Archive for the ‘Blow’ Category

Blow and Krugman

August 31, 2015

In “60 Years Later, Echoes of Emmett Till’s Killing” Mr. Blow says a savage beating of a 14-year-old Chicago boy is a sadly familiar story to today’s young black people.  Prof. Krugman, in “A Heckuva Job,” says that as some Republican candidates have shown, it’s not too difficult to fool many of the people for quite a long time.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

Friday was the 60th anniversary of the savage killing of Emmett Till.

Till was a black 14-year-old Chicago boy who was visiting his great-uncle in Mississippi during the summer of 1955.

It is said that the boy said something to, and whistled at, a white woman.

This was a line not crossed in those parts in this country. As I wrote in June when Dylann Roof killed nine black people in a Charleston, S.C., church after complaining that black people are “raping our women”:

“There is the thread of couching his cowardice as chivalry, framing his selfish hatred as noble altruism in defense of white femininity from the black brute. So much black blood has been spilled and so many black necks noosed in the name of protecting white femininity, and by extension, white purity.”

That thread seems altered but unbroken from Emmett’s time to ours.

In the wee hours of the night, two white men kidnapped Emmett from his family’s home, mercilessly beat him, took him to the banks of the Tallahatchie River and shot him in the head, then tied the metal fan of a cotton gin around his neck with barbed wire and pushed him in.

When Emmett’s body was fished from the river three days later, it had already begun to decompose. He was unrecognizable. His body was identified because he was wearing a ring that had belonged to his father.

His body was sent back to Chicago for burial. His mother, Mamie, collapsed at the sight of the coffin, just two weeks after she kissed her son goodbye.

His mother insisted that the coffin be opened so that she could see her son.As she recalled: “I saw that his tongue was choked out. I noticed that the right eye was lying on midway his cheek. I noticed that his nose had been broken like somebody took a meat chopper and chopped his nose in several places. As I kept looking, I saw a hole, which I presumed was a bullet hole, and I could look through that hole and see daylight on the other side. And I wondered: Was it necessary to shoot him?”

His mother insisted on an open coffin so that everyone could see what had been done to her baby.

According to Devery S. Anderson’s book about Emmett published this month, the night of the wake alone, “between 10,000 and 50,000 people” filed past Emmett’s glass-covered coffin to gaze at what was left of his face.

A little over two weeks after Emmett was buried, the men who killed him were acquitted, after only 67 minutes of jury deliberations. One juror is said to have told a reporter that the deliberations wouldn’t have taken that long if the jurors hadn’t taken a break to drink a pop.

After the acquittal the killers kissed their wives, lit cigars and posed for pictures.

And unfortunately, Emmett’s case was far from the only one. As the law professors Margaret A. Burnham and Margaret M. Russell wrote in The Times last week, there are hundreds of “disappeared” black people in this country “who were victims of racial violence from 1930 to 1960.”

But Emmett became the most pivotal. His death was immeasurable in its effect on young black people at the time. It activated and mobilized them. That is not so dissimilar from today.

Jesse Jackson is credited with calling Emmett’s murder the “Big Bang” of the civil rights movement.

But in an interview published earlier this month, a University of Illinois professor, Christopher Benson, co-author of the 2003 book “Death of Innocence” about the case, made a more direct comparison:

“Before Trayvon Martin, before Michael Brown, before Tamir Rice, there was Emmett Till. This was the first ‘Black Lives Matter’ story. It is no wonder, then, that each time we read about another young unarmed black male being shot down in the street — unjustly — by an authority figure, there is the mention of Emmett’s name. What we come to see with the loss of Emmett is just what racism has cost us in this country. What it costs us still, in the loss of so many bright, gifted kids. Partly through untimely deaths. But also in the limited opportunities many have to excel, because of mass incarceration or even unwarranted tracking in schools.”

Benson continued:

“When we begin to see the Emmett Till story in this context, we realize that we all lose something to racism. And we see that we all have something to gain by overcoming the obstacles to full participation that still exist. So, Emmett Till is a vital American story.”

Yes, Emmett’s story is a vital American story, and it feels like an all-too-present one as we see this cycle repeating itself: young lives are lost, the body itself is desecrated or neglected, killers are acquitted or not even brought to trial, and the effects of the feelings of terror and injustice galvanize a generation of young people who have taken as much as they plan to take.

Now here’s Prof. Krugman:

There are many things we should remember about the events of late August and early September 2005, and the political fallout shouldn’t be near the top of the list. Still, the disaster in New Orleans did the Bush administration a great deal of damage — and conservatives have never stopped trying to take their revenge. Every time something has gone wrong on President Obama’s watch, critics have been quick to declare the event “Obama’s Katrina.” How many Katrinas has Mr. Obama had so far? By one count, 23.

Somehow, however, these putative Katrinas never end up having the political impact of the lethal debacle that unfolded a decade ago. Partly that’s because many of the alleged disasters weren’t disasters after all. For example, the teething problems of Healthcare.gov were embarrassing, but they were eventually resolved — without anyone dying in the process — and at this point Obamacare looks like a huge success.

Beyond that, Katrina was special in political terms because it revealed such a huge gap between image and reality. Ever since 9/11, former President George W. Bush had been posing as a strong, effective leader keeping America safe. He wasn’t. But as long as he was talking tough about terrorists, it was hard for the public to see what a lousy job he was doing. It took a domestic disaster, which made his administration’s cronyism and incompetence obvious to anyone with a TV set, to burst his bubble.

What we should have learned from Katrina, in other words, was that political poseurs with nothing much to offer besides bluster can nonetheless fool many people into believing that they’re strong leaders. And that’s a lesson we’re learning all over again as the 2016 presidential race unfolds.

You probably think I’m talking about Donald Trump, and I am. But he’s not the only one.

Consider, if you will, the case of Chris Christie. Not that long ago he was regarded as a strong contender for the presidency, in part because for a while his tough-guy act played so well with the people of New Jersey. But he has, in fact, been a terrible governor, who has presided over repeated credit downgrades, and who compromised New Jersey’s economic future by killing a much-needed rail tunnel project.

Now Mr. Christie looks pathetic — did you hear the one about his plan to track immigrants as if they were FedEx packages? But he hasn’t changed, he’s just come into focus.

Or consider Jeb Bush, once hailed on the right as “the best governor in America,” when in fact all he did was have the good luck to hold office during a huge housing bubble. Many people now seem baffled by Mr. Bush’s inability to come up with coherent policy proposals, or any good rationale for his campaign. What happened to Jeb the smart, effective leader? He never existed.

And there’s more. Remember when Scott Walker was the man to watch? Remember when Bobby Jindal was brilliant?

I know, now I’m supposed to be evenhanded, and point out equivalent figures on the Democratic side. But there really aren’t any; in modern America, cults of personality built around undeserving politicians seem to be a Republican thing.

True, some liberals were starry-eyed about Mr. Obama way back when, but the glitter faded fast, and what was left was a competent leader with some big achievements under his belt – most notably, an unprecedented drop in the number of Americans without health insurance. And Hillary Clinton is the subject of a sort of anti-cult of personality, whose most ordinary actions are portrayed as nefarious. (No, the email thing doesn’t rise to the level of a “scandal.”)

Which brings us back to Mr. Trump.

Both the Republican establishment and the punditocracy have been shocked by Mr. Trump’s continuing appeal to the party’s base. He’s a ludicrous figure, they complain. His policy proposals, such as they are, are unworkable, and anyway, don’t people realize the difference between actual leadership and being a star on reality TV?

But Mr. Trump isn’t alone in talking policy nonsense. Trying to deport all 11 million illegal immigrants would be a logistical and human rights nightmare, but might conceivably be possible; doubling America’s rate of economic growth, as Jeb Bush has promised he would, is a complete fantasy.

And while Mr. Trump doesn’t exude presidential dignity, he’s seeking the nomination of a party that once considered it a great idea to put George W. Bush in a flight suit and have him land on an aircraft carrier.

The point is that those predicting Mr. Trump’s imminent political demise are ignoring the lessons of recent history, which tell us that poseurs with a knack for public relations can con the public for a very long time. Someday The Donald will have his Katrina moment, when voters see him for who he really is. But don’t count on it happening any time soon.

Blow, Cohen and Kristof

August 27, 2015

In “Enough Is Enough” Mr. Blow says that when people refer to the press as the fourth estate, it shouldn’t be confused with a Trump property.  Mr. Cohen, in “Middle Eastern Zen,” says don’t worry about the Middle East. Worry about China. The Middle East (unlike a large chunk of your portfolio) will still be around tomorrow.  Mr. Kristof ponders “Lessons From the Murders of TV Journalists in the Virginia Shooting” and says Wednesday’s killings provide further evidence of the need for more restrictive gun policies in the United States.  Which will happen, Nick, when pigs fly.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

When Donald Trump’s security escorted the Univision anchor Jorge Ramos out of a news conference on Tuesday, I decided that I was officially done.

Maybe I should have been long before that.

Maybe I should have been done the one and only time I ever met Trumpand his first words to me were a soliloquy about how black people loved him, and he was the most popular white man among black people.

Maybe I should have been done when Trump demanded to see the president’s birth certificate.

Maybe I should have been done any number of times over the years when Trump made any number of racist, sexist comments.

Earlier this month, Politico rounded up 199 of his greatest — and vilest — hits. Here are just a few from the magazine:

9. “I have black guys counting my money. … I hate it. The only guys I want counting my money are short guys that wear yarmulkes all day.” (USA Today, May 20, 1991)

23. “Oftentimes when I was sleeping with one of the top women in the world I would say to myself, thinking about me as a boy from Queens, ‘Can you believe what I am getting?’ ” (“Think Big: Make it Happen in Business and Life,” 2008)

32. “… she does have a very nice figure. I’ve said if Ivanka weren’t my daughter, perhaps I’d be dating her.” (ABC’s “The View,” March 6, 2006)

35. “If Hillary Clinton can’t satisfy her husband what makes her think she can satisfy America?” (Twitter, April 16, 2015)

117. “Rosie’s a person that’s very lucky to have her girlfriend. And she better be careful or I’ll send one of my friends over to pick up her girlfriend. Why would she stay with Rosie if she had another choice?” (“Entertainment Tonight,” Dec. 21, 2006)

121. Arianna Huffington is “a dog.” (Twitter, April 6, 2015)

Need I go on? (Thanks, Politico!)

Maybe I should have been done when Trump announced his candidacy this year with an attack on Mexican immigrants, saying:

“When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best — they’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems … drugs … crime … rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”

The Ramos episode wasn’t worse than these; it was just the last straw. A member of the media who dared to raise a truly substantive issue, even out of turn, was dismissed and removed. And yet the band played on. The live coverage continued. In that moment, I was disgusted at Trump’s contempt and the press’s complicity in the shallow farce that is his candidacy. Trump is addicted to press, but the press is also addicted to him, and the entire spectacle is wide and shallow.

(Ramos was allowed back in and permitted to ask his question. I had to see this later, because when he was ejected, I stopped watching.)

Yes, the Republican Party created this Frankenstein of hatred, hubris, narcissism and nativism, but the media is giving it life.

The never-ending, exhaustive, even breathless coverage of every outrage that issues forth from this man’s mouth is not news. Every offense and attack is not news.

Every morning that Trump rolls out of bed and calls in to a news show is not news.

Covering a political phenomenon as news is one thing. See the coverage of Bernie Sanders. Creating a political phenomenon and calling it news is quite another.

I reasoned in a 2010 column that Sarah Palin was no longer an elected official and wasn’t seeking elected office, and was therefore not worthy of constant attacks. But more important, the attacks were elevating her profile, not diminishing it. As I wrote:

“This is it. This is the last time I’m going to write the name Sarah Palin until she does something truly newsworthy, like declare herself a candidate for the presidency. Until then, I will no longer take part in the left’s obsessive-compulsive fascination with her, which is both unhealthy and counterproductive.”

I kept that promise. The only other time she appeared by name in one of my columns was in a passing reference to her speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference in 2013. This column is only the second reference.

The same is true of Trump. The constant harping on him only helps him.

He is different from Palin in 2010, however. He is not only running for office, he’s leading in the polls among Republican candidates. He can’t be ignored. But coverage is not the same as drooling over the daily shenanigans of a demagogue.

I will cover Trump as he addresses issues with specific policy prescriptions and details, like answers to the question Ramos asked.

Until then, this man is not worthy of the attention he’s garnering. We in the media have to own our part in this. We can’t say he’s not serious and then cover him in a way that actually demonstrates that we are not serious.

Is he an easy target for righteous criticism? Of course he is. But is he aware that criticism from the mainstream media is invaluable among certain segments of the political right? Of course he is. Is he also aware that he’s getting more free publicity for being outrageous than he would ever be willing to buy? Of course he is.

The media is being trolled on a massive scale and we look naïve and silly to have fallen for it, even if he draws readers and viewers. When people refer to the press as the fourth estate, it shouldn’t be confused with a Trump property.

Allow me to share one more of Trump’s quotes from Politico:

89. “My brand became more famous as I became more famous, and more opportunities presented themselves.” (Amazon.com, 2007)

Next up we have Mr. Cohen:

In case the gyrations in global markets have you confused, here’s anupdated Middle Eastern primer that will make you feel better:

1) The United States invasion of Iraq in 2003 brought the Shiite majority to power, so advancing the interests of Shiite Iran, America’s enemy. It ousted the Sunnis, upsetting the Sunni-Shiite balance in the Middle East. This infuriated Sunni Saudi Arabia, America’s ally, in theory.

