Archive for the ‘Collins’ Category

Blow, Kristof and Collins

July 28, 2016

Mr. Blow is “Incandescent With Rage” and says that with the dropped charges in Baltimore, America is edging closer to telling people like him that the eye of justice isn’t blind but jaundiced.  Mr. Kristof wonders “Did Putin Try to Steal an American Election?”  He says the evidence from the hacking of the Democratic committee’s computers points to Russia, and it had reason to favor Trump.  In “Hillary on the March” Ms. Collins is giving a hand to the women who went before the first woman to win a major party’s presidential nomination.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

No one need ask me anymore about how to heal the racial divide in America. No one need inquire about the path forward beyond racial strife. You will not be put at ease by my response.

James Baldwin once said, “To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious, is to be in a rage almost all the time.” Well, I am now incandescent with rage and at my wits’ end about how to responsibly aim it and morally marshal it.

I am at the screaming place.

Following three acquittals of officers in the death of Freddie Gray — which was ruled a homicide by the medical examiner! — Baltimore prosecutors on Wednesday dropped all remaining charges against the other officers awaiting trial.

Yet another black man’s body broken without anyone’s being called to account, another soul lingering on the other side of the grave without justice on this side of the living. No officer has been convicted in the deaths of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, John Crawford III, Tanisha Anderson, Tamir Rice, Sandra Bland and dozens more. Indeed, according to Mapping Police Violence, “only 10 of the 102 cases in 2015 where an unarmed black person was killed by police resulted in officer(s) being charged with a crime, and only 2 of these deaths (Matthew Ajibade and Eric Harris) resulted in convictions of officers involved.”

What are we to make of this? What are we to take from it?

In other killings — whether they be domestic or inter-community or directed at law enforcement officers — no matter how tragic the circumstances, or perhaps because of the tragedy, the full force of the law is brought to bear, and we can point to a track record of justice, at least to some degree.

But not in these cases.

Into what frame am I supposed to position this to make it palatable? How can I wrap my head around it in a way to make it rational and right?

It is impossible, and indeed unreasonable, to expect me to do so. I deserve to be angry. I deserve to survey the system that thrusts so many officers and black and brown people into contact in the first place, and be disgusted. I deserve to examine the biases that are exposed in officer/citizen encounters, and be disgusted. I deserve to take account of an utterly racially biased criminal justice system, and be disgusted.

America’s streets are filled with cries of “black lives matter,” and America continues to insist through its actions in these cases that they don’t, that that is a lamentation of hopeful ideals rather than a recitation of a national reality.

My fingers ache as I type this. I want to pound this keyboard. I want to delete until all the characters disappear, to make the pain of it simply vanish behind a retreating cursor, but it’s just not that easy. These words are all I have left. This agony pouring out of me onto the screen is all I have.

And I take no solace in the lip service generated by politicians and their parties to rectify this situation.

I have been to two national party conventions in as many weeks and with everything I hear, my cynicism grows.

Last week in Cleveland, the Republican Party delivered an unabashed affront to the movement for black lives as it took every opportunity to diminish black loss, as if there was an inherent conflict between valuing police lives and valuing the lives of the black and brown people who are policed. Donald Trump himself delivered a heavily coded speech in which he repeatedly asserted that he would be the “law and order” candidate, but never spoke of the equally important issue of imposing some order on the law.

The Democratic convention has been different and better in many ways — particularly about elevating the issue and using proper language — but even here I remain leery of empty platitudes over actual policies.

The Mothers of the Movement — black women who have lost children to gun violence — took the stage on Tuesday night and delivered a powerful and moving address to those in the hall and across America. But even this makes me a bit uneasy.

While I applaud and commend the mothers for taking every opportunity to campaign for justice for their children and to champion policies that would prevent other mothers from ever being thrust into their position, I’m also incredibly aware of the using nature of politicians and how they try to politicize other people’s pain for their own self-aggrandizement.

Justice doesn’t live on the left or right side of the ideological spectrum. Justice lives on the side of righteousness.

And then, Bill Clinton, who I found more beguiling than many, apparently, took the stage and shifted the burden of dismantling oppression from the shoulders of the oppressors to the shoulders of the oppressed, saying:

“If you’re a young African-American disillusioned and afraid, we saw in Dallas how great our police officers can be. Help us build a future where nobody is afraid to walk outside, including the people that wear blue to protect our future.”

I am exhausted. I am repulsed. I am over all the circular dialogue. But I don’t know precisely where that leaves me other than in a hurt and festering place. America is edging ever closer to telling people like me that the eye of justice isn’t blind but jaundiced, and I say back to America, that is incredibly dangerous.

Next up we have Mr. Kristof:

Some foreign leaders settle for stealing billions of dollars. Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, may have wanted to steal something even more valuable: an American presidential election.

As our election takes a turn that could be drawn from a Cold War spy novel (except it would be too implausible), Putin has an obvious favorite in the race: Donald Trump. “It’s crystal clear to me” that Putin favors Trump, says Michael McFaul, a Stanford professor who was ambassador to Russia until 2014. “If I were Putin, I would rather deal with Trump, too, given the things he has said about foreign policy.”

Look, Democratic Party leaders exchanged inappropriate emails showing bias for Hillary Clinton over Bernie Sanders, and a hacker’s disclosure has properly triggered a ruckus. But that scandal pales beside an effort apparently by a foreign dictatorship to disrupt an American presidential election.

It also seems scandalous to me that Trump on Wednesday effectively invited Russia to hack into Clinton’s computers for deleted emails from when she was secretary of state, saying at a press conference, “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing.”

Yes, Trump is entertaining. But increasingly, the antonym of “gravitas” is “Trump.” Clinton could have responded by inviting Russia to hack into Trump’s computers and release his tax returns; she didn’t because the hack would be illegal and her plea would be unpresidential.

In his press conference, Trump also cast doubt on the idea that Russia hacked the Democratic National Committee’s computers. “It’s probably not Russia,” he said, suggesting it might be China, or “some guy with a 200 I.Q.”

So let’s go through the evidence.

America’s intelligence agencies have assessed with “high confidence” that Russia’s government was behind the hack, and private security companies have identified two Russian teams of hackers that were inside D.N.C. computers. One team is called Cozy Bear and is linked to the F.S.B., the successor to the K.G.B., and another is called Fancy Bear and is linked to the G.R.U., or Russian military intelligence. Cyber experts are very familiar with both Cozy Bear and Fancy Bear.

The next question is whether Russia was also behind the release of the stolen emails to WikiLeaks. Someone using the name Guccifer 2.0 claimed to be behind the hack, denied Russian involvement and claimed to be Romanian — but wrote Romanian badly. ThreatConnect, a private security firm, issued a meticulous report showing that Guccifer used a Russia-based VPN (virtual private network) service and displayed other “heavy traces of Russian activity.”

“Guccifer 2.0 is a Russian propaganda effort,” ThreatConnect concluded.

After talking to experts, I have the sense that there’s considerable confidence that Russia is the culprit, but more doubt about whether Putin gave the order and about whether the aim was to benefit Trump or simply to create havoc.

“I think the most likely explanation is that someone in Russian intelligence, probably very high up, decided to help Donald Trump,” said Benjamin Wittes, a security expert at the Brookings Institution, but he added that there’s no solid evidence for this.

One reason for caution is that history shows that “intelligence community” is sometimes an oxymoron. In the 1980s, the United States accused Russia of conducting chemical warfare in Southeast Asia, citing “yellow rain” in jungles there. Years later, it turned out that this “yellow rain” may have actually been bee excrement.

Democrats should be particularly wary of hinting that Trump is some sort of conscious pawn of the Russians, or is controlled by Moscow through financial investments. It’s true that his son Donald Trump Jr. said in 2008 that “we see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.” But do you really think that if Trump were an agent he would have exaggerated his ties, as he did last year, saying of Putin, “I got to know him very well”? In fact, Trump acknowledged Wednesday, he has never even met Putin.

The reason Moscow favors Trump isn’t some conspiracy. It’s simply that Putin dislikes Clinton, while Trump’s combination of international ignorance and catastrophic policies would benefit Putin. In particular, Trump’s public doubts about NATO renounce more than half a century of bipartisan orthodoxy on how to deal with Russia, and undermine the Western alliance that checks Putin.

One nightmare of security specialists is Russia provoking unrest among ethnic Russians in Estonia, Latvia or Lithuania and then using rioting as an excuse to intervene. NATO members would be obliged to respond, but frankly it’s not clear that they would — and Trump’s loose rhetoric increases the risk of paralysis and a collapse of the alliance.

In that sense, Trump poses a national security risk to the West, and that’s reason enough Putin would be thrilled to see him elected president.

And now here’s Ms. Collins:

Now, everybody wears the pants in the family.

While the Democrats have been celebrating the nomination of Hillary Clinton, I’ve been thinking about all the American women, from the 1600s through World War II, who got arrested for wearing trousers in public. You’d like to imagine them out there somewhere watching those Clinton pantsuits, exchanging high-fives. Ditto all the women who supported the deeply uncomfortable bloomer movement, in the name of a feminist future.

The idea of the first-woman-major-party-nominee is a political event, but it’s also a historical marker. Once everyone leaves here and goes home, we probably won’t have much chance to talk about that angle. Really, there’s going to be a lot of other stuff on the agenda. The Democrats hadn’t even gotten to Clinton’s acceptance speech before everyone was distracted by Donald Trump encouraging the Russians to spy on his opponent.

It’s also becoming clear that the campaign is so fixated on those ever-elusive white males that many Democrats would prefer to forget Susan B. Anthony and talk about Babe Ruth. That’s political life. But just give us a little more time to dwell.

I’d like to think that somewhere, all the women who worked for this moment through American history are watching and nodding happily. Like the sisters Sarah and Angelina Grimke, who really don’t get enough mention. They were the daughters of a wealthy pre-Civil War South Carolina slave owner who figured out on their own, when they were hardly more than babies, that the system was wrong. (When Sarah was about 4 she went to the docks and asked a sea captain to take her to a place where whipping was prohibited.)

They went north, became lecturers, and there was something about their earnest, sweet, humorless determination that allowed them to get away with the political equivalent of murder. They trotted around the country, speaking for abolition and women’s rights to audiences that — shockingly — included men.

You had your occasional torch-bearing protesters, but for the most part, they triumphed by simply ignoring the possibility of bad outcomes. Angelina wound up marrying a dashing fellow abolitionist, Theodore Weld, to the amazement of Americans who had never conceived that an advocate of equal rights for women could ever find a husband.

Give the Grimkes a hand. And pick your own nominees to go with them.

Even if Hillary wins the White House, there will still be political worlds for women to conquer. While Bill Clinton gave the most supportive spousal speech conceivable at the convention, the fact that our first female presidential nominee is married to a former president is a bit of a downer for some people.

There’s a sense of cutting corners. But it was probably inevitable. The annals of first-ever female elected officials is pretty much a list of wives of congressmen, senators and governors who stepped in when their husbands died — or, occasionally, got indicted.

Some, to be honest, were embarrassing placeholders. But others were tireless public servants.

The greatest, pre-Hillary, may have been Margaret Chase Smith, whose husband, Clyde, was a Republican representative from Maine. (According to Ellen Fitzpatrick’s book “The Highest Glass Ceiling,” he was also a chronic womanizer who died of advanced syphilis.) Margaret had been running the congressman’s office and meeting with his constituents for a long time, and made it clear she didn’t intend to just sit in his seat.

