Archive for the ‘Collins’ Category

Cohen, Kristof and Collins

November 19, 2015

Well.  Mr. Cohen has decided to rattle his little saber and swing his little dick.  In “Body Bags in Paris” he snarls that the West, post-Iraq, has lost the capacity for anger, and says that is dangerous.  In the comments “craig geary” from Redlands, FL had this to say:  “Same song, different day.  Never worn a uniform, never been IN a war, Roger Cohen wants Americans sent to slaughter or to be slaughtered.”  And “Stephen LeGrand” from right here in Savannah adds:  “This is the kind of thinking that will keep us in a perpetual war in the Mideast, sucking blood and treasure with no foreseeable end.”  Not to be outdone, “Arun Gupta” from NJ kept it short and sweet:  “I think Mr Cohen should take a sabbatical until good sense returns.”  Mr. Kristof, in “Following the Terrorists’ Script,” says our disgraceful response to Jews fleeing Germany during World War II risks being repeated with Syrian refugees.  No risk at all — it IS being repeated, with 31 governors huddled under their beds, peeing their pants in fear of toddlers.  Ms. Collins gives us “A Holiday Treat From Congress,” and says most of our senators don’t want to burden private pilots with a lot of questions about their health.  Here’s Mr. Cohen, pounding his little tin drum:

The flag at half-mast atop the Grand Palais, the darkened silhouette of the Eiffel Tower, the Big Wheel at Place Concorde immobilized for days, the jumpiness at the slightest sound, the stories of friends lost or almost, the streets that feel as if the air has been sucked out of them: This is Paris, resilient but jittery.

I open the daily Le Monde and read Antoine Leiris writing about his wife, Hélène Muyal-Leiris, one of the 129 people slaughtered by the terrorists of the Islamic State: “On Friday evening, you stole the life of an exceptional being, the love of my life, the mother of my son, but you will not have my hatred.” Nor the hatred of his one-year-old son, who “will affront you by being happy and free.”

Defiance lies in remaining unbowed, in embracing the life the traffickers of death wish to extinguish. No child should be raised in hatred.

But freedom has to be fought for. It can demand anger. These killers make us hostages of our own democracies. They trample on the very border-crossing freedoms that European passports afford them. The West, post-Iraq, has lost its capacity for rage, even at this. That is dangerous.

We may not know who exactly the killers are but we know what they want to destroy. They spit at Montaigne, Voltaire and De Tocqueville. They loathe reason. They detest freedom. They cannot bear the West’s sexual mores. They would enslave the world, particularly its women, to the cruel god of their medievalist reading of Islam.

The French President, François Hollande, says France is “at war” against “a jihadi army.” France will be “pitiless.” There will be “no respite, no truce.” More than two years ago, after President Bashar al-Assad used chemical weapons, Hollande was ready to bomb Syria alongside President Obama. Then Obama wavered. Hesitation has been Obama’s modus operandi on Syria.

Now there are body bags in Paris.

Since 2013, ISIS has come to terrorize the world. Hollande will travel to Washington and Moscow next week in an attempt to forge a broad coalition to act “decisively” against it.

If the President Obama he finds is the same Obama who spoke in Turkey on Monday, the French president will be disappointed. The contrast between Hollande’s fire and Obama’s flatness as he insisted he would not put American troops on the ground to defeat ISIS was one of the stranger aspects of being in Paris this week.

It was clear again that Europe’s generational struggle for unity and freedom against totalitarian violence tends to leave this post-Atlanticist president cold. Words and body language are not everything. Still, they count.

Obama said: “We can retake territory. As long we leave our troops there, we can hold it, but that does not solve the underlying problem of eliminating the dynamics that are producing these kinds of violent extremist groups.”

True, jihadi terrorism (not “extremism”) will not disappear overnight if the United States and its allies take back the territory ISIS controls in Syria and Iraq. But the existence of this “state” is a compelling recruitment tool. It gives ISIS oil revenue (between $500 million and $1 billion a year), training camps, stature, space to enact its wanton brutality, and a base to direct international killing.

This border-straddling ISIS sanctuary must be eliminated, just as the Afghan safe haven of Al Qaeda was after 9/11 (before the disastrous distraction of Iraq). Raqqa is much closer to Europe than Tora Bora. ISIS has effective terrorists but indifferent soldiers. They are beatable. Kurdish militias — not the U.S. military by any means — have made rapid inroads. They and other local forces can help.

But Obama does not have the will. “Let’s assume we send 50,000 troops into Syria,” he said in Turkey. “What happens when there’s a terrorist attack generated from Yemen?”

That’s a straw-man game unworthy of the president. Its subtext: Because you can’t solve all the problems of the world, solve none. ISIS in Syria and Iraq is the core of the terrorist threat to Europe and America today. So destroy it.

President Vladimir Putin has forces on the ground in Syria. He has at last turned Russian bombing against ISIS after the terrorist group’s downing of a Russian passenger jet. Like Hitler, ISIS may have made the fatal mistake of targeting Moscow.

Stalin was an effective Western ally in World War II. Hitler was defeated. But the division of Europe ensued and the Soviet enslavement of half the Continent. Maybe Putin can help against ISIS, but if the West is a mere spectator the result will be equally disastrous. America and its allies must be as present on the ground as Russia if they are to shape the Syrian denouement. President Assad is not part of the solution. He’s part of the problem.

I fear for Antoine Leiris’s little motherless boy. The West has lost its spine, a spine called America.

Eat a huge plate of salted rat dicks, you turd.  Send your own son.  Now here’s Mr. Kristof:

Desperate refugees flee persecution and war, but American politicians — worried about security risks — refuse to accept them.

That’s the situation today, but it’s also the shameful way we responded as Jews were fleeing Nazi Germany in the 1930s. In the shadow of one world war, on the eve of another, Americans feared that European Jews might be left-wing security threats.

“Jews are not Communists,” Rabbi Louis I. Newman of Manhattan noted, pleadingly, in December 1938, trying to assuage the xenophobia. “Judaism has nothing in common with Communism.”

Yet in January 1939, Americans polled said by a two-to-one majority that the United States should not accept 10,000 mostly Jewish refugee children from Germany. That year, the United States turned away a ship, the St. Louis, with Jewish refugee children; the St. Louis returned to Europe, where some of its passengers were murdered by the Nazis.

That is a stain on our conscience that risks being repeated. Some 26 Republican governors are trying to block entry of Syrian refugees. All the Republican presidential candidates say that we should bar Syrian refugees or apply a religious test and accept only Christians.

A tweet of a young British man’s Facebook page went viral.

Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey says we shouldn’t accept Syrians even if they are toddlers and orphans. And the House of Representatives may vote this week on legislation to impede the resettlement of Syrian refugees.

One Syrian family — a man who once ran a clothing store, his wife and their 4-year-old child — were supposed to arrive in Indiana this week. Then Gov. Mike Pence announced that Syrians were unwelcome, and the family is settling in Connecticut instead.

Remember what a Syrian immigrant looks like — the father of Steve Jobs.

Thank goodness that when my father came to America as a refugee from Eastern Europe in 1952, politicians weren’t fearmongering. My dad sailed to New York, bought a copy of the Sunday New York Times to teach himself English, and took the train across the country to a welcoming Oregon.

When Indiana today shuns desperate refugees, it is shunning people like my family.

Yes, security is critical, but I’ve known people who have gone through the refugee vetting process, and it’s a painstaking ordeal that lasts two years or more. It’s incomparably more rigorous than other pathways to the United States.

If the Islamic State wanted to dispatch a terrorist to America, it wouldn’t ask a mole to apply for refugee status, but rather to apply for a student visa to study at, say, Indiana University. Hey, governors, are you going to keep out foreign university students?

Or the Islamic State could simply send fighters who are French or Belgian citizens (like some of those behind the Paris attacks) to the U.S. as tourists, no visa required. Governors, are you planning to ban foreign tourists, too?

Refugee vetting has an excellent record. Of 785,000 refugees admitted to the United States since 9/11, just three have been arrested for terrorism-related charges, according to the Migration Policy Institute in Washington.

If Republican governors are concerned about security risks, maybe they should vet who can buy guns. People on terrorism watch lists are legally allowed to buy guns in the United States, and more than 2,000 have done so since 2004. The National Rifle Association has opposed legislation to rectify this.

Although Donald Trump fulminates about President Obama supposedly wanting to bring in 250,000 or more Syrian refugees, that’s preposterous: Obama proposes admitting 10,000 Syrian refugees over a year. That’s tiny, just 1 percent of the number that Lebanon has accepted.

The Islamic State is trying to create a religious divide and an anti-refugee backlash, so that Muslims will feel alienated and turn to extremism. If so, American and European politicians are following the Islamic State’s script.

Let’s be careful not to follow that script further and stigmatize all Muslims for ISIS terrorism. As a young British Muslim man, Kash Ali, wrote in a post that went viral on Twitter: “I don’t understand why non Muslims think we British Muslims can stop ISIS. Mate, I can’t even get a text back from the girl I like, and you expect me to stop a terrorist organization?”

Look, accepting 10,000 refugees is not a solution. Indeed, there is a risk that Angela Merkel’s admirable compassion will lead far larger numbers to undertake the difficult journey and die on the way. The top priority must be making Syria habitable so that refugees need not flee. This is where I believe President Obama has failed — Syria is his worst foreign policy failure — but it’s good to see him push back at the hysteria about Syrian refugees.

Helping Syrian refugees today doesn’t solve the Middle East mess any more than helping Jewish refugees in 1939 would have toppled Hitler. But it’s the right thing to do. Syrians, no less than those Jewish refugees, no less than my father, are human beings needing help, not flotsam.

And now here’s Ms. Collins:

In honor of the coming vacation travel season, the Senate is working on a bill that would loosen the requirement that pilots take medical examinations.

Yes! I know that’s been on your mind a lot, people. Next week, as you gather around the Thanksgiving table, be sure to express your gratitude to Congress. If you hear a small plane buzzing overhead, drink a toast to the future, when the folks in America’s cockpits may no longer be burdened with repressive, old-fashioned health monitoring.

Pop quiz: Which of the following aviation issues would you like to see your elected representatives resolve by the end of 2015?

— Ban those laser lights that stupid kids keep flashing in pilots’ eyes.

— Do something about all the damned drones flying around airports.

— End the passenger peril of being squashed by a reclining seat.

— Ease pilot health exams! Ease pilot health exams!

“The U.S. Senate has an excruciatingly difficult time doing anything, and here they’re dismantling something that’s been working pretty well,” complained Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut. He is opposed to the bill in question, and that puts him in pretty select company. More than two-thirds of his colleagues are co-sponsors.

We are talking here about general aviation pilots, the men and women who fly private planes. They’re currently required to get a medical exam by an F.A.A.-approved physician every five years, and then every two years once they pass 40. The pilots hatehatehate this rule. They claim the doctors are hard to find and charge too much money. But the great underlying fear is that some stranger with a stethoscope will strip them of the ability to fly.

It’s easy to understand why pilots want to stay aloft. I’ve enjoyed every non-campaign-related private flight I’ve ever taken, including in the two-seater owned by an environmentalist who once flew me over a lake full of pig feces that had been treated with chemicals that turned it the color of Pepto-Bismol.

However, I think I speak for most of America when I say that we ought to continue being a little picky about the people we let up there.

The bill’s lead sponsor, Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma, is a very enthusiastic 81-year-old pilot who starred in an exciting airborne adventure about five years ago, when he landed his Cessna at an airport in Texas despite A) The large “X” on the runway, indicating it was closed, and B) The construction crew working on said runway, which ran for their lives when he dropped in.

