Archive for the ‘Collins’ Category

Blow, Kristof and Collins

May 14, 2015

In “The President, Fox News and the Poor” Mr. Blow says Obama was right to call out the media’s poverty narratives. There are people who want something for nothing — but they cut across the income spectrum.  Mr. Kristof, in “Crisis at Sea,” says American and Asian officials seem determined to avert their eyes as the toll climbs in the Rohingya refugee crisis.  Ms. Collins states the obvious when she writes “Wow, Jeb Bush is Awful.”  She says as a presidential hopeful, Jeb’s most attractive feature used to be an aura of competence, but that changed this week.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

This week, during a panel discussion on poverty at Georgetown University, President Obama lambasted the media, and in particular Fox News, for creating false, destructive narratives about the poor that paint them broadly as indolent and pathological.

The president said:

“Over the last 40 years, sadly, I think there’s been an effort to either make folks mad at folks at the top, or to be mad at folks at the bottom. And I think the effort to suggest that the poor are sponges, leeches, don’t want to work, are lazy, are undeserving, got traction.”

He continued:

“And, look, it’s still being propagated. I mean, I have to say that if you watch Fox News on a regular basis, it is a constant menu — they will find folks who make me mad. I don’t know where they find them. [Laughter.] They’re like, I don’t want to work, I just want a free Obama phone — [laughter] — or whatever. And that becomes an entire narrative — right? — that gets worked up. And very rarely do you hear an interview of a waitress — which is much more typical — who’s raising a couple of kids and is doing everything right but still can’t pay the bills.”

MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough took umbrage. After saying that “the arrogance of it all is staggering,” and that he was “a little embarrassed” for the president, Scarborough demanded of his befuddled panel: “What about the specific clip about Fox News calling poor people leeches, sponges and lazy? Have you ever heard that on Fox News?” One panelist responded, “No, I have not.” Then Scarborough opened the question to them all: “Has anybody ever heard that on Fox News?”

Well, yes.

In 2004, Bill O’Reilly, arguably the face of Fox News, said: “You gotta look people in the eye and tell ‘em they’re irresponsible and lazy. And who’s gonna wanna do that? Because that’s what poverty is, ladies and gentlemen. In this country, you can succeed if you get educated and work hard. Period. Period.”

In 2012, O’Reilly listed what he called the “true causes of poverty” including “poor education, addiction, irresponsible behavior and laziness.”

In 2014, during the week that marked the 50th anniversary of L.B.J.’s “War on Poverty,” O’Reilly again said that “true poverty” (as opposed to make-believe poverty?) “is being driven by personal behavior,” which included, according to him, “addictive behavior, laziness, apathy.”

Even though the president didn’t say that Fox News specifically used the words “sponge,” “leeches” and “lazy,” O’Reilly has indeed, repeatedly, called poor people lazy, and the subtext of his remarks is that many poor people are pathologically and undeservedly dependent on the government dole.

Now who should be embarrassed for whom?

As for the president’s mention of the “Obama phones,” in 2012,FoxNews.com reported on “a viral video of an Obama supporter touting her ‘Obama phone.’” But even they had to admit that the program — Lifeline — was not created under Obama. According to the site: “But even though some beneficiaries may credit President Obama for providing the phones, Lifeline is an extension of a program that has existed since 1985.” Who was president in 1985? Oh, that’s right, the conservatives’ golden, do-no-wrong “Gipper,” Ronald Reagan.

By the way, O’Reilly’s mythology concerning addiction must also be confronted. In February, ThinkProgress gathered data from the seven states that drug-test applicants for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, also know as welfare. The site found this:

“The statistics show that applicants actually test positive at a lower rate than the drug use of the general population. The national drug use rate is9.4 percent. In these states, however, the rate of positive drug tests to total welfare applicants ranges from 0.002 percent to 8.3 percent, but all except one have a rate below 1 percent.”

The problem with all of this is that these misconceptions have a way of seeping into the populace as a whole.

For Fox’s part, they responded by having Stuart Varney, who works for Fox News and Fox Business Network, comment. Varney said: “I think the president is spinning the failure of his own policies, and I think he is blaming us, and I think we are an honest messenger.”

Stop laughing, people! There’s more. Varney continued:

“Look at food stamps for a second. We’ve been asking why is it that after six years of so-called recovery there are still 12 million more people on food stamps today than when the president took office. Why is that? Surely, that’s the failure of the president’s policy. What about Obama phones? Why is it that we’re giving away 13 million Obama phones after six years of recovery? Why are we doing that?”

Never once did Varney address the many times that O’Reilly called poor people lazy or acknowledge that “Obama phones” might be more aptly called “Reagan phones.”

And let’s make sure that we better understand participation in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as food stamps.According to SNAP to Health, whose founding supporters were the Aetna Foundation and the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress:

“Stigma associated with the SNAP program has led to several common misconceptions about how the program works and who receives the benefits. For instance, many Americans believe that the majority of SNAP benefits go towards people who could be working. In fact, more than half of SNAP recipients are children or the elderly. For the remaining working-age individuals, many of them are currently employed. At least forty percent of all SNAP beneficiaries live in a household with earnings. In fact, the majority of SNAP households do not receive cash welfare benefits (around 10 percent receive cash welfare), with increasing numbers of SNAP beneficiaries obtaining their primary source of income from employment.”

This information is not hard to find or relay, but that would not fit the anti-Obama narrative. In the 2012 primaries, Newt Gingrich gained quite a bit of traction referring to Obama as the “the best food stamp president in American history.” This idea, including its latent racial connotations, lives on because it confirms an us-versus-them, takers-versus-makers sensibility.

Obama was right to call out the media’s poverty narratives. There are people across the income spectrum who are lazy and addicted and want something for nothing. But it’s unfair and untenable to pretend this is the sole purview of the poor. Negative behavior doesn’t necessarily spring from a lack of money, but rather exposes a lack of character.

Next up we have Mr. Kristof:

One of the world’s most beautiful regions, the seas of Southeast Asia — home to sparkling white beaches and $7,000-a-night beach villas — is becoming a scene of a mass atrocity.

Thousands of refugees from the persecuted Rohingya minority in Myanmar, fleeing modern concentration camps at home, have fled to sea in boats, and many have drowned. Fearing a crackdown, smugglers have abandoned some of those boats at sea, and neighboring countries are pushing the boats back to sea when they try to land.

The Obama administration, which has regarded Myanmar as one of its diplomatic successes, is largely unhelpful as this calamity unfolds.

“The Andaman Sea is about to become a floating mass grave, and it’s because of the failure of governments, including our own, to do what is necessary,” says Tom Andrews, a former member of Congress who is president of United to End Genocide. “Not only is there not a search-and-rescue operation going on right now — with thousands out to sea — but governments are towing these people out from their shores back to open sea, which is tantamount to mass murder.”

One appalling chapter of World War II came when the SS St. Louis left Germany in 1939 full of Jewish refugees fleeing the Nazis. Cuba and the United States barred them from disembarking, and — after passing so close to Miami that passengers could see the lights on shore — the ship returned to Europe, where many died in the Holocaust.

Now refugees fleeing concentration camps are again denied landfall.

“We’re talking about a flotilla of St. Louises, and people are going to die,” Andrews told me.

Rohingyas are a Muslim minority reviled by the majority Buddhist population in Myanmar. The government has confined some 150,000 of them to 21st-century concentration camps: I visited these camps last year and wrote about starving children and camp inmates dying for lack of medical care.

On Wednesday, there were unconfirmed reports of 20 Rohingya-owned shops being burned down in Maungdaw in western Myanmar near the border with Bangladesh.

The United Nations says that more than 130,000 Rohingyas have fled by sea since 2012. Many fall prey to human smugglers who torture, rape and starve them in Thai camps until relatives pay ransom. The discovery of a mass grave this month from one such camp embarrassed Thai authorities into cracking down on human smugglers, leading the crews to abandon the ships, with their human cargo adrift at sea.

Chris Lewa of The Arakan Project, a human rights group, said she has been in cellphone contact with two ships full of refugees, and she suspects that there are more farther from land and thus out of cellphone range. One is drifting without engines or adequate food, and she, as a private citizen, has been frantically trying to organize a search-and-rescue effort to save the passengers — so far, unsuccessfully.

Come on! If a suspected terrorist were on board, intelligence agencies would use that cellphone number to locate that boat. But 350 desperate refugees adrift at sea, and we’re going to shrug and let them drown?

Governments are probably uninterested in rescuing refugees for fear that they would then have to take them in. Thailand has long had a policy of sending refugee boats on their way, and Indonesia this week pushed two ships carrying hundreds of Rohingya back to sea. As for Malaysia, “we won’t let any foreign boats come in,” an admiral said.

Europe also has a refugee crisis, but at least European countries are mounting search-and-rescue operations to try to save lives. What Southeast Asian governments are doing is the opposite.

As a first step, President Obama should call the leaders of Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia, urging them to rescue and shelter refugees. The United States can also use military and intelligence assets to locate drifting refugee ships and assist with search and rescue.

Obama must also make clear that Myanmar cannot have a normal relationship with the United States as long as it engages in crimes against humanity. Just this month, the administration welcomed to the White House a senior official of the Myanmar government, Thura Shwe Mann, who has allied himself with extremist anti-Rohingya positions. In its statement afterward, the White House’s press office even avoided using the word “Rohingya,” apparently so as not to offend Myanmar.

That’s craven, but what’s worse is the way American and Asian officials alike seem determined to avert their eyes from atrocities in one of the world’s most beautiful regions.

“People are dying at sea,” said Matthew Smith of Fortify Rights, a human rights group that has done excellent work monitoring the Rohingya. “We know that, right now. And it could worsen considerably in the coming weeks.”

And now here’s Ms. Collins:

Let’s discuss Jeb Bush’s terrible week.

I’m really troubled by his awful performances, and I’m generally a person who takes bad news about politicians pretty well. For instance, a friend just sent me a story about the Texas agriculture commissioner’s vow to bring deep-fried foods back to school cafeterias. (“It’s not about French fries; it’s about freedom.”) I would classify this as interesting, yet somehow not a shocking surprise.