She moved up to the Senate, took on Joe McCarthy Communist hysteria, fought for women’s rights and bipartisanship. Smith ran for president herself in 1964 — the first woman regarded as a genuine contestant by either of the major parties. At the time, commentators had little compunction about suggesting she was, as one Los Angeles Times writer contended, “beyond the optimum years for the presidency.” Smith was 66 at the time.

So Clinton, who is 68, has won one for Margaret Chase Smith. Also for the generations of American women who were described, as one 18th-century visitor from France put it, as “charming and adorable at fifteen, faded at twenty-three, old at thirty-five, decrepit at forty.”

The story keeps moving on. While Clinton was the first woman elected to the U.S. Senate from New York, she was succeeded by Kirsten Gillibrand, a young and wildly energetic Democrat who came from a home where women were the family politicians. She had already attracted national notice when she went into labor after sitting through a 13-hour meeting of the Armed Services Committee.

But things still aren’t equal. We’ve made it to a point where a woman who’s been first lady, U.S. senator and secretary of state can win a presidential nomination. Now let’s see how long it takes for someone who’s a little less overqualified to get the nod.

Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton has made history. So here she comes, wearing her pants, ready to run.

Blow, Kristof, and Collins

July 21, 2016

In “Making America Safe for Whom?” Mr. Blow says Republicans are holding their convention just 10 minutes away from where 12-year-old Tamir Rice was shot in the stomach.  Mr. Kristof ponders “What Republicans Really Think About Trump” and says bigot, madman, bully, fraud and serial philanderer are just a sampling of the terms used by influential conservatives.  Ms. Collins, in “Pence Versus Trump Kids,” says Trump’s running mate got the spotlight for a while but got upstaged.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

So far, the Republican National Convention in Cleveland has been a slapdash spectacle of the absurd, with processions of B-list politicians and Z-list celebrities jockeying for the title of biggest embarrassment.

Tuesday was supposed to follow the theme of “Make America Work Again” — something President Obama has already done to a large degree, for the record — but instead of presenting work programs, policies or proposals, the convention got the vice-presidential also-ran Chris Christie to conduct a Salem witch trial against Hillary Clinton. Meanwhile, Ben Carson, the retired brain surgeon with permanent brain freeze, tried to link Clinton to Lucifer.

Oh, to what depths has the Grand Old Party descended?

But the first day, the one themed “Make America Safe Again,” was perhaps the most egregious.

Again there was a prosecution of Clinton — and also Obama — more than a promotion of the already too self-promoting standard-bearer. It was an unending stream of fear, outrage and escalating agitation, as if the speakers were tossing chum to sharks. Rather than an expansive vision, they delivered restrictive insecurity. It was philosophically small.

One piece of this message involved the lifting up and honoring of America’s police, shouts of “Blue Lives Matter!” and an unhinged Rudy Giuliani screaming about an alternate universe of race-blind policing.

Recognizing that the police have hard jobs, and, when properly performed, those jobs are both honorable and necessary, is fine. But there is another part of the equation that was barely voiced in the hall, which is the lack of safety that black and brown Americans feel, and indeed experience, when facing the police.

Giuliani’s only hint at this (and the only one I heard from any of the speakers) was this:

“We also reach out. We reach out our arms with understanding and compassion to those who have lost loved ones because of police shootings — some justified, some unjustified.”

It was in no way lost on me that the Republicans are holding their convention in an arena just 10 minutes away from Cudell Recreation Center, where 12-year-old Tamir Rice, playing with a pellet gun in an adjacent park, was shot in the stomach (within two seconds of officers’ arriving on the scene). He later died of his injuries.

Tamir’s ashes now rest in a blue and white marble urn, surrounded by his toys, in a curio cabinet in the dining room of his mother, Samaria. She cannot rest. She cannot be set right. The grand jury for the case declined to indict the officer who killed Tamir.

Independent investigations into the case determined that the officer who shot Tamir had behaved “reasonably.”

But, as Olevia Boykin, Christopher Desir and Jed Rubenfeld pointed out in The New York Times in January:

“Racial bias can affect what seems reasonable. Individuals of all races in America perceive black people as more aggressive and dangerous than white people. Studies show that black people are seen as being physically stronger and less prone to feeling pain than people of other races, and black children are often perceived to be older than they are. When faced with an armed black target, shooters are both more likely to shoot and quicker to shoot than they are when faced with an armed white target. These biases can affect the way we think, judge and act. As a result, force that may seem unreasonable if used against a white person may seem perfectly “reasonable” when used against a black person.”

In April the city of Cleveland settled a wrongful-death suit brought by Tamir’s family for $6 million. And while that money may eventually be able to buy physical comforts, it can’t provide spiritual consolation.

I called Samaria Rice to ask if anyone from the R.N.C. had reached out their arms to her with “understanding and compassion.” Not a one. Especially not Giuliani, who one day after Tamir was shot, told Prof. Michael Eric Dyson (who is black) on “Meet the Press” that white officers wouldn’t be in black neighborhoods “if you weren’t killing each other.” The inclusivity of the “you” racializes that statement. Whom had Dyson killed, or Tamir? No one. The common denominator for murderous proclivities in the former mayor’s mind was coded in melanin.

This erasure of black pain to create space for blue platitudes does not stand. It’s not either/or, but both/and. Too many groups in America now — the police and citizens alike — feel threatened. Tamir and all the other people who have lost their lives in highly questionable police shootings will not simply be shunted aside. There can be no complete healing until there has been some sense of restorative justice.

On Wednesday, I met Samaria for lunch to remember Tamir and discuss how she and her family were doing since the last time I interviewed her for a column on the anniversary of Tamir’s shooting.

She seemed well, but weathered. Tamir’s siblings are in counseling. His sister, who Samaria told me stopped eating after her brother died and lost significant weight, is eating well again.

Samaria herself sounds like a woman on a mission, advocating for her son in particular, but also for “human rights” in general, as she put it, because she fears the normalization of the killings of black people by the police.

Voices like Samaria’s cannot — must not! — be absent from any discussion about keeping America safe. Tamir’s blood cries out for inclusion. His mother’s heart aches for it.

She can never get back what was taken. She can’t rewind the world.

She looked up at me solemnly over lunch and said, “I would like to be normal, and I’m not normal … anymore.” She paused, then continued, “You may be normal, but I’m not.”

Pain and loss are her new normal.

Next up we have Mr. Kristof:

The arena here at the Republican National Convention echoes with applause for Donald Trump, but the cacophony and extravagant stage effects can’t conceal the chaos in the G.O.P. and in the Trump campaign.

Republican senators suddenly are busy fishing, mowing the lawn or hiking the Grand Canyon; conservative celebrities mostly sent regrets. This vacuum reflects the horror that many leading conservatives feel for their new nominee.

Pundits like me are gnashing our teeth as Trump receives the presidential nomination of the party of Lincoln, but, frankly speaking, we don’t have much credibility in Cleveland since many of us aren’t all that likely to support a Republican nominee in any case.

So instead of again inflicting on you my views of the danger of Trump, let me share what some influential conservatives said about him during the course of the campaign. (Some have since tempered their public sentiments.)

“He’s a race-baiting, xenophobic religious bigot. He doesn’t represent my party. He doesn’t represent the values that the men and women who wear the uniform are fighting for.” — Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina

“I don’t think this guy has any more core principles than a Kardashian marriage.” — Senator Ben Sasse, Republican of Nebraska

“We saw and looked at true hate in the eyes last year in Charleston. I will not stop until we fight a man that chooses not to disavow the K.K.K. That is not a part of our party.” — Nikki Haley, Republican governor of South Carolina

“A moral degenerate.” — Peter Wehner, evangelical Christian commentator who served in last three Republican administrations

“Donald Trump is a madman who must be stopped,” — Bobby Jindal, former Republican governor of Louisiana

“I won’t vote for Donald Trump because of who he isn’t. He isn’t a Republican. He isn’t a conservative. He isn’t a truth teller. … I also won’t vote for Donald Trump because of who he is. A bigot. A misogynist. A fraud. A bully.” — Norm Coleman, former Republican senator from Minnesota

“To support Trump is to support a bigot. It’s really that simple.” —Stuart Stevens, chief strategist to Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign

“Donald Trump is unfit to be president. He is a dishonest demagogue who plays to our worst fears. Trump would take America on a dangerous journey.” — Meg Whitman, Hewlett-Packard Enterprise C.E.O. and former national finance co-chairwoman for Chris Christie’s presidential campaign

“I thought he was an embarrassment to my party; I think he’s an embarrassment to my country. … I can’t vote for him.” — Tom Ridge, former Republican governor of Pennsylvania and secretary of homeland security under George W. Bush

“I would not vote for Trump, clearly. If there is any, any, any other choice, a living, breathing person with a pulse, I would be there.” — Mel Martinez, former Republican senator from Florida and former chairman of the Republican National Committee

“The G.O.P., in putting Trump at the top of the ticket, is endorsing a brand of populism rooted in ignorance, prejudice, fear and isolationism. This troubles me deeply as a Republican, but it troubles me even more as an American. … Never Trump.” — Henry M. Paulson Jr., Treasury secretary under George W. Bush

“Hillary is preferable to Trump, just like malaria is preferable to Ebola. … If it’s Trump-Hillary with no serious third-party option in the fall, as hard as it is for me to believe I am actually writing these words, there is just no question: I’d take a Tums and cast my ballot for Hillary.” — Jamie Weinstein, senior writer, the Daily Caller, a conservative website

“Donald Trump is a phony, a fraud. His promises are as worthless as a degree from Trump University.” — Mitt Romney, 2012 Republican nominee for president

“When you’ve got a guy favorably quoting Mussolini, I don’t care what party you’re in, I’m not voting for that guy.” — Ken Cuccinelli, president of the Senate Conservatives Fund

“Donald Trump is a scam. Evangelical voters should back away.” — The Christian Post, a popular U.S. evangelical website

“Listen, Donald Trump is a serial philanderer, and he boasts about it. … The president of the United States talks about how great it is to commit adultery. How proud he is. Describes his battles with venereal disease as his own personal Vietnam.” — Senator Ted Cruz, Republican of Texas

“A man utterly unfit for the position by temperament, values and policy preferences … whose personal record of chicanery and wild rhetoric of bigotry, misogyny and misplaced belligerence are without parallel in the modern history of either major party.” — Eliot A. Cohen, a senior State Department official under George W. Bush

“Leaders don’t need to do research to reject Klan support. #NeverTrump” — Ken Mehlman, former chairman of the Republican National Committee

“God bless this man” — Daily Stormer, white supremacist website

And you can safely bet your last dime that every single one of those hypocrites will vote for Trump.  Now here’s Ms. Collins:

Donald Trump arrived here Wednesday with a few words to the fans assembled at the helicopter pad. Really, just a few. Win Ohio … make America great … Mike Pence … unbelievable vice president.

“Welcome to Cleveland,” said Pence. It was a little peculiar that the governor of Indiana was doing the greeting, but there was, you know, that problem with John Kasich being on strike from the convention. It was Pence’s big night, although Trump made it pretty clear he was more excited about his son Eric’s turn on stage. (“Eric’s going to be great … amazing job. Kids congratulations. Fantastic job.”)

Which Trump child has been your favorite so far? I think you have to give a little credit to Tiffany, who labors under the burden of having been named for a jewelry store and got stuck with the job of telling the long-awaited touching personal anecdotes about her father. Eric, however, seemed to be the schedulers’ favorite, given the fact that speaking roles also went to an official from the winery he runs and to the vice president of the Eric Trump Foundation.

