah. One of its major features was a requirement that the call records stay with the phone companies. The National Security Agency could retrieve them, but it would have to be specific about whose calls were being traced and why they were needed.

McConnell led the battle to keep the status quo. (“This is the worst possible time to be tying our hands behind our backs.”) During the debate, after the minority leader finished his remarks, Leahy asked if he would respond to a few questions, but McConnell was already on his way out of the room. “He said: ‘I’m sorry but I don’t have time.’ In 40 years I’d never seen anybody do that,” Leahy said.

Well, McConnell had been through a lot. The run-up to the debate on Leahy’s bill was a preview of what the new Senate will have in store as it attempts to operate with a trio of young presidential hopefuls in its ranks. Ted Cruz liked the bill and mentioned the Bill of Rights repeatedly. Marco Rubio of Florida hated the bill and summoned up the terror of terror. Rand Paul, that celebrated libertarian, attempted to have it all by announcing that he was voting with McConnell against the bill because it wasn’t strong enough. But he did say he felt bad about it.

At least the seals never promised the penguins it’d be a new tomorrow.

The Pasty Little Putz, Friedman, Kristof and Bruni

November 16, 2014

In “The Great Immigration Betrayal” The Putz whines that using executive authority to protect millions of people from deportation is a dangerous idea.  The Moustache of Wisdom asks “Who Are We?” and says ISIS forces a painful look in the mirror for Arab Muslims.  Mr. Kristof continues his series, with “When Whites Just Don’t Get It, Part 4.”  He says in this installment in a series on race he’s responding to a common refrain that, where the history of slavery and racism is concerned, it’s time to move on.  Mr. Bruni addresses “The Fable of Rand Paul” and tells us that he has captured the media’s imagination, but that he’s unlikely to capture the Republican nomination.  Here’s The Putz:

In the months since President Obama first seem poised — as he now seems poised again — to issue a sweeping executive amnesty for millions of illegal immigrants, we’ve learned two important things about how this administration approaches its constitutional obligations.

First, we now have a clear sense of the legal arguments that will be used to justify the kind of move Obama himself previously described as a betrayal of our political order. They are, as expected, lawyerly in the worst sense, persuasive only if abstracted from any sense of precedent or proportion or political normality.

Second, we now have a clearer sense of just how anti-democratically this president may be willing to proceed.

The legal issues first. The White House’s case is straightforward: It has “prosecutorial discretion” in which illegal immigrants it deports, it has precedent-grounded power to protect particular groups from deportation, and it has statutory authority to grant work permits to those protected. Therefore, there can be no legal bar to applying discretion, granting protections and issuing work permits to roughly half the illegal-immigrant population.

The reality is there is no agreed-upon limit to the scope of prosecutorial discretion in immigration law because no president has attempted anything remotely like what Obama is contemplating. In past cases, presidents used the powers he’s invoking to grant work permits to modest, clearly defined populations facing some obvious impediment (war, persecution, natural disaster) to returning home. None of those moves even approached this plan’s scale, none attempted to transform a major public policy debate, and none were deployed as blackmail against a Congress unwilling to work the president’s will.

And none of them had major applications outside immigration law. No defender of Obama’s proposed move has successfully explained why it wouldn’t be a model for a future president interested in unilateral rewrites of other areas of public policy (the tax code, for instance) where sweeping applications of “discretion” could achieve partisan victories by fiat. No liberal has persuasively explained how, after spending the last Republican administration complaining about presidential “signing statements,” it makes sense for the left to begin applying Cheneyite theories of executive power on domestic policy debates.

Especially debates in which the executive branch is effectively acting in direct defiance of the electoral process. This is where the administration has entered extraordinarily brazen territory, since part of its original case for taking these steps was that they supposedly serve the public will, which only yahoos and congressional Republicans oppose.

This argument was specious before; now it looks ridiculous. The election just past was not, of course, a formal referendum on the president’s proposed amnesty, but it was conducted with the promise of unilateral action in the background, and with immigration as one of the more hotly debated issues. The result was a devastating defeat for Obama and his party, and most polling on unilateral action is pretty terrible for the president.

