In “The National Regulation-Resisters Association” Mr. Blow states the glaring, blindingly obvious: that the N.R.A. is in the business of unfettered gun proliferation as a means of increasing gun industry profit. Mr. Kristof would like us to “Meet the Champs.” He says our national high school chess champions are the unlikeliest bunch of middle schoolers. See what a little help can do for bright kids? Ms. Collins, in “Take a Bow, H.C.,” says after 956,733 miles and 570 airplane meals and 112 different countries and 1,700 meetings with world leaders, Hillary Clinton deserves a break. Or at least a nap. Here’s Mr. Blow:
Sometimes common sense isn’t a common trait.
Wayne LaPierre, the National Rifle Association’s executive vice president, is a shining example of this. He continues to voice resistance to even the most basic kinds of changes in existing gun policy, changes that almost all Americans support, changes that would have little impact on the rights and ability of sane, law-abiding citizens to purchase legal weapons.
First, some background.
The White House released its plan to reduce gun violence two weeks ago, a month after the horrific school shooting in Newtown, Conn.
The plan covered closing loopholes in the background check system, banning assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, as well as improving school safety and mental health services.
Public opinion polls suggested that people generally supported the president’s plan.
A Gallup poll conducted the day after the president presented his plan found that 53 percent of Americans would want their representatives in Congress to vote for it.
An ABC/Washington Post poll last week found that 53 percent of Americans favored it.
And a Pew Research Center poll last week found that a majority of Americans thought the plan was about right or didn’t go far enough. Only 31 percent thought that it went too far.
In fact, one of the greatest points of agreement among Americans is the need for universal background checks, as the president proposed.
A Gallup poll released last week found that 91 percent of Americans would vote to “require criminal background checks for all gun sales” if they could.
From a public relations perspective, trying to find some common ground on this issue with the public would seem a no-brainer. Not so for the No Brain-ers.
On Wednesday, at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on gun violence, LaPierre, as is his wont, gave a rambling, twisted argument against, that’s right, universal background checks.
“My problem with background checks is you are never going to get criminals to go through universal background checks. All the law-abiding people, you’ll create an enormous federal bureaucracy, unfunded, hitting all the little people in the country, will have to go through it, pay the fees, pay the taxes.”
“We don’t even prosecute anybody right now that goes through the system we have. So, we’re going to make all those law-abiding people go through the system and then we aren’t going to prosecute any of the bad guys if they do catch one. ”
So LaPierre’s argument, if I can follow this spiral of spuriousness, is that if we don’t prosecute “bad guys,” then there is no use in checking buyers in the first place so that “bad guys” could be identified and prevented from making the purchases. As best I can tell that seems to be it, and if that is it then I say: you can’t be serious.
Senator Dick Durbin, a Democrat from Illinois, shot back:
“Mr. LaPierre, that’s the point. The criminals won’t go to purchase the guns because there’ll be a background check. We’ll stop them from original purchase. You missed that point completely. It’s basic.”
The room erupted in applause.
Universal background checks would seem a basic and exceedingly reasonable proposal. I would add that there should also be universal prosecutions for being intentionally misleading during those checks. But LaPierre is a different kind of person. His interests are not the same as most Americans’. His organization and the majority of so-called “pro gun rights” groups are in the business of unfettered gun proliferation as a means of increasing gun industry profit.
This is about money, pure and simple.
Wednesday morning, before LaPierre’s testimony, the Republican Joe Scarborough of MSNBC said on his show:
“You know what the greatest danger to that Second Amendment right and that guarantee is right now? Extremism from the survivalist wing of the N.R.A. that impacts Republicans’ policies nationwide and moves the Republican Party so far away from mainstream America that they lose the House, they lose the Senate again in ’14, and they lose the presidency again. And the next president will be Democratic.”
I would have to agree with that.
LaPierre is fanning paranoia because it helps grow the N.R.A.’s membership rolls and helps the N.R.A.’s friends and benefactors in the gun industry. And the N.R.A. uses its war chest to scare cowering politicians into taking unreasonable positions.