But today we’re talking about Jeb Bush. As a presidential hopeful, Bush’s most attractive feature was an aura of competence. Extremely boring competence, perhaps. Still, an apparent ability to get through the day without demonstrating truly scary ineptitude.

Then, about a week ago, The Washington Post reported that during a private meeting with rich Manhattan financiers, Bush announced that his most influential adviser on Middle Eastern matters was his brother George.

This was a surprise on many fronts. For one thing, Jeb had apparently missed the memo on how everything you say to potential donors at private meetings can wind up on an endless YouTube loop for all eternity.

Also, he had begun his all-but-announced campaign for the presidency with an “I’m my own man” sales pitch. Now he was saying, in effect, “Well, I can always ask my brother.”

Then, on Monday, Fox News aired an interview in which host Megyn Kelly asked Jeb whether “knowing what we know now” he would have authorized the invasion of Iraq.

“I would have, and so would have Hillary Clinton, just to remind everybody,” Bush replied.

Now no one, including Hillary Clinton’s worst enemy in the entire world, thinks that if she could go back in time to 2002, knowing that the invasion of Iraq was going to be a total disaster and that she would lose the presidential nomination in 2008 to a guy who ran on that very issue, she would still have voted to authorize the use of force. So, obviously, Bush misheard the question, right?

Apparently not. He then went on: “I mean, so just for the news flash to the world if they’re trying to find places where there’s big space between me and my brother, this might not be one of those.”

We had now learned that: 1) Jeb Bush still thinks invading Iraq was a good idea; and 2) he has inherited more of the family syntax issues than we knew.

Fast-forward one day: “I interpreted the question wrong, I guess,” Bush told Sean Hannity in a radio interview. “I was talking about given what people knew then, would you have done it, rather than knowing what we know now. And knowing what we know now, you know, clearly there were mistakes.”

He still didn’t claim that he’d have done anything different than his brother had done. (“That’s a hypothetical.”) But he was really nailing down that business about mistakes.

Then Bush was off to Nevada, campaigning in his own special way. (“I’m running for president in 2016, and the focus is going to be about how we, if I run, how do you create high sustained economic growth.”)

He also announced that hypothetical questions were a “disservice” to the U.S. troops and their families.

What is going on here? It’s not actually about foreign policy. Jeb Bush clearly knows nothing whatsoever about foreign policy, but then neither do the majority of other Republican presidential hopefuls.

The bottom line is that so far he seems to be a terrible candidate. He couldn’t keep his “I’m-my-own-man” mantra going through the spring. He over-babbled at a private gathering. He didn’t know how to answer the Iraq question, which should have been the first thing he tackled on the first day he ever considered that he might someday think for even a minute about running for president.

This is obviously a problem for the Bush camp, but it’s a big one for the nation’s army of concerned citizens, too. There are lots of Americans who are not going to vote Republican next year, but who nevertheless have found some comfort in the idea that Jeb Bush would almost certainly be the Republican nominee.

They might disagree with him on a lot of issues, but at least he wasn’t Ted Cruz. “I’m a fan of Jeb Bush,” Cruz said cruelly, when asked about the Iraq incident. “I’ll give him credit for candor and consistency.”

If the version of Jeb Bush we’ve been seeing lately is the one we’re going to be stuck with, then one of the other Republican contenders is going to win. Maybe the guy who thinks Obamacare is the worst thing since slavery. Or the guy who once linked vaccines to children with mental disorders. The guy who used to peddle a “Diabetes Solution Kit.” The guy with the bridge traffic jam!

Right now, you know, it’s all hypothetical.

Kristof and Collins

May 7, 2015

In “Our Biased Brains” Mr. Kristof asks a question:  Where does this ingrained propensity to racial bias come from?  In “Beyond the Demon Sheep” Ms. Collins points out that some candidates think we should be actually drawn to their lack of political experience.  Here’s Mr. Kristof:

To better understand the roots of racial division in America, think about this:

The human brain seems to be wired so that it categorizes people by race in the first one-fifth of a second after seeing a face. Brain scans show that even when people are told to sort people by gender, the brain still groups people by race.

Racial bias also begins astonishingly early: Even infants often show a preference for their own racial group. In one study, 3-month-old white infants were shown photos of faces of white adults and black adults; they preferred the faces of whites. For 3-month-old black infants living in Africa, it was the reverse.

This preference reflected what the child was accustomed to. Black infants living in overwhelmingly white Israel didn’t show a strong preference one way or the other, according to the study, published in Psychological Science.

Where does this ingrained propensity to racial bias come from?

Scholars suggest that in evolutionary times we became hard-wired to make instantaneous judgments about whether someone is in our “in group” or not — because that could be lifesaving. A child who didn’t prefer his or her own group might have been at risk of being clubbed to death.

“It’s a feature of evolution,” says Mahzarin Banaji, a Harvard psychology professor who co-developed tests of unconscious biases. These suggest that people turn out to have subterranean racial and gender biases that they are unaware of and even disapprove of.

I’ve written about unconscious bias before, and I encourage you to test yourself atimplicit.harvard.edu. It’s sobering to discover that whatever you believe intellectually, you’re biased about race, gender, age or disability.

What’s particularly dispiriting is that this unconscious bias among whites toward blacks seems just as great among preschoolers as among senior citizens.

Banaji’s research projects show that unconscious racial bias turns up in children as soon as they have the verbal skills to be tested for it, at about age 4. The degree of unconscious bias then seems pretty constant: In tests, this unconscious bias turns out to be roughly the same for a 4- or 6-year-old as for a senior citizen who grew up in more racially oppressive times.

In one set of experiments, children as young as about 4 were shown ambiguous photos of people who could be white or Asian. In some, the people in the photos were smiling; in others, they were frowning.

White American kids disproportionately judged that the people who were smiling were white and that those who were frowning were Asian. When the experiment was conducted in Taiwan with exactly the same photos, Taiwanese children thought that the faces when smiling were Asian, when frowning were white.

The American children were also shown faces that were ambiguous as to whether the person was white or black. In those cases, white kids disproportionately thought that the smiling people were white and the frowning ones were black.

Many of these experiments on in-group bias have been conducted around the world, and almost every ethnic group shows a bias favoring its own. One exception: African-Americans.

Researchers find that in contrast to other groups, African-Americans do not have an unconscious bias toward their own. From young children to adults, they are essentially neutral and favor neither whites nor blacks.

Banaji and other scholars suggest that this is because even young African-American children somehow absorb the social construct that white skin is prestigious and that black skin isn’t. In one respect, that is unspeakably sad; in another, it’s a model of unconscious race neutrality. Yet even if we humans have evolved to have a penchant for racial preferences from a very young age, this is not destiny. We can resist the legacy that evolution has bequeathed us.

“We wouldn’t have survived if our ancestors hadn’t developed bodies that store sugar and fat,” Banaji says. “What made them survive is what kills us.” Yet we fight the battle of the bulge and sometimes win — and, likewise, we can resist a predisposition for bias against other groups.

One strategy that works is seeing images of heroic African-Americans; afterward, whites and Asians show less bias, a study found. Likewise, hearing a story in which a black person rescues someone from a white assailant reduces anti-black bias in subsequent testing. It’s not clear how long this effect lasts.

Deep friendships, especially romantic relationships with someone of another race, also seem to mute bias — and that, too, has implications for bringing young people together to forge powerful friendships.

“If you actually have friendships across race lines, you probably have fewer biases,” Banaji says. “These are learned, so they can be unlearned.”

Now here’s Ms. Collins:

Do you want the next president to be somebody who brags about not being a politician?

Think about that for a minute. “Politician” isn’t a popular term right now. But claiming that you’re not one when you run for president is a little like applying for a job as brain surgeon by announcing, “I am not a physician.”

This week we acquired three new candidates for the Republican presidential nomination. Two are running on the not-a-politician line. That would be Carly Fiorina, the former head of Hewlett-Packard, and Ben Carson, a retired — yes! — neurosurgeon.

The third is the former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee. We have met Huckabee before, and we will have many future opportunities to discuss his remarkable transformation from poor country lad to governor of Arkansas, from likable conservative candidate for president in 2008 to the rather mean right-winger we’re stuck with now.

But today let’s consider Fiorina and Carson, who want you to elect them to the highest office in the land because they have never held elective office.

Carson (“I’m not a politician”) became a Tea Party hero when he began denouncing Obamacare (“the worst thing that has happened in this nation since slavery”), comparing American society to Nazi Germany and claiming the president resembled “most psychopaths.”

Some political experts believe he is the kind of Republican who can do well in Iowa. Is that true, Iowa? I would rather think better of you.

Fiorina is running as the anti-Hillary. (“I think if Hillary Clinton faces a woman opponent, she will get a hitch in her swing.”) She is the kind of person who tells you that when she went to college she studied philosophy, ancient Greek, Latin, French and German, then adds that she also took Italian, “But that was just for the fun of it.”

That last bit comes from her memoir, which chronicles her rise to head of Hewlett-Packard in 1999, followed by a rather inglorious firing in 2005 for reasons that she most definitely feels were not her fault.

In her first campaign video, she’s shown watching Clinton’s announcement. We now have videos of candidates attacking other candidates’ videos. Soon we will drop debates entirely in favor of tweet-offs.

“Our founders never intended us to have a professional political class,” Fiorina says, turning to the camera.

Virtually every elected president in American history — not counting the occasional military hero — made his way to the top by getting elected to other offices first. There are a couple of exceptions who just served in the cabinet, like Herbert Hoover. We can all look forward to hearing a candidate vow to return us to the golden days of the Hoover administration.

Fiorina’s answer is to go back to men like Thomas Jefferson (state legislator, governor, diplomat, secretary of state, vice president), who she says believed strictly in “citizen government.” The founders may not have liked the idea of a political class, but they picked presidents who were part of one. Public men, whose experience in private enterprise frequently involved running a plantation into the ground.

Fiorina, whose tenure at Hewlett-Packard included a controversial merger deal and the layoff of about 30,000 employees, is actually an excellent example of why we don’t want the country to be run like a business. The American people aren’t just shareholders. They would like their government to be efficient, and they would like the budget to balance. But they also want a lot of other stuff — protection from evildoers, compassion for the needy, assistance in retirement, highways without potholes, good schools, a healthy environment.