2) The wealthy Saudi royal family underwrites a conservative Wahhabi Islam whose teachings are fiercely anti-American (don’t ask about the Saudi-American alliance). The Saudis have backed Sunni Islamists in war-ravaged Syria against the country’s Iranian-backed despot, Bashar al-Assad, who is from the quasi-Shiite Alawite sect. This maneuver backfired. A barbaric, tech-savvy, knife-wielding Sunni group calling itself Islamic State swept across Syria and Iraq, beheading and raping and destroying great treasures in pursuit of a medieval caliphate that would stretch across territory including modern-day Saudi Arabia. Talk about unintended consequences! Meanwhile the Saudis have bankrolled the destruction of Sunni Islamists in Egypt. This other bad sort of Sunni extremist, known as the Muslim Brotherhood, committed the ultimate lèse-majesté of believing in the ballot box as a source of authority.

3) Sunni-Shiite tensions have become regional. Saudi Arabia and other gulf monarchies are now so convinced that the United States is pro-Shiite (read pro-Iran!), and so persuaded of Iran’s anti-Sunni imperial designs, that they have embarked on a bombing campaign in — you guessed it! — Yemen. The purported aim is to stop the Houthis, seen in Riyadh as Iranian proxies.

4) In the aftermath of the Arab Spring (see below) the main functioning, stable states in the Middle East are non-Arab: Israel, Turkey and Iran. Israel has been in a stop-go war with Arabs since 1948, but is most exercised about Iran, which is not Arab, not Sunni, not on its border and not nuclear armed (see below).

5) The old Middle Eastern order is in tatters. Post-Ottoman states that were not nations, with century-old borders drawn up by Europeans, have split along sectarian lines and made nonsense of those borders. A metastasizing jihadi ideology driven by hatred of Western modernity, colonialism and perceived decadence has proved of unquenchable appeal. An independent Kurdistan, omitted from the post-Ottoman order, is now pretty close to realization. Cocktail-party nugget: Kurds and Israelis are tight.

6) The Obama administration called Syria’s Assad toast without having the means to turn him into toast. This was a huge blunder. A void ensued. Nobody loves a void like a jihadi. Enter Islamic State. America is now in a half-war with Islamic State. Half-war is like half-pregnancy: an illusory impossibility. America is still casting around for palatable nonfundamentalist Syrian opposition groups — a fool’s errand. Syria is gone, baby, gone.

7) Saudi views are increasingly identical to Israeli views (don’t sweat the details), especially on Iran. Wahhabi Islam, however, views Zionism as its implacable enemy. Hence identity of view does not translate into diplomatic rapprochement.

8) The Middle East has a longstanding cottage industry called the peace process. Palestinians are represented by the Palestinian Authority, an authority that has no authority over Palestinians in Gaza, no democratic legitimacy, no obvious claim to represent anything but itself, and no determination to change the status quo. Israel has a right-wing government with no interest in peace and every interest in quashing the very notion of Palestinian statehood — even of Palestinians themselves! The status quo suits Israel, although it involves intermittent small wars.

9) Israel has a nuclear deterrent. The United States and Israel have agreed never to talk about the Jewish state’s alleged nuclear weapons (again, don’t ask).

10) Several despots were swept out in the Arab Spring in 2011. But instead of bringing empowerment and agency through new forms of citizenship, the revolutions folded into sectarianism. Sectarianism means favoring your own and brutalizing the rest (see Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, etc.).

11) Iran is a theocracy split between hard-liners and reformists. The United States, China, Russia, Britain, France and Germany have reached a nuclear accord with Iran. It has stopped Iran’s nuclear program in its tracks. It is, on balance, the most effective way to keep Iran from a bomb. Still, every Republican member of Congress opposes the deal. They believe the White House, China, Russia, Britain, France and Germany are all deluded and they know better! Yep, they do. Plunging oil prices and America’s energy revolution have opened new strategic possibilities in the Middle East. The nuclear deal, too, could in time open new avenues for America to pursue its Middle Eastern interests. A region of recast alliances is anathema to status quo powers like Israel and the Sunni monarchies.

12) Got it? If not, don’t worry. Be Zen. There’s only so much anyone can worry about. Focus on China for now. My guess is the Middle East (unlike a large chunk of your portfolio) will still be around tomorrow.

And last but not least here’s Mr. Kristof:

The slaying of two journalists Wednesday as they broadcast live to a television audience in Virginia is still seared on our screens and our minds, but it’s a moment not only to mourn but also to learn lessons.

The horror isn’t just one macabre double-murder, but the unrelenting toll of gun violence that claims one life every 16 minutes on average in the United States. Three quick data points:

■ More Americans die in gun homicides and suicides every six months than have died in the last 25 years in every terrorist attack and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq combined.

■ More Americans have died from guns in the United States since 1968than on battlefields of all the wars in American history.

■ American children are 14 times as likely to die from guns as children in other developed countries, according to David Hemenway, a Harvard professor and author of an excellent book on firearm safety.

Bryce Williams, as the Virginia killer was known to viewers when he worked as a broadcaster, apparently obtained the gun used to murder his former co-workers Alison Parker and Adam Ward in response to the June massacre in a South Carolina church — an example of how gun violence begets gun violence. Williams may have been mentally disturbed, given that he videotaped Wednesday’s killings and then posted them on Facebook.

“I’ve been a human powder keg for a while … just waiting to go BOOM!!!!,” Williams reportedly wrote in a lengthy fax sent to ABC News after the killings.

Whether or not Williams was insane, our policies on guns are demented — not least in that we don’t even have universal background checks to keep weapons out of the hands of people waiting to go boom.

The lesson from the ongoing carnage is not that we need a modern prohibition (that would raise constitutional issues and be impossible politically), but that we should address gun deaths as a public health crisis. To protect the public, we regulate toys and mutual funds, ladders and swimming pools. Shouldn’t we regulate guns as seriously as we regulate toys?

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has seven pages ofregulations concerning ladders, which are involved in 300 deaths in America annually. Yet the federal government doesn’t make what I would call a serious effort to regulate guns, which are involved in the deaths of more than 33,000 people in America annually, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (that includes suicides, murders and accidents).

Gun proponents often say things to me like: What about cars? They kill, too, but we don’t try to ban them!

Cars are actually the best example of the public health approach that we should apply to guns. Over the decades, we have systematically taken steps to make cars safer: We adopted seatbelts and airbags, limited licenses for teenage drivers, cracked down on drunken driving and established roundabouts and better crosswalks, auto safety inspections and rules about texting while driving.

This approach has been stunningly successful. By my calculations, if we had the same auto fatality rate as in 1921, we would have 715,000 Americans dying annually from cars. We have reduced the fatality rate by more than 95 percent.

Yet in the case of firearms, the gun lobby (enabled by craven politicians) has for years tried to block even research on how to reduce gun deaths. The gun industry made a childproof gun back in the 19th century but today has ferociously resisted “smart guns.” If someone steals an iPhone, it requires a PIN; guns don’t.

We’re not going to eliminate gun deaths in America. But a serious effort might reduce gun deaths by, say, one-third, and that would be 11,000 lives saved a year.

The United States is an outlier, both in our lack of serious policies toward guns and in our mortality rates. Professor Hemenway calculates that the U.S. firearm homicide rate is seven times that of the next country in the rich world on the list, Canada, and 600 times higher than that of South Korea.

We need universal background checks with more rigorous screening, limits on gun purchases to one a month to reduce trafficking, safe storage requirements, serial number markings that are more difficult to obliterate, waiting periods to buy a handgun — and more research on what steps would actually save lives. If the federal government won’t act, states should lead.

Australia is a model. In 1996, after a mass shooting there, the country united behind tougher firearm restrictions. The Journal of Public Health Policy notes that the firearm suicide rate dropped by half in Australia over the next seven years, and the firearm homicide rate was almost halved.

Here in America, we can similarly move from passive horror to take steps to reduce the 92 lives claimed by gun violence in the United States daily. Surely we can regulate guns as seriously as we do cars, ladders and swimming pools.

When there’s bacon in the branches…

Blow and Cohen

August 20, 2015

In “Activists Confront Hillary Clinton” Mr. Blow says liberals and conservatives alike must answer for how the criminal justice system has been unleashed upon black people in this country.  Mr. Cohen, in “California Dreaming,” says Technology’s thrill is no more than an ephemeral distraction from the unchanging puzzles of life in any age.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

A newly released video from Good magazine, showing Hillary Clinton in a meeting being confronted by young activists from the Black Lives Matter movement, thrilled me to no end. It also depressed me just as much.

The activists called on Clinton to answer for her and her husband’s part in the rise of mass incarceration in this country, a phenomenon that disproportionately affects black and brown people.

Julius Jones, a Black Lives Matter activist from Boston, said to Clinton:

“I genuinely want to know: You, and your family, have been in no uncertain way partially responsible for this, more than most.”

He then asked:

“Now, there may have been unintended consequences, but now that you understand the consequences, what in your heart has changed, that’s going to change the direction of this country? What in you, like not your platform, not, not what you’re supposed to say, like how do you actually feel, that’s different than you did before? Like, what were the mistakes and how can those mistakes that you’ve made be lessons for all of America, or a moment of reflection on how we treat black people in this country?”

(Good magazine pointed out: “Hillary Clinton lobbied lawmakers to back the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act. Bill Clinton signed the act into law in 1994. The largest crime bill in history, it provided $9.7 billion in prison funding. From 1992 to 2000, the amount of prisoners in the U.S. increased almost 60 percent.”)

Clinton pointed to her record on civil rights work, but she never apologized for, or even acknowledged, her and her husband’s role in giving America the dubious distinction of having the world’s highest incarceration rate.

To me, the diversion was stunning, and telling.

Maggie Haberman noted in The New York Times that the exchange “showed Mrs. Clinton as even her admirers lament that she is seldom seen: spontaneous, impassioned and seemingly unconcerned about potential repercussions.”

Politically, that may be true. She was agile and evasive, for sure. She bobbed and weaved like Floyd Mayweather. But there was a moral issue, an accountability issue, that still hung rotting in the ring: What in her has changed, now that she has seen the devastation a policy she advocated has wrought?

(Last month, at the annual convention of the N.A.A.C.P., Bill Clinton did apologize, saying, “I signed a bill that made the problem worse.” He continued, “And I want to admit it.” His contrition makes Hillary’s nonapology all the more vexing.)

This is the part of the Black Lives Matter political protests that I love so much: The idea that you must test the fealty of your supposed friends in addition to battling the fury of your avowed foes.

The truth of America is that both liberals and conservatives alike have things for which they must answer, sins for which they must atone, when it comes to how the criminal justice system has been aimed at and unleashed upon black people in this country.

And it’s not just the Clintons who have things they must answer for on criminal justice and black people. As I have written about before, toward the end of his tenure, President George W. Bush drastically reduced funding for the Byrne Formula Grant Program, which had been established by the Anti-Drug Abuse Act to supercharge the war on drugs — a disastrous boondoggle that would come to be a war waged primarily against marijuana use by black men.

As the American Civil Liberties Union pointed out in 2011, “The racial disparities are staggering: despite the fact that whites engage in drug offenses at a higher rate than African-Americans, African-Americans are incarcerated for drug offenses at a rate that is 10 times greater than that of whites.’”

A group of senators, mostly Democrats, wrote a letter demanding that the funding be restored. Barack Obama ran on a promise to restore that funding, and once elected, he did just that. As I wrote in 2010:

“The 2009 stimulus package presented these Democrats with the opportunity, and they seized it. The legislation, designed by Democrats and signed by President Obama, included $2 billion for Byrne Grants to be awarded by the end of September 2010. That was nearly a 12-fold increase in financing. Whatever the merits of these programs, they are outweighed by the damage being done. Financing prevention is fine. Financing a race-based arrest epidemic is not.”

And these sins exist not only at the federal level, but also at the local level.

Many of the recent cases have been in some of our most liberal cities — cities that, as Isabel Wilkerson brilliantly pointed out in January, were the very ones to which black Americans flocked during the Great Migration.

Eric Garner was choked and killed by police in New York. Tamir Rice was shot and killed by police in Cleveland. Charley Saturmin Robinet was shot and killed by police in Los Angeles.

In a way, these deadly interactions are connected to civic policies that not only implicate the police officers but the liberals who occupy these cities themselves. Stop-and-frisk existed, in obscene proportions, in New York. And yet, most white voters in the city said that they approved of the program, according to a 2012 Quinnipiac University poll.

People from both sides of the aisle have cast poor black people to the wolves and averted their gaze from the ensuing carnage. But in a way, asking liberals to answer for their complicity is even more important than asking conservatives.

More than nine in 10 blacks vote Democratic. That level of fidelity should give black people some leverage, at the very least, to demand accountability

At one point in one of the videos, Clinton said:

“I don’t believe you change hearts. I believe you change laws, you change allocation of resources, you change the way systems operate.”

But what if the same person saying that was partially responsible for changing the laws that allocated the resources that built up a system that operated as a tool of destruction?

These young activists, indeed all of us, should expect liberals to have more direct answers for their own actions — and inactions — than the one Clinton gave.

