Archive for the ‘Collins’ Category

Blow, Kristof and Collins

October 1, 2015

In “Jeb Bush: Crying Out Loud” Mr. Blow says most of his speeches ooze over him like cold gruel. But there’s one special phrase, when he hears it, that tells him to perk up and pay attention.  In “The Most Important Thing, and It’s Almost a Secret” Mr. Kristof says everyone knows about the spread of war and the hopeless intractability of poverty. But everyone is wrong.  In “Planned Parenthood Talks” Ms. Collins says the only game in town goes into extra innings in Congress.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

In an interview this week with Sirius XM’s POTUS channel, the presidential candidate and former Florida governor Jeb Bush said that Washington Redskins was not an offensive team name. As Bush put it, “It’s a sport, for crying out loud. It’s a football team.” He continued, “I’m missing something here, I guess.”

Ah, Mr. Bush, you always seem to be missing something.

As The New York Times reported, But Change the Mascot, an advocacy group that represents Native American tribes, responded in a statement that read:

“What is surprising is that in promoting the use of this slur, the governor somehow believes he speaks for Native Americans and can assert that Native American people do not find this slur offensive.”

The Times also reported that according to a Federal Election Commission filing, the Redskins owner, Dan Snyder, “donated $100,000 this year to Right to Rise, the super PAC that supports Mr. Bush.”

As always, follow the money.

But there is something else that I also follow when it comes to Bush: his penchant for saying “for crying out loud,” particularly when his back is a bit against the wall and he realizes that what he’s saying will be found controversial by some. It seems to be his way of dampening backlash before it happens.

As a person who uses language for a living, I find it hard not to notice rhetorical quirks committed by others.

It has become something of a parlor game for me to note whenever he says “for crying out loud,” which always seems to signal some level of exasperation. And, somewhere around that phrase, he seems to say something interesting, sometimes something careless, nearly always something that makes news.

It’s one of those subconscious things that speakers do — like scratching their nose while telling a lie or taking a drink of water when listening to a question that makes them uncomfortable — that journalists learn to pay attention to.

For instance, while in Berlin during the summer, Bush addressed turmoil in his campaign, saying:

“This is an adjustment based on the skills of people that I got to know during the last three months. … It’s June, for crying out loud, so we’ve got a long way to go.”

When complaining that the Democratic presidential candidate Martin O’Malley should not have apologized for conflating “all lives matter” with “black lives matter,” Bush said:

“No, for crying out loud, no. We’re so uptight and so politically correct now that we apologize for saying lives matter?”

He continued:

“Life is precious. It’s a gift from God. I frankly think that it’s one of the most important values that we have. I know in the political context it’s a slogan, I guess. Should he have apologized? No.”

When a Democratic National Committee spokeswoman asserted in March that Republican hopefuls were being disingenuous in their attacks on Hillary Clinton over her email, and specifically asked “what emails has Jeb Bush not turned over?” Bush responded that he was “totally transparent. I have a BlackBerry as part of my official portrait, for crying out loud. There was nothing to hide.”

In August, Bush complained about the impracticality of building a border wall between the United States and Mexico, a plan advocated by the Republican front-runner. Bush detailed his own plan, which included beefing up the border patrol and local law enforcement along the border as well as using more technology like drones and GPS. Yet he demanded, “But do it as a conservative, for crying out loud.” He continued, “I don’t think we should spend hundreds of billions of dollars with an impractical solution.”

As a person who uses language for a living, I find it hard not to notice rhetorical quirks committed by others.

It has become something of a parlor game for me to note whenever he says “for crying out loud,” which always seems to signal some level of exasperation. And, somewhere around that phrase, he seems to say something interesting, sometimes something careless, nearly always something that makes news.

It’s one of those subconscious things that speakers do — like scratching their nose while telling a lie or taking a drink of water when listening to a question that makes them uncomfortable — that journalists learn to pay attention to.

For instance, while in Berlin during the summer, Bush addressed turmoil in his campaign, saying:

“This is an adjustment based on the skills of people that I got to know during the last three months. … It’s June, for crying out loud, so we’ve got a long way to go.”

When complaining that the Democratic presidential candidate Martin O’Malley should not have apologized for conflating “all lives matter” with “black lives matter,” Bush said:

“No, for crying out loud, no. We’re so uptight and so politically correct now that we apologize for saying lives matter?”

He continued:

“Life is precious. It’s a gift from God. I frankly think that it’s one of the most important values that we have. I know in the political context it’s a slogan, I guess. Should he have apologized? No.”

When a Democratic National Committee spokeswoman asserted in March that Republican hopefuls were being disingenuous in their attacks on Hillary Clinton over her email, and specifically asked “what emails has Jeb Bush not turned over?” Bush responded that he was “totally transparent. I have a BlackBerry as part of my official portrait, for crying out loud. There was nothing to hide.”

In August, Bush complained about the impracticality of building a border wall between the United States and Mexico, a plan advocated by the Republican front-runner. Bush detailed his own plan, which included beefing up the border patrol and local law enforcement along the border as well as using more technology like drones and GPS. Yet he demanded, “But do it as a conservative, for crying out loud.” He continued, “I don’t think we should spend hundreds of billions of dollars with an impractical solution.”

He was asked at a campaign event in Florida in July about his commitment to overhauling the immigration system. “Yes, for crying out loud,” he said. “It’s a broken system used as a wedge issue for political purposes.”

Many conservatives have accused Bush of supporting what they call amnesty and what others simply call a path to citizenship for some immigrants now illegally in the country. And of course, there was the conservative outrage over Bush saying that many immigrants come illegally as “an act of love.”

In an interview with Georgia Public Broadcasting following the first presidential debate in which Bush bombed, he blasted the front-runner for his criticism of one of the moderators, saying:

“Megyn Kelly is a top-notch journalist. And the fact that she asked the guy tough questions … I mean, if you’re running for president of the United States and you think this is tough, try dealing with Putin for crying out loud.”

Bush has been struggling to get his footing in the race and rebuff and detract from an onslaught of insults coming his way.

While campaigning in New Hampshire in August, Bush commented on the huge Republican field — trying to deflect attention from the fact that he was no longer the G.O.P. front-runner — and how the candidates compared with the Democratic front-runner:

“There’s a lot of differences amongst ourselves but the differences pale in comparison to the differences that I have with Hillary Clinton, for crying out loud.”

The list of Bush’s nervous usage of the idiom goes on and on. I could have filled every one of these column inches with examples.

But Mr. Bush, I must say that I appreciate your little quirk. Most of the time your speeches ooze over me like cold gruel. At least now, when I hear your say “for crying out loud,” I know to perk up and pay attention.

Just think … Jeb! is supposed to be “the smart one.”  Here’s Mr. Kristof:

We journalists are a bit like vultures, feasting on war, scandal and disaster. Turn on the news, and you see Syrian refugees, Volkswagen corruption, dysfunctional government.

Yet that reflects a selection bias in how we report the news: We cover planes that crash, not planes that take off. Indeed, maybe the most important thing happening in the world today is something that we almost never cover: a stunning decline in poverty, illiteracy and disease.

Huh? You’re wondering what I’ve been smoking! Everybody knows about the spread of war, the rise of AIDS and other diseases, the hopeless intractability of poverty.

One survey found that two-thirds of Americans believed that the proportion of the world population living in extreme poverty has almost doubled over the last 20 years. Another 29 percent believed that the proportion had remained roughly the same.

That’s 95 percent of Americans — who are utterly wrong. In fact, the proportion of the world’s population living in extreme poverty hasn’t doubled or remained the same. It has fallen by more than half, from 35 percent in 1993 to 14 percent in 2011 (the most recent year for which figures are available from the World Bank).

When 95 percent of Americans are completely unaware of a transformation of this magnitude, that reflects a flaw in how we journalists cover the world — and I count myself among the guilty. Consider:

• The number of extremely poor people (defined as those earning less than $1 or $1.25 a day, depending on who’s counting) rose inexorably until the middle of the 20th century, then roughly stabilized for a few decades. Since the 1990s, the number of poor has plummeted.

• In 1990, more than 12 million children died before the age of 5; this toll has since dropped by more than half.

• More kids than ever are becoming educated, especially girls. In the 1980s, only half of girls in developing countries completed elementary school; now, 80 percent do.

Granted, some 16,000 children still die unnecessarily each day. It’s maddening in my travels to watch children dying simply because they were born in the wrong place at the wrong time.

But one reason for our current complacency is a feeling that poverty is inevitable — and that’s unwarranted.

The world’s best-kept secret is that we live at a historic inflection point when extreme poverty is retreating. United Nations members have just adopted 17 new Global Goals, of which the centerpiece is the elimination of extreme poverty by 2030. Their goals are historic. There will still be poor people, of course, but very few who are too poor to eat or to send children to school. Young journalists or aid workers starting out today will in their careers see very little of the leprosy, illiteracy, elephantiasis and river blindness that I have seen routinely.

“We live at a time of the greatest development progress among the global poor in the history of the world,” notes Steven Radelet, a development economist and Georgetown University professor, in a terrific book coming in November, “The Great Surge: The Ascent of the Developing World.”

“The next two decades can be even better and can become the greatest era of progress for the world’s poor in human history,” Radelet writes.

I write often about inequality, a huge challenge in the U.S. But globally, inequality is diminishing, because of the rise of poor countries.

What does all this mean in human terms? I was thinking of that last week while interviewing Malala Yousafzai, the teenage Nobel Peace Prize winner. Malala’s mother grew up illiterate, like the women before her, and was raised to be invisible to outsiders. Malala is a complete contrast: educated, saucy, outspoken and perhaps the most visible teenage girl in the world.

Even in countries like Pakistan, the epoch of illiterate and invisible women like Malala’s mother is fading; the epoch of Malala is dawning. The challenge now is to ensure that rich donor nations are generous in supporting the Global Goals — but also that developing countries do their part, rather than succumbing to corruption and inefficiency. (I’m talking to you, Angola!)

There’s one last false argument to puncture. Cynics argue that saving lives is pointless, because the result is overpopulation that leads more to starve. Not true. Part of this wave of progress is a stunning drop in birthrates.

Haitian women now average 3.1 children; in 1985, they had six. In Bangladesh, women now average 2.2 children. Indonesians, 2.3. When the poor know that their children will survive, when they educate their daughters, when they access family planning, they have fewer children.

So let’s get down to work and, on our watch, defeat extreme poverty worldwide. We know that the challenges are surmountable — because we’ve already turned the tide of history.

And now here’s Ms. Collins:

Ten years ago, did you imagine that Planned Parenthood would be the center of our national political life? No, 10 years ago we were just worried about George W. Bush and high oil prices. Sometimes I miss high oil prices.

On Wednesday the House passed a bill to keep the government running until December. Only 91 Republicans supported the idea, because it included funding for Planned Parenthood. (Thank you for keeping the national parks open, Nancy Pelosi.) John Boehner resigned because he was exhausted with the fight.

Right now the House of Representatives has at least three different committees investigating Planned Parenthood. That’s a lot of committees, although you do have to remember that there were once seven investigating what happened in Benghazi. And the current House specialBenghazi investigation has now taken longer than the one that looked into Watergate.

“Everybody thought Hillary Clinton was unbeatable, right? But we put together a Benghazi special committee, a select committee. What are her numbers today? Her numbers are dropping,” Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy bragged to Sean Hannity on Fox News. McCarthy is hoping to succeed John Boehner as speaker, and he’s probably nervous about all the praise Boehner has been getting lately for evenhanded leadership. McCarthy’s remarks sounded awful to innocent bystanders — aren’t these things supposed to at least pretend to be fair? But it was probably meant to reassure his supporters that the team has never really faltered in its commitment to insanely irrational partisanship.

We will look forward to the questioning when Clinton appears before that special committee on Oct. 22. But about Planned Parenthood…

This week’s episode involved an appearance by Planned Parenthood head Cecile Richards before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. Some critics have claimed the members made no attempt to actually get any information from their witness, but just made speeches for the cameras. Well, duh. At least they let Richards into the room. Which is more than you could say for the Judiciary Committee’s recent hearing on “Planned Parenthood Exposed: Examining the Horrific Abortion Practices at the Nation’s Largest Abortion Provider.”

Richards was fine, whenever she could get a word in edgewise. She explained several times that Planned Parenthood’s federal funding was mainly just Medicaid payments for treating low-income patients. However this is a concept that her opponents made it clear they plan to never get their heads around.

Peering down at Richards, Representative John Duncan Jr., a Tennessee Republican, noted that the Boys & Girls Clubs of America “received $26 million from the federal government, compared to your $528 million. Seems a little bit lopsided to me.”

Richards mildly noted that as much as she respected the Boys & Girls Clubs, it doesn’t do a whole lot in the way of providing health care services to Medicaid recipients. Unmoved, Duncan then demanded to know if Richards would defend “the sale of baby body parts.”

This is of course a reference to those heavily doctored videos that are supposed to prove that Planned Parenthood sells fetal tissue for a profit. They have been determined to be false, false, false on one count after another, but the anti-abortion activist who made them has never been invited to a congressional hearing to explain anything.

The committee members are also sure that Planned Parenthood is replaceable. In the immortal words of Representative Jim Jordan of Ohio, they believe they can just “shift the money from an organization caught doing what they were caught doing and give it to the community health centers.” You can tell them a million times that there aren’t nearly enough providers to take care of all those low-income patients. You can show them congressional studies. You can also tell them that Planned Parenthood wasn’t caught doing anything. Never mind. It’s hopeless.

Several Democrats on the committee charged their Republican colleagues with sexism because they continually interrupted Richards and talked over her answers. (Representative Gerry Connolly of Virginia complained about “the disrespect, the misogyny rampant here today.”) But to be fair, this is really standard operating procedure in the House these days, and Richards, who is the daughter of former Texas Gov. Ann Richards, is not exactly a delicate flower.

Her interrogators also harped on her salary, which is more than $520,000 a year. It’s a lot of cash, but not a stunning amount of money for a job at that level, even for a normal large nonprofit where the challenges are mainly administration and fund-raising. Being at the helm of Planned Parenthood in the current climate is more like steering a boat carrying unstable explosives through a rocky and narrow channel while surrounded on both sides by enemy pirates throwing burning torches and threatening to close down the government.

The base salary for the head of the Boys & Girls Clubs, by the way, is $576,000.