So there is no public will at work here. There is only the will to power of this White House.

Which is why the thinking liberal’s move, if this action goes forward, will be to invoke structural forces, flaws inherent in our constitutional order, to justify Obama’s unilateralism. This won’t be a completely fallacious argument: Presidential systems like ours have a long record, especially in Latin America, of producing standoffs between executive and legislative branches, which tends to make executive power grabs more likely. In the United States this tendency has been less dangerous — our imperial presidency has grown on us gradually; the worst overreaches have often been rolled back. But we do seem to be in an era whose various forces — our open-ended post-9/11 wars, the ideological uniformity of the parties — are making a kind of creeping caudillismo more likely.

But if that evil must come, woe to the president who chooses it. And make no mistake, the president is free to choose. No immediate crisis forces his hand; no doom awaits the country if he waits. He once campaigned on constitutionalism and executive restraint; he once abjured exactly this power. There is still time for him to respect the limits of his office, the lines of authority established by the Constitution, the outcome of the last election.

Or he can choose the power grab, and the accompanying disgrace.

He really should be writing for NRO…  Here’s The Moustache of Wisdom, writing from Dubai, United Arab Emirates:

The 9/11 suicide attack, spearheaded by 19, mostly Saudi, young men in the name of Islam, ignited a debate in the Sunni Arab world about religion and how their societies could have produced such suicidal fanatics. But it was quickly choked off by denial, and by America’s failed invasion of Iraq. Well, conversations here in Dubai, one of the great Arab/Muslim crossroads, make it clear that the rise of the Islamic State “caliphate” in Iraq and Syria, and its barbaric treatment of those who are against them — moderate Sunnis or Shiites, Christians, other minorities and women — has revived this central debate about “who are we?”

Why? Because the Islamic State, or ISIS, is homegrown; its aim is not to strike at enemies far away, but to spread and impose its vision of an Islamic society right here and right now; it’s attracting Muslim youths from all over, including the West; its ideology is a violent mutation of the puritanical, nonpluralistic, Wahhabi Islam, the dominant trend in Saudi Arabia, and it is being beamed via Twitter and Facebook — parents here know — directly to their kids. That’s why it’s forcing an inescapable and painful look in the mirror.

“We can’t avoid this fight any longer — we’re on a train heading for a cliff,” said Abdullah Hamidaddin, an adviser to the Dubai-based Al-Mesbar Studies & Research Center, which tracks Islamist movements and works to promote a more pluralistic culture. What is most striking, though, is how much Al-Mesbar sees ISIS not as just a religious problem that has to be combated with a more inclusive Islamic narrative but as the product of all the problems ailing this region at once: underdevelopment, sectarianism, lagging education, sexual repression, lack of respect for women and lack of pluralism in all intellectual thought.

Rasha al-Aqeedi is an Iraqi editor from Mosul working at Al-Mesbar. She has stayed in touch with people in Mosul since ISIS took over. “What is happening,” she told me, is that the Sunni Muslim population of Mosul “has now awakened from the shock. Before, people would say, ‘Islam is perfect and [the outside world] is after us and hates us.’ Now people are starting to read the books that ISIS is based on. I hear from people in Mosul who say, ‘I am considering becoming an atheist.’ ”

She added: When a young man who has not passed the sixth grade joins ISIS and then “comes and tells a teacher at the university what he must teach and that he must wear a long gown, you can imagine the shock. I hear people saying: ‘I am not going to the mosque and pray as long as they are here. They don’t represent Islam. They represent the old Islam that never changed.’ ”

Besides the religious zealots in ISIS, you also find many adventurers and impoverished youths attracted to ISIS simply to be able to lord it over others. Many of the Sunnis who rushed to join ISIS in Mosul came from the much poorer town nearby, Tel Afar, whose citizens were always looked down upon by Mosul Sunnis.