As a result, the senator had to take part in a remedial training program. This irritated him so much that he successfully sponsored the first Pilot’s Bill of Rights, which makes it easier to appeal that kind of harsh, unforgiving judgment.

The Senate commerce committee is now considering Inhofe’s P.B.R. 2, which would eliminate the current medical exam requirement. Instead, pilots would just write a note in their log every four years saying they’d been to a physician who said everything’s fine. The bill has 69 sponsors.

Very little in the current world of Washington is that popular. You may be wondering why. Well, although Inhofe is best known as the climate change denier who once brought a snowball into the Senate to prove the globe isn’t warming, he’s also a very powerful guy, the chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, an architect of this year’s $350 billion highway construction bill.

Plus, there are hundreds of thousands of private pilots, many of them rather wealthy. “Most of them are single-issue people, so it would be very good to join in on this,” Inhofe said pointedly in a recent Senate speech. Some small-minded observers suspect he also has personal skin in the game, what with having had quadruple bypass heart surgery and all.

The bill hit a small snag on Wednesday when Democrats on the Senate commerce committee proposed that the doctors who do the new exams — who could be anyone from a dermatologist to a golfing buddy — be given a government-approved checklist of problems to look for.

They lost on a party-line vote. “My trust is in the physician compared to the F.A.A.,” said one of the Republicans. The real problem was apparently resistance from a certain snowball-making highway bill author.

“The answer has always come back from Senator Inhofe’s staff: No,” complained Bill Nelson of Florida, the ranking Democrat on the committee. Nelson, you understand, was not arguing that a dermatologist should be off-limits as a pilot medical examiner. He just wanted to increase the chances that the patient would be asked if he was subject to dizzy spells.

At that moment the committee suddenly discovered it was lacking a quorum. But everyone expects the bill to rise again in triumph. “It would have been laughable except it’s so serious,” said Blumenthal.

Collins, flying solo

November 14, 2015

Ms. Collins has the place to herself, which is probably just as well since it’s “Date Night With the Democrats.”  She says we should get ready to settle down Saturday night with Martin, Bernie and Hillary.  Here she is:

This weekend’s Democratic debate is going to be a tough sell. Two hours on a Saturday night, and not a single candidate who appears to be certifiably deranged.

There are only three Democrats left in the contest, and none of them has compared the competition to a child molester. None seems to have an unusually creative theory on why the pyramids were built. Yawn. CBS News, which is airing the debate, has promised to focus on the economy, so there probably won’t even be a pop quiz about which woman the candidates would like to see on the 10-dollar bill. Although I suspect they’d all have a better answer than Jeb Bush’s “Margaret Thatcher.”

Maybe there will be music. Requests from the audience? Martin O’Malley plays in a band. And Bernie Sanders actually once made an album. In fact, if you’re going to watch this event, an excellent way to prepare would be by listening to Sanders talk his way through “This Land Is Your Land.”

The debate is being held in Des Moines, where the Democratic trio is battling for the heart of Iowa. Both the Sanders and O’Malley campaigns will tell you that their man is running “the old-school retail way,” which basically means attempting to have at least one meal with every single person in the state.

Iowans expect that kind of behavior — ask average voters why they prefer Candidate X, and they’ll quote something he told them at brunch last Sunday. But they’re impossible to satisfy. In 2008, then-Connecticut Senator Christopher Dodd got less than 1 percent of the vote even after he moved his family to Iowa and enrolled his daughter in kindergarten there.

Another great tradition of Iowa presidential campaigns is megapandering to farming interests, and perhaps we will get a debate question about the federal government’s expensive ethanol program, which does zip for the environment but uses a hell of a lot of corn in the process. Both Sanders and O’Malley seem generally pro-ethanol. As a senator from New York, Hillary Clinton was a staunch critic, but since she’s moved on to the presidential arena she has evolved and now promises to … um, make it better.

There will also be debate on tax issues, and bank regulation — no better way to spend a weekend night than cuddling up by the fire and listening to people argue about the Glass-Steagall Act. But even when everyone onstage is issue-oriented to an extreme, there’s still always the possibility something exciting and cheesy will happen.

Maybe somebody will ask Clinton about joining the Marines. She recently said in New Hampshire that when she was 27, she tried to enlist and was told that a woman her age would be better off checking in with the Army. The first time she recounted this tale, as first lady in 1994, it was greeted with extreme skepticism, given the fact that she was describing a point in her life when she was an accomplished Washington lawyer, soon to be married to a man who was clearly planning a political career in Arkansas.

But now she’s brought it up again, with no additional context. Maybe Clinton was just testing the Marines to see if they were sexist. Or maybe she was having second thoughts about getting married. If that’s the story I would definitely like to hear more.

There’s been a lot of debate on vetting stories candidates tell about their personal history. This kind of reporting is absolutely essential if the person in question has nothing but a personal history. It does seem less crucial for contenders whose websites have issues sections the size of an encyclopedia. You could still ask O’Malley if he was the inspiration for the crafty mayor in “The Wire,” if only to introduce a discussion of popular TV shows that are not “The Celebrity Apprentice.” But further probing into that sex-fantasy essay Sanders wrote in 1972 seems unnecessary.

Sanders is still running a principled, no-frills campaign, but he’s not doing all that well in the polls. So do you think he’ll suddenly decide that everybody does care about those damned emails? He and O’Malley will both certainly argue that while their positions are almost all longstanding, Clinton has a tendency to shift with the political winds. What do you think she’ll say if someone demands to know why her opposition to the Obama Trans-Pacific trade agreement is so … recent?

A) “Nobody told me it included New Zealand.”

B) “The opportunity to speak one-on-one with the American people during this campaign has given me a whole new appreciation of the yarn situation.”

C) “It’s a deal that was designed for China.”

Better not to use the last option because 1) It’s a quote from Donald Trump and 2) China isn’t part of the agreement.

Blow, Cohen, Kristof and Collins

November 12, 2015

In “G.O.P. Debate Doldrums” Mr. Blow says as the time ticks down, Republicans continue to flirt with the idea of nominating someone who is wholly unelectable.  Mr. Cohen, in “Turkey Haunted by Its Ghosts,” says Erdogan re-enacts Ataturk as the Kurdish question strains Turkish-American relations.  Mr. Kristof considers “Mizzou, Yale and Free Speech” and says on university campuses, First Amendment rights are colliding with inclusivity.  In “Wow, More Terrifying Than Trump” Ms. Collins gives us some crib notes from the Republican debate to consider if our Thanksgiving dinner turns political.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

The bloom is coming off the rose for the Republican presidential debates.

Now that could simply be me and my incredibly disenchanted view of this particular field of folly, but I don’t think so.

Much of the initial interest was in the mystifying appeal among Republican voters for the raucous real estate developer whose opening campaign salvo was an appeal to American xenophobia and a penchant for making unkeepable pledges completely divorced from reality and practicality.

The race had a charlatan as showman who attracted the attention like a train wreck: a disaster from which many were unable to look away.

Then came the rise of two other outsiders: the catatonic Ben Carson and the robotic Carly Fiorina.

Carson was the more compelling of the two, because he got more traction and his path to politics is even more unlikely.

He was a poor, and, he says, violent child — he writes of trying to stab a friend and going after his mother with a hammer — who turned his life around, became an acclaimed neurosurgeon and has peddled the story for profit ever since.

The story is fascinating, if true — though some of it is clouded by questions. The most recent examination, by The Daily Mail, calls the hammer anecdote into question.

The other spectacle to behold was to watch the Bush dynasty crash and burn because of Jeb(!)’s utter inability to give that exclamation point meaning and his inability to connect. So the establishment interest has slowly turned to his feisty, if hollow, young protégé Marco Rubio, who always strikes me as too slick by half and is apparently indesperate need of a personal accountant.

These debates are no longer about winning the nomination, but about avoiding doing something that would make you lose it.

Thus, we are treated to a rehash of the same tired talking points. Even the novelty has worn off. The candidates take few chances and offer few new nuggets.

Take all the other people with governor or senator on their résumés who thought that experience would mean something, but are gradually coming to realize that this is simply not their cycle.

John Kasich is growing ever more irascible the longer he stays in this senseless race. Rand Paul continues to sound like he’s phoning it in. Ted Cruz can’t translate his fire-starter reputation into barnburner enthusiasm.

In the undercard debate, Chris Christie continued his implicit anti-Black Lives Matter shtick by claiming that Democrats don’t support the police, Rick Santorum keeps trying to remind people that he did well last time, and Bobby Jindal… why is Bobby Jindal still in this race?

These debates have simply become an exercise in performance rather than policy review. We are watching to see who avoids the gaffe, who gets the applause, who attacks well and defends well against attacks.

This is all theater, an audition to see who would look less ridiculous standing opposite the eventual Democratic nominee.

Who will be able to offer a common-sense rebuttal on how to deal with millions of undocumented immigrants in this country? Who will articulate a strong national defense policy and antiterrorism strategy that isn’t too trigger-happy and war-obsessed? Who has a plan for tax and economic policies from which the most Americans would benefit? Who has the best plan to deal with culturally destructive social policies — like mass incarceration and the war on drugs — that are leaving more and more Americans disillusioned.

As it stands, the more articulate and electable voices among the Republican lot have failed to break into the upper ranks. Instead, the leaders continue to be men who have no experience in elected office and who no reasonable centrist voter — the ones who actually decide presidential elections — could ever conceive of in the Oval Office with access to nuclear codes.

It’s by no means clear to me that these two men even want to be president. But this increased exposure virtually guarantees increased book advances and speaking fees, and in the case of the real estate developer and maker of shiny ties, more sales.

These two guys stand to make out like bandits, while leaving the Republican Party’s presidential prospects in shambles.

Indeed, the whole Republican debate process is a parade of improbability. Every debate only bolsters Democratic optimism. As the time ticks down, Republicans continue to flirt with the idea of nominating someone who is wholly unelectable, thereby gifting to Democrats an election that many thought would be exceedingly hard to win.

Please to consider the fact that the NYT repeatedly informs us that Bernie Sanders is unelectable but takes the occupants of the Clown Car seriously…  Next up we have Mr. Cohen, writing from Diyarbakir, Turkey:

“We don’t want Turkey to become Syria or Diyarbakir to become Aleppo.”

Those were the words of Tahir Elci, the president of the Diyarbakir Bar Association when I spoke to him after the recent Turkish election here in this troubled city of strong Kurdish national sentiment. On the night of the vote tires smoldered and the tear-gas-heavy air stung. In the center of the old city, rubble and walls pockmarked with bullet holes attest to the violence as police confront restive Kurds.

Elci was detained last month for a day and a half after saying in a television interview that the Kurdistan Workers Party, or P.K.K., was not a “terrorist organization” but “an armed political organization which has large local support.” An indictment has been brought against him that seeks a prison sentence of more than seven years. The P.K.K. is designated a terrorist organization by Turkey, the European Union and the United States.

“For a few words about the P.K.K., in which I said some of its operations were terrorist but it was not itself a terrorist organization, there is a lynching campaign against me,” Elci told me. “Yet there is no strategy among the Turkish security forces against the Islamic State, no real mobilization. If ISIS were treated like the P.K.K., it would be very different.”

As G-20 leaders prepare to gather in Turkey next week, the fissures in the fabric of a polarized society are more marked than at any time in the dozen years that PresidentRecep Tayyip Erdogan has held power. His initial push, as prime minister, to oversee an era of neo-Ottoman opening both to Turkey’s neighbors and to minorities within the country, has collapsed in violence.