Nocera and Collins

September 26, 2015

In “Of Peanuts and Prosecutions” Mr. Nocera says that prosecuting corporate executives for wrongdoing is the single most powerful deterrent imaginable.  Ms. Collins says “Bye, Bye, John Boehner” and tells us that there are reasons no child should want to grow up to be speaker of the House.  Here’s Mr. Nocera:

Salmonella poisoning is an awful affliction. It is marked by diarrhea, abdominal cramps, dehydration and fever that can last as long as a week. Many people wind up in the hospital. Others develop something called reactive arthritis. And in a small number of cases, the victims die.

A major outbreak of salmonella poisoning took place in America in 2008 and 2009, when nine people died and over 700 others were reported ill. The outbreak was traced to a peanut processing plant in Georgia, owned by the Peanut Corporation of America, a $30 million company whose chief executive was a man named Stewart Parnell.

The plant was soon shuttered and the company liquidated. Eventually, Parnell, 61, was indicted and prosecuted. Found guilty, the former C.E.O. received a stunning sentence earlier this week: 28 years in prison.

A serious auto accident is also a terrible thing to endure. We know now that the faulty ignition switch installed in General Motors-made Cobalts, Saturn Ions and other cars manufactured between 2003 and 2007 resulted in at least 124 deaths. In addition, 275 people were injured badly enough to be awarded compensation — some in the millions — by Kenneth Feinberg, the well-known lawyer G.M. hired to run its victims’ compensation fund. At least 20 of the injured, including a young boy, will require 24-hour care for the rest of their lives.

And yet, a few days before Parnell’s sentencing, Preet Bharara, the top federal prosecutor in Manhattan, announced a settlement with G.M. that included a $900 million fine and a three-year deferred prosecution agreement — but not a single indictment of a G.M. employee. (Several remain under investigation.)

How can this be? How is it possible that the executive of a company whose product killed nine people gets a lengthy jail sentence yet the executives of a company whose product killed 124 people get off scot free?

Bharara’s explanation — and there is some truth to it — is that it is unusually difficult to prosecute auto industry executives. It is not a crime “to put into the stream of commerce a defective automobile that might kill people,” he said during his briefing with the media. What’s more, thanks to auto industry lobbying, the nation’s auto safety laws generally call for punishing corporate, rather than individual, malfeasance.

Another reason is specific to the ignition issue: For years, G.M. executives didn’t realize that when the ignition shut down, the airbags also lost power. Thus, G.M. officials didn’t view the problem as a safety issue. In winning cases against individuals, prosecutors have to show criminal intent.

But here’s one of the big surprises about the Parnell case, which was brought by Mike Moore, a federal prosecutor in Georgia. Moore relied as much or more on plain old fraud charges as he did on food safety laws, which do allow for individual prosecutions. The fact that the salmonella outbreak caused nine deaths wasn’t even part of the trial. Instead, the focus was on whether Parnell committed fraud by knowingly introducing tainted peanut butter paste into interstate commerce. The fraud conviction is what brought that eye-popping sentence.

There are plenty of people — people who genuinely understand the law — who believe that Bharara could have done the same thing with G.M. executives who knew about the faulty ignition but said nothing to the government, even though they were required to do so within five days of learning about a safety problem. In their view, Bharara’s cautious reading of the law is far too narrow.

“The fraud in the peanut butter case is that it was contaminated and they knew it,” said Clarence Ditlow, who runs the Center for Auto Safety. “What did G.M. executives do? They knowingly sold a defective car.” Rena Steinzor, a law professor and author of “Why Not Jail?,” about the legal consequences of industrial mishaps, said that in the prosecutors’ statement of fact they specifically noted that G.M. was assuring the public that the cars were safe when people inside the company knew they weren’t.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a Connecticut Democrat and a former attorney general of that state, has co-authored a bill that would make it easier to prosecute auto executives. But he also had little patience with Bharara’s explanation.

“It’s a crime to make a false statement to the government,” Blumenthal said. “18USC1001,” he added, citing the law. “If you submit a false statement to a federally insured bank in connection with a $500 loan, prosecutors can go after you. G.M.’s false statements are just as much a violation of the law.”

I’ve seen it written recently that the urge to prosecute corporate executives is little more than an exercise is schadenfreude. But it’s not. It is instead the single most powerful deterrent imaginable — far more powerful than a fine, which is meaningless to a company like G.M.

“I guarantee you,” says Blumenthal, “one sentence like [Parnell’s] would change auto safety dramatically and enduringly.”

Amen.  Go get ’em…  Here’s Ms. Collins:

Farewell, John Boehner, farewell.

These departures are a little wearying. It was not long ago that we said adieu to Rick Perry. And then Scott Walker. And of course we are gearing up for the moment when the political world says goodbye forever to Donald Trump.

Good times, all.

Boehner’s leave-taking is a bit more of a mixed bag. The surprise announcement came the day after he sat proudly in the background while Pope Francis gave his address to Congress. You will not be stunned to hear that crying occurred, none of it involving Francis.

And there was a private meeting, in which reliable sources said the pope admired Boehner’s tie. But there is no indication he grabbed the speaker by the shoulders and cried: “You’re surrounded by crazy people! Get out while you can, my son!”

Not that it couldn’t have happened. The pope is infallible.

Maybe Boehner fell on his sword to keep the government from being shut down. We’ll probably never figure that one out, since it’s impossible to discuss the question without using the term “continuing resolution.”

The Republicans want to defund Planned Parenthood. There are many, many reasons that idea is not going anywhere. We will not enumerate them, since it would require the mention of the term “budget reconciliation process.” However, the minority leader, Nancy Pelosi, had expressed confidence that Planned Parenthood would be safe even if the Republicans “vote their alleged hearts out.”

We should spend more time quoting Nancy Pelosi. Also noting that in recent years, the nation has avoided a raft of political cataclysms because Pelosi has delivered crucial votes whenever Boehner could not get his own majority to behave in a minimally responsible manner.

Anyway, under normal circumstances, Boehner would have used the Democratic votes to keep the government funded. Then the right wing would have descended on him like a band of vicious wombats.

No more. The speaker may still need the Democrats, but once it’s all over, it’ll be … all over. Boehner is retiring and everybody loves him. There’s nothing like an imminent departure to make a politician popular.

“A patriot,” said President Obama. “To say that I will miss John Boehner is a tremendous understatement,” said the Senate minority leader, Harry Reid.

O.K., not popular with totally everybody. The right-wing Value Voters Summit burst into applause when Senator Marco Rubio announced the resignation news. “I’m not here today to bash anyone,” Rubio said, slightly inaccurately. “But the time has come to turn the page … and allow a new generation of leadership in this country.” Rubio is always promising to usher in an era of fresh new ideas, which appear to involve lowering taxes on the wealthy.

So who would you like to see as the next speaker of the House? (Really, you don’t need a reason. People will just be impressed you have an opinion.) Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California is the favorite. Some say he’s a little dim, but there are worse things in the world.

Then there’s the majority whip, Steve Scalise of Louisiana. He’s a red state guy, which seems appropriate. And he has no memory of giving a speech at that white power convention.

Or what about Paul Ryan? No, wait — take Paul Ryan back. The former vice-presidential nominee declared he was ineligible since he is the father of young children. “This is a job for an empty nester,” he told reporters.

It was a grand moment of gender progress. Someday, perhaps, ambitious women will be allowed to say stuff like that. Maybe even under circumstances that do not involve trying to dodge a politically disastrous assignment.

Boehner claimed he had always been planning to retire at the end of the year. He was going to announce it on his birthday, Nov. 17. But then he suddenly decided it might be better to do it on … Friday. To end “leadership turmoil.”

The bottom line is that the next time the Freedom Caucus decides it cannot support any legislation that fails to defund Planned Parenthood, repeal Obamacare and eliminate the Department of Homeland Security, it will be somebody else’s problem.

John Boehner won’t be around to worry about continuing resolutions. Or the coming crisis over how to keep highway construction going. Or funding the national debt. And after that it’ll be Thanksgiving and time for the next government shutdown.

Boehner won’t care. No sirree, he’ll be back in Reading, Ohio, peacefully carving the turkey. Or maybe in his Florida condo. Soon, he won’t even have to set foot in Reading, Ohio, again unless he feels like it. He hung out with the pope and now he’s hanging up his hat. Canny fellow.

Blow, Cohen, Kristof and Collins

September 24, 2015

In “The Soft Bigotry of Ben Carson” Mr. Blow says his  pedigree as a neurosurgeon adds gravitas to his nonsensical utterances and provides some cover for poisonously harmful, over-the-line invectives.  In “Jews as Far as Possible” Mr. Cohen says being part of Stefan Zweig’s “community of expulsion,” Jews cannot now turn their backs on the expelled.  Mr. Kristof, in “A Pope for All Species,” says Francis’ empathy lifts humans, animals and Christianity itself.  Ms. Collins considers “The Pope and Clark Gable” and says a  parochial school teacher once offered twisted insight into the actor’s success and afterlife. The Catholic Church has made progress since.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

The Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” “I would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation. I absolutely would not agree with that.”

At first, he stood by that outrageously prejudiced remark, but after coming under fire from not only Muslim groups but also many conservatives, he soon tried to walk it back, to cushion and to caveat it.

On Monday night, he posted a message on Facebook that included this line: “I could never support a candidate for President of the United States that was Muslim and had not renounced the central tenant of Islam: Sharia Law.”

Then on Tuesday, at a news conference, Carson said, “It has nothing to do with being a Muslim.” He continued: “That was the question that was specifically asked. If the question had been asked about a Christian and they said, ‘Would you support a Christian who supports establishing a theocracy?’ I would have said no.”

Only his original comment was unambiguous: It had everything to do with being a Muslim. And it was bigoted.

But this isn’t Carson’s first time at this rodeo. This has become his modus operandi.

Carson has a way of speaking in a flat, sing-song-y tone while flashing his toothy, 100-watt smile, that can be utterly disarming, if not completely charming.

His undeniable pedigree as an acclaimed pediatric neurosurgeon adds an air of gravitas to his nonsensical utterances and provides some cover for what can be poisonously harmful, over-the-line invectives.

Carson says in low register what others shout in anger, and he gets a bit of a pass because of the discordant message and method of delivery.

Just because a person is soft-spoken doesn’t mean that he is well-spoken.

Since Carson used his 2013 speech at the National Prayer Breakfast to criticize President Obama’s policies to his face, he has been lionized in conservative quarters.

It’s not that others have not criticized the president before or since, but it was the particularity of the racial imagery of Carson’s critique — one smart, accomplished black man undressing another in public — that gave it particular power. It insulated the attack from racial characterization. He said things from the lips of a black conservative that roiled the minds of white ones. And it represented a prominent breaking of ranks, a slicing off of black solidarity from not only Democratic loyalty but also from fidelity with this president.

Since then, Carson’s rhetoric has seemed to get only more reckless.

He has called Obama a psychopath and a liar. He has compared Obama’s supporters to Nazi sympathizers. He has said that Obamacare is the “worst thing that has happened in this nation since slavery,” even worse than the terrorist attacks on 9/11.

He has asserted that being gay is “absolutely” a choice as evidenced by people who “go into prison straight — and when they come out, they’re gay.” He later apologized in a statement that read in part:

“I do not pretend to know how every individual came to their sexual orientation. I regret that my words to express that concept were hurtful and divisive. For that I apologize unreservedly to all that were offended.”

And even when his rhetoric isn’t reckless, it can be wrongheaded.

He has used the shallowness of race as a biological construct to disavow and diminish the depth of racism as a very real cultural construct.

And he makes the mistake many people do, of using his personal story of success as a societal prescription for all problems. I have always held that working hard and following the rules are their own reward, but I am not naïve enough to believe that personal behavior can completely countervail structural oppression.

Carson knows that his outrageous antics in his role as the anti-Obama are a most profitable enterprise. He mixes political critique with Christian theological messaging to rake in quite a bit of money on the lecture circuit.As Politico reported in July, Carson “brought in nearly $2 million delivering inspirational speeches to faith-based groups like Christian high schools and pregnancy centers in 2014,” with speaking fees ranging “from $12,320 to $48,500.”

This is a sad turn — spurred, I believe, by profit motive — for such a great legacy.

I, like many other African-Americans, had come to see Carson as a hero before his foray into politics because of the resonance of his personal story — a poor inner-city child being raised by a driven single mother who valued education and instilled in him a sense of character that would allow him to become a staggering success.

Carson was the embodiment of possibility. His 1990 book, “Gifted Hands,” was required reading for many young people.

But as a political figure, his stature is diminished as he reveals himself to be intolerant, bordering on soft bigotry, and also reckless and needlessly inflammatory. No one can discount what Carson accomplished professionally, but those accomplishments must now stand shoulder to shoulder with this new persona: whisper-soft purveyor of hyperbolic hucksterism.

Next up we have Mr. Cohen:

I should not be writing this column on Yom Kippur, in a break from shul, on an empty stomach, but there we are. Let’s put it down to another inflection in the many inflections of being Jew-ish.

Jews are a practical people. They deal with this world not the next. They are an argumentative people. They know that truth may be a matter of disputation, or may be arrived at only through disputation. They tend to accept that being Jewish, one may have to be Jew-ish at times, fall a little short, be a little approximate.

I have a column to write. Deadlines are unforgiving. Less forgiving than this Day of Atonement, whose significance was expressed in a phrase of Maimonides: “We have freed ourselves of our previous deeds, have cast them behind our backs, and removed them from us as far as possible.”

I love that “as far as possible.” Jews, as I said, are a practical people. Their interest is in the feasible not in magic wands.

This is a day of the inward gaze, of breaking from the world. It is a time for turning the mind and soul elsewhere, away from the ephemeral toward the eternal, away from multitasking toward mercy.

A column is very much of this world. Once published, it is debated in real time, commented on, bounced across social media, its clicks counted; and so publication, no longer a singular event, becomes a process that may be protracted and distracting. Life today is a battle against distraction. You start off intent on doing one thing and end up doing another. Or not doing anything at all.

It feels good, then, to set aside pretense of action for the fecund inaction of sitting still in synagogue, in my case the beautiful 175-year-old West London Synagogue, to listen to many things (including silence); and to reflect, arrested now and then by a phrase or just by the sunlight glinting through stained glass into a place of proportions that speak of harmony.

How inexhaustible are the words of the sage Hillel: “If I am not for myself, who is for me? But if I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now when?”

A couple of millennia have not produced a better summation of realism allied to humanity allied to the urgency of the deed, nor a more powerful injunction against self-delusion, selfishness and procrastination.