Who gets what first is a political question. One that preferably would be resolved without having any internal crises so exciting that the chief executive gets tossed out of office.

People who run for president boasting that they aren’t politicians are frequently just trying to compensate for a lack of political skill. Carson (who presumably wants to run government like an operating room) is going to appeal to the folks who think the military is plotting to take over Texas, but otherwise, his only political gift seems to be for making outrageous statements. Fiorina ran for the Senate in 2010 and was beaten by Barbara Boxer, who was thought to be a vulnerable incumbent until Fiorina got hold of her, racking up a grand total of 42 percent of the vote.

On the plus side, Fiorina’s campaign produced one of the all-time great attack videos, in which her more moderate primary opponent was depicted as a Demon Sheep, portrayed by a man crawling across the grass with what looked like a wooly rug over his back and a piece of cardboard on his face. After that it was downhill all the way.

If you’re shopping for candidates with no experience in the business they want to lead, I’d say at least go for the one with the Demon. But really, there are smarter buys.

Blow, Kristof and Collins

April 30, 2015

In “Violence in Baltimore” Mr. Blow says you could argue that the rage was misdirected, and you would be right. But misdirected rage is not necessarily illegitimate rage.  In “When Baltimore Burned” Mr. Kristof says the real crisis isn’t one night of young men in the street rioting, it’s our long-term denial of equal opportunity to people based on their skin color and ZIP code.  Ms. Collins considers “When No News Is Good News” and says there’s more than one way to judge a judge.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

This week, Baltimore was engulfed in violent revolt as citizens took to the street in the wake of the mysterious and disturbing death of Freddie Gray after he’d been taken into police custody.

Projectiles were thrown. Stores were looted and some set ablaze. Police officers were injured.

It was ugly.

And in that moment, America was again forced to turn its face toward its forsaken and ask tough questions and attempt to answer a few.

Even Hillary Clinton stepped into the fray Wednesday, saying:

“We have to come to terms with some hard truths about race and justice in America. There is something profoundly wrong when African-American men are still far more likely to be stopped and searched by police, charged with crimes, and sentenced to longer prison terms than are meted out to their white counterparts.”

This was an aggressive speech by Clinton and a major departure from her 2008 run, when, after an embarrassing loss to Barack Obama in the Iowa caucuses, she went on the attack in New Hampshire, with ABC News reporting it this way:

“While the senator was vague, her campaign pointed out to ABC News examples of Obama’s liberal positions, including his 2004 statement to abolish mandatory minimum sentences for federal crimes.”

On Tuesday, the day before his wife’s speech, Bill Clinton had weighed in. As the Guardian reported:

“Former U.S. president Bill Clinton has called for an end to mass incarceration, admitting that changes in penal policy that happened largely under his watch put ‘too many people in prison and for too long’ and ‘overshot the mark.’”

The Guardian goes on to explain:

“In 1994 Clinton championed a crime bill that laid down several of the foundations of the country’s current mass incarceration malaise. Vowing to be ‘tough on crime’ — a quality that had previously been more closely associated with the Republicans and which Clinton adopted under his ‘triangulation’ ploy — he created incentives to individual states to build more prisons, to put more people behind bars and to keep them there for longer. His also presided over the introduction of a federal three-strikes law that brought in long sentences for habitual offenders.”

Hillary Clinton’s speech on Wednesday was indeed a remarkable and audacious one for the candidate, and went far further than many of her Republican rivals would dare to go (although there is growing bipartisan consensus around prison reform), but the unacknowledged and unexplained shift in the middle of a heated moment could quite reasonably raise doubts of sincerity or commitment to execution.

The black community in America has been betrayed by Democrats and Republicans alike — it has been betrayed by America itself. Therefore, it can be hard to accept at face value any promises made or policies articulated. History demonstrates that too many forked tongues have delivered too many betrayed covenants.

As James Baldwin put it in his essay “Journey to Atlanta”:

“Of all Americans, Negroes distrust politicians most, or more accurately, they have been best trained to expect nothing from them; more than other Americans, they are always aware of the enormous gap between election promises and their daily lives.”

Baldwin continued:

“It is true that the promises excite them, but this is not because they are taken as proof of good intentions. They are the proof of something more concrete than intentions: that the Negro situation is not static, that changes have occurred, and are occurring and will occur — this, in spite of the daily, dead-end monotony. It is this daily, dead-end monotony, though, as well as the wise desire not to be betrayed by too much hoping, which causes them to look on politicians with such an extraordinarily disenchanted eye.”

It is this disenchantment, as well as the steady beat of black bodies falling, the constant murmur of black pain and the incessant sting of black subjugation that contributed to the conflagration of rage this week in Baltimore.

You could easily argue that that rage was misdirected, that most of the harm done was to the social fabric and the civil and economic interests in the very neighborhoods that most lack them. You would be right.

But misdirected rage is not necessarily illegitimate rage.

Some might even contextualize the idea of misdirection.

The activist Deray McKesson argued this week about the violence that erupted in Baltimore: “I don’t have to condone it to understand it.”

Indeed, The Atlantic’s Ta-Nehisi Coates argued quite convincingly in November that violent revolt has often been the catalyst for change in this country and that nonviolence, at least in part, draws its power from the untenable alternative of violence.

None of this promotes violence as a tactic, but rather is a fuller understanding of the contradictions of America’s current, incessant appeals for peace.

We can’t roundly condemn violent revolt now while ignoring the violent revolts that have littered this country’s history.

We can’t rush to label violent protesters as “thugs” while reserving judgment about the violence of police killings until a full investigation has been completed and all the facts are in.

We can’t condemn explosions of frustration born of generations of marginalization and oppression while paying only passing glances to similar explosions of frustration over the inanity of a sports team’s victory or loss or a gathering for a pumpkin festival.

Nonviolence, as a strategy, hinges on faith: It is a faith in ultimate moral rectitude and the perfectibility of systems of power.

But that faith can be hard to find in communities that see systems of power in which they feel they have no stake and an absence of moral courage on the part of the powerful to expand the franchise.

It has been my experience that people who feel no investment in systems of power — no belief that they have access to that power and that that power will treat them fairly — are the ones most likely to attack those systems with whatever power they think they have.

The time that any population will silently endure suffering is term-limited and the end of that term is unpredictable, often set by a moment of trauma that pushes a simmering discontent over into civil disobedience.

And, in those moments, America feigns shock and disbelief. Where did this anger come from? How can we quickly restore calm? How do we instantly start to heal?

That is because America likes to hide its sins. That is because it wants its disaffected, dispossessed and disenfranchised to use the door under the steps. That is because America sees its underclass as some sort of infinity sponge: capable of quietly absorbing disadvantage, neglect and oppression forever for the greater good of superficial calm and illusory order. And expected to do so.

No one of good conscience and sound judgment desires violence or would ever advocate for it. As the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. put it, “The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy.”

But King is not the only person worthy of quoting here. There is also the quote often attributed to Zora Neale Hurston: “If you are silent about your pain, they’ll kill you and say you enjoyed it.”

Next up we have Mr. Kristof:

Conservatives have sometimes been too quick to excuse police violence. And liberals have sometimes been too quick to excuse rioter violence.

It’s outrageous when officers use excessive force against young, unarmed African-American men, who are 21 times as likely to be shot dead by the police as young white men. It’s also outrageous when rioters loot shops or attack officers.

So bravo to Toya Graham, the Baltimore mom captured on video grabbing her teenage son from the streets and frog-marching him home. The boy wilted: It must be humiliating to be a “badass” rioter one moment and then to be savagely scolded in front of your peers and sent to your room.

“That’s my only son, and at the end of the day I don’t want him to be a Freddie Gray,” Graham later told CBS News. It was of course Gray’s death, after an injury at the hands of the police, that set off the rioting.

On social media, there were plenty of people making excuses for rioters — a common refrain was “nothing else works to get attention.” But to their great credit, African-American leaders provided firm moral guidance and emphasized that street violence was unconscionable.

President Obama set just the right tone.

“When individuals get crowbars and start prying open doors to loot, they’re not protesting. They’re not making a statement. They’re stealing,” Obama said. “When they burn down a building, they’re committing arson. And they’re destroying and undermining businesses and opportunities in their own communities.”

Or as Carmelo Anthony, the Knicks basketball star who grew up in Baltimore and has invested in a youth center there, put it: “We need to protect our city, not destroy it.”

Yet as Obama, Anthony and other leaders also noted, there are crucial underlying inequities that demand attention. The rioting distracts from those inequities, which are the far larger burden on America’s cities.

That also represents a failure on our part in the American news media. We focus television cameras on the drama of a burning CVS store but ignore the systemic catastrophe of broken schools, joblessness, fatherless kids, heroin, oppressive policing — and, maybe the worst kind of poverty of all, hopelessness.

The injustices suffered by Freddie Gray began early. As a little boy hesuffered lead poisoning (as do 535,000 American children ages 1 to 5), which has been linked to lifelong mental impairments and higher crime rates.

In Gray’s neighborhood, one-third of adults lack a high school degree. A majority of those aged 16 to 64 are unemployed.

And Baltimore’s African-American residents have often encountered not only crime and insecurity but also law enforcement that is unjust and racist. Michael A. Fletcher, an African-American reporter who lived for many years in the city, wrote in The Washington Post that when his wife’s car was stolen, a Baltimore policeman bluntly explained the department’s strategy for recovering vehicles: “If we see a group of young black guys in a car, we pull them over.”

Likewise, the Baltimore jail was notorious for corruption and gang rule. A federal investigation found that one gang leader in the jail fathered five children by four female guards.

Wretched conditions are found to some degree in parts of many cities, and Shirley Franklin, the former mayor of Atlanta, told me that when we tolerate them, we tolerate a combustible mix.

“It’s not just about the police use of force,” she said. “It’s about a system that is not addressing young people’s needs. They’re frankly lashing out, and the police force issue is just a catalyst for their expression of frustration at being left out.”

Whites sometimes comment snidely on a “culture of grievance” among blacks. Really? When tycoons like Stephen Schwarzman squawked that the elimination of tax loopholes was like Hitler’s invasion of Poland, now that’s a culture of grievance.