There can be no sacred cows when black people have been treated like sacrificial lambs.

Now here’s Mr. Cohen, waxing rhapsodic or something:

To question change in the state whose companies have transformed the world by networking it may seem like California dreaming. Lives last long enough now for the reality of change to be manifest. The world is not what it was when much of existence drifted by in a disconnected state and productivity had not taken a 24/7 hold.

Undistracted immersion in place and mood was easier back in the 20th century. That could make for great journalism. On the other hand, communication was harder. That could make filing the journalism a nightmare.

On the one hand, on the other: That’s life in any century. It’s lived in the gray zone of uncertainty. Delusional certainty tends to be the domain of those with ambitions to lead the muddled crowd. Politics depends on the promise of change. That’s its elixir.

But I’ve been wondering. The more things change, say the French, the more they stay the same. Or as a similar idea is put in “The Leopard,” one of the greatest of Italian novels: “If we want things to stay as they are, things will have to change.”

They do change, sometimes with swift brutality. The Bolshevik revolution in Russia swept everything away — yet here is Vladimir Putin playing czar. Uprisings come and go but Egypt harkens for its pharaoh. We dreamed of paradise, lamented the leading East German protester of 1989 who would become Germany’s president, and woke up in North Rhine-Westphalia.

Scourges, from the plague to polio, are vanquished; others arise. The Medicis grow rich, become patrons of the arts, take a stab at just rule, before their inevitable fall; to be replaced in Florence-on-the-Pacific by the likes of Brin and Page and Omidyar and Thiel, who want to invest part of their dotcom fortunes in a more enlightened, healthier humanity.

The eternal puzzles of birth and love, death and beauty, injustice and poverty, persist. The search for happiness, and meaning, goes on. The same feelings exist in changed circumstances. Technology’s thrill may be no more than an ephemeral distraction from the immutable human condition, which constitutes the realm of art.

The catalyst to these musings was something I saw in Los Angeles, probably the last place I expected to see it because I think of the city as hot-wired to the new and inclined to the brittle. It was a bronze statue from the third century B.C. of a seated boxer, a life-size rendering of a bearded man who, to judge from the bruise on his cheek and his broken nose, has just emerged from a fight, or perhaps a series of fights. His body is strong, suggestive of the heroic, but his expression is excruciatingly human, full of stoicism and questioning.

Here I am, the boxer seems to say, and such is life: an unpredictable struggle for survival in which there is no escape from hard work and wisdom must be earned the hard way. You see, he murmurs across 2,300 years, I have done what I had to do and this is the state I find myself in: tired, battered but unflinching and alive.

The statue, found in Rome in 1885, is on display at the J. Paul Getty Museum, part of an astonishing exhibition called “Power and Pathos: Bronze Sculpture of the Hellenistic World.” Astonishing for its beauty but perhaps above all for the range of expression evident in the statuary. Gods of imposing power are depicted, yet it is the emotion of human subjects in all its variety — from serenity to suffering, from elation to exhaustion — that is most unforgettable because all those emotions are recognizable as, well, contemporary.

The boxer made me think of one of my favorite paintings, Velázquez’s portrait of Pope Innocent X in Rome’s Doria Pamphilj Gallery, not in any particular detail but in the evocation of someone who has lived life to the full: the ruddy and weathered face of the pontiff, the shrewd eyes, the expression that says he sees through the pomp of his position and is aware that life, even at the summit of power, may be viewed as a cruel joke. “Troppo vero!” — “Too true!” — the pope is said to have exclaimed on seeing it.

My late uncle, Bert Cohen, was in Italy during World War II. On July 21, 1944, he reached Monte Cassino and wrote in his war diary: “Poor Cassino, wreck and desolation unbelievable, roads smashed and pitted, mines, booby traps and graves everywhere. Huge shell holes, craters filled with stagnant slime, smashed buildings, hardly outlines remaining, a silent sight of ghosts and shadows. Pictures should be taken of this monument to mankind’s worst moments and circulated through every school room in the world.”

Along with pictures of the Hellenistic boxer and the Italian pope to illustrate the illusions of power, the bruises of life, the persistence of hope and the limits of change. Relax — we’ve been here before.

Blow and Krugman

August 17, 2015

In “Activists ‘Feel the Bern’?” Mr. Blow says responses to disruptions at Bernie Sanders’ events raise issues about the relationship between moderate whites and black activists.  Prof. Krugman has a question in “Republicans Against Retirement:”  Why have most Republican candidates vowed to limit Social Security? He says it’s because they really answer to the relatively few people who oppose it.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

Bernie Sanders is an unlikely phenomenon.

He is attracting massive crowds. His message of economic populism has infused his insurgent candidacy with an Obama-like level of electoral enthusiasm, only his base isn’t as broad (As CNN put it last month: “A June CNN/ORC poll showed just 2 percent of black Democrats supporting Sanders, a figure that has remained unchanged since February. Among nonwhite voters overall, Sanders polls at 9 percent, compared to Hillary Clinton’s 61 percent.”)

Still, Sanders’ candidacy has become something of a movement. But two times in recent weeks, Sanders’ appearances at events have been disrupted by supporters of another movement: Black Lives Matter.

The most recent disruption came at an event in Seattle last weekend, where two female Black Lives Matter supporters prevented Sanders from speaking. Sanders has responded well to the most recent disruption, issuing a thorough and utterly impressive “Racial Justice” agenda that liberally quotes from the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and even includes the line: “We need a societal transformation to make it clear that black lives matter, and racism cannot be accepted in a civilized country.” Further reiterating his commitment, he said at a rally in Los Angeles, “There is no president that will fight harder to end institutional racism.”

But, not all of Sanders’ supporters could muster his magnanimity. Some were outraged. The protesters were seen as disrespectful and indecorous. Sanders was not only seen as a bad target, he was one of the worst targets because he has a long history of civil rights activism, including participating in the 1963 March on Washington and hearing the King himself.

Some irritation was understandable. But some went too far, repaying what they saw as rudeness with what I saw as crudeness. The conspiracy theories began to swirl and the invectives — including some racist and sexist ones — began to flow. It exposed something that isn’t discussed nearly enough: a racial friction on the left.

There were sweeping condemnations of the Black Lives Matter movement itself, a sense that benevolence had been rebuffed, that allies had been alienated. Some people sympathetic to the protesters responded by making a King reference of their own, pointing to this passage from his 1963 “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”:

“I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: ‘I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action’; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a ‘more convenient season.’ Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”

It all quickly became an arms race of overheated accusations.

But, I must say that I, too, found some of the responses to the protesters troubling.

First, some people said that the disruption had caused the movement to lose their support. This seemed strange and extreme to me. How fragile must your support for black lives have been if a rally’s disruption caused it to crumble?

Secondly, centering one’s disapproval of the protesters on white allegiance, rather than black agency, seems to me a kind of cultural narcissism.

The movement, to my mind, isn’t a plea for pity, or appeal to comity, but an exercise in personal and collective advocacy by an oppressed people.

It says to America: You will not dictate the parameters of my expression; you will not assign the grammar of my pain; you will not tell me how I should feel. For these young activists, it’s not ideological but existential; it’s not about a political field but a battlefield, one from which they cannot escape, one on which their very bodies are marked and threatened with destruction.

This is not an esoteric, intellectual debate about best practices, but quite literally a flesh and blood struggle for equal access to liberty and longevity.

In this movement exists a kind of urgency that only proximity to terror can produce, and yes, that urgency can be extreme and discomforting, because it must be. The sedative of all normalcies and niceties are the enemies so long as lives are in danger. The movement is revolutionary out of necessity. Some people operating under those auspices will inevitably employ tactics and select targets with which you disagree. That too is understandable.

But, those who object must be careful not to become “more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice.”

Now here’s Prof. Krugman:

Something strange is happening in the Republican primary — something strange, that is, besides the Trump phenomenon. For some reason, just about all the leading candidates other than The Donald have taken a deeply unpopular position, a known political loser, on a major domestic policy issue. And it’s interesting to ask why.

The issue in question is the future of Social Security, which turned 80 last week. The retirement program is, of course, both extremely popular and a long-term target of conservatives, who want to kill it precisely because its popularity helps legitimize government action in general. As the right-wing activist Stephen Moore (now chief economist of the Heritage Foundation) once declared, Social Security is “the soft underbelly of the welfare state”; “jab your spear through that” and you can undermine the whole thing.

But that was a decade ago, during former President George W. Bush’s attempt to privatize the program — and what Mr. Bush learned was that the underbelly wasn’t that soft after all. Despite the political momentum coming from the G.O.P.’s victory in the 2004 election, despite support from much of the media establishment, the assault on Social Security quickly crashed and burned. Voters, it turns out, like Social Security as it is, and don’t want it cut.

It’s remarkable, then, that most of the Republicans who would be president seem to be lining up for another round of punishment. In particular, they’ve been declaring that the retirement age — which has already been pushed up from 65 to 66, and is scheduled to rise to 67 — should go up even further.

Thus, Jeb Bush says that the retirement age should be pushed back to “68 or 70”. Scott Walker has echoed that position. Marco Rubio wants both to raise the retirement age and to cut benefits for higher-income seniors.Rand Paul wants to raise the retirement age to 70 and means-test benefits.Ted Cruz wants to revive the Bush privatization plan.

For the record, these proposals would be really bad public policy — a harsh blow to Americans in the bottom half of the income distribution, who depend on Social Security, often have jobs that involve manual labor, and have not, in fact, seen a big rise in life expectancy. Meanwhile, the decline of private pensions has left working Americans more reliant on Social Security than ever.

And no, Social Security does not face a financial crisis; its long-term funding shortfall could easily be closed with modest increases in revenue.

Still, nobody should be surprised at the spectacle of politicians enthusiastically endorsing destructive policies. What’s puzzling about the renewed Republican assault on Social Security is that it looks like bad politics as well as bad policy. Americans love Social Security, so why aren’t the candidates at least pretending to share that sentiment?

The answer, I’d suggest, is that it’s all about the big money.

Wealthy individuals have long played a disproportionate role in politics, but we’ve never seen anything like what’s happening now: domination of campaign finance, especially on the Republican side, by a tiny group of immensely wealthy donors. Indeed, more than half the funds raised by Republican candidates through June came from just 130 families.

And while most Americans love Social Security, the wealthy don’t. Two years ago a pioneering study of the policy preferences of the very wealthy found many contrasts with the views of the general public; as you might expect, the rich are politically different from you and me. But nowhere are they as different as they are on the matter of Social Security. By a very wide margin, ordinary Americans want to see Social Security expanded. But by an even wider margin, Americans in the top 1 percent want to see it cut. And guess whose preferences are prevailing among Republican candidates.

You often see political analyses pointing out, rightly, that voting in actual primaries is preceded by an “invisible primary” in which candidates compete for the support of crucial elites. But who are these elites? In the past, it might have been members of the political establishment and other opinion leaders. But what the new attack on Social Security tells us is that the rules have changed. Nowadays, at least on the Republican side, the invisible primary has been reduced to a stark competition for the affections and, of course, the money of a few dozen plutocrats.

What this means, in turn, is that the eventual Republican nominee — assuming that it’s not Mr. Trump —will be committed not just to a renewed attack on Social Security but to a broader plutocratic agenda. Whatever the rhetoric, the GOP is on track to nominate someone who has won over the big money by promising government by the 1 percent, for the 1 percent.

Blow, Cohen and Kristof

August 13, 2015

In “Police Abuse is a Form of Terror” Mr. Blow says it  inspires a sense of outrage that the people charged with protecting your life could become a threat to it.  In “Why ISIS Trumps Freedom” Mr. Cohen tells us that young European Muslims join Islamic State to escape alienation and the unbearable weight of individual choice.  Mr. Kristof, in “Mr. Obama, Try These Arguments for Your Iran Deal,” says the  Iranian deal is ugly and flawed, but infinitely better than the alternatives.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

Writing about the wave of deadly encounters — many caught on video — between unarmed black people and police officers often draws a particular criticism from a particular subset of readers.

It is some variation of this:

“Why are you not writing about the real problem — black-on-black crime? Young black men are far more likely to be killed by another young black man than by the police. Why do people not seem to protest when those young people are killed? Where is the media coverage of those deaths?”

This to me has always felt like a deflection, a juxtaposition meant to use one problem to drown out another.

Statistically, the sentiment is correct: Black people are more likely to be killed by other black people. But white people are also more likely to be killed by other white people. The truth is that murders and other violent crimes are often crimes of intimacy and access. People tend to kill people they know.

The argument suggests that police killings are relatively rare and therefore exotic, and distract from more mundane and widespread community violence. I view it differently: as state violence versus community violence.

People are often able to understand and contextualize community violence and, therefore, better understand how to avoid it. A parent can say to a child: Don’t run with that crowd, or hang out on that corner or get involved with that set of activities.

A recent study by scholars at the Institution for Social and Policy Studies at Yale found that homicides cluster and overwhelmingly involve a tiny group of people who not only share social connections but are also already involved in the criminal justice system.

We as adults can decide whether or not to have guns in the home. According to a study in the Annals of Internal Medicine, having a gun may increase the chances of being the victim of homicide. We can report violent family members.

And people with the means and inclination can decide to move away from high-poverty, high-crime neighborhoods.

These measures are not 100 percent effective, but they can produce some measure of protection and provide individual citizens with some degree of personal agency.

