Archive for the ‘Collins’ Category

Kristof and Collins

March 26, 2015

In “An Unsettling Complicity” Mr. Kristof points out that it’s not a coincidence that Angola is a center for malnutrition and child mortality as well as rampant corruption.  In “When Nancy Met Johnny” Ms. Collins asks a question:  When it comes to the ways of Washington, when should our elected representatives just make it happen?  Here’s Mr. Kristof, writing from Luanda, Angola:

There are parasites of all kinds in poor countries.

One variety is intestinal, the worms that afflict countless children. In a hospital here in Angola, nurses pointed to a little girl named Marcelina, who they said was at risk of dying from anemia caused by worms and malnutrition. She had so many worms she was spitting them up.

The other kind of parasite afflicting Angolan children is the crooked official, often working with Western executives. It’s not a coincidence that Angola is a center for both kinds of parasites.

“Much of the health care budget gets stolen,” Rafael Marques de Morais, an investigative journalist in Angola, told me. “The biggest problem in this country is corruption.”

When officials pocket health care funds, Marques de Morais noted, children suffer. Likewise, doctors and nurses sometimes take medicines from their clinics and sell them in the markets. At the first street stall I went to, I found donated Novartis anti-malaria medicine for sale — even though it was marked “not for retail sale.”

What unsettles me is the Western role in this corruption. Western oil companies and banks work closely with Angolan officials, enabling the kleptocracy, and the United States and other governments mostly avert their eyes from the corruption, repression and humanitarian catastrophe.

A generation ago, the United States supported a brutal warlord, Jonas Savimbi, in Angola’s civil war. He lost. Now, because of oil interests, we have allied ourselves with the corrupt and autocratic winner, President José Eduardo dos Santos, in a way that also will also be remembered with embarrassment.

Secretary of State John Kerry visited for two days last year, and, in December, he hailed “the great dividends of our partnership with Angola.” He and other officials have enveloped Angola in a big hug.

“Publicly, the U.S. is mute, or at most tepid, when it comes to the crushing state repression,” noted Leslie Lefkow of Human Rights Watch.

Tom Burgis of The Financial Times has a powerful new book, “The Looting Machine,” asserting that firms, including Goldman Sachs and Carlyle Group, backed an oil company called Cobalt in investing in oil operations in which Angolan officials secretly held stakes worth staggering sums.

Likewise, American oil companies like ExxonMobil, Chevron and ConocoPhillips are active in Angola. Groups like the One Campaign have pushed to require international oil companies to disclose sums paid to governments so that the money can be tracked — increasing the chance that it makes it into state coffers and not private pockets. Europe and Canada are requiring their companies to make these disclosures.

But the American Petroleum Institute is lobbying hard to water down disclosure requirements. The oil industry apparently seeks to sustain an opaque system that has allowed the Angolan president’s family to earn billions even as the country ranks No. 1 worldwide in child mortality rates.

American executives argue that it’s naïve to hold them to international standards when they’re competing with, say, Chinese companies, which excel at paying bribes. Chinese companies are everywhere in Angola; one Chinese executive estimated that 100,000 Chinese now work in the country. But, in this case, Europe and Canada are trying to raise standards. So let’s not be China!

The way to help children like Marcelina, or the 150,000 who die each year in Angola, is not just to hand out medicines. It’s to hold Angola’s leaders accountable so that they use oil money to buy deworming medicine and not $2,000-a-bottle Dom Pérignon. It’s to support those brave Angolans like Marques de Morais who are trying to improve governance.

Marques de Morais has tracked $3 billion accumulated by President dos Santos’s daughter, the $13 million refurbishment of the presidential palace, the Lexus LX 570 luxury S.U.V.’s given to each member of Parliament — all at a time when children aren’t consistently getting five-cent deworming pills.

I’m honored to be in the same profession as Marques de Morais. He went on trial Tuesday for criminal defamation and could face years in prison; if the United States wants to signal that it cares about corruption, Secretary Kerry could tweet his support and the American ambassador could invite Marques de Morais to a very public lunch.

The last time Marques de Morais was imprisoned, in the 1990s, he said he was released only when the United States ambassador to the United Nations at the time, Richard Holbrooke, visited Angola and insisted on seeing Marques de Morais — in prison if necessary. Angola hurriedly freed him.

In other words, we have influence, if we’re willing to use it. And when children are spitting up worms and a country ranks No. 1 in child mortality worldwide, let’s exercise that influence rather than remaining complicit.

Now here’s Ms. Collins:

Today, concerned citizens, we will consider when we want our elected representatives to just throw in the towel and get something done.

This comes up less often than you might think. On Wednesday, for instance, members of the House of Representatives had a choice between casting a meaningless “no” vote on a budget bill or supporting a plan that fails to do anything positive, including, um, add up.

The budget is not a real law so much as a blueprint of where the majority party stands. This year, the Republican majority in the House is in favor of putting a ton of new money into defense without actually paying for it. Plus cutting programs that help poor people, and ending Medicare as we know it for Americans now under 56.

Grab the picket signs, 55-year-olds. Once again, they’re out to get you.

The bill I’m thinking of is different. It’s a bipartisan plan cooked up by John Boehner and Nancy Pelosi. (Question: What do you imagine when you think of those two cooking? Macbeth or Cupcake Wars?)

The subject was another fiscal cliff. Next week, Medicare payments to doctors are scheduled to drop by 21 percent. The formula for reimbursement is all screwed up, and Congress is always having to put in a last-minute fix. But this bill does not just kick the can down the road. It actually solves the problem. It fixes the formula and pays for the solution by raising the cost of Medicare for the wealthiest recipients. Plus, it’s got money for community health clinics and the CHIP health care program for children.

Boehner and Pelosi kept their negotiations supersecret, but, when they unveiled their bill, the House members seemed pretty darned happy. The Rules Committee approved it on Wednesday with a voice vote, and much self-congratulations.

“Genuine bipartisanship.”

“A kumbaya moment.”

“This bill is not perfect.” (Lawmakers only call something “not perfect” when they’re seriously trying to resolve a problem. Otherwise, it’s the most wonderful and important piece of legislation in a decade, and it turns out they’re repealing Obamacare again.)

You know there’s a catch, right? Well, the Senate Democrats hate it.

They hate the fact that the children’s health program, which they’ve been working on extending for another four years, will be extended for only two. “The Democrats are going to stick together here,” Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio, told The Times. “I don’t see how you say yes to doctors and no to 10 million children.”

And they hate that the bill includes the Hyde amendment, banning federal funding for abortions. This is a particularly sore point. “Our goal is to repeal Hyde,” said Dawn Laguens, the executive vice president of Planned Parenthood. “It’s bad for women; it hurts their health; it damages poor women, in particular, and this is an unnecessary compromise.”

Laguens is certainly right about the Hyde amendment being terrible, and you’d be shocked if she felt differently about the bill. Planned Parenthood’s job is to support women’s reproductive choices, not keep the Medicare program from being messed up.

But the Hyde amendment has been in appropriations for decades. It’s pretty much chiseled in stone. The pro-choice caucus in the House supports the health care bill, which the members have concluded makes no change in the status quo.

“I don’t like it,” grumbled Representative Alcee Hastings, a Florida Democrat, in the Rules Committee meeting. But, he told the group, if Louise Slaughter, the pro-choice caucus co-chair, was satisfied “and Nancy Pelosi is satisfied, then I guess I should shut up.”

Most of the Senate Democrats seem to have gone from declaring war to grumbling under their breath. You can understand why they’re miserable. Some of them have been working on these health issues for years, and all of a sudden they discover that Pelosi and Boehner have made a secret deal without giving them the least bit of input. It is yet another bruising wound in the greatest enmity in Washington, which is not Republicans versus Democrats but House members versus senators.

Also, there was that unfortunate situation last week when the Senate Democrats bottled up a bill to help the victims of human trafficking because they discovered a tiny clause expanding the rules against funding for abortion. It was a totally righteous battle, except for the part where the Democrats had failed to notice the language was in the bill until the last minute. But now everyone is dug in, and if the Boehner-Pelosi bill passes, the senators will be helping the doctors before they help the sex-trafficking victims.

So what would you do, people? I’d vote for throwing in the towel. When you’re in the minority, there’s a limit to how good any deal is going to look. Doing anything that’s a little bit more than desperate paddling is an achievement these days. The Senate ought to pass the bill. Just don’t call it a kumbaya moment.

Collins, flying solo

March 21, 2015

Mr. Nocera is off today, so Ms. Collins has the place to herself.  She asks some questions in “A Woman’s Place Is on the $20:”  If Andrew Jackson were replaced on the $20 bill with a woman, who should it be? Eleanor Roosevelt? Sojourner Truth? Make your nominations heard!  Here she is:

You may have heard that there’s a movement afoot to kick Andrew Jackson off the $20 bill and replace him with a woman. Finally, we’ve got a current event that’s not depressing.

The only woman who has ever shown up on American paper currency — not counting Lady Liberty — is Martha Washington, who starred on an 1886 silver certificate. The fact that it was Martha adds insult to injury. She was an excellent first lady, but her exceptional fame is tied to the ancient idea that the greatest women were simply the ones married to the greatest men. (An alternative theory was that the greatest women were the mothers of the greatest men, and George Washington’s mother was equally celebrated, even though her son found her extremely irritating.)

Now, a website called “Women on 20s” has posted biographies of 15 notable women in American history and invited visitors to vote for a female face to put in Jackson’s place. The goal is to get the job done by the anniversary of women’s suffrage in 2020.

“Oh, my gosh! We’re just going crazy here,” said Susan Ades Stone, who has been running the project along with Barbara Ortiz Howard, a New York businesswoman. Things do sound satisfyingly hectic. The vote total recently passed 100,000; the overstressed website has gotten balky; and Stone, a journalist, has been on the phone so incessantly her husband has temporarily left home.

Amazing this idea hasn’t come up sooner. “Australians have a man on one side of each note and a woman on the other,” said Matthew Wittmann of the American Numismatic Society. “It’s pretty remarkable we can’t find a woman for any denomination.”

The U.S. Treasury hasn’t changed the faces on the bills since 1929, when Andrew Jackson elbowed out Grover Cleveland on the $20. Why, you may be asking yourself, did they pick Jackson? And why was Grover Cleveland there to begin with? Nobody seems to know.

Among the bills that are circulating now, the featured faces are all founding fathers (Washington, Jefferson, Hamilton, Franklin) plus Jackson, Lincoln and Ulysses Grant, who graces the $50 bill. “Women on 20s” picked Jackson to depose mainly because of his horrific history with Native Americans, although there’s also the rather blissful note that Jackson disapproved of paper currency.

The nominees for replacements were chosen from a list of 100 women by jurists who were asked to consider both achievement and obstacles overcome. That tends to weigh the choices toward political warriors — like Rosa Parks, Eleanor Roosevelt, Margaret Sanger — rather than artists or athletes.

Recently The Times’s Room for Debate let experts name their favorites. Gloria Steinem picked Sojourner Truth, the escaped slave turned abolitionist orator. “I’m not sure Sojourner Truth would want to be on the $20 bill, but I would like her to be better known — by any means necessary,” she said.

Actually, I’d sort of love to see Gloria Steinem on a $20 bill, but you aren’t eligible to star on American currency until you’re dead. Also, she has mixed feelings about how much of an honor it is to appear on money. “For a while I thought we should just put the Koch brothers on and be done with it,” she said over the phone Friday.

But this isn’t the New Hampshire primary. It’s more like a national post-graduate course in women’s history. One of the best parts about the “Women on 20s” process is that it gives you a chance to complain about people who aren’t in the final 15. Matthew Wittmann thinks Amelia Earhart might be a good contender. Steinem wanted a Native American, or in her words, “a woman who was here before all those bonkers, hierarchical, monotheistic, Europeans arrived.”

The Native American issue looms large when it comes to replacing Jackson, who sent the Cherokee Nation on the Trail of Tears. Lately, Stone said, she and Howard have decided that when they announce their three top vote-getters and ask people to pick a winner, they’re going to add a fourth option: Wilma Mankiller, the first female chief of the Cherokee Nation. (“People felt it would be poetic justice.”)

If I could add a nominee it might be Angelina Grimke, the great abolitionist orator. Or Sybil Ludington, who rode through New York one night in 1777 warning her countrymen the British were coming. (Just like Paul Revere, except Sybil was 16, and rode twice as far.) Or Margaret Brent, who used her business acumen to save the colony of Maryland from being destroyed by mercenary soldiers in 1647.

Or maybe Elizabeth Jennings, the black New Yorker who sued the trolley company that tossed her off a whites-only car in 1854 — a court action that led to the desegregation of mass transit in the city 100 years before Rosa Parks.

But then, of course, you don’t want to pass up Rosa Parks. There are thousands of possibilities. Nominate among yourselves.

Blow, Friedman, Kristof and Collins

March 19, 2015

In “Stop Playing the ‘Race Card’ Card” Mr. Blow says people who claim that certain accusations of racism are exaggerated seek to do what they condemn: shut down the debate with a scalding-hot charge.  The Moustache of Wisdom has another question in “Bibi Will Make History:”  How is the rest of the world going to react to an Israeli government that rejects a two-state solution and employs anti-Arab dog whistles to get elected?  By cutting off aid would be a start…  In “Deadliest Country For Kids” Mr. Kristof says oil and diamonds give Angola a wealth that is rare in sub-Saharan Africa, yet it has the highest rate of under-5 child mortality in the world.  Ms. Collins says “Oh, No! It’s a New Senate Low!”  But she says there is good news to share, too. The House has been on a roll, if you overlook some a terrible budget proposal and assaults on hapless poor people.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

So, Starbucks’ chief executive, Howard Schultz, wants us to serve the country coffee and a race dialogue.

This week Schultz announced that the chain’s baristas would have the option to write the words “race together” on cups of coffee and engage customers in a racial dialogue.

The suspicion and ridicule of this idea has been swift and broad. It has been mocked as impractical, hypocritical and even opportunistic.