If wealthy white parents found their children damaged by lead poisoning, consigned to dismal schools, denied any opportunity to get ahead, more likely to end up in prison than college, harassed and occasionally killed by the police — why, then we’d hear roars of grievance. And they’d be right to roar: Parents of any color should protest, peacefully but loudly, about such injustices.

We’ve had months of police incidents touching on a delicate subtext of race, but it’s not clear that we’re learning lessons. Once again, I suggest that it’s time for a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to step back and explore racial inequity in America.

The real crisis isn’t one night of young men in the street rioting. It’s something perhaps even more inexcusable — our own complacency at the systematic long-term denial of equal opportunity to people based on their skin color and ZIP code.

And now here’s Ms. Collins:

There are times, in our national political conversation, when the good news is so pathetically puny that it actually makes you feel worse.

Like speculation that if things go really well this spring in Washington, Congress may be able to keep the Highway Trust Fund from going bankrupt. Or that New York’s State Legislature might be able to pass some reforms, were it not distracted by a potential indictment of the Senate’s majority leader.

It gives you the same sensation you might feel if your house was flattened by a tornado and the insurance company called to assure you that they’re replacing the porch light.

This brings us to Wednesday’s Supreme Court ruling on judicial elections.

I know “judicial elections” is possibly not the topic you were hoping for. However, this is truly exciting news:

The nation’s top court has decided that it’s O.K. for the State of Florida to prohibit judicial candidates from calling up people who are likely to have business before their court and asking for contributions.

The majority opinion stressed that Florida still allows judges up for re-election to create campaign committees to do their fund-raising. Also to write thank-you letters to donors. Chief Justice John Roberts added that it was fine for judicial candidates to “give speeches and put up billboards. They can contact potential supporters in person, on the phone, or online. They can promote their campaigns, on radio, television or other media.” Don’t want the world to think we’re getting carried away.

The reform community was thrilled. This is how low our expectations for clean elections have dropped, people.

“Great news,” said the nonpartisan advocacy group Justice at Stake.

“A momentous victory for public faith in the integrity of our judicial system,” said an attorney at the Campaign Legal Center.

We are talking here about a 5-to-4 decision. Four of the nine justices felt this was going too far. Antonin Scalia — what would we do without Justice Scalia? — found the whole idea of restricting judges’ ability to hit up trial lawyers for money a “wildly disproportionate restriction” upon judicial candidates’ right of free speech.

“Look, any time we can get a campaign finance victory from this Supreme Court majority, the response should be: hallelujah,” said Fred Wertheimer of Democracy 21. Wertheimer has been fighting to get big money out of political campaigns since the beginning of time. And what have you and I done? Zip. So he and his fellow reformers deserve a happy day and the last word. After we sigh a deep sigh.

Chief Justice Roberts provided the swing vote on the decision, an irony not lost on pretty much anybody. It’s been Roberts who’s led the court in castrating limits on the role of big money in other elections. The difference in this case, he explained, is that “judges are not politicians.” While Roberts thinks his own profession needs to appear impartial and above the fray, he appears to feel that there’s no need whatsoever for the public to believe that candidates for, say, president of the United States, aren’t being swayed by rich donors.

The case was brought by Lanell Williams-Yulee, a plaintiff who you’ve got to feel at least a little bit sorry for. She ran for a seat on the county court in Tampa and sent out a general appeal for donations, promising to “bring fresh ideas and positive solutions to the Judicial bench.” It produced no contributions whatsoever. The incumbent walloped her in a primary. And then, to add insult to injury, the Florida Bar charged Williams-Yulee with violating its rule on personal solicitation of donations, recommended a reprimand and ordered her to pay $1,860 in court costs.

Williams-Yulee argued that her First Amendment rights were being violated. In the real world, the level of public interest in judicial elections is generally so minimal that she’d probably have needed George Clooney, a rock band and several really adorable kittens to attract any voter attention.

There are ways to make the selection of judges better. You could provide public financing, like several states did with a matching fund system that the court ruled unconstitutional in 2011. Or give the whole job of filling the bench to a nonpartisan committee of experts, a process known as “merit selection.” Who could be against merit selection? A whole bunch of places, actually.

“In recent years I have been distressed to see persistent efforts in some states to politicize the bench and the role of our judges,” said former Justice Sandra Day O’Connor last year. O’Connor has made merit selection her grand crusade since she retired in 2006. On the one hand, that’s a great cause. On the other, her departure triggered the current Roberts era, which then turned our presidential elections into one long dating game between candidates and corporate oligarchs.

But at least it’s constitutional to draw a line for judges at the thank-you letter stage. Whoopee.

Nocera and Collins

April 25, 2015

In “On the Export-Import Bank, the Numbers Come First” Mr. Nocera says a conservative think tank makes the case for the Export-Import Bank.  Ms. Collins is a brave woman.  In “Presidential Primary Book Club” she tells us that at 43, Senator Marco Rubio of Florida has already written an autobiography. And she’s read it so we won’t have to.  Here’s Mr. Nocera:

In June, for the third time since 2012, the Export-Import Bank of the United States, an export credit agency that backs loans to foreign entities that help cement deals with American exporters — and thus helps create American jobs — must be reauthorized by Congress. Otherwise it will go out of business.

For most of its existence, the Ex-Im Bank wasn’t even remotely controversial; it would be routinely reauthorized for four to seven years at a time. Its underwriting was — and remains — impeccable, with a default rate of under 2 percent. With dozens of other countries using their own export credit agencies to help homegrown companies land deals, the Ex-Im Bank was viewed as an important equalizer for American companies, especially small businesses, which often can’t find funding when they want to sell their goods in foreign markets.

But in the last few years, prodded in part by Delta Air Lines, which objects to the lending assistance the Ex-Im Bank gives to foreign purchasers of Boeing aircraft, Tea Party Republicans have agitated to shut it down. In doing so, they have turned the fight over the Ex-Im Bank into an ideological litmus test. The bank’s dealings with Boeing, they claim, are an example of “crony capitalism.” The bank is in the business of picking “winners and losers,” something the government shouldn’t be doing, they say.

It gets in the way of truly free markets. The last time the Ex-Im Bank was up for reauthorization, in September, Republicans grudgingly agreed to a short-term extension. Now its opponents are moving in for the kill.

Leading the charge are the conservative think tanks, like the Heritage Foundation and Americans for Prosperity, which just the other day sponsored a conference call with Senator — and presidential candidate — Marco Rubio, who described the agency’s work as “corporate welfare.”

There is, however, one conservative think tank that has refused to join the crowd: the five-year-old American Action Forum, or A.A.F., co-founded and led by the economist Douglas Holtz-Eakin. Since last May, it has issued a series of reports making the case that the country is better off with the Ex-Im Bank than without it. Given the way apostasy is treated among conservative ideologues, this struck me as courageous.

As it turns out, Holtz-Eakin doesn’t view the American Action Forum’s stance as especially courageous. “I am a conservative,” he stressed — and most of the policy positions his think tank takes, on issues like tax policy and regulation, are unambiguously conservative.

“But,” he added, “I think too many conservative arguments are made on the basis of ideology and faith. We are dedicated to the numbers at A.A.F. We can’t just assert that markets work; we have to show it.”

Simply put, his think tank supports the Ex-Im Bank because that’s where the numbers — and the facts — led it.

Holtz-Eakin, 57, has held a number of important policy jobs in government. He was part of the Council of Economic Advisers under both Presidents Bush, the second time as its lead economist. He was an adviser to Senator John McCain during his presidential race. And between 2003 and 2005, he was the director of the Congressional Budget Office, which places a high premium on just-the-facts-ma’am numbers and research. “It is really important to have that kind of information in any sort of policy debate,” Holtz-Eakin told me.

Thus it is that Holtz-Eakin believes that immigration reform should reward skills and let in more immigrants. “The data shows that immigration offers great opportunity as an economic policy,” he said. As a member of the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, he refused to sign on to the right wing’s pet theory that the entire crisis could be blamed on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. “I have no love of Fannie and Freddie,” he said. “But they weren’t the sole cause of the crisis.”

As for the Ex-Im Bank, Holtz-Eakin decided to get his think tank involved last year, as the agency became a hot-button issue among conservatives. He directed a young research associate, Andy Winkler, to do a series of deep dives into the Ex-Im Bank; that research led the American Action Forum to support its continued existence. “It would be a negative if we got rid of it,” Holtz-Eakin says.

The most recent piece of research by Winkler showed that, far from being in the back pocket of big companies like Boeing, the Ex-Im Bank made loans that were an accurate reflection of American trade itself. Big companies make up a small percentage of the corporations that export goods, but they account for a high volume of the dollars involved. The vast majority of exporters are small businesses, though their aggregate dollar volume is much smaller. The Ex-Im Bank’s loan portfolio is in about the same ratio.

Winkler, who is 24, came to the American Action Forum straight out of college. What have you learned from working with Holtz-Eakin? I asked him.

“The numbers come first,” he replied.

Now here’s Ms. Collins:

Concerned citizens bear many great burdens, one of which is trying to follow a presidential race in which virtually every candidate has written one or more books about their lives, hopes, dreams, theories — and, in the case of Mike Huckabee, diets.

You cannot possibly read them all. It is very likely you don’t want to read any. That’s what we are here for. Today: Marco Rubio.

Rubio is 43, and he has already written an autobiography (“An American Son”) and a book on policy (“American Dreams”). Do not feel compelled to go back and look at “100 Innovative Ideas for Florida’s Future.”

Right now, we’re going to concentrate on the autobiography, which is a great corrective for anyone under the impression that Rubio had an impoverished childhood. His parents, working-class Cuban immigrants, most definitely did struggle financially. But Rubio makes it clear none of the struggling trickled down to him: he lived a “charmed, happy life” and was, in fact, “an insufferably demanding kid.”

Kudos for candor, Marco Rubio!

He certainly did have a talent for getting his way. Rubio’s family were Mormon converts, but, when Marco was about 12, he argued that everyone should go back to Catholicism. Which they did. He then requested that he and his sister be allowed to go to Catholic school, and his parents agreed, even though it was a financial stretch. Marco soon decided he didn’t like it, and successfully demanded a transfer to the local public school.