In the place of dialogue with historic enemies of the unitary Turkish state forged in 1923 by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk has come the increasingly authoritarian assertion of a new brand of Sunni religious nationalism, the replacement for Ataturk’s secular nationalism. Erdogan, the representative of Turkey’s religious conservatives, had sought to portray Ataturk’s fiercely secular state as a “parenthesis”; instead he has come to re-enact many of the characteristics of that state, not least its veneration of one man.

Turkey is not about to become Syria — indeed it has shown remarkable generosity and resilience in absorbing more than two million Syrian refugees — but some of the same actors are present, including the Kurds and ISIS. So, too, is violence.

The Kurdish question has boiled up again in acute form. Kurdish militias loyal to the imprisoned P.K.K. leader, Abdullah Ocalan, have taken control of a wide area of northern Syria that they call Rojava, defeating Islamic State. Kurdish pesh merga forces are fighting side by side with the United States against ISIS in Iraq. Young Kurds here in the Diyarbakir area have tried to set up autonomous areas within cities, only to be crushed. All Kurds at some level want the state denied them when the Ottoman Empire broke up. They may settle for autonomy but a dream persists.

“I want autonomy, non-assimilation, the ability to use our language in our daily lives, and recognition of Kurdish as an official second language in Kurdish-majority areas,” Elci said.

The emergence of Kurds as America’s Iraqi and Syrian allies against ISIS has complicated the critical Turkish-American relationship. President Obama probably needs Erdogan more than Erdogan needs him, a fact that limits American leverage. Still, renewed Turkish-Kurdish negotiation and real Turkish commitment against ISIS are paramount American interests. The impression with Erdogan has been: better a Sunni Islamist fanatic than a Kurd.

Turkey is at a crossroads. The modern state was born through military prowess and a ferocious act of will. Ataturk forged a Westernized nation state from the many-shaded ruins of the Ottoman Empire. His creation involved an attempt to excise other peoples and identities — be they Kurdish, Armenian, Greek or Alevi — in the name of the new nation.

But Ottoman diversity, the fruit of many centuries, could not be subsumed into Turkish nationhood overnight. Turkey remains haunted by its ghosts.

The reverberations from Turkey’s troubled birth and the years preceding it persist. The 1915 Armenian genocide remains unacknowledged by Turkey even though Germany’s president, in this centennial year, spoke of German complicity. Joachim Gauck said: “We Germans collectively still have to come to terms with the past, namely when it comes to shared responsibility and perhaps even complicity in the genocide of the Armenians.”

It is for Turkey to answer how Germany could be complicit in a crime that did not exist.

Just how sensitive these issues remain was evident in the electoral campaign. Among the slogans of the A.K.P., as Erdogan’s Justice and Development party is known, was: “One Nation. One Flag. One State.” The insistence on oneness reflected a reality of fracture. Settling the Armenian dispute and reaching a negotiated settlement with the Kurds must be central Turkish goals before the centennial in 2023 of Ataturk’s state.

And now here’s Mr. Kristof:

On university campuses across the country, from Mizzou to Yale, we have two noble forces colliding with explosive force.

One is a concern for minority or marginalized students and faculty members, who are often left feeling as outsiders in ways that damage everyone’s education. At the University of Missouri, a black professor,Cynthia Frisby, wrote, “I have been called the N-word too many times to count.”

The problem is not just racists who use epithets but also administrators who seem to acquiesce. That’s why Mizzou students — especially football players — used their clout to oust the university system’s president. They showed leadership in trying to rectify a failure of leadership.

But moral voices can also become sanctimonious bullies.

“Go, go, go,” some Mizzou protesters yelled as they jostled a student photographer, Tim Tai, who was trying to document the protests unfolding in a public space. And Melissa Click, an assistant professor who joined the protests, is heard on a video calling for “muscle” to oust another student journalist (she later apologized).

Tai represented the other noble force in these upheavals — free expression. He tried to make the point, telling the crowd: “The First Amendment protects your right to be here — and mine.”

We like to caricature great moral debates as right confronting wrong. But often, to some degree, it’s right colliding with right.

Yes, universities should work harder to be inclusive. And, yes, campuses must assure free expression, which means protecting dissonant and unwelcome voices that sometimes leave other people feeling aggrieved or wounded.

On both counts we fall far short.

We’ve also seen Wesleyan students debate cutting funding for the student newspaper after it ran an op-ed criticizing the Black Lives Matter movement. At Mount Holyoke, students canceled a production of “The Vagina Monologues” because they felt it excluded transgender women. Protests led to the withdrawal of Condoleezza Rice as commencement speaker at Rutgers and Christine Lagarde at Smith.

This is sensitivity but also intolerance, and it is disproportionately an instinct on the left.

I’m a pro-choice liberal who has been invited to infect evangelical Christian universities with progressive thoughts, and to address Catholic universities where I’ve praised condoms and birth control programs. I’m sure I discomfited many students on these conservative campuses, but it’s a tribute to them that they were willing to be challenged. In the same spirit, liberal universities should seek out pro-life social conservatives to speak.

More broadly, academia — especially the social sciences — undermines itself by a tilt to the left. We should cherish all kinds of diversity, including the presence of conservatives to infuriate us liberals and make us uncomfortable. Education is about stretching muscles, and that’s painful in the gym and in the lecture hall.

One of the wrenching upheavals lately has unfolded at Yale. Longtime frustrations among minority students boiled over after administrators seemed to them insufficiently concerned about offensive costumes for Halloween. A widely circulated video showed a furious student shouting down one administrator, Prof. Nicholas Christakis. “Be quiet!” she screams at him. “It is not about creating an intellectual space!”

A student wrote an op-ed about “the very real hurt” that minority students feel, adding: “I don’t want to debate. I want to talk about my pain.” That prompted savage commentary online. “Is Yale letting in 8-year-olds?” one person asked on Twitter.

The Wall Street Journal editorial page denounced “Yale’s Little Robespierres.” It followed up Wednesday with another editorial, warning that the P.C. mind-set “threatens to undermine or destroy universities as a place of learning.”

I suggest we all take a deep breath.

The protesters at Mizzou and Yale and elsewhere make a legitimate point: Universities should work harder to make all students feel they are safe and belong. Members of minorities — whether black or transgender or (on many campuses) evangelical conservatives — should be able to feel a part of campus, not feel mocked in their own community.

The problems at Mizzou were underscored on Tuesday when there were death threats against black students. What’s unfolding at universities is not just about free expression but also about a safe and nurturing environment.

Consider an office where bosses shrug as some men hang nude centerfolds and leeringly speculate about the sexual proclivities of female colleagues. Free speech issue? No! That’s a hostile work environment. And imagine if you’re an 18-year-old for whom this is your 24/7 home — named, say, for a 19th-century pro-slavery white supremacist.

My favorite philosopher, the late Sir Isaiah Berlin, argued that there was a deep human yearning to find the One Great Truth. In fact, he said, that’s a dead end: Our fate is to struggle with a “plurality of values,” with competing truths, with trying to reconcile what may well be irreconcilable.

That’s unsatisfying. It’s complicated. It’s also life.

And now we get to Ms. Collins:

Perhaps you didn’t watch the Republican presidential debate this week. That in no way excuses you from having an opinion about it. It’s the last one until December, and all you’ll have to work with if you want political conversation at Thanksgiving dinner.

Except, perhaps, Donald Trump’s proposal that we boycott Starbucks for changing its holiday coffee cup design. He also promised a crowd recently that when he is president “we’re all going to be saying ‘Merry Christmas’ again.” Even if you never said it before? Hard to tell.

But about the debate. Jeb Bush sent out a mass email before the event began, asking all his “friends” to send him a dollar so he’d “know you’re at home cheering me on.” Doesn’t that sound a little pathetic?

As promised, it was certainly more issue-oriented than the ones that went before. However, the subject was supposed to be the economy, and we have long since learned that when these people talk tax plans, we’re not going to hear anything except the word low. And occasionally flat.

“As you noted, I have rolled out a bold and simple flat tax: 10 percent for every American that would produce booming growth and 4.9 million new jobs within a decade,” said Ted Cruz. In a perfect world, someone would have jumped up and yelled, “Say what?” since Cruz was talking about a potential $3 trillion budget hole.

Later, Cruz volunteered that he’d impose sharp budget cuts, including the total elimination of five major agencies — only four of which he could remember. People, do you think this should be the end of Ted Cruz? True, he got around it by listing the Department of Commerce twice, which was a little slicker than “Oops.” But still.

Carly Fiorina kept touting her three-page tax code. Not a three-page tax form — three pages of laws to cover all the taxes paid by every individual and business in the country. She mentioned the three-page code four times during the debate, and not once did anyone say, “Carly, what the heck are you talking about?”

The only person who might have passed for the teller of hard truths was — are you ready? — Ben Carson. While making the ever-popular promise to get rid of loopholes, Carson actually volunteered that he’d ax deductions for charitable contributions and home mortgages. Everybody liked them, Carson acknowledged, in his soft, calming voice. “But the fact of the matter is, people had homes before 1913, when we introduced the federal income tax, and later after that started deductions.”

Profile in courage or failure to think things through? Excellent topic for holiday discussion.

The only two issues that sparked genuine debate were immigration and military affairs. On the immigration front, both Bush and John Kasich attempted to tear into Trump’s plan to deport all the undocumented immigrants in the country. “Think about the families, think about the children,” Kasich begged, in an appeal unlikely to tug at the heartstrings of the Trump base.

Trump, for his part, claimed that President Dwight Eisenhower deported 1.5 million illegal immigrants to Mexico and stayed popular. (“Dwight Eisenhower. You don’t get nicer. You don’t get friendlier.”) This was a program titled “Operation Wetback” during which some deportees drowned.

Cruz took the opportunity to say that his father “came legally from Cuba.” It’s actually a very complicated story, but the important thing was that Cruz got to mention his immigrant parent. It is a rule in these debates that everybody who is not Jeb Bush or Donald Trump tries to sneak in some detail about humble origins. Kasich’s grandfather had black lung disease! And really, there should be a drinking game in which everybody takes a swig each time Rubio says: “My father was a bartender. My mother was a maid.”

Trump and Bush tangled over American involvement in the Middle East. Trump quoted an unnamed general, who said: “You know, Mr. Trump? We’re giving hundreds of millions of dollars of equipment to these people, we have no idea who they are.” Notice that in the Donald world, even generals call him “Mr. Trump.”

Meanwhile, Carson said America needed to make global jihadists “look like losers” by taking back a big oil field they control in Iraq. “We could do that, I believe, fairly easily. I’ve learned from talking to several generals, and then you move on from there.”

Who won? It’s hard to imagine voters who’ve stuck with Trump or Carson this long would be deterred by anything at this point. Many experts seem to think Cruz and Rubio did well, which I guess they did if you like illogical economic programs and totally terrifying views on foreign affairs. I guess Jeb felt encouraged. After the debate he emailed a request for another donation, to “keep the momentum going.”

Collins, solo

October 31, 2015

In “Dreading Those Drones” Ms. Collins says look, up in the sky! There’s a lot to worry about.  Here she is:

There’s something very wrong with recreational drones.

You can see the attraction. They can be extremely easy to fly and they take cool pictures. The Consumer Electronics Association forecasts about 700,000 will be sold to hobbyists, gift-givers and random shoppers this year, up from 430,000 in 2014 but far fewer than the 1.1 million sales anticipated for 2016. Some are tiny flying toys, weighing less than an ounce. Some weigh more than 50 pounds, and still count as “recreational.”