I had arrived in London from the Greek island of Lesbos, where thousands of refugees who have fled the Syrian war are entering Europe every day on inflatable rafts. “Refugees Welcome,” said a banner at the entrance to the synagogue — scarcely the general view of Britain or its government. Jews, part of what Stefan Zweig called “the ever-recurring — since Egypt — community of expulsion,” cannot in good conscience turn their backs on the expelled.

In different renderings, throughout the day, a cornerstone of Jewish ethics was expressed: “You shall love the stranger as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” Recall what it is to be driven out of your land with no land to go to.

At no time did I hear of the God of dangerous certainties endemic to every form of fundamentalism. I did not hear of a God of revealed truths used to stoke the fires of confrontation between peoples, nor of an unforgiving God invoked by believers to justify zealotry or beheadings or discrimination or exclusive claims to land. No, this was the God of “whoever saves one soul, it counts as if he saved the whole world.”

Jews came up with the idea of a faceless God with whom they had a covenant, and that covenant — binding over thousands of years of uprooted wandering — was in essence a covenant of ethics. For a long time it was a covenant of the powerless. It would be a terrible outcome if it proved irreconcilable with the exercise of power, now that the long-awaited return to Jerusalem has occurred, and a strong and vibrant modern Israel exists whose founding charter of 1948 says the state will be based on “freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel.”

Those prophets’ word was present in the synagogue. Zealotry is not the answer to zealotry. Being a practical people who have learned through the ultimate trial that without power survival itself is at risk cannot mean Jewish acquiescence to the injustice of dominion over another displaced people, the Palestinians. The teachings of the “community of expulsion” demand ever-renewed commitment to inclusion, even when it seems hopeless. Justice and peace are incompatible with the status quo in the Holy Land.

Perhaps such ideas are Jew-ish, the delusions of which “real Jews” in their absolutist certainties have rid themselves. But I will take the “as far as possible” of the Jewish philosopher over the all-or-nothing conviction of the Messianic Jewish settler.

And now here’s Mr. Kristof:

We all know that Pope Francis cares deeply for the marginalized, but did you realize that his compassion bridges the species barrier? Hesuggests that animals will go to heaven and that the Virgin Mary “grieves for the sufferings” even of mistreated livestock.

“Eternal life will be a shared experience of awe, in which each creature, resplendently transfigured, will take its rightful place,” he has written.

I share his conviction that dogs go to heaven — indeed, heaven would be diminished if there were no dogs. And it’s exhilarating to see a spiritual leader whose empathy goes beyond the widow and orphan to, say, the parrot (Francis once blessed a parrot belonging to a former male stripper).

More on Francis’ empathy for animals in a moment. In a larger sense, it is this boundless compassion that has made him such a popular figure, even among non-Catholics.

Indeed, here’s the delicious irony: Pope Francis is revered even by many atheists.

The backdrop is that the Christian “brand” has suffered from culture wars, hypocritical televangelist blowhards and the sense that Christian leaders have spent more time condemning gays (whom Jesus never mentions) than helping the needy (Jesus’ passion). Some young people have gone so far as to avoid the label “Christian,” calling themselves followers of Jesus instead. It carries less baggage.

Yet I wonder if that taint isn’t beginning to fade. In the Protestant world, the baton has passed to evangelical leaders who are less interested in culture wars, and under Francis the same may increasingly be true of Roman Catholicism. In his remarks during his White House visit on Wednesday, Francis focused once again on climate change, the environment and immigrants.

Our public figures are often narcissists, utterly self-absorbed in their quest for power. And into this mix strides Pope Francis, drawn to the powerless, focused on issues like climate change and human trafficking, declaring, “I prefer a church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets rather than a church which is unhealthy from being confined.”

Richard Stearns, president of World Vision, the evangelical aid group, cites that passage and says Francis’ writing should be required reading across denominations.

“I have been deeply grieved by the damage done to the reputation of Christianity in recent years by Christians shaking their fists at the culture,” Stearns says. “Perhaps the shortest definition of God in Scripture is from 1 John 4:8, ‘God is love.’ Pope Francis is trying to show the world the simplicity of that revolutionary idea.”

Deborah Fikes, of the World Evangelical Alliance, puts it this way: “As a U.S. evangelical who has been so disappointed in how leaders from my own faith tradition have lost sight of what an authentic Christian witness really looks like, Pope Francis is nailing it, and this is resonating with Catholics and Protestants, including evangelicals.”

The excitement about Francis is about his tone as much as his substance, and he shares many of the conservative social values of his predecessors. To me, one of the most striking shifts that go beyond tone is one that has commanded almost no notice: his calls for animal rights.

“We must forcefully reject the notion that our being created in God’s image and given dominion over the earth justifies absolute domination over other creatures,” he declared in his encyclical on the environment. “The Bible has no place for a tyrannical anthropocentrism.”

There are many such passages, including a warning against unnecessary experiments on animals.

It would be a mistake to say, as one animal rights group did, that the pope’s message is “go vegan,” and it’s unclear what the practical implications are. Bruce Friedrich of Farm Sanctuary has called on the pope to match his words by making the Vatican cafeteria vegetarian — but I wouldn’t bet on that happening soon.

Still, Francis is relentlessly shining his spotlight on the voiceless, whether two-legged or four-legged, and that is new.

Pope Paul VI is said to have once comforted a boy by saying that he could see his dog again in heaven, but Pope Benedict XVI contradicted that.

Charles Camosy, a Catholic theologian at Fordham University who has written a book about the theology of animal protection, says that Francis’ carefully reviewed encyclical this year constitutes the first authoritative Catholic statements that animals enjoy eternal life. Camosy says this is a milestone, although he says he would have also welcomed Francis’ clarifying our moral obligations to, say, pigs versus mosquitoes.

The pope’s sweeping empathy will benefit the poor, the refugees and, perhaps gradually, animals we abuse in factory farms. But it does more; his humility and compassion also benefit the reputation of Christianity itself, by helping to recast it from pointing fingers to helping hands.

And last but not least here’s Ms. Collins:

Watching the nation come to a screeching halt over Pope Francis’ visit, I had a flashback to my childhood in Cincinnati. One day I saw a picture of then-Pope Pius XII on the front page of the evening paper and I was shocked — Shocked! I had no idea that anybody in Ohio outside my immediate neighborhood knew who he was.

In our Catholic school, the nuns stressed our isolation, and they kept prepping us to be ready to die for our faith at any moment. Like St. Ursula, who was on a pilgrimage with 11,000 virgins, all of whom instantly chose martyrdom rather than surrender their purity to infidel Huns. (At the time, I just knew virgins were women who hadn’t married, and I had a vision of throngs of young ladies being pursued by barbarians waving engagement rings.)

Or St. Tarcisius, a Roman boy who was carrying holy communion to imprisoned Christians. There are many versions of this story, but in the one my teachers told, the job was supposed to be performed in total silence. When his pagan playmates asked him to join their game, Tarcisius clasped his sacred package to his heart and shook his head. Then the pagan boys guessed what was up and beat him to death.

I spent a lot of time trying to figure out how Tarcisius might have gotten away unscathed. Maybe by pretending to have a sore throat? It seemed important to identify the best strategy, because some modern-day version of the Huns or pagan Romans could arrive at any minute.

Catholicism was, as I learned after the Pius XII incident, the largest faith in my city. Many of our teachers were probably only a generation away from being picked-on immigrants, and maybe they brought their sense of paranoia with them to the classrooms. That’s understandable, but being both the powerful majority and the persecuted minority is like having your cake and eating it, and then taking over the bakery and bolting the front door.

This brings us back to Pope Francis, a humble man who accepts that he’s very powerful. He may have a little car and a modest home, but when he looks out at the world, his gaze isn’t defensive. He wants Catholicism to thrive — on a planet without global warming. He knows there are places where Catholics are suffering terribly for their faith, but when he looks at an embattled flock, he also sees Muslim immigrants who need Christian countries to open their borders.

Almost everybody appreciates this is a terrific gift to the world. Many people were hoping for a second one: some change in the church’s dogma on sex. This seems highly unlikely. But if Francis can at least change the context, that would be terrific.

Catholic schools don’t focus on sex now the way they did when I was a student. But the current crop of bishops was probably educated in schools like mine, where the subject came up 24/7. When Clark Gable died, one of my teachers explained that since the actor had had several wives, God knew he was going to hell and had probably given him earthly success to make up for any good deeds he performed in this world.

This was not official Catholic doctrine. The reform-minded John XXIII was pope by then and he would have fainted if confronted by the Clark Gable theory. But it was an excellent example of how loopy things can get if a religion obsesses on consensual private behavior.

I remember one priest who told us that when Christ was dying on the cross, he sadly envisioned us Catholic girls sinning in the back seat of a car.

“Aren’t there any other sins?” I asked one day. I’d be sort of proud of having come up with the question if the follow-up hadn’t been such a failure. I couldn’t think of any other immediate possibilities. Nobody in my school even swore.

“Like …” I groped. “…Greed?” All I knew about greed was cartoons of Scrooge McDuck sitting on a pile of money.

There were obviously a lot of character failings we could have discussed. My friends and I were capable of floating for weeks without seriously directing attention at anything that didn’t involve ourselves. But as long as we kept away from boys’ wandering hands, we felt spiritually A-O.K.

This pope is highly unlikely to accept gay marriage, and he’ll never give abortion a pass. But in Washington he grouped abortion in a long catalog of wrongs that need to be righted: hungry children, bombing, “immigrants who drown in the search for a better tomorrow,” old or sick people who are treated as a burden, terrorism, war, drug trafficking and environmental devastation.

It’s a long, long way from believing that God looked at Clark Gable’s soul and saw nothing but a guy who got divorced.

Nocera and Collins

September 19, 2015

In “Republican Job Killers and the Export-Import Bank” Mr. Nocera tells us that top chief executives sound off against the effort to kill the Ex-Im Bank.  Ms. Collins considers “The Fight for Unplanned Parenthood” and says Republicans’ new push against Planned Parenthood isn’t just about abortion.  Here’s Mr. Nocera:

“At a time when we want to compete around the world, it is hard to believe what is happening in the U.S. Congress,” said Jeff Immelt, the chief executive of General Electric.

“The ultimate irony is that we are on the verge of an American manufacturing renaissance,” bemoaned Jim McNerney, the chairman of Boeing. “Yet this action is causing companies to start looking outside the U.S. instead.”

“People complain that the bank only helps big companies,” said Doug Oberhelman, the chairman and C.E.O. of Caterpillar. “A lot of our suppliers are small. They don’t export, but we do. And if we aren’t exporting, they aren’t selling to us.” He added, “I find it staggering that we would put highly paid export-oriented jobs at risk.”

What Oberhelman finds “staggering,” Immelt finds “hard to believe” and McNerney finds ironic is the refusal of Republican extremists — led by the House Financial Services Committee’s chairman, Jeb Hensarling — to allow a vote on the reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank of the United States, a vote that would pass in a landslide. The Ex-Im Bank, which insures and sometimes finances export sales, had to stop making deals at the end of June, when its reauthorization deadline came and went.

Although the Ex-Im Bank still exists, it has been reduced these days to managing its portfolio, rather than underwriting or insuring new deals. According to Boeing, its foreign rival Airbus, which can tap not one but three export credit agencies, is spreading the word to potential aircraft customers that Boeing can no longer compete when bids require sovereign insurance. That is hardly the only such example.

The damage this is doing to our economy is starting to become clear. In recent weeks, Boeing, America’s largest exporter in dollar volume, made two sobering announcements: first, that Asia Broadcast Satellite canceled an $85 million satellite contract expressly because there was no Ex-Im support. (Boeing is hoping to renegotiate.) More recently, Kacific, a Singapore-based satellite company, told Boeing not to bother bidding on a satellite contract, again because of a lack of Ex-Im financing.

As a result, McNerney told me, “layoffs in the hundreds” have taken place in Boeing’s satellite division.

This week, it was G.E.’s turn to make Ex-Im-related news. First, it said it would move 400 jobs to France to manufacture — and export — gas turbines, and 100 final assembly jobs to Hungary and China. Then it said it would create a new turboprop center in Europe that would employ up to 1,000 people. In both cases, G.E. said the moves would allow the company to take advantage of European export credit agencies.

When I spoke to Immelt, McNerney and Oberhelman, whose company also uses the agency, they all sounded astonished that this important tool, which they need to compete with companies abroad, was being taken away for purely ideological reasons.

“If no other country had export financing, that would be one thing,” said Immelt. “But that’s not where the world is. What you are really doing is helping Siemens and China Rail” — companies that rely heavily on their countries’ export financing.

Immelt told me that G.E. currently has $11 billion in potential deals that require export credit agency financing. That’s real money, even for General Electric.

McNerney pointed out that many big deals require export financing for the bid to even be considered. He also noted, ominously, that 10 to 15 percent of Boeing’s aircraft exports are dependent on Ex-Im support. Losing that business would be devastating for the company, and its employees.

When asked about the accusation from the right that the Ex-Im Bank is a classic case of government picking winners and losers, Oberhelman said that “if this doesn’t change, we’re all going to be losers.”

The anti-Ex-Im Bank faction is having a glorious time mocking the G.E. and Boeing announcements. A spokesman for Heritage Action for America, the conservative think tank leading the charge, described G.E.’s moves as “multinational crony capitalism.” Hensarling issued a statement claiming Boeing could finance the satellite deals itself to prevent layoffs; “it just chooses not to.”

And an unidentified financial services committee staffer told Politico that the loss of 500 G.E. jobs was a drop in the bucket for a company that employs 136,000 people in the U.S.

That heartless quote reminded me of an anecdote in “Confidence Men,” Ron Suskind’s book about the Obama administration’s financial team during the president’s first term. Some of Obama’s top advisers wanted to let Chrysler fail. But in a critical meeting, Ron Bloom, a former adviser to the United Steelworkers who was a member of Obama’s Auto Task Force, said, “Mr. President, these are the reasons we can’t kill this company. The damage to these communities and people will never be undone.”

Chrysler was ultimately saved because the president’s advisers suddenly understood that it was their role to save jobs, not to sacrifice them on the altar of economic purity. What will it take for the Republicans to come to the same realization?

Now here’s Ms. Collins:

Planned Parenthood! Government shutdown!

Anti-abortion politicians are in an uproar over videos that supposedly show Planned Parenthood representatives negotiating on prices for tissue from aborted fetuses. Carly Fiorina was passionate about the subject in this week’s Republican debate. Nothing she said was accurate, but nobody’s perfect.

The House Judiciary Committee has been investigating the matter with lawyerly precision, starting with a hearing titled: “Planned Parenthood Exposed: Examining the Horrific Abortion Practices at the Nation’s Largest Abortion Provider.” In a further effort to offer balance and perspective, the committee did not invite Planned Parenthood to testify.