“You see these boys [from Tel Afar]. They smoke. They drink. They have tattoos,” said Aqeedi. One of them who joined ISIS came up to someone I know who already covers her head with a hijab — but not her face — and he told her to put on a burqa and cover everything. He told her, ‘If you don’t wear a burqa, I will make sure one of the rural women, who people like you ridiculed your whole life, will come and give you a beating.’ ” This was about who has power — radical Islam was just the cover.

“People are attracted to moderate religion because they are moderates to begin with,” argues Hamidaddin. “People are attracted to extreme black-and-white religious ideologies” because the warped social and economic context they live in produces an attraction to holistic black-and-white solutions.” (It is one reason Pakistani Muslims tend to be more radical than Indian Muslims.)

Yes, religious reform would help, added Hamidaddin. But “it was the complete deterioration of the economic, security and political situation [in Iraq and Syria] that demanded a clear black-and-white interpretation of the world. It takes the right [government] policies to counteract that.”

Maqsoud Kruse runs the Hedayah International Center to counter violent extremism, which is hosted by the United Arab Emirates. He’s concluded that beating back “ISIS-ism” will require a long-term investment to empower and educate Arab citizens to compete and thrive in modernity. Only people here can do that because it’s a challenge of governing, educating and parenting.

“That suicide bomber can decide not to push the button, and our job is to understand how we can help him decide not to push the button, to make him or her aware, conscious and rational, rather than be swept along,” said Kruse. “It is all about how we equip and support our youth and prevent them from being someone who says, ‘I have the truth.’ ” We need them to have “the ability to deconstruct ideas and be immune and self-resilient” to extremism. It is all about, “how we get them to pause and think” — before they act.

Now we get to Mr. Kristof:

When I write about racial inequality in America, one common response from whites is eye-rolling and an emphatic: It’s time to move on.

“As whites, are we doomed to an eternity of apology?” Neil tweeted at me. “When does individual responsibility kick in?”

Terry asked on my Facebook page: “Why are we still being held to actions that took place long ago?”

“How long am I supposed to feel guilty about being white? I bust my hump at work and refrain from living a thug life,” Bradley chimed in. “America is about personal responsibility. … And really, get past the slavery issue.”

This is the fourth installment in a series of columns I’ve written this year, “When Whites Just Don’t Get It,” and plenty of white readers have responded with anger and frustration at what they see as the “blame game” on race. They acknowledge a horrific history of racial discrimination but also say that we should look forward, not backward. The Supreme Court seems to share this view as it dismantles civil-rights-era rulings on voting rights.

As Dina puts it: “I am tired of the race conversation. It has exasperated me. Just stop. In so many industries, the racial ceiling has been shattered. Our president is black. From that moment on, there were no more excuses.”

If only it were so simple!

Of course, personal responsibility is an issue. Orlando Patterson, the eminent black sociologist, notes in a forthcoming book that 92 percent of black youths agree that it is a “big problem” that black males are “not taking education seriously enough.” And 88 percent agree that it’s a big problem that they are “not being responsible fathers.” That’s why President Obama started “My Brother’s Keeper,” to cultivate more prudent behavior among men and boys of color.

But we in white society should be equally ready to shoulder responsibility. In past articles in this series, I’ve looked at black/white economic inequality that is greater in America today than it was in apartheid South Africa, at ongoing discrimination against African-Americans in the labor market and at systematic bias in law enforcement. But these conversations run into a wall: the presumption on the part of so many well-meaning white Americans that racism is a historical artifact. They don’t appreciate the overwhelming evidence that centuries of racial subjugation still shape inequity in the 21st century.

Indeed, a wave of research over the last 20 years has documented the lingering effects of slavery in the United States and South America alike. For example, counties in America that had a higher proportion of slaves in 1860 are still more unequal today, according to a scholarly paper published in 2010. The authors called this a “persistent effect of slavery.”

One reason seems to be that areas with slave labor were ruled for the benefit of elite plantation owners. Public schools, libraries and legal institutions lagged, holding back working-class whites as well as blacks.