Kate Taylor wrote in Entrepreneur Magazine:

“Tone-deaf and self-aggrandizing aspects of Race Together haven’t helped in establishing a strong base for employees to build on. Starbucks’ press photos for the event appear to feature only white employees. The press release on Race Together bizarrely leads with the subheading ‘It began with one voice,’ painting Howard Schultz as a visionary progressive for daring to discuss race — something others, especially people of color, haven’t exactly been silent on in recent months or the last couple centuries.”

And yet, I would like to assume that the motive is noble even if something about it feels a shade off. Wanting to do something — even this — has to have a greater moral currency than resigning oneself to doing nothing.

So, in that spirit, let me start this portion of the conversation with this: Let’s all agree to strike the phrase “playing the race card” from all future conversation.

I was reminded of how toxic this term is in an interview, published this week, that former Vice President Dick Cheney did with Playboy magazine.

The interviewer asked:

“At different points, President Barack Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder have suggested that racism is a factor in criticism of them. Is there any truth in that?”

Cheney responded:

“I think they’re playing the race card, in my view. Certainly we haven’t given up — nor should we give up — the right to criticize an administration and public officials. To say that we criticize, or that I criticize, Barack Obama or Eric Holder because of race, I just think it’s obviously not true. My view of it is the criticism is merited because of performance — or lack of performance, because of incompetence. It hasn’t got anything to do with race.”

Before we dissect the use of “playing the race card here,” let’s deal with the questioner and the answer more broadly. They both trade in racial absolutes, which is a mistake and diverts from honest dialogue.

In January of 2014, President Obama told The New Yorker:

“There’s no doubt that there’s some folks who just really dislike me because they don’t like the idea of a black President.” But he continued, “Now, the flip side of it is there are some black folks and maybe some white folks who really like me and give me the benefit of the doubt precisely because I’m a black President.”

Furthermore, he explained:

“You can be somebody who, for very legitimate reasons, worries about the power of the federal government — that it’s distant, that it’s bureaucratic, that it’s not accountable — and as a consequence you think that more power should reside in the hands of state governments. But what’s also true, obviously, is that philosophy is wrapped up in the history of states’ rights in the context of the civil-rights movement and the Civil War and Calhoun. There’s a pretty long history there. And so I think it’s important for progressives not to dismiss out of hand arguments against my Presidency or the Democratic Party or Bill Clinton or anybody just because there’s some overlap between those criticisms and the criticisms that traditionally were directed against those who were trying to bring about greater equality for African-Americans.”

Attorney General Holder for his part told ABC News in July:

“You know, people talking about taking their country back. … There’s a certain racial component to this for some people. I don’t think this is the thing that is a main driver.”

Neither man was dealing in absolutes, but in nuance. The deliberate use of “some” people in both cases blunts the kind of retort that Cheney delivers. And there is empirical evidence that “some” people is correct here. In a New York Times/CBS News poll taken in 2008 when Obama was running for office, 19 percent of respondents said they didn’t think most people they knew would vote for a black presidential candidate and 6 percent said that they wouldn’t vote for one themselves.

Cheney’s attempt at blanket absolution from what was not a blanket accusation holds no weight.

But now, back to that detestable phrase, “playing the race card.”

I have a particular revulsion for this phrase because of all that it implies: that people often invoke race as a cynical ploy to curry favor, or sympathy, and to cast aspersions on the character of others.

Maybe there are some people who do this, but I have never known a single person to admit to it or be proven to have done it.

Sure, living in a society still replete with racial bias can make one hypersensitive, to the point of seeing it even when it isn’t there. But this to me isn’t evidence of malicious intent, but rather the manifestation of chronic injury.

Furthermore, there are surely still people like the ones Booker T. Washington described:

“There is another class of coloured people who make a business of keeping the troubles, the wrongs, and the hardships of the Negro race before the public. Having learned that they are able to make a living out of their troubles, they have grown into the settled habit of advertising their wrongs — partly because they want sympathy and partly because it pays. Some of these people do not want the Negro to lose his grievances, because they do not want to lose their jobs.”

But those who can realize a profit pale in comparison to the vast majorities of regular people trying to get by. To confuse the two is a deliberate deception.

It is one thing to debate the presence of racial motive in a circumstance, but it is quite another to suggest that people who suspect a racial component are exploiting some mythological, vaunted position and prerogative of aggrieved groups or exerting the exclusionary authority of the dominant group.

And furthermore, what other forms of discrimination are so routinely diminished and delegitimized in this way — cast as a game, a tactic or a stratagem?

The truth is that the people who accuse others — without a shred of evidence — of “playing the race card,” claiming that the accusations of racism are so exaggerated as to dull the meaning of the term, are themselves playing a card. It is a privileged attempt at dismissal.

They seek to do the very thing they condemn: shut down the debate with a scalding-hot charge.

Now, about that coffee…

Next up we have TMOW:

Well, it’s pretty clear now: Benjamin Netanyahu is going to be a major figure in Israeli history — not because he’s heading to become the longest-serving Israeli prime minister, but because he’s heading to be the most impactful. Having won the Israeli elections — in part by declaring that he will never permit a two state-solution between Israelis and Palestinians — it means Netanyahu will be the father of the one-state solution. And the one-state solution means that Israel will become, in time, either a non-Jewish democracy or Jewish non-democracy.

Yes, sir, Bibi is going to make history. And the leader in the world who is most happy that Netanyahu ran on — and won on — a one-state solution is the Supreme Leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Oh, my goodness. They must have been doing high-fives and “Allahu akbars” all night in the ruling circles of Tehran when they saw how low Bibi sank to win. What better way to isolate Israel globally and deflect attention from Iran’s behavior?

The biggest losers in all of this, besides all the Israelis who did not vote for Netanyahu, are American Jews and non-Jews who support Israel. What Bibi did to win this election was move the Likud Party from a center-right party to a far-right one. The additional votes he got were all grabbed from the other far-right parties — not from the center. When the official government of Israel is a far-right party that rejects a two-state solution and employs anti-Arab dog whistles to get elected, it will split the basic unity of the American Jewish community on Israel. How many American Jews want to defend a one-state solution in Washington or on their college campuses? Is Aipac, the Israel lobby, now going to push for a one-state solution on Capitol Hill? How many Democrats and Republicans would endorse that?

Warning: Real trouble ahead.

You cannot win that dirty and just walk away like nothing happened. In the days before Israelis went to the polls, Netanyahu was asked by the Israeli news site, NRG, if it was true that a Palestinian state would never be formed on his watch as prime minister, Netanyahu replied, “Indeed,” adding: “Anyone who is going to establish a Palestinian state, anyone who is going to evacuate territories today, is simply giving a base for attacks to the radical Islam against Israel.”

This makes null and void his speech in June 2009 at Bar Ilan University, where Netanyahu had laid out a different “vision of peace,” saying: “In this small land of ours, two peoples live freely, side by side, in amity and mutual respect. Each will have its own flag, its own national anthem, its own government. Neither will threaten the security or survival of the other.” Provided the Palestinian state recognizes Israel’s Jewish character and accepts demilitarization, he added, “We will be ready in a future peace agreement to reach a solution where a demilitarized Palestinian state exists alongside the Jewish state.”

Now, if there are not going to be two states for two peoples in the area between the Jordan River and Mediterranean, then there is going to be only one state — and that one state will either be a Jewish democracy that systematically denies the voting rights of about one-third of its people or it will be a democracy and systematically erodes the Jewish character of Israel.

Just look at the numbers: In 2014, the estimated Palestinian Arab population of the West Bank was 2.72 million, with roughly 40 percent under the age of 14. There are already 1.7 million Israeli Arabs citizens — who assembled all their parties together in the latest election onto one list and came in third. Together, the West Bankers and Israeli Arabs constitute 4.4 million people. There are 6.2 million Israeli Jews. According to statistics from the Jewish Virtual Library, the Jewish population of Israel grew by 1.7 percent over the past year, and the Arab population grew by 2.2 percent.

If there is only one state, Israel cannot be Jewish and permit West Bank Palestinians to exercise any voting rights alongside Israeli Arabs. But if Israel is one state and wants to be democratic, how does it continue depriving West Bankers of the vote — when you can be sure they will make it their No. 1 demand.

I doubt, in the heat of the campaign, Netanyahu gave any of this much thought when he tossed the two-state solution out the window of his campaign bus in a successful 11th-hour grab for far-right voters. To be sure, he could disavow his two-state disavowal tomorrow. It would not surprise me. He is that cynical. But, if he doesn’t — if the official platform of his new government is that there is no more two-state solution — it will produce both a hostile global reaction and, in time, a Palestinian move in the West Bank for voting rights in Israel, combined with an attempt to put Israel in the docket in the International Criminal Court. How far is the Obama administration going to go in defending Israel after it officially rejects a two-state solution? I don’t know. But we’ll be in a new world.

No one on the planet will enjoy watching Israel and America caught on the horns of this dilemma more than the clerical regime in Tehran. It is a godsend for them. Iran’s unstated position is that the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem must be perpetuated forever. Because few things serve Iran’s interests more than having radical Jewish settlers in a never-ending grinding conflict with Palestinians — and the more bloodshed and squashing of any two-state diplomatic options the better. Because, in that conflict, the Palestinians are almost always depicted as the underdogs and the Israelis as the bullies trying to deprive them of basic rights.

From Iran’s point of view, it makes fantastic TV on Al Jazeera, and all the European networks; it undermines Israel’s legitimacy with the young generation on college campuses around the globe; and it keeps the whole world much more focused on Israeli civil rights abuses against Palestinians rather than the massive civil rights abuses perpetrated by the Iranian regime against its own people.

It is stunning how much Bibi’s actions serve Tehran’s strategic interests.

And that is why I am certain that Benjamin Netanyahu is going to be a historic, very impactful prime minister in Jewish history. I just hope that — somehow — a Jewish democratic Israel survives his tenure.

Next up we have Mr. Kristof, writing from Lubango, Angola:

This is a country laden with oil, diamonds, Porsche-driving millionaires and toddlers starving to death. New Unicef figures show this well-off but corrupt African nation is ranked No. 1 in the world in the rate at which children die before the age of five.

“Child mortality” is a sterile phrase, but what it means here is wizened, malnourished children with twig limbs, discolored hair and peeling skin. Here in Lubango in southern Angola, I stepped into a clinic and found a mother carrying a small child who seemed near death. He was unconscious, his eyes rolling, his skin cold and his breathing labored, so I led the mom to the overburdened nurses.

Just then, 20 feet away, a different mother began screaming. Her malnourished son, José, had just died.

Westerners sometimes think that people in poor countries become accustomed to loss, their hearts calloused and their pain numbed. No one watching that mother beside her dead child could think that — and such wailing is the background chorus in Angola. One child in six in this country will die by the age of five.

That’s only the tip of the suffering. Because of widespread malnutrition, more than one-quarter of Angolan children are physically stunted. Women have a 1-in-35 lifetime risk of dying in childbirth.

In a Lubango hospital, I met a 7-year-old boy, Longuti, fighting for his life with cerebral malaria. He weighed 35 pounds.

His mother, Hilaria Elias, who had already lost two of her four children, didn’t know that mosquitoes cause malaria. When Longuti first became sick, she took him to a clinic, but it lacked any medicine and didn’t do a malaria test. Now Longuti is so sick that doctors say that even if he survives, he has suffered neurological damage and may have trouble walking and speaking again.

Yet kids like Longuti who are seen by a doctor are the lucky ones. Only about 40 percent to 50 percent of Angola’s population has access to the health care system, says Dr. Samson Agbo, a Unicef pediatrics expert.

Angola is a nation of infuriating contradictions. Oil and diamonds give it a wealth that is rare in sub-Saharan Africa, and you see the riches in jewelry shops, Champagnes and $10,000-a-month one-bedroom apartments in the capital, Luanda.

Under the corrupt and autocratic president, José Eduardo dos Santos, who has ruled for 35 years, billions of dollars flow to a small elite — as kids starve.

President dos Santos, whose nation’s oil gives him warm, strong ties to the United States and Europe, hires a public relations firm to promote his rule, but he doesn’t take the simplest steps to help his people. Some of the poorest countries, such as Mauritania and Burkina Faso, fortify flour with micronutrients — one of the cheapest ways possible to save lives — yet dos Santos hasn’t tried that. He invests roughly three times as much on defense and security as on health.

“Children die because there is no medicine,” lamented Alfred Nambua, a village chief in a thatch-roof village on a rutted dirt road near the northern city of Malanje. The village has no school, no latrine, no bed nets. The only drinking water is a contaminated creek an hour’s hike away.

“Now there’s nothing,” said Nambua, 73, adding that life was better before independence in 1975.

“In the colonial period, when I was sick, they were afraid I would die and gave me good care,” he said, and he pretended to shiver in imitation of malaria. “Now when I’m sick, no one cares if I die.”

Statisticians say that Angola’s child mortality is, in fact, declining — but achingly slowly.

“Death in this country is normal,” said Dr. Bimjimba Norberto, who runs a clinic in a slum outside the capital. A few doors down, a funeral was beginning for Denize Angweta, a 10-month-old baby who had just died of malaria.

“If I lived in another country, I could still be playing with my daughter,” Denize’s father, Armondo Matuba, said bitterly.

It may get worse. With falling oil prices, the government has proposed a one-third cut in the health budget this year.

I’ve often criticized Western countries for not being more generous with aid. Yet it’s equally important to hold developing countries accountable.

It’s difficult to see why Western countries should continue to donate to Angola and thus let rich Angolans off the hook as they drive Porsches.

There are many ways for a leader to kill his people, and although dos Santos isn’t committing genocide he is presiding over the systematic looting of his state and neglect of his people. As a result, 150,000 Angolan children die annually. Let’s hold dos Santos accountable and recognize that extreme corruption and negligence can be something close to a mass atrocity.

And last but not least we have Ms. Collins:

The United States Senate is worse than ever.

I know this is hard for you to believe, people. But, really, this week was a new bottom. The Senate found itself unable to pass a bill aiding victims of human trafficking, a practice so terrible that it is one of the few subjects on which members of Congress find it fairly easy to work in bipartisan amity.

“This has got to get done for me to continue having faith in this institution,” said Senator Heidi Heitkamp, a North Dakota Democrat who’s particularly concerned about sexual exploitation of Native American women. She has always struck me as one of the more cheerful members of the Senate, so this seems like a bad sign.