(Coming soon: The House Committee on Energy and Commerce prepares to welcome Pope Francis with a hearing on “Papal Fallibility: Why He’s Totally, Completely and Utterly Off Base About Global Warming.”)

Planned Parenthood gets about $500 million a year from the federal government, mainly in reimbursements for treating Medicaid patients. Now the House Freedom Caucus, which specializes in threatening to shut down the government, has announced that its members won’t vote for any spending bill unless the money is eliminated.

At Wednesday’s debate, Jeb Bush issued a popular Republican call for transferring the money to other “community-based organizations” that provide women’s health services. “That’s the way you do this is you improve the condition for people,” he said. As only Jeb Bush can.

You may recall that Bush made a similar suggestion earlier in the campaign, in which he added — to his lasting regret — “although I’m not sure we need half a billion dollars for women’s health issues.”

“I misspoke,” the former governor of Florida said later. Well, that does seem to happen a lot. But do you think it was really a slip of the tongue? Or are there other services Planned Parenthood provides that Bush would be happy to get rid of as well? He did once write a book that tackled the subject of how to reduce abortions without ever mentioning the word “contraception.”

This leads us to an important question about the Planned Parenthood debate: Are the people who want to put it out of business just opposed to the abortions (which don’t receive federal funds), or are they against family planning, period?

“I’m telling you, it’s family planning,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said in a phone interview. “They decided that was their target long ago.”

Let’s look at the even larger question: Can Congress really just move the Planned Parenthood money to other health care providers? Besides family planning services, Planned Parenthood offers everything from breast exams to screening for sexually transmitted infections. Many of its patients live in poor or rural areas without a lot of other options.

Another move-the-money presidential candidate is Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana — he’s the one issuing round-the-clock insults to Donald Trump in the desperate hope of attracting a little attention.

Jindal cut off $730,000 in Medicaid reimbursements to his state’s two Planned Parenthood clinics, even though neither offers abortion services. They do, however, provide thousands of women with health care, including screening for sexually transmitted infections — a terrible problem in some parts of the state.

No big deal. When the issue went to court, Jindal’s administration provided a list of more than 2,000 other places where Planned Parenthood’s patients could get care.

“It strikes me as extremely odd that you have a dermatologist, an audiologist, a dentist who are billing for family planning services,”responded the judge.

Whoops. It appeared that the list-makers had overestimated a tad, and the number of alternate providers was actually more like 29. None of whichhad the capacity to take on a flood of additional patients.

When Planned Parenthood leaves town, bad things follow. Ask the county in Indiana that drove out its clinic, which happened to be the only place in the area that offered H.I.V. testing. That was in 2013; in March the governor announced a “public health emergency” due to the spike in H.I.V. cases.

Sara Rosenbaum, a professor of health law and policy at George Washington University, studied what happened when Texas blocked Planned Parenthood grants and tried to move the money to other providers. Even when there were other clinics in an area, she said, “they were overbooked with their own patients. What happened in Texas was the amount of family planning services dropped. And the next thing that happened, of course, was that unplanned pregnancies began to rise.”

If an elected official wants to try to drive Planned Parenthood out of business, there are two honest options: Announce that first you’re going to invest a ton of new taxpayer money in creating real substitutes, or shrug your shoulders and tell the world that you’re fine with cutting off health services to some of your neediest constituents.

If you get heat, you can always say you misspoke.

Kristof, Bruni and Collins

September 17, 2015

In “When Crime Pays: J&J’s Drug Risperdal” Mr. Kristof says marketing the antipsychotic got Johnson & Johnson a criminal record, big settlement costs and penalties — and bigger profits.  Mr. Bruni had “An Overdose of Donald Trump at the G.O.P. Debate,” and says the second meeting of Republican candidates often revolved around the supposedly entertaining billionaire, and that isn’t amusing.  Ms. Collins watched too.  In “At Debate, Republicans Talk the Talk” she says some of the 15 candidates on stage said things to catch viewers’ attention, but it took five long hours to hear them through.  Here’s Mr. Kristof:

Risperdal is a billion-dollar antipsychotic medicine with real benefits — and a few unfortunate side effects.

It can cause strokes among the elderly. And it can cause boys to grow large, pendulous breasts; one boy developed a 46DD bust.

Yet Johnson & Johnson marketed Risperdal aggressively to the elderly and to boys while allegedly manipulating and hiding the data about breast development. J&J got caught, pleaded guilty to a crime and has paid more than $2 billion in penalties and settlements. But that pales next to some $30 billion in sales of Risperdal around the world.

In short, crime pays, if you’re a major corporation.

Oh, and the person who was in charge of marketing the drug in these ways? He is Alex Gorsky, who was rewarded by being elevated to C.E.O. of J&J. He earned $25 million last year.

This tale is told in a devastating 58,000-word epic by Steven Brill that is being serialized on The Huffington Post. Some has already been covered in The Times and other papers, or in Senate investigations and innumerable court decisions, but it’s still wrenching to read the comprehensive account of how a company put profit above everything and then benefited handsomely for doing so.

The story begins when J&J’s previous antipsychotic medicine ended its patent life, so sales plunged as generics gained market share. In 1994, J&J released Risperdal as a successor, but the Food and Drug Administration said it wasn’t necessarily better than the previous version and in any case was effective primarily for schizophrenia in adults. That’s a small market, and J&J was more ambitious. It wanted a blockbuster with annual revenues of at least $1 billion.

So J&J reinvented Risperdal as a drug for a broad range of problems, targeting everyone from seniors with dementia to children with autism.

The company also turned to corporate welfare: It paid doctors and others consulting fees and successfully lobbied for Texas to adopt Risperdal in place of generics. This meant that the state paid $3,000 a year for each Medicaid patient taking it, rather than $250 a year for each, Brill says.

Building on that, J&J reached out to Omnicare, a company that provided pharmaceutical services in nursing homes. The two companies cut a deal so that Omnicare doctors would prescribe Risperdal, and the profits would be shared with Omnicare. (Yes, that’s called a kickback.)

Even though Risperdal wasn’t approved for the elderly, J&J formed a sales force, called ElderCare, with 136 people to market it to seniors. The F.D.A. protested and noted that there were “an excess number of deaths” among the elderly who took the drug.

J&J seems to have shrugged. It was making vast sums, and the F.D.A. didn’t have teeth.

At the same time, J&J was also expanding into another forbidden market: children. The company began peddling the drug to pediatricians, so that by 2000, more than one-fifth of Risperdal was going to children and adolescents.

In 2003, the company had a “back to school” marketing campaign for Risperdal, and a manager discussed including “lollipops and small toys” in sample packages, Brill says.

All this was great for business, and by 2004 Risperdal was a $3-billion-a-year drug.

One challenge was that a J&J study had found that Risperdal led 5.5 percent of boys to develop large breasts, a condition known as gynecomastia. J&J covered this up, Brill says, quoting internal documents.

I asked J&J and Gorsky for comment. In particular, I wanted to understand why an executive who presided for years over conduct that the company conceded was criminal had been elevated to chief executive.

Gorsky declined to comment, and a company spokesman, Ernie Knewitz, didn’t really want to have that conversation. Knewitz did say the company “vehemently” disagrees with Brill’s take, denies a cover-up and considers Risperdal a useful drug with real benefits.

He’s right: Risperdal is a good drug that helps people. But it was marketed too broadly, and the system failed to protect consumers.

Brill calculates J&J may in the end have to pay a total of $6 billion in settlements for its misconduct. But he estimates the company made $18 billion in profits on Risperdal, just within the United States (on $20 billion in domestic sales, and there was $10 billion more in sales abroad).

Last week the Appeal of Conscience Foundation, an interfaith organization, announced it would honor Gorsky with an award as a “man of integrity” and a “corporate leader with a sense of social responsibility.”

So even though the company was caught, criminality paid off, for the company and for executives.

That’s why we need tougher enforcement of safety regulations, and why white-collar criminals need to be prosecuted (as Attorney General Loretta Lynch has promised will happen).

Risperdal is a cautionary tale: When we allow businesses to profit from crimes, we all lose.

Next up we have Mr. Bruni:

It was a debate that worked almost in spite of itself.

As the hours dragged on, the issues were indeed hashed out: whether a Republican president should immediately tear up the Iran deal or wait and see; whether the federal government should be shut down in the service of defunding Planned Parenthood; whether a wall along the Mexican border is a feasible plan or empty bluster.

But that substance had to muscle its way through the show business, by which I mean Donald Trump’s attempt to turn everything into an adolescent popularity contest and CNN’s willingness to reward that by filtering the entire evening through the prism of the Republican field’s proven ratings magnet: Trump, Trump, Trump.

What did Trump think of something mean that someone else on the stage had said about him? What did someone else think about something nasty that Trump had said about him or her?

Trump had insulted Jeb Bush’s wife: Discuss! Trump had insulted Carly Fiorina’s business career: Respond!

So it went, somewhat tediously and surreally, for many stretches of the debate on Wednesday night and especially for the first half-hour, during which Rand Paul took the precise measure of — and raised the correct question about — the egomaniacal front-runner.

“Do we want someone with that kind of character, that kind of careless language, to be negotiating with Putin?” Paul asked.

“I think really there’s a sophomoric quality that is entertaining about Mr. Trump, but I am worried,” he added, and I nodded so vigorously at the “worried” part that I’m going to need balm and a neck brace tomorrow.

Paul went on to single out Trump’s “visceral response to attack people on their appearance — short, tall, fat, ugly. My goodness, that happened in junior high. Are we not way above that?”

No, we aren’t. Or at least Trump isn’t. And “junior high” is too easy on him, too kind. Trump comes from, and belongs in, the sandbox, as he demonstrated the second that Paul paused and Trump fired back: “I never attacked him on his look, and believe me, there’s plenty of subject matter right there.”

How lovely. And how adult. And less than an hour later, Fiorina had to stand there and try not to squirm as she was asked to react to Trump’s recent comments about her in a Rolling Stone interview: “Look at that face. Would anyone vote for that?”

Fiorina held her head, including her face, high. “I think women all over this country heard very clearly what Mr. Trump said,” she stated tightly, and with more dignity than Trump or the situation deserved.

Trump rushed in: “I think she’s got a beautiful face and I think she’s a beautiful woman.” Watch out, Carly. Next comes an invitation for a private ride in his Trump-i-copter.

I mentioned my nodding, but my real injuries came from shaking my head, over and over, because I couldn’t quite believe the Trump-centric nature of it all. I’m still mystified that he’s done this well in the polls for this long.

I know that Americans have lost faith in institutions — understandably. I know that Americans are turned off by politics as usual — justly.

But have we sunk to a point where we’re prepared to reach for someone so careless with his insinuations, so merrily and irresponsibly ignorant, that he used some of his precious time on Wednesday night to fan irrational, repudiated fears about a link between vaccines and autism?

Are we buoyed by a bully who calls anyone who disagrees with him a “loser,” promises vaguely that his presidency will be “unbelievable” (his favorite adjective, and an unintentionally telling one), and presents little besides his tumescent ego and stagey rage?

The CNN anchor Jake Tapper, who was the debate’s moderator, pressed hard to get Trump to say, with even a scintilla of specificity, why he believes that he’d be more effective in dealing with Vladimir Putin than Obama has been.

And all that Trump could muster was: “I would get along with him.”

How? Why? Not a single detail. But Trump doesn’t do details. He just crows that he will know the most, be the best and win. He’s a broken record of grandiose, self-infatuated music.

The most satisfying, encouraging moments of the debate were those when other candidates tried to point that out directly or indirectly. Chris Christie did so several times. During his opening remarks, he asked the camera to move from him to the audience, saying that the election isn’t really about the candidates, who soak up the spotlight, but the people, who deal with the consequences.

He returned to that idea after Trump and Fiorina wrangled over her past performance as the chief executive of Hewlett-Packard, an exchange that followed much tussling over Trump’s business bona fides.

“While I’m as entertained as anyone by this personal back-and-forth about the history of Donald and Carly’s career, for the 55-year-old construction worker out in that audience tonight who doesn’t have a job, who can’t fund his child’s education, I’ve got to tell you the truth — they could care less about your careers,” Christie said to Trump and Fiorina.

“You’re both successful people,” he continued. “Congratulations.” But then he pleaded that there be more discussion of issues and an end to “this childish back-and-forth between the two of you.”

Mike Huckabee built on that, bemoaning “a lot of back-and-forth about ‘I’m the only one who has done this, the only one who has done that, I’ve done great things.’ We’ve all done great things or we wouldn’t be on this stage.”

During the second half of the debate in particular, the conversation moved far enough away from Trump for all of the candidates to strut their stuff, for whatever that stuff was worth.

But because there were eleven of them, those struts were so brief and sporadic that I don’t think anyone’s fortunes will be significantly changed.

Marco Rubio showed great confidence about foreign affairs. Fiorina’s crispness came through. John Kasich seemed to vanish for long chunks but, when present, managed to be both avuncular and authoritative: an effective, appealing combination.

Cruz predictably won the awards for Most Strident and Most Smarmy, talking directly to the camera rather than whoever had asked him a question. Carson was the anti-Trump, as docile as Trump was domineering, and he brilliantly sought to reeducate Trump on vaccines.

Did Bush find some spine and spark? Yes, but he seemed to fumble for it. He picked a fight with Trump about casinos in Florida. He spoke succinctly about his brother’s administration, no longer pantomiming a deer in headlights. He made a marijuana joke and then another joke, about his energy level, saying that he’d want his Secret Service nickname to be “Eveready.” Like the battery.

But there remains something wan about him: In a season of such garish colors, he always looks a little pale.

He’s not enough of a clown, and Trump has done his best to turn this into a circus, erasing the blurry line between entertainment and politics and beckoning commentators and networks toward uncharted summits of breathlessness.

“It is electric,” Anderson Cooper said to Wolf Blitzer in the hours before the debate began, describing the atmosphere.

“It doesn’t get much bigger than this,” Blitzer said to Cooper, and he repeatedly interrupted the pundits around him to provide updates on whether Trump had been spotted yet at the Reagan library, where the debate was held.

“Donald Trump, we’re told, is arriving!” Blitzer trumpeted at one point, minutes later adding: “Hold on! Hold on! . . . He’s walking in right now.” The camera documented it, step after step.

Were we supposed to get goose bumps? I just felt queasy.