Besides his extremely cooperative relatives, the most vivid characters in the book are probably the Miami Dolphins, who come up all the time. Although his sister and fiancée won positions as cheerleaders, Rubio’s own hopes of making the team were quashed by reality. But not before he tried to pursue the dream by accepting a football scholarship to a 500-student private college in Missouri that was more than a two-hours’ drive from Kansas City and flirting with bankruptcy.

Somewhere during freshman year, he seems to have gotten a grip, and it was back to Florida, community college and then upward and onward through law school. At this point, with his early flaws corrected, Rubio starts confessing that he was a bad boyfriend to his future wife, Jeanette, and later, an absentee father as his political career took off.

But all of Rubio’s faults, it turns out, are personal. Politically, he has no regrets. He manages to go from a youthful labor union enthusiast to Tea Party poster boy without any hint of internal struggle. And while the book is jammed with details about polls and campaign staff shake-ups and fund-raising, it’s often weirdly apolitical. The first time Rubio says he felt “a genuine desire to engage in federal policy debates” was in 2008 when Barack Obama was elected president, and he was already a former speaker of the Florida House of Representatives.

Rubio was elected to the State Legislature at 28, and he made it to speaker in six years. (Florida has eight-year term limits, so there’s actually no such thing as a slow, steady climb to power.) When he arrived, the governor was Jeb Bush, who Rubio describes as pretty much the best person in the universe. Later, when he was considering a race for an open Senate seat, Rubio dutifully checked first to see if Jeb was interested. “If he were to run, no one would challenge him in the primary — certainly not me,” he wrote. Ah, history.

Rubio clashed with Bush’s successor, Charlie Crist, over Rubio’s idea — the first of those we’re really hearing about — for eliminating all property taxes in favor of higher sales taxes. It was an early harbinger of Rubio’s antipathy for taxation according to the ability to pay, but Crist successfully countered with a much more modest proposal.

Their other big battle involved Crist’s ambitious efforts to fight global warming. Rubio’s discussion of this entire issue takes up two paragraphs, and despite the fact that Florida is absolutely awash in the effects of climate change, it’s the only mention of the subject in his autobiography. Also — spoiler alert — it’s not going to come up at all in his policy book.

Meanwhile, that Senate race is looming. Crist is running, too, and the first part of Rubio’s campaign seems to mainly consist of whining. (“Why would God put me in this position?”) God figures a lot in this story, and although Rubio says he knows “God didn’t endorse candidates,” he does make it pretty clear that he knows who would win if God had an absentee ballot.

Triumph! Marco Rubio is off to the Senate in 2011. His career there takes up only five pages. “What has surprised me the most,” he confides to readers who have stayed with him until the bitter end, “is that life as a U.S. senator is pretty much what I expected it to be.”

Go, Dolphins.

Blow, Kristof and Collins

April 16, 2015

In “Woe of White Men, Again?” Mr. Blow says faux oppression makes a mockery of real oppression. We don’t need Wayne LaPierre and Bill O’Reilly complaining about more power going to people who don’t look like them.  Well, we actually just don’t need Wayne and Bill at all…  Mr. Kristof, in “Starving for Wisdom,” says the humanities enrich our souls, and sometimes even our pocketbooks.  Ms. Collins says you should “Take Your Hillary Temperature,” and has a simple quiz that will show if you’re ready for the candidate.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

Hillary Clinton’s entry into the race for the presidency has goosed the egos of some conservative ganders.

Wayne LaPierre, the C.E.O. and executive vice president of the National Rifle Association, on the eve of Clinton’s announcement said of President Obama at the group’s annual meeting, “when he’s finished, he intends to go out with the coronation of Hillary Rodham Clinton.” There were boos. LaPierre continued: “Yeah, I have to tell you, eight years of one demographically symbolic president is enough.” There were cheers.

Fox News’s Bill O’Reilly ratcheted up the rhetoric on Monday. With the words “HILLARY CLINTON FOR PRESIDENT” in yellow and all-caps next to his face, he bemoaned the idea that “our traditional American values are under siege nearly everywhere,” and then added: “If you’re a Christian or a white man in the U.S.A., it’s open season on you. Therefore, Hillary Clinton has an advantage.”

In a way, one would expect nothing more from these men. They are simply playing to their bases.

As U.S. News and World Report put it in 2013 when noting a Pew Research Center report: “White men represent just a third of the U.S. population, but about 60 percent of adults with guns in America today are white men.”

And as for Fox, the website Mediaite reported in December that just 1 percent of Fox News viewers are black.

And yet, this faux oppression makes a mockery of very real oppression. Aside from the hilarity of the incongruous spectacle of two incredibly powerful white men grousing about the lowly plight of white men in general is the utter ridiculousness of the idea itself.

And unfortunately, this isn’t a new idea, but the resurrection — or elongation — of an existing one.

In 2012, the conservative commentator Matt K. Lewis wrote an entry on The Daily Caller under the headline “The silent war on noncollege-educated white men.”

That same year, the conservative blog RedState.com published an essay under the headline, “The Democrat War on White Men.” It included lines like “Democrats hate White Men” (capitalization theirs), “White Men in unions are tolerated and helped by Democrats — but only if they fall in line to punish other White Men” and “White Men were politically neutered and forgotten about.”

Suzanne Venker wrote an opinion piece in 2013 on FoxNews.com under the headline “Men — the new second class citizens.” She included the following passage:

“Yet it is males who suffer in our society. From boyhood through adulthood, the White American Male must fight his way through a litany of taunts, assumptions and grievances about his very existence. His oppression is unlike anything American women have faced.”

In August, Representative Mo Brooks, a Republican of Alabama, said on Laura Ingraham’s radio show that there is a “war on whites that’s being launched by the Democratic Party.”

One thing that makes this line of reasoning so grating is the degree to which money and power in this country continue to be dominated by white men. As The Guardian reported in 2013, the “U.S.’s top-paid executives in 2012 represent technology, coffee, and sporting goods companies — and all are white and male.”

ThinkProgress, expanding on the report, explained:

“A big part of the lack in diversity on the list is the lack of diversity among executives overall. Women hold few of the top jobs at major companies. There are now 22 at the helm of Fortune 500 companies with Lynn Good’s appointment as CEO of Duke Energy in July, which means less than 5 percent of those positions are filled by women.

“Top executives are also not racially diverse. Among Fortune 500 CEOs, six are black, making up just 1.2 percent. There are eight Latino and eight Asian CEOs, accounting for just 1.6 percent each.

“But even when they reach the highest rungs, women are still paid less than their peers.”

In politics, the race and gender inequities are also stark.

As The Washington Post reported in January, “the new Congress is 80 percent white, 80 percent male and 92 percent Christian.”

So much for white Christian men being under attack.

This presidential season has the promise to bring a tremendous amount of diversity. Not only is Clinton the leading figure on the Democratic side, but the Republicans have a plethora of diverse options, at least in terms of race, ethnicity and gender.

Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio both have strong ties to the Hispanic community. Rubio is Hispanic and Jeb Bush has a Mexican-born wife and once, inexplicably, listed himself as Hispanic on a voter form.

The disastrous Louisiana governor, Bobby Jindal, who is Indian-American, is mulling a run. (I’m not sure Jindal would approve of that hyphenation, by the way, because in a 2013 Politico essay he chafed at what he saw as us placing “far too much emphasis on our ‘separateness,’” and rebuffed that idea of hyphenation, saying, “Here’s an idea: How about just ‘Americans?’”)

Ben Carson, the brilliant neurosurgeon and baffling political figure, who is African-American (sorry, Governor Jindal), is scheduled to make an announcement in Detroit next month about whether he will enter the race. Carson is the same man who once said that white liberals are “the most racist people there are” and don’t want people to “come off the plantation.”

Even Carly Fiorina, who was forced out as the C.E.O. of Hewlett-Packard, is expected to run for the Republican nomination. But some Republican king makers — or queen makers — seem to see her more as a tool than as a true talent. As Time magazine recently reported: “A Republican strategist told Time last year that Fiorina could be a potent weapon for the GOP in the coming cycle. ‘The most effective way to criticize a woman is to have another woman do it.’ ”

This is a flawed field, to be sure, but it is diverse. The last thing we need is for men like LaPierre and O’Reilly to complain about the prospects of an expansion of power that would include more people who don’t look like them.

America is moving forward, tilting and transforming, and the bulwarks of traditional powers are crumbling.

Next up we have Mr. Kristof:

“We are drowning in information, while starving for wisdom.”

That epigram from E.O. Wilson captures the dilemma of our era. Yet the solution of some folks is to disdain wisdom.

“Is it a vital interest of the state to have more anthropologists?” Rick Scott, the Florida governor, once asked. A leader of a prominent Internet company once told me that the firm regards admission to Harvard as a useful heuristic of talent, but a college education itself as useless.

Parents and students themselves are acting on these principles, retreating from the humanities. Among college graduates in 1971, there were about two business majors for each English major. Now there are seven times as many. (I was a political science major; if I were doing it over, I’d be an economics major with a foot in the humanities.)

I’ve been thinking about this after reading Fareed Zakaria’s smart new book, “In Defense of a Liberal Education.” Like Zakaria, I think that the liberal arts teach critical thinking (not to mention nifty words like “heuristic”).

So, to answer the skeptics, here are my three reasons the humanities enrich our souls and sometimes even our pocketbooks as well.

First, liberal arts equip students with communications and interpersonal skills that are valuable and genuinely rewarded in the labor force, especially when accompanied by technical abilities.

“A broad liberal arts education is a key pathway to success in the 21st-century economy,” says Lawrence Katz, a labor economist at Harvard. Katz says that the economic return to pure technical skills has flattened, and the highest return now goes to those who combine soft skills — excellence at communicating and working with people — with technical skills.

“So I think a humanities major who also did a lot of computer science, economics, psychology, or other sciences can be quite valuable and have great career flexibility,” Katz said. “But you need both, in my view, to maximize your potential. And an economics major or computer science major or biology or engineering or physics major who takes serious courses in the humanities and history also will be a much more valuable scientist, financial professional, economist, or entrepreneur.”

My second reason: We need people conversant with the humanities to help reach wise public policy decisions, even about the sciences. Technology companies must constantly weigh ethical decisions: Where should Facebook set its privacy defaults, and should it tolerate glimpses of nudity? Should Twitter close accounts that seem sympathetic to terrorists? How should Google handle sex and violence, or defamatory articles?