Meanwhile, the House of Representatives has passed twelve bills against human trafficking already this year.

Wow, the House is doing great! If you overlook the introduction of a budget that features terrible math and many assaults on hapless poor people, the lower chamber has been on a roll lately. Speaker John Boehner and Nancy Pelosi, the minority leader, rescued the budget for the Department of Homeland Security, and now they’re working out a plan to avoid the next fiscal cliff, which involves keeping Medicare running.

Plus, this week, the Republican majority got rid of disgraced Representative Aaron Schock, who decorated his office as if it was a scene from “Downton Abbey.” In the wake of questions about his mileage reimbursement requests, Schock announced his resignation. Since he had never successfully sponsored any legislation in his six-year congressional career, his greatest legacy may be a reminder that members of the House of Representatives should avoid brightening the workplace with vases of pheasant feathers.

So the House is working on a new fiscal-cliff plan, passed 12 human trafficking bills and subtracted Aaron Schock. Maybe it’s going to become the center of bipartisan cooperation the nation has been waiting for!

O.K., probably not. Anyway, it’s been doing better than the Senate.

At the beginning of the month, the Senate was working on its own anti-trafficking bill, sponsored by Republican John Cornyn of Texas, with several Democratic co-sponsors. The idea was to fine sexual predators and give the money to groups that help sex-trafficking victims.

Sounded promising. The Senate Judiciary Committee had easily approved Cornyn’s bill earlier this year. Then before it reached the floor, someone discovered that it had acquired a clause forbidding the use of the money to provide victims with access to abortions.

“They’re putting poison pills in their own bills!” said Senator Chuck Schumer in a phone interview.

Before we discuss how badly the Republicans behaved, we need to take time out to note that none of the Democrats on the Judiciary Committee seem to have noticed that somewhere along the line, this change had been inserted in the bill. (One senator acknowledged that an aide knew, but never shared the information.)

It was easy to miss, the Democrats contended, being very oblique and supertiny. “Out of a 112-page bill, there is this one sentence,” complained Democrat Dick Durbin.

I believe I speak for many Americans when I say that missing a change in important legislation is excusable only if the Senate Judiciary Committee is suffering from a shortage of lawyers.

No one seemed clear on how the new language got there in the first place, but abortion restriction is not something you casually toss into a bill that you want to pass with support from both parties. It would be as if the Democrats had quietly added a stipulation requiring all trafficking victims be barred from carrying a concealed weapon.

Cornyn argued that it made no difference whatsoever because there were plenty of exemptions that would allow any sexually exploited trafficking victim to qualify for an abortion anyway. That was a good point, except for the part where you wondered why he was so insistent that this allegedly meaningless language be preserved at all costs.

“My wish is that we hadn’t junked that bill up with abortion politics,” said Senator Mark Kirk, a Republican who has to run for re-election next year in Illinois. Many Republicans agreed with him, but in public they dug in their heels. In retaliation, the Democrats brought all progress to a halt with a filibuster.

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who thought he was going to show how to make the Senate work, was irate, and said there would be no vote on Loretta Lynch, President Obama’s attorney general nominee, until Democrats gave in.

Possible theme for the session: “Republicans who can’t lead meet Democrats who can’t read.”

Lynch did get some support from former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who penned a letter urging Republicans to get behind her. When Giuliani is the most sensible voice in the room, there’s not much farther down to go, unless they start bringing in pheasant feathers.

Nocera and Collins

March 14, 2015

Mr. Cohen played the MoDo card and wrote a ridiculous parody letter which I can’t be bothered to put here.  In “Syracuse, Boeheim and the N.C.A.A.” Mr. Nocera has a question:  Is the takedown of a big-team basketball program and its coach just another abuse of power?  Who cares?  It’s bread and circuses…  In “Globe? Warm? Who, Me?” Ms. Collins says the popular response to questions about climate change and global warming seems to be: I’m not a scientist.  Here’s Mr. Nocera:

There are few organizations that can make a mountain out of a molehill like the N.C.A.A. Believe it or not, the scathing report it issued last week, accusing Syracuse University and its basketball coach, Jim Boeheim, of a pattern of cheating, is a pretty good example.

I say “believe it or not” because to read about the report is to get the impression that Boeheim oversaw a program that was incorrigibly corrupt — a “decade-deep sewer,” as Pat Forde of Yahoo Sports characterized it.

This is surely the impression the N.C.A.A. hoped to convey. “Over the course of a decade,” the Committee on Infractions wrote, Syracuse committed violations including “academic fraud, instances of extra benefits,” cash payouts to players, etc. It accused Boeheim of failing to monitor his staff and claimed that the school showed a “lack of control over its athletic program.”

When the N.C.A.A. makes that last accusation, you can be sure it will be accompanied with stiff penalties. Among other things, Syracuse’s basketball team was put on probation for five years. It will lose some scholarships. Boeheim is to be suspended for part of next season, and he has been stripped of more than 100 wins.

I hold no brief for Boeheim. Coaches like him, who are bigger than the universities that employ them, are a problem for anyone who believes that a university’s academic mission is more important than its basketball team. But neither should the N.C.A.A. use its enforcement powers to cut such a coach down to size just because, well, it can. Especially when it hasn’t delivered the goods.

Boeheim appears to have made two terrible personnel moves. In 2005, he hired Stan Kissel to oversee the basketball team’s academic progress. And, in 2009, he recruited a 7-foot-tall Brazilian basketball player named Fab Melo. Kissel appears to have been a bad actor who monitored players’ class work by getting control of the athletes’ email accounts, which he then used to communicate with professors, supposedly without letting the professors know it was him.

Melo, a native Portuguese speaker who still had difficulty with English, was one of those athletes who simply didn’t belong on a university campus — yet another big problem with college sports that the N.C.A.A. is hardly in a position to remedy. Basketball was the only reason he was attending Syracuse.

Halfway through his sophomore season, Melo was declared ineligible because of poor grades. A professor agreed to allow him to submit a paper that might improve his grade and get him back on the court. According to the N.C.A.A., Kissel, along with a receptionist, gave Melo “unauthorized assistance” with the paper, which he submitted the very next day. It appears likely, in fact, that one of them wrote it.

That’s a major transgression, not just of N.C.A.A. rules, but also of Syracuse’s academic standards. The university has not shirked from the seriousness of the offense, describing it as “wrongful conduct.” Both Kissel and the receptionist were let go long before the N.C.A.A. completed its investigation.

What else? Nearly a decade ago, three football players received course credit for an internship that they hadn’t earned. So now we’re up to four cases of academic fraud in 10 years, only one of which was committed by a basketball player. (By comparison, in the 2013-14 school year alone, Syracuse students racked up 184 charges of academic dishonesty.)

Also: Some players were involved in charity benefits without getting approval. A booster was given too many complimentary tickets. Years ago, three players were paid by a local Y.M.C.A. for what the N.C.A.A. says was volunteer work, and at least one of the players insists was a summer job. “On one occasion in 2004,” the report actually says, a coach drove a Syracuse athlete 45 miles. Seriously?

Finally, although the N.C.A.A. believes that several other athletes committed academic fraud, it couldn’t bring that charge because the university, going through the same process it would with any other student, concluded that it didn’t have enough evidence. So instead, the N.C.A.A. tagged the athletes with receiving “extra benefits,” because, you know, something bad might have happened even if it couldn’t be proved. Actual proof has never mattered much in N.C.A.A. investigations.

I have dwelled on this report because it illustrates that despite the blows it has taken recently — in court and elsewhere — the N.C.A.A. remains not only a powerful institution, but one that is all too willing to abuse that power. To nail Syracuse’s basketball program — for who knows what reason — it had to pad one serious 2012 offense with a handful of extraneous, at times silly, allegations that had occurred, here and there, over the course of a decade.

Syracuse, concluded the N.C.A.A., violated the association’s “fundamental core values.” Not really. Very soon, the annual March Madness college basketball tournament will be upon us. The N.C.A.A. will reap somewhere on the order of $800 million. Now, we’re talking core values.

Now here’s Ms. Collins:

This is the time of year when we start to think about global warming. Because the weather is about to get warmer. Please God.

A new angle comes up almost every day. A Harvard professor recently reported that 7,000-year-old mummies in Chile are turning into “black ooze” because the air around them is getting more humid. In California, baby sea lions are in trouble because the ocean is heating up.

Meanwhile, in Florida, there’s a report that state employees have been barred from using the term “climate change.”

Since Florida is drowning in rising tides, you’d think this would be a tough rule to follow. It would be like telling prosecutors in New York not to mention the term “indicted state legislator.” Or banning Texas road crews from ever saying “dead armadillo.”

But, according to the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting, some employees at the Florida Department of Environmental Protection say they have indeed been directed to avoid the terms “global warming” and “climate change,” even when they’re talking about conserving the coastline or the coral reefs. Gov. Rick Scott denies there is any prohibition, and it’s certainly possible his underlings just decided to clamp down on their own, once they became aware of his position.

The governor’s position is to point out that he is “not a scientist” whenever the topic comes up. It’d be a bit tough to follow suit if you are, say, a D.E.P. scientist.

But other people find his approach extremely attractive. Former governor and future presidential candidate Jeb Bush has revealed that he, too, is not a scientist. A spokeswoman told The Wall Street Journal that Bush does believe the climate is changing but he’s not sure about “the extent to which humans contribute.” Also, whatever he concludes is not going to involve “alarmist, far left environmental policies.”

Most of the other potential Republican contenders follow a similar route when they can’t avoid the matter entirely. The one who’s been pressed hardest on global warming recently may be the governor of Wisconsin, Scott Walker, who was at a conservative conference outside of Washington when he was approached by a second grader who wanted to know where he stood.

Walker said he is a former boy scout who “always thought maybe campsites should be cleaner.” I swear.

“Do you care about climate change?” the child pressed. He is the son of an environmental activist, so don’t be expecting this kind of persistence every time a politician takes a grade-school tour.

“Ultimately, to me, I want to make sure that we have all the natural resources as possible moving forward just like I’ve done for everybody in Wisconsin. O.K.?” responded the governor.

Now climate change is perhaps the most important long-term issue the next American president will have to deal with. Our international enemies will come and go; our deficits will rise and fall. But if the atmosphere keeps getting clogged with greenhouse gases, future generations will be too busy with the floods and droughts to care.

If you were seriously thinking about running for president of the United States, wouldn’t this be something you’d want to have studied up on? Have you ever heard anybody say he couldn’t comment on tax policy because he wasn’t an accountant?

These guys don’t act like people who think the scientists are wrong when they say global warming is real, and that human activity creates all or part of the problem. They act like people who don’t want to have to face up to the facts and come up with solutions. Which would involve making the coal and oil companies super unhappy.

They’re sort of like the mayor in “Jaws” who won’t admit there’s a killer shark out there because it’s the start of the town’s tourism season. (“Now I am not a marine biologist …”)

It’s one thing to be a climate-change denier like Senator James Inhofe, the (gasp) chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, who brought a snowball into the Senate to demonstrate his conviction that the Earth is not getting warmer. It’s another to pretend as if it’s O.K. to dodge the whole question.

If you’re a presidential candidate, the only three intellectually honest answers to global warming queries are:

“My thoughts about this are similar to those of my intellectual role model, James Inhofe.”

“Yes, climate change is real, and I will give you my plan for reducing carbon emissions just as soon as my six biggest campaign donors finish slamming the door on their way out.”

“Sure, it’s real. But by the time Miami goes under water, I’ll be dead. So who cares?”

Or you can tell people that the shark might or might not be in the water, and might or might not be hungry, but that this is no time to stop swimming.

Blow, Kristof and Collins

March 12, 2015

In “Hate Takes the Bus” Mr. Blow says so what if they were millennials, and college students to boot? This kind of racism envelops us like a fog.  In “When Liberals Blew It” Mr. Kristof has a question.  He says fifty years ago, Daniel Patrick Moynihan argued presciently that the rise of single-parent households would make poverty more intractable. Have we learned anything since? Well, Nick, we’ve certainly gotten better at shaming poor people (see David Brooks for countless examples).  Ms. Collins says “Hillary Clinton Comes Back” and also has a question:  Is the email crisis a bad start to a 2016 campaign or a preview of the next 20 months?  Gail, it’s completely irrelevant to me.  This life-long Democrat would rather stick bamboo slivers under her fingernails than vote for Hillary Clinton.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

This week, when video was posted showing members of the University of Oklahoma’s chapter of Sigma Alpha Epsilon gleefully engaged in a racist chant on a bus, some people were shocked. Others, like me, were not.

This was just video confirmation of a racism that envelops us like a fog, often just as evanescent and immeasurable.

Some people seemed surprised because these were millennials, and college students to boot. Both because of generational easing and educational enlightenment, weren’t these sorts of things supposed to be vestiges of the past?

After all, as the Pew Research Center put it last year, “Millennials are the most racially diverse generation in American history,” with “some 43 percent of millennial adults” being nonwhite.

A 2010 Pew report found that “almost all millennials accept interracial dating and marriage.” An MTV poll of millennials found that “84 percent say their family taught them that everyone should be treated the same, no matter what their race,” and that 89 percent “do believe that everyone should be treated the same no matter their race.”

But these numbers can be deceiving. They don’t herald an age of egalitarianism as we might think.

As New York magazine pointed out in a January article on its Science of Us site, the problem that obscures some disturbing persistence of racism is that these polls lump all millennials together and don’t separate white millennials from the rest.

The magazine reported the findings of Spencer Piston, an assistant professor of political science at Syracuse University who found that “younger (under-30) whites are just as likely as older ones to view whites as more intelligent and harder-working than African-Americans.”

Furthermore, the magazine printed this exchange:

“ ‘White millennials appear to be no less prejudiced than the rest of the white population,’ Piston told Science of Us in an email, ‘at least using this dataset and this measure of prejudice.’ ”

In the same vein, as data from the Race Implicit Association Test published in the January/February issue of Mother Jones magazine showed, pro-white biases were also strongest among people 65 years old and older, although people 18 to 24 ranked second among the age groups.