I think I speak for all of us when I say that we do not want to get in between a child and his ToyJoy F8 Space Trek RC Nano Drone. But it’s absolutely crazy that the bigger ones — the ones capable of flying in the same airspace as a helicopter or dropping a mystery package on a nuclear power plant — aren’t being licensed and strictly regulated.

Every day there seems to be a new story. A drone flew over the Oklahoma State Penitentiary this week, carrying a bundle of drugs and hacksaw blades dangling from a fishing line. Fortunately, it crashed before any inmates could grab the loot. Meanwhile, a drone flew into power lines in West Hollywood and knocked one to the ground, leaving about 700 customers without electricity.

Now it’s true that squirrels knock out power lines and nobody’s talking about regulating them. But squirrels don’t get in the way of passenger planes. The Federal Aviation Administration is getting about 100 reports of close encounters every month.

How can something terrible not happen sooner or later? “From the California point of view it’s only a matter of time,” said Senator Dianne Feinstein, the sponsor of the Consumer Drone Safety Act, which is at this point still just a proposal, not an actual law. The many near-disasters Feinstein’s office has chronicled include a number of cases in which planes and helicopters attempting to put out wildfires were forced to pull back because of drones in the air space.

Also on this week’s drone report: A judge in Kentucky dismissed charges against a man who shot down a drone he said was flying over his property and spying on his family. We are not taking sides in this dispute, but since the point of most drones is the taking of pictures, you can see where this is going to become an issue.

When recreational drones first came on the market, Congress regarded them as another version of model airplanes, and basically told the F.A.A. to keep its hands off. Model airplanes do have a long and relatively problem-free history. This is possibly because they’re kind of difficult to master, and someone who will go to the trouble of learning how to fly one will probably be disciplined enough not to do anything incredibly stupid.

Kristof, Bruni and Collins

October 29, 2015

In “Sentenced to be Crucified” Mr. Kristof says  Western governments bite their tongues as Saudi Arabia legitimizes fundamentalism and intolerance in the Islamic world.  No shit…  Mr. Bruni says “Ben Carson and Donald Trump Lack Electricity in a Charged Debate,” and that it’s Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz with the biggest moments in the third meeting of Republican contenders.  Which was still a comedy show.  Ms. Collins, in “Oh, Those Debating Republicans,” says one of these candidates is going to be the nominee for president. Really.  I know, Gail — it’s terrifying.  Here’s Mr. Kristof:

Any day now, our Saudi Arabian allies may behead and crucify a young man named Ali al-Nimr.

His appeals following his court sentence for this grisly execution have been exhausted, so guards may lead Nimr to a public square and hack off his head with a sword as onlookers jeer. Then, following Saudi protocol for crucifixion, they would hang his body as a warning to others.

Nimr’s offense? He was arrested at age 17 for participating in anti-government protests. The government has said he attacked police officers and rioted, but the only known evidence is a confession apparently extracted under torture that left him a bloody mess.

“When I visited my son for the first time I didn’t recognize him,” his mother, Nusra al-Ahmed,told The Guardian. “I didn’t know whether this really was my son Ali or not.”

Nimr was recently moved to solitary confinement in preparation for execution. In Britain, where the sentence has received attention, the foreign secretary says he does “not expect” it to be carried out. But Nimr’s family fears execution could come any day.

Saudi Arabia’s medieval criminal justice system also executes “witches,” and flogs and imprisons gay people.

It’s time for a frank discussion about our ally Saudi Arabia and its role legitimizing fundamentalism and intolerance in the Islamic world. Western governments have tended to bite their tongues because they see Saudi Arabia as a pillar of stability in a turbulent region — but I’m not sure that’s right.

Saudi Arabia has supported Wahhabi madrasas in poor countries in Africa and Asia, exporting extremism and intolerance. Saudi Arabia also exports instability with its brutal war in Yemen, intended to check what it sees as Iranian influence. Saudi airstrikes have killed thousands, and theblockading of ports has been even more devastating. Some Yemeni children are starving, and 80 percent of Yemenis now need assistance.

There’s also an underlying hypocrisy in Saudi behavior. This is a country that sentenced a 74-year-old British man to 350 lashes for possessing alcohol (some British reports say he may be allowed to leave Saudi Arabia following international outrage), yet I’ve rarely seen as much hard liquor as at Riyadh parties attended by government officials.

A Saudi prince, Majed Abdulaziz al-Saud, was just arrested in Los Angeles in a $37 million mansion he had rented, after allegedly drinking heavily, hiring escorts, using cocaine, terrorizing women and threatening to kill people.

“I am a prince,” he declared, according to an account in The Los Angeles Times. “And I do what I want.”

Saudi Arabia isn’t the enemy, but it is a problem. It could make so much positive difference in the Islamic world if it used its status to soothe Sunni-Shiite tensions and encourage tolerance. For a time, under King Abdullah, it seemed that the country was trying to reform, but now under King Salman it has stalled.

In effect, Saudi Arabia legitimizes fundamentalism, religious discrimination, intolerance and the oppression of women. Saudi women not only can’t drive, but are also told by some clerics that they mustn’t wear seatbelts for fear of showing the outlines of their bodies. Saudi Arabia inflames the Sunni-Shiite divide and sets a pernicious example of intolerance by banning churches.

Even Iran lately has mocked Saudi Arabia for mistreating women — and when misogynistic Iranian hard-liners can claim the high ground on women’s rights, you’ve got a problem.

I’ve defended Islam from critics like Bill Maher who, as I see it, demonize a diverse faith of 1.6 billion Muslims because a small percentage are violent extremists. But it’s incumbent on those of us who object to this demonization to speak up against genuine extremism. Sadly, Saudi Arabia is a gift to Islamophobes; it does far more damage to the reputation of Islam than any blaspheming cartoonists.

Granted, many Saudis are pushing for reform. One bright young writer,Raif Badawi, 31, called eloquently for women’s rights, education reform and freedom of thought, and Saudi Arabia has sentenced him to 10 years in prison, a $267,000 fine and a flogging of 1,000 lashes (50 at a time, with one session administered so far). His wife, Ensaf Haidar, tells me that his flogging is to resume soon after a long suspension, and that she fears he will not survive the entire lashing.

The United States government has largely averted its eyes from all this, at least in public, merely expressing deep concern about the crucifixion sentence even as it provides weaponry to enable the Saudi assault on Yemen.

That’s realpolitik. Saudi Arabia has oil and influence, and the Obama administration needed to cuddle with Saudi Arabia to win the Iranian nuclear deal. But now that that deal has been achieved, should we still be silent?

We do neither ourselves nor the Saudi people any favors when we wink at an ally that crucifies its people.

Well, we’ve decided that it’s just fine and dandy to torture people, so…  Here’s Mr. Bruni:

What a curious, fascinating spectacle: The two men in the lead got lost in the pack.

Coming into Wednesday night, much of the talk about the third Republican debate focused on Donald Trump and Ben Carson, who were trading places at the top of the polls, two outsiders with no business running for president and significantly more support from Republican voters than any of the conventional candidates could muster.

Which of the two would stand out?


Would either of the two seal the deal?


For the first hour of the debate, which was staged by CNBC, Trump largely disappeared. His rivals and the moderators demonstrated less interest in him than they had in the past, and a Trump without attention is like a petunia without water and light. It fades. It droops.

And while that presented a window of opportunity for Carson, he lacked the pep to get through a window or, for that matter, an extremely wide set of sliding doors. His eyelids sometimes went to half-mast as he swayed through an answer, making a sluggish voyage to an uncertain destination.

What is it that his supporters see in him?

That was John Kasich’s question, or rather his rant, and he started the evening with it, deciding to put all of his few remaining chips on the role of alarmed, truth-telling adult in a sandbox of delusional toddlers.

He made specific references to Trump’s promises to deport millions of immigrants and to Carson’s musings about eviscerating entitlement programs. He lambasted various opponents’ proposals for huge tax cuts.

“This stuff is fantasy,” he said, striving so hard for urgency that he practically yelped. “Folks, we gotta wake up. We cannot elect somebody that doesn’t know how to do the job.”

Trump knew full well that Kasich had him in mind, and noted that Kasich hadn’t talked this way months ago.

“Then his poll numbers tanked,” Trump said, “and he got nasty. So you know what? You can have him.”

Before the debate began, there was some worry—misplaced, as it turns out—that its fiscal focus would create a tame yawner of a night.

It did lead to an inordinate amount of chatter about flat taxes and shrunken tax policies and miniaturized tax returns. Carly Fiorina said that she’d collapse the whole tax code to three pages. Ted Cruz said that he’d enable Americans to file their tax returns on postcards.

I half expected Rand Paul to one-up them both by pledging to present all of his tax ideas in a single haiku. But he was too busy using his minimal speaking time to complain about his minimal speaking time.

Tempers flared. Voices rose. The economy-centered debate on the money-centered network packed ample emotion, in part because it strayed to such issues as gay rights and gun rights and in part because it came at a crucial moment for many of the debaters.

More so than during the first or second meeting of these candidates, participants acted as if this was the pivot point that would determine whether they’d be steaming forward or fading out. It was the time for meticulously plotted fury. It was the vessel for the best jokes, rejoinders and soliloquies they had. It was the cause for attack.

The defining exchange came early, when Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio banished any memory of their mentor-mentee relationship, which has been obliterated by their head-to-head competition to become level-headed Republicans’ answer to Trump and Carson.

Bush slammed Rubio for all the votes he had missed in the Senate as he concentrated on his presidential bid.

“When you signed up for this, this was a six-year term, and you should be showing up to work,” Bush admonished him. “I mean, literally, the Senate—what is it, like a French work week? You get, like, three days where you have to show up?”

He sharpened the dagger by addressing Rubio not as “Senator” but as “Marco.”

Nocera and Collins

October 24, 2015

In “The Patent Troll Smokescreen” Mr. Nocera moans that legislative “reform” is hurting legitimate inventors.  He’s raked over the coals in the comments by people who actually work in patent law and/or hold patents.  Ms. Collins says “Happy Birthday, Hillary Clinton,” and asks who would guess that a Republican-led investigating committee would deliver one of Mrs. Clinton’s best presents?  Here’s Mr. Nocera:

Is the University of Wisconsin-Madison a patent troll?

The question is not as strange as it might seem. “Patent trolls” are entities that own patents that they use not to further innovation or manufacture a product but to conduct a kind of legal extortion racket. Holding patents that are sometimes absurdly vague, they send “demand letters” to the thousands of companies that use, for instance, bar scanners — to cite a legendary example — accusing them of patent infringement.

Many companies pay a fee to avoid litigation, but others decide to stand and fight. Sometimes they win; sometimes they lose. In either case, patent trolling is sand in the engine of commerce.

Now consider the University of Wisconsin-Madison, or more precisely, the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF), which owns the university’s patents. Whenever the university’s scientists come up with innovations — which they rarely intend to use to manufacture a product — WARF applies for a patent and then seeks to license it, just as trolls do.

In higher education circles, WARF is known as a fierce defender of its patent portfolio. Just like the trolls, it does not back away when it believes companies have infringed on its patents, and it will litigate those claims if need be.

But, of course, nobody thinks a university is a patent troll. Universities are supposed to come up with new ideas, not manufacture new products. That’s what companies do. If a university holds a scientist’s patent, the main way it gets the innovation into the hands of a company is through a licensing agreement. Robin Feldman, a University of California Hastings College of the Law professor known for her anti-troll views, notes that the law specifically gives universities the right to seek patents on federally funded research. Why? “To encourage the commercialization of new products.”