In the policy realm, one of the most important decisions we humans will have to make is whether to allow germline gene modification. This might eliminate certain diseases, ease suffering, make our offspring smarter and more beautiful. But it would also change our species. It would enable the wealthy to concoct superchildren. It’s exhilarating and terrifying.

To weigh these issues, regulators should be informed by first-rate science, but also by first-rate humanism. After all, Homer addressed similar issues three millenniums ago.

In “The Odyssey,” the beautiful nymph Calypso offers immortality to Odysseus if he will stay on her island. After a fling with her, Odysseus ultimately rejects the offer because he misses his wife, Penelope. He turns down godlike immortality to embrace suffering and death that are essential to the human condition.

Likewise, when the President’s Council on Bioethics issued its report in 2002, “Human Cloning and Human Dignity,” it cited scientific journals but also Ernest Hemingway’s “The Old Man and the Sea.” Even science depends upon the humanities to shape judgments about ethics, limits and values.

Third, wherever our careers lie, much of our happiness depends upon our interactions with those around us, and there’s some evidence that literature nurtures a richer emotional intelligence.

Science magazine published five studies indicating that research subjects who read literary fiction did better at assessing the feelings of a person in a photo than those who read nonfiction or popular fiction. Literature seems to offer lessons in human nature that help us decode the world around us and be better friends.

Literature also builds bridges of understanding. Toni Morrison has helped all America understand African-American life. Jhumpa Lahiri illuminated immigrant contradictions. Khaled Hosseini opened windows on Afghanistan.

In short, it makes eminent sense to study coding and statistics today, but also history and literature.

John Adams had it right when he wrote to his wife, Abigail, in 1780: “I must study Politicks and War that my sons may have liberty to study Mathematicks and Philosophy. My sons ought to study Mathematicks and Philosophy, Geography, natural History and Naval Architecture, navigation, Commerce and Agriculture, in order to give their Children a right to study Painting, Poetry, Musick, Architecture, Statuary, Tapestry and Porcelaine.”

And now here’s Ms. Collins:

Hillary Clinton is off and running and thinking about you all the time, everyday American. Right now she’s probably in her van, someplace on the Interstate highway system, wondering how you’re doing.

She could be home, lounging on her patio, looking at the daffodils and sipping a glass of 1961 Latour. But instead she’s at a diner or a town meeting, nodding ferociously and listening to a guy explain his problems with rural electrification. And she is planning on doing this sort of thing for the next 19 months. Just for you.

The initial strategy, as you may have noticed, is to underwhelm. Start very quiet and make it clear that she does not expect special consideration. Just treat her the same way you would a candidate for zoning board of appeals. Or Lincoln Chafee. She’ll be fine.

But what does it all mean for you? How are you going to come up with an opinion about a campaign where the first-day highlight was taken off the security camera at an Ohio Chipotle? Plus, when it comes to issues, she’s been a little … vague.

But you can do this, concerned citizen. She’s been in your life for a quarter of a century now. Poke around a little bit, and you’ll figure out how you feel about this latest incarnation. If you have trouble, we offer as a public service this Hillary Clinton Thermometer. Add up your answers and get your temperature.

When I saw the Hillary Clinton video last Sunday I thought:

  • Will this woman never stop?

  • It was interesting that one of the everyday American couples said their hope for the future was teaching the dog not to eat trash.

  • By the standard of 2016 presidential announcement videos so far, this is the best collection of smiling multiracial, generationally diverse people talking to a camera.

  • Slow but steady, personal but populist. Looking good.

When people say Clinton is wearing the mantle of inevitability, I think:

  • She has been wearing that mantle so long it’s as if she grabbed her high school poncho from the attic closet.

  • What did she do to keep Elizabeth Warren out of the race? Promise her Treasury? Kidnap a grandchild?

  • Nothing says inevitability like Ohio Chipotle.

  • She is inevitable, for the nomination. Which is not bestowed until the summer of 2016. Chill.

The thing I like most about Hillary Clinton is:

  • She has a dog named Seamus.

  • The grandmother thing is nice, but she’ll probably overdo it.

  • No matter what disaster happens, she comes back fighting. I just wish there weren’t so many disasters.

  • She believes in universal health care and tax reform that doesn’t make things worse for people on the bottom. I am a person of simple needs.

So far I am most troubled by:

  • Clinton Foundation fund-raising, emails … Let me count the ways.

  • The fact that she doesn’t have a platform yet. She ran for president once already. How can she not have a platform?

  • The fact that her van is named Scooby.

  • The 19 months.

When I first heard about her plan to drive around visiting with regular Iowans, I thought:

  • This is the phoniest political stunt since Michael Dukakis rode in that tank.

  • You know she’s in that van dialing for dollars.

  • This demonstrates once again that Iowa gets way too much attention.

  • It’s actually the kind of campaigning she enjoys most. Which is corny, but one of the things I like about her.

When it comes to Hillary and foreign policy, my first thought is:

  • Benghazi. Libya. Russian reset button.

  • Kind of hawkish, don’t you think?

  • Good at outreach to women in developing countries. Unfortunately, it’s the men who are the problem.

  • Nobody seems to get this right anymore, but at least she knows what’s out there.

Right now the biggest thing Hillary Clinton has going for her is:

  • Money and the fact that Democratic talent pool is about one inch deep.

  • It looks as if the name recognition part is A-O.K.

  • She can probably keep doing this stuff for another year and a half without staging a Dennis Quaid breakdown.

  • Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, Chris Christie, Scott Walker, Jeb Bush.

The only way you can score this thing is to actually go to the column and take the quiz.  Should you want to do that, here’s the link to the quiz.  When I gave my honest answers I got a result that said I was ready for a vacation and really didn’t want to address this…

Blow, Kristof and Collins

April 9, 2015

In “In South Carolina, Shot in the Back as He Ran” Mr. Blow says now is the time for a fundamental change of culture: not just in one particular case or with one particular officer, but also systemically.  Mr. Kristof, in “Enjoying the Low Life?”, says the latest world rankings on the quality of life for ordinary citizens should put the United States to shame.  Ms. Collins has a question in “Rand Paul, Paul Rand Quiz:”  What do we know about the latest Republican candidate for president?  Here’s Mr. Blow:

I am truly weary, deep in my bones, of writing these columns about the killings of unarmed people of color by the police. Indeed, you may be weary of reading them. Still, our weariness is but a dim shadow that falls near the darkness of despair that a family is thrust into when a child or parent or sibling is lost, and that family must wonder if the use of deadly force was appropriate and whether justice will be served.

And so, we can’t stop focusing on these cases until there are no more cases on which to focus.

Which brings me to the latest case, a truly chilling one: A video shows an apparently unarmed 50-year-old black man, Walter L. Scott, running away from an officer after an incident during a traffic stop in North Charleston, S.C.

The officer, Michael T. Slager, fires his weapon eight times, striking Scott in the back, upper buttocks and ear.

According to The New York Times:

“Moments after the struggle, Officer Slager reported on his radio: ‘Shots fired and the subject is down. He took my Taser,’ according to police reports.”

But The Times continues:

“Something — it is not clear whether it is the stun gun — is either tossed or knocked to the ground behind the two men, and Officer Slager draws his gun, the video shows. When the officer fires, Mr. Scott appears to be 15 to 20 feet away and fleeing. He falls after the last of eight shots.

“The officer then runs back toward where the initial scuffle occurred and picks something up off the ground. Moments later, he drops an object near Mr. Scott’s body, the video shows.”

In fact, the video appears to dispute much of what the police reports claim.

Scott, of course, dies of his injuries.

After the video surfaces, the officer is charged with murder and fired from the police force. In a news conference, the mayor of the city, Keith Summey, says of the incident: “When you’re wrong, you’re wrong. And if you make a bad decision, don’t care if you’re behind the shield or just a citizen on the street, you have to live by that decision.”

But even the phrase “bad decision” seems to diminish the severity of what has happened. A life has been taken. And, if the video shows what it appears to show, there may have been some attempts by the officer to “misrepresent the truth,” a phrase that one could also argue may diminish the severity of what is alleged to have happened.

This case is yet another in a horrifyingly familiar succession of cases that have elevated the issue of use of force, particularly deadly force, by officers against people of color and inflamed the conversation that surrounds it.

And it further erodes an already tenuous trust by people of color in the police as an institution. CBS News polling has shown that a vast majority of blacks believe that the police are more likely to use deadly force against a black person than a white person (zero percent believe the inverse.) This is not good for the proper function of a civil society.

As a Sentencing Project report put it last year: “Racial minorities’ perceptions of unfairness in the criminal justice system have dampened cooperation with police work and impeded criminal trials.”

And the police are needed in society, so if you don’t trust them, whom do you call when help is truly needed?

This case has also refocused attention on the power of video evidence and is likely to redouble calls for the universal implementation of police body cameras (the video in this case came from a witness). What would have happened if video of this incident had not surfaced? Would the officer’s version of events have stood? How many such cases must there be where there is no video?

But I would argue that the issue we are facing in these cases is not one of equipment, or even policy, but culture.

I would submit that cameras would have an impact on policy and culture, but that a change in culture must be bigger than both. It must start with “good cops” no longer countenancing the behavior of “bad cops.” It will start with those good cops publicly and vociferously chastising and condemning their brethren when they are wrong. Their silence has never been — and is certainly no longer — suitable. We must hear from them, not necessarily from the rank-and-file but from those higher up the ladder.

One of the most disturbing features of the Department of Justice’s report on the killing of Michael Brown by Darren Wilson was the number of witnesses who said that they were afraid to come forward because their version of events contradicted what they saw as community consensus.

But isn’t the unwillingness, or even fear, of “good cops” to more forcefully condemn bad behavior just the same glove turned inside out?

As Radley Balko wrote in the February 2011 issue of Reason magazine, “For all the concern about the ‘Stop Snitchin’  message within the hip-hop community, police have engaged in a far more impactful and pernicious Stop Snitchin’ campaign of their own. It’s called the Blue Wall of Silence.”