It is in this environment of dualities that today’s young people exist, dealing with the growing pains of increasing diversification grinding against unyielding racial attitudes.

And we must acknowledge that the most deleterious effect of racism they face isn’t about hurt feelings or exercises of poor, outdated social graces, but rather about the actual material effects of racism as it suffuses society and becomes embedded in our systems.

Real psychophysical injuries can result from confrontations with overt or even subtle racism. There is a real and worthy conversation taking place in this country now, particularly among young people, around the idea of microaggressions — slight, often unintended discriminatory comments or behaviors.

The idea of racial battle fatigue — that “chronic exposure to racial discrimination is analogous to the constant pressure soldiers face on the battlefield,” as Psych Central put it — is also gaining currency and exposure.

Indeed, as The Atlantic pointed out in 2013:

“A growing literature shows discrimination raises the risk of many emotional and physical problems. Discrimination has been shown to increase the risk of stress, depression, the common cold, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, breast cancer and mortality. Recently, two journals — The American Journal of Public Healthand The Du Bois Review: Social Science Research on Race — dedicated entire issues to the subject. These collections push us to consider how discrimination becomes what the social epidemiologist Nancy Krieger, one of the field’s leaders, terms ‘embodied inequality.’ ”

This says nothing of the bias that can — consciously or unconsciously — influence our policies and procedures in all areas of our lives, including education, policing, the criminal justice system and employment.

Here is where it’s important to recognize how much of an influence the fraternity systems have in these areas.

As a major examination of the United States fraternity system published by The Atlantic last year pointed out:

“Fraternity men make up 85 percent of U.S. Supreme Court justices since 1910, 63 percent of all U.S. presidential cabinet members since 1900 and, historically, 76 percent of U.S. senators [and] 85 percent of Fortune 500 executives.”

If this trend continues — and there is no indication that it won’t — the boys on that bus and others like them will be tomorrow’s leaders, and the attitudes they carry with them out of school and into the wider world will have a real impact on real people’s lives.

(In full disclosure, I pledged a fraternity in college and wrote about that experience in my memoir, including how the noble missions of national organizations can be utterly overshadowed by the destructive, renegade rituals of local chapters.)

This is why the vileness displayed on that bus matters: It was a reflection of the distance that must still be covered, and the rigidity of racism and the casualness of hate. It can wear a smile and be set to a tune.

We have to understand what that hate is. Hate is never about the object of the hate but about what is happening in the mind of the hater. It is in the darkness of that space that fear and ignorance merge and morph. It comes out in an impulse to mark and name, to deny and diminish, to exclude and threaten, to elevate the self by putting down the other.

What happened on that bus was bigger than just that bus; it was a reflection of where we are.

Next up we have Mr. Kristof:

Fifty years ago this month, Democrats made a historic mistake.

Daniel Patrick Moynihan, at the time a federal official, wrote a famous report in March 1965 on family breakdown among African-Americans. He argued presciently and powerfully that the rise of single-parent households would make poverty more intractable.

“The fundamental problem,” Moynihan wrote, is family breakdown. In a follow-up, he explained: “From the wild Irish slums of the 19th-century Eastern seaboard, to the riot-torn suburbs of Los Angeles, there is one unmistakable lesson in American history: a community that allows large numbers of young men to grow up in broken families … never acquiring any stable relationship to male authority, never acquiring any set of rational expectations about the future — that community asks for and gets chaos.”

Liberals brutally denounced Moynihan as a racist. He himself had grown up in a single-mother household and worked as a shoeshine boy at the corner of Broadway and 43rd Street in Manhattan, yet he was accused of being aloof and patronizing, and of “blaming the victim.”

“My major criticism of the report is that it assumes that middle-class American values are the correct values for everyone in America,” protested Floyd McKissick, then a prominent African-American civil rights leader.

The liberal denunciations of Moynihan were terribly unfair. In fact, Moynihan emphasized that slavery, discrimination and “three centuries of injustice” had devastated the black family. He favored job and education programs to help buttress the family.

But the scathing commentary led President Lyndon Johnson to distance himself from the Moynihan report. Scholars, fearful of being accused of racism, mostly avoided studying family structure and poverty.

In 1992, Vice President Dan Quayle stepped into the breach by emphasizing the role of the family in addressing poverty, including a brief reference to Murphy Brown, a television character who was a single mom. Liberals rushed to ridicule Quayle for sexism and outdated moralism, causing politicians to tread this ground ever more carefully.

The taboo on careful research on family structure and poverty was broken by William Julius Wilson, an eminent black sociologist. He has praised Moynihan’s report as “a prophetic document,” for evidence is now overwhelming that family structure matters a great deal for low-income children of any color.

In 2013, 71 percent of black children in America were born to an unwed mother, as were 53 percent of Hispanic children and 36 percent of white children.

Indeed, a single parent is the new norm. At some point before they turn 18, a majority of all American children will likely live with a single mom and no dad.

My point isn’t to cast judgment on nontraditional families, for single parents can be as loving as any. In fact, when one parent is abusive, the child may be better off raised by the other parent alone. And well-off kids often get plenty of support whether from one parent or two.

One kind of nontraditional household does particularly well. One study found that children raised by same-sex couples excelled by some measures, apparently because the parents doted on their children — most gay couples don’t have unwanted children whom they neglect.

Yet Moynihan was absolutely right to emphasize the consequences for low-income children of changing family structure. Partly because there is often only one income coming into a single-parent household, children of unmarried moms are roughly five times as likely to live in poverty as children of married couples.

Causation is difficult to tease from correlation. But efforts to do that suggest that growing up with just one biological parent reduces the chance that a child will graduate from high school by 40 percent, according to an essay by Sara McLanahan of Princeton and Christopher Jencks of Harvard. They point to the likely mechanism: “A father’s absence increases antisocial behavior, such as aggression, rule-breaking, delinquency and illegal drug use.” These effects are greater on boys than on girls.

Conservatives shouldn’t chortle at the evidence that liberals blew it, for they did as well. Conservatives say all the right things about honoring families, but they led the disastrous American experiment in mass incarceration; incarceration rates have quintupled since the 1970s. That devastated families, leading countless boys to grow up without dads.

What can be done?

In line with Moynihan’s thinking, we can support programs to boost the economic prospects for poorer families. We can help girls and young women avoid pregnancy (30 percent of American girls become pregnant by age 19). If they delay childbearing, they’ll be more likely to marry and form stable families, notes Isabel Sawhill of the Brookings Institution.

So let’s learn from 50 years of mistakes. A starting point is to acknowledge the role of families in fighting poverty. That’s not about being a moralistic scold, but about helping American kids.

Oh, I guess he’s been reading Bobo —  “not about being a moralistic scold…”  I wonder if Bobo reads him?  Now here’s Ms. Collins:

Right now you’re probably asking yourself: What am I supposed to do with all this Hillary Clinton stuff? True, I am a concerned citizen, but I have a big deadline at work and a lot of social activities scheduled for the weekend.

We feel your pain, concerned citizen. It’s exhausting. The nation has been obsessed with the Hillary email crisis for more than a week now, but, still, so many unanswered questions.

One of which is: Clinton says she sent and received about 62,000 emails while she was secretary of state. By my extremely rough calculations, that comes down to about 42 messages in and out per day. How is this possible? Wouldn’t the Chelsea wedding alone have used up more than that quota? Don’t her friends mail her funny videos? Doesn’t anybody ever write to ask her to connect on LinkedIn?

Another question is about how a diligent voter is supposed to respond to this whole uproar. Test your political pulse. Would you say that the Hillary press conference on Tuesday was:

A) Maybe not her finest moment.

B) Better than the book tour.

C) Terrible! Awful! She’s going to lose! The campaign will just be one big mess after another! Maybe the Democrats should be looking for a new face!

If your answer is C, then, wow, I can see why you’re upset. However, forget about looking for a new face. New faces are wonderful except that when they start to get old, they can turn into John Edwards or Herman Cain.

Or Scott Walker. The governor of Wisconsin is the new face in the Republican presidential race this year. He became famous with a rousing speech about how he stood up to his state’s public employees. So far, that’s pretty much the end of his persona. When he compared international terrorism to protesting union members, it may be because that’s the only crisis he knows about.

Even Democrats who are comfortable with the lack of newness in the Clinton candidacy have been dismayed about the email matter. The way she handled her communications was the exact opposite of transparency in public service. Particularly the part where she let some unidentified lawyers decide which messages belonged to the government and which ones were private conversations that ought to be expunged from history.

Then Clinton waited too long to respond to the ensuing political crisis. Finally, she held a chaotic press conference at the United Nations next to a big tapestry version of Picasso’s “Guernica,” which has to be the worst possible imagery you want to be associated with when you’re trying to tell the nation that everything’s hunky-dory.

Is this just a bad start or a preview of the next 20 months? Hillary supporters say everything’s fine: Her problems just stem from the fact that she’s a presidential candidate without a presidential campaign. Once she gets a staff in place and makes the announcement — an event that could come any time between Palm Sunday and Mother’s Day — she’ll be organized, focused and happily digging away at the Republicans who sent that snotty letter to the leaders of Iran.

Well, maybe. Sort of. If Hillary had been supported by a campaign staff this week, she definitely would have been doing her press conference alongside a better picture. But nobody’s going to make her into a different candidate in time for the presidential race. It’s like telling your older sister that you’d appreciate it if she’d develop a new personality before the family reunion.

Clinton is both the best and worst retail politician on the national stage. She’s not a gifted orator, and unless she’s coming back from some disaster, her speeches can be a snooze. But she makes terrific contact with average voters when she’s talking with them about boring, important issues. I have a fond memory of an event in New Hampshire early in the 2008 race in which she went on slowly and explicitly about why she wanted to get rid of a Wall Street tax break for financiers known as “carried interest.” It was an eat-your-vegetables kind of moment, but the audience was agog. (When the Clinton campaign launches, watch for the return of this particular crusade against Wall Street. If it doesn’t show up, feel free to throw in the towel. Really, there are limits.)

There won’t be a new Hillary. What voters can hope for is the best possible version of her flawed self. That while there will be messes, she will force herself to be open during the cleanup. That while she might not be a transformative speaker, she will be able to explain how she can take the issues she’s been pursuing for decades and turn them into a plan for serious change.

Also, she should keep building on her talent for holding firm during crises. But it’d be nice to have a little peace in between.

Still, bamboo slivers under the fingernails…

Blow, Kristof and Collins

March 5, 2015

In “The Feds vs. Ferguson” Mr. Blow says the Ferguson Police Department and the municipal courts treated citizens like a revenue stream, violating their constitutional rights in the process.  Mr. Kristof, in “You Think Your Winter Was Rough?”, says through frostbite, blizzards and frozen rivers, Shawn Forry and Justin Lichter did what seemed impossible: hiking from Canada to Mexico on the Pacific Crest Trail in winter.  In “Pearls Before Congress” Ms. Collins asks .adies and gentleman, are you ready for this? She says we have some bipartisan cooperation in Congress!  Here’s Mr. Blow:

On Wednesday, the Department of Justice released the utterly devastating results of its investigation of the Ferguson Police Department.

The report contained charges that the Police Department and the municipal courts treated citizens less like constituents and more like a revenue stream, violating citizens’ constitutional rights in the process.

And it found that this burden was disproportionately borne by the black people in a town that is two-thirds black. This disproportionate weight is exacerbated when people are poor.

As the Justice Department report pointed out:

“Court practices exacerbate the harm of Ferguson’s unconstitutional police practices. They impose a particular hardship upon Ferguson’s most vulnerable residents, especially upon those living in or near poverty. Minor offenses can generate crippling debts, result in jail time because of an inability to pay, and result in the loss of a driver’s license, employment, or housing.”

According to an August Brookings report:

“Between 2000 and 2010-2012, Ferguson’s poor population doubled. By the end of that period, roughly one in four residents lived below the federal poverty line ($23,492 for a family of four in 2012), and 44 percent fell below twice that level.”

The view that emerges from the Justice Department report is that citizens were not only paying a poverty tax, but a pigment tax as the local authorities sought to balance their budgets and pad their coffers on the backs of poor black people.

Perhaps most disturbing — and damning — is actual correspondence in the report where the authorities don’t even attempt to disguise their intent.

Take this passage from the report:

“In March 2010, for instance, the City Finance Director wrote to Chief [Thomas] Jackson that ‘unless ticket writing ramps up significantly before the end of the year, it will be hard to significantly raise collections next year. . . . Given that we are looking at a substantial sales tax shortfall, it’s not an insignificant issue.’ Similarly, in March 2013, the Finance Director wrote to the City Manager: ‘Court fees are anticipated to rise about 7.5%. I did ask the Chief if he thought the PD could deliver 10% increase. He indicated they could try.’”

Furthermore, the report made clear that “officer evaluations and promotions depend to an inordinate degree on ‘productivity,’ meaning the number of citations issued.”

The report read like one about a shakedown gang rather than about city officials.

The police appear to have done what was requested of them.The report puts it this way:

“According to data the City reported to the Missouri State Courts Administrator, at the end of fiscal year 2009, the municipal court had roughly 24,000 traffic cases and 28,000 non-traffic cases pending. As of October 31, 2014, both of those figures had roughly doubled to 53,000 and 50,000 cases, respectively. In fiscal year 2009, 16,178 new cases were filed, and 8,727 were resolved. In 2014, by contrast, 24,256 new offenses were filed, and 10,975 offenses were resolved.”

For context, the population of Ferguson is around 21,000 people, according to the Census Bureau.

Some officers balked at this obscenity, particularly as it related to “imposing mounting penalties on people who will never be able to afford them” — one member repeating the adage “How can you get blood from a turnip?” But “enough officers — at all ranks — have internalized this message that a culture of reflexive enforcement action, unconcerned with whether the police action actually promotes public safety, and unconcerned with the impact the decision has on individual lives or community trust has taken hold within FPD.”

And the racial disparities as charged by the Justice Department are unconscionable.

According to the report, “Ferguson’s approach to law enforcement both reflects and reinforces racial bias” and “there is evidence that this is due in part to intentional discrimination on the basis of race.”