State violence, as epitomized in these cases by what people view as police abuses, conversely, has produced a specific feeling of terror, one that is inescapable and unavoidable.

The difference in people’s reactions to these different kinds of killings isn’t about an exaltation — or exploitation — of some deaths above others for political purposes, but rather a collective outrage that the people charged with protecting your life could become a threat to it. It is a reaction to the puncturing of an illusion, the implosion of an idea. How can I be safe in America if I can’t be safe in my body? It is a confrontation with a most discomforting concept: that there is no amount of righteous behavior, no neighborhood right enough, to produce sufficient security.

It produces a particular kind of terror, a feeling of nakedness and vulnerability, a fear that makes people furious at the very idea of having to be afraid.

The reaction to police killings is to my mind not completely dissimilar to people’s reaction to other forms of terrorism.

The very ubiquity of police officers and the power they possess means that the questionable killing in which they are involved creates a terror that rolls in like a fog, filling every low place. It produces ambient, radiant fear. It is the lurking unpredictability of it. It is the any- and everywhere-ness of it.

The black community’s response to this form of domestic terror has not been so different from America’s reaction to foreign terror.

The think tank New America found in June that 26 people were killed by jihadist attacks in the United States since 9/11 — compared with 48 deaths from “right wing attacks.” And yet, we have spent unending blood and treasure to combat Islamist terrorism in those years. Furthermore,according to Gallup, half of all Americans still feel somewhat or very worried that they or someone in their family will become a victim of terrorism.

In one of the two Republican debates last week, Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina seemed to be itching for yet another antiterrorism war, saying at one point: “I would take the fight to these guys, whatever it took, as long as it took.”

Whatever, however, long. This is not only Graham’s position, it’s the position of a large segment of the population.

Responding to New America’s tally, Fareed Zakaria wrote in The Washington Post in July:

“Americans have accepted an unprecedented expansion of government powers and invasions of their privacy to prevent such attacks. Since 9/11, 74 people have been killed in the United States by terrorists, according to the think tank New America. In that same period, more than 150,000Americans have been killed in gun homicides, and we have done … nothing.”

And yet, we don’t ask “Why aren’t you, America, focusing on the real problem: Americans killing other Americans?”

Is the “real problem” question reserved only for the black people? Are black people not allowed to begin a righteous crusade?

One could argue that America’s overwhelming response to the terror threat is precisely what has kept the number of people killed in this country as a result of terror so low. But, if so, shouldn’t black Americans, similarly, have the right to exercise tremendous resistance to reduce the number of black people killed after interactions with the police?

How is it that we can understand an extreme reaction by Americans as a whole to a threat of terror but demonstrate a staggering lack of that understanding when black people in America do the same?

Next up we have Mr. Cohen:

What leads young European Muslims in their thousands to give up lives in France, Britain or Germany, enlist in the ranks of the movement calling itself Islamic State, and dedicate themselves to the unlikely aim of establishing a Caliphate backed by digital propaganda?

The honest answer is we don’t know why a 20-something Briton with a degree in computer engineering or a young Frenchman from a Norman village reaches a psychological tipping-point. Zealotry of any kind subsumes the difficulty of individual choices into the exalted collective submission of dedication to a cause. Your mission is suddenly set. It is presented as a great one with great rewards. Goodbye, tough calls. Goodbye, loneliness.

Islamic State has been adept in exploiting the alienation felt by many young Muslims, from the “quartiers” of Paris to the back streets of Bradford. It offers to give meaning, whether in this life or the next, to meaningless lives. The group has benefited from active support by online jihadi preachers and tacit backing, or at least acquiescence, from imams in some mosques who are inclined, in British Prime Minister David Cameron’s words, to “quietly condone.” It has manipulated anger over America’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, over Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo, over Shia ascendancy in the Middle East, over bleak existences on the margins of European society.

Still, the explanations fall short. Plenty of people experience great hardship or prejudice without opting to behead infidels and apostates, practice codified rape on teenage nonbelievers, and pursue the establishment of God’s rule on earth through his chosen caliph and in accordance with Shariah law.

Every effort of Western societies, particularly since 9/11, to curb the metastasizing jihadi ideology that threatens them has failed. Some of the organizations that grew out of that ideology have been hurt. But the ideas behind them, rooted in a violent rejection of modernity (but not all its tools, witness Islamic State’s slick use of the Internet) and in an extreme, literalist interpretation of certain teachings of Sunni Islam, have proved of unquenchable appeal. It’s a long way from Yorkshire to Raqqa in eastern Syria, yet some young British Muslims go. Other recruits arrive from Saudi Arabia and Russia, Libya and Australia. Islamic State has demonstrated very broad outreach.

It is clearly tapping into something deep. Perhaps that something is at root a yearning to be released from the burden of freedom. Western societies have been going ever further in freeing their citizens’ choices — in releasing them from ties of tradition or religion, in allowing people to marry whom they want and divorce as often as they want, have sex with whom they want, die when they want, and generally do what they want. There are few, if any, moral boundaries left.

In this context, radical Islam offers salvation, or at least purpose, in the form of a life whose moral parameters are strictly set, whose daily habits are prescribed, whose satisfaction of everyday needs is assured, and whose rejection of freedom is unequivocal. By taking away freedom, Islamic State lifts a psychological weight on its young followers adrift on the margins of European society.

Mark Lilla, in an essay earlier this year in The New York Review of Books on the French novelist Michel Houellebecq’s novel “Submission” (whose central character, a disaffected literature professor, ultimately chooses to convert to Islam) made this important point:

“The qualities that Houellebecq projects onto Islam are no different from those that the religious right ever since the French Revolution has attributed to premodern Christendom — strong families, moral education, social order, a sense of place, a meaningful death, and, above all, the will to persist as a culture. And he shows a real understanding of those — from the radical nativist on the far right to radical Islamists — who despise the present and dream of stepping back in history to recover what they imagine was lost.”

Lilla concluded of Houellebecq that he sees France in the grip of “a crisis that was set off two centuries ago when Europeans made a wager on history: that the more they extended human freedom, the happier they would be. For him, that wager has been lost. And so the continent is adrift and susceptible to a much older temptation, to submit to those claiming to speak for God.”

In Europe, right now, those speaking most ardently for God tend to be Muslims. Some of them have spoken out bravely against Islamic State. A majority sees the movement as a betrayal of their religion. But the jihadi temptation to escape from freedom into all-answering zealotry is there and will not soon be curbed.

It is interesting that another foe of the West, President Vladimir Putin, attacks its culture from a similar standpoint: as irreligious, decadent and relativist, and intent on globalizing these “subversive” values, often under the cover of democracy promotion, freedom and human rights.

The great victory in 1989 was of freedom. But every triumph stirs a counter-force. The road to Raqqa is the road from freedom’s burden.

And now here’s Mr. Kristof:

It would be a catastrophe for American influence in the world if Congress killed the Iranian nuclear deal.

Perhaps because the stakes are so high, the debate has become poisonous. Critics are (ludicrously) accusing President Obama of appealing to anti-Semitic tropes. And Obama (petulantly) suggested that some opponents were “alarmist,” “ignorant,” “not being straight” and “making common cause” with Iranians who chant “Death to America.”

Obama’s rhetoric was counterproductive. As former Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, a Texas Republican, told me, “At this point, the president has made it impossible for a Republican to vote for it.” Constituent calls to congressional offices are overwhelmingly against the deal, and with Senator Chuck Schumer defying the White House by opposing it, the opposition is more bipartisan than the support is. That’s tragic, for killing the deal would infuriate many allies, isolate America rather than Iran and ultimately increase the risk of ayatollahs with nuclear weapons.

I’ve already explained why I’m strongly in favor of the deal, and I urge President Obama to start over with his sales job and focus on three points.

First: Sure, the deal is imperfect, but it’s the best way to achieve a goal we all share passionately — preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons.

The great majority of arms experts support the deal, some enthusiastically, some grudgingly. They recognize shortcomings, but on balance, as 29 of America’s leading nuclear scientists and arms experts wrote in an open letter last week, it has “much more stringent constraints than any previously negotiated nonproliferation framework.”

Likewise, three dozen retired American generals and admirals released a joint letter declaring the deal “the most effective means currently available to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.”

Iran would go from maybe a few months from a bomb to a year away. The agreement doesn’t solve the underlying problem, but it may buy us 15 years.

Yes, it would be nice if Iran gave up all its enriched uranium. But isn’t it better that it give up 98 percent of its stockpile than that it give up none?

Everyone knows Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel opposes the deal, but not everyone realizes other Israelis with far more security expertise support it. Ami Ayalon, former head of Israel’s Shin Bet security service, describes it as “the best possible alternative.” And Efraim Halevy, former head of the Mossad, says, “What is the point of canceling an agreement that distances Iran from the bomb?”

Second, it’s true that Iran may try to cheat, but it’s easier to catch and stop the cheating with the deal than without.

Critics sometimes note that President Bill Clinton reached an agreement on nuclear weapons with North Korea in 1994, only to see North Korea cheat. The lesson they draw is that it’s pointless to negotiate with untrustworthy rogue regimes.

I’ve covered North Korea since I was a young reporter in Asia in the 1980s, and the lesson is actually more like the opposite.

That 1994 agreement was indeed flawed, and North Korea violated it. But even so, in the eight years the agreement was in place, North Korea made zero nuclear weapons, according to American intelligence estimates. After the deal collapsed in 2002, the Bush administration turned to a policy of confrontation, and North Korea then made perhaps nine nuclear weapons.

Third, if all goes south, or if Iran is stalling us and after 15 years races to a weapon, we retain the option of a military strike.

I asked David Petraeus, retired four-star general and former head of the C.I.A., about that. “I strongly believe,” he told me, “that there will continue to be a viable military option should Iran seek to break out and construct a nuclear device after the expiration of many of the elements of the inspections regime at the 15-year mark of the agreement.”

To me, this deal is ugly and flawed — and infinitely better than the alternatives. The criticisms of the deal strike me as reasonable, but the alternatives that the critics propose seem unreasonable and incoherent.

So President Obama should hit the restart button. He should acknowledge that the deal has shortcomings but also emphasize that it must be judged not by a referendum on its terms but rather as a choice: deal or no deal.

He can also take steps to reassure doubters. We could boost funding for the International Atomic Energy Agency to make oversight more effective. We could do more to speak up for human rights in Iran and to counter Iranian meddling in the region, especially in Syria.

Gen. Brent Scowcroft, the patriarch of Republican security experts, tells me that he supports the Iran deal in part because it exemplifies American leadership on a crucial global issue. I agree, and for Congress to kill it will not just set back American leadership, it will also increase the odds that Iran gets the bomb.

Blow, Cohen and Krugman

August 10, 2015

In “‘Black Lives Matter’ and the G. O. P.” Mr. Blow says the  discussion should be about more than police conduct. Officers are simply the agents of policy instituted by society as a whole.  Mr. Cohen, in “Europe’s Deepest Debt,” says at this critical moment, it is essential to recall the road traveled since 1945. Germany’s debt to Europe can never be repaid.  Prof. Krugman, in “G. O. P. Candidates and Obama’s Failure to Fail,” says despite their overall condemnation of the Obama record, Republican candidates are oddly short on specifics.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

Only one candidate in last week’s Republican presidential debate was asked to directly address the Black Lives Matter movement and that candidate was Gov. Scott Walker.

Moderator Megyn Kelly asked Walker:

“Governor Walker, many in the Black Lives Matter movement, and beyond, believe that overly-aggressive police officers targeting young African-Americans is the civil rights issue of our time. Do you agree? And if so, how do you plan to address it? If not, why not?”

Walker responded with an answer about sufficient training of officers “not only on the way into their positions but all the way through their time” and about “consequences” for those who don’t properly perform their duties.

Both the question and the answer focused an inordinate amount of attention on police conduct and not enough on revealing that they are simply the agents of policy instituted by officials at the behest of the body politic.

This deficit of examining systems exists all across this debate. It fails to indict society as a whole, as I firmly believe it should. It puts all the focus on the tip of the spear rather than on the spear itself.

Look at it this way: Many local municipalities experience budgetary pressure. Rather than raise taxes or cut services in response, things that are often politically unpalatable, they turn to law enforcement and courts to make up the difference in tickets and fines. Some can also increase the number of finable offenses and stiffen the penalties.

Officers, already disproportionately deployed and arrayed in so-called “high-crime” neighborhoods — invariably poor and minority neighborhoods — are then charged with doing the dirty work. The increase in sheer numbers of interactions creates friction with targeted populations and ups the odds that individual biases will be introduced.

Without fail, something eventually goes horribly wrong.

We look at the end interaction, examining the officers for bias and the suspect for threatening behavior, rather than looking at the systems that necessitated the interactions.

Society itself is to blame. There is blood on everyone’s hands, including the hands still clutching the tax revenue that those cities needed but refused to solicit, instead shifting the mission of entire police departments “from ‘protect and serve’ to ‘punish and profit,’ ” as Mother Jones magazine recently put it in a fascinating article on this subject.

Is it a coincidence that many of the recent cases involving black people killed by the police began with stops for minor offenses?

This “fiscal menace,” as the magazine called it, is added to a system often already addicted to ever-improving crime numbers — a statistically unsustainable condition — and a ballooning prison population. To maintain the momentum, cities needed to crack down on lower and lower-level crimes, sacrificing more and more lives — largely poor and minority ones — to feed the beast. Public safety gave cover for a perversion of justice.