The kids have been a relatively heartwarming feature, considering that virtually everybody else, including the conventioneers, has spent a large chunk of time demanding that Hillary Clinton be sent directly to the pokey. (“Lock her up!”)

This is a whole new world when it comes to nominating a president. The candidate pops up all over the place, like Pokémon. When he’s not around, the delegates listen to his relatives, or speakers calling for the imprisonment of his opponent.

Look back nostalgically on the days when you’d hear a description like that and think, maybe, Gambia.

For all the hate-Hillary hysteria, the convention had been a bit of a snooze — until we got to Ted Cruz. He began with a shout-out to LeBron James, then congratulated Trump “on winning the nomination last night.” The emotional high point of the evening came when the enraged delegates realized he was never going to mention the nominee again. You have to hand it to Ted Cruz. His ability to drive people crazy is unparalleled.

By the end of the evening, hating Cruz was almost as popular as hating Hillary. But the latter, of course, has more staying power.

A New Hampshire delegate — who is also a well-known Trump adviser on veterans’ affairs — upped the ante, telling a radio interviewer that Clinton should be “shot for treason.” State Representative Al Baldasaro is what is known as a colorful politician. There is one in every legislature, where “colorful” is a synonym for “stark raving nuts but still repeatedly elected.”

The leader of New Hampshire’s Republican Party called on Baldasaro to take it back, but being a Trumpite means never having to say you’re sorry.

Refusal to apologize is definitely one of the overarching themes of the Cleveland experience. We’d still be debating the Melania’s Cribbed Quotes crisis if a hitherto unknown Trump employee hadn’t finally taken responsibility. (On the plus side, a day and a half of stonewalling gave us the opportunity to hear the Republican spokesman dismiss the whole affair with a quote from Twilight Sparkle in “My Little Pony.”)

But about Mike Pence. His speech is destined to be totally forgotten in the Cruzmania. But he did a grand job of returning the auditorium to the early-evening theme of sleepiness. Every single one of the Trump children turns out to be a more exciting speaker than the prospective vice-president. Tiffany’s story about how Donald wrote notes on her report cards suddenly took on new and compelling dimensions.

Even Pence, however, drew a “Lock her up!” chant from the floor. It’s what they’ve got.

In case you missed it, Pence promised that his new partner would solve all of our problems, from ISIS to the national debt. There was no explanation of how Trump — whose current tax-cutting plan would send the debt soaring like a grand new skyscraper — was going to manage that. This is definitely not a convention that sweats the details.

So far the most interesting look at the Pence-Trump relationship came on “60 Minutes,” when Lesley Stahl asked Pence if he thought that as vice president he’d ever be able to go to his boss and say that he’d “crossed the line” and needed to apologize. Pence stammered desperately until Trump broke in and said: “Absolutely. I might not apologize. … I might not do that. But I would absolutely want him to come in.”

Some people believe the Republican vice-presidential selection is more important than usual because Trump is capable of getting bored with the actual duties of presidency and tossing everything short of declaring nuclear war over to his veep. It’s possible. But of course if that happened, he could just as easily put Donald Jr. in charge.

The one thing we know for sure is that if Trump did something terrible, Pence would have no chance whatsoever to get him to say he’s sorry. But the vice-presidential nominee has total rights to go into his office and be ignored.

Collins, solo

July 16, 2016

In “Trump’s Celebrity Shortage” Ms. Collins has a question:  Could Donald make a deal with a spaceship?  Here she is:

One thing Donald Trump ought to be good at is throwing a celebrity-packed convention, right?

Right?

It’s just about the only thing we should be able to count on. He’s never been in government. His business career includes a string of bankrupt casinos, unpaid bills from small businesses, a smarmy “university” and a rather troubled Scottish golf course. But Donald Trump has always been a guy who knew how to slather on some glitz.

“It’s very important to put some showbiz into a convention, otherwise people are going to fall asleep,” the man himself told The Washington Post.

The list is in, and the celebrities include pro golfer Natalie Gulbis, currently 484th in women’s world rankings, and Dana White, head of a big mixed martial arts organization. Plus Antonio Sabato Jr., former underwear model turned reality TV show regular. And a ton of members of the Trump family.

Trump said he was planning a “winners’ evening” with supporters like New England Patriot quarterback Tom Brady, who promptly said he wasn’t coming. (Although Brady, who has been banned from playing the first part of the next season would seem to have a lot of time on his hands.) Trump made a similar announcement about the Steelers’ quarterback, with similar results.

Even Tim Tebow, former college star turned failed professional football player turned inspirational speaker, is going to be a no-show. The Trump campaign said he was on the program. Then Tebow, who now runs a charitable foundation, posted an Instagram video bemoaning “rumors.”

Of course, none of us actually cares there aren’t going to be any quarterbacks at the Republican convention. But if Trump can’t negotiate some cheesy diversions, what makes anybody think he can negotiate a new trade deal with China?

And by the way, were you curious about why Sarah Palin wasn’t coming to the convention? Easy answer. The Republican Party’s presumed presidential nominee says it’s because Alaska is too far from Cleveland.

Honest to gosh. “She was asked. It’s a little bit difficult because of where she is. We love Sarah. Little bit difficult because of, you know, it’s a long ways away,” Trump told The Washington Examiner this week.

Saying made-up things is a Trump stock in trade. Many of his fans defend his crazy statements about Muslims or Mexican walls or trade wars with a wave of the hand and a “you know he doesn’t mean it.” But we are getting into Twilight Zone territory here. There’s really no real.

The convention comes after a week in which we watched the drama of Trump’s vice-presidential selection. Indiana Gov. Mike Pence was the lucky winner. Pence is a social conservative who hews to the Paul Ryan vision of government — low taxes on the rich, free trade and a trimming of the Social Security safety net.

Big relief to the powers that be. But what about all those underemployed, alienated white workers who are expecting an anti-establishment, populist savior?

I dunno. Go ask Tom Brady.

The process by which Trump got to Pence was sort of stunning — several days of familial gatherings, muddied decision-making and an overweening sense that the Big Guy himself just couldn’t nail the decision down.

Tons of Trumps flew to Indiana. An announcement was scheduled. Then canceled. Pence was getting embarrassed. The runners-up, Newt Gingrich and Chris Christie, looked pathetic. Time passed. Eventually, Trump gave the rose to Pence via tweet. (“News conference tomorrow at 11:00 A.M.”)

It should have been simple, and it was a monumental screw-up. Obviously, Trump’s not the only candidate who makes mistakes. We’ll be hearing a lot about Hillary and her emails. The difference is that Clinton, like most people at the highest level in the American political system, can balance her disasters with a history of achievements. Trump has, um, Mar-a-Lago.

Based on the evidence we’ve seen so far, try to envision President Trump handling a crisis of major proportions. Pretend Wyoming is lifted into a giant spaceship by aliens who demand to speak with our leader.

1. Trump, who is off inspecting a new golf course in Sri Lanka, tweets that he’s sending his top celebrity endorser, Wayne Newton.

2. Newton says no via Facebook.

3. Cabinet meets and votes to send Mike Pence.

4. The president’s inner circle — Trump’s oldest daughter, two oldest sons, a son-in-law and 10-year-old Barron, who knows the most about the construction of spacecraft — hold an emergency meeting. The White House chief of staff is summoned from the basement and dispatched to fire the cabinet

5. Space aliens take Montana, too.

6. After several days of conflicting reports, a new cabinet is formed with a mandate to build a dome over the remaining Plains states. President goes on TV and promises “a really, really big dome.”

7. Flags are reconfigured with the new national motto: “Forty-eight is great.”

Blow, Kristof and Collins

July 14, 2016

In “Blood on Your Hands, Too” Mr. Blow says interpersonal and systemic racism are only part of the equation. There is also class conflict between those who are better off and those who are not.  Mr. Kristof considers “A History of White Delusion” and says we’re  in denial of racial inequity.  Ms. Collins, in “Trump Reaps a Veep,” says Indiana is the center of the universe.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

There is no question that we should examine incidents of police violence for traces of bias, if for no other reason than to rule it out if it isn’t present. Indeed, we should all search ourselves for manifestations of racial bias.

But the current conversation is — and must be — larger than that.

Interpersonal racism, when it exists, is only one part of the equation. Another part is systemic, structurally racist policies, and yet another is class conflict between the police and the poorest, most dangerous communities they patrol, and between those who are better off and those who are not. That strand is nearly absent from this conversation altogether.

At the Tuesday memorial service in Dallas for five murdered police officers, President Obama said:

“As a society, we choose to underinvest in decent schools. We allow poverty to fester so that entire neighborhoods offer no prospect for gainful employment. We refuse to fund drug treatment and mental health programs. We flood communities with so many guns that it is easier for a teenager to buy a Glock than get his hands on a computer or even a book. And then we tell the police, ‘You’re a social worker; you’re the parent; you’re the teacher; you’re the drug counselor.’ We tell them to keep those neighborhoods in check at all costs and do so without causing any political blowback or inconvenience; don’t make a mistake that might disturb our own peace of mind. And then we feign surprise when periodically the tensions boil over.”

The comment underscores that this is not simply a conflict between police departments and minority communities that everyone else can watch from a comfortable distance, convinced that the battle doesn’t belong to them.

No, this issue is about everyone. We have areas of concentrated poverty in our cities in part because of a long legacy of discriminatory urban policies. We don’t sufficiently address the effects of that legacy, in part because it is rooted in a myth of racial pathology and endemic poor choice. We choose to be blind to the policy choices our politicians have made — and that many have benefited from, while others suffered — while simultaneously holding firmly to the belief that all of our own successes and comforts are simply the result of our and our families’ drive, ambition and resourcefulness. Other people lack physical comforts because they lack our character strength.

It is from this bed of lies that our policing policies spring. When the president says, “We tell them to keep those neighborhoods in check at all costs,” who is the “we”?

It’s not the blue-collar civil servants in law enforcement or the working-class and poor communities, which are aggressively patrolled. No. The “we” is the middle and moneyed classes.

While the blue, black and brown groups on the lower end of the spectrum are forced into more interaction — on one hand to contain disruption within communities, and on the other to finance police departments and civic governance — everyone else goes about their business unaware and unbothered until something causes “political blowback or inconvenience” and disturbs the more prosperous half’s “peace of mind.”

As the Dallas police chief, David Brown, said Sunday:

“These officers risk their lives for $40,000 a year. Forty thousand dollars a year. And this is not sustainable, not to support these people. We’re not perfect. There’s cops that don’t need to be cops. I have been the first to say, we need to separate employment with those types of cops — 1 percent or 2 percent. The 98 percent or 99 percent of cops come to work, do this job, come to work for 40 grand. It’s not sustainable.”

Russel Honoré, a retired Army lieutenant general, on Monday told the CNN anchor Don Lemon: “We ask a lot from our police in terms of sacrifice. You know, in Baton Rouge, the starting salary for a police officer, less than $31,000.” Alton Sterling was killed last week by the police in that city.

Honoré continued:

“Matter of fact, their pay would go up if the federal minimum wage was passed, $15 an hour. They make less than $15 an hour. We ask a lot from these young police officers which means, Don, they’ve got to get another job. They have to have a second job to support their families, most of them. We’ve got to take that stress off of them, too. So we got to make sure they’re properly trained and they don’t have to work all this overtime so they can maintain their family. A stressful police officer who’s working another 30 hours overtime a week is coming to work tired. And he’s stressed out. We’ve got to fix that.”

We take this underpaid and highly stressed group of officers, with guns and any biases they may harbor, explicit or implicit, and flood disadvantaged communities with them, where uncivil behavior can often take root, and then “we feign surprise when periodically the tensions boil over.”