For instance:

“African Americans are more than twice as likely as white drivers to be searched during vehicle stops even after controlling for non-race based variables such as the reason the vehicle stop was initiated, but are found in possession of contraband 26% less often than white drivers, suggesting officers are impermissibly considering race as a factor when determining whether to search.”

Also:

“FPD appears to bring certain offenses almost exclusively against African Americans. For example, from 2011 to 2013, African Americans accounted for 95% of Manner of Walking in Roadway charges, and 94% of all Failure to Comply charges.”

Furthermore:

“Even where FPD officers have legal grounds to stop or arrest, however, they frequently take actions that ratchet up tensions and needlessly escalate the situation to the point that they feel force is necessary.”

This all brings us full circle to the only reason there was an investigation and the only reason this information has been analyzed and presented — the killing of Michael Brown and the protests that followed.

(Darren Wilson first encountered Michael Brown and his friend walking in the street and ordered them to move to the sidewalk, and a scuffle began, and Wilson ultimately shot Brown. By the way, Wilson was also cleared of civil rights violations by the Justice Department on Wednesday.)

Whatever one thinks about the case of the killing and how it was handled in the courts, it is clear that Brown’s death will not be in vain. It is clear that the frustration that poured out onto the streets of Ferguson was not without merit.

Once again, the oppression people feel as part of their lived experiences, and can share only by way of anecdote, is bolstered by data.

When people say “Black Lives Matter,” they’re not referring only to the lives lost, but also to those stunted and controlled by a system of power that sees them as pawns.

Next up we have Mr. Kristof:

In October, two young Americans set off on the most daring and foolhardy wilderness expedition since, oh, maybe Lewis and Clark.

They were trying to become the first people ever to backpack from Canada to Mexico on the Pacific Crest Trail in the dead of winter. Once before, in 1983, two people set out to traverse the trail in winter. They never made it. Their bodies were found a month after they fell off an icy cliff.

A winter thru-hike of the Pacific Crest Trail seemed impossible. The trail is covered by many feet of snow that time of year, and, even if the two explorers managed to find their way, they risked triggering avalanches, plunging through ice into rivers, or simply running out of food while trapped in blizzards.

“People said it was a death sentence,” Shawn Forry, one of the hikers, told me. He had estimated half-jokingly at the start that they had a 17 percent chance of succeeding.

But he spoke to me shortly after he and Justin Lichter reached the Mexican border on Sunday, completing their 2,650-mile odyssey — and surviving frostbite, blizzards, tumbles into frozen rivers and 1,750 consecutive trail miles without encountering a single other hiker.

Perhaps it feels a little self-indulgent to celebrate two guys who took a long walk. But what a walk! Like the 4-minute mile or the free climb of the Dawn Wall at Yosemite, this is something that seemed beyond human capacity — and then humans did it.

So let’s take a break from current affairs and recriminations about human venality to laud a triumph of human strength.

It helped that the two men were enormously experienced. Forry is a wilderness instructorfor Outward Bound. Lichter works on a ski patrol and said he has hiked 35,000 miles, equivalent to nearly one and a half times around Earth. He gave up one long backpack across East Africa when lions were stalking him.

Both Forry and Lichter had hiked the entire Pacific Crest Trail in summer — itself an ultimate test of endurance (fewer people have thru-hiked the full trail than have climbed Mount Everest). But they wanted to see it in another season.

“With the snow, there’s so much natural beauty,” Lichter said. “It’s so peaceful. And the frozen rivers have these strange ice formations.”

They used snowshoes and, in California, skis, while carrying loads of up to 45 pounds, including food (they resupplied every week or so). Winter storms were frequent. When it snowed at night, they would get up every 30 minutes to push snow off their tarp to keep it from collapsing on them. In white-outs, they could barely see and stayed close to each other — except when crossing avalanche zones, when they had to separate to ensure that they would not both get buried in the same avalanche.

Even drinking water was a challenge. “You’re surrounded by frozen water, but you don’t have easy access to it to drink,” Forry said. They used a stove to melt snow for drinking water.

The worst period, they said, came in the Oregon mountains when a huge snowfall and below-zero temperatures left them with frostbitten feet. They were able to warm up and avoid permanent damage, yet they still had another 2,000 miles to go.

“At times, you’re pulling your knee up to your chest to take the next step, to get it above the snow — and that’s in snowshoes,” Forry said.

Barney Mann, the chairman of the Pacific Crest Trail Association and unofficial historian of the trail, said that after the frostbite incident he had doubted that Forry and Lichter would succeed.

“It’s the unrelenting cold,” Mann said. “It’s the unrelenting snow. It’s the moment-by-moment challenge of navigation when everything is white.”

One difficult day came in northern California when a storm dropped 10 inches of rain in 24 hours, winds reached 70 miles per hour and both men tumbled into a swollen torrent of a river that left them and their gear drenched and frigid.

Yet, in spite of all those challenges, they still urge people to try winter camping — carefully.

“I really encourage people to get out in the winter,” Forry said. “You have it to yourself, and it’s so peaceful. But start with a day trip — that way if anything goes wrong, you’re near your car.”

•

I’m delighted to announce that the winner of my annual win-a-trip contest is Austin Meyer, a journalism student at Stanford University. We’ll probably travel to India and Bangladesh, although Congo is an alternate possibility. The runners-up are Ashley Bastock of John Carroll University, Taylor Graham of Ithaca College and Sam Friedlander of University of Pennsylvania. Thanks to the Center for Global Development for helping me pick Austin from a dazzling field of 450 applicants. Stay tuned for a great reporting trip!

Self-indulgent, self-aggrandizing stupidity if you ask me…  Suppose they had been injured — they didn’t seem to give much thought to the people who would have had to come out and search for them.  Assholes.  Here’s Ms. Collins:

Welcome to a whole new world.

In Congress, that is. Not in the actual world. Control your expectations, for heaven’s sake.

You may have noticed that in an orgy of bipartisan cooperation, Congress passed a bill this week funding the Department of Homeland Security until the fall. Then, on Wednesday, the House passed a bipartisan bill funding the Amtrak system.

And then everybody went away because it was, you know, going to snow.

But, still, bipartisan cooperation. It all started with the Senate. Republicans have been horrified to discover that whenever the now-minority Senate Democrats don’t like something, they can simply filibuster, requiring 60 votes to move the bill forward. The Democrats always complained bitterly when the Republicans pulled that trick on them, but now they say the circumstances are totally different.

The Democrats demanded that the homeland security funding bill be passed without any side assaults on President Obama’s immigration program. And Mitch McConnell, the majority leader, eventually had to give in.

In a way, you could look at last week’s homeland security crisis as similar to the reported theft of a $150,000 gown, covered entirely in pearls, which actress Lupita Nyong’o wore to the Academy Awards. Later, the disgruntled thief called TMZ and said he had left the dress in a hotel restroom out of disgust after he had two of the pearls appraised and discovered they were fake.

So, good news is that the Department of Homeland Security is going to be funded. Also, that very attractive gown is back. The bad news is that we’ve now hit the point where keeping the government running sounds like a big victory. And the pearls weren’t real.

Irony abounds. Who expected the Senate Republicans to be surprised when the Democrats started filibustering? Who knew dress thieves had such principled standards?

The Senate Democrats’ success really ticked off the Republicans in the House, which nurtures a long and glorious tradition of hating the Senate, no matter who’s in charge. (The Senate ignores the House completely.)

“If we’re going to allow seven Democratic senators to decide what the agenda is … then we might as well just give them the chairmanships, give them the leadership of the Senate,” groused Representative Raúl Labrador.

Labrador is a leading member of a superconservative Republican caucus, which was created recently, with the apparent goal of bossing Speaker John Boehner around. In its debut performance, the caucus managed to kill a bill to fund the Department of Homeland Security for just three weeks.

It is true that Labrador is the only member of Congress with the same name as a large, friendly retriever, but he can be really strict.

Pop Quiz: After conservative Republicans killed John Boehner’s bill to fund the Department of Homeland Security for three weeks, Boehner realized that:

A) Homeland security isn’t actually all that big a deal.

B) His own right wing was completely crazy, and, if he wanted to get through the year, he was going to have to work with the Democrats.

C) “If ands and buts were candy and nuts, every day would be Christmas.”

Yes! Boehner seems to have realized that he’s going to have to work with the Democrats. Also, he said that thing about the candy and nuts, but nobody really knew what he was talking about.

Both the homeland security bill and the Amtrak funding were passed with unanimous Democratic support, and huge Republican defections. The Amtrak bill, by the way, is more ambitious than your normal kicking-of-the-can-down-the-road legislation. There’s money to actually improve the infrastructure, which is more than Congress has managed to come up with lately for highways and bridges. It also opens up the wonderful world of rail transit to pet dogs and cats, which I have to say is something most of us were not anticipating.

The last bit seems to be the inspiration of a California Republican who owns a French bulldog that likes to travel. It is possible the program may be limited to small animals, but we will refrain making any jokes about aggrieved Labradors.

So this appears to be the path to the future: Senate Democrats will block anything they don’t like, forcing the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, to compromise. In the House, the Labradorians won’t vote for any Senate compromises, so Boehner will need the Democrats to pass any legislation that could actually make it into law.

Here we go — four fiscal cliffs in the offing and if the Republican majority wants to avoid falling off any of them, they’ll have to join hands with the Democrats and tango. We won’t get any big, dramatic reforms, but we might avoid any big dramatic disasters.

Plus poodles on Amtrak. Who knew?

Nocera and Collins

February 28, 2015

Mr. Nocera is back to playing Gunga Din for the fossil fuel industry.  In “Bloomberg Sees a Way on Keystone” he tells us that the former mayor of New York suggests that the Obama administration negotiate directly with Canada on a climate pact.  He’ll just never stop, and I STILL want to get a look at his investment portfolio.  In “And Now, Homeland Insecurity” Ms. Collins says getting Congress to fund the Homeland Security Department has us back in the land of fiscal cliffs.  Here’s Gunga Din:

No one can question Michael Bloomberg’s climate change bona fides. As mayor of New York, he declared that cities had to lead the way in reducing the threat of climate change, and he strove to make New York greener. He has donated millions of dollars to the effort to shut down coal-fired power plants. He endorsed President Obama for re-election in 2012 primarily because the president, he said, “has taken major steps to reduce our carbon consumption.” Most recently, he was named the United Nations secretary general’s special envoy for cities and climate change, a position he appears to be taking quite seriously.

Bloomberg is also a supremely pragmatic man, who prides himself on not letting ideology get in the way of finding practical solutions to difficult problems. Thus it was that earlier this week — after Obama vetoed a bill passed by Congress that would have forced him to approve the Keystone XL oil pipeline — Bloomberg wrote an article for Bloomberg View, his media company’s opinion publication, proposing an idea for breaking the logjam over the pipeline, which would transport oil from the tar sands of Alberta, Canada, to refineries in the Gulf of Mexico.

His idea is that the Obama administration should negotiate directly with the Canadian government, and come up with a climate pact that would more than offset the emissions that would be generated — indeed, are already being generated — by mining the oil from the sands. Though it is unlikely to satisfy the partisans on both sides, it is a wonderfully sensible solution.

“Keystone has become irrationally significant,” Bloomberg told me when I spoke to him about his idea. “Environmentalists overstate the danger of the pipeline to the environment,” he continued, “while those who say the economics would be significant are overstating as well.” Bloomberg believes we would all be better off if we stripped the pipeline of its symbolism and dealt with it more realistically.

Many in the environmental movement have taken the position that building Keystone — and thus allowing for increased production of tar sands oil — would be ruinous for the planet. Not only would it further the world’s dependence on fossil fuels, but, if it enabled the full exploitation of the tar sands, it would emit so much carbon that it would be “game over” for the planet, in the memorable words of James Hansen, an anti-Keystone scientist. As I’ve written before, these claims are wildly overstated; indeed, the Canadian government likes to note that, in 2012, eight states, starting with Texas, had higher emissions from their coal-fired power plants than Canada did from its oil sands. And transporting oil by train, as is currently being done, is far more dangerous than sending it through a state-of-the-art pipeline.

At the same time, the Republicans who want to use Obama’s veto as a symbol that he is willing to forego good jobs to please his environmental supporters are equally wrongheaded. Most of the American jobs related to Keystone would involve building the pipeline. Once it was up and running,the number of new jobs it would create would be minimal.

There is a third entity for whom Keystone has become a symbol: the conservative government of Stephen Harper, the Canadian prime minister, which has pushed for approval of the pipeline by the United States with an urgency that has sometimes felt a little desperate. In 2011, Harper said that approval of the pipeline should be a “no brainer” for the U.S. Canadian officials have threatened that if the U.S. doesn’t approve the pipeline, the oil would likely go to China instead. And it has treated Obama’s reluctance to make a decision on the pipeline as a reflection of American-Canadian relations, rather than what it is: an issue of American politics. There are many Canadians who believe that the Harper government has badly mishandled the Keystone issue.

At the same time, Harper’s government has not exactly been leading the climate change charge. His administration pulled Canada out of the Kyoto Protocols, the landmark 1997 agreement that committed countries that signed on to mandatory emissions reductions. “We are known around the world as being climate change obstructionists,” said Peter McKenna, a political scientist at the University of Prince Edward Island. “Harper always equates getting serious about climate change as having a negative effect on the Canadian economy.”

It is this state of affairs that Bloomberg seeks to exploit. Late last year, the Obama administration announced a climate change agreement with China, which commits both parties to lowering their greenhouse gas emissions. Because Harper so badly wants the Keystone pipeline to be approved, the U.S. government has tremendous leverage, says Bloomberg, to cut the same kind of deal with Canada. After which, the president could approve the Keystone XL oil pipeline with a clear conscience, knowing that he had mitigated the worst of its effects on the planet.

Pragmatism, for a change, would upend ideology, and we could finally stop talking about this fractious pipeline.

We’ll stop howling about that death funnel when the idea has been killed, embalmed, cremated and buried.  Now here’s Ms. Collins:

Great news! Congress has voted to fund the Department of Homeland Security for a week.

Does that make you feel better, people? The department was due to run out of money Friday night, and the new congressional Republican majority threw itself at the challenge. And after the seventh day, they rested.