In another moment during the debate, Kelly asked Ben Carson about race relations in America and “how divided we seem right now.” She continued: “And what, if anything, you can do — you would do as the next president to help heal that divide.”

First, before the answer, I have a nit to pick with the question. The framing of the state of race relations as a “divide,” to my mind, creates a false impression, an equivalency. It suggests a lateral-ness. But this discussion is about vertical-ness, about hierarchy. It is about whether state power is being used disproportionately as an oppressive and deadly force against minorities — particularly black people — in this country.

Carson responded with a prelude that seemed to label those demanding justice and equality “purveyors of hatred” seeking a “race war,” an outrageously exaggerated use of incendiary rhetoric.

Then he said:

“What we need to think about instead — you know, I was asked by an NPR reporter once, why don’t I talk about race that often. I said it’s because I’m a neurosurgeon. And she thought that was a strange response. And you say — I said, you see, when I take someone to the operating room, I’m actually operating on the thing that makes them who they are. The skin doesn’t make them who they are. The hair doesn’t make them who they are. And it’s time for us to move beyond that.”

This was an eloquent exposition of the absurdity of race as a biological construct, but also an absurdly elementary avoidance of racism as a very real social construct. I wish it were that people could all simply “move beyond that” at will, that they were able to simply choose to slough off the cumulative accrual of centuries of systematic anti-black negativity. But, that is not a power people possess.

That is why when people respond to “Black Lives Matter” with “All Lives Matter,” it grates. All Lives Matter may be one’s personal position, but until this country values all lives equally, it is both reasonable and indeed necessary to specify the lives it seems to value less.

Now here’s Mr. Cohen:

From time to time I am reminded of all that Europe lost. It can happen in the most unlikely places, in San Diego for example.

I was sitting the other day with a friend named Bonnie Richins. She told me that, as children, she and her sister were not allowed to wear striped clothes. They reminded her father, Kurt Lorig, of the pajama-like attire the Nazis forced him to wear in Auschwitz.

Kurt was born a German Jew. Unlike most of his family, he survived the Holocaust, became an American, settled in California and built a business in outdoor furniture. He always drove an American car. In the 1950s he would sometimes amuse himself by trying to force German-made Volkswagen Beetles off the road — or almost.

Shortly after he arrived in the United States, Kurt and his girlfriend eloped to Tijuana. The marriage lasted over 50 years. It was punctuated by a separation. During that time Bonnie’s sister, who was bipolar, died on an L.A. freeway. She had pulled over. Her car was still running. She had wandered into the road.

Like many survivors, Kurt did not speak of what had happened in Europe. What had happened was unspeakable. Auschwitz left no words. It overwhelmed the lexicon of the hitherto.

About 36.5 million Europeans died between 1939 and 1945 from war-related causes, over half of them civilians, some six million of them Jews targeted for extermination by the Third Reich and its accomplices from Vichy to Vilnius. As the late Tony Judt observed in “Postwar,” his magisterial history of Europe since 1945, “No other conflict in recorded history killed so many people in so short a time.”

This was the culmination of the 31-year European suicide that began in 1914. Europe lay in ruins. Millions of stunned refugees wandered among the charred vestiges of what had once been called European civilization. Borders were redrawn, whole populations moved like pawns on some diabolical chessboard, Germany cut in two and, at Yalta, Europe east of the Elbe ceded to Stalin’s totalitarian empire.

Europe had lost not only Kurt. It had lost almost everything. It had lost half itself. It had lost much of the mingling of which it was composed. In Germany at the end of the war, 21,450 of the country’s 600,000 Jews remained. This, for a long time, Europe chose not to recall in any detail. It had also lost its memory.

America, which had helped liberate Europe, inherited not only wounded young souls like Kurt who would live out their lives without ever quite being able to explain how they got to where they were. It had inherited the earth.

At this moment of European crisis, of European uncertainty, of potential European fracture, I always try to recall the road traveled since 1945. It is the least of considerations toward those 36.5 million dead of seven decades ago. It is the only way I know to assess the European achievement — the vast accumulation of interlinking accords the French call the European acquis — at its true value.

It also seems to me impossible to consider any of Europe’s current dilemmas — from the uses of German power, to Vladimir Putin’s new threat, to the fate of desperate refugees, to the survival of Europe’s common currency — without this reference point.

There is the euro. Then there is war and peace and that other kind of debt.

In “Reunion,” Fred Uhlman’s extraordinary novella exploring the Jewish loss of Germany, the teenage protagonist Hans Schwarz muses on his condition as Hitler rises to power: “All I knew then was that this was my country, my home, without a beginning and without an end, and that to be Jewish was fundamentally no more significant than to be born with dark hair and not with red. Foremost we were Swabians, then Germans and then Jews. How else could I feel?” His father, a doctor twice wounded in World War I, is convinced the rise of the Nazis “is a temporary illness.” The proud physician lambasts a Zionist who is trying to raise funds for a modern state of Israel: “Do you really believe the compatriots of Goethe and Schiller, Kant and Beethoven will fall for this rubbish? How dare you insult the memory of twelve thousand Jews who died for our country? Für unsere Heimat?”

This book, with one of literature’s most shattering final sentences, is a reminder of the German Jewish devotion to the Heimat that was as fervent as it proved misplaced. Jews departed or went to their deaths. A few, like Kurt Lurig, came back from the camps.

In 2005, a decade after President Jacques Chirac broke a long taboo by acknowledging France’s role in the extermination of European Jews, Jean-Pierre Raffarin, then the French prime minister, declared on a visit to Israel that France was thereby “bound forever by the debt she has incurred.”

Germany’s debt to Europe can never be repaid. It is the real and deepest one.

And now here’s Prof. Krugman:

What did the men who would be president talk about during last week’s prime-time Republican debate? Well, there were 19 references to God, while the economy rated only 10 mentions. Republicans in Congress have voted dozens of times to repeal all or part of Obamacare, but the candidates only named President Obama’s signature policy nine times over the course of two hours. And energy, another erstwhile G.O.P. favorite, came up only four times.

Strange, isn’t it? The shared premise of everyone on the Republican side is that the Obama years have been a time of policy disaster on every front. Yet the candidates on that stage had almost nothing to say about any of the supposed disaster areas.

And there was a good reason they seemed so tongue-tied: Out there in the real world, none of the disasters their party predicted have actually come to pass. President Obama just keeps failing to fail. And that’s a big problem for the G.O.P. — even bigger than Donald Trump.

Start with health reform. Talk to right-wingers, and they will inevitably assert that it has been a disaster. But ask exactly what form this disaster has taken, and at best you get unverified anecdotes about rate hikes and declining quality.

Meanwhile, actual numbers show that the Affordable Care Act has sharply reduced the number of uninsured Americans — especially in blue states that have been willing to expand Medicaid — while costing substantially less than expected. The newly insured are, by and large, pleased with their coverage, and the law has clearly improved access to care.

Needless to say, right-wing think tanks are still cranking out “studies” purporting to show that health reform is a failure. But it’s a losing game, and judging from last week’s debate Republican politicians know it.

But what about side effects? Obamacare was supposed to be a job-killer — in fact, when Marco Rubio was asked how he would boost the economy, pretty much all he had to suggest was repealing health and financial reforms. But in the year and a half since Obamacare went fully into effect, the U.S. economy has added an average of 237,000 private-sector jobs per month. That’s pretty good. In fact, it’s better than anything we’ve seen since the 1990s.

Which brings us to the economy.

There was remarkably little economic discussion at the debate, although Jeb Bush is still boasting about his record in Florida — that is, his experience in presiding over a gigantic housing bubble, and providentially leaving office before the bubble burst. Why didn’t the other candidates say more? Probably because at this point the Obama economy doesn’t look too bad. Put it this way: if you compare unemployment rates over the course of the Obama administration with unemployment rates under Reagan, Mr. Obama ends up looking better – unemployment was higher when he took office, and it’s now lower than it was at this point under Reagan.

O.K., there are many reasons to qualify that assessment, notably the fact that measured unemployment is low in part because of a decline in the percentage of Americans in the labor force. Still, the Obama economy has utterly failed to deliver the disasters — hyperinflation! a plunging dollar! fiscal crisis! — that just about everyone on the right predicted. And this has evidently left the Republican presidential field with nothing much to say.

One last point: traditionally, Republicans love to talk about how liberals with their environmentalism and war on coal are standing in the way of America’s energy future. But there was only a bit of that last week — perhaps because domestic oil production has soared and oil imports have plunged since Mr. Obama took office.

What’s the common theme linking all the disasters that Republicans predicted, but which failed to materialize? If I had to summarize the G.O.P.’s attitude on domestic policy, it would be that no good deed goes unpunished. Try to help the unfortunate, support the economy in hard times, or limit pollution, and you will face the wrath of the invisible hand. The only way to thrive, the right insists, is to be nice to the rich and cruel to the poor, while letting corporations do as they please.

According to this worldview, a leader like President Obama who raises taxes on the 1 percent while subsidizing health care for lower-income families, who provides stimulus in a recession, who regulates banks and expands environmental protection, will surely preside over disaster in every direction.

But he hasn’t. I’m not saying that America is in great shape, because it isn’t. Economic recovery has come too slowly, and is still incomplete; Obamacare isn’t the system anyone would have designed from scratch; and we’re nowhere close to doing enough on climate change. But we’re doing far better than any of those guys in Cleveland will ever admit.

Blow, Cohen and Kristof

August 6, 2015

In “Darren Wilson’s Quest for Distance” Mr. Blow says Wilson must have made the calculation that a magazine profile would humanize and rehabilitate him in some way. He was wrong.  Mr. Cohen, in “Incurable American Excess,” says Europeans are hardwired to social protection, Americans to an individualism that rewards and ravages.  Mr. Kristof, in “Making Life Harder for Pimps,” says credit card companies have upended the business model of sex traffickers by eliminating a way they pay for advertising.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

Leading up to the first anniversary of the shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. — and the cultural convolutions that followed — The New Yorker has published an article including extensive interviews with Darren Wilson, the police officer who pulled the trigger.

A grand jury refused to indict Wilson in Brown’s death and the Justice Department cleared him of willfully violating Brown’s civil rights. (Brown’s family is now pursuing a civil suit against the city of Ferguson, the former police chief and Wilson.)

Still, the case remains a polarizing one, as some view it as an example of a needless escalation of hostility that too often leaves a person dead; others view Wilson as a hero and now also as a victim. (Wilson says in the interviews that he has been subject to death threats, can’t move freely without worry in his own community and can’t land another police job.)

The Justice Department issued two reports in the case. The one that cleared Wilson also contradicted some claims of vocal witnesses, claims that became central to the outrage that followed. It found that Brown was not shot in the back, and it deemed unreliable assertions that Brown had his hands up in surrender when he was fatally shot.

But the second report, a comprehensive look at the Ferguson Police Department and courts, found widespread racial targeting of black citizens that permeated the system.

As Jake Halpern put it in The New Yorker article:

“Together, the two reports frustrated attempts to arrive at a clean moral conclusion. Wilson had violated no protocol in his deadly interaction with Brown, yet he was part of a corrupt and racist system.”

That is the backdrop against which Wilson’s comments in the article must stand.

Wilson and his attorneys must have made the calculation that a profile would humanize and rehabilitate him in some way, that the image that emerged of an isolated man being rebuffed by reticent police forces and barraged by threats would be empathetic and restorative. That effort, it seems to me, has backfired.

There is a calculated coldness, a willful obliviousness, a penchant for sweeping racial generalization that is unflattering, if not repugnant, in Wilson’s words.

Wilson admits that he hasn’t read the Justice Department report of systemic racism in Ferguson. (“I don’t have any desire,” he said. “I’m not going to keep living in the past about what Ferguson did. It’s out of my control.”) He also doesn’t seem to recognize or value Brown’s personhood. (“Do I think about who he was as a person? Not really, because it doesn’t matter at this point. Do I think he had the best upbringing? No. Not at all.”)

But to me, the most fascinating part of the interview was the portion where Wilson makes the false claim others often make: that the present is divorced from the past.

“People who experienced that, and were mistreated, have a legitimate claim,” he told me. “Other people don’t.” I asked him if he thought that young people in North County and elsewhere used this legacy as an excuse. “I think so,” he replied.

“I am really simple in the way that I look at life,” Wilson said. “What happened to my great-grandfather is not happening to me. I can’t base my actions off what happened to him.” Wilson said that police officers didn’t have the luxury of dwelling on the past. “We can’t fix in thirty minutes what happened thirty years ago,” he said. “We have to fix what’s happening now. That’s my job as a police officer. I’m not going to delve into people’s life-long history and figure out why they’re feeling a certain way, in a certain moment.” He added, “I’m not a psychologist.”

Ah, this is exactly why structural racism is so resilient: detachment. It requires a faith in individualism separate from systems and history, a faith in a lie. Both Wilson and Brown were operating in a cultural context informed by more than their own actions — it was born long before they were, it is ingrained, it is institutional, it is not only racially aware but racially conceived.

Nothing occurring in America can be divorced from America, the whole of America as it now exists and came to exist. Our present culture rests on historical context.