These are communities where people are often already scratching to survive, where some are engaged in makeshift work in the shadow economy: Eric Garner, who was killed by the police on Staten Island, had sold loose cigarettes for years, and Sterling had sold CDs in the parking lot of a convenience store for years.

Police departments can then use these already poor people as a kind of municipal cash machine, plugging budgetary shortfalls by performing an inordinate number of stops, writing an outrageous number of tickets and having the courts impose even more fines.

Now where would this revenue come from if it were not being bled from poor people? That’s right, the rest of the population. The tax dollar that your local government refused to exact from you is being exacted from dark flesh. That same city service that your town can’t truly afford but refused to forgo is being paid for by gouging poor people who have almost nothing.

You may think that you are not a part of this, but you are wrong. That’s just a lie that your willful ignorance and purposeful blindness perpetuates, to protect your conscience. This is absolutely about you, many, many of you. There are more bloody hands than meet the eye.

Mr. Blow, if you’re a Republican that’s not a bug, it’s a feature.  Here’s Mr. Kristof:

In 1962, 85 percent of white Americans told Gallup that black children had as good a chance as white kids of getting a good education. The next year, in another Gallup survey, almost half of whites said that blacks had just as good a chance as whites of getting a job.

In retrospect, we can see that these white beliefs were delusional, and in other survey questions whites blithely acknowledged racist attitudes. In 1963, 45 percent said that they would object if a family member invited a black person home to dinner.

This complacency among us white Americans has been a historical constant. Even in the last decade, almost two-thirds of white Americans have said that blacks are treated fairly by the police, and four out of five whites have said that black children have the same chance as white kids of getting a good education. In short, the history of white Americans’ attitudes toward race has always been one of self-deception.

Just as in 1963, when many well-meaning whites glanced about and couldn’t see a problem, many well-meaning whites look around today, see a black president, and declare problem solved.

That’s the backdrop for racial tensions roiling America today.

Of course, there have been advances. In 1939, 83 percent of Americans believed that blacks should be kept out of neighborhoods where white people lived. But if one lesson from that old figure is that we have made progress, another is how easy it is for a majority to “otherize” minorities in ways that in hindsight strike us all as repugnant.

In fairness, the evidence shows black delusions, too. But what is striking in looking back at historical data is that blacks didn’t exaggerate discrimination but downplayed it.

In 1962, for example, a majority of blacks said that black children had the same educational opportunities as white children, and nearly one-quarter of blacks said that they had the same job opportunities as whites. That was preposterous: History hasn’t discredited the complaints of blacks but rather has shown that they were muted.

My hunch is that we will likewise look back and conclude that today’s calls for racial justice, if anything, understate the problem — and that white America, however well meaning, is astonishingly oblivious to pervasive inequity.

As it happens, the trauma surgeon running the Dallas emergency room last Thursday when seven police officers were brought in with gunshot wounds is a black man, Brian Williams. He fought to save the lives of those officers and wept for those he couldn’t help. But in other contexts he dreads the police: He told The Associated Press that after one traffic stop he was stretched out spread-eagle on the hood of a police car.

Williams shows his admiration for police officers by sometimes picking up their tabs at restaurants, but he also expressed his feelings for the police this way to The Washington Post: “I support you. I defend you. I will care for you. That doesn’t mean I will not fear you.”

That’s a narrative that many white Americans are oblivious to. Half of white Americans today say that discrimination against whites is as big a problem as discrimination against blacks. Really? That contradicts overwhelming research showing that blacks are more likely to be suspended from preschool, to be prosecuted for drug use, to receive longer sentences, to be discriminated against in housing, to be denied job interviews, to be rejected by doctors’ offices, to suffer bias in almost every measurable sector of daily life.

In my mind, an even bigger civil rights outrage in America than abuses by some police officers may be an education system that routinely sends the neediest black students to underfunded, third-rate schools, while directing bountiful resources to affluent white schools.

“If America is to be America, we have to engage in a larger conversation than just the criminal justice system,” notes Darren Walker, the president of the Ford Foundation. “If you were to examine most of the institutions that underpin our democracy — higher education, K-12 education, the housing system, the transportation system, the criminal justice system — you will find systemic racism embedded in those systems.”

Yet Walker is an optimist, partly because of his own trajectory. In 1965, as an African-American child in rural Texas, he was able to enroll in Head Start soon after it was founded — and everything changed. “It transformed my life and created possibilities for me and a glide path,” he says. “It provided me with a life I would never have imagined.”

As Walker’s journey suggests, we have tools that can help, although, of course, racial inequity is complex, involving not just discrimination but also jobs, education, family structure and more. A starting point is for us whites to wake from our ongoing mass delusions, to recognize that in practice black lives have not mattered as much as white lives, and that this is an affront to values that we all profess to believe in.

And now here’s Ms. Collins:

I am embarrassed to admit how much I’ve enjoyed the Donald Trump vice-presidential search. There’s nothing like a bunch of egomaniacs humiliating themselves in public to cheer up a dark day.

We got to sit through a series of very public tryouts — who can introduce Trump at a rally in the loudest, most craven manner possible? My blue ribbon went to Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, who hollered that Trump has “never forgotten or forsaken the people who work with their hands,” apparently skipping over all the construction workers he’s stiffed in his real estate business. Pence has also started twittering like a howling dog. (“We will not rest until we elect @realDonaldTrump as the next President of the United States of America!”)

On Wednesday, for mysterious reasons that may have been connected to trouble with the Trump plane, Indiana became the center of the veep universe. Pence was visited by a delegation that included Trump, Trump’s daughter, Trump’s sons, Trump’s son-in-law and — oh yeah, the campaign manager.

Then Newt Gingrich flew in for a sit-down with the kids, apparently followed by Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions. The only major vice-presidential prospect who wasn’t in Indiana was Chris Christie.

But Trump and Christie were famously close already, despite the fact that Christie once sent Ivanka Trump’s father-in-law to prison. Yes, indeed. When he was U.S. attorney, Christie prosecuted Charles Kushner, who wound up spending 14 months in the clink for tax evasion, witness tampering and illegal campaign donations. One of the case highlights involved a family business feud, during which Kushner hired a prostitute to seduce his brother-in-law.

Kushner’s son Jared — Ivanka’s husband — is very influential in the Trump campaign and seems to have gotten over the send-Dad-to-the-clink issue completely. You can see why everyone has been comparing the vice-presidential search to a reality TV show. All we needed was an announcement that the final four would be competing in a challenge that involves eating raw groundhog livers.

For those of us who love obscure political factoids, it seemed appropriate that this was all going on in Indiana. The state has often been at the center of vice-presidential politics. (Dan Quayle!) Nearly a dozen Hoosiers have been nominated for the job since the Civil War. (Dan Quayle!) Several have won. (Dan Quayle!)

Former Indiana Gov. Thomas Hendricks’s pull in his home state got Grover Cleveland critical electoral votes he needed to become president after the 1884 election. It was one of the very few times that the vice-presidential selection made a big difference.

Hendricks had a long-running rivalry with another governor, Oliver Morton, which produced my favorite headline of all time, from The Chicago Times:Hendricks a Man of the Purest Social Relations, but Morton a Foe to Society, a Seducer and a Libertine … The Former’s Name Untrammeled by Lust; the Latter’s Reeking With Filth and Slime. A Few of the Hellish Liaisons of, and Attempted Seductions by, Indiana’s Favorite Stud-Horse.”

So stop complaining about the terrible tone of the modern media.

O.K., enough about Indiana. I just wanted to share. I’ve also been rooting for Senator Sessions to show up in the vetting so I could point out that the only person ever elected to a national office from Alabama was William King, the only bachelor vice president, who was once a very close friend and sometimes roommate with James Buchanan, the only bachelor president.

See, how can you not like this stuff?

But about the Trump contenders. Each of them has a special something. Gingrich, like Trump, has been married three times. (Six-wife ticket!) Bringing Newt back would also allow the nation to revisit his interesting plan to replace unionized school janitors with poor children.

Christie has exhibited a marvelous ability to suck up abuse. Trump has made fun of him for everything from being AWOL from the governor’s office to eating Oreos. There are pictures of Trump holding a huge umbrella over his own famous head and letting Christie get wet. When you’ve currently got a 26 percent approval rating in your home state, I guess you take whatever they throw at you. However, Christie’s office denied reports that Trump once sent him out to get hamburgers.

I have a theory that women will never vote for a male presidential candidate who yells, because it reminds them of their worst boyfriends. A Trump-Christie ticket would be like the worst boyfriend sitting in the living room with his thuglike pal, watching football with their shoes off and demanding that you cook them pizza from scratch.

A Trump-Gingrich ticket would be a total of 143 years old.

None of the options are really all that terrific. But then you’ve got to be in a pretty bad place to begin with if you’re yearning for the spot beneath Donald Trump. I just hope that if the decision came down to that liver-eating contest, somebody took pictures. It’d be a great feature for the Cleveland convention.

Gail, Gail, Gail…  It’s not raw groundhog livers, it’s salted rat dicks.

Blow and Collins

July 7, 2016

In “Hillary Clinton: Ma’am Survivor” Mr. Blow says you have to accept the swirl of madness with the political mastery, the constant flirtation with self-destruction.  Ms. Collins, in “Hillary, Beyond Email,” says it’s a good time for Clinton to make changes so she doesn’t win simply by default.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

The Clintons — both Hillary and Bill — are very smart, but also quite reckless. They play too close to the edge and sometimes go over. They parse words to parry attacks. They possess a sort of preternatural political ability, but also a political paranoia.

Anyone who has followed the Clintons over the years already knows this. So hearing the stinging rebuke by the F.B.I. director, James Comey, of Hillary Clinton over her email usage in some ways made no waves, at least not for me. As obviously qualified as Clinton is — at a Charlotte, N.C., campaign rally, President Obama said, “There has never been any man or woman more qualified for this office than Hillary Clinton, ever, and that’s the truth” — and as clearly superior to the puffed-up presumptive Republican nominee as she is, there is something about Clinton, and indeed the Clintons, that makes me uneasy.

But Comey refused to bring charges against Clinton, which seems to be the right call, and also seems in line with the Clinton history.

I know that Republicans have attacked the Clintons for decades. Many of those attacks were baseless, opponents driven mad by the Clintons seeming imperviousness, an endless search for a presumed fire beneath a fog they perceive as smoke. But some of those attacks come because of the Clintons’ own carelessness, as it did in this case. Sometimes there actually is a fire, however large or small, that the Clintons themselves have set.

With the Clintons, you have to accept the swirl of madness with the political mastery. They have a constant flirtation with self-destruction.

But it seems to me that most voters have actually adjusted their expectations for this reality, whether they support or oppose her.

If nothing else, the Clintons are the ultimate survivors.

When an Iowa caucusgoer asked Hillary in January why young people are not enthusiastic about her campaign, she replied, in part:

You know, look, I’ve been around a long time. People have thrown all kinds of things at me. And you know, I can’t keep up with it. I just keep going forward. They fall by the wayside. They come up with these outlandish things. They make these charges. I just keep going forward because there’s nothing to it. They throw all this stuff at me, and I’m still standing.

That is true. But the attacks and her impressive ability to dodge them seem to lead to a sort of Wonder Woman syndrome, in which the evasion of calamity creates an expanding sense of invincibility.

Rather than possessing strategic discipline, the Clintons’ Republican opponents have displayed an uncanny, uncontrollable impulse to overplay their hand, like a poker player with three deuces betting the house.