Earlier, Speaker John Boehner had attempted a far more ambitious piece of legislation that would have guaranteed the department’s employees would continue to get their paychecks for 21 more days. Those folks would have been on Easy Street until the middle of March. But the Republican right rebelled at Boehner’s audacious reach and the three-week bill failed miserably.

Then, after a few hours of scurrying around, One Week emerged. This time, Democrats gave Boehner a hand, and the bill passed on a bipartisan vote after a debate that almost literally boiled down to the following:

“This is no way to govern the nation.”

“This has been a day of confusion.”

There was absolutely no agreement on what will happen next. We look back with nostalgia on the era when congressional leaders would get together in secret and make deals to pass big, mushy pieces of legislation that were littered with secret appropriations for unnecessary highways and a stuffed-owl museum in some swing vote’s district. We complained a lot at the time, but that was because we didn’t realize it was the golden age.

Do you think it’s a little worrisome that the powerful right flank of the House is made up of people who believe a good way to show their opposition to Obama’s liberal immigration policy is to cut off the border patrol’s paychecks? That the critical role of speaker of the House is held by a guy who doesn’t seem to be able to control his membership? Or even count votes?

“If ands and buts were candy and nuts, every day would be Christmas,” said Boehner when reporters pressed him about his plans earlier in the week.

That used to be a saying he kept for special occasions, but now it seems to be cropping up a lot. I take that to be a bad sign. As was the little kissy face Boehner made to reporters when he got another question.

If the Democrats don’t bail him out, Boehner can only afford to lose about 27 Republican votes on any issue. And he’s got a new group called the House Freedom Caucus that was organized to mobilize about 30 Republicans who feel the regular conservative caucus is too mainstream. (Once again we will express our displeasure about the way people keep messing with “freedom.” It used to be such a great word, and now when it comes up we are often forced to recall that song about how freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.)

The Freedom Caucus hated the homeland security bill the Senate passed, which simply continued to fund the department for the rest of the year without a side assault on the president’s immigration policy. “It’s an effort to punt, like Republicans like to do,” said Representative Raúl Labrador of Idaho, who seems to be the voice for the caucus. If we have to have a brand-new group of people dedicated to making the House of Representatives more intransigent, we can at least take consolation in the fact that its spokesman is going to be a person named Raúl Labrador.

This take-no-prisoners right wing is a large part of the reason the Republicans can’t come up with their own policies on anything. It’s embarrassing. They hate Obama’s immigration initiative, but they’ve never passed an immigration bill of their own. They’ve voted to repeal Obamacare at least 56 times, but they’ve never come up with a replacement. Last term, the guy who chaired the committee that writes tax bills produced a tax reform plan, and it went absolutely nowhere.

On the same day the Republican leadership failed to find enough votes to fund Homeland Security for three weeks, it also failed to find enough votes to pass a bill rewriting No Child Left Behind, the massive 2001 education law that desperately needs updating. The Republicans chose not to compromise with the Democrats, and the right wing was angry because the bill didn’t include enough of its agenda. The House spent hours debating it, but, in the end, the leaders had to pull it off the calendar.

Before Boehner got his new, bigger majority, he did manage to get a No Child Left Behind bill through the House. Then it faced inevitable extinction in the Senate. Maybe the speaker will remember that as his glory days, when his troops were fully capable of passing a big bill that had no chance of making it into law.

Still to come: raising the debt ceiling and passing a budget. And, oh yeah, getting Homeland Security through a second week.

Pass the candy and nuts.

Does anyone know which member of the Lunatic Caucus has the tiny little box containing Boehner’s balls?  I know they’re supposed to show them to him once a month…

Kristof and Collins

February 26, 2015

I’m sorry about nothing yesterday — Firefox in its infinite wisdom decided not to let me access WordPress at all.  Suffice it to say I’m no longer using Firefox for this.  Mr. Kristof, in “The Human Stain,” says Israel squanders political capital and antagonizes even its friends with its naked land grab in the West Bank.  In “Adieu, Chris Christie, Adieu” Ms. Collins says with no reform to show off, the reform governor has blown any real chance at winning the Republican presidential nomination.  Gail, never underestimate the lunacy of the current batch of Mole People…  Here’s Mr. Kristof, writing from Sinjil, West Bank:

The Israeli elections scheduled for March 17 should constitute a triumph, a celebration of democracy and a proud reminder that the nation in which Arab citizens have the most meaningful vote is, yes, Israel.

Yet Israeli settlements here on the West Bank mar the elections, and the future of the country itself. The 350,000 Israeli settlers in the West Bank— not even counting those in Arab East Jerusalem — impede any Middle East peace and stain Israel’s image.

But let’s be clear: The reason to oppose settlements is not just that they are bad for Israel and America, but also that this nibbling of Arab land is just plain wrong. It’s a land grab. The result is a “brutal occupation force,” in the words of the late Avraham Shalom, a former chief of the Israeli internal security force, Shin Bet.

Most Israeli settlers are not violent. But plenty are — even stoning American consular officials early this year — and they mostly get away with it because settlements are an arm of an expansive Israeli policy. The larger problem is not violent settlers, but the occupation.

“We planted 5,000 trees last year,” Mahmood Ahmed, a Palestinian farmer near Sinjil told me. “Settlers cut them all down with shears or uprooted them.”

Israel has enormous security challenges, but it’s hard to see the threat posed by 69-year-old Abed al-Majeed, who has sent all 12 of his children to university. He told me he used to have 300 sheep grazing on family land in Qusra but that nearby settlers often attack him when he is on his own land; he rolled up his pant leg to show a scar where he said a settler shot him in 2013. Now he is down to 100 sheep.

“I can’t graze my sheep on my own land,” he said. “If I go there, settlers will beat me.”

Sarit Michaeli of B’Tselem, an Israeli human rights group, accompanied me here and said that the allegations are fully credible. Sometimes Palestinians exaggerate numbers, she said, but the larger pattern is undeniable: “the expulsion of Palestinians from wide areas of their agricultural land in the West Bank.”

Elsewhere, I saw graffiti that said “Death to Arabs” in Hebrew, heard Palestinians say that their olive trees had been poisoned or their tires slashed, and talked to an Arab family whose house was firebombed in the middle of the night, leaving the children traumatized.

The violence, of course, cuts both ways, and some Israeli settlers have been murdered by Palestinians. I just as easily could have talked to settler children traumatized by Palestinian violence. But that’s the point: As long as Israel maintains these settlements, illegal in the eyes of most of the world, both sides will suffer.

To its credit, Israel sometimes lets democratic institutions work for Palestinians. In the southern West Bank, I met farmers who, with the help of a watchdog group, Rabbis for Human Rights, used Israeli courts to regain some land after being blocked by settlers. But they pointed wistfully at an olive grove that they are not allowed to enter because it is next to an outpost of a Jewish settlement.

They haven’t been able to set foot in the orchard for years, but I, as an outsider, was able to walk right into it. A settler confronted me, declined to be interviewed, and disappeared again — but the Palestinians who planted the trees cannot harvest their own olives.

A unit of Israeli soldiers soon showed up to make sure that there was no trouble. They were respectful, but, if they were really there to administer the law, they would dismantle the settlement outpost, which is illegal under Israeli as well as international law.

Kerem Navot, an Israeli civil society organization, has documented “the wholesale takeover of agricultural lands” by Israeli settlers. It notes that this takeover is backed by the Israeli government “despite the blatant illegality of much of the activity, even in terms of Israeli law.”

There are, of course, far worse human rights abuses in the Middle East; indeed, Israeli journalists, lawyers, historians and aid groups are often exquisitely fair to Palestinians. Yet the occupation is particularly offensive to me because it is conducted by the United States’ ally, underwritten with our tax dollars, supported by tax-deductible contributions to settlement groups, and carried out by American bulldozers and weaponry, and presided over by a prime minister who is scheduled to speak to Congress next week.

At a time when Saudi Arabia is flogging dissidents, Egypt is sentencing them to death, and Syria is bombing them, Israel should stand as a model. Unfortunately, it squanders political capital and antagonizes even its friends with its naked land grab in the West Bank. That’s something that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu might discuss in his address to Congress.

Now here’s Ms. Collins:

Chris Christie is political toast.

Cause of his charred presidential prospects: an unreformed state pension system. I know that’s disappointing. Not nearly as exciting as the political near-death experiences that went before. We were hoping the next disaster would be something like Governor Yells at Elmo. Or a reprise of the day he chased a guy down the boardwalk while waving an ice cream cone, this time maybe featuring Tom Hanks or Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Fixing New Jersey’s pension system was supposed to be Christie’s signature achievement. He explained it in his keynote speech at the Republican convention in 2012, right after he told us about his mom, his dad, his wife, his children and his love of Bruce Springsteen. “They said it was impossible to touch the third rail of politics,” he bragged.

By this point some of his listeners were wondering when he’d get to Mitt Romney. But Christie went on about how he had saved New Jersey workers’ pensions and staved off fiscal disaster. Thanks to shared sacrifice and “politicians who led instead of politicians who pandered.”

The politicians in question would be Chris Christie, who appeared to be referring to himself with the royal “we.” No matter. It was still a very big deal because there are crisis-ridden pension plans all over the country in need of rescue.

This is the kind of problem that can be fixed only if both sides agree to sacrifices they’d much rather avoid. That’s particularly problematic in American politics because pandering candidates often promise that they can make the pain go away. (When he first ran for governor, Christie sent out an “Open Letter to the Teachers of NJ” denouncing rumors that he might “attempt to diminish or take away teachers’ pensions and benefits.Let me be clear — nothing could be further from the truth.”)

As soon as he was elected, Christie began negotiating on a law that would, um, diminish the benefits. It also required the state to raise its own pension contributions until the whole system was healthy. Bipartisan agreement!

“He was looked at nationally as a hero,” recalled Stephen Sweeney, the Democratic State Senate president, who had been working on the problem for years. “It was my pension plan he was touting, but anyway …”

Pop Quiz: After the Legislature passed the agreement, the workers started seeing smaller paychecks. What did Chris Christie do to keep his side of the bargain?

A) Found the money to make the higher payments no matter what the political cost, because he’s that kind of guy.

B) Found the money for the first two years when the price tag was low, then punted.

C) Chased the state workers down the boardwalk while waving an ice cream cone.

Yes! He punted in Year 3. Which was, to be fair, after the Republican National Convention.

In order to ease the transition, the law allowed New Jersey to ease into its new big pension payments. Christie came up with the first relatively small bill. And then the second year’s. But, by Year 3, there just wasn’t enough money. The State Legislature passed a budget that paid for the pension contribution with tax increases, including one on incomes over $1 million.

Christie vetoed the taxes, and he reduced the new pension contribution to less than half of the target. Nobody’s going to give you the Republican presidential nomination if you raise taxes on rich people. The unions went to court. This week, on the eve of Christie’s budget address, a judge told him to pay up.

“We don’t need a judge to tell us we have a problem,” the governor said, somewhat inaccurately.

This was during the budget address, which Christie devoted almost exclusively to pensions, in a tone that suggested he was the real victim. (“I have stood behind this podium for five years talking about this problem.”)

Well, it certainly is a mess, and the workers probably aren’t done sacrificing. But it’s hard to imagine this governor luring them to the table. “You can always go back to people when you’re living up to your obligations. But you can’t go back to people when you basically break your word,” said Sweeney.

For the rest of us, the news is that Christie is now about as serious a presidential prospect as Donald Trump. The Republicans certainly aren’t going to nominate him because of his in-depth experience in foreign affairs. And if they just want to pick a governor, they’ll probably lean toward one whose administration has enjoyed fewer than eight credit downgrades.

Sure, there’s Christie’s tough-talking, truth-teller thing. But the idea was that his in-your-face style pushed New Jersey to reform. If there’s no reform, you’d have to presume that the American people are just hungry for a president who will yell at members of the audience during the State of the Union address. Or wave an ice cream cone at Vladimir Putin.

Nocera and Collins

February 21, 2015

In “Football’s L.A. Trick Play” Mr. Nocera tells us why the sport’s savvy capitalists threaten to move to Los Angeles.  Ms. Collins has taken a break from her usual column and has done a piece on Justice Ginsburg, “The Unsinkable R.B.G.”  She says Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s woman-hear-me-roar history, her frail appearance and her role as leader of the Supreme Court’s liberals have rallied her new fan base.  Here’s Mr. Nocera:

Like most big cities in America, San Diego has its share of problems. It has issues with gangs, poverty and income inequality. It needs to do about $2 billion worth of infrastructure repairs. It has suffered through an epic drought.

Yet lately, these looming problems have been put aside because the city has had a far graver issue to deal with. The Spanos family, which owns the San Diego Chargers, is threatening to move the team to Los Angeles. Sacré bleu!

The Chargers are hardly the first National Football League team to threaten to move to L.A., which, despite being the country’s second-largest media market, hasn’t had a professional football team of its own since the Raiders and the Rams skipped town, to Oakland and St. Louis, respectively, in the mid-1990s.

Take, for instance, the Minnesota Vikings, which “did a fantastic job of threatening to move to Los Angeles,” says Neil deMause, who runs a website called Field of Schemes. (He also is a co-author of a book by that name.) Roger Goodell, the N.F.L. commissioner, even parachuted into St. Paul to imply that a move to Los Angeles might be in the offing. As a result of those threats, the Vikings got a brand new stadium, filled with revenue-enhancing details like state-of-the-art corporate suites. The public — that is, the taxpayer — is picking up the tab for about half of it.

Which of course is precisely why N.F.L. owners threaten to move to Los Angeles. With Los Angeles just sitting there, un-footballed, it gives the 32 owners of N.F.L. franchises enormous leverage over the cities in which they play to extract goodies that few other capitalists would dare ask for — not just run-of-the-mill tax abatements, but egregious benefits like free rent, which of course means bigger profits for the wealthy men and women who own the teams. “The way to really make money is to privatize the revenues, and socialize the costs,” deMause says.