Yet this false detachment and distancing is what makes the predation of structural racism so perfect: It is an edifice without a single, maleficent architect or even a council thereof. It grows out of collective desire to perform a collective deed. It isn’t so much conscious brainchild as subliminal mind meld.

It is like the hive. No single bee need be aware of the hive’s entirety or its enormity. Just doing one seemingly innocuous task contributes to the whole. In fact, you needn’t participate at all to reap the benefits of the system.

It is as exquisite as it is insidious. It can also be deadly.

At another point, Wilson talks about the disproportionately black towns in what is called “North County” — where he chose to work, by the way, for career advancement reasons — as a kind of culturally degenerate morass. He is quoted as saying in the article of the citizens there: “They’re so wrapped up in a different culture than — what I’m trying to say is, the right culture, the better one to pick from.”

Here is the exchange with the author that follows:

This sounded like racial code language. I pressed him: what did he mean by “a different culture”? Wilson struggled to respond. He said that he meant “pre-gang culture, where you are just running in the streets—not worried about working in the morning, just worried about your immediate gratification.” He added, “It is the same younger culture that is everywhere in the inner cities.”

Wilson speaks of these communities as riddled with pathology rather than ravaged by poverty and, again, as if history, design and systemic racial oppressions like the ones described in the second Justice Department report play no role.

The station from which we start in the world is not arbitrarily assigned by birth lottery but preordained by legacy. Our lives are built upon past lives, those of parents and ancestors. Our access and mobility are enabled or restricted by structures, both young and ancient. I maintain that there is valor in effort, that trying to overcome is indeed a form of overcoming, that holding fast to hope in a world that would strip one naked of it is itself a herculean effort and a moral victory.

Yet I refuse to allow my abiding self-determinism to blind me to systems designed and built on devaluation and destruction. I know as others do the frustration and fatigue of swimming against a current rather than being carried by it. There are realities that must not be ignored or minimized.

Wilson’s interview doesn’t make him appear more human. It reaffirms the degree to which the American mind can seek to divest others of humanity, and it lays bare how historical illiteracy and incuriousness creates the comfortable distance on which pernicious structural racism relies.

Now here’s Mr. Cohen:

A few years ago, Americans and Europeans were asked in a Pew Global Attitudes survey what was more important: “freedom to pursue life’s goals without state interference,” or “state guarantees that nobody is in need.” In the United States, 58 percent chose freedom and only 35 percent a state pledge to eradicate neediness. In Britain, the response was the opposite: 55 percent opted for state guarantees and just 38 percent for freedom. On the European Continent — in Germany, France and Spain — those considering state protection as more important than freedom from state interference rose to 62 percent.

This finding gets to the heart of trans-Atlantic differences. Americans, who dwell in a vast country, sparsely populated by European standards, are hardwired to the notion of individual self-reliance. Europeans, with two 20th-century experiences of cataclysmic societal fracture, are bound to the idea of social solidarity as prudent safeguard and guarantor of human decency. The French see the state as a noble idea and embodiment of citizens’ rights. Americans tend to see the state as a predator on those rights. The French ennoble the dutiful public servant. Americans ennoble the disruptive entrepreneur.

To return from Europe to the United States, as I did recently, is to be struck by the crumbling infrastructure, the paucity of public spaces, the conspicuous waste (of food and energy above all), the dirtiness of cities and the acuteness of their poverty. It is also to be overwhelmed by the volume and vital clamor of American life, the challenging interaction, the bracing intermingling of Americans of all stripes, the strident individualism. Europe is more organized, America more alive. Europe purrs; even its hardship seems somehow muted. America revs. The differences can feel violent.

In his intriguing new book, “The United States of Excess,” Robert Paarlberg, a political scientist, cites the 2011 Pew survey as he grapples with these divergent cultures. His focus is on American overconsumption of fuel and food. Why, he asks, is the United States an “outlier” in greenhouse gas emissions and obesity, and what, if anything, will it do about it? Per capita carbon dioxide emissions in the United States are about twice those of the other wealthy nations of the 34-member Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. American obesity (just over a third of American adults are now obese) is running at about twice the European average and six times the Japanese.

Paarlberg argues persuasively that these American phenomena are linked. He finds their causes in demographic, cultural and political factors. A resource-rich, spacious nation, mistrustful of government authority, persuaded that responsibility is individual rather than collective, optimistic about the capacity of science and technology to resolve any problem, and living in a polarized political system paralyzed by its “multiple veto points,” tends toward “a scrambling form of adaptation” rather than “effective mitigation.”

Americans, in their majority, don’t want to increase taxes on fossil fuels or tax sugar-sweetened drinks because they see such measures as a regressive encroachment on individual freedoms — to drive an automobile and consume what you want. They won’t go the German route of promoting renewables like solar and wind power by guaranteeing higher fixed prices for those who generate it because higher electricity costs would result. Whether it comes to food or fuel, they don’t want measures where “voting-age adults are being coerced into a lifestyle change.”

Individualism trumps all — and innovation, it is somehow believed, will save the country from individualism’s ravages. Paarlberg notes that: “Americans eat alone while at work, alone while commuting to work in the car, alone at the food court while shopping, alone at home while watching TV, and alone in front of the refrigerator both before and after normal mealtime.”

But if all that eating continues to generate obesity — as it will — Americans tend to put their faith in “improved bariatric surgeries, and new blockbuster diet drugs” that “will be challenges welcomed by America’s innovative and responsive private market institutions.” Rather than cut back, they prefer to consume more — whether fuel or food — and then find ways to offset excess.

With the strong policy measures needed to control excess consumption — taxes, regulations and mandates — blocked, political leaders are “tempted to shift more resources and psychological energy toward the second-best path of adaptation,” Paarlberg writes: Easier, and potentially more profitable, to develop drought-resistant farm crops or improve coastal protection systems than tackle global warming by cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

His conclusions are pessimistic. The world should not expect America to change. Its response to overconsumption is inadequate. On global warming, the country adapts but does not confront, content “to protect itself, and itself alone.” On obesity, it shuns the kind of coordinated policy action that will help the less fortunate, particularly disadvantaged minorities.

The question, of course, is whether America’s virtues — its creative churn, vitality and energy — are intrinsic to these vices. My own pessimistic conclusion is that they probably are.

Last but not least we have Mr. Kristof:

In the long struggle against sex trafficking, we finally have a breakthrough!

It didn’t come from Congress, or the White House, from the courts or the police. Rather, it came from credit card companies: Pimps can no longer easily use American Express, Visa or MasterCard to pay for prostitution ads in which they sell 15-year-old girls as if they were pizzas.

That upended the business model of sex trafficking. Pimps all over the country are reduced to figuring out how to pay to promote their ads with, yes, Bitcoin!

Human trafficking is one of the most insidious human rights abuses in the United States — some 100,000 minors are trafficked into the sex trade each year in America. So let me explain how we came to enjoy a triumph over traffickers.

A website called Backpage.com has for years dominated the sex trade advertising business. In April alone it published more than 1.4 million ads in its adult services section in the United States. Almost every time a girl is rescued from traffickers, it turns out that she was peddled on Backpage.

Last year I wrote about a missing 15-year-old Boston girl whose parents were beside themselves with worry. In their living room, I pulled out my laptop, opened up Backpage and quickly found seminude advertisements for the girl, who turned out to be in a hotel room with an armed pimp.

Backpage is allowed to operate because of a loophole in the Communications Decency Act. Attorneys general from 48 states havepleaded with Backpage to stop this exploitation, to no effect. Girls who have been sold on Backpage when they were as young as 13 have sued the company, but haven’t succeeded because of the loophole.

Then suddenly this summer, the miracle of the market intervened.

Sheriff Tom Dart of Cook County, Ill., wrote tough letters to Visa and MasterCard, calling on them to stop allowing their cards to pay for sex ads on Backpage. Both companies effectively agreed. To its great credit, American Express in April stopped working with Backpage for adult ads, so as of the beginning of July pimps had no easy way to pay for advertisements.

Flummoxed, Backpage responded by making its basic sex ads free, but, even with a fee to promote a free ad, that’s not a business model that can sustain it. Backpage is suing Sheriff Dart, but my sense is that pimps won’t be using their credit cards again on the site any time soon.

“If it’s down for six months, that’s six months of children who aren’t raped,” says Yiota Souras of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

So bravo to American Express, MasterCard and Visa — and to Sheriff Dart — for getting results where Congress failed.

There will still be human trafficking, of course, and pimps will find other ways to peddle kids. But it may not be quite so easy for traffickers as it was.

“When on Backpage, I was advertised in the same way as a car or a phone, but with even less value than a bike,” one girl told me late last year. She said she was advertised at the age of 15 and 16 and raped 1,000 times as a result.

My guess is that a majority of sex ads on Backpage are for consenting adults. But a significant minority are for sex with children or with women who are coerced — representing some of the largest and most mistreated classes of human rights victims in America. We don’t have the moral authority to tell other countries to end modern forms of slavery when we don’t clean up our own act.

There has also been progress in other areas. The police in America are going after pimps more, and sometimes johns, as well (that still needs to happen more).

The Nordic model to combat trafficking and exploitation, pioneered in Sweden, has been gaining ground, too. It provides for the arrest of johns while offering help rebuilding the lives of women who were selling sex. Nothing works all that well in curbing sex trafficking, but this model has succeeded better than other approaches.

Yet in some quarters, there’s still a myopia about the degree to which this is a human rights issue. Amnesty International will consider a proposal in the coming days that would call for full decriminalization of the sex trade, including for johns, on the theory that this would benefit sex workers. Nice theory, but a failed one. It has been tried repeatedly and it invariably benefited johns while exacerbating abuse of women and girls: A parallel underground market emerges for underage girls.

Let’s hope Amnesty comes to its senses and, as Swanee Hunt of Harvard put it, avoids “endorsing one of the most exploitative human rights abuses of our time.” Then we can go back to celebrating the struggles of America’s sex traffickers as their business model is upended.

Brooks, Blow and Krugman

July 31, 2015

In “Two Cheers for Capitalism” Bobo says a big coming debate will be over how much say government should have over business and income equality.  In the comments “David Henry” from Walden Pond says he’s given us “The same old GOP whine in a new bottle. No, Mr. Brooks. Without government “proposals” we would still have child labor, abuse of employees, and no benefits.”  In “The DuBose Family: Grieving But Determined” Mr. Blow says the siblings and mother of Samuel DuBose are struggling to deal with his killing by a university police officer.  Prof. Krugman, in “China’s Naked Emperors,” says the politicians in Beijing who have ruled during economic booms, not unlike many of their American counterparts, have no idea what they’re doing.  Here’s Bobo:

We are clearly heading toward another great debate about the nature of capitalism. Contemporary capitalism’s critics are becoming both bolder and more intellectually rigorous. Protests and discussions are sprouting up all over the place.

For example, this week I was attending the Aspen Action Forum, a gathering of young business and NGO leaders selected because of their work for social change. My friend and Times colleague Anand Giridharadas delivered a courageous and provocative keynote address that ruffled some feathers, earned a standing ovation and has had people talking ever since.

Anand argued that a rough etiquette has developed among those who work in and raise money for nonprofits. The rich are to be praised for the good they do with their philanthropy, but they are never to be challenged for the harm they do in their businesses. “Capitalism’s rough edges must be sanded and its surplus fruit shared, but the underlying system must NEVER be questioned,” he said.

Anand suggested that in these days of growing income inequality, this approach is no longer good enough. “Sometimes I wonder,” he said, “whether these various forms of giving back have become to our era what the papal indulgence was to the Middle Ages: a relatively inexpensive way of getting oneself seemingly on the right side of justice, without having to alter the fundamentals of one’s life.”

The winners of our age, he continued, may be helping society with their foundations, but in their business enterprises, the main occupation of their life, they are doing serious harm. First they are using political and financial muscle to enact policies that help them “stack up, protect and bequeath the money.”

Second, they offload risks and volatility onto workers. Uber’s owners have a lot of security but they deny any responsibility for their workers’ “lives, health, desire for career growth.”

Third, the owners of capital are increasingly remote from their communities. “In the old days, if a company C.E.O. suddenly dumped the defined-benefits pension, you knew who to go see to complain. Today it may be an unseen private equity fund that lobbies for the change.” The virtualization of ownership insulates the privileged from the “devastating consequences” of their decisions.

Anand’s speech struck me as deeply patriotic in its passion and concern. He didn’t offer a policy agenda to address these deep structural problems, but his description of them implied that government would have to get much more heavily involved in corporate governance and private-sector investment decisions than ever before.

Indeed, progressive economists are already walking down this path. Hillary Clinton’s new tax plan is based on the assumption that government officials are smart enough to tell investors how they should time their investments. Her corporate governance proposals are based on the idea that federal officials know better than executives how they should run their own companies. There will be much more of this in years to come.

This strikes me as a departure from recent progressivism. In the recent past progressives have argued for a little redistribution to fund human capital development: early childhood education, child and family leave, better community colleges.

But the next wave of thinking implies that it is not enough to simply give people access to capitalism and provide them with a safety net. The underlying system has to be reconfigured.

This is a bigger debate.

People like me will argue that it’s a wrong turn. First, government planners are not smart enough to plan complex systems in this way. The beauty of capitalism is that it takes a dim view of human reason. No group of experts is smart enough to allocate the resources of society well. Capitalism sets up a system of discovery as different people compete and adapt in accordance with market signals. If you try to get technocratic planners organizing investment markets or internal business governance, you will wind up with perversities and rigidities that will make everything worse.