But what if, in the name of cracking down on trolls, Congress passes an anti-troll law that winds up having huge negative consequences for legitimate inventors? What if a series of Supreme Court rulings make matters worse, putting onerous burdens on inventors while making it easier for big companies to steal unlicensed innovations?

As it happens, thanks to the 2011 America Invents Act and those rulings, big companies can now largely ignore legitimate patent holders.

Of course, they don’t call it stealing. But according to Robert Taylor, a patent lawyer who has represented the National Venture Capital Association, a new phrase has emerged in Silicon Valley: “efficient infringing.” That’s the relatively new practice of using a technology that infringes on someone’s patent, while ignoring the patent holder entirely. And when the patent holder discovers the infringement and seeks recompense, the infringer responds by challenging the patent’s validity.

Should a lawsuit ensue, the infringer, often a big tech company, has top-notch patent lawyers at the ready. Because the courts have largely robbed small inventors of their ability to seek an injunction — that is, an order requiring that the infringing product be removed from the market — the worst that can happen is that the infringer will have to pay some money. For a rich company like, say, Apple, that’s no big deal.

What got me thinking about this was, in fact, a recent lawsuit between Apple and WARF over a University of Wisconsin innovation that Apple uses to help speed the processing time of several versions of the iPhone and iPad. Apple not only couldn’t be bothered to license the patent; it wouldn’t even let WARF in the door to negotiate. Instead, Apple sent the foundation a link to a page on the Apple website, which says that the company can lay claim to any unsolicited idea. So WARF sued. What choice did it have?

Last week, a jury ruled in WARF’s favor and then ordered Apple to pay some $234 million. Although I hear that WARF is pleased with the outcome, Apple is actually the big winner. Thanks to efficient infringing, WARF never had the chance to grant an exclusive license to an Apple competitor, which could have hurt Apple while maximizing WARF’s financial gain. WARF had to resort to expensive litigation to get what it should have been able to achieve through less expensive negotiation. And, of course, $234 million is pocket change for Apple. This is “patent reform”?

There are new patent reform bills in both the House and the Senate that are once again allegedly aimed at trolls — but will, once again, effectively tilt the playing field even further toward big companies with large lobbying budgets.

“This is not about trolls,” says Brian Pomper, the executive director of the Innovation Alliance, which supports inventors. “Trolls are a fantastic narrative for companies that want to get their patents cheaper.” The recent changes in patent law also show “how big companies can use Washington to get a business advantage,” he added.

For the sake of real innovation, and in the name of the small inventor, who holds a special place in America’s mythology, the pendulum needs to start swinging in the other direction.

Now here’s Ms. Collins:

Monday is Hillary Clinton’s birthday. Don’t bother sending a gift. This week has given her all the presents she needs.

What a time she’s been having — the debate, Joe Biden’s non-candidacy announcement and then the total meltdown of the Benghazi Committee. It’s not often these days that a special House investigatory committee makes Democrats sing, but there you are. In a speech on the House floor, Representative Steve Israel claimed Thursday’s marathon inquisition had been like an “I Love Lucy” episode — “same plot, same characters, same script and nothing new.” This seems totally unfair to Lucy. Remember the one with the candy conveyor belt? Vitameatavegamin? How many of you think that 63 years from now, anyone will be saying: “Remember the question about Sidney Blumenthal’s email?”

Heck of a run for Clinton. And to top everything else off, Lincoln Chafee withdrew from the president’s race, leaving the field wide open for her to grab that metrics issue and run with it.

Things have been going so well, it’s impossible not to think a disaster is looming. Pop quiz – Hillary Clinton’s next headache will be:

• Revelation that she kept a secret flock of State Department carrier pigeons.

• Revelation that Justin Bieber is an old family friend with whom she corresponds regularly.

• Revelation that major donors to the Clinton Foundation have included El Chapo and Lance Armstrong.

• Revelation that during long family car trips, Clinton’s dog Seamus was kept in the trunk.

• Oh, I don’t know — something about Bill.

But let’s get back to the birthday. Clinton will be 68. There was a time when it seemed as if her age might be an issue. After all, we’ve only had two presidents come into office when they were 68 or beyond. One of them was Ronald Reagan and the other was William Henry Harrison, who did not do future 68-year-old candidates any favors by dying one month after the inauguration.

Last year the Wisconsin governor, Scott Walker, chortled that he “could run 20 years from now for president and still be about the same age as the former secretary of state is right now.” Which, as it turned out, was a lucky break for him. See you in 2034, governor.

Now, the major candidates on both sides are in their 60s — except for Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, who are 44, and Bernie Sanders, who is 74. Donald Trump is older than Hillary Clinton, although of course when we talk about the possibility of a Trump presidency, age is about the 4,353rd topic of concern.

It’s not that age no longer matters, but that we’ve come to realize it hits different people in different ways. Some lose energy and focus, while others seem to get smarter and stronger. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg of the Supreme Court, at 82, does push-up routines with her trainer. Gloria Steinem celebrated her 80th birthday riding an elephant in Botswana.

In high-end politics, what we need to know is less about calendar years than staying power. Marco Rubio keeps talking about “generational change,” but he seems to have less energy than a koala. (Koalas sleep 18-22 hours a day. I am bringing this up so you can’t say I never teach you anything.) Really, where is that man? He hardly seems to be campaigning and he misses nearly half the Senate votes. Pre-millennials, is this the guy you want representing you?

Meanwhile, Clinton wowed the country with her endurance during this week’s Benghazi hearing. If we remember the House Select Committee on Benghazi at all, it will be as the folks who gave Hillary a chance to demonstrate her staying power. Even accounting for breaks, 11 hours of questioning must be close to some kind of record.

“Yoga always helps,” Clinton said as she departed.

She is — except for the part about yoga — a throwback to the first era of American public women, people like Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, who came into their own in late middle age. Stanton, who like Clinton had an ability to make herself nap at will, kept promising the impatient Anthony that when her kids grew old enough to fend for themselves it would be exactly the right time for their great campaign for equal rights. “We shall not be in our prime before fifty, and after that, we shall be good for twenty years at least,” she assured Anthony. Actually, both of them were good for quite a bit longer, and still giving speeches at 80. Justice Ginsburg has a picture of Stanton in her Supreme Court office.

Clinton will be having a birthday party on Sunday in New York, and naturally it will be a fund-raiser. That sounds like the worst possible way to celebrate, but if there’s anything we know at this point, it’s that she can take the stress.

Cohen, Kristof and Collins

October 22, 2015

In “Camelot Comes to Canada” Mr. Cohen says the Trudeau story suggests limits to the bullying politics of anger and fear. America, take note.  Mr. Kristof considers “The Miracle Breast Milk Elixir” and says breast-feeding is a dazzlingly low-tech solution that saves children’s lives.  Ms. Collins, in “Hillary and Benghazi,” says the House Benghazi committee’s inappropriate approach is outdone only by the Stop Hillary PAC and its ghoulish commercial.  Here’s Mr. Cohen:

Michael Ignatieff, the former leader of Justin Trudeau’s victorious Liberal Party in Canada, told me he’d “never known an instance when any American took any lesson from Canada.”

That’s probably true. Americans, with the conspicuous exception of the documentary filmmaker Michael Moore, tend to think nothing of note, or at least serious note, takes place north of the border. But perhaps that lesson-taking moment has arrived.

Trudeau’s remarkable triumph, which saw the Liberal Party jump to 184 seats from 36 in the 338-member Canadian House of Commons, was a victory over mean-spiritedness and the politics of fear. It was a thorough repudiation, after almost a decade, of the belligerent politics of Prime Minister Stephen Harper. As Ignatieff noted, the “nasty party,” an epithet that once belonged to Britain’s Tories, had become a fair description of Harper’s Conservatives.

Harper had notably gone after Canada’s one million Muslims. His government’s attempt to prevent Muslim women from wearing a face-covering headdress, or niqab, during citizenship ceremonies was overturned this year by a court ruling. The prime minister, saying he found the veil “offensive,” decided to appeal the court decision, but lost last month.

His stand has had a tangible effect on Muslims. One, Rania El-Alloul, was told earlier this year by a judge in a Quebec court that she would not hear her case (a property matter) unless she removed her headscarf. A Conservative minister called the hijab a perversion of Canadian values.

No, the attempt to undermine Canadian values was Harper’s — and Canadians saw through him. They rejected his crass divisiveness. Trudeau was forthright in standing up for the right of Canada’s Muslim women to wear what they like. “Diversity is the at the very heart of Canada. It is who we are and what we do,” he declared in March. A “Francophone Quebecer,” as he has called himself, Trudeau knows how central diversity and multiculturalism are to the delicate weave of Canadian unity.

“We are a mosaic and Trudeau felt strongly about it,” Chrystia Freeland, a Liberal Member of Parliament, told me. “There was a very narrow and very partisan attempt by the government to play on baser instincts and create animosity that was not there.”

In short, a positive campaign won. Killer politics lost. Trudeau likes to talk about finding “common ground,” where Harper was all about winner take all. At a time when American politics are dismally polarized, this other North American political story is interesting, perhaps even instructive.

Republicans still seem to believe the unlikely proposition that elections are won on the angry margins. The two leading Republican candidates, Donald Trump and Ben Carson, try to outgun each other in attacking, respectively, Mexican immigration and the idea of a Muslim president in the White House (don’t hold your breath). The Trudeau story suggests limits to the bullying politics of anger and fear. Not even Lynton Crosby, the legendary Australian master of the take-no-hostage dark political arts, could revive Harper’s fortunes.

Camelot has come to Canada. For a moment at least, the duller part of North America looks sexier than its overweening cousin to the south. Trudeau and his wife, Sophie Grégoire, have razzmatazz. The incoming prime minister is very much his father’s son, a natural charmer. There’s no point denying it. The American political field looks wizened by comparison.

You don’t have to be seduced by Trudeau’s happy talk of “sunny ways,” or be persuaded by Trudeau’s Obamaesque allusions to the “better angels of our nature,” or be convinced by the equally Obamaesque references from Trudeau to the arc of the moral universe bending “toward justice” — all this will be tested by the harsh realities of power in a big country of competing interests. The glitter, it is safe to say, will fade. Shadows will dim the Trudeau sun. But the political tide has turned in Canada.

It has turned away from austerity toward deficit spending on infrastructure and growth — and this in a country where balanced budgets are, in Freeland’s words, “almost a fetish.” It has turned away from widening inequality (yes, even in Canada) toward addressing the challenges to social cohesion from globalization. It has turned away from Harper’s weird Canadian unilateralism toward a rediscovery of Canada’s traditional multilateral, United Nations-focused approach to foreign policy and leadership on refugee issues. It has turned away from bruising confrontation toward civility in politics.

Trudeau represents a break in style but also in economic approach at a time when sharpening inequality is probably the foremost issue in developed Western societies. In this sense, too, his election may be telling on the eve of a United States election year.

“One of the most difficult and urgent global problems is how to develop societies where people of different cultures can live together and build common ground,” Trudeau said during the campaign. If he does not lead on this issue — in Canada and beyond Canada — he will have failed the promise he represents.

Next up we have Mr. Kristof, writing from Lucknow, India:

What if there were a remedy that could save more children’s lives in the developing world than are claimed by malaria and AIDS combined?

A miracle substance that reduces ear infections while seeming to raise scores on I.Q. tests by several points? Available even in the most remote villages, requiring no electricity or refrigeration? Oh, and as long as we’re dreaming, let’s make it free.