Well…  That was much longer than it needed to be.  And now we get to Ms. Collins:

Our national attention span is … short. The Republican presidential primary debate on Wednesday was … long. Really, if you throw in the earlier loser debate, it was the longest ever.

The Lincoln-Douglas debates would go on for three hours. But that was back when in many towns, the most exciting public activity of the year was pole-raising.

Are people going to remember the shallow, sassy Donald Trump from the first half-hour? (“I wrote ‘The Art of the Deal.’ I say not in a braggadocio’s way I’ve made billions and billions of dollars.”)

Or the middle-section Trump who clearly didn’t have a clue about how to critique President Obama’s Syrian policy? (“Somehow he just doesn’t have courage. There’s something missing from our president.”)

And then there was the completely, unbelievably irresponsible Trump of the finale who claimed he knew people whose daughter got autism from a vaccine shot. (This happened, he said, to “people that work for me just the other day.”)

Remember when the vaccination issue destroyed Michele Bachmann’s political career? One can only hope.

Of course everyone wanted to hear Jeb Bush take on the front-runner. Smackdown! Bush got his opportunity very early. Where would he go? Immigration? Taxes? Foreign affairs?

Bush accused Trump of giving him campaign donations in order to get casino gambling in Florida.

“Totally false,” said Trump. “I promise if I wanted it, I would have gotten it.”

Do you think that’s what Bush was practicing over the last couple of weeks? There were six or seven people on the stage who sounded more forceful than he did. A recent poll in Florida suggested that only 52 percent of Florida Republicans want their former governor to continue running for president. At times on Wednesday, that seemed like overenthusiasm.

Bush perked up a little in the middle, when he volunteered that he’d smoked marijuana in his youth. Then at the end, when he was asked what woman he’d like to see on the 10-dollar bill, he said … Margaret Thatcher.

Nobody wanted to deal with the global warming issue. Virtually everybody made up a Planned Parenthood scenario that never existed. Ah, Republicans …

And in other activities, Carly Fiorina managed to yet again drop the name “my good friend … Bibi Netanyahu.” Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin repeated his previous debate trick of vanishing entirely into the scenery. Walker’s poll numbers are vanishing, too, and it appears his only playing card is to remind people that he fought against public employee unions. Lately he’s been desperately upping the anti-union ante so much that his next step would have to be demanding that federal employees be prohibited from talking with one another outside of work.

Marco Rubio — remember Marco Rubio? The senator who vanished all summer except the time he hit the kid in the head with a football? He definitely looked rested.

Ben Carson, at one point, appeared to be accusing Trump of socialism.

Chris Christie did pretty well. Too bad he’s such a terrible governor. New Jersey would rather have another traffic crisis at the George Washington Bridge than vote again for Chris Christie.

What do you think it is about governors in this race? Florida is deeply unenthusiastic about Jeb Bush, Wisconsin seems to hate Scott Walker, and if Louisiana had a chance to get its hands on Bobby Jindal, God knows what would happen.

The debate went on for so long it was a wonder no one fainted. And think about the viewers who made it all the way from the first segment — the one where the CNN preview featured a zipper at the bottom of the screen announcing, “PATAKI ARRIVES AT DEBATE HALL.”

“The first four questions are about Donald Trump!” former Gov. George Pataki complained. Senator Lindsey Graham repeatedly slid in the fact that his parents ran a bar and a poolroom. Graham insists he’s really enjoying himself, although when someone keeps saying “I’m running because I think the world is falling apart,” it’s sort of a downer.

Former Senator Rick Santorum and Governor Jindal tried so hard to break through the barrier of national indifference they sounded like rabid otters.

Yes, some political junkies watched Republicans debating for almost five hours Wednesday. This should be a message to the Democrats. Right now the party is engaged in a fight about whether its schedule of three debates in 2015 is too puny. There are a number of democratic nations in the world where you could easily overcome this argument by pointing out that the election is not until 2016.

But the American people are fine with more debates. Honest, there can be one every night as long as the American people are not actually forced to watch them. It could be a kind of endurance contest. Last person standing gets the nomination.

Nocera and Collins

September 12, 2015

Mr. Nocera has a question in “Notre Dame’s Big Bluff:”  Would the Fighting Irish ever really abandon football?  To which I reply:  So what, and who cares?  Ms. Collins tells us that “Rick Perry Meets His Alamo,” and that the Republican presidential candidate is gone, and there may not be another chance to point out the names of his right boot and left boot.  Here’s Mr. Nocera:

Has there ever been a university whose success was more dependent on football than Notre Dame?

Go back to the 1920s, when this middling Catholic school near South Bend, Ind., was a household name because the radio networks all broadcast Notre Dame football games. Notre Dame football had Knute Rockne, the legendary coach, and Grantland Rice’s “Four Horsemen.”

Its football team was even the subject of movies: “Knute Rockne — All American” in 1940 (with Ronald Reagan playing George Gipp) and, 53 years later, “Rudy.”

“The whole south campus of the school was built with football money,” says Murray Sperber, who has written extensively about Notre Dame football. That the University of Notre Dame today is a big, important, wealthy school — ranked 18th among national universities in the latest U.S. News and World Report survey, with the 12th largest endowment — is directly attributable to football.

Has there ever been a university savvier about the commercial possibilities of football than Notre Dame?

In 1990, Notre Dame stunned the college sports establishment by signing a five-year, $38 million deal with NBC, making it the only football program in history to have its own network deal. The most recent contract extension reportedly calls for Notre Dame to be paid $15 million a year until 2025. In 2014, it signed a 10-year deal with Under Armour worth more than $90 million — a deal that, amazingly, includes stock in the high-flying sports apparel company.

To this day, a Notre Dame football game is a unique marketing tool, which university executives are happy to use when trying to lure a new faculty member or land a sizable donation.

Thus, my first reaction upon reading in The Times that the Rev. John Jenkins, Notre Dame’s president, was threatening to leave big-time college football if the athletes gained the right to be paid, was to scoff.

Jenkins told The Times’s Dan Barry that despite the revenue generated by Notre Dame football, he didn’t feel “some demand of justice” that players be paid; rather, he said, an education was “more valuable than however much money we might give you.” He described paying players as “a semipro model” and said that if it came to pass, Notre Dame would decline to participate and would start its own conference with like-minded schools.

But would it really? Would Notre Dame actually turn its back on something as central to the university’s identity just because it would have to pay a handful of its students?

Back in the 1940s, according to Sperber, the Rev. J. Hugh O’Donnell, then Notre Dame’s president, said that athletic scholarships were a form of pay that had become a “cankerous sore” in intercollegiate football. But when push came to shove, the Fighting Irish gave athletic scholarships.

Just before the Times story ran, Northwestern University’s president emeritus, Henry Bienen, made remarks similar to Jenkins’s in a Bloomberg View column.

I think Jenkins and Bienen are aiming their remarks not just at the public, but also at the California appeals court that will soon decide whether to uphold a lower court’s decision in the Ed O’Bannon case. That decision calls for players to be paid up to $5,000, which wouldn’t exactly break the bank.

I also think they are bluffing. Not long ago, the University of Alabama at Birmingham — a nobody in football terms — tried to cancel football butquickly reinstated it after a huge outcry. Can you imagine what Notre Dame would face if it de-emphasized football?

And if Jenkins is not bluffing, well, so what? There are a lot of people in academia — and in America, for that matter — who believe that major college sports detract from the true purpose of a university. If paying players is the tipping point for Notre Dame and Northwestern, the moment they can no longer stomach the thoroughly commercial enterprise they are involved in, then de-emphasizing sports is probably the right choice.

The Ivy League schools were once major football powers, too; but, unlike Notre Dame, they chose not to grant athletic scholarships in the mid-1950s, and in so doing, collectively de-emphasized football. They haven’t looked back since.

Here’s another thought, though. Why does Jenkins assume that there are only these two choices: pay the players or drop out of the big time? No court is ever going to force a university to pay players; the most a court would do is eliminate the current price-fixing model and allow schools to pay if they so choose.

If Notre Dame truly believes that the education it offers is more valuable than money, that alone should be enough to lure real “student-athletes” who value education and “doing the right thing.” Athletes would have a choice: take cash and a joke education from a major conference football factory, or get a real education from Notre Dame or Northwestern.

C’mon, Notre Dame. What are you afraid of?

Now here’s Ms. Collins:

Rick Perry — out!

The new glasses apparently didn’t do the trick.

The former governor of Texas threw in the towel on Friday and the Republican race is now totally lacking in candidates who claimed to have shot a coyote while jogging.

His departure is a crushing blow for those of us who have already put in the time to read “Fed Up! Our Fight to Save America From Washington,” in which Perry announced that Americans were tired of being bossed around and being told “how much salt we can put on our food, what windows we can buy for our house” and “what kind of cars we can drive.”

I will not even have the opportunity to point out that Washington doesn’t actually tell us any of those things.

And now the loser debate on Wednesday will only feature four candidates, one of them George Pataki.

We make fun of presidential debates, for excellent reasons. But you will remember that at this time four years ago, Rick Perry was at the top of the polls. Way ahead of the pack. Then one “Oops” and an entire major-league political career was ruined forever.

Does anybody out there remember the answer he flubbed? If he became president he was going to cut back on the cabinet, eliminating education, commerce and, what was that? Oh, yes! — energy. The Department of Energy is still with us, but the presidential candidate is no more.

Adieu, Rick Perry, adieu.

“We have a tremendous field of candidates, probably the greatest group of men and women,” he overstated in his farewell address. “I step aside knowing our party is in good hands, as long as we listen to the grass roots, listen to the cause of conservatism.”

Just so long as the roots don’t vote for Donald Trump. Rick Perry really hates Donald Trump. And maybe this could be the start of a Trump downswing. Maybe if five or six other people quit, the voters will start to get focused and look at the polls like a homeowner waking up from a drunken bender and noticing a car in the living room.

As a presidential candidate in 2015, Perry’s only talent seemed to be getting money from very rich acquaintances. His political action committee still had cash, but it wasn’t allowed to coordinate with the candidate, or give his campaign any of its money. By the end Perry had no staff, and he was wandering like a Labrador retriever being pulled around by a helium balloon attached to his collar.

Now we’ll no longer have to wonder about whether it’d be constitutionally problematic to have a ticket composed of Rick Perry and Ted Cruz. Hehehehehe.

My favorite Perry memory is and always has been a 2010 interview he did when he was governor with Evan Smith of The Texas Tribune. Smith expressed some doubts about the state’s policy of strongly encouraging abstinence-only sex education in the public schools.

Perry insisted things were going great.

Smith pointed out that Texas had one of the worst rates of teenage pregnancy in the country.

“I’m just going to tell you from my own personal life. Abstinence works,” Perry said doggedly.

Always wanted to hear the back story on that one. Now I guess we’ll never know.

Perry was governor for 14 years — he inherited the job when George W. Bush got promoted — and his entire career as a presidential candidate was based on promising to do for the United States what he did for Texas. According to his telling, the state’s economic success was based entirely on low taxes and low regulation, as opposed to being a huge, underdeveloped chunk of the Sunbelt sitting on top of a mass of oil deposits.

When you look at a booming state and wonder why it’s doing so well, the answer is almost never the governor.

But Texas has certainly done better than most of the country when it comes to job growth. If that wasn’t good enough to get even a twitch of interest from the public this time around, what does it say about others in the field? Jeb Bush’s success in Florida was mainly about a real estate bubble and Bobby Jindal’s Louisiana … wow.

So Rick Perry’s gone for good. We will never have another chance to point out that he named his boots “Freedom” and “Liberty.”

We will never again hear him explain why he thinks it would be an excellent idea to eliminate the popular election of U.S. senators and let the great minds in the state legislatures do the choosing. Although that could come up anyway. Several other candidates have the same conviction.

What a weird year.

And thank the FSM that she’s back from book leave to comment on it!

Blow, Cohen, Kristof and Collins

September 10, 2015

Oh, frabjous day!  It would appear that Ms. Collins is back from book leave.  Mr. Blow says “Hillary is Hobbling, For Now,” and that the media, and possibly the public, loathes coasting. Trajectory makes a better story. And for Clinton, the only available trajectory was down.  Mr. Cohen, in “Obama’s Syrian Nightmare,” opines that Syria is the question the Obama doctrine must answer if it is not to be reduced to the point of meaninglessness.  Mr. Kristof says “Compassion for Refugees Isn’t Enough,” and that unless we address the war in Syria, the exodus will grow.  Ms. Collins offers us “A Presidential Primary Cheat Sheet,” and says let’s recap what the Republicans have been up to.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

I must say that I’m starting to feel bad for Hillary Clinton. There is a sense surrounding her candidacy of building doom and imminent disaster.

She just can’t seem to shake the email controversy and the idea that the issue raises — or raises again — some kind of character flaw.

In an interview on Tuesday with ABC News’ David Muir, Clinton finally apologized for her handling of the controversy saying, “I’m sorry about that.” She continued, “I take responsibility and I’m trying to be as transparent as I possibly can.”

But every month, every week, every news cycle that the media focus is on the way Clinton is addressing the issue is a bad day for her, regardless of what she says or does about it.

And that is part of the problem. This controversy isn’t simply about Clinton. It’s as much about media as it is about her. Indeed, this presidential election cycle is particularly curious in the way that the media has made some candidates and damaged others.

I don’t find the controversy to be the scandal others have made it out to be, but that doesn’t seem to matter now. It is an issue with a life of its own.

There seems to me a gravitational pull of media desire that wants, on some level, to see her crash and burn. Twice snubbed. The “queen” goes down, again.

The media, and possibly even the public, loathes coasting. Trajectory, either up or down, makes a better story. Since Clinton started with such high expectations, the only trajectory available to her — and to those covering her — was down.

Now she can’t seem to stop the slide. She simply can’t direct the narrative away from the email and toward her policies. And this constant chatter about things other than her vision for the future and the suggestion that she is not being fully forthcoming is hurting her in the polls.

Clinton’s numbers continue to fall, and last month, when people were asked in a Quinnipiac University poll “What is the first word that comes to mind when you think of Hillary Clinton?” the top three responses were liar, dishonest and untrustworthy. Ouch!

But in addition to the media’s salivating for her failure, Clinton hasn’t really done herself any favors. Her cloistered, overprotective approach only creates a void that will be filled by something. It can often feel as if she is hiding herself, or something about herself, and that doesn’t read well.

Her advisers seemed to acknowledge as much in a story published by The New York Times this week:

“In extensive interviews by telephone and at their Brooklyn headquarters last week, Mrs. Clinton’s strategists acknowledged missteps — such as their slow response to questions about her email practices — and promised that this fall the public would see the sides of Mrs. Clinton that are often obscured by the noise and distractions of modern campaigning.”