Donald Trump suggested that Clinton had bribed Attorney General Loretta Lynch in the case, although the decision to recommend no charges was made by Comey, and as USA Today reported last week, “Attorney General Loretta Lynch said Friday that she will accept the decision of career prosecutors, investigators and F.B.I. Director James Comey on whether to bring criminal charges” in the case.

Republicans, smarting over once again not bagging a Clinton when they were sure they had one trapped, have called Comey to the Hill to testify — or to be grilled, as will likely be the case — Thursday before the House Oversight Committee.

Republicans will turn a damaging episode for Clinton, one that would otherwise reinforce the specter of mistrust that they have labored so diligently to foster in the public around her, into another spectacle of the absurd.

They have a near algebraic ability to turn a positive into a negative, and vice versa.

They were hanging their hats on a stronger action against Clinton because they are wringing their hands with consternation over Trump.

In any other election cycle with pretty much any other candidate, the damage they have done to Clinton would be enough to fell her. But this year, she is running against the most inept, unqualified, ill-equipped, abrasive candidate imaginable.

In this context, in which a damaged candidate is up against a deranged one, Clinton will likely emerge with little more than yet another battle scar from this episode. And while Clinton won’t face charges, it is a fact that Trump is embroiled in two class action lawsuits over Trump University, as well as a lawsuit brought by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.

Clinton’s case is now in the realm of what might have been, but Trump’s cases are in the realm of what actually is. Indeed, in every way when you compare Clinton to Trump, her shortcomings shrink.

Clinton’s survival instinct will likely allow her to weather whatever Trump and the Republicans throw at her.

Specifically, in the case of the “damn emails,” as Bernie Sanders called them, the Clinton magic — wiggling out of danger and constriction to great amazement — remains intact. Unfortunately, belief in magic also requires a certain amount of naïveté.

Now here’s Ms. Collins:

Chances are, Hillary Clinton did not grow up dreaming that someday she’d be a woman of whom it could be said that “no reasonable prosecutor” would indict her.

But think positive: Between the F.B.I.’s 11-month email investigation and the eight congressional Benghazi inquiries, Clinton has now probably been examined more thoroughly than any candidate not up for canonization in the Catholic Church. How many times have you, as a concerned citizen, witnessed a famous politician felled by a terrible revelation and thought, “My God, who knew?” Not likely to be a problem with this one.

In his big press appearance Tuesday, F.B.I. Director James Comey took the now-familiar prosecutorial path of smearing the target he couldn’t nail. But the bottom line was that Clinton had used less-than-secure private email servers rather than the State Department system, which was the proper procedure, albeit possibly even less less-than-secure. Worse, she did not tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth when she was cornered.

It’s a problem for campaign strategists, but not much of a surprise for voters. We already knew that she was paranoid about privacy. Perhaps that was why some people decided, in 2008, that they preferred Barack Obama, who was promising presidential transparency. Whose administration then set new Olympics-level records when it came to rejecting Freedom of Information Act requests and persecuting suspected leakers of information to the media.

We obviously haven’t heard the last of the email scandal — Comey is testifying before a House committee on Thursday. Attorney General Loretta Lynch is going to be dragged before another committee next week to answer questions about that private meeting she had with Bill Clinton on an airport tarmac at the worst moment humanly possible.

The Republicans will broadcast Comey’s “extremely careless” quote from now through November. “People have been convicted for far less,” House Speaker Paul Ryan said as he happily made the cable TV rounds after the F.B.I. announcement. This came between the moment in which Ryan had to distance himself from Donald Trump’s anti-Semitic tweet and the moment in which he had to distance himself from the speech in which Trump praised Saddam Hussein.

Oh yes, Donald Trump. The Republican presidential candidate who had a “university” that wrung thousands of dollars out of credulous students with get-rich-quick promises, which was linked to an extremely shady seminar program that plagiarized course materials from an old real estate manual. And which is now subject to lawsuits, some of which are being heard by a distinguished federal judge from Indiana. Who Trump slammed as a biased “Mexican,” triggering a Paul Ryan distancing of epic proportions.

Every problem with Hillary Clinton’s campaign comes attached to a reminder that the alternative is the businessman with a terrible business record and attraction to murderous tyrants. It’s hard to imagine anything that she could do that would make her look like the worse option in this particular contest. It’s a lucky candidate who gets the chance to divert attention from her problems by giving a speech in the city where her opponent bankrupted several casinos and dodged the bills of a long line of small businesses.

But nobody wants to be remembering 2016 as the year America elected its first woman president by default. Since at least she didn’t get indicted.

Clinton can spend the next four months listing all the ways Trump would be worse. Or she can use her intelligence, experience and fortitude to turn her story around. So that when the confetti falls in Philadelphia, we’ve got something more to celebrate than a new entry in the Guinness World Records book.

A few suggestions:

■ Send Bill home. This is an easy call. At best, he’s a reminder that she didn’t get where she’s at entirely on her own. At worst — well, plane. Attorney general.

■ Hold a news conference every week. Clinton has not met with the press corps for an open-ended question-and-answer session this calendar year. Her strategists aren’t stupid; they know that the chances of making unwelcome news at these encounters are high. They’ll keep dodging them if they simply want to make sure she can stagger across the finish line this fall. The only argument on the other side is that she’s prepared to demonstrate she’s not just better than Trump; she’s better than her own current background noise.

■ Take a hard position, just because. Clinton has been rolling out some smart, progressive and well thought out proposals on issues like student loans. But it doesn’t exactly require a profile in courage to be against college debt. A brave and specific series of recommendations on, say, trade would be something else. Or a plan to fix Obamacare that would involve tough news for the pharmaceutical industry. Or pretty much any reform that would make big-money Democratic campaign contributors unhappy.

She can win without doing anything. It’s just the difference between making great history and being the lesser of two evils.

Blow and Collins

June 30, 2016

In “The State of Race in America” Mr. Blow says what is worrisome in a new report is how far apart whites and blacks are in their optimism about relations improving.  Ms. Collins has a “Patriotic Presidential Quiz.”  She says if you’re still following the race, here’s a reward for your dedication.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

On Monday, the Pew Research Center released a fascinating and expansive report on the state of race relations in America. It serves as a stark reminder that although events like this insane and historic presidential election, continuing terrorist attacks and global shocks like Brexit overtake news cycles, the issue of racial inequality is just as urgent as ever.

2015 was the year of Black Lives Matter. Discussion of police interactions with minority communities; institutions and interpersonal racism; and “safe spaces” dominated popular literature, film, television, talks shows and newspaper column inches. It seemed everyone, everywhere, was talking about race in some capacity.

Now, at least in the media, the heat around the subject has cooled. The media has moved on. There are new stories to chase. There are new awards to win.

But the issue of racial inequality — as a lived experience — remains unaltered, and many in fact believe that it’s actually getting worse.

Racial inequality is not a trendy issue; it is an entrenched issue.

A year, or even two, of intense focus does not provide sufficient alteration of a condition in a country that has developed over centuries.

And so it is in this simmering wake of unfinished business that the Pew report lands.

It is the kind of report that demands more space that I can give it in a column, but please allow me to quote it here liberally, both the optimistic and pessimistic components of it, and to weigh in on it to the degree that I feel I must.

It is no surprise that whites and black would see racial issues and barriers to racial equality differently, or that differences would be manifest in the ideological divide between Democrats and Republicans.

What is more worrisome is how far apart whites and blacks are in their optimism about race relations improving. As the report puts it:

An overwhelming majority of blacks (88 percent) say the country needs to continue making changes for blacks to have equal rights with whites, but 43 percent are skeptical that such changes will ever occur. An additional 42 percent of blacks believe that the country will eventually make the changes needed for blacks to have equal rights with whites, and just 8 percent say the country has already made the necessary changes.

It continues:

A much lower share of whites (53 percent) say the country still has work to do for blacks to achieve equal rights with whites, and only 11 percent express doubt that these changes will come. Four in 10 whites believe the country will eventually make the changes needed for blacks to have equal rights, and about the same share (38 percent) say enough changes have already been made.

This gulf in optimism is incredibly troubling. What happens to a people when they stop believing, stop hoping, stop trusting that a concerted effort toward improvement will bear fruit?

Part of the problem here is that white and black people have such vastly divergent views about the lived black experience in America. According to the report:

By large margins, blacks are more likely than whites to say black people are treated less fairly in the workplace (a difference of 42 percentage points), when applying for a loan or mortgage (41 points), in dealing with the police (34 points), in the courts (32 points), in stores or restaurants (28 points), and when voting in elections (23 points). By a margin of at least 20 percentage points, blacks are also more likely than whites to say racial discrimination (70 percent versus 36 percent), lower quality schools (75 percent versus 53 percent) and lack of jobs (66 percent versus 45 percent) are major reasons that blacks may have a harder time getting ahead than whites.

These gaps are enormous. The question is whether or not these divergent beliefs are also intractable. If we can’t come to an agreement on the basic facts of life, how on earth can we come to an agreement on the fundamentals of a united path forward?

About six in 10 (59 percent) white Republicans say too much attention is paid to race and racial issues these days, while only 21 percent of Democrats agree.

Finally, we continue to be deceived about the enormous and epidemic nature of often-invisible institutional racism, preferring instead to direct our ire at the more easily identified and vilified interpersonal racism. The report puts it this way:

On balance, the public thinks that when it comes to discrimination against black people in the U.S. today, discrimination that is based on the prejudice of individual people is a bigger problem than discrimination that is built into the nation’s laws and institutions. This is the case among both blacks and whites, but while whites offer this opinion by a large margin (70 percent to 19 percent), blacks are more evenly divided (48 percent to 40 percent).

Although it may feel interminable, this election won’t last forever. In November, America will make a choice.

But the choices that America has already made mean that the persistent question of race will still be with us, unresolved, waiting for yet another moment to explode. No amount of fatigue will change this. Only a true and earnest effort to address race relations fundamentally and honestly will provide the overdue and necessary fix.

Now here’s Ms. Collins:

Independence Day weekend’s coming — time to show a little patriotism. Budweiser beer just renamed itself “America,” for heaven’s sake. If a Belgian brewing company can do that, the least you can do is show you’re a well-educated citizen. Let’s see whether you’ve been keeping up with the presidential race:

1  Since endorsing Donald Trump for president, Chris Christie …

  • Tracked down the man he once chased down the boardwalk while waving an ice cream cone and apologized.

  • Got the support of a full 18 percent of New Jersey voters on whether Trump should pick Christie as his running mate.

  • Told reporters he does not want to be the vice-presidential nominee because “really, my life is ruined already.”

2  When Marco Rubio ran for president, he made it clear he was done with being a senator forever. (“I have only said like 10,000 times I will be a private citizen in January.”) This month he …

  • Told reporters he was pursuing a lifelong dream of playing defensive back for the Miami Dolphins.

  • Said he was running for re-election because “I’ve discovered I’m not worth nearly as much money as I thought in the private sector.”

  • Said he was running for re-election because “Control of the Senate may very well come down to the race in Florida.”

3  After the demise of his presidential campaign, Ben Carson joined the Trump team. When his candidate claimed a federal judge was biased due to his Mexican heritage, Carson said that Trump …

  • “… was probably talking out loud rather than thinking.”

  • Believes all jurists should be examined for “the fruit salad of their life.”

  • Has many good Mexican friends among the caddies at his golf courses.

4  Paul Ryan began the month by endorsing Donald Trump for president. Since then, he’s denounced several of the candidate’s more outrageous statements. When asked how many times he could do this without washing his hands of the whole campaign, Ryan said …

  • “Four.”