This miracle substance already exists. It’s breast milk.

Current estimates backed by the World Health Organization and Unicef are that optimal breast-feeding would save 800,000 children’s lives a year in developing countries. That would amount to a 12 percent drop in child mortality, a huge gain.

I’m on my annual win-a-trip journey, in which I take a student with me to the developing world to look at neglected issues. The student, Austin Meyer of Stanford University, and I have been reporting in India, where 1.2 million children under the age of 5 die annually — and where nutritionists say that improved breast-feeding practices could save many.

Exclusive breast-feeding for six months, as strongly recommended by the World Health Organization, is practiced by just 46 percent of women in India, 17 percent in Nigeria, and 10 percent in Yemen, according to the latest Global Nutrition Report. (In the U.S., the figure is about 22 percent,according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.)

Let me get this out of the way: It’s awkward for men to hail breast-feeding, and it risks sounding patronizing because we’re not the ones doing the work.

And this: Sometimes promotion of breast-feeding carries an unfortunate edge of reproach for women who can’t breast-feed or choose not to, and that’s counterproductive. In America, there’s tension about these issues; an essay in The Times on Sunday warned that promotion efforts can degenerate into shaming women. That’s a fair caution.

In any case, where this is a life-or-death issue is not the West but in developing countries, where water is often contaminated and child mortality is high.

Infants who are not breast-fed are 14 times more likely to die than those who are exclusively breast-fed, according to a major metastudy just published by Acta Paediatrica, a pediatrics journal.

Here in northern India, Austin and I met a mother, Maher Bano, whose daughter had been born at home just hours earlier. The baby was underweight and in danger of dying. The best medicine in this context is breast milk: Studies from India, Nepal and Ghana show that prompt breast-feeding reduces neonatal mortality by 44 percent.

But Maher Bano said that for the first 24 hours, the baby would be given only tea with honey.

“I’ll breast-feed the baby tomorrow, or the next day,” she said, explaining that she was following the guidance of the traditional birth attendant who had helped her deliver the baby and cut the cord. This is common: Worldwide, only 43 percent of babies are put to the breast within an hour of birth, as recommended by the World Health Organization.

One reason for delays is suspicion of colostrum, the first, yellowish milk, which doesn’t look quite like milk but is packed with nutrients and antibodies; it’s sometimes called the “first immunization.”

Another big challenge: In hot countries, villagers also often give infants water on hot days, or start them on food before six months. Water both displaces milk and also is often contaminated. (Breast milk, in contrast, is safe even when the mom drinks contaminated water.)

Western companies are also to blame. Manufacturers of infant formula face stagnant growth in Western countries, so they aggressively pursue poorer countries. Researchers found that 85 percent of recently discharged mothers in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, had seen advertising for formula.

Some also believe that Western entertainment has sexualized the breast in ways that reduce breast-feeding.

While the clearest benefits of breast-feeding have to do with saving lives, there is also some evidence of other health and cognitive gains. In Belarus, children of women randomly assigned to exclusive breast-feeding promotion scored six points higher on I.Q. tests than controls.

A few studies haven’t found a tie to cognitive capacity, but most have. Over all, a new review of 17 studies found a mean gain of three I.Q. points for children who were breast-fed.

Global health experts focus on breast-feeding partly because efforts to support moms in this area pay off surprisingly well. A recent survey by Acta Paediatrica of 130 estimates found that breast-feeding promotion on average increased exclusive breast-feeding by an astonishing 44 percent.

This annual win-a-trip journey is a chance to highlight elegant solutions to global problems. Sometimes the solutions are dazzlingly high-tech, but almost nothing could save as many children’s lives each year as nature’s own miracle: breast milk.

And now here’s Ms. Collins:

When Americans are killed in a terror attack, there’s a natural, righteous need to find out what went wrong. And the trick is to do it in a way that doesn’t debase the human loss with a nasty political scrum.

For the right way, you can look at the 9/11 commission.

For the wrong way, there’s the House Select Committee on Benghazi, which has spent the last few months as a walking disaster. Well, actually, a sitting disaster. Or a hardly-ever-bothering-to-show-up disaster. In all its postures, it’s been a textbook for bad intentions.

And then there’s the ad a group called Stop Hillary PAC aired in a number of American cities during the Democratic debate last week. It featured photos of the four men who died in the attack on the American diplomatic mission, seemingly speaking from the grave to Clinton. “I’d like to ask you why you ignored calls for help in Benghazi and then four Americans were murdered,” says a voice, while the picture of C.I.A. contractor Glen Doherty is on the screen. In the end, a picture of Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens appears, while a voice says: “But Mrs. Clinton, I can’t. What difference does it make?” And then there’s his headstone.

The relatives were, of course, horrified. “It’s an insult to someone who is dead,” Stevens’s mother told The Washington Post, adding that she’d sue the makers if she could.

But she can’t. The only thing that controls people like Stop Hillary PAC is a national consensus that there are places you just don’t go when it comes to political exploitation of American deaths. We’ve been through a lot of that lately, including the Jeb Bush-Donald Trump argument about George W. and 9/11. “Next week Mr. Trump is probably going to say that F.D.R. was around when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor,” Jeb blurted out in a TV interview.

Say what? People, do you remember the days of yore, when you thought Jeb Bush was the adult in the Republican room? Now he’s nothing more than political toast and Donald Trump could actually get the Republican nomination. Or Ted Cruz. Jeb, you have a lot to answer for — just please, don’t try to say anything.

The first step on the road to national sanity is to acknowledge that our leaders all want to keep the people safe. There is absolutely no reason to worry on that point. But good intentions don’t always lead to safe results, and the second step is to figure out what went wrong in a calm and even-handed manner.

The Benghazi committee went into its investigation with a promise to be fair. “There are certain things in our culture that have to transcend politics, and I don’t mean to sound naïve, but the murder of four fellow Americans and an attack on a facility that is emblematic of our country should transcend politics,” said the committee chair, Trey Gowdy.

The very fact that Gowdy thought he might be sounding naïve should have been a warning.

That was before the House majority leader bragged how well the committee had done in bringing down Clinton’s poll numbers. Before Gowdy criticized Clinton for forwarding an email containing the name of a C.I.A. source to her aide, and in the process accidentally made the name public himself.

Also before the world learned that the same Stop Hillary PAC which made that appalling ad has been a campaign contributor and all-round political helper to Representative Trey Gowdy.

How do you know if politicians are transcending their parties when they’re investigating these painful and sensitive matters? Well, do they seem interested in important but unsexy issues like the State Department security chain of command? Or are they flinging themselves in front of the cameras, claiming that the terrible error which was Benghazi is like the criminal conspiracy which was Watergate.

Looking at you, Representative Mike (“worse than Watergate”) Pompeo. A Kansas Republican who serves on the Benghazi investigating committee, Pompeo has been making the rounds on TV, arguing that Clinton erased way more emails than Richard Nixon did White House tapes. I believe I speak for many when I say that if email had been around during the Nixon administration, we would have seen erasures the size of Mount Whitney.

While we’re reclaiming the even course when it comes to preventing terror attacks, another good step might be for Jeb Bush to say that Hillary Clinton doesn’t deserve to be pilloried any more than his brother. This came up during a Jake Tapper interview on CNN, and Bush’s response was: “Well, I — it’s — the question on then Benghazi, which is — hopefully we’ll now finally get, get the truth to, is, was that — was the place secure? They had a responsibility, the Department of State, to have proper security.”


Nocera and Collins

October 17, 2015

Mr. Nocera is once again extolling the virtues of e-cigs.  In “Can E-Cigarettes Save Lives?” he says of course they can. So why won’t anti-tobacco advocates get behind them?  Ms. Collins asks “What Happened to the Working Woman?”  She says for all the talk about helping the American economy, little attention is paid to the disturbing fact that women’s place in the workforce is shrinking.  Here’s Mr. Nocera:

Two weeks ago, I received an email from NJOY, a company that sells electronic cigarettes. Its purpose was to introduce the Daily, a new product that NJOY described as “a superior e-cigarette scientifically developed to deliver quick-and-strong nicotine satisfaction at levels close to an actual cigarette.”

One reason many adult smokers haven’t switched to e-cigarettes is that most e-cigarettes don’t provide the same nicotine kick as a real cigarette. With some 42 million American adults still smoking, and 480,000 of them dying each year as a result, this is tragic. Though nicotine is addictive, it is the tobacco that kills.

An e-cigarette that could truly replicate the experience of smoking would dramatically reduce — not eliminate, but reduce — the dangers of smoking. NJOY claims that the Daily comes closer to that experience than anything on the market. When I spoke to Paul Sturman, NJOY’s chief executive, he emphasized not only the nicotine aspect, but also the Daily’s “feel,” and “the intensity of the hit to the back of the throat.” Sturman added that the company’s target market is adult smokers who have tried, but rejected, e-cigarettes. He thinks it’s a huge market.

As Sturman was describing the Daily, I thought to myself, “The tobacco-control community is going to hate this thing.” Most anti-tobacco advocates view replicating the feel and satisfaction of a cigarette as an effort to “renormalize smoking.” And though some believe that smokers should be encouraged to move to e-cigarettes, most refuse even to acknowledge the health benefits of “vaping” over smoking.

Indeed, thanks to this vociferous opposition, an increasing number of Americans view vaping as no safer than smoking, which is absurd. And e-cigarette manufacturers like NJOY can’t set them straight: The law giving the Food and Drug Administration regulatory authority over tobacco products, which passed in 2009, prohibits e-cigarette companies from making reduced-harm claims unless they jump through some near-impossible hoops. Thus, NJOY has no way to convey to adult smokers the critical message that e-cigarettes could save their lives.

The undisputed leader of the tobacco-control community is Matt Myers, who helped found and is the president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. Unlike many of his anti-tobacco peers, Myers is on the record as saying that if “responsibly marketed and properly regulated, e-cigarettes could benefit the public health.” But, like many others, he also fears that e-cigarettes may hook a new generation of children on nicotine, and could lead them to start smoking. And in truth, those fears get far more prominence in the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids’ various statements about e-cigarettes than its cautious support for them under the right circumstances.

One thing that particularly bothers Myers about e-cigarette companies is their advertising, which he believes employs the same tactics Big Tobacco once used to hook youths on cigarettes. But when I noted that NJOY can’t market the Daily as a reduced-risk product, thanks to the 2009 law — and thus had to find less straightforward ways to induce smokers to try the product — Myers told me that I should blame the F.D.A., which, six years in, has yet to impose a single regulation on e-cigarettes. “I think the F.D.A. deserves to be pilloried,” he said.

He may be right about that. On the other hand, it’s hardly news that government agencies take forever to get things done — and meanwhile, nearly half a million smokers continue to die each year. It seems to me that if the tobacco-control community wants to start saving lives by employing the reduced-harm strategy that e-cigarettes offer, it needs to forget about the F.D.A. and take matters into its own hands.

That means engaging with companies like NJOY that profess to be trying to do the right thing. Instead of demonizing them, the tobacco control community needs to find common ground, and come up with a set of standards — for marketing, manufacturing, and keeping e-cigarettes away from kids — that both sides can agree to. If such a deal were put in place, perhaps with state attorneys general to oversee it, anti-tobacco advocates could talk about the reduced harm potential of e-cigarettes with a clear conscience, without the involvement of the federal government. They then could describe the benefits of e-cigarettes for smokers that the companies themselves can’t.