Furthermore, it is hard to know what the unifying message of the Clinton campaign is. Is there a bumper sticker message? If there is, I don’t know it.

A close primary rival in the polls, Bernie Sanders, who is gaining on Clinton in Iowa and has overtaken her in New Hampshire, has such a message: He’s saying to the über rich, “You can’t have it all.” (It should be noted that many of Sanders’s supporters are also complaining about media coverage, suggesting that Sanders hasn’t received his fair share.)

Joe Biden, who is considering jumping into the race, must be looking at all of this and feeling a hand on his back. What if Clinton completely collapses? If Bernie Sanders were the Democratic nominee, could a man who identifies as a “democratic socialist” win the general election, even if people basically liked his policies?

Anything is possible, especially when you look at the disaster unfolding on the Republican side, but I assume that the Democratic establishment is getting increasingly nervous.

Clinton is attempting to reboot her campaign, but even that carries with it the mild taint of desperation. As David A. Graham put it in The Atlantic: “It’s a bad sign when your presidential campaign needs a reboot. It’s a worse sign when your advisers announce that reboot publicly.”

It’s not clear to me how this story ends other than how it appears it wants to end: badly.

The only things working in Clinton’s favor at this point are the fact that it is still incredibly early in the election cycle — and that the only thing the media likes more than a fall from grace story is a comeback story.

Next up we have Mr. Cohen:

Syria will be the biggest blot on the Obama presidency, a debacle of staggering proportions. For more than four years now, the war has festered. A country has been destroyed, four million Syrians are refugees, Islamic State has moved into the vacuum and President Bashar al-Assad still drops barrel bombs whose shrapnel and chlorine rip women and children to shreds.

For a long time, those who fled waited in the neighborhood. They wanted to go home. They filled camps in Turkey and Jordan and Lebanon. When it became clear even to them that “home” no longer existed, nothing could stop them in their desperate flight toward the perceived security of Europe. The refugee crisis is the chronicle of a disaster foretold.

The refugees do not care what “Christian” Europe thinks. They are beyond caring about Europe’s hang-ups or illusions. They want their children to live. In their homeland, more than 200,000 people have been killed. Statistics numb, but less so when you know the dead. This evisceration of a state is a consequence of many things, among them Western inaction.

American interventionism can have terrible consequences, as the Iraq war has demonstrated. But American non-interventionism can be equally devastating, as Syria illustrates. Not doing something is no less of a decision than doing it. The pendulum swings endlessly between interventionism and retrenchment because the United States is hard-wired to the notion that it can make the world a better place. Looking inward for long is a non-option for a nation that is also a universal idea. Every major conflict poses the question of how far America should get involved.

President Obama has tried to claw back American overreach after the wars without victory in Afghanistan and Iraq. He has responded to a mood of national weariness with foreign adventure (although Americans have not been very happy with Obama’s pivot to prudence). He has tried better to align American power with what is, in his perception, America’s limited ability to make a difference on its own at a time of growing interdependence. One definition of the Obama doctrine came from the president last year when he declared: “It avoids errors. You hit singles, you hit doubles; every once in a while we may be able to hit a home run.” Or, more succinctly, “Don’t do stupid stuff.”

But that’s not enough, as Syria demonstrates. President Obama has important foreign policy achievements, including breakthrough agreements with Iran and Cuba that took courage and persistence. (How those breakthroughs will play out remains to be seen, but they constitute a victory over sterile confrontation.) Elsewhere, however, he has undersold American power. In Syria and Libya he has washed his hands of conflicts that the United States could not turn its back on. Such negligence comes back to bite America, as its experience in Afghanistan since the 1980s has shown. Nobody loves a vacuum like a jihadi. And nobody likes American wobbliness like Vladimir Putin.

In 2011, Obama said, “The time has come for President Assad to step aside.” At that time, as events have shown, the president had no policy in place to achieve that objective and no will to forge such a policy. His words were of a grave irresponsibility.

In 2013, with France poised to join the United States in military strikes on Syria, Obama walked away at the last minute from upholding his “red line” on the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons. In so doing, he reinforced Assad, reinforced Putin, declined to change the course of the Syrian war, and diminished America’s word in the world — setbacks of far greater significance than ridding Syria of chemical weapons. This was a mistake.

Yes, China and Russia have consistently obstructed concerted action on Syria in the United Nations Security Council. Yes, the shifting array of forces and interests in Syria has been a challenge to policy. Yes, even limited intervention had its dangers. But, no! Such ruination was not an inevitable outcome.

At multiple stages, if Obama could have mustered the will, the belief in American power, there were options. The Syrian aircraft dropping those barrel bombs could have been taken out. A safe area for refugees might have been created. Arming the rebels early and massively might have changed the course of the war. Counterfactuals, of course, don’t carry much weight. We will never know. We only know the facts of the Syrian nightmare now seeping, in various forms, into the West. Syria, broken, will be the rift that keeps on giving.

In Libya, Obama bombed and abandoned. In Afghanistan, Obama surged and retreated. In Syria, Obama talked and wavered. He has been comfortable with the pinpoint use of force — the killing of Osama bin Laden for example — but uncomfortable with American military power.

Syria is the question the Obama doctrine must answer if it is not to be deemed modest to the point of meaninglessness.

Yeah — let’s drop some more bombs and shoot down some planes.  And arm, MASSIVELY.  What could POSSIBLY go wrong?  (And for what it’s worth, it’s Bush’s nightmare since he’s the prime cause for ISIS.)  Here’s Mr. Kristof:

Bravo to Pope Francis, Angela Merkel and so many ordinary Germans and Austrians who have welcomed refugees into their lands. Kudos to those American politicians acknowledging that we should accept more Syrian refugees — the U.S. has admitted only 1,500 since the war started four years ago, which is pathetic.

If you have a heart, you’re moved by the refugees. But if you have a head, you also know that welcoming them in Germany won’t resolve the crisis.

There are 60 million people displaced worldwide, and more will now be willing to board flimsy boats to cross the sea.

“The trickle of refugees is only going to get bigger,” says Joshua Landis, a Syria expert at the University of Oklahoma. “Once people see that refugees are going to be taken in by the West, they’re going to stampede. This problem is going to metastasize.”

Unless we’re careful, the upshot could be more drowned toddlers.

As we inadvertently boost this tide of refugees, beneficiaries will include human smugglers and skinheads, neo-Nazis and far-right xenophobic politicians. An anti-immigrant party now leads the polls in Sweden, and Germany has reported 340 attacks on asylum seekers, including an apparent arson this week at a home sheltering them.

So by all means let’s respond with compassion to the refugees (not as jerks, as Hungarian officials have). But above all, let’s address the crisis at its roots, particularly in the Middle East.

One essential step is to improve conditions for the 3.7 million Syrian refugees in Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan. The World Food Program was just forced to cut 229,000 refugees in Jordan off food rations because it ran out of money, and if the world won’t pay for refugees to eat in Jordan, it will have to feed them in the West.

Then there’s the far more difficult task of trying to make Syria habitable again.

This may be impossible, but let’s be clear: As things stand, we’re on a trajectory for Syria to become even more horrific than it is now. Many experts expect the war to drag on for years, kill hundreds of thousands more people, and lead to an exodus of millions more refugees. We’re likely to see street-to-street fighting soon in Damascus, lifting the suffering and emigration to a new level.

I’m shaken by pleas I’ve seen from women in the besieged Syrian city of Zabadani, which for months has been surrounded by forces supporting the government. They fear that if the government forces take Zabadani, there will be massacres.

So hundreds of women in Zabadani have signed a statement calling for a cease-fire, international protection and evacuation of the wounded. They bravely use their names, despite the risk that they will be murdered or raped if the city falls.

“I’ve never been so depressed,” said Emile Hokayem, a Middle East analyst and author of a book on Syria. “There were options early on. But the options today are all costlier, riskier and come with lower returns.”

Yet as long as we’re talking about Syrian dysfunction, let’s also note European and American dysfunction. The Obama administration hasrepeatedly miscalculated on Syria and underestimated the problem, even as the crisis has steadily worsened. And some leading Republicans want to send in troops to confront the Islamic State (think Iraq redux).

The least bad option today is to create a no-fly zone in the south of Syria. This could be done on a shoestring, enforced by U.S. Navy ships in the Mediterranean firing missiles, without ground troops.

That would end barrel bombings. Just as important, the no-fly zone would create leverage to pressure the Syrian regime — and its Russian and Iranian backers — to negotiate.

“If they can’t use their aircraft, the day after they will know they can’t survive, and that will bring them to the table,” said Reza Afshar, a former British diplomat who now advises the Syrian opposition through his group, Independent Diplomat.

The aim of the talks, with no preconditions on either side, would be a cease-fire with a tweaking of boundary lines.

Look, this would be ugly. It would amount to a de facto partition of Syria and the partial survival of the regime, perhaps with a new Alawite general replacing President Bashar al-Assad. Yet otherwise we may be standing by as the slaughter spirals toward genocide.

Robert Ford, a former American ambassador to Syria who resigned because he found the Obama administration’s Syria policy indefensible, says a negotiation, even if successful, might drag on for two years as the carnage continued. Still, that’s better than the alternatives.

“It’s irresponsible to throw up our hands and say there’s nothing that can be done,” he added. “Then, almost certainly things will get worse.”

And now let’s welcome Ms. Collins back from book leave:

The presidential campaign is getting serious, people. Just four months to the Iowa caucuses! You’re supposed to be concerned citizens, and your friends are going to expect you to update them regularly. If you can’t, be prepared to take an active part in discussions about the Tom Brady divorce rumors.

Today, the Republicans. Things we learned this summer about Jeb Bush:

■ His first name is actually John. And there is certainly nothing wrong with “John Bush,” except that it sounds like something on a fake ID card.

■ He seems wounded that Donald Trump keeps saying he’s boring. At one Republican meeting he promised to “unleash the American animal spirits.”

■ He’s come up with a way to criticize George W. without mentioning Iraq. “He should have brought the hammer down on the Republicans when they were spending way too much,” he told Stephen Colbert on “The Late Show.” This presumably refers to a new entitlement — much hated by fiscal conservatives — that extended Medicare coverage to prescription drugs. Do you think John Bush is going to campaign on repealing it? As a political tactic it’s about as promising as Chris Christie’s idea that he could reboot his campaign by vowing to cut back on Social Security.

Ben Carson has been surging! It’s easy to understand his popularity. He has a compelling life story about raising himself up from poverty to become a brain surgeon, and he was the least needy-looking candidate in the first Republican debate. On the other side, it is kind of unnerving that he doesn’t believe in evolution. Most Republican candidates try to fudge that one, by changing the subject or saying something like “I am not a scientist.” But Carson really doesn’t believe in evolution. And he is, you know, a scientist.

On Wednesday Donald Trump assured a rally in Washington that his experience in marketing luxury real estate would make him a brilliant international diplomat. Meanwhile, a forthcoming biography reveals that Trump, who energetically avoided the Vietnam draft, “felt that I was in the military in the true sense” because his parents once sent him to a military boarding school. Coming soon: Trump explains that he understands the suffering of the Syrian refugees because of his experience firing people on reality TV.

Carly Fiorina is another outsider, running on her career as a C.E.O. of a Fortune 500 corporation. It is true that she was fired after a disastrous performance, but nobody’s perfect. Fiorina was the star of the backup debate in August, besting nationally known figures like Jim Gilmore, the former governor of … a state. Her performance was so outstanding that she is set to be promoted to the top-dog debate next week. But nobody is being demoted! Obviously CNN understands that what the nation really needs this September is an 11-person argument.

Pop Quiz: Who should CNN throw out to make room for Carly Fiorina?

A) Mike Huckabee — the evangelical vote has gone to Ben Carson, andJohn Kasich has taken over the conservative-with-a-heart thing Huckabee used to do until he discovered having a heart wasn’t actually all that popular.

B) The libertarian who doesn’t believe in reproductive rights.

Kristof and Collins

July 2, 2015

In “A Toddler’s Death in a Foxhole” Mr. Kristof says as long as the world allows Sudan’s savagery, civilians will die.  Ms. Collins has a “Fourth of July Quiz” and says Happy upcoming Independence Day! Let’s celebrate with a presidential primary quiz.  Here’s Mr. Kristof, who is in the Nuba Mountains, Sudan:

It’s not clear whether the Sudanese Air Force was trying to bomb the village of grass huts, or the girlshigh school next to it.

Hamida Osman, 23, simply knew that a Sukhoi fighter jet was roaring toward her village. She grabbed her only child, Safarina, 2, and jumped into the foxhole that the family had built for those frequent occasions when Sudan decides to bomb its people.

Inside the foxhole, Hamida used her own body to try to shield her daughter. They heard the sound of bombs whistling downward, and then there were two enormous explosions.

The next thing Hamida knew, she was covered with blood and had shrapnel wounds to her arms and legs. She looked down. A piece of shrapnel had taken away much of Safarina’s head.

Another day, another dead civilian. President Omar Hassan al-Bashir of Sudan, having committed crimes against humanity in South Sudan and Darfur, is now waging them with equal impunity in the Nuba Mountains in the far south of the country, and major nations are once more reacting mostly with indifference. With President Obama headed to East Africashortly, let’s hope he raises these atrocities and pushes for humanitarian access to the Nuba Mountains.

Limping from her injuries, Hamida showed me where the bombs had struck beside her now-incinerated hut.

“I don’t know what they’re trying to hit,” she said, “but they’re always dropping bombs on homes here.”

Sudan is deliberately bombing civilians and girls schools as part of its brutal counterinsurgency campaign against tens of thousands of armed rebels in the Nuba Mountains. The aim seems to be to terrorize the population and depopulate the area.

To keep out aid and eyewitnesses, Sudan bars visits by aid workers, diplomats and journalists. I slipped in through rebel lines without a visa, as I did on my three previous visits to the Nuba Mountains.

In the village of Endeh, schoolchildren gave me an impromptu lesson in the sounds I should listen for: the whoom-whoom of an Antonov bomber, the roar of a Sukhoi fighter, and the warbling of a bomb as it falls through the air. It was eerie: One moment they giggled as they mimicked the sounds, and the next moment they described how a bombing at their school had killed a teacher and three students.

The village rebuilt the school near caves used as shelter during bombings. When the children showed me the caves, I noticed a freshly shed snake skin, from a spitting cobra. The villagers gently explained to me that cobras are, on balance, less terrifying than bombs.