Second, the attempt to tame the market will end up stultifying it. Everybody knows that capitalism’s creative destruction can be rough. But over the last few decades, a ragged version of global capitalism in places ranging from China to Nigeria has brought about the greatest reduction in poverty in human history. America’s fluid style of capitalism attracts driven and talented immigrants and creates vast waves of technological innovation. This dynamism is always in danger of being stultified by planners who think they can tame it and by governing elites who want to rig it. We should not take it for granted.

The coming debate about capitalism will be between those who want to restructure the underlying system and those who want to help people take advantage of its rough intensity. It will be between people who think you need strong government to defeat oligarchy and those who think you need open competition.

This will be fun.

Fun?  FUN?  Eff off, Bobo.  Go sit in your “vast spaces for entertaining” and STFU.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

Terina DuBose Allen had just gotten out of the shower when she answered the phone. It was her brother Aubrey DuBose.

Aubrey warned Terina, “You need to sit down.”

“I’m not sitting down,” Terina responded, sensing something wrong, and worrying maybe something had happened to their mother.

Aubrey said, “Sam is dead.”

Terina recalled to me over lunch Thursday in downtown Cincinnati, “I just screamed,” and she said she dropped to the floor. “Everything in my body went numb.” She continued, “I couldn’t get off the floor for three hours.”

Samuel DuBose was her brother, the second of five siblings. Terina is the oldest. Sam — no one called him Samuel, Terina explained — was a 43-year-old, unarmed Cincinnati man shot in the head and killed on July 19 by a University of Cincinnati police officer, Ray Tensing.

Terina struggled to explain the enormity of her and her family’s loss and her reaction to it: “I broke down because we had just lost a really good person, a person in the universe who always had your back.”

I spent much of the day Thursday with the DuBose family, “embedded,” as their lawyers called it. I went with them as they made the media rounds; I sat with them in the courtroom during the arraignment as they saw the man who killed Sam in the flesh for the first time; I ate with them; I was there when they laughed and when they cried uncontrollably in a hotel hallway. Grief comes in waves that keep crashing to shore.

I have had the honor and the solemn duty to be around many families with similar losses in the last couple of years, and there is something of an unsettling sameness: The feeling of being thrust into a harsh spotlight when you’d rather quietly grieve; being motivated by a sense of mission to fight for the person who is lost, all the while emotionally and physically running on empty; resisting the pull of a world trying desperately to reduce the man or woman you loved into a martyr it can champion or, conversely, a menace it can despise.

Tensing’s lawyer, Stew Mathews, said of Tensing: “He’s devastated by this, as is his family, and he is currently lodged in the Hamilton County Justice Center.”

Actually, if you want to see devastation, look no further than the DuBose family. As Terina said at the courthouse, “I wish my brother was in jail and not dead.”

But in addition to the staggering sense of loss is also a steel-spined determination, and no one in that family typifies that more than Terina. She has emerged as something of a spokeswoman and a warrior.

As she spoke to one of the lawyers on the sidewalk, I heard a man say over my shoulder, “She’s strong as hell,” to which a woman responded, “She’s my new idol.”

For instance, she has become a strong advocate for body cameras, although they are not perfect solutions. As she put it, in her brother’s case, they didn’t prevent the crime, but they prevented the cover-up.

Terina’s sister, Cleshawn DuBose, said of her: “We call her ‘Get-Right-Terina.’”

I got the sense of that statement immediately: If you were in the wrong, Terina would get you right.

Terina, who said she holds a graduate degree in strategic leadership and owns her own corporate consulting company, wanted to correct some of the “lies” about her brother.

According to both sisters, Sam wasn’t violent, and he wasn’t a heavy drinker. But, Terina said, “he wasn’t a monk” either.

As Terina said, “I’m trying to give you the real.” Cleshawn chimed in, “We don’t want Sam to be misrepresented.” Terina added, “for the better or the worse.”

Terina summed it up: Sam had been arrested dozens of times on traffic violations. Also, he smoked marijuana, and had years ago served time for selling it.

But as Terina put it, “That was the worst of it.”

Not only are none of those reasons to kill a man, or to say that he “deserved it,” none of those reasons have anything whatsoever to do with the incident that led to Sam’s death.

Sam was a human being — a man, a son, a brother and a father. “Sam was loved and Sam loved, hard,” Terina said.

Midway through the day, Sam’s mother, Audrey DuBose, joined the rest of the family on their rounds.

She was visibly drained, but still spiritually moored. She insisted that Terina and Cleshawn pray with her during one of our car rides: “We need to pray; we need the strength.”

I noticed the way she drew long breaths, the way the water in the bottle she was holding vibrated because her hand was trembling, the way she closed her eyes for long stretches, even when talking. It was the familiar fatigue that hangs on the mothers of killed children.

She confessed to me in a quiet moment: “All I want to do is just shut my door and cover up and never open it again.”

That is what devastation feels like.

And now here’s Prof. Krugman:

Politicians who preside over economic booms often develop delusions of competence. You can see this domestically: Jeb Bush imagines that he knows the secrets of economic growth because he happened to be governor when Florida was experiencing a giant housing bubble, and he had the good luck to leave office just before it burst. We’ve seen it in many countries: I still remember the omniscience and omnipotence ascribed to Japanese bureaucrats in the 1980s, before the long stagnation set in.

This is the context in which you need to understand the strange goings-on in China’s stock market. In and of itself, the price of Chinese equities shouldn’t matter all that much. But the authorities have chosen to put their credibility on the line by trying to control that market — and are in the process of demonstrating that, China’s remarkable success over the past 25 years notwithstanding, the nation’s rulers have no idea what they’re doing.

Start with the fundamentals. China is at the end of an era — the era of superfast growth, made possible in large part by a vast migration of underemployed peasants from the countryside to coastal cities. This reserve of surplus labor is now dwindling, which means that growth must slow.

But China’s economic structure is built around the presumption of very rapid growth. Enterprises, many of them state-owned, hoard their earningsrather than return them to the public, which has stunted family incomes; at the same time, individual savings are high, in part because the social safety net is weak, so families accumulate cash just in case. As a result, Chinese spending is lopsided, with very high rates of investment but a very lowshare of consumer demand in gross domestic product.

This structure was workable as long as torrid economic growth offered sufficient investment opportunities. But now investment is running into rapidly decreasing returns. The result is a nasty transition problem: What happens if investment drops off but consumption doesn’t rise fast enough to fill the gap?

What China needs are reforms that spread the purchasing power — and it has, to be fair, been making efforts in that direction. But by all accounts these efforts have fallen short. For example, it has introduced what is supposed to be a national health care system, but in practice many workers fall through the cracks.

Meanwhile, China’s leaders appear to be terrified — probably for political reasons — by the prospect of even a brief recession. So they’ve been pumping up demand by, in effect, force-feeding the system with credit, including fostering a stock market boom. Such measures can work for a while, and all might have been well if the big reforms were moving fast enough. But they aren’t, and the result is a bubble that wants to burst.

China’s response has been an all-out effort to prop up stock prices. Large shareholders have been blocked from selling; state-run institutions have been told to buy shares; many companies with falling prices have been allowed to suspend trading. These are things you might do for a couple of days to contain an obviously unjustified panic, but they’re being applied on a sustained basis to a market that is still far above its level not long ago.

What do Chinese authorities think they’re doing?

In part, they may be worried about financial fallout. It seems that a number of players in China borrowed large sums with stocks as security, so that the market’s plunge could lead to defaults. This is especially troubling because China has a huge “shadow banking” sector that is essentially unregulated and could easily experience a wave of bank runs.

But it also looks as if the Chinese government, having encouraged citizens to buy stocks, now feels that it must defend stock prices to preserve its reputation. And what it’s ending up doing, of course, is shredding that reputation at record speed.

Indeed, every time you think the authorities have done everything possible to destroy their credibility, they top themselves. Lately state-run media have been assigning blame for the stock plunge to, you guessed it, a foreign conspiracy against China, which is even less plausible than you may think: China has long maintained controls that effectively shut foreigners out of its stock market, and it’s hard to sell off assets you were never allowed to own in the first place.

So what have we just learned? China’s incredible growth wasn’t a mirage, and its economy remains a productive powerhouse. The problems of transition to lower growth are obviously major, but we’ve known that for a while. The big news here isn’t about the Chinese economy; it’s about China’s leaders. Forget everything you’ve heard about their brilliance and foresightedness. Judging by their current flailing, they have no clue what they’re doing.

Blow and Krugman

July 27, 2015

In “At Sarah Bland’s Funeral, Celebration and Defiance” Mr. Blow says mourners praised the life of the young woman, whose death leaves unanswered questions.  In “Zombies Against Medicare” Prof. Krugman says arguments that have already been shown to be false are still used by conservatives to attack a program that has done rather well.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

Funerals are often predictably somber — a cloistering and culminating of grief and pain. Not Sandra Bland’s funeral. (Everyone called her Sandy, by the way.) Sandy’s was simultaneously celebratory and defiant.

Bland was the 28-year-old Illinois woman arrested after a traffic stop in Texas who died in a county jail. Her funeral was held Saturday at DuPage African Methodist Episcopal Church in Lisle, Ill., just outside Chicago.

Bland’s casket was white. Many in the family wore white. The pastor wore a white ministerial robe. This was not to be a dark day. The joyous music of the choir seemed to vibrate everything in the building. Bland’s mother, Geneva Reed-Veal, danced every time the choir sang. One of Bland’s cousins performed a praise dance, a choreographed dance set to religious music.

There were whimpers and tears, to be sure, but there was also laughter and praise. As the church’s pastor, James F. Miller, put it: “This is not a moment of defeat; this is a moment of victory.” He continued: “We’re not funeralizing a martyr or a victim; we’re celebrating a hero!” The crowd erupted.

Over a few days leading up to the funeral I interviewed a few of Bland’s fellow church members and friends. They described a complex person — in other words, a person — who had recently come into her own, realizing her life’s purpose (social justice), a person who to them appeared determined, settled and happy. None of them believe she committed suicide, or that it was even possible.

What I did hear during those interviews and during the funeral itself were words and phrases like these used to describe Bland: “Fearless.” “Activist.” “Life of the party, in a good way.” “Vibrant and full of life.” “Passionate.” “A strong woman; a strong black woman.”

It was abundantly clear to me that the people who knew and loved her loved her fierce-ly and loved her fierce-ness.

That was not to say that Bland didn’t have her ups and downs the way many young people do. But rather, she wasn’t afraid to admit it and wanted to use her testimony to help others. I spoke to a woman with whom Bland was working to start a women’s empowerment forum online, who said that Bland told her that she wanted to share her travails because “it takes a lot of will and resilience when you’re going downhill to stop yourself.”

The Rev. Theresa Dear, who spoke to me on the family’s behalf, said that sure, Sandy was a “mouthy person” and that she could imagine her “raising you know what” in her Texas jail cell.

But, like Bland’s other friends, Dear described this in ways that seemed less acerbic than courageous, less Sister Souljah than Sojourner Truth.

As Dear put it: “Everybody in their lives needs a Sandy Bland posture, a Sandy Bland voice.”

Bland didn’t demur and knuckle under. Some have criticized her for her stance during the traffic stop, suggesting that if she had behaved differently, with more respect for the officer, she might have avoided arrest.

Maybe. But, it must always be remembered that the parameters of “respectable behavior” are both raced and gendered. The needle moves to differing positions for different people. That is, I believe, one of the reasons that this minor traffic stop so quickly escalated.

How dare a woman not present as a damsel? How dare a black person not bow in obsequiousness?

The officer’s irritation seemed to build in direct response to Bland’s unwavering defiance. She refused to break, crumble and cry. She refused to express fear. She challenged his authority, his character and his expression of masculinity.

Now, it is clear to me that Bland’s allies are girding themselves to fight for her life and her legacy. As her mother said in a fiery speech during the funeral: “I’m going to take today and relax. I’m going to take tomorrow and relax. But Monday, it’s on!”

There are so many unanswered questions in this case and so many things that don’t, on their face, make sense. The public wants answers, but more importantly, the family needs answers. As her mother said, “I’m the mama, and I still don’t know what happened to my baby!”

The pastor extolled those gathered to “go online and shut down the Justice Department’s website, asking for a federal investigation.” Indeed, Senator Dick Durbin and Representative Bill Foster both said at the funeral that they’d each sent letters to Attorney General Loretta Lynch requesting such an investigation.

And both Bland’s mother and Pastor Miller took swipes at the media’s portrayal of Sandy.

Miller demanded that responsible media stop showing images of Bland’s scarred body, “lining your pockets with the blood of our child!” As Miller said, “You have stepped on the cat’s tail.”

Then he seemed to, for comedic and theatrical purposes, catch himself, musing out loud, “They want me to sit down because I’m going to get us in trouble.”

But he quickly followed: “I was born black in America; I was born in trouble.” The mourners signaled their agreement.

Now here’s Prof. Krugman:

Medicare turns 50 this week, and it has been a very good half-century. Before the program went into effect, Ronald Reagan warned that it would destroy American freedom; it didn’t, as far as anyone can tell. What it did do was provide a huge improvement in financial security for seniors and their families, and in many cases it has literally been a lifesaver as well.

