Blow, Kristof, and Collins

In “Sanders Surprises” Mr. Blow says Michigan strengthened the candidate’s argument that he is a very real and viable alternative to Clinton.  Mr. Kristof, in “‘Every Parent’s Nightmare’,” says a popular website runs ads used to arrange child rape, and we as a society allow it.  Ms. Collins, in “Hillary! Bernie! Debate!,” says we’ve gone from complaining that the Democrats wouldn’t meet enough times to wondering when the talking will stop.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

Jaws dropped Tuesday night as Bernie Sanders defied the embarrassingly incorrect polls and shocked election watchers with a narrow but important upset of Hillary Clinton in Michigan.

The two candidates are likely to roughly split the delegates from the state, and Clinton actually increased her delegate lead for the evening because of her crushing victory in Mississippi. But there is no denying that Michigan is an enormous loss for the Clinton campaign, and a major psychological and momentum-gaining win for the Sanders campaign.

Sanders benefits greatly from the passage of time — which he’s running out of — and the electorate’s growing familiarity with him, his platform and his history that it allows.

Neither of the candidates running for the Democratic nomination, who debate tonight, provides the bombast and sensationalism of the Republican candidates, especially the Republican front-runner, so ratings-hungry, shock-addicted television networks give them little coverage. They have to make their cases more the old-fashioned way: in person, on the ground, or by fanning out an army of surrogates.

As I have been saying on social media, both Clinton and Sanders had electoral hurdles that they had to clear. Clinton’s was to win by large margins in states not in the Deep South that are reliably Democratic or that are swing states in the general election. Sanders’s hurdle was to demonstrate that he could win in states where the portion of nonwhite Democratic primary voters was greater than a quarter of the whole.

Only one person cleared his hurdle Tuesday: Bernie Sanders.

The nonwhite portion of voters in Michigan’s Democratic primary, according to exit polls, was 30 percent. Furthermore, 21 percent was African-American. This is much smaller than the majority black vote in some Southern Democratic contests, but still sizable. More important, Sanders won a larger share of the black vote in Michigan than he had won in any of the Southern states for which there were exit polls.

For instance, Sanders won just 11 percent of the black vote in Mississippi, but he won 28 percent of it in Michigan.

Northern blacks and Southern blacks are most likely processing Sanders quite differently. As I wrote in a February column:

There isn’t one black America, but two: The children of the Great Migration and the children of those who stayed behind in the South. (Black immigrants are another story.) Having spent the first half of my life in the South and the second in Great Migration destination cities, I can attest that the sensibilities are as different as night and day.

Sanders’s early, Northern activism for racial equality is likely to have more resonance with Northern blacks, and so is his largely urban and non-Southern roster of black surrogates. For instance, more Michigan primary voters said they trusted Sanders more than Clinton to handle race relations in this country. The opposite was true in Mississippi.

Part of this also has to do with what I call the political provincialism of the South: The favoring of regional candidates and the shunning of outsiders. Because of the time Clinton spent in the South, she has a Southern advantage.

(It should be noted that this Southern provincialism crosses racial boundaries. Sanders won 31 percent of white vote in Mississippi, and 56 percent of it in Michigan.)

But there was probably more at play in Michigan than just race.

In the states where Sanders has campaigned hard, he has generally done well. He really committed time and resources in Michigan, and it paid off. Furthermore, his anti-trade deals position is likely to have held a particular resonance for that state, which was particularly hard hit by manufacturing job losses.

And there’s still more.

Michigan had slightly more voters under 30 and slightly more male voters than the Southern states. This is an advantage for Sanders.

The question now is what the Michigan results might portend for other Rust Belt states with large baskets of delegates, like Ohio and Illinois, and beyond that, what it might portend for the major delegate prizes of Florida, California and New York.

Predictions are perilously dangerous this season, so I’ll avoid them. Pundits keep getting this cycle wrong. But I will say this: The Michigan win put a new gust of wind into Sanders’s sails and strengthened his argument that he is a very real and viable alternative to Clinton — and that he shouldn’t feel one iota of pressure to leave the race before all the contests are finished.