It’s happened before. Two decades ago, seeing a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to impose real restrictions on Big Tobacco, Myers engaged in negotiations that included the states’ attorneys general — and Steve Parrish, then a Philip Morris executive. It was an act of tremendous courage — Myers was pilloried when his involvement was revealed — but without his willingness to look the enemy straight in the eye, Big Tobacco would never have been brought to heel.

I believe the time has come for Myers to screw up his courage again. It could be the beginning of the end for one of the greatest scourges on earth.

Now here’s Ms. Collins:

Japan now has a higher proportion of working women than we do. I’m trying to get my head around this fact.

“Everyone else is continuing to rise and we’ve declined, and now we’re basically tied with Japan. And Japan’s on the upswing and we’re still going down,” said Jason Furman, chairman of President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers. He was pointing to a chart that shows women in the labor force in 24 countries. These are the usual suspects when we’re comparing ourselves to other societies — Australia, Belgium, Canada, etc.

“When it came to women in the workplace, the United States used to be seventh. “And now we’re 20th,” said Furman in a phone interview. You’ll be happy to know that while Ireland also seems to be closing in on us, it’ll be a hell of a long time before we fall below Turkey.

Stick with me for a minute on this. We spend half of our national debate time talking about how economically fragile Americans feel. Why do you think that is? Well, there’s the whopping disproportion of national wealth flowing into the pockets of the already-wealthy. And the plummeting power of labor unions.

But women falling out of the work force is also a huge deal. It reduces family standards of living and puts a crimp in the economy.

And why do you think this is happening? One of the reasons is clearly, positively, absolutely the cost of child care.

It’s incredible that we’ve built a society that relies on women in the labor force yet makes no discernible effort to deal with this problem. The Economic Policy Institute, a liberal think tank, recently divided the country into 618 “family budget areas” and determined that in more than 500 of them, the cost of child care for a family with a 4-year-old and an 8-year old would exceed housing costs. Also, if you’re a working single mother with those same two children in, say, Buffalo, child care probably eats up a third of your income.

And infant care is impossible. In most states infant care is more expensive than college tuition.

We generally — and rightly — talk about early childhood education as something that’s critical because it increases kids’ chances of success in school. But as Carmel Martin of the Center for American Progress points out, “there’s also evidence of a positive effect on the economy over all.”

I am going to take a huge leap of faith and say that Japan is not trying to bring its mothers into the work force because of its historic commitment to feminism. (Last year, when a member of the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly made a speech calling for more services for women, she was taunted with cries of “Get married!” and “Can’t you even bear a child?”)

But the prime minister, Shinzo Abe, is convinced that encouraging working women will stimulate the economy. Now Japan, where 64 percent of working-age women are employed, compared to 63 percent in the United States, is in the process of creating 400,000 new prekindergarten spaces.

We will now stop for a moment and recall that in 1971, Congress passed a bipartisan bill that would have made quality preschool education available to every family in the United States that wanted it, with tuition based on the family’s ability to pay. Also after-school programs for older children. Forty-four years ago! Richard Nixon vetoed it, muttering something about “communal approaches to child rearing.”

There’s also paid family leave. Japan guarantees that mothers get 58 weeks of maternity leave, about half of it paid. In this week’s Democratic debate, Bernie Sanders said he was embarrassed that the United States was the only “country on earth” that did not guarantee workers paid maternity leave. This was inaccurate, since Sanders completely overlooked the situation in Papua New Guinea.

Our current government policy requires that employers give new mothers 12 weeks of unpaid leave. This was based on a bill passed early in the Clinton administration. I remember well the combination of joy (parental leave!) and despair (three months with no pay?).

During the debate Hillary Clinton laced into Carly Fiorina’s argument that government shouldn’t “dictate to the private sector” about family leave. “They don’t mind having big government to interfere with a woman’s right to choose and to try to take down Planned Parenthood. They’re fine with big government when it comes to that. I’m sick of it,” Clinton said. It was really one of her better moments.

You may be stunned to hear that while the Republicans talk endlessly about ginning up the American economy, the idea of helping working mothers stay in the labor force does not come up all that often. Although Ben Carson has described preschool as “indoctrination.”

From Richard Nixon to Ben Carson, and wow, nothing’s changed.

Blow, Cohen and Collins

October 15, 2015

In “Queen Hillary Came to Play” Mr. Blow says Sanders’s strong performance was subsumed by Clinton’s even stronger one. She held steady and defiant.  Mr. Cohen, in “Obama’s What Next?”, says the president has been the king of the slippery-slope school of foreign policy.  Ms. Collins considers “Hillary Clinton’s Happy Brew” and says she’s having a magical month, so be careful about messing with her mojo.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

Hillary Clinton crushed it! There is no other way for me to put it.

Her performance Tuesday night at the first Democratic debate was so spectacular as to erase all doubt: Weakened as she may be, there is still fire in that belly, and she will not quietly shift to the side to make room for someone else — not Bernie Sanders, and not Joe Biden should he ever stop this annoying dillydallying and decide to run.

And I don’t consider her performance spectacular simply because of what she did — although she demonstrated a remarkable assuredness and dexterity — but also because of what the others didn’t do.

It seemed as if Clinton was the only candidate on that stage that came to play … and to win.

Days before the debate on CNN (where I am a commentator), I was asked who I thought had the most to gain from the debate. I answered: Bernie Sanders.

My reasoning was that there are still large sections of the Democratic base — namely blacks and Hispanics — who don’t know who he is, and the debate was a perfect opportunity for him to introduce himself to those voters.

I actually believe that Sanders did that. He forcefully presented his message, and really hammered his selling point, his crusade against income inequality. And he had some strong and memorable lines, like “Congress does not regulate Wall Street; Wall Street regulates Congress.”

But in the end, Sanders’s strong performance was subsumed by Clinton’s even stronger one. Indeed, Sanders may have increased the margin separating them when he said that Americans were tired of talking about Clinton’s emails, thereby giving her a pass.

None of this means Republicans have not done real damage to her brand — her credibility and her electability. They have. None of it means that she would be the best general election candidate. Who knows.

And none of this means that Clinton’s performance was perfect. She inexplicably couldn’t bring herself to say the words “Black Lives Matter,” even after meeting with the group last week. She fumbled about a bit when answering a question about her relationship to Wall Street. She could have been more tactful when answering the question about the enemies she was proud of making.

But all in all, she played it nearly perfectly. That was in part because there was a prevailing sense of civility and seriousness that hung over the debate. That’s good. But there were also times when that civility seemed to border on acquiescence. Absolute civility isn’t always a luxury available to those who are losing. They need to punch up, often and hard.

The only person who came with that kind of bite was the curmudgeonlyJim Webb, who seemed like a candidate who got lost on his way to the Republican debate and simply decided to show up at the Democratic one.

Martin O’Malley seemed to be asleep during the first hour of the debate, and when he spoke he whispered more than Janet Jackson on the “Rhythm Nation” album.

I was absolutely sure that Clinton would be dinged a bit during the debate, but she escaped virtually unscathed and therefore looking untouchable.

Even when they attacked Hillary, she deftly negotiated the obstacles and turned them to her advantage.

Poor Lincoln Chafee, who seemed dazed and confused for the whole debate, could hardly get his answers out.

When Chafee was asked if he stood by his previous attacks on Clinton’s character and her use of a private email server, Chafee replied:

“Absolutely. We have to repair American credibility after we told the world that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction which he didn’t, so there’s an issue of American credibility out there. So anytime someone’s running to be our leader, and a world leader, which the American president is, credibility is an issue out there with the world. And we have repair work to be done. I think we need someone that has the best in ethical standards as our next president.”

When Clinton was asked if she would like to respond, she delivered the perfect little one-word dis: “No!” That’s the kind of shade that would make Dorian Corey — who introduced the nuanced concept of “shade” to much of America in the 1990 documentary “Paris is Burning” — applaud.

But that wasn’t the only thing I’ve seen on a screen that occurred to me Tuesday.

One of the most memorable lines from the HBO series “The Wire” comes when the notorious and eerily unflappable Omar yells to men shooting at him: “You come at the king, you best not miss.”

That line kept replaying in my mind Tuesday night as attacks like Chafee’s missed their mark and Hillary held steady and defiant.

You come at the queen, you best not miss.

It’s interesting that almost everyone at the Times is firmly in the bag for Hillary.  Their readers?  Not so much.  Here’s “Karen Garcia” from New Paltz, NY in response to Mr. Blow:  “It was a performance, period. And now Charles Blow dutifully joins the elite chorus to make the coronation official. Actually, the Huffington Post was the first outlet to use the phrase “crushed it” to describe the Chris Matthews-like thrill traveling up the giant media leg. That the press esteems style over substance has never been made more abundantly, nauseatingly clear. Paul Krugman wrote a pretty good smack-down of all the columnists and talking heads now tripping all over themselves in their abrupt pivot from Hillary Hate to Hillary Love She didn’t change. Her TV persona – her “brand” – has improved.  The irony is that it was fear of her stumbling that caused her pal Debbie Wasserman Schultz to limit the Democratic debates to an undemocratic, ridiculous six. The blessing is that the pundits are finally beginning to stifle their annoying “Draft Biden” chatter.  But guess what? Early polls, albeit unscientific, show that as far as regular citizens are concerned, it was Bernie who “crushed it.” In choosing not to attack Hillary on such things as the Saudis contributing $1 million to the Clinton Foundation after her State Department sold them $20 billion worth of lethal weapons, he showed himself to be a focused, decent man more interested in defending the downtrodden than in scoring points to win at any cost.  People don’t care about performances. We care, and Bernie cares, about how political corruption enables an oligarchy that is ruining millions of our lives.”  Now here’s Mr. Cohen:

Throughout the Obama years, when international crises and possible American intervention were discussed in the Situation Room, one question from the president was likely to recur: “O.K., but what happens after that?”

It could be the establishment of a no-fly zone in Syria, or setting up a safe area for Syrians fleeing, or putting troops back in Iraq after Islamic State militants overran Mosul — always there was concern over a slippery slope. President Obama, under his Doctrine of Restraint described in my last column, has been the king of the slippery-slope school of foreign policy. His decision to keep thousands of troops in Afghanistan, rather than withdraw them as previously planned, appears to reflect an acknowledgement that American retrenchment can be perilous.

The thing about the president’s what-next refrain was that it inevitably led to a range of dire scenarios. Suppose an American forward air controller in Iraq gets captured by Islamic State and burned alive? Suppose you’ve cratered the airfields in Syria and President Bashar al-Assad, rather than suing for peace, steps up his brutal ground campaign and resists? Well, take out his air defense sites and fast-forward arming the opposition. But then you get Russians and Iranians and Hezbollah pouring in to help Assad, and before you know it you’ve got 150,000 American troops on the ground invested in another intractable war.

O.K., but what happens after that?

Obama came to office at a time when sins of commission (read Iraq and Afghanistan) outweighed sins of omission. Inclined to lawyerly prudence, yet not without Wilsonian idealism, he was determined to reverse that.

He has sought, with some conspicuous exceptions, including the important Iran nuclear deal, what Robert Blackwill, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, described to me as “a risk-free foreign policy.” For example, drone attacks on nations without air defenses are near risk-free.

But because there are always reasons not to act, the pursuit of the risk-free tends to pass the initiative to adversaries who believe they can escalate with no fear of American reprisal — see Russia and China. That is the freelance world we now live in. Syria is the American sin of omission par excellence, a diabolical complement to the American sin of commission in Iraq — two nations now on the brink of becoming ex-nations.