“The basic story is that all professional leagues try to have fewer teams than the number of locations that would like to have them,” says Roger Noll, a sports economist at Stanford University. “That is what monopolists do — contrive scarcity to drive up the price.” Los Angeles, he adds, “is perfect for this purpose, because the threat is so credible.” Indeed, during the first decade of this century, according to figures compiled by Judith Grant Long, an associate professor of sport management at the University of Michigan, states and counties spent at least $10.1 billion subsidizing sports facilities. A new football stadium with all the modern amenities costs around $1 billion.

It is easy enough to understand why N.F.L. owners would want to use the threat of moving to extract public subsidies — why pay for something yourself when you can get taxpayers to pick up the tab? Besides, $1 billion is a lot of money, even for billionaires. But why do cities go along with it? It can’t be because they expect some economic benefit to come from a new sports stadium; according to Andrew Zimbalist, a sports economist at Smith College, “The academic literature says that there should be no expectation that a new arena will boost the local economy.”

It has much more to do with civic pride — the sense that your town is truly big-time. Plus no city wants to feel abandoned, the way Baltimore was in 1984 when the owner of the Colts, Bob Irsay, moved the team to Indianapolis in the middle of the night. This is especially true for cities like San Diego, which live in the shadows of bigger cities like Los Angeles. “It would be a shame if the Chargers left,” says my friend Herb Greenberg, a former CNBC reporter who lives in San Diego. “What would we be left with? A losing baseball team and great weather? That’s it?”

For years, the Chargers had a sweet deal with the city, which, among other things, guaranteed sellouts for 10 years — that is, if a game didn’t sell out, the city would pick up the difference. But since 2002, the Spanos family has been pressing the city to come up with a plan for a new arena.

Recently, the Chargers have upped the pressure. In January, San Diego’s mayor, Kevin Faulconer, announced that he was putting together a task force to find a solution for the Chargers. But the Chargers, unhappy at waiting any further, announced on Thursday that the team was considering moving just outside Los Angeles along with the Oakland Raiders; both teams would play in a yet-to-be-constructed $1.7 billion stadium. They even posted a short video with an architect’s rendering of the arena.

At a hastily assembled news conference on Friday morning, a blindsided Mayor Faulconer sounded not just angry but anguished. He promised to do everything he could to hold onto the Chargers.

The L.A. gambit wins again.

My take on the whole thing?  Who gives a fck…  Here’s Ms. Collins:

Ruth Bader Ginsburg isn’t planning on going anywhere any time soon.

“Now I happen to be the oldest,” the 81-year-old justice said in the tone of a person who has answered a whole lot of questions about her possible retirement plans. Sitting in her Supreme Court chambers on a dreary afternoon in late January, she added, “But John Paul Stevens didn’t step down until he was 90.”

Until recently, when Ginsburg was asked about retiring, she would note that Justice Louis Brandeis had served until he was 82.

“That’s getting a little uncomfortable,” she admitted.

Over the past few years, she’s been getting unprecedented public nagging about retirement while simultaneously developing a massive popular fan base. You can buy T-shirts and coffee mugs with her picture on them. You can dress your baby up like Ruth Bader Ginsburg for Halloween. A blog called Notorious R.B.G. posts everything cool about the justice’s life, from celebrity meet-ups (“Sheryl Crow is a Ruth Bader Ginsburg fangirl”) to Twitter-size legal theory (“Justice Ginsburg Explains Everything You Need to Know About Religious Liberty in Two Sentences”). You can even get an R.B.G. portrait tattooed on your arm, should the inclination ever arise.

Supreme Court justices used to be known only through their opinions, but in the 21st century they can be celebrities, too. In court, Ginsburg makes headlines with her ferocious dissents against conservative decisions. Outside, the public is reading about her admission that she dozed off at a State of the Union address because she was a little tipsy from wine at dinner. (Plus, she told MSNBC’s Irin Carmon, she had been up all the night before, writing: “My pen was hot.”) This summer, Ginsburg will attend the premiere of “Scalia/Ginsburg,” a one-act opera that the composer Derrick Wang describes as a comedy in which two justices “must pass through three cosmic trials to secure their freedom.” Pieces of it have already been performed, and both Ginsburg and the über-conservative justice Antonin Scalia, a fellow opera lover, are apparently really, really pleased.

Hard to imagine any of that happening to John Roberts.

The retirement talk started around 2011, when the Harvard Law School professor Randall Kennedy wrote an essay in The New Republic arguing that both Ginsburg and Justice Stephen Breyer should quit while there was still a Democratic president to nominate replacements. “What’s more, both are, well, old,” he added uncharitably.

As time moved on, the focus shifted almost exclusively to Ginsburg (“Justice Ginsburg: Resign Already!”). Perhaps that’s simply because she is older than Breyer, who is now 76. Or perhaps there’s still an expectation that women are supposed to be good sports, and volunteer to take one for the team.

From the beginning, Ginsburg waved off the whole idea. (“And who do you think Obama could have nominated and got confirmed that you’d rather see on a court?”) Anyway, since Republicans took control of the Senate in January, it’s become pretty clear that ship has sailed.

“People aren’t saying it as much now,” she said with what sounded like some satisfaction.

Obviously, a time will come. But as far as clarity on the bench, productivity and overall energy go, that time doesn’t at all seem to be at hand. Her medical history is studded with near disasters — colon cancer in 1999, and pancreatic cancer 10 years later. Both times she returned to the bench quickly. (In the latter case, Senator Jim Bunning of Kentucky apologized for predicting she’d probably be dead within nine months.) Last year she had a stent placed in one of her coronary arteries. That happened on a Wednesday, and the court’s public information officer quickly told reporters that Ginsburg “expects to be on the bench on Monday.”

HER physical fierceness is legend. Scalia, her improbable good friend, once recounted a summer when he and Ginsburg had both snagged a gig teaching on the French Riviera. “She went off parasailing!” he told The Washington Post. “This little skinny thing, you’d think she’d never come down.” She has since given up that sort of recreation, but she still works out twice a week in the Supreme Court gym with her personal trainer. Plus there are the daily stretching exercises at home. At night. After work.

It’s the combination of Ginsburg’s woman-hear-me-roar history, her frail-little-old-lady appearance and her role as the leader of the Supreme Court’s dissident liberals that have rallied her new fan base, particularly young women.

The second woman to be appointed to the Supreme Court, she’s part of the generation who came of age after World War II and led a revolution that transformed women’s legal rights, as well as their role in the public world. There’s a famous story about the dean at Harvard Law inviting Ginsburg and her tiny group of fellow female law students to dinner, then asking them how they’d justify having taken a place that could have gone to a man. Ginsburg was so flustered she answered that her husband, Marty, was a law student and that it was very important for a wife to understand her husband’s work.

“That’s what I said,” she nodded.

The dean, Ginsburg said, told her later that he had asked only because “there were still doubting Thomases on the faculty and he wanted the women to arm him with stories.” You have to wonder if the dean was trying to rewrite history. Or maybe joking. But Ginsburg believed the explanation: “He was a wonderful man, but he had no sense of humor.”

During law school Marty Ginsburg developed testicular cancer. Ruth helped him keep up with his work by bringing him notes from his classes and typing up his papers, while also taking care of their toddler, Jane. Plus, she made the Harvard Law Review. This is the kind of story that defines a certain type of New Woman of Ginsburg’s generation — people whose gift for overachievement and overcoming adversity is so immense, you can see how even a nation of men bent on maintaining the old patriarchal order were simply run over by the force of their determination. (Ginsburg herself isn’t given to romanticizing. Asked why the women’s rights revolution happened so quickly, she simply said: “Well, the tide was in our favor. We were riding with winners.”)

Ginsburg was married for 56 years — Marty died in 2010. She has a son, a daughter and four grandchildren, one of whom called and said “Bubbe, you were sleeping at the State of the Union!” after the cameras caught her famous nap. She travels constantly. The day we talked, she was preparing to go off to a meeting of the New York City Bar, where she would introduce Gloria Steinem, who would deliver the Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg Distinguished Lecture on Women and the Law. A few weeks earlier, at a gathering of the Association of American Law Schools, Ginsburg had introduced her old friend Professor Herma Hill Kay, recipient of the Ruth Bader Ginsburg Lifetime Achievement Award. When you reach this kind of stature, there are lots of echoes.

She’s spent much of her life being the first woman doing one thing or another, and when it comes to the retirement question, she has only one predecessor to contemplate — her friend Sandra Day O’Connor, the first female Supreme Court justice, who left the bench at 75 to spend more time with her husband, John, who was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.

“She and John were going to do all the outdoorsy things they liked to do,” Ginsburg recalled. But John O’Connor’s condition deteriorated so swiftly that her plans never worked out. Soon, Ginsburg said, “John was in such bad shape that she couldn’t keep him at home.”

O’Connor has kept busy — speaking, writing, hearing cases on a court of appeals and pursuing a project to expand civics education. But it’s not the same as being the swing vote on the United States Supreme Court. “I think she knows that when she left that term, every 5-4 decision when I was in the minority, I would have been in the majority if she’d stayed,” Ginsburg said.

Besides not retiring, another thing Ginsburg is planning not to do is write her memoirs. “There are too many people writing about me already,” she said. There’s an authorized biography in the works, along with several other projects to which she has definitely not given a blessing.

“But now — this is something I like,” she said, picking up a collection of essays, “The Legacy of Ruth Bader Ginsburg.” The justice also seems to be looking forward to an upcoming “Notorious R.B.G.” book, written by Shana Knizhnik, who created the blog, and Irin Carmon of MSNBC. The name started as a play on the name of the Brooklyn gangsta rapper Notorious B.I.G., but it’s taken on a life of its own as a younger-generation tribute to Ginsburg.

“The kind of raw excitement that surrounds her is palpable,” Carmon said. “There’s a counterintuitiveness. We have a particular vision of someone who’s a badass — a 350-pound rapper. And she’s this tiny Jewish grandmother. She doesn’t look like our vision of power, but she’s so formidable, so unapologetic, and a survivor in every sense of the word.”

So Ginsburg is planning to be on the bench when the Supreme Court decides mammoth issues like the future of the Affordable Care Act and a national right for gay couples to marry. She says she doesn’t know how the health care case will turn out. But like practically every court observer in the country, she has a strong hunch about which way gay marriage will go: “I would be very surprised if the Supreme Court retreats from what it has said about same-sex unions.”

The speed with which the country has already accepted gay rights was, she theorized, just a matter of gay people coming out, and the rest of the country realizing that “we all knew and liked and loved people who were gay.” She recalled Justice Lewis Powell, who told his colleagues he had never met a gay person, unaware that he’d had several gay law clerks. “But they never broadcast it.”

The National Organization for Marriage, a conservative group, recently demanded that Ginsburg recuse herself from the case since she had said that it would not be difficult for the American public to accept a ruling in favor of a national right to gay marriage.

Don’t hold your breath.

Blow, Cohen, Kristof and Collins

February 19, 2015

In “The Obama Years” Mr. Blow says wherever you think he may rank as a president, there is no doubt that the time of his presidency will be remembered as transformational.  Mr. Cohen has decided to channel MoDo and has written a fever dream.  In “The Great Jewish Exodus” he you should be careful what you wish for: An Israeli leader urges a course that diminishes Jewishness and the liberal world order.  Mr. Kristof addresses “The Cost of a Decline in Unions” and says as unions wane in American life, it’s increasingly clear that they were doing a lot of good in sustaining the middle class.  Which is most likely why TPTB are slowly strangling them.  Ms. Collins has a question in “A Gun on Every Corner:”  Should a local gun permit be treated like a driver’s license that is recognized all over the country?  Here’s Mr. Blow:

As the political parlor game increasingly turns to obsessions about the jockeying to become the next president, my thinking increasingly turns to how history will measure the current one.

While a truly comprehensive appraisal and historical contextualization of a presidency is the scope and scale of books more than columns, there are things that, from my perch and according to the peculiarities of my personal interests, stand out.

Some of these are things for which the president can — in part or in whole — take personal responsibility, but others simply happened on this watch. And yet, I believe that they will all be somewhat associated with him and his stewardship.

In an interview broadcast earlier this month, the president told CNN, “I’m proud of saving the economy.” That may well be the most resounding mark of his presidency, even as people debate the quality of the recovery and his administration’s role in it.

It is nearly impossible to overstate how close we came to economic collapse in 2008 and how frightened we all were.

Now, that has turned around. The private sector has seen job growth for 59 straight months. The unemployment rate was down to 5.6 percent in December, the lowest since 2008, and as Reuters pointed out last month, new claims for unemployment benefits reached “the lowest level in nearly 15 years.”

But this recovery tends to feel more favorable for the wealthy than the working class. As the National Employment Law Project pointed out in an April policy paper, there is an imbalance between the kinds of jobs lost in the recession and the kinds experiencing the greatest growth in the recovery: High-wage industries accounted for 41 percent of the job losses but only 30 percent of the recent employment growth, while lower-wage industries accounted for 22 percent of the job losses but 44 percent of recent growth.

But if you are one of the Americans well off enough to own stocks, life looks much better. In 2009, the Dow Jones industrial average had fallen below 7,000; now it’s above 18,000. And yet, as CNBC pointed out in September, the percent of Americans who hold stock either directly or indirectly is at an 18-year low while “stock ownership for the wealthy is at a new high,” based on 2012 data. As CNBC reported:

“In 2010, the latest period available, the top 10 percent of Americans by net worth held 81 percent of all directly held or indirectly held stocks, according to Edward N. Wolff, an economics professor at New York University who specializes in inequality and Federal Reserve data.”

The Obama years will also be remembered for the reshaping of our politics. There was the rise of the Tea Party and the demise of moderate voices. There were the unfathomable and indefensible rulings by the Supreme Court to bless dark money in the Citizens United case and the gutting of the Voting Rights Act in Shelby County v. Holder. There is an ongoing voter effort to shrink and restrict the voting pool as minorities are beginning to feel their power at the polls.

The Obama years will be remembered as a cultural — and legal — tipping point for equality for all people who do not identify as strictly heterosexual, arguably the civil rights movement of our times. The president signed the bill repealing “don’t ask, don’t tell.” The Defense of Marriage Act was struck down by the Supreme Court.