  • “I don’t know the answer to that, either.”

  • “Did I tell you I saw John Boehner in Florida? God, that man looks happy.”

5  Duncan Hunter of California, one of the first members of Congress to endorse Donald Trump, announced he’s going to stop trying to answer for things the candidate says. But he’s still on the Trump bandwagon because …

  • “Everybody makes mistakes”

  • “… him talking about things and saying things about things is different than him saying what he’s going to do.”

  • “Hell, I don’t know. Go ask Paul Ryan.”

6  After he dropped out of the Republican race, Senator Lindsey Graham endorsed Ted Cruz, whom he loathes. Then when Cruz dropped out, he …

  • Endorsed William Howard Taft, noting, “He’s dead, but nobody’s perfect.”

  • Said he’d “probably write somebody in or just skip the presidential.”

  • Compared the current campaign to “Game of Thrones” and announced that it was “time for a woman president, but only if it’s Daenerys the Dragon Queen.”

7  Bernie Sanders’s biggest post-primary news was that …

  • He’s going to endorse Hillary Clinton (but that doesn’t mean he’ll vote for her).

  • He’s going to vote for Hillary Clinton (but that doesn’t mean he’s endorsing her).

  • He needs to take one more look at Martin O’Malley.

8  When Britain voted to exit the European Union, Donald Trump was visiting his golf course in Turnberry, Scotland. Asked for his analysis of the big event, Trump said …

  • “You know, when the pound goes down, more people are coming to Turnberry, frankly.”

  • “Analysts have drastically overstated the impact on the British economy; we will of course have to keep a close eye on the manufacturing sector.”

  • “Vote? What vote?”

9  A former White House Secret Service officer has written a tell-all book about the Clintons in which he claims to have seen evidence that Hillary once …

  • Broke a law.

  • Broke a promise.

  • Broke a vase.

10  Campaigning in New York, Hillary Clinton demonstrated she had lost some of her old city sophistication when she …

  • Had trouble getting into the subway.

  • Made eye contact with a fellow passenger in the subway.

  • Posed for a selfie in front of Trump Tower.

11  When Clinton made her big speech on foreign policy this month, people couldn’t help noticing that she appeared on stage in front of…

  • Huge pictures of Abraham Lincoln, Oprah Winfrey and the pope.

  • Her grandchildren.

  • 19 American flags.

12  Which of the following is NOT one of Trump’s arguments for why his business credentials are a great preparation for the presidency …

  • He’s run the Miss Universe pageant in Russia.

  • Running a country is much like running a golf course. (“You’ll be amazed how similar it is.”)

  • The nation needs a leader who has extensive experience in filing for bankruptcy.

 

The answer key:   1B, 2C, 3A, 4B, 5B, 6B, 7B, 8A, 9C 10A, 11C, 12C

 

Cohen and Collins

June 25, 2016

In “Britain’s Brexit Leap in the Dark” Mr. Cohen says a decisive vote to leave the E.U. reveals rage against the elites. An era of extreme volatility has dawned.  (For various values of “decisive” I guess.)  Ms. Collins, in “Tax Dodging on the High Seas,” says while  many of the biggest cruise lines appear to be headquartered in Florida, they are, for tax purposes, actually proud residents of … elsewhere.  Here’s Mr. Cohen:

The British have given the world’s political, financial and business establishment a massive kick in the teeth by voting to leave the European Union, a historic decision that will plunge Britain into uncertainty for years to come and reverses the integration on which the Continent’s stability has been based.

Warnings about the dire consequences of a British exit from President Barack Obama, Britain’s political leaders, major corporations based in Britain and the International Monetary Fund proved useless. If anything, they goaded a mood of defiant anger against those very elites.

This resentment has its roots in many things but may be summed up as a revolt against global capitalism. To heck with the experts and political correctness was the predominant mood in the end. A majority of Britons had no time for the politicians that brought the world a disastrous war in Iraq, the 2008 financial meltdown, European austerity, stagnant working-class wages, high immigration and tax havens for the super-rich.

That some of these issues have no direct link to the European Union or its much-maligned Brussels bureaucrats did not matter. It was a convenient target in this restive moment that has also made Donald Trump the presumptive Republican nominee — and may now take him further still on a similar wave of nativism and anti-establishment rage.

David Cameron, the British prime minister prodded into holding the referendum by the right of his Conservative Party, said he would resign, staying on in a caretaker capacity for a few months. This was the right call, and an inevitable one. He has led the country into a debacle.

The pound duly plunged some 10 percent to its lowest level since 1985. Global markets were rattled. Mainstream European politicians lamented a sad day for Europe and Britain; rightists like Marine Le Pen in France exulted. The world has entered a period of grave volatility.

Ever-greater unity was a foundation stone since the 1950s not only of peace in Europe, putting an end to the repetitive wars that had ravaged generations of Europeans, but also of the global political order. Now all bets are off. A process of European unraveling may have begun. A core assumption of American foreign policy — that a united Europe had overcomes its divisions — has been undermined.

Geert Wilders, the right-wing anti-immigrant Dutch politician, promptly tweeted: “Hurrah for the British! Now it is our turn. Time for a Dutch referendum!” The European Union is more vulnerable than at any point since its inception. The sacred images of old — like French President François Mitterrand and German Chancellor Helmut Kohl hand-in-hand at Verdun — have lost their resonance. The travails of the euro, the tide of immigration (both within the European Union from poorer to richer members and from outside), and high unemployment have led to an eerie collective loss of patience, prudence and memory. Anything but this has become a widespread sentiment; irrationality is in the air.

The colossal leap in the dark that a traditionally cautious people — the British — were prepared to take has to be taken seriously. It suggests that other such leaps could occur elsewhere, perhaps in Trump’s America. A Trump victory in November is more plausible now because it has an immediate precedent in a developed democracy ready to trash the status quo for the high-risk unknown.

Fifty-two percent of the British population was ready to face higher unemployment, a weaker currency, possible recession, political turbulence, the loss of access to a market of a half-billion people, a messy divorce that may take as long as two years to complete, a very long subsequent negotiation of Britain’s relationship with Europe, and the tortuous redrafting of laws and trade treaties and environmental regulations — all for what the right-wing leader Nigel Farage daftly called “Independence Day.” Britain was a sovereign nation before this vote in every significant sense. It remains so. Estrangement Day would be more apt.

The English were also prepared to risk something else: the break-up of the United Kingdom. Scotland voted to remain in the European Union by a margin of 62 percent to 38 percent. Northern Ireland voted to remain by 56 percent to 44 percent. The Scots will now likely seek a second referendum on independence.

Divisions were not only national. London voted overwhelmingly to remain. But the countryside, small towns and hard-hit industrial provincial industrial centers voted overwhelmingly to leave and carried the day. A Britain fissured between a liberal, metropolitan class centered in London and the rest was revealed.

Europe’s failings — and they have been conspicuous over the past decade — are simply not sufficient to explain what Britain has done to itself. This was a vote against the global economic and social order that the first 16 years of the 21st century have produced. Where it leads is unclear. The worst is not inevitable but it is plausible. Britain will remain an important power. But it will punch beneath its weight. It faces serious, long-term political and economic risk.

Anger was most focused on the hundreds of thousands of immigrants coming into Britain each year, most from other European Union nations like Poland. Farage’s U.K. Independence Party, abetted by much of the press, was able to whip up a storm that conflated E.U. immigration with the trickle from the Middle East. Wild myths, like imminent Turkish membership of the European Union, were cultivated. Violence entered the campaign on a wave of xenophobia and take-our-country back rhetoric.

In this light, it is not surprising that Trump supporters were delighted. Sarah Palin welcomed the “good news.” One tweet from a supporter read: “I’m thrilled with U.K. 1st step — time 4 all the dominoes 2 fall, every country to leave & end the E.U.”

Trump arrived in Britain on Friday, a timely visit. He said the vote to quit the E.U. was “a great thing” and the British “took back their country.” He did not say from whom, but the specter of our times is a dark, controlling global force stealing national identity.

It is quite likely that Cameron’s successor will be Boris Johnson, the bombastic, mercurial and sometimes fact-lite former London mayor with his trademark mop of blond hair. Johnson was a leader of the campaign for “Brexit”; he may now reap his political reward. The Era of the Hair looms.

Timothy Garton Ash, the historian, paraphrasing Churchill on democracy, wrote before the referendum that: “The Europe we have today is the worst possible Europe, apart from all the other Europes that have been tried from time to time.”

It was a wise call to prudence in the imperfect real world. Now, driven by myths about sovereignty and invading hordes, Britain has ushered in another time of treacherous trial for the European Continent and for itself.

My nephew wrote on Facebook that he had never been less proud of his country. I feel the same way about the country I grew up in and left.

Now here’s Ms. Collins:

Let’s criticize cruise ships.

I know, I know. Things are bad enough without going negative about your summer vacation. But we’ve got some problems here. Plus, I promise there will be a penguin.

The cruise industry seems to be exploding — the newest generation of ships can carry more than 5,000 passengers. They make a great deal of profit from the sale of alcohol, so imagine the equivalent of a small city whose inhabitants are perpetually drunk.

Really, these things are so huge, it’s amazing they can stay afloat without toppling over. And when one is parked outside, say, Venice, the effect is like one of those alien-invasion movies, when people wake up and find that a spaceship the size of Toledo has landed downtown. (Venetians also claim the ships are causing waves in their canals.) Environmentalists wring their hands over the air pollution and sewage a 3,000-passenger ship, which today would rank as medium-size, produces 21,000 gallons of sewage a day, sometimes treated and sometimes not so much. But always pumped into the sea.

And, as long as we’re complaining, let’s point out that noise from the ships is messing with the whales. Michael Jasny of the Natural Resources Defense Council says cruises en route to Alaska “routinely drown out the calls of the endangered orcas” trying to communicate. The NRDC has a new film, “Sonic Sea,” that features audio of a whale conversation being obliterated by an approaching cruise ship. The effect is sort of like what you’d experience if you were having a meaningful chat with friends on the patio and a trailer-tractor full of disco dancers suddenly drove into the back yard.

Thanks to global warming, cruise lines will soon be able to sail the Northwest Passage, so the Arctic will have both more melting ice and more 13-deck ships. Antarctica hosted 30,000 visitors last year. Doesn’t that seem like a lot for such a fragile place? Also, an opera singer who was entertaining passengers on one cruise went ashore to sing “O Sole Mio” and caused a penguin stampede. This is not really a problem you need to worry about, but it was a pretty interesting moment.

While many of the biggest cruise lines appear to be headquartered in Florida, they are, for tax purposes, actually proud residents of … elsewhere. “Carnival is a Panamanian corporation; Royal Caribbean is Liberian,” said Ross Klein, who tracks the industry through his Cruise Junkie website.

Although, of course, if one of the ships needs help, it will often be the American taxpayer-funded Coast Guard that comes to the rescue. The Coast Guard doesn’t charge for its services, a spokesman said, because “we don’t want people to hesitate” to summon help when passengers are in danger. This attitude is commendable. But the no-taxes part is not.

“Cruise lines do pay taxes,” protested a spokesman for the industry, counting off a number of levies for things like customs, and examination of animals and plants being brought into the country. Not the same thing.

We’re constantly hearing complaints in Congress about American companies that relocate their headquarters overseas for tax avoidance. But when do you hear anybody mentioning the cruise industry’s Panamanian connection? The cruise companies may not really live here, but they certainly can lobby here.