A pivotal moment came in 2013 when Obama was on the verge of a military response to Assad for crossing the American “red line” on chemical weapons. The British Parliament had voted against participation. Obama spoke to David Cameron, the British prime minister, who explained the situation. He spoke to François Hollande, the French president, who said France stood shoulder-to-shoulder with America. Targets had been identified. A long meeting of Obama’s top advisers was held on Friday, Aug. 30. The consensus was that the British vote did not change the calculus for action. The president asked if he had the constitutional authority to go ahead. He was told he did. When the meeting broke up, military action was imminent.

Then the president went for a now famous walk and in effect changed his mind. As a result, America’s word is worth less in the world. Syria could not be worse off than it is. “When your strongest asset, your military, is not ready to engage, people will factor you out,” Vali Nasr, the dean of the John Hopkins University Paul H. Nitze School of International Studies, told me.

But could it have been otherwise? American power in 2015 is not American power in 1990. Hyper-connectivity and the rise of the rest will constrain any president even if the United States, as Hillary Clinton put it, is not Denmark.

Suppose — that word — Obama had been frank and said: “My job is to reduce the footprint of America in a changed world and empower other countries to do more.” That’s a total sinker in American politics.

It’s unthinkable because most Americans are still hard-wired to American exceptionalism, the notion that America is not America if it gives up on spreading liberty. So it becomes hard to find a foreign-policy language that’s aligned to reality but does not smack of “declinism” — fatal for any politician. Republican bloviating about “weakling” Obama notwithstanding, any future president will face this foreign-policy dilemma: The distance between America’s idea of itself and what it can plausibly achieve is widening.

That said, I believe Obama has sold America short. The foreign-policy pendulum that swings between expansiveness and retrenchment has swung too far. His shift from indispensable power to indispensable partner has backfired when partner after partner — the Afghan Army, the Iraqi Army — has proved ineffective. The United States is not even at the Minsk table on the Ukraine crisis. Germany is.

“Just do it” might have served Obama better at times than “What next?” Between paralysis and 350,000 troops on the ground there are options. Not every intervention is a slippery slope. The question, post-Syria, is whether the next president can make American power credible enough to stop this crisis or another in the Middle East, the Baltics, or the South China Sea, from spiraling out of control.

And the rattling of sabers and swinging of dicks continues.  Just about the only thing you need to know about Mr. Cohen is that he was a supporter of the Iraq war.  Now here’s Ms. Collins:

So, Hillary Clinton. Skipping down the street. Sun is shining. A small and brightly colored bird is perching on her shoulder. Look — is that a rainbow?

Wow, what a good month she’s having. Certainly she’s due, by the sheer laws of probability. Nobody has as many bad months as Hillary Clinton. But this is really one heck of a run. Do you think there’s been an intervention? I just looked up a magic spell for “achieving a dream job” and it involves candles, cinnamon incense and bergamot oil. Just saying.

She had a great debate Tuesday night. Her main opponent, Bernie Sanders, said America was sick and tired of the damned email thing! This is actually classic Sanders, who combines persistent truth-telling with extreme crankiness. But convenient as all get-out for Clinton, who did an excellent job herself on most of the questions. In a perfect world she wouldn’t have said “I represented Wall Street,” but all in all, a home run.

And think of all the other stuff that’s been falling her way. She aced her spot on “Saturday Night Live.” This sort of thing is actually not all that tough for politicians — you just have to look sort of human. On the other hand, it’s hard to imagine Ted Cruz playing a sympathetic bartender.

And there’s Benghazi. The Republican-controlled House investigative committee that’s scheduled to grill her next week is beset by every disaster short of a plague of locusts. First House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy went on TV and utterly ruined the committee’s credibility by suggesting its purpose was to destroy Clinton’s presidential campaign.

The bad juju kept spreading. McCarthy dropped out of the race for speaker of the House, leaving the Republican majority in disarray and chaos. Maybe Clinton has been using that Macbeth recipe, the one involving eye of newt.

Then a former employee of the investigative committee popped up out of nowhere claiming he had been fired because he didn’t want to spend all of his time looking for ways to destroy Hillary Clinton. Double the newts and don’t hold back on the toe of frog.

A Times story by Eric Lipton, Noam Scheiber and Michael Schmidt explored the committee’s $4.5 million, 17-month history and was full of fascinating details beginning with the planned interviews that never occurred and hearings that never happened. Meanwhile, according to the aggrieved ex-employee, some staffers used their spare time to form a gun-buying club, while members held “wine Wednesdays” at which they sipped from glasses labeled “Glacial Pace.”

The committee leaders could, of course, still come down hard on Clinton. But if they do, you have to hope at some point she’ll bring up the guns and wine.

Right now, the Clinton campaign is still in the post-debate glow. More viewers watched it than the season premiere of “The Walking Dead”! People, when you are depressed about the state of the nation, think about the fact that more people wanted to see Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders on CNN than tuned in for the most popular zombie TV series in history.

Clinton is almost always good in debates — she hit a question about Carly Fiorina’s opposition to paid family leave out of the park — and it didn’t hurt to be a woman surrounded by four crabby-looking men, only one of whom seemed to have any actual excuse for being there. Some people felt the high point was Sanders’s denouncing the email questions, but I personally treasure the moment when Lincoln Chafee called himself “a block of granite.”

Sanders did fine. In fact, he seemed to win the focus groups, and small donors poured in a new font of money. The country deserves a two-person debate between him and Clinton, maybe just about the financial industry. The next morning we would be discussing the Glass-Steagall Act from coast to coast, which would definitely make “The Walking Dead” ratings story pale by comparison.

But the first-debate danger for Clinton was mainly that one of the lesser-known candidates would come out of left field and throw her off balance, with jabs about ethics and emails. It is hard to express the degree to which that did not happen. Martin O’Malley, the former governor of Maryland, who was the original favorite to be Guy Who Gives Hillary a Run, looked at times as if he wanted to cry. The next morning O’Malley sent out a mass mailing announcing that the debate “wasn’t about me” but instead about … the death penalty.

It was possibly the weirdest campaign email I have ever seen in my life. Maybe O’Malley got caught up by the Hillary Clinton success spell. We’ll know it’s real next week if they open the Benghazi hearing and the Capitol starts to levitate.

And another one’s in the bag…  In the comments “Meredith” from NYC had this to say:  “Sanders ‘extreme crankiness’ has to be compulsively mentioned, even when ‘he did fine’? Thanks. Yes, HC did well, but not THAT well.  I don’t get why there’s an obvious NY Times bandwagon going on. First it was all dissing Sanders and now all rah rah Hillary. All alike. Can’t there be some variation? Some issue discussion instead of just horse race?  All the news that’s fit to print? Or all the news that’s fit for —what? Cable TV? The Web?  Readers might like to know, what do the op ed columnists think of fair wealth tax rates, a financial transaction tax, reversing Citizens United, restoring regulations, and how to finance college tuition—just to name a few. Is it verboten to discuss unions and min wage? Is it too much of a stretch to switch to these from the horse race, once in a while?   This is the nation’s most prestigious and authoritative newspaper? Seems as the quality of our campaigns declines, so does our media coverage.  Of course the Dems had a better debate than Gop—anything would be better. If the inmates of an insane asylum staged a debate for who would be president of the inmate association—it would sound like the Republican debates!  Did the decline in media start with television changing over to news infotainment, and cable TV 24 hour blather to fill air time, then the web and instant trendiness and click bait? Then the newspapers, trying for revenue, follow along? Will this get worse? What could reverse it? It’s big money in politics of course.”

Collins, solo

October 10, 2015

Mr. Nocera is off today, so Ms. Collins has the place to herself.  In “House Speaker Chaos Crisis Inferno” she says John Boehner’s leaving, theories abound on why Kevin McCarthy no longer wants the job, and why isn’t there a campaign to give Tom Hanks the gavel?  Here she is:

The Republican majority in the House of Representatives can’t pick a new speaker. It’s hell! Double-disaster! If things don’t get resolved the whole party could fragment, possibly creating an opportunity for the long-awaited resurrection of the Whigs.

The current debacle began when Kevin McCarthy, who was supposed to succeed Speaker John Boehner, announced “we need a new face” and suddenly bowed out. Since no one in Washington really believes we need new faces, particularly when the physiognomy in question is their own, there are other possible reasons for McCarthy’s departure:

1) Donald Trump made him quit. We have only one source for this theory, which is Guess Who. (“They’re giving me a lot of credit for that because I said you really need somebody very, very tough and very smart.”)

Jeb Bush, for what it’s worth, expressed surprised — nay, near-astonishment — about McCarthy’s announcement. The son and brother of former presidents then added that Washington “seems so removed from everyday life. It’s just — they talk about things that — they talk in language with all the acronyms and stuff that doesn’t make any sense.” People, didn’t you think these candidates would be better by now? Or gone?

2) Conservatives threatened to blow the whistle on some kind of sex scandal. All we know for sure is that Representative Walter Jones of North Carolina — the guy who made his name by demanding that French fries in the House cafeteria be renamed “freedom fries” — sent a letter to what’s left of the party leadership, saying nobody should run for speaker “if there are any misdeeds he has committed since joining Congress that will embarrass himself … if they become public.”

We will now stop to estimate what percentage of the members of Congress have done something in private that they would not like the world to know. No wonder nobody wants the job.

3) The Freedom Caucus is screwing everything up. This is a group of about 40 conservative Republicans, including some who are so stone-cold crazy that you have probably heard of them even though they are otherwise totally unproductive lawmakers from states other than your own. Their candidate for speaker is Representative Daniel Webster. He is not the Daniel Webster who was a leader of the Whig Party in the 19th century, although I believe I speak for many in saying that Daniel Webster would be a breath of fresh air. This Daniel Webster, who has been in Congress for a whopping five years, is a former speaker of the House in Florida.

Question: Wait a minute! Wasn’t Senator Marco Rubio speaker of the House in Florida?

Answer: Yes. Florida has a super-strict term limits law and practically everybody in the state is a former speaker of the House.

Personally, I hope that if we have to have a new leader from the Freedom Caucus, it’s Representative Raúl Labrador of Idaho. Just because … Speaker Labrador.

But there are other options — like Newt Gingrich! It turns out you don’t have to actually be in Congress to be elected speaker of the House. AndNewt said in a radio interview that if the Republicans came and begged for his leadership, it would be like “when George Washington came out of retirement, because there are moments you can’t avoid.”

Coming soon: Gingrich Crossing the Delaware.

The speaker of the House can be anybody. The Republicans could just pick a popular celebrity. Think how much more pleasant it would be hearing that the government had just shut down if Tom Hanks was the one breaking the news.

The one person Republicans are begging to run for speaker is Representative Paul Ryan. Everyone seems to feel he could bring the party together. It’s true he did once work out a bipartisan budget deal with Senator Patty Murray of Washington, but that was Patty Murray. You try pulling it off with Raúl Labrador.

Ryan said he was unable to accept the most impossible and politically poisonous job in the country because he wants to spend quality time with his children. This is a commendable position, although we would be more impressed if he were using it to turn down a job as, say, chairman of Goldman Sachs or ambassador to France.

If the Republicans can’t find a new speaker, John Boehner will probably hang around. He could make a deal with Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi to raise the debt ceiling and pass a budget before he leaves. The Freedom Caucus would be like maddened, blood-crazed zombies, but Boehner wouldn’t care because he’d be on his way to Florida to play golf and get … tan.

Good old John Boehner. Who knew? There was a time when we tended to snigger when his name came up, but no more, no more. In this Washington, the man is a veritable Pericles of Athens.


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