The bombs have fallen in Nuba for four years and they accelerated early this year. Nuba Reports, a monitoring organization, counted 1,764 bombs dropped between December and February, more than ever before in a three-month period.

This isn’t exactly the same as Sudan’s slaughter in Darfur, for that has involved militias burning villages. Here in the Nuba Mountains, the rebels keep out militias, so Sudan kills from the air with bombs, artillery shells and cluster munitions. President Bashir also blockades the area to keep out all food, medicine and supplies. Sudan even bombs trucks carrying food, and its denial of food and medicine probably kills more civilians than the bombings do directly.

The blockade of medicine is particularly infuriating. Only 5 to 10 percent of children in rebel-held areas get vaccinated, and one of the biggest measles outbreaks in Africa last year occurred in the Nuba Mountains.

Unicef and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, are reluctant to send in vaccines for fear of antagonizing the Sudanese government and losing access in other parts of Sudan. So parents see their children dying not only from shelling but also from measles.

Let’s demand humanitarian access — and if it is not granted, aid agencies should send in medicine anyway. It’s unconscionable to let children die because of diplomatic protocol.

There are precedents. In the late 1980s, Sudan similarly blocked aid to rebel-held areas in the south, and the Reagan and first Bush administrations worked with Unicef to start Operation Lifeline Sudan, sending in aid directly to needy areas. Today we need a new Operation Lifeline.

To his credit, President Obama has quietly provided food to the Nuba Mountains, thus averting starvation. It’s a model of what could also be done with medicine. But Obama overall has been weaker than the four previous presidents in standing up to Sudan.

As for Safarina’s killing, it’s unclear whether Sudan was aiming for her village or the girls school. It speaks volumes that Sudan regularly targets both villagers and schoolgirls.

It’s a brutal way to live, and in the case of children like Safarina, to die. And as long as world leaders and aid agencies acquiesce and Sudan pays no price for its savagery, nothing will change.

Now here’s Ms. Collins:

Happy upcoming Independence Day! Let’s celebrate with a presidential primary quiz.

1       Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey is the latest Republican candidate for president. His slogan is:

  • “Telling it like it is.”
  • “Yelling it like it is.”
  • “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.”
  • “I don’t need any stupid slogan. You got a problem with that?”

2       Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, the second latest Republican to announce he’s a presidential candidate:

  • Is known in New Orleans as “Les Bon Temps Bobby.”
  • Said he once participated in an exorcism.
  • Gave a thrilling Republican response to the State of the Union speech.
  • Is less popular in Louisiana than anybody but Barack Obama.

3       Jeb Bush told a gathering of wealthy Manhattan financiers that his most influential adviser on the Middle East was:

  • His brother George.
  • His brother Marvin.
  • The billionaire casino magnate Sheldon Adelson.
  • “A wealthy Manhattan financier I just had a great talk with in this very room.”

4       In one of her emails as secretary of state, Hillary Clinton:

  • Misspelled “Benghazi.”
  • Urged John Podesta to wear socks to bed.
  • Debated whether her playlist should include something from the Marvelettes.
  • Tutored an aide on how to use a fax.

5       Which of the following statements about Mike Huckabee is NOT true?

  • Hosted an infomercial promoting a cinnamon-heavy “Diabetes Solution Kit.”
  • Has trouble relating to people who don’t “order fried green tomatoes for an appetizer.”
  • Wrote a strange essay about rape and bondage 40 years ago, which he describes as a precursor to “Fifty Shades of Grey.”
  • Enjoyed frying squirrels in a popcorn popper as a college student

6       Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky:

  • Loves squirrels.
  • Once attempted to equate abortion rights to government support for low-flush toilets.
  • Is the son of guitar legend Les Paul.
  • Decorated his office like a scene from “Downton Abbey.”

7       Senator Ted Cruz of Texas once:

  • Put together a group of advisers who described early childhood education as a “Godless environment.”
  • Tweeted a picture of himself posing with what looked like a rug made from an endangered species.
  • Demanded the return of deep-fried foods to school cafeterias. (“It’s not about French fries; it’s about freedom.”)
  • Called for special supervision of S. military exercises this summer because of concerns that the soldiers might take over and confiscate everyone’s guns.

8       Rick Perry has a campaign theme song that goes: “Rick Perry supporter …

  • “… I love law and order.”
  • “… Let’s protect our border.”
  • “… Can you spare a quarter?”
  • “… Take your hands off my daughter.”

9       Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin:

  • Delivered his college valedictorian speech on women’s rights.
  • Got an across-the-board endorsement from the cast of “Duck Dynasty.”
  • Responded to a child’s question about global warming by saying that he is a former boy scout who “always thought maybe campsites should be cleaner.”
  • Responded to a child’s question about global warming by complaining about “gotcha” inquiries.

10     Which Democrat used part of the presidential announcement speech to call for adoption of the metric system?

  • Hillary Clinton
  • Bernie Sanders
  • Martin O’Malley
  • Lincoln Chafee

11     One candidate for president seemed sure that the mass murder of nine black people in a historic black church was an attack on religion. (“…What other rationale could there be?”) That was:

  • Carly Fiorina.
  • Ben Carson.
  • Rick Santorum.
  • Marco Rubio.

12     Donald Trump:

  • Showed his support for the American worker by having his line of ties manufactured in Kansas.
  • Has signed up to host a repackaged quiz show called “Who Wants to Be a Thousandaire?”
  • Is vowing to “Do for America what I did for Atlantic City.”
  • Says he has a secret plan to defeat ISIS but doesn’t “want the enemy to know what I’m doing.”

13     The first presidential primary debate, featuring the top 10 Republicans, will be in Ohio in August. It’s already causing controversy because:

  • Fox News, the broadcaster, wants to raise ratings by requiring the candidates to answer questions while suspended over the Grand Canyon.
  • The governor of Ohio might not make the cut.
  • Rand Paul has called for a more millennial-friendly “Twitter-off.”
  • Jeb Bush is insisting that all of his male relatives be permitted to pass him notes.




Now here’s the answer key, using A through D since she used bullets:


1A, 2B, 3A, 4B, 5C, 6B, 7B, 8B, 9C, 10D, 11C, 12D, 13B

Bruni and Collins

June 27, 2015

In “Our Weddings, Our Worth” Mr. Bruni says the Supreme Court didn’t rule just for marriage equality. It ruled for dignity and joyous lives.  Ms. Collins, in “Supremes Hit a High Note,” says in only a few days, the justices had laudable rulings on gay marriage, national health care and the Fair Housing Act.  Here’s Mr. Bruni:

How will the Supreme Court’s ruling on same-sex marriage alter the way Americans feel about the country, and how we feel about ourselves?

I can’t speak for everyone. But I can speak for this one 12-year-old boy.

He stands out among his siblings because he lacks their optimism about things, even their quickness to smile. He has a darkness that they don’t. He’s a worrier, a brooder. He’s also more self-conscious. He can’t get comfortable with himself.

And while this may be his wiring, it may also be something else. He has noticed that his heart beats faster not for girls but for other boys, and the sensation is as lonely and terrifying as it is intense.

He doesn’t know what to do about it. He’s sure he’ll be reviled for it, because he hears all of the bigoted jokes that people aren’t necessarily aware that they’re telling, all of the cruel asides that they don’t always realize that they’re muttering. He craves some assurance that he’ll be spared their disdain and disgust. But the world hasn’t given him any.

I can speak for a 16-year-old boy. He has a word for what he is — “gay” or “homosexual” or something worse, depending on who’s talking — but he doesn’t have answers for what that’s going to mean. At the mall one afternoon, he surreptitiously breaks away from his friends and steals into a bookstore. He’s looking for something to quiet the fear inside him.

He finds an examination of “being gay in America” that’s called “Alienated Affections.” The phrase rattles him. It sounds like a diagnosis or sinister prophecy. To understand it better, he riffles hurriedly through the pages, glancing over his shoulder repeatedly to make sure that no one’s watching, listening carefully for any approaching steps.

His nerve doesn’t last long; he manages to take in only a reference to drag queens, an explanation of bondage, an exploration of homoeroticism among prisoners.

These are his options? Feathers, chains or the chain gang?

The title of one chapter in particular catches his eye: “Beyond Gay or Gloomy: The Ordinary Miseries of Everyday Life.” Gloomy? Miseries?

He’s not sure he has the stomach for this, or the strength.

He closes the book, along with a bit of his heart.

I can speak for a 20-year-old college student. He has opened up to his family and to many friends about who he is, not because he possesses any particular courage but because being honest involves less strain, less effort, than keeping secrets and dreading their exposure. Also because he wants to meet men like him, develop crushes he can act on, even fall in love.

And so far, there’s been no terrible price. His family doesn’t wholly understand him, but they want and resolve to. For every friend who now keeps a distance, there’s another who draws closer.

He’s overwhelmed with relief.

But he wishes there were a way to be honest without wearing a tag, without being put in a category, without one adjective preceding all others when people describe him. Their tendency do so is a constant reminder that he’s not “normal.”

So are the laws of his land. It’s illegal in many places for two men or two women to have sex. It’s legal in most places for them to be fired because of who and how they love. Even the language in public discussions sends an ugly signal. People are congratulated for their “tolerance” of gays and lesbians.

He is someone to be tolerated.

And he is always having to explain, to one inquisitive person after another, that he didn’t choose this path, that it’s not a statement or a caprice, that he neither rues nor relishes it, that it’s just there: fundamental, foundational, forever. The ritual grinds him down.

I can speak for a 30-year-old man who owns and lives in a house in the suburbs with another man his age. They’re romantic partners. A couple. A white picket fence surrounds the yard behind their red brick colonial. It keeps the German shepherd from straying off.

But this fantasy has been edited, abridged. The man and his partner have never spoken of children, because that would involve special, intricate arrangements and because most people don’t really approve.

They have never hugged in the front yard, never kissed in front of a window, because what would the neighbors think? What would the neighbors do?

And while he thinks of these as minor adjustments, to the extent that he thinks of them at all, there’s a toll to such vigilance. It’s that old self-consciousness in a new form. And there’s a longing beneath it — to be appraised solely on the expanse and the limits of his talents, on the goodness he musters and the goodness he lacks. To be deemed and regarded as the equal of anybody else.

I can speak for a 45-year-old man who marvels gratefully at the changes all around him. Although he himself doesn’t plan to have kids — he has too little energy at this point, and is too set in his ways — he sees many gay and lesbian couples starting families. If they live in the right places, they pretty much blend in.

But there are still wrong places, and there’s still plenty of oxygen for religious extremists who brand people like him wretched, evil, godless. In some countries, these extremists do more than brand. They kill, and it’s a horrific thing to know and to see. In the man’s country, the extremists don’t go that far, and they’re increasingly a minority, but they’re undaunted, unabashed and too often indulged.

He wonders when he’ll see more cracks in that indulgence. It’s time.

In 2015, on the last Friday of a month fittingly associated with both weddings and gay pride, there’s something bigger than a crack. There’s a rupture.

Following a few extraordinary years during which one state after another legalized same-sex marriage, the Supreme Court rules that all states must do so, that the Constitution demands it, that it’s a matter of “equal dignity in the eyes of the law,” as Justice Anthony Kennedy writes.

I can speak for a 50-year-old man who expected this to happen but still can’t quite believe it, because it seemed impossible when he was young, because it seemed implausible even when he was a bit older, and because everything is different now, or will be.

Tomorrow’s 12-year-old won’t feel the foreboding that yesterday’s did. Tomorrow’s 16-year-old will be less likely to confront, sort through and reject so many sad stereotypes of what it means to be gay or lesbian.

There won’t be so many apologies and explanations for the 20-year-old, 30-year-old or 45-year-old, and there won’t be such a ready acceptance of limits. There won’t be the same limits, period.

And that’s because the Supreme Court’s decision wasn’t simply about weddings. It was about worth. From the highest of this nation’s perches, in the most authoritative of this nation’s voices, a majority of justices told a minority of Americans that they’re normal and that they belong — fully, joyously and with cake.

Now that I’ve stopped sniffling here’s Ms. Collins:

Wow, Supreme Court — what a week.

“The Supreme Court just upheld Obamacare yet again,” said Jeb Bush in a fund-raising shout-out. “This is the direct result of President Obama. He deliberately forced Obamacare on the American people in a partisan and toxic way.”

Whoever actually wrote Bush’s email did a brilliant job since it, a) manages to blame Barack Obama for a Supreme Court dominated by Republican appointees, and b) does sort of sound like the way Jeb Bush talks.

The ever-growing throng of Republican candidates for president were all in a fury over the Obamacare decision, but they divided a bit on gay marriage. Bush took the more moderate road, which involved trying to sound sad and then change the subject.

Once again, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee led the field in howling, demanding that the people “resist and reject judicial tyranny, not retreat.” Once again we will contemplate the fact that Huckabee used to be known as the tenderhearted Republican.

Donald Trump blamed Jeb Bush for the court’s gay rights decision, which is even more creative than Jeb Bush blaming Barack Obama for the one on health care. I believe Trump’s early line of reasoning goes like this: Jeb Bush as Florida governor helped get his brother the presidency during the Bush-Gore recounts; George Bush then nominated John Roberts to head the Supreme Court, and even though Roberts was on the dissenting side of the gay marriage decision, still.

Or it could have been something completely different. Really, it’s beside the point. Forget I ever brought it up.

“The only alternative left for the American people is to support an amendment to the U.S. Constitution to reaffirm the ability of the states to continue to define marriage,” said Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. There were a lot of calls for a constitutional amendment, which will happen at approximately the same time hell freezes over. The last time the nation managed to rally together and change the Constitution was in 1992, when the people looked deep into their hearts and decided to join hands and prohibit a Congress from raising its own salary.

The Roberts Supreme Court is on a roll. Gay marriage, national health care and a surprising vote of support for the Fair Housing Act, all in a couple of days. Great job, guys! We are totally over the fact that you destroyed the nation’s campaign finance laws, limited workers’ rights to challenge wage discrimination and women’s rights to control their bodies. And basically disemboweled a 50-year-old Voting Rights Act that Congress had renewed by increasingly large margins on four different occasions.

Stop. Trying to be nothing but positive today.

Everybody will remember this week for the gay marriage decision, but let’s talk about the Obamacare ruling. The court decided — in what opponents decried as a wild leap of judgment — that it was not going to strip millions of people of their health coverage and upend one of the most important pieces of legislation in modern history because of a four-word drafting error.