But the right has never abandoned its dream of killing the program. So it’s really no surprise that Jeb Bush recently declared that while he wants to let those already on Medicare keep their benefits, “We need to figure out a way to phase out this program for others.”

What is somewhat surprising, however, is the argument he chose to use, which might have sounded plausible five years ago, but now looks completely out of touch. In this, as in other spheres, Mr. Bush often seems like a Rip Van Winkle who slept through everything that has happened since he left the governor’s office — after all, he’s still boasting about Florida’s housing-bubble boom.

Actually, before I get to Mr. Bush’s argument, I guess I need to acknowledge that a Bush spokesman claims that the candidate wasn’t actually calling for an end to Medicare, he was just talking about things like raising the age of eligibility. There are two things to say about this claim. First, it’s clearly false: in context, Mr. Bush was obviously talking about converting Medicare into a voucher system, along the lines proposed by Paul Ryan.

And second, while raising the Medicare age has long been a favorite idea of Washington’s Very Serious People, a couple of years ago the Congressional Budget Office did a careful study and discovered that it would hardly save any money. That is, at this point raising the Medicare age is a zombie idea, which should have been killed by analysis and evidence, but is still out there eating some people’s brains.

But then, Mr. Bush’s real argument, as opposed to his campaign’s lame attempt at a rewrite, is just a bigger zombie.

The real reason conservatives want to do away with Medicare has always been political: It’s the very idea of the government providing a universal safety net that they hate, and they hate it even more when such programs are successful. But when they make their case to the public they usually shy away from making their real case, and have even, incredibly, sometimes posed as the program’s defenders against liberals and their death panels.

What Medicare’s would-be killers usually argue, instead, is that the program as we know it is unaffordable — that we must destroy the system in order to save it, that, as Mr. Bush put it, we must “move to a new system that allows [seniors] to have something — because they’re not going to have anything.” And the new system they usually advocate is, as I said, vouchers that can be applied to the purchase of private insurance.

The underlying premise here is that Medicare as we know it is incapable of controlling costs, that only the only way to keep health care affordable going forward is to rely on the magic of privatization.

Now, this was always a dubious claim. It’s true that for most of Medicare’s history its spending has grown faster than the economy as a whole — but this is true of health spending in general. In fact, Medicare costs per beneficiary have consistently grown more slowly than private insurance premiums, suggesting that Medicare is, if anything, better than private insurers at cost control. Furthermore, other wealthy countries with government-provided health insurance spend much less than we do, again suggesting that Medicare-type programs can indeed control costs.

Still, conservatives scoffed at the cost-control measures included in the Affordable Care Act, insisting that nothing short of privatization would work.

And then a funny thing happened: the act’s passage was immediately followed by an unprecedented pause in Medicare cost growth. Indeed, Medicare spending keeps coming in ever further below expectations, to an extent that has revolutionized our views about the sustainability of the program and of government spending as a whole.

Right now is, in other words, a very odd time to be going on about the impossibility of preserving Medicare, a program whose finances will be strained by an aging population but no longer look disastrous. One can only guess that Mr. Bush is unaware of all this, that he’s living inside the conservative information bubble, whose impervious shield blocks all positive news about health reform.

Meanwhile, what the rest of us need to know is that Medicare at 50 still looks very good. It needs to keep working on costs, it will need some additional resources, but it looks eminently sustainable. The only real threat it faces is that of attack by right-wing zombies.

Remove the earnings cap.

Blow and Kristof

July 23, 2015

In “Questions About the Sandra Bland Case” Mr. Blow says that when there are lapses in logic in what people think would be reasonable explanations, suspicion spreads.  In “Starvation as a Product of War” Mr. Kristof says there’s a looming famine in South Sudan. What’s needed most isn’t food, but an end to the civil war.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

I have so many questions about the case in which Sandra Bland was arrested in a small Texas town and died in police custody. These are questions that ought to be easy to answer, questions that I suspect many others may share. Here are just some of my areas of inquiry.

1. On the video released by the Texas Department of Public Safety of Bland’s traffic stop, the arresting officer, Brian Encinia, tells her that the reason for her stop is that she “failed to signal a lane change.” The officer returns to his car, then approaches Bland’s vehicle a second time. He remarks to Bland, “You seem very irritated.” Bland responds, “I am. I really am.” She continues, “I was getting out of your way. You were speeding up, tailing me, so I move over, and you stop me. So, yeah, I am a little bit irritated.”

Was Bland simply trying to move out of the way of a police vehicle?

The video shows the officer’s car accelerating behind Bland’s and passing a sign indicating a speed limit of 20 miles per hour. How fast was the officer closing the distance on Bland before she changed lanes? Was it completely reasonable for her to attempt to move out of his way?

2. The officer, while standing at the closed driver’s side door, asks Bland to extinguish her cigarette. As soon as she refuses, he demands that she exit the vehicle. Was the demand to exit because of the refusal? If so, what statute in Texas — or anywhere in America! — stipulates that a citizen can’t smoke during a traffic stop?

3. According to Encinia’s signed affidavit, Bland was “removed from the car” and “placed in handcuffs for officer safety.” The reason for the arrest is unclear to me. At one point, Encinia says, “You were getting a warning until now you’re going to jail.” So, what was the arrest for at that point? Failure to comply? Later in the video, Encinia says, “You’re going to jail for resisting arrest.” If that was the reason, why wasn’t Bland charged with resisting arrest? The affidavit reads, “Bland was placed under arrest for Assault on Public Servant.”

Encinia’s instructions to Bland are a jumble of confusion. After she is handcuffed, he points for her to “come read” the “warning” ticket, then immediately pulls back on her arm, preventing her from moving in the direction that he pointed, now demanding that she “stay right here.” He then commands Bland to “stop moving,” although, as she points out, “You keep moving me!” What was she supposed to do?

4. According to Encinia’s affidavit, at some point after being handcuffed, “Bland began swinging her elbows at me and then kicked my right leg in the shin.” On the dashcam video, a commotion happens out of view of the camera, with Bland complaining that she is being hurt — “You’re about to break my wrist!” and “You knocked my head in the ground; I got epilepsy!” Encinia and another officer insist that Bland stop moving. Encinia can be heard to say, “You are yanking around! When you pull away from me, you are resisting arrest!” (Neither the dashcam video nor a video taken by a bystander shows a discernible kick.)

When Encinia re-enters the frame of the dashcam, he explains to a female officer: “She started yanking away, then kicked me, so I took her straight to the ground.” The female officer points to Encinia’s leg as she says: “Yeah, and there you got it right there.”

Encinia says, “One thing for sure, it’s on video.” Only, it isn’t. Why exactly was Bland walked out of the frame of view of the dashcam for the arrest procedure?

5. The initial video posted by Texas authorities also has a number of visual glitches — vanishing cars, looping sequences — but no apparent audio glitches.

The director of “Selma,” Ava DuVernay, tweeted: “I edit footage for a living. But anyone can see that this official video has been cut. Read/watch. Why?” She included a link to a post pointing out the discrepancies in the video.

According to NBC News:

“Tom Vinger, a spokesman for the Department of Public Safety, blamed a ‘technical issue during posting.’ He said that the department was working to correct the video.”

What kinds of “technical difficulties” were these? Why wouldn’t the audio also have glitches? (Authorities have now released a new, slightly shorter video.)

6. Texas authorities say that, while in the Waller County jail cell, Bland used a trash bag from a trash can in the cell to hang herself. Is it standard procedure to have trash cans with trash bags in jail cells? Is the can secured to the floor? If not, couldn’t it be used by an inmate to hurt herself, or other inmates or jail staff?

According to a report on Wednesday by The Houston Chronicle:

“Bland disclosed on a form at the jail that she previously had attempted suicide over that past year, although she also indicated she was not feeling suicidal at the time of her arrest, according to officials who attended the Tuesday meeting with local and state leaders investigating the case.” Shouldn’t they have known it was a suicide risk?

The Bureau of Justice Statistics points out that suicide is the No. 1 cause of non-illness-related deaths in local jails (although blacks are least likely to commit those suicides), and between 2000 and 2011 about half of those suicides “occurred within the first week of admission.”

Why weren’t more precautions taken, like, oh, I don’t know, removing any suicide risks from the cell?

7. Houston’s Channel 2 aired “exclusive video from inside the Waller County jail cell where Sandra Bland was found dead.” In the video, a trash can — a very large one — is clearly visible. But, strangely, it appears to have a trash bag in it. If Bland used the trash bag to hang herself, where did the one in the can come from? Did they replace it? Why would the jail staff do that?

8. NBC News’ John Yang also toured the cell, and in his video he says that “things are really the same as it was that morning” when officers found Bland’s body, including food (“Dinner Untouched” was the language used in title of the video on NBCNews.com) and a Bible on the bed opened to Psalms. (That Bible appears to be closed in the Channel 2 video. Who opened it between the two videos?).

And what page is the Bible opened to in the NBC video? It is open to Psalm 119 and at the top of the page are verses 109-110: “Though I constantly take my life in my hands, I will not forget your law. The wicked have set a snare for me, but I have not strayed from your precepts.” Eerie. Or, convenient.

Also in the Channel 2 video, there are orange shoes on the floor by the bed. In the NBC video, they are gone. Who moved them? Why? Where are they?

Yang says of the trash bag in the can: “Around her neck, they say, was a trash bag, an extra trash bag from this receptacle.” So what gives here? “Extra trash bag”? Was there more than one trash bag in the cell or had that one been replaced?

(It is also worth noting that the video shows what appears to be a rope holding a shower curtain.)

Isn’t this an active investigation? Shouldn’t that cell be treated like a crime scene? Why are reporters allowed to wander through it? Who all has been in it?

Maybe there are innocent and convincing answers to all these questions, and others. I hope so. People need things to make sense. When there are lapses in logic in what people think would be reasonable explanations, suspicion spreads.

Now here’s Mr. Kristof, writing from Aweil, South Sudan:

One gauge of the famine looming in South Sudan is that people are simply collapsing from hunger.

As I was driving into this city, a woman was lying inert on the road. She was Nyanjok Garang, and she said she hadn’t eaten for three days. She had set out to look for work, maybe washing clothes, in hopes of keeping her two children alive. After a day of fruitless walking she had collapsed.

“My children are hungry,” she said. “I’m hungry. There’s not even a cent left to buy bread.” Her husband is a soldier in the government forces fighting in South Sudan’s civil war, but she doesn’t even know if he is still alive. So she left her children with a neighbor and set out in hopes of finding work — “and then I blacked out.”

A horrific famine enveloped what is now South Sudan in 1988, and there are some signs that this year could see a repeat. As in 1988, weather has led to poor harvests on top of civil war that has made it difficult to plant crops and move food around the country.

President Obama will be focusing on the South Sudan civil war in his trip starting Thursday night to Kenya and Ethiopia, both neighbors to South Sudan. The war is not only a military crisis but also ahumanitarian catastrophe, which makes it all the more important to step up efforts to bring about peace.

You might think that what’s needed to end a famine is food. Actually, what’s essential above all is an international push of intensive diplomacy and targeted sanctions to reach a compromise peace deal and end the civil war. Yes, Obama has plenty on his plate already, but no other country has the leverage America does. And in peace, South Sudan can care for itself. But as long as the war continues, South Sudanese will face starvation — especially women and girls.

The gender dynamics of hunger are obvious: In Aweil, the hospital ward is full of skeletal women and girls, looking like concentration camp survivors. That’s because (as in many places around the world) when food is insufficient, families allocate it to men and boys, and women and girls disproportionately starve.

One 15-year-old girl in the hospital, Rebecca Athian, was so malnourished that her bones pushed through her skin and she had a measure of anemia (a hemoglobin level of 3) that in the West is pretty much unheard-of. Yet the hospital was now forced to discharge her to make way for new patients.

Rebecca has already lost two siblings in the last year, and although the causes of death were never fully determined, it’s a good guess that they were malnutrition-related. Her mother would like to marry Rebecca off, because it would then be her husband’s duty to feed her and keep her alive. But she says Rebecca has been raped, so men are unwilling to marry her.

The United Nations says 4.6 million people in South Sudan — more than one-third of the population — are “severely food insecure,” and the situation will deteriorate in the coming months because the next major harvest won’t come until October or November. Until then, there is nothing to eat.

“It is the first time we’ve seen so many cases like this,” said Dr. Dut Pioth, the acting director of the hospital. “It’s going to be like what we saw in 1988.”

Dr. Dut was 11 years old during that famine, and he remembers some relatives starving to death. His family fled to Khartoum, where he thrived in school and attended medical school. But he is frustrated because what patients often need now isn’t so much medical care, but rather food and peace.

To see starving children is particularly wrenching. They show no emotions: They do not cry or smile or frown, but simply gaze blankly, their bodies unwilling to waste a calorie on emotion when every iota of energy must go to keep major organs functioning.

It’s striking that this area of South Sudan is not directly affected by fighting; it’s calm here. But the hunger is still war-related, for the conflict is keeping food and supplies out. The road from the capital, Juba, has been blocked by fighting, and disputes with Sudan have closed the border to the north. So this area is cut off, prices are skyrocketing, jobs are disappearing, and ordinary workers can’t afford to buy food.

The only certainty is that it will get worse in the coming months, and the women and girls who die will be war casualties. “Those who are dying of gunshots,” Dr. Dut notes, “are fewer than those who are dying of hunger.”


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