Whites often don’t realize that slavery didn’t truly end until long after the Civil War. Douglas Blackmon won a Pulitzer Prize for his devastating history, “Slavery by Another Name,” that recounted how U.S. Steel and other American corporations used black slave labor well into the 20th century, through “convict leasing.” Blacks would be arrested for made-up offenses such as “vagrancy” and then would be leased to companies as slave laborers.

Job and housing discrimination also systematically prevented blacks from accumulating wealth. The Federal Housing Administration and other initiatives greatly expanded home ownership and the middle class but deliberately excluded blacks.

That’s one reason why black families have, on average, only about 6 percent as much wealth as white households, why only 44 percent of black families own a home compared with 73 percent for white households.

The inequality continues, particularly in education. De jure segregated schools have been replaced in some areas by de facto segregation.

Those of us who are white have a remarkable capacity for delusions. A majority of whites have said in opinion polls that blacks earn as much as whites and are as healthy as whites. In fact, black median household income is $34,598, compared with $58,270 for non-Hispanic whites, according to census data. Black life expectancy is four years shorter than that of whites.

Granted, race is just one thread in a tapestry. The daughters of President and Michelle Obama shouldn’t enjoy affirmative action preference (as their dad has acknowledged), while disadvantaged white kids should.

Yet one element of white privilege today is obliviousness to privilege, including a blithe disregard of the way past subjugation shapes present disadvantage.

I’ve been on a book tour lately. By coincidence, so has one of my Times Op-Ed columnist colleagues, Charles Blow, who is African-American and the author of a powerful memoir, “Fire Shut Up in My Bones.” I grew up in a solid middle-class household; Charles was primarily raised by a single mom who initially worked plucking poultry in a factory, and also, for a while, by a grandma in a house with no plumbing.

That Charles has become a New York Times columnist does not mean that blacks and whites today have equal access to opportunity, just that some talented and driven blacks manage to overcome the long odds against them. Make no mistake: Charles had to climb a higher mountain than I did.

WE all stand on the shoulders of our ancestors. We’re in a relay race, relying on the financial and human capital of our parents and grandparents. Blacks were shackled for the early part of that relay race, and although many of the fetters have come off, whites have developed a huge lead. Do we ignore this long head start — a facet of white privilege — and pretend that the competition is now fair?

Of course not. If we whites are ahead in the relay race of life, shouldn’t we acknowledge that we got this lead in part by generations of oppression? Aren’t we big enough to make amends by trying to spread opportunity, by providing disadvantaged black kids an education as good as the one afforded privileged white kids?

Can’t we at least acknowledge that in the case of race, William Faulkner was right: “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

And last but not least we get to Mr. Bruni:

“The most interesting man in politics” is what Politico Magazine crowned Rand Paul in September, when it placed him at the top of a list of 50 people to keep an eye on. And Time magazine used those exact six words, in that exact order, next to a photograph of Paul on its cover last month.

The adjective bears notice. Interesting. Not powerful. Not popular. Not even influential.

They’re saying that he’s a great character.

And that’s not the same as a great candidate.

You could easily lose sight of that, given the bonanza of media coverage that he has received, much of it over the past week and a half, as journalists eagerly slough off the midterms, exuberantly handicap the coming presidential race and no longer digress to apologize for getting into the game too soon. The game’s on, folks. From here forward, it’s all 2016 all the time.

And in order to keep the story varied and vivid, those of us chronicling it will insist on stocking it with players who break the rules and the mold, who present the possibility of twists and surprises, whose surnames aren’t Bush or Clinton, whose faces are somewhat fresh.

Cue Rand Paul. He gives good narrative.

He’s an ophthalmologist who never held office before his successful 2010 Senate race. He’s got that sporadically kooky dad. He’s a dove in a party aflutter with hawks. And he’s a gleeful nuisance, which he demonstrated when he commandeered the Senate floor for nearly 13 hours and filled Ted Cruz with filibuster envy.

All of that has made him a media sensation. But none of it would necessarily serve a quest for the Republican presidential nomination. At this point Paul is as much a political fable as a political reality, and his supposed strengths — a libertarian streak that appeals to some young people, an apparent comfort with reaching out to minorities and expanding the Republican base — pale beside his weaknesses. They’re many.