Clinton is a force, but Sanders is a phenomenon. They both bring a seriousness and gravitas to the presidential discussion that is sorely lacking on the Republican side. In that, Democrats can take some pride regardless which of them wins the nomination, because either would probably soundly defeat the current Republican front-runner. According to an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll released this week, both Clinton and Sanders would handily defeat the real estate developer in a general election matchup.

Now, with that in mind, we can all sit back and enjoy a Democratic nominating ride that just got infinitely more complicated and more interesting.

Next up we have Mr. Kristof:

We as a society derided the Roman Catholic Church as an accessory to child sexual abuse, and we lambasted Penn State for similar offenses.

Yet we as a society are complicit or passive in a similar way, by allowing a popular website called Backpage.com to be used to arrange child rape. Consider what happened to a girl I’ll call Natalie, who was trafficked into the sex industry in Seattle at age 15.

“It was every parent’s nightmare,” Natalie’s mother, Nacole, told me. “It can happen to any parent. Fifteen-year-olds don’t make the best choices. I dropped her off at school in the morning, I was expecting to pick her up after track practice in the afternoon, and then I didn’t see her for 108 days.” The girl ran off to a bus station, was found by a pimp, and within days was being sold for sex on Backpage.

Backpage has classified ads for everything from antiques to boats, but it makes its money on escort ads. It has about 80 percent of the U.S. market for online sex ads in America, mostly for consenting adults but many also for women who are forcibly trafficked or for underage girls. Children in at least 47 states have been sold on Backpage, by one aid group’s count.

“We were an everyday, average family,” Nacole said. “Our children were involved in sports. She played the violin. She was on the soccer team. And she made a stupid decision one day that forever changed her life. And Backpage facilitated it.”

The girl was eventually rescued by the police, but by then she had been beaten and threatened by her pimp and endured innumerable rapes. “She’s forever changed,” her mom said. “Her siblings are forever changed. Today she struggles with life.”

If there were a major American website openly selling heroin or anthrax, there would be an outcry. Yet we Americans tolerate a site like Backpage.com that is regularly used to peddle children. We avert our eyes, and the topic tends not to come up in polite society.

“I had no idea how much juvenile trafficking goes on until my family became a victim of it,” Nacole said.

Thousands of children are trafficked for sex each year in the United States, but there are no solid numbers. What is clear is only that it’s a big problem that gets minimal attention; it’s essentially never mentioned in the current political campaign.

Yet a few forces are coming together to put pressure on Backpage. One is alawsuit in Washington State against Backpage by Natalie and two other girls who at age 13 were also sold on the website; one of the 13-year-olds said that she was raped 20 times a day.

Another is decisive action by credit card companies to stop processing fees for sex ads on Backpage, disrupting its business model.

Then there is the prospect that the Senate this month will adopt a Contempt of Congress resolution, the first by the Senate in 21 years (the last involved the Whitewater investigation), and this time it’s bipartisan and the target is Backpage. The aim is to force Backpage to comply with subpoenas from the Senate’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, which is looking into the company’s role in sex trafficking.

Senator Rob Portman, the Ohio Republican who leads the panel, told me that he expects the Senate to vote next week on the resolution and he doesn’t know of anyone planning to vote against it.

At a time when Congress seems gridlocked and dysfunctional, it’s nice to see the Senate moving in a bipartisan way to address an issue that affects America’s most vulnerable.

The subcommittee has already uncovered disturbing information about Backpage, including the way it edits ads to reduce law enforcement scrutiny and does not retain photo data that could be used to find missing children. And Senate investigators uncovered an instruction to the Backpage staff that seemed to suggest erring on the side of letting girls be sold: “only delete [ads] if you really very sure person is underage.”

The Senate panel found that Backpage was worth hundreds of millions of dollars and in 2014 had an Ebitda margin, a measure of profitability, of 82 percent, compared with an average of 9.3 percent for online services companies.

Yiota Souras of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children notes that the issue is not adult prostitution or sex among consenting adults: “That’s totally removed from what we’re focusing on here, which is children sold to be raped.”