But extreme resistance to change is no longer acceptable with most of the public. People want action. They’re demanding it. Extreme resistance in this climate could prove more politically poisonous, particularly to some Republicans, than upsetting the N.R.A.
At this moment you have an outraged public against the gun profiteers and the gutless politicians. I believe in the end the people will win.
From your lips to God’s ear, Mr. Blow. I remain less hopeful. Here’s Mr. Kristof:
You see America and its education system in all their glorious, exhilarating, crushing, infuriating contradictions in our national high school chess champion team.
Chess tends to be the domain of privileged schools whose star players have had their own personal chess coaches since elementary school. Yet the national champion team comes from a high-poverty, inner-city school, and four-fifths of its members are black or Hispanic.
More astounding, these aren’t even high school kids yet. In April, New York’s Intermediate School 318 in Brooklyn, where 70 percent of students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches, became the first middle school team ever to defeat kids about four years older and win the national high school championship.
The champs are kids like Carlos Tapia, a Mexican-American in the eighth grade, whose dad is a house painter and mom a maid. The parents can’t play chess and can’t afford to give Carlos his own room, but they proudly make space for his 18 chess trophies.
“Chess teaches me self-control” that spills over into other schoolwork, Carlos said in the I.S. 318 chess room, as a rainbow of students hunched over their boards, brows furrowed.
This will be my last column for a number of months, as I’m taking a leave to work on a new book with my wife. So I asked my Twitter followers what they’d like me to write about in this column, and one suggested I address: How do you do your job without getting incredibly depressed?
I promise, I’m not the Eeyore of journalists. The truth is that covering inequality, injustice and poverty can actually be inspiring and uplifting because of kids like Carlos. Just sprinkle opportunity around, and dazzling talents turn up.
This isn’t about chess. It’s about investing in kids in ways that transform their trajectories forever. The returns on capital would make Wall Street jealous.
Take Rochelle Ballantyne, who was raised by a single mom from Trinidad and soared on the I.S. 318 chess team. Rochelle, now 17 and aiming to become the first African-American woman to become a chess master, has won a full scholarship to Stanford University. She’s planning to attend even though she has never visited the campus.
“We were meant to break stereotypes,” Rochelle told me. “Chess isn’t something people are good at because of the color of their skin. We just really work very hard at it.”
That seems to be the secret. A part-time chess tutor named Elizabeth Spiegel arrived at I.S. 318 in 1999 and parlayed a tiny budget into a team that drills tirelessly. A dynamic, passionate teacher who volunteered much of her time, she nurtured a team that since 2000 has won more middle school championships than any other in the country.
One way of assessing what she has accomplished: Based on estimated chess ratings, Albert Einstein would rank third on the I.S. 318 team.
I wish the column could end on this triumphant note. But if these extraordinary kids are a reminder of what can happen when we invest in creating opportunity, they are also a reminder that budget cuts fall disproportionately on the needy.
“Funding for extracurricular activities has dried up,” said John Galvin, an assistant principal who oversees the 95-member chess team. The kids run bake sales, candy sales and walkathons to raise the $50,000 needed to attend tournaments each year, but on trips they sometimes survive on peanut butter.
Galvin has tried approaching corporations and hedge funds for donations but has had little luck. Budget cuts have already trimmed the after-school chess club to three days a week from five.
A moving documentary about the team, “Brooklyn Castle,” is scheduled to air on PBS later this year, and that may help with fund-raising.
But similar cutbacks are playing out all across America. In 35 states, inflation-adjusted school financing is below 2008 levels, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. As of July, school districts have slashed 328,000 jobs since 2008, and budget cuts have devastated early childhood education that lays the foundation for children’s lives.
Affluent kids continue to enjoy nursery school and chess tutors, even as programs for poor kids are eliminated. Education is the best escalator out of poverty, but for too many kids it’s creaking to a standstill.
As we make historic fiscal decisions in the coming months, let’s not balance budgets by slashing investments in our future. That would be like economizing on heating bills by feeding the front door into the fire.
While on leave, I’ll be rooting for kids like Carlos to soar to another national championship — and far beyond. Given the returns, the question isn’t whether we can afford to invest in opportunities for kids but how we can possibly afford not to.