The Affordable Care Act has now been upheld twice by the Supreme Court. The American people, for their part, voted in 2008 to elect a president who promised to create a national right to health insurance coverage, and voted in 2012 to re-elect him over a candidate who promised to undo it.

After all that, not to mention about 60 failed attempts to repeal the act in Congress, Obamacare, for the first time, looks safe. “This is reality,” the president said on Thursday.

Ever since Theodore Roosevelt, our decision makers have pushed for a national health insurance program. Stuff always happened. Back in the 1970s, Representative Wilbur Mills, the super-powerful chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, thought he had President Gerald Ford “convinced on national health.” But Mills failed to get the bill out of committee due, he said much later, to the fact that he was drinking a half gallon of vodka a day and had hallucinations about buzzards chasing him.

Anyone who watched the disaster that health care created for the Clinton administration might have had reason to dodge the subject for another century. But Obama pushed the bill through, even when a great many members of his party were begging him to drop the whole thing and do something easier, about jobs or taxes, that would get more traction in the next election.

Also, give some credit to Nancy Pelosi. When things looked bleakest — after Ted Kennedy had died, and Republicans won his seat — Democrats started to backtrack, but Pelosi stood firm. “We’ll go through the gate. If the gate’s closed, we’ll go over the fence. If the fence is too high, we’ll pole vault in,” she said. “If that doesn’t work, we’ll parachute in. But we’re going to get health care reform passed for the American people.”

And darned if they didn’t.

Ahh, the taste of wingnut tears…  Delicious!  Even better with a side of toasted schadenfreude.

Blow, Kristof and Collins

June 25, 2015

In “Confederate Flags and Institutional Racism” Mr. Blow says taking down symbols is well and good. But we are focusing on the 10 percent of the iceberg above the water and not the 90 percent below.  Mr. Kristof says “Tearing Down the Confederate Flag Is Just a Start” and that he’s all for celebrating the drawing down of the flag, but now let’s pivot from symbolic moves to substantial ones.  Ms. Collins is “Poking the Republican Pyramid” and says the field of presidential candidates is full of past and present governors with records worth considering.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

In the wake of the Charleston massacre, there is a rapidly growing consensus sweeping the country to remove the Confederate flag, a relic of racial divisiveness, from civic spaces.

Gov. Nikki Haley of South Carolina has called for its removal from the grounds of that state’s capitol.

Alabama’s governor, Robert Bentley, has used executive powers to take down Confederate flags at that state’s capitol grounds.

As The Associated Press reported Wednesday:

“U.S. Senator Roger Wicker became Mississippi’s second top-tier Republican to call for changing the flag that state has used since Reconstruction. Wicker said it ‘should be put in a museum and replaced by one that is more unifying.’”

“Lawmakers in Tennessee said a bust of Confederate general and Ku Klux Klan leader Nathan Bedford Forrest must go from their Senate. Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe was among several state leaders taking aim at vanity license plates with Confederate symbols.”


“Wal-Mart, e-Bay, Amazon, Target and Sears were among those removing Confederate merchandise from stores and online sites, and at least three major flag makers said they will no longer manufacture the Confederate flag.”

All of this is well and good. We should move overt symbols of racial division to places like museums, where they can be displayed in proper context and where education is part of the mission.

And yet, there is a part of me that still believes we are focusing on the 10 percent of the iceberg above the water and not the 90 percent below.

When do we move from our consensus over taking down symbols to the much harder and more important work of taking down structures?

I worry much less about individual expressions of racism than I do about institutional expressions of racism. And we live in an age where people are earnestly trying to convince us that institutional racism doesn’t exist.

In an interview for the podcast “WTF With Marc Maron,” President Obama used a racial slur to make the point that eliminating the use of such language from polite society wasn’t the “measure of whether racism still exists or not.”

The slur got most of the attention; far less was devoted to the point the president was making about the resilience of institutional, intergenerational racism.

As the president put it: “It’s not just a matter of overt discrimination. Societies don’t, overnight, completely erase everything that happened” 200 to 300 years ago.

This is not to deny progress, but only to point out that the process isn’t complete. It is to point out that overt displays of racism are not the appropriate measure thereof. Focus less on the individual and more on the institutions.

Yet The Wall Street Journal’s editorial page this week juxtaposed Civil Rights-era institutional racism with our present day environment to argue that institutional racism no longer exists in this country.

According to The Journal: “Back then and before, the institutions of government — police, courts, organized segregation — often worked to protect perpetrators of racially motivated violence, rather than their victims.”

It continued: “Today the system and philosophy of institutionalized racism identified by Dr. King no longer exists.”

The Fox News contributor Monica Crowley said this week on “The O’Reilly Factor”:

“Are there individual racists in this country? Sadly, yes. Does institutional racism exist anymore? No, it does not.”

She continued:

“We’ve got to understand that when we talk about racists or racism in America, it is not created by government action or codified law or social acceptance. O.K. But you have people on the far left who believe that America is a nation that was founded on genocide, theft, crimes and lies.”

“Slavery,” Bill O’Reilly sighed.

“Slavery,” Crowley agreed.

On Fox News’s “Hannity,” after the contributor Deneen Borelli said of the president, “I have dubbed him today Rapper in Chief,” the guest host David Webb posed the question to another guest: “Is America institutionally racist, that’s racism which requires codified law, a social acceptance, societal acceptance — and we know that racists, racists will always exist. Bias, prejudice in some form, black, white, in any form will always exist. Is America institutionally racist or are there racists in America?”

As if the two are necessarily mutually exclusive.

Webb later answered his own question: “I say we’re not.”

All of these definitions of institutional racism are incredibly narrow, and therefore take an incredibly myopic view of what institutional racism looks like. These definitions require a sort of direct discrimination, an articulation either in law or custom, to be deemed real.

But institutional racism will not be limited in that way. Institutional racism is often like a pathogen in the blood: You can’t see it; you have to test for it. But you can see its destructive effects as it sickens the host.

Furthermore, institutional racism doesn’t require the enlisting of individual racists. The machine does the discriminating. It provides a remove, a space, between the unpleasantness of racial discrimination — and indeed hatred — and the ultimate, undeniable and, for some, desirable outcome of structural oppression.

I prefer the Aspen Institute’s definition: “Institutional racism refers to the policies and practices within and across institutions that, intentionally or not, produce outcomes that chronically favor, or put a racial group at a disadvantage.”

Yet institutional racism’s defenders — or more precisely, its concealers — demand an articulated proof for something that moves in silence. They demand to see chapter and verse for something that is unwritten. They demand to know the names of the individual architects of a structure built subconsciously over time by each member of the vast multitudes adding their own bit, like beavers adding branches to a dam.

Institutional racism isn’t so much a grand design as it is an accumulation of racial detritus.

Symbols are important. Those Confederate flags must come down. That will be a spiritual victory. But we must not stop there. Institutional racism is the real prize on this hunt. Bring that down and cheers can truly go up.

Now here’s Mr. Kristof:

Suppose African-Americans marked their heritage with flags depicting Nat Turner’s rebellion of 1831, in which slaves massacred about 60 whites before the uprising was crushed? The flag wouldn’t be celebrating the murder of whites, of course, but would simply commemorate a factual milestone in black history!

Suppose Mexican-Americans waved a flag depicting the battle of the Alamo? The point would not be to celebrate the slaughter of Texans, but to express pride in Mexican heritage!

Suppose Canadian-Americans displayed a flag showing the burning of the White House in the War of 1812? Nothing against the Yanks, mind you — just a point of Canadian historical pride!

Suppose American women waved flags of Lorena Bobbitt, who reacted to domestic abuse in 1993 by severing her husband’s penis and throwing it into a field? The aim wouldn’t be to approve of sexual mutilation, of course — but Bobbitt’s subsequent acquittal was a landmark in the recognition of domestic violence!

Well, you get the point. That’s how the Confederate battle flag looked to many of us. And at least Nat Turner was fighting for his own freedom, while the Confederate battle flag was the banner of those who fought freedom, defended slavery, clubbed civil rights workers — and, most recently, murdered black churchgoers. And it’s exhilarating to see the same distaste expressed in the Southern mainstream.

“The Confederate battle flag was the emblem of Jim Crow defiance to the civil rights movement, of the Dixiecrat opposition to integration, and of the domestic terrorism of the Ku Klux Klan,” noted Russell Moore of the Southern Baptist Convention. “White Christians ought to think about what that flag says to our African-American brothers and sisters.”

The last year has brought a far-reaching conversation about race in America. But much of that conversation seemed polarizing more than clarifying, leaving each side more entrenched than ever — so it’s thrilling to see a wave of action now.

South Carolina may finally remove the flag from the State House grounds, Alabama has removed four Confederate flags from its state Capitol grounds, and Mississippi may also take a Confederate battle cross off the state flag. Virginia, Tennessee, Maryland and North Carolina seem poised to keep the Confederate flag off license plates. A bust of Nathan Bedford Forrest, the Confederate general and early leader of the Ku Klux Klan, is expected to be evicted from the Tennessee State House. Walmart, Sears, Amazon, e-Bay and other retailers will no longer sell Confederate merchandise.

So we’re finally seeing not just conversation but movement.

But the movement is in some ways chimerical. It’s about a symbol — and now the progress on the symbol needs to be matched by progress on racial inequality in daily life.

America’s greatest shame in 2015 is not a piece of cloth. It’s that a black boy has a life expectancy five years shorter than a white boy. It’s that the net worth of the average black household in 2011 was $6,314, compared with $110,500 for the average white household, according to census data.

It’s that almost two-thirds of black children grow up in low-income families. It’s that more than one-third of inner-city black kids suffer lead poisoning (and thus often lifelong brain impairment), mostly from old lead paint in substandard housing.

More consequential than that flag is our flawed system of school finance that perpetuates inequity. Black students in America are much less likely than whites to attend schools offering advanced science and math courses.

The one public system in which America goes out of its way to provide services to African-Americans is prison. Partly because of our disastrous experiment in mass incarceration, black men in their 20s without a high school diploma are more likely to be incarcerated than employed, according to a study by the National Bureau of Economic Research.

So I’m all for celebrating the drawing down of the Confederate battle flag, but now let’s pivot from symbolic moves to substantial ones.

That means, for example, early childhood programs, which offer the most cost-effective interventions to create a more even starting line. These include home visitation, high-quality preschool and literacy programs.

A Stanford University randomized trial examined a simple, inexpensive program called Ready4K!, which simply sent three text messages a week to parents to encourage them to read to their preschoolers — and it was astonishingly successful. Parents read more to children, who then experienced learning gains — and this was particularly true of black and Hispanic children. And because this was text messaging, the cost was less than $1 a family for the whole school year.

So, sure, good riddance to Confederate flags across the country! And then let’s swivel to address the larger national disgrace: In 2015, so many children still don’t have an equal shot at life because of the color of their skin.

And now here’s Ms. Collins:

Is it my imagination, or are half the governors in the country running for president?

On the Republican side they’re piling up like … those huge stacks of walruses we see off the coast of Alaska now that there’s global warming. A stack of governors! Different from the walruses only in 1) lack of tusks, and 2) failure to believe that melting ice floes are a serious problem.

This week Bobby Jindal (Louisiana). Next week maybe Chris Christie (New Jersey). Sometime in July, Scott Walker (Wisconsin) and probably John Kasich (Ohio). We’ve already got a bunch of former governors in the race, like Jeb Bush (Florida) and Rick Perry (Texas). The guys who are still in office have been stalling, attempting to disguise their total disinterest in their current jobs until a state budget is passed. Although Walker, in a stroke of true political genius, has decided that really means the day the budget is supposed to be passed.

That’s Wisconsin’s problem. Our question for today is what we can learn about our own national priorities from the governor-candidates God has given us.

Almost all governors brag about their economic development programs — hey, it’s economic development! But we could have an excellent conversation about how often these things really work. They’re frequently huge, thudding wastes of money. Louisiana, for instance, covers about a third of the in-state production costs for any movie that’s filmed there, a policy that will pay off only if it turns out that tourists visit New Orleans just because it was the site of “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.”

“Louisiana sank more into ‘Green Lantern’ than it is putting into the University of New Orleans this year,” a state paper noted in December.

Next door in Texas, then-Gov. Rick Perry claimed that his Texas Enterprise Fund created more than 12,000 jobs with a $50 million investment in an institute for genomic medicine. It was actually more like 10 jobs once you stopped counting every single biotech job created anywhere in the entire state for the previous six years.

In Florida, when Jeb Bush was governor, he came up with a plan for biotech corridors that would spawn tens of thousands of jobs, transforming the state just the way Disney World did in the 1970s, except possibly without any pirates. Reuters studied the results and estimated that Florida state and local governments had anted up $1.32 billion and generated 1,365 jobs, or $1 million per new employee.

Often, the goal of these programs is to simply lure a business from one state to another. Then we get a battle of the tax breaks, creating a hole that will have to be filled by you, the ordinary taxpayer.

Ohio, home of potential presidential candidate John Kasich, offered Sears a $400 million deal to ditch Illinois and move to Columbus. Sears decided to stay put after the Illinois Legislature passed a super-emergency $275 million counteroffer. One economics professor suggested the company should pay Ohio a 10 percent commission.

“We’re disappointed that it didn’t work out,” Kasich said in a statement. “But it is very exciting that Ohio was in serious contention up to the very end, and that it took a special session of the Illinois Legislature to beat us.”

Honestly, this kind of thing ought to be unconstitutional.

The great irony here is that finding the lowest taxes generally isn’t a top business priority. What companies really want is to be near suppliers and markets. Maybe occasionally the C.E.O.’s house. “As a part of business cost structure, state and local taxes are about 2 percent,” said Greg LeRoy, the executive director of Good Jobs First, a nonprofit that tracks these programs.

But tax cuts do help make friends. In Wisconsin, the State Economic Development Corporation board — which Scott Walker used to lead — approved a $6 million tax credit for Ashley Furniture Industries, whose owners forked over $20,000 to Walker’s re-election campaign. As The Wisconsin State Journal reported, in return for the tax credit, Ashley Furniture promised to expand the company headquarters and keep at least half of its current jobs in the state for the next five years. Doesn’t that sound like a kind of low bar?

Under Chris Christie, New Jersey has handed out $630 million to get companies to move jobs to the woebegone city of Camden. Which would seem like a worthy goal, except that most of the jobs in question were already in the state — in fact, frequently in an adjoining neighborhood. “Most of the jobs coming to Camden are filled by existing employees who currently work just a few miles away,” reported The Associated Press. “Nearly all the recipients boast notable political connections.”

I think we have a topic. Nudge the governor pile and let the debate begin.


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