Whatever we think about the presidential race, whatever our political party, we should be able to agree to act to stop the exploitation of children. It’s wrong when the Catholic Church hierarchy looks the other way, when Penn State averts its eyes, and also when we as a society do the same thing.

And now we get to Ms. Collins:

Let’s give a hand to Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. After all we’ve been through with the Republicans, it’s nice to hear presidential candidates go at each other’s throat while they’re talking about where they stood on immigration issues in 2007.

This was Wednesday’s Democratic debate — the second one in a week, not counting the back-to-back town halls in between. People, do you remember when we used to complain that there weren’t going to be enough debates? Ah yes, long ago. Dinosaurs roamed the earth and Marco Rubio was a hot ticket.

Clinton held up well, given that her first three questions involved why she lost the Michigan primary, her emails and whether she’d drop out if she was indicted. (“Oh, for goodness — that is not going to happen. I’m not even answering that question.”) It was a tough evening. Sanders accused Clinton of cruelty to Honduran children. She claimed he had sided with the Minutemen.

Since the debate was on Univision, there was a strong emphasis on immigration, which provided a kind of mirror image of the Republican debates. Clinton and Sanders bickered long and hard about who had been less in favor of deportation, going back more than a decade. (“Madam Secretary, I will match my record against yours any day of the week!”)

In truth, immigration is not an issue that actually separates these two people. The real gulf is between the grand vision and the practical plan. Sanders thinks he can provide free public college tuition and Medicare-like health coverage for all. “My dad used to say, If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is,” Clinton rejoined.

And then there’s the auto industry bailout. One of the biggest moments in the Democrats’ Week of Endless Debates came Sunday when Clinton caught Sanders off guard by accusing him — in Michigan! — of refusing to support Detroit during the economic crisis.

“He voted against the money that ended up saving the auto industry,” Clinton claimed while Sanders looked stunned.

What followed was the most quoted moment of the encounter:

Sanders: “If you are talking about the Wall Street bailout, where some of your friends destroyed this economy ——”

Clinton: “You know ——”

Sanders: “Excuse me, I’m talking.”

Audience: “Oooooh”

It’s certainly a tribute to the general decorum with which the Democrats have conducted themselves that this was enough to draw a gasp from the crowd. The bar is so high on the Republican side that to get a real response one of the candidates would have had to hit the other with a hammer.

But let’s look at the bailout issue for a minute. Sanders did vote for a bill to lend money to the auto industry. But it got blocked in the Senate. Then during the stupendously complex end-of-the-Bush-administration negotiations, the bailout got mooshed into a huge, messy bill that did indeed involve helping Wall Street. When the only choices were nothing or a big, unappetizing legislative stew, he refused to bite.

That pretty much sums up his career in Congress. Sanders stood up for his principles, but he didn’t play any real role. At one point he offered an amendment to raise taxes on high-income individuals, which was basically ignored. He was marvelous, but symbolically marvelous.

He was in no way like Ted Cruz, who just tries to get attention by stopping things. Nobody hates Bernie Sanders. But he’s a maverick legislator, a man without a party. That’s a way, way different kind of life than being the person who has to run the country.

“You have to make hard choices when you’re in positions of responsibility,” Clinton said.

Clinton is a stupendous debater, and she’s developed smooth and sensible-sounding answers to sticky matters like the State Department emails and Benghazi. But she still hasn’t been able to handle Sanders’s attacks on her $225,000 speeches to finance industry insiders. She shrugs and says she’ll release the transcripts when “everybody else does,” which generally involves mentioning that President Obama “took a lot of money from Wall Street.”

“I don’t have any comment,” she said when she was questioned earlier in the week about campaign donations. “I don’t know that. I don’t believe that there is any reason to be concerned about it.”

This is the stuff that makes Democrats want to send a message. Hillary Clinton is by far the best qualified candidate for president. But at this point in the campaign, you can understand why some people feel that voting for her against Bernie Sanders is like rewarding Washington for its worst behavior.

In the end, Clinton is the one who knows how to make the system work. But she’s just got to be clearer on how she can work against the system.

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