“Powerful is an understatement,” said Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut. He’s the sponsor of a bill that would increase consumer protection for cruise passengers. The bill, which can’t even get a committee hearing, would also require the ships to have up-to-date technology that detects when passengers fall overboard. Now this would seem like something you’d expect them to have around.

An average of about 20 people fall off cruise ships every year, which the industry points out is only about one in a million travelers. But still, I suspect that passengers work under the assumption that if they do somehow wind up in the water, someone will notice. This spring, a 33-year-old American woman disappeared during a cruise in the Gulf of Mexico. No one realized she was gone for 10 hours, and by the time searchers could start looking for her, the area they needed to cover was more than 4,000 square miles. While it’s the least thing anyone worries about when a person is missing at sea, let us point out once again that it was the taxpayer-funded Coast Guard doing the searching.

The cruise industry says the overboard technology hasn’t been perfected. Blumenthal says it’s been well tested. Seems like the sort of disagreement that would be easy to resolve with … a committee hearing.

Most cruise vacationers seem to enjoy their experience — the industry says nearly 90 percent declare themselves satisfied. It’s not our business to get in between anybody and an ocean breeze. Our requests are modest, really: Make the cruise ship companies that are, for all practical purposes, American pay American taxes. Leave the whales alone. Give that bill a committee hearing. And stop scaring the penguins.

A hearing?  Surely you jest…

Blow and Collins

June 23, 2016

In “Trump, Champion of the Downtrodden? Ha!” Mr. Blow says his speech was garbage, pure and simple — false and flimsy, an effort to paint himself as an advocate for the people who loathe him most.  Ms. Collins, in “Hillary Gossip Redux,” says a book with little credibility is digging up the shards of the 1990s.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

On Wednesday, Donald Trump gave a meandering, fact-challenged speech — read from a teleprompter, no less — that framed him and the Republican Party as champions of America’s women and racial, ethnic and L.G.B.T. minorities. I laughed out loud, repeatedly.

Trump continues to make the incredible claim that his religion-based anti-Muslim policies on immigration and refugees would be good for members of the L.G.B.T. communities because many of those people come from countries with brutally anti-gay records.

As Trump put it: “I only want to admit people who share our values and love our people. Hillary Clinton wants to bring in people who believe women should be enslaved and gays put to death.”

What? Not only has Trump never specified a values-based exemption to his Muslim ban, but also how on earth would a values test be administered? And where is the specific proof that Clinton explicitly “wants to bring in people who believe women should be enslaved and gays put to death”?

Who is buying that nonsense? I know, I know, a disturbingly large percentage of the electorate, but still: This is just a string of lies stitched together with a silver thread.

At another point, Trump said that Clinton “took millions” from countries that “pushed oppressive Shariah law” or otherwise “horribly abuse women and the L.G.B.T. citizens” while not disclosing that, as CNN reported last week:

“[Trump], too, has financial ties to some of the same companies. From licensing his name to a golf club in Dubai to leasing his suburban New York estate to former Libyan strongman Muammar el-Gaddafi, Trump has launched several new business ventures connected to Middle Eastern countries since 2000.”

This man gives new meaning to the word hypocrisy.

But he didn’t stop there. He also framed himself as the best candidate for African-Americans (a group he once said he hated counting his money) and Hispanics (even though he has labeled many Mexican immigrants rapists and criminals).

Trump said of Clinton:

“She has pledged to grant mass amnesty and in her first 100 days, end virtually all immigration enforcement, and thus create totally open borders for the United States. The first victims of her radical policies will be poor African-American and Hispanic workers who need jobs. They’re also the ones she will hurt the most, by far.”

He continued:

“She can’t claim to care about African-American and Hispanic workers when she wants to bring in millions of new low-wage earners to compete against them.”

This is the epitome of the politics of public division that seeks to pit one part of the electorate against the other, a way of making starving dogs fight for scraps. It’s revolting and un-American — not only the liberal vision of America, but also the conservative vision of America as articulated by Paul Ryan in 2011 when he was hammering President Obama for engaging in what he thought was class warfare.

At the time, Ryan told The Heritage Foundation:

“The perfection of our Union, especially our commitment to equality of opportunity, has been a story of constant striving to live up to our Founding principles. This is what Abraham Lincoln meant when he said, ‘In giving freedom to the slave, we assure freedom to the free — honorable alike in what we give, and what we preserve.’ ”

Ryan continued:

“The American Idea is not tried in times of prosperity. Instead, it is tested when times are tough: when the pie is shrinking, when businesses are closing, and when workers are losing their jobs. Those are the times when America’s commitment to equality of opportunity is called into question. That’s when the temptation to exploit fear and envy returns — when many in Washington use the politics of division to evade responsibility for their failures and to advance their own narrow political interests.”

Who is now exploiting fear and envy, Speaker Ryan? Oh yeah, the man you’ve endorsed.

The question that ABC’s George Stephanopoulos asked Ryan earlier this month still lingers in search of a sufficient answer:

“You’ve said, in explaining why you’re standing by your endorsement of Mr. Trump, what matters more to you than anything are our core principles. But what core principle is more important to the party of Lincoln than stepping up against racism?”

Trump ended his specious speech with a string of baseless boasts about all the fairy-tale, utopian improvements that a Trump presidency would somehow magically induce. One of those boasts was that “inner cities” — invariably a term of art in American politics for poor minority neighborhoods — “which have been horribly abused by Hillary Clinton and the Democrat Party, will finally, finally, finally be rebuilt.”

Again, what on earth does “rebuilt” mean? Never mind. It wasn’t supposed to mean anything specific, or have any policy substance, but rather simply to sound positive and impressive.

Trump’s speech was garbage, pure and simple. Not only was it too often false, it was also flimsy, an effort to paint himself as a champion of the people who loathe him most.

Maybe the people who support him despise Clinton more than they cherish the truth, but for those who can see this man’s naked bigotry for what it is, this speech fell like seeds on a stony place. Nothing will come of it.

Now here’s Ms. Collins:

I am so excited to tell you that we’re returning to the question of whether or not Hillary Clinton threw a vase at her husband in the White House.

Really, this one hasn’t come up for about 20 years. But Gary Byrne says he saw the pieces! In a box! Byrne is a former Secret Service officer who has written a tell-all book, “Crisis of Character,” about the (horrible/embarrassing/appalling) things he purportedly witnessed during the Bill Clinton presidency.

It’s coming out next week to what’s supposed to be a big rollout in the conservative media. Donald Trump has been twittering about it, and he quoted from it in his speech on Wednesday. (That was the speech in which the new, measured Trump said Clinton “may be the most corrupt person ever to seek the presidency,” whose “decisions spread death, destruction and terrorism everywhere she touched.”)

Byrne was a low-ranking officer who could never have gotten near enough to the Clintons to see all the things he says he knew firsthand. His juiciest anecdotes are just a rehash of old rumors. “One must question the veracity and content of any book which implies that its author played such an integral part of so many (claimed) incidents,” said the Association of Former Agents of the U.S. Secret Service, which issued a denunciation.

This is typical of what concerned citizens are going through this year. We ought to be diligently examining the downside of Hillary’s history as part of our civic duties. But having Trump on the other side of the ledger makes Travelgate and the Goldman Sachs speeches seem sort of irrelevant. “Crisis of Character” is supposed to give us an insight into the old White House messes, but it’s written by a guy who has doubts about whether Vince Foster really killed himself.

One of the legends Byrne rakes up is that Hillary mistreated her security detail. (He claims the first lady’s bullying drove some of his comrades to alcohol, drugs, prostitutes or — this is a little unusual — performance enhancers.) This is old gossip, but not everyone agrees.

“Those stories have always kind of been out there. I don’t know why; she’s more than pleasant,” said a higher-ranking agent who had been on the Clinton security detail. “I spent close to two years with her — most days, to be honest. I never found Mrs. Clinton to be anything but professional.”

Speaking in a phone interview, on the condition of anonymity, the agent said Hillary tended to get irritable mainly when the agents pushed people out of the way when she was walking, or stopped traffic for her when she was driving: “She’s just kind of someone who wants to swim with the fish. She didn’t like royal treatment.”

Although the book is being promoted as a cautionary tale about Hillary’s character, beyond the rudeness stories there’s actually only one juicy anecdote about her. That’s the vase-throwing story. It’s been around almost since the Clintons arrived in Washington, although the object being hurled has traditionally been described as a lamp.

I remember going home to Ohio a few weeks after the inauguration and telling it to my mother, who had already heard it on Rush Limbaugh. Several months later, Katie Couric went on a tour of the White House with the first lady and asked her to “point out just where you were when you threw the lamp at your husband.”

“Well, you know … I’m looking for that spot, too,” Hillary replied.

Gossip is, in part, an expression of public anxiety — people speculated, endlessly, about which politicians might be secretly gay back when there was an overriding fear of homosexuality, and before that, we had periodic rumors about presidential candidates with “Negro blood.” It’s possible the Hillary-lamp stories stemmed from nervousness about a first lady who intended to wield actual political power in the job.

As time went on, a Bible and “punches” were added to the things that Hillary was rumored to have thrown at her husband. Then 23 years later a former Secret Service officer, writing a tell-all book about people he barely glimpsed in the course of duty, breathlessly announced he had once spotted a telltale box full of vase shards. (“The rumors were true.”)

Most of the Byrne book is actually devoted to the sex escapades of Bill Clinton. There’s one bit about an alleged affair with a woman who’s not alive to defend herself. Beyond that, it’s likely that those of us who were around for the Monica Lewinsky era know as much as Byrne does about the subject. We’ve already been there. The country has already demonstrated that it is prepared to accept leaders with stupendously imperfect personal lives if they get us where we want to go in public.

But I vote that if Hillary threw a vase, more power to her.

Collins, solo

June 18, 2016

In “The Trump Disaster Chronicle” Ms. Collins tells us that nobody knows empathy like The Donald.  Here she is:

It’s natural to wonder how our next president would respond, on a human level, to a disaster like Orlando. The candidates have been pretty clear on policy, but how would he/she relate to a community, and country, in pain?

We ought to have some clues, since both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump were New Yorkers when the World Trade Center towers came down on Sept. 11.

Clinton was a U.S. senator at the time, so her script was pretty clear. She comforted the afflicted, joined hands with political adversaries for a show of unity, fought to get aid for the city and the survivors.

We obviously wouldn’t have expected all that from Trump, who was a private citizen. But a very rich, important one — he must have done a lot for the city and survivors, right? He once boasted to The Times’s Mark Leibovich that as president, he’d be great at reaching out in a crisis. Empathy, he said, “will be one of the strongest things about Trump.”

Trump apparently was at his apartment in Midtown Manhattan during the attacks and their aftermath. However, he has occasionally relocated himself to ground zero. He told people at a rally in Buffalo this spring that “I was down there and I watched our police and our firemen down at 7/11.”

It was probably the only time in history that a presidential candidate confused an epic disaster with a convenience store.

People, do you think it’s unfair to make fun of Trump’s verbal pratfalls? This week he told the crowd at another rally that “Belgium is a beautiful city.” Could be an endearing foible. Could be a symptom of a supreme indifference to reality in all its forms.

Trump also claimed that on 9/11 he saw “thousands and thousands of people” in a New Jersey area with a heavy Arab population “cheering as that building was coming down.” When ABC’s George Stephanopoulos pointed out that nothing like that happened, Trump said: “It was on television. I saw it.” Nobody else did. But we can be confident that if a disaster fell upon us during a Trump presidency, he would somehow blame it on American Muslims. If there was a hurricane, it’d be their fault for not issuing advance warning.