This case also highlights once again the issue of police forces not being representative of the communities they serve. As The Times pointed out:

“North Charleston is South Carolina’s third-largest city, with a population of about 100,000. African-Americans make up about 47 percent of residents, and whites account for about 37 percent. The Police Department is about 80 percent white, according to data collected by the Justice Department in 2007, the most recent period available.”

And yet there is a vicious cycle of mistrust — re-enforced by cases like this — that helps to make diversifying police forces difficult. As the International Business Times put it in August, law enforcement agencies “are often hard pressed to find black applicants. Recruiters want to fill their ranks with officers of all backgrounds, experts say, but cultural biases put them at a disadvantage.”

And lastly, there remains a disturbing desire to find perfection in a case, to find one devoid of ambiguity, as if police interactions with the public are not often complicated affairs in which many judgments are made in quick order by all involved and in which a tremendous amount of discretion is allowed to be exercised.

Tuesday on CNN, the North Charleston police chief, Eddie Driggers, was asked the question that is always circling cases like this like a condor: whether he thought race played a role in what happened. His was a diplomatic and humane response: “I want to believe in my heart of hearts that it was a tragic set of events after a traffic stop.” He continued, “I always look for the good in folks, and so I would hope that nobody would ever do something like that.”

I, too, would hope that nobody would ever do something like that, but it seems to me that the end of the line has come for hoping alone. Now is the time for fundamental change: not just in one particular case or with one particular officer, but also systemically. (The President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing has already recommended some policy changes.)

And now is the time for not only considering the interplay of race and power in these cases, but also the ability to register and respect humanity itself. That requires a change of culture.

Next up we have Mr. Kristof:

The United States is the most powerful colossus in the history of the world: Our nuclear warheads could wipe out the globe, our enemies tweet on iPhones, and kids worldwide bop to Beyoncé.

Yet let’s get real. All this hasn’t benefited all Americans. A newly released global index finds that America falls short, along with other powerful countries, on what matters most: assuring a high quality of life for ordinary citizens.

The Social Progress Index for 2015 ranks the United States 16th in the world. We may thump our chests and boast that we’re No. 1, and in some ways we are. But, in important ways, we lag.

The index ranks the United States 30th in life expectancy, 38th in saving children’s lives, and a humiliating 55th in women surviving childbirth. O.K., we know that we have a high homicide rate, but we’re at risk in other ways as well. We have higher traffic fatality rates than 37 other countries, and higher suicide rates than 80.

We also rank 32nd in preventing early marriage, 38th in the equality of our education system, 49th in high school enrollment rates and 87th in cellphone use.

Ouch. “We’re No. 87!” doesn’t have much of a ring to it, does it?

Michael E. Porter, the Harvard Business School professor who helped devise the Social Progress Index, says that it’s important to have conventional economic measures such as G.D.P. growth. But social progress is also a critical measure, he notes, of how a country is serving its people.

“We’re not now No. 1 in a lot of stuff that traditionally we have been,” said Professor Porter, an expert on international competitiveness. “What we’re learning is that the fact that we’re not No. 1 on this stuff also means that we’re facing long-term economic stresses.”

“We’re starting to understand that we can’t put economic development and social progress in two separate buckets,” Porter added. “There’s a dialectic here.”

The top countries in the 2015 Social Progress Index are Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, Iceland, New Zealand and Canada. Of the 133 countries rated, Central African Republic is last, just after Chad and Afghanistan.

Sri Lanka does better than India. Bangladesh outperforms Pakistan. Both the Philippines and South Africa do better than Russia. Mongolia comes in ahead of China. And Canada wallops the United States.

One way of looking at the index is to learn from countries that outperform by having social indicators better than their income levels. By that standard, the biggest stars are Costa Rica and Uruguay, with New Zealand and Rwanda also outperforming.

“This takes time,” said Michael Green, executive director of the Social Progress Imperative, which produces the index. “Costa Rica is an overperformer because of its history.”

Green notes that Costa Rica offered free, universal primary education in the 19th century. In the 20th century, it disbanded its military forces and invested some of the savings in education. One payoff: Some surveys have found Costa Ricans among the happiest people in the world.

Then there are the underperformers that do worse than would be expected from their income level. Saudi Arabia leads that list.

The Social Progress Index, now in its second year, might seem a clarion call for greater equality, but that’s not quite right. Professor Porter and his number-crunchers found only a mild correlation between economic equality (measured by Gini coefficient) and social progress. What mattered much more was poverty.

Of course, wealthy countries with high poverty tend to be unequal as well. But inequality at the top seems to matter less for well-being than inequality at the bottom. Perhaps we should worry less about reining in the top 1 percent and more about helping the bottom 20 percent?

On the other hand, one way to finance empowerment programs is to raise taxes on tycoons. And when there is tremendous inequality, the wealthy create private alternatives to public goods — private schools, private security forces, gated communities — that lead to disinvestment in public goods vital to the needy.

In any case, the 2015 Social Progress Index should be serve notice to Americans — and to people around the globe. We obsess on the wrong measures, so we often have the wrong priorities.

As an American, what saddens me is also that our political system seems unable to rise to the challenges.

As Porter notes, Americans generally understand that we face economic impediments such as declining infrastructure, yet we’re frozen. We appreciate that our education system is a mess, yet we’re passive.

We can send people to space and turn watches into computers, but we seem incapable of consensus on the issues that matter most to our children — so our political system remains in gridlock, even as other countries pass us by.

And now here’s Ms. Collins:

Rand Paul for president! Wow, we’re awash with first-term Republican senators who feel the nation needs their services as leader of the most powerful nation on the planet.

Paul can also perform eye surgery, which is certainly a plus.

What do we know about this man Rand? Well, he’s interesting. Among the throngs of Republicans promising to cut taxes, slash domestic spending and repeal Obamacare, Paul is unusual in that he also wants to stop government surveillance, negotiate a peace treaty with Iran, slash defense spending and eliminate foreign aid.

Except — stop the presses! — Rand Paul is also evolving. The freshman senator who once wanted to eliminate all foreign aid, including to Israel, is now a freshman senator who wants to eliminate some foreign aid while leaving more than enough for a certain “strong ally of ours.” Also, he has learned that Iran probably can’t be trusted. And he now wants to raise defense spending by about $190 billion.

You could argue he was way more interesting before he started to evolve. But onward.

During a postannouncement interview on Fox News, the new presidential contender was asked about an incident when he “took a shot at Dick Cheney.” This would have been a 2009 speech, discovered by Mother Jones, in which Paul basically argued that Cheney had opposed invading Iraq until he went to work for the war contractor Halliburton.

“Before I was involved in politics!” the new candidate retorted. If you agree with his theory that would mean that nothing Rand Paul said before 2010 counts.

It is true that you can’t blame politicians for everything they did when they were young and foolish, but a five-year statute of limitations seems a bit short. I’d accept a rule wiping out anything that happened in college short of a major felony. That would include a former classmate’s claim that when she was at Baylor University, Rand Paul and a friend forced her to bow down and worship the god Aqua Buddha.

That’s way more diverting than the story about Mitt Romney cutting off a classmate’s long hair in high school. But it’s off the record. Do not base you opinion of Rand Paul on the Aqua Buddha incident. Really. Forget I ever mentioned it.

Once Paul began sniffing the presidential air, position changes started coming rapid-fire, and he’s gotten quite touchy when people point that out. “No, no, no, nonononono,” he said, accusing NBC’s Savannah Guthrie of “editorializing” when she listed several of his recent shifts. It was reminiscent of an encounter he had a while back with Kelly Evans of CNBC. (“Shhh. Calm down a bit here, Kelly.”) You might wonder about Rand Paul and TV women, but as we all know it takes three incidents to make a trend. Next time.

The encounter with Evans came after Paul was trying to walk back one of his more interesting policy statements: opposition to mandatory vaccinations. “I guess being for freedom would be really unusual,” he said archly, before claiming that he knew of many “walking, talking, normal children who wound up with profound mental disorders” after being vaccinated. This one has since evolved a lot.

Paul has swung to the left on some issues, like immigration. He acknowledges that there’s global warming, which he believes should be combated in ways that do not inconvenience the coal industry. He has stuck to his guns on opposing government surveillance of American citizens, and you can buy a “Don’t Drone Me, Bro!” shirt on his website. (Also at the website: $20 Rand Paul Flip-Flops, although someone on the team apparently noted the irony and changed their name to Rand Paul Sandals.)

And, of course, Paul is still a libertarian. Because he most definitely believes government should get off your backs and stop messing with your lives. Unless you happen to have an unwanted pregnancy, in which case, rather than allow you access to abortion, he is prepared to tie you to a post until you deliver.

Everything perfectly clear? And, now, a brief Rand Paul Pop Quiz.

1) Senator Paul began his presidential announcement speech by telling the people:

A) “We have come to take our country back.”

B) “We come to take our money back.”

C) “We have come to take our previous statements back.”

*****

2) Rand Paul did not get a bachelor’s degree because:

A) He was out partying all the time with the future governor of Wisconsin, Scott Walker.

B) He was so supersmart that Duke University allowed him to skip right over to medical school.

C) He was expelled for the Aqua Buddha affair.

*****

3) An avid user of all media social, Senator Paul once twittered that politics doesn’t involve enough:

A) Good ideas for using more coal.

B) People with an I.Q. above 90.

C) Puppies.

*****

4) The Rand Paul presidential campaign slogan is:

A) “Defeat the Washington machine. Unleash the American dream.”

B) “Cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war.”

C) “Beat Hillary. Release the Kraken.”

*****

Answers: 1-A, 2-B, 3-C, 4-A.

Bruni and Collins

April 4, 2015

In “Bigotry, the Bible and the Lessons of Indiana” Mr. Bruni explains that what’s wrong and what’s righteous changes with time and with enlightenment, unless we resist it.  Ms. Collins, in “And Now, Political Virgins,” says lawmaking in Texas is back to being very, very personal.  Here’s Mr. Bruni:

The drama in Indiana last week and the larger debate over so-called religious freedom laws in other states portray homosexuality and devout Christianity as forces in fierce collision.

They’re not — at least not in several prominent denominations, which have come to a new understanding of what the Bible does and doesn’t decree, of what people can and cannot divine in regard to God’s will.

And homosexuality and Christianity don’t have to be in conflict in any church anywhere.