And in 2012, Obama became the first sitting president to support same-sex marriage (a book by David Axelrod even claims that the president was in favor of same-sex marriage, long before he publicly proclaimed it, and indeed when he was publicly saying that he wasn’t). When Obama took office, same-sex marriage was rare; now it’s legal in 37 states. And a case now before the Supreme Court could determine whether it will be legal nationally.

The New Republic even dubbed Obama the “Gay-Rights President,” and it is hard to argue with that.

The Obama years will also be remembered for his signature legislation — the Affordable Care Act. This week, the president said that 11.4 million people had signed up for insurance or renewed coverage under the plan. Needless to say, the program is reducing the number of people who are uninsured but it also appears to be lowering medical costs.

Yet the future of the act is unclear. There is a case (King v. Burwell) before the Supreme Court — a laughable case about a language quibble that may be the most significant linguistic imprecision of a generation — that could spell doom for the law by withholding subsidies from millions of low-income Americans to purchase health insurance.

There’s the Supreme Court again. One could argue that the Supreme Court — the judicial Divine Nine — has shaped the Obama presidency as much as Obama has. That’s not to say that he hasn’t done an amazing job of shaping the judiciary in this country himself. In addition to appointing two new members to the Supreme Court — both women, a first for any president — he has completely transformed the lower courts.

As Jeffrey Toobin pointed out in The New Yorker in October:

“When Obama took office, Republican appointees controlled ten of the thirteen circuit courts of appeals; Democratic appointees now constitute a majority in nine circuits. Because federal judges have life tenure, nearly all of Obama’s judges will continue serving well after he leaves office.

Furthermore, Toobin laid out the diversity of the Obama transformation, writing:

“Sheldon Goldman, a professor at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and a scholar of judicial appointments, said, ‘The majority of Obama’s appointments are women and nonwhite males.’ Forty-two per cent of his judgeships have gone to women. Twenty-two per cent of George W. Bush’s judges and twenty-nine per cent of Bill Clinton’s were women. Thirty-six per cent of President Obama’s judges have been minorities, compared with eighteen per cent for Bush and twenty-four per cent for Clinton.”

This is huge.

And there isn’t space in this column to address the many other things the Obama years will be remembered for: our engagement in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Arab Spring and the rise of the Islamic State in the Middle East, Russian aggression, moves on climate policy and the rise of American energy, the re-fighting of issues over women’s reproductive rights and immigration policy, to name a few.

Whether you agree that Obama was a transformational figure or how he ranks among other presidents — a new survey of American Political Science Association members puts him 18th — there is no doubt that the time of his presidency will be remembered as transformational.

Next up we have MoDo Mr. Cohen:

They were gone, as completely as from Baghdad or Cairo, Damascus or Alexandria. They had vanished from Budapest and Brussels, from Frankfurt and Padua, from Paris and Manchester, from Antwerp and Stockholm.

As in the Arab world, Europe wondered what it had lost. The texture of life was thinned, the richness of exchange diminished, the flowering of ideas curtailed. There was an absence.

They did not say much. They packed and left, wheeling their suitcases, carrying their bags and bundles and babies, a little wave offered here and there. Rich and poor, religious and not, they sold what they had and went on their way. People looked askance, as their forbears once had in crueler circumstances, a little uneasy at the exodus, unsure what it meant but certain it was the end of a very long story.

Was Europe not the Continent of Disraeli and Heine and Marx (all baptized, but still), of Freud and Einstein, of Rothschild and Bleichröder, of Dreyfus and Herzl, of Joseph Roth and Stefan Zweig? Was it not the home of Yiddish, once the first tongue of millions, a language perhaps unique, as Isaac Bashevis Singer noted, because it was never spoken by men in power?

Was it not the scene of a great 19th-century struggle for emancipation beginning in France and stretching across the Continent to the pogrom-stained Pale of Settlement, a battle that in many instances ushered this stubborn people, with their eternal covenant of ethics entered into with a faceless God, to the summit of the professions, only for this progress, threatening to some, to end in the Nazis’ industrialized mass murder?

Was Europe not, against all odds, the place liberalism triumphed over the deathly totalitarianisms? The land of Isaiah Berlin who quoted Kant: “Out of the crooked timber of humanity, no straight thing was ever made.” The Continent where this people survived after the attempted annihilation (in which the majority of Europeans were complicit), forming new communities, even in Germany; a Continent of crooked timber, of every expression and experiment in their identity, their partial loss of identity, their embrace of merged and multiple identities?

Yes, there was often a sense of otherness, a self-imposed discretion, but there was also reassurance in being part of a great European convergence that over many decades dissolved the borders across which countless wars had been fought and affirmed the right of every European of whatever faith or ethnicity to equal rights, free expression, and the free practice of their beliefs.

Yet now they were gone. Europe, without the Jews, had lost part of itself. It had lost the very right to a conscience. It had been defeated in its essence. It had rebirthed itself after the 20th-century horror only to surrender.

Jewishness had lost one of its constituent elements, the European Jew of the diaspora. As for humanity, it had lost all hope. Humankind had succumbed to the tribal nightmare, to the darkest of tides. Tribal war loomed.

The strange thing was that the prime minister of Israel, the Jewish homeland established in 1948, the certain refuge at last, the place where belonging could never be an issue, had wished it so.

It was the Israeli leader who suggested it was time to abandon the European Jewish experiment. He had been in office many years. He saw himself as the visionary defender and gatherer of his people, the man for every threat (and they seemed to multiply endlessly).

After the shootings of Jews in Brussels and Paris and Copenhagen, as European soldiers and police fanned out to protect synagogues and as he faced a close election, the Israeli leader said this: “This wave of terror attacks is expected to continue, including these murderous anti-Semitic attacks.”

He continued: “We are preparing and calling for the absorption of mass immigration from Europe” of Jews. He added, “I would like to tell all European Jews and all Jews wherever they are: Israel is the home of every Jew.”

Israel is indeed the home of every Jew, and that is important, a guarantee of sorts. It is equally important, however, that not every Jew choose this home. That is another kind of guarantee, of Europe’s liberal order, of the liberal idea itself. So it was shattering when millions of Jews, every one of them in fact, as if entranced, upped and left their homes in Milan and Berlin and Zurich.

The leader himself was overcome: Where was he to house them? Many of the liberal Jews of Europe, long strangers in strange lands, knowing statelessness in their bones, mindful of Hillel’s summation of the Torah — “What is hateful to yourself, do not to your fellow man” — refused to be part of the spreading settlements in the West Bank, Israeli rule over another people.

The prime minister awoke, shaken. It had been such a vivid nightmare. Too vivid! To himself he murmured, “Careful what you wish for.”

And now we get to Mr. Kristof:

Like many Americans, I’ve been wary of labor unions.

Full-time union stagehands at Carnegie Hall earning more than $400,000 a year? A union hailing its defense of a New York teacher who smelled of alcohol and passed out in class, with even the principal unable to rouse her? A police union in New York City that has a tantrum and goes on virtual strike?

More broadly, I disdained unions as bringing corruption, nepotism and rigid work rules to the labor market, impeding the economic growth that ultimately makes a country strong.

I was wrong.

The abuses are real. But, as unions wane in American life, it’s also increasingly clear that they were doing a lot of good in sustaining middle class life — especially the private-sector unions that are now dwindling.

Most studies suggest that about one-fifth of the increase in economic inequality in America among men in recent decades is the result of the decline in unions. It may be more: A study in the American Sociological Review, using the broadest methodology, estimates that the decline of unions may account for one-third of the rise of inequality among men.

“To understand the rising inequality, you have to understand the devastation in the labor movement,” says Jake Rosenfeld, a labor expert at the University of Washington and the author of “What Unions No Longer Do.”

Take construction workers. A full-time construction worker earns about $10,000 less per year now than in 1973, in today’s dollars, according to Rosenfeld. One reason is probably that the proportion who are unionized has fallen in that period from more than 40 percent to just 14 percent.

“All the focus on labor’s flaws can distract us from the bigger picture,” Rosenfeld writes. “For generations now the labor movement has stood as the most prominent and effective voice for economic justice.”

I’m as appalled as anyone by silly work rules and $400,000 stagehands, or teachers’ unions shielding the incompetent. But unions also lobby for programs like universal prekindergarten that help create broad-based prosperity. They are pushing for a higher national minimum wage, even though that would directly benefit mostly nonunionized workers.

I’ve also changed my mind because, in recent years, the worst abuses by far haven’t been in the union shop but in the corporate suite. One of the things you learn as a journalist is that when there’s no accountability, we humans are capable of tremendous avarice and venality. That’s true of union bosses — and of corporate tycoons. Unions, even flawed ones, can provide checks and balances for flawed corporations.

Many Americans think unions drag down the economy over all, but scholars disagree. American auto unions are often mentioned, but Germany’s car workers have a strong union, and so do Toyota’s in Japan and Kia’s in South Korea.

In Germany, the average autoworker earns about $67 per hour in salary and benefits, compared with $34 in the United States. Yet Germany’s car companies in 2010 produced more than twice as many vehicles as American companies did, and they were highly profitable. It’s too glib to say that the problem in the American sector was just unions.

Or look at American history. The peak years for unions were the 1940s and ’50s, which were also some of the fastest-growing years for the United States ever — and with broadly shared prosperity. Historically, the periods when union membership were highest were those when inequality was least.

Richard B. Freeman, a Harvard labor expert, notes that unions sometimes bring important benefits to industry: They can improve morale, reduce turnover and provide a channel to suggest productivity improvements.

Experts disagree about how this all balances out, but it’s clear that it’s not a major drag. “If you’re looking for big negatives, everybody knows they don’t exist,” Professor Freeman said.

Joseph Stiglitz notes in his book “The Price of Inequality” that when unions were strong in America, productivity and real hourly compensation moved together in manufacturing. But after 1980 (and especially after 2000) the link seemed to break and real wages stagnated.

It may be that as unions weakened, executives sometimes grabbed the gains from productivity. Perhaps that helps explain why chief executives at big companies earned, on average, 20 times as much as the typical worker in 1965, and 296 times as much in 2013, according to the Economic Policy Institute.

Lawrence F. Katz, a Harvard labor economist, raises concerns about some aspects of public-sector unions, but he says that in the private sector (where only 7 percent of workers are now unionized): “I think we’ve gone too far in de-unionization.”

He’s right. This isn’t something you often hear a columnist say, but I’ll say it again: I was wrong. At least in the private sector, we should strengthen unions, not try to eviscerate them.

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

Earlier this month — right between Groundhog Day and Valentine’s Day — Senator John Cornyn of Texas introduced a bill that would allow people from states with lax gun laws to carry their concealed weapons all around the country.

The goal, Cornyn said in a press release, is to treat local gun permits “like drivers’ licenses.”

“This operates more or less like a driver’s license,” he told a reporter for The Hill. “So, for example, if you have a driver’s license in Texas, you can drive in New York, in Utah, and other places subject to the laws in those states.”

This is perfectly reasonable, except for the part about gun permits being anything whatsoever like drivers’ licenses. If a citizen from Mississippi shows his driver’s license to someone in Connecticut, the Connecticut person has good reason to presume that the licensee can, um, drive. It’s not a perfect system — witness the fact that there are many, many licensed drivers in America who have successfully parallel parked only one time in their entire life. But, still, no matter what state it comes from, a driver’s license generally signifies a certain level of accomplishment when it comes to the basics of stopping, starting and steering.

On the other hand, a permit to carry a concealed weapon from Mississippi is concrete proof of the owner’s ability to fill out an application. In Virginia, you can take an online course. You can get a permit from Florida without ever living in Florida, although you definitely do have to send $112 to the State Department of Agriculture.

In some states, you can be pretty certain that anyone with the legal right to carry a concealed weapon has been checked out carefully. In others, not so much. In 2007, The Sun Sentinel in Florida found that in a six-month period, more than 1,400 people who had pleaded guilty or no contest to felonies had been awarded concealed carry permits, along with 216 people with outstanding warrants, 28 people with active domestic violence injunctions against them, and six registered sex offenders.

The Cornyn bill would set a national bar at the lowest denominator.

“The situation in Florida is dire enough on its own. But this law would present a danger to the rest of us because of Florida’s abhorrently low standards,” said Dan Gross, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. “Think about this in terms of states’ rights.”

You’d think that states’ rights would be a winning argument. However, as with so many, many things in this world, states’ rights is a theory that people only like when it’s going to get them something they already want.

In many crowded cities, gun safety means there’s almost nobody carrying but the cops. But it’s impossible to keep that kind of order when people are roaming the streets waving out-of-town gun permits, which local police frequently have no way to verify.

“It’s a nightmare for New York law enforcement,” said Senator Charles Schumer of New York. “In 20 states you can have a repeated history of mental health police visits and you can get a gun. You can have a domestic violence record. In many states, people subject to emergency orders of protection can be allowed to carry.”

Cornyn’s bill has been the top priority of groups like the National Rifle Association for years. That is, in part, because their base is irritated about not being able to drive around the country with a handgun in the glove compartment.

However, I suspect another part of the equation is that the gun lobby is running out of causes to rally the troops. Some states have already pretty much legalized everything. Once you’ve made it O.K. to carry a gun onto a playground, you’ve just about come to the end of the road. The N.R.A. doesn’t want to recruit members by arguing for Texans’ right to wave a pistol around the small appliance department at Target. It wants a big, meaty challenge — like fighting for looser gun regulation in states where the populace doesn’t want looser gun regulation.

Nobody doubts that the House of Representatives would pass a bill like Cornyn’s. (Really, just call them; they’ll come in and do it before dinner tonight.) The Senate has been more resistant, but, in 2013, the same proposal came within three votes of passage. And this is not an issue where minds are changed by an invigorating debate.

“You say: ‘Look, maybe this works in the rural parts of your state but it doesn’t work in Times Square,’ ” said Schumer. “They’re not even open to the argument.”

Now, with the new Republican majority, it’ll be extremely hard to keep a bill from being sent to the president. He could always veto it. Unless, of course, it was tied to some crucial, desperately needed measure.

“This is awful, awful, awful,” said Schumer.

Maybe our best hope is that Congress will do what it does best and fail to pass any legislation whatsoever for the rest of the year.


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