Last but not least, here’s Ms. Collins:
Friday is Hillary Clinton’s final day at the State Department. As we’ve all been reminded, over the past four years she’s traveled 956,733 miles to 112 different countries in order to conduct 1,700 meetings with world leaders. While consuming 570 airplane meals.
It’s exactly what you would have expected her to do. This is the woman who ended her career as a U.S. senator by announcing: “I’ve had a lot of fun. Eight state fairs, 45 parades, 62 counties, more than 4,600 events across the state.”
And then, of course, there was the race for president, in which she campaigned through 54 primaries and caucuses. After she lost, she urged her followers to take a break and “go to the beach.” But she went out and campaigned for Barack Obama. And then to the cabinet and the 112 countries.
So it’s understandable that people are questioning how long the resting part of her future will last. There is already a Hillary-in-2016 PAC. Although Clinton has nothing to do with it, she could certainly stop it, as she could end all the presidential speculation by simply saying that she would not, under any circumstances, accept a nomination. She hasn’t.
But we really ought to get through the first year of President Obama’s second term before we declare him a lame duck and start discussing a replacement.
Meanwhile, if the last several decades are any indication, whatever Clinton does will involve extraordinarily diligent-but-unglamorous work, coupled with occasional hair-raising disasters, which she will overcome with a steely resolve that will make the world swoon.
Her departure from the current job has been of the pattern. There was the virus, followed by fainting, fall and blood clot. Followed by high-decibel Senate hearings in which the administration’s failings during the run-up to the tragedy at Benghazi were overshadowed by clips of the secretary swatting back snarling Republican senators, while wearing large new eyeglasses to control her concussion-related double vision.
And there was the inauguration, when Bill and Hillary Clinton were photographed chatting with the former vice-presidential candidate and current White House scourge, Paul Ryan. “We were just kind of chumming it up,” Ryan told “Meet the Press.” He then went on to say that if only the country were under a “Clinton presidency,” the fiscal crisis would be fixed. It was not entirely clear which Clinton he was talking about. Didn’t entirely matter.
All this was followed by the joint interview with the president on “60 Minutes,” in which Obama effused that “Hillary will go down as one of the finest secretaries of state we’ve had.” Take that, John Quincy Adams!
He called her “a strong friend.” She called him “a partner and friend.” (In the outside world, they get along fine. But, as Clinton once said in an interview, “We don’t hang out.”) Then on to a seemingly endless set of farewell appearances, including a global town hall, in which she answered a question about “the future of the mineral resources in Antarctica.”
Meanwhile, Tim Geithner retired as Treasury secretary. Did you notice?
Even though she’s probably not going to go home and rest on her laurels, she really does deserve a chance to nap on them. Clinton is 65, and she’s spent the last section of her life working with and competing against people who are generally much younger than she is.
Once, during the presidential race, she told me that she liked seeing me on the campaign plane because it was the only time there was somebody her own age on board. “I just had to tell people what Sputnik was,” she reported.
Women of Clinton’s generation have a special bond with her because she encapsulates their story. She spoke for their rebel youth at her Wellesley graduation, demanding “a more immediate, ecstatic, and penetrating mode of living” than the older generation ever knew. (Was she imagining that it would include 570 airplane meals? The Idaho caucus? Eight state fairs?)
Then Hillary Rodham became Hillary Clinton, the wife who worked to support the family and her husband’s dreams. But somehow, thanks to her talents and terrifying work ethic, she wound up getting a much more spectacular professional life than she could ever have achieved with a normal career trajectory. When she campaigned for the Senate, you could see crowds of middle-aged women cheering like kids at a rock concert for one of their own, who had confirmed their private yearnings for a second, or maybe third, act.
And then there was the first-woman-president dream, which didn’t happen. But she turned the failure into something so positive that it felt like a success. Now her diplomatic period is over. Being Hillary Clinton, she’ll never look back and wonder how many of those 1,700 meetings she could have skipped without endangering the stability of the planet.
No regrets. Onward and upward.