And they’re potentially ruinous.

The dovish statements and reputation are no small hurdle. No Republican nominee in recent decades has had a perspective on foreign policy and military intervention quite like Paul’s, and there’s little evidence that the party’s establishment or a majority of its voters would endorse it.

Nor is there any compelling sign that the party is moving in his direction. In the wake of Russia’s provocations and Islamic militants’ butchery, Americans just elected a raft of new Republican senators — including the military veterans Tom Cotton in Arkansas, Joni Ernst in Iowa and Dan Sullivan in Alaska — who are more aligned with John McCain’s worldview than with Paul’s, and that raises serious questions about the currency of his ideas and his ability to promote them. He gets attention. But does he have any real sway?

He himself seems to doubt some of his positions and has managed in his four short years in the Senate to flip and flop enough to give opponents a storehouse of ammunition.

Adopting a stark, absolutist stance, he initially said that he opposed all foreign aid. Then he carved out an exception for Israel.

First he expressed grave skepticism about taking on the Islamic State. Then he blasted President Obama for not taking it on forcefully enough.

His language about Russia went from pacific to truculent. His distaste for Medicare went from robust to tentative.

These adjustments suggest not just political calculation but, in some instances, amateurism. He’s a work in remarkably clumsy progress, with glimmers of recklessness and arrogance, and he often seems woefully unprepared for the national stage.

THE most striking example was his assertion in an interview with Olivia Nuzzi of The Daily Beast in September that John McCain had met and been photographed with members of the Islamic State. Paul was parroting a patently suspicious story that had pinged around the Internet, and the problem wasn’t simply that he accepted it at face value. He failed to notice that it had been thoroughly debunked, including in The Times.

At best he looked foolish. At worst he looked like someone “too easily captivated by the kinds of outlandish conspiracy theories that excite many of his and his father’s supporters,” as Mark Salter, a longtime McCain aide, wrote on the Real Clear Politics website.

Paul can be prickly and defensive to an inappropriate, counterproductive degree, as he was when dealing with accusations last year that he had used plagiarized material in speeches, an opinion article and a book.

In a story in The Times by Jim Rutenberg and Ashley Parker, Paul conceded “mistakes” of inadequate attribution. But he hardly sounded contrite. He lashed out at the people who had exposed the problem, grousing, “This is coming from haters.” And in promising to have his aides use footnotes in future materials, he said, “What we are going to do from here forward, if it will make people leave me the hell alone, is we’re going to do them like college papers.”

People are not going to leave him the hell alone, not when he’s being tagged in some quarters as the Republican front-runner, and his struggle to make peace with that is another liability.

But why the front-runner designation in the first place?

In an ABC News/Washington Post poll last month, 21 percent of voters who lean Republican named Mitt Romney as their preferred candidate in a primary or caucus, while 11 percent named Jeb Bush, 9 percent Mike Huckabee and 9 percent Paul. Two other national polls don’t show any growth in support for Paul over the course of 2014, despite all the coverage of him.

In one survey of Iowa Republicans in October, he trailed not only Huckabee and Paul Ryan but also Ben Carson, the neurosurgeon. And in a survey of New Hampshire Republicans, he trailed not only Huckabee and Bush but also Chris Christie.

What really distinguishes him, apart from some contrarian positions that are red meat for ravenous journalists, is that he’s been so obvious and unabashed about his potential interest in the presidency. He’s taken more pains than perhaps anyone other than Ted Cruz to get publicity. He’s had less competition for the Republican spotlight than he’ll have in the months to come.

And that’s given him a stature disproportionate to his likely fate. It has made him, in the words of a Washington Post headline last June, “the most interesting man in the (political) world.” There it is again, that one overused superlative. Makes you wonder if he’s less a thoroughbred with stamina than a one-adjective pony.

Well, Frank old boy, it will be “interesting” to see who the Teatards stuff into the 2016 Republican Clown Car…


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