I asked the Trump campaign what the candidate had done to be helpful in the wake of 9/11, and this is the list:

■ “Allowed people to use 40 Wall Street to store equipment, stay in the building, etc.” This is a 72-story skyscraper that Trump owns. When the government began a program to encourage businesses to stay in Lower Manhattan after the attack, he managed to milk $150,000 for 40 Wall Street, which was not going anywhere.

■ “… donated massive amounts of Trump water to those working at ground zero.” This would presumably be Trump Ice, the bottled water he plugged during a campaign news conference.

■ “Mr. Trump visited immediately after the attacks with a group of construction workers.” This seems a more likely description than the one he gave at that Buffalo rally, when he seemed to suggest he had actually been laboring at ground zero himself. (“… and I was there, and I watched, and I helped a little bit. …”) Two days after the attack, Trump was interviewed near the site by a reporter for German TV. He was wearing a distinctly nonworkmanlike suit and volunteered, “I have a lot of men down here.”

So Trump helped by sending helpers? We would have no reason to question that story, except that he does have a way of claiming his “people” are doing things that aren’t actually happening. In 2011, when he was claiming that Barack Obama was actually born in Kenya, he told NBC’s Meredith Vieira: “I have people that actually have been studying it, and they cannot believe what they’re finding,”

We never did learn what those people found. Perhaps they’re still out there somewhere, sifting through evidence. Sending bills that history suggests Trump might never bother to pay.

Back to the list. Trump’s campaign says he:

■ “… made many significant contributions to organizations like the American Red Cross to be put towards the relief efforts.” The details are unclear. We’ll just have to wait until those darned tax returns become available, something I predict we can expect the very second hell freezes over.

■ “… made a $100,000 [contribution] to the 9/11 Memorial Fund after touring the museum.”

In the days right before the New York primary, he did visit the National September 11 Memorial & Museum. He would have walked past a wall celebrating benefactors who donated money to help build it. Donald Trump’s name is conspicuously not there. Finally, when he was running for president in 2016, he forked over a check.

By the way, if Trump had ever been to the museum before, or visited the two reflecting pools that now sit on the site of the destroyed towers, it was never publicized. Perhaps he did it very quietly, the better to allow for contemplation.

And perhaps I’m the Tsarina of All The Russias.

Blow and Collins

June 16, 2016

In “Omar Mateen, American Monster” Mr. Blow says this was both an act of domestic terror and a hate crime, and that this norm of ours simply isn’t normal.  Ms. Collins, in “A Pistol for Every Bar Stool,” says Trump is ready to lock and load.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

The massacre in Orlando, where 49 people were gunned down at an L.G.B.T. nightclub and dozens of others were wounded, came at the hands of a coward and a monster, but make no mistake: This was our monster.

The shooter, 29-year-old Omar Mateen, was born and raised in America. He killed other Americans using at least one American-made gun — including an assault rifle — that he purchased legally from an American gun store, even after having been investigated twice by America’s top law enforcement agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, for terror-related concerns.

As much as it seems moral and right to deprive this shooter of the attention he surely craved for his act of morbid depravity, and to focus the lens solely on the victims of this tragedy and their families and friends, it is important to understand how this thing, this uniquely American thing — an epidemic of mass shooting — made them victims. It’s important to understand, as best as can be discerned, the influences and apparatuses that allowed this to happen on American soil … again.

It seems almost callous and calculating to divert attention to the political dimension of this, but this tragedy was — by dint of timing and magnitude — politicized even before the blood dried and the dead were named. It was one of the deadliest mass killings in United States history and comes during one of the most bizarre — and consequential — elections in United States history. It is, regrettably, political.

The task now is to make sure that the debate is honest and true and bends toward the better, instead of settling into our status quo standoff — or worse, distorting facts in a way that is detrimental.

This was both an act of domestic terror and a hate crime, but it is ours and it demands that we consider our policies — foreign and war policy, antiterror policy, gun policy — and our cultural toxicities, including our toxic political culture, toxic male culture and toxic anti-L.G.B.T. culture.

It has been reported that Mateen visited the bar that became the scene of his carnage many times over many years, even taking his wife along on at least one visit. Was he casing the place, or was he there for other, more intimate reasons? It’s not clear at this point. He is also reported to have been on mobile apps that men use to meet other men. Was he looking for information or for a match? Not clear.

Was he a self-loathing closeted man somewhere on the queer spectrum who targeted people who personified his conflict? Not clear. In a series of tweets Sunday, the Miami Herald reporter David Ovalle revealed that according to “one of Mateen’s ex-coworkers” Mateen had made homophobic and racist comments. His ex-wife has said that during their brief marriage, which she describes as abusive, she questioned whether he was “totally straight,” although even her suspicions relied on homophobic stereotypes. None of this is conclusive, of course, but it raises questions whose answers would have a direct impact on motive.

Studies have shown that homophobia can sometimes be an acting out of an intent to control the homophobe’s own same-sex desires, that to oppress or silence queerness in others is a perverted attempt to silence it in oneself. I’m not saying that was Mateen’s motivation, simply that this phenomenon is a very real one.

What is indisputable is that Mateen specifically targeted the L.G.B.T. community in one of its safest spaces, and did so on a specific night — “Latin night” — and that must remain at the forefront of our inquiry as details emerge and motives are assigned.

While our society surely does not treat L.G.B.T. people as barbarically as some others, disdain is still present in the belief that identities that are not strictly hetero-normative are immoral, corrosive and corruptive, and violate the laws of nature and the commands of God. Until we rid our society of this rigid and wrongheaded thinking, we apply pressure on citizens not to walk openly and lovingly in their own truths, and we give cover to the darkest possible objections from people like Mateen.

In addition, we must carefully consider, once again, how easy it is for people of ill intent to obtain deadly weapons. Even if you believe strongly in the Second Amendment, and are intimate with gun culture (as I am), there is still no reason for a citizen to own an assault rifle unless he is planning an assault. None! You don’t hunt deer with assault rifles. You don’t keep the vermin out of the garden with assault rifles. These military-style guns are specifically designed for the rapid killing of human beings. Let’s assign the weapons of war to the battlefield.

Furthermore, we must re-examine how we can restrict suspected terrorists’ access to guns, at least the deadliest ones. As CNN reported this week: “People on the United States’ terrorist watch list passed background checks and have been allowed to purchase firearms 91 percent of the time in 2015, updated federal data shows.” Mateen wasn’t on this list, so his purchases wouldn’t have been restricted anyway, but still this number should scare us profoundly.

Mass shootings are only a fraction of our gun violence epidemic. Around 33,000 people die each year in gun-related deaths in this country, many in small-number homicides that have becomes a sort of ambient horror to which we are growing worrisomely numb, and many others are suicides or unintentional deaths, which include a disturbing number of children.

This norm of ours simply isn’t normal. Too many of us are making a conscious — and unconscionable! — decision to do nothing or to not do more. There is so much blood on our hands that no amount of Second Amendment rationalizing can wash them clean. To paraphrase Macbeth, our hands would stain the sea scarlet and turn the green one red.

Lastly, we must remember that our foreign policy — whether bombing Muslims or banning them — has consequences. Seeking to diminish one threat can inflame another. Wars and reckless rhetoric are governed by the laws of unintended consequences, so we must tread carefully.

The Muslim community, like any other, is composed primarily of peace-loving people who despise violence. But that community, like any other, also has a small population of weak-minded people prone to violence. The difference in this moment is that unlike other populations, foreign terrorists are specifically targeting the vulnerable among the Muslim population for indoctrination and radicalization. What we must do as a society is thwart these efforts, not enable them.

Omar Mateen was an American-made monster, and America must decide how best to make fewer in his likeness.

Now here’s Ms. Collins:

The nation hasn’t exactly joined hands in a united response to the Orlando massacre. But since this terrible mass shooting happened in one of the most weapons-friendly places in the country, maybe we can at least all agree that having wildly permissive gun laws does not make a city safer.

O.K., probably not.

On Wednesday, Donald Trump took time out from vilifying Muslims and put some of the blame on gun control. If the patrons of Pulse, the gay bar in Orlando, had been carrying concealed weapons, he said, they could have taken control of the situation. The gunman would have been “just open target practice.”

(This was at the same speech where he congratulated himself for his stupendous relationship with the gay community, suggesting he didn’t “get enough credit” for having a club in Palm Beach that was “open to everybody.” This is a little off our topic today, but I have to once again point out that Trump’s club is open to everybody with $100,000 to cover the membership fee.)

But about guns. Let’s follow Trump’s thought. It’s easy to buy a gun in Florida and supereasy to get a permit to carry around a concealed weapon. Even the Florida Legislature, however, doesn’t allow people to carry guns into bars. Trump did not specifically say that we need to uphold Americans’ freedom to drink while armed. But there doesn’t seem to be any other way to interpret his argument.

Also, there actually was an off-duty police officer working in the club who tried to shoot the gunman but failed. This is important, because the myth of the cool and steady shooter is one of the most cherished beliefs of the National Rifle Association and its supporters. Trump himself has bragged that if he’d been in Paris on the night of the attacks there, he would have shot the terrorists. (“I may have been killed, but I would have drawn.”)

This is an excellent example of delusional gun thinking. Although Trump frequently reminds us he has a permit to carry a gun, there’s no indication he’s ever done so. And there’s certainly no evidence whatsoever that he has any skill in hitting things.

It’s very, very difficult to draw, aim and shoot accurately when you’re under severe stress. It’s one of the reasons that police officers so often spray fleeing suspects with bullets. They can’t hit a moving target, even though they get far more weapons training than your normal armed civilian.

In Florida, people who want to carry a gun merely have to be able to demonstrate they can “safely handle and discharge the firearm.” Nowhere does it say anything about accuracy.

A few weeks ago in Houston, a 25-year-old Afghan war veteran named Dionisio Garza walked up to a stranger sitting in a car at a carwash and shot him in the neck while railing about “homosexuals, Jews and Walmart,” according to local reports. He fired off 212 rounds, mostly from an assault rifle, hitting a police helicopter and a nearby gas station, which burst into flames. The police said a neighbor who heard the shooting came running with a gun, but was shot himself.

People who hear this story may draw different morals. The way we’ve been going, it’ll be a miracle if some member of the Texas Legislature doesn’t submit a bill requiring employees of carwashes to be armed at all times. However, others might note that the weapon in this case was an AR-15, the same type of military-style rifle that was used in the Orlando shooting, the Newtown school shooting and the terrorist attack in San Bernardino. It would seem as if the best way to cut down on mass shootings would be by eliminating weapons that allow crazy people to rapidly fire off endless rounds of bullets.

The possibility of banning assault weapons like the AR-15 is most definitely not on the table in Congress, although Hillary Clinton supports it, and has brought it up a lot since Orlando. No, the current debate in Washington is over whether people on the government’s terror watch list should be kept from purchasing arms.

The fact that even people who aren’t allowed to get on a plane can buy a gun in this country is obviously insane. Yet most of the Republicans in the House and the Senate regard changing the status quo as an enormous lift. “I think you’re going too far here,” Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina told the backers during one of the bill’s pathetic trips to nowhere.

Since the Orlando shooter had actually spent some time on the terror watch list, the pressure seems to be growing. Trump says he’ll meet with the N.R.A. to talk over the matter. Perhaps, after all this time, we’ll get some pathetically minor action. Then only apolitical maniacs would have the opportunity to buy guns that can take out a roomful of people in no time flat.


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