That many Christians regard them as incompatible is understandable, an example not so much of hatred’s pull as of tradition’s sway. Beliefs ossified over centuries aren’t easily shaken.

But in the end, the continued view of gays, lesbians and bisexuals as sinners is a decision. It’s a choice. It prioritizes scattered passages of ancient texts over all that has been learned since — as if time had stood still, as if the advances of science and knowledge meant nothing.

It disregards the degree to which all writings reflect the biases and blind spots of their authors, cultures and eras.

It ignores the extent to which interpretation is subjective, debatable.

And it elevates unthinking obeisance above intelligent observance, above the evidence in front of you, because to look honestly at gay, lesbian and bisexual people is to see that we’re the same magnificent riddles as everyone else: no more or less flawed, no more or less dignified.

Most parents of gay children realize this. So do most children of gay parents. It’s a truth less ambiguous than any Scripture, less complicated than any creed.

So our debate about religious freedom should include a conversation about freeing religions and religious people from prejudices that they needn’t cling to and can indeed jettison, much as they’ve jettisoned other aspects of their faith’s history, rightly bowing to the enlightenments of modernity.

“Human understanding of what is sinful has changed over time,” said David Gushee, an evangelical Christian who teaches Christian ethics at Mercer University. He openly challenges his faith’s censure of same-sex relationships, to which he no longer subscribes.

For a very long time, he noted, “Many Christians thought slavery wasn’t sinful, until we finally concluded that it was. People thought contraception was sinful when it began to be developed, and now very few Protestants and not that many Catholics would say that.” They hold an evolved sense of right and wrong, even though, he added, “You could find scriptural support for the idea that all sex should be procreative.”

Christians have also moved far beyond Scripture when it comes to gender roles.

“In the United States, we have abandoned the idea that women are second-class, inferior and subordinate to men, but the Bible clearly teaches that,” said Jimmy Creech, a former United Methodist pastor who was removed from ministry in the church after he performed a same-sex marriage ceremony in 1999. “We have said: That’s a part of the culture and history of the Bible. That is not appropriate for us today.”

And we could say the same about the idea that men and women in loving same-sex relationships are doing something wrong. In fact the United Church of Christ, the Episcopal Church and the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) have said that. So have most American Catholics, in defiance of their church’s teaching.

And it’s a vital message because of something that Indiana demonstrated anew: Religion is going to be the final holdout and most stubborn refuge for homophobia. It will give license to discrimination. It will cause gay and lesbian teenagers in fundamentalist households to agonize needlessly: Am I broken? Am I damned?

“Conservative Christian religion is the last bulwark against full acceptance of L.G.B.T. people,” Gushee said.

Polls back him up. A majority of Americans support marriage equality, including a majority of Catholics and most Jews. But a 2014 survey by the Public Religion Research Institute showed that while 62 percent of white mainline Protestants favor same-sex marriages, only 38 percent of black Protestants, 35 percent of Hispanic Protestants and 28 percent of white evangelical Protestants do.

And as I’ve written before, these evangelical Protestants wield considerable power in the Republican primaries, thus speaking in a loud voice on the political stage. It’s no accident that none of the most prominent Republicans believed to be contending for the presidency favor same-sex marriage and that none of them joined the broad chorus of outrage over Indiana’s discriminatory religious freedom law. They had the Iowa caucuses and the South Carolina primary to worry about.

Could this change? There’s a rapidly growing body of impressive, persuasive literature that looks at the very traditions and texts that inform many Christians’ denunciation of same-sex relationships and demonstrates how easily those points of reference can be understood in a different way.

Gushee’s take on the topic, “Changing Our Mind,” was published late last year. It joined Jeff Chu’s “Does Jesus Really Love Me?” published in 2013, and “Bible, Gender, Sexuality: Reframing the Church’s Debate on Same-Sex Relationships,” by James Brownson, which was published in 2013.

Then there’s the 2014 book “God and the Gay Christian,” by Matthew Vines, who has garnered significant attention and drawn large audiences for his eloquent take on what the New Testament — which is what evangelicals draw on and point to — really communicates.

Evaluating its sparse invocations of homosexuality, he notes that there wasn’t any awareness back then that same-sex attraction could be a fundamental part of a person’s identity, or that same-sex intimacy could be an expression of love within the context of a nurturing relationship.

“It was understood as a kind of excess, like drunkenness, that a person might engage in if they lost all control, not as a unique identity,” Vines told me, adding that Paul’s rejection of same-sex relations in Romans I was “akin to his rejection of drunkenness or his rejection of gluttony.”

And Vines said that the New Testament, like the Old Testament, outlines bad and good behaviors that almost everyone deems archaic and irrelevant today. Why deem the descriptions of homosexual behavior any differently?

Creech and Mitchell Gold, a prominent furniture maker and gay philanthropist, founded an advocacy group, Faith in America, which aims to mitigate the damage done to L.G.B.T. people by what it calls “religion-based bigotry.”

Gold told me that church leaders must be made “to take homosexuality off the sin list.”

His commandment is worthy — and warranted. All of us, no matter our religious traditions, should know better than to tell gay people that they’re an offense. And that’s precisely what the florists and bakers who want to turn them away are saying to them.

Now here’s Ms. Collins:

On Tuesday in Texas, the House of Representatives voted to take $3 million earmarked for prevention of H.I.V. and other sexually transmitted diseases, and spend it instead on abstinence-only sex education. It was a fascinating moment — particularly when the sponsor of the motion, a Republican named Stuart Spitzer, told the House that he had been a virgin until he got married at age 29.

“What’s good for me is good for a lot of people,” he said.

This had historic reverberations. Several years ago, then-Gov. Rick Perry conducted a fabled interview with The Texas Tribune in which Perry defended the state’s stress on abstinence-only sex education while his interviewer pointed out that Texas had one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in the country.

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

Does Texas traditionally decide state policy based on politicians’ sexual history? If so, that’s terrifying.

The debate in Austin degenerated when a Democrat demanded to know whether Representative Spitzer — who, I have to point out, is a doctor — had ever tried to proposition other women before his wife accepted.

That was going overboard. The Democrats should have stuck with their earlier lines of argument, which included pointing out that Texas gets more federal money for abstinence-only sex education than any other state, and that Texas has a teen birthrate that is almost twice as high as California’s, which has completely barred schools from limiting their courses on sex to the advisability of not having any.

All that was news to Dr. Spitzer, who did admit that abstinence-only education “may not be working well.” This had no effect whatsoever on his insistence that Texas needed to do more of it. His proposal passed and went to the State Senate.

So that was lawmaking on sex in Texas. Meanwhile, over in Arizona, the State Legislature was passing a bill that requires doctors who perform drug-induced abortions to tell their patients that the procedure may be reversible, even though most scientists say it isn’t.

This business of legislating fiction is rather widespread. The Guttmacher Institute, which keeps track of these things, has counted 12 states where women seeking abortions have to be informed that a 20-week-old fetus can feel pain, research to the contrary notwithstanding. Four states require that women be given inaccurate portrayals of the effects of an abortion on future fertility. In five states, a woman who wants an abortion has to be informed that abortions are linked to an increased risk of breast cancer.

I’m working up to a point here. The nation is becoming more rational about gay sex and more irrational about heterosexual sex. Who would have thought?

Gay residents of Indiana had a big victory this week when the Legislature there amended a “freedom of religion” law it had just passed, making clear that nothing in it would permit businesses to discriminate against, say, gay weddings. Social conservatives are fuming, since discriminating against gay weddings was the entire point.

But the business community rose up in support of gay rights, just as it did last year when the same thing happened in Arizona. Politicians retreated in terror. By summer, most observers expect the Supreme Court to declare that gay Americans have a constitutional right to get married. And then the battle will pretty much be won.

But heterosexual women are being pushed further and further back. The good old Guttmacher Institute recently reported that during the first three months of the year, nearly 800 proposals relating to sexual and reproductive health and rights were introduced in state legislatures.

It was probably inevitable that once gay Americans started coming out of the closet and revealing that they were everybody’s friends, relatives and next-door neighbors, acceptance would follow. I always think about my mother, a conservative Catholic in Ohio, who had amazing gay caregivers in her later years and wound up riding on a float in Cincinnati’s gay pride parade.

Abortion is no longer the dark secret it used to be, but women who’ve had an abortion generally don’t think of it as part of their identity, any more than they identify themselves as consumers of birth control pills or wearers of IUDs. That kind of stuff is private.

Which is the exact reason politicians need to keep their hands off. But they don’t, and the business community certainly didn’t rise up when Indiana became one of the first states to enact a ban on abortions after 20 weeks. Nobody called for a boycott when the State Legislature required that women seeking to end their pregnancies be informed that life begins at conception.

If male legislators could get pregnant, we’d have a different story. Except, of course, for the ones in Texas who are saving themselves for marriage.

I’ve said it a thousand times before — if men got pregnant abortion would be a sacrament.

Blow, Cohen, Kristof and Collins

April 2, 2015

In “Religious Freedom vs. Individual Equality” Mr. Blow is posing a question:  What to do when people want to retain their right to discriminate — wrapped in the cloak of piety — after most of the country has lost the appetite for it?  Mr. Cohen may or may not have lost his mind.  In “The Order in Saigon’s Chaos” he tries to convince us that Vietnam’s free-for-all traffic might be madness, but there’s equal madness in the West’s safety obsessions.  Mr. Kristof says “A Nuclear Deal With Iran Isn’t Just About Bombs,” and that this is also a chance for creating the conditions to bring Iran out of the cold.  But, but, but…  if we bring them in out of the cold then how the hell can we bomb the crap out of them like Billy “Always Wrong All The Time” Kristol wants to?  In “Indiana Loses Its Game” Ms. Collins says the Hoosier State is in a mess, and its residents should feel free to blame their governor.  Why the hell should they?  They’re the ones who elected him…  Here’s Mr. Blow:

Indiana’s governor is now vowing to “clarify” a religious freedom law he recently signed in that state, because of what he calls a “perception problem” about whether the legislation would allow open discrimination against people whose sexual identities defy the heteronormative construct.

In truth, there is no perception problem. There was a detection problem: People detected precisely what the bill was designed to do, and they objected. And, possibly more important than individuals’ objections, were the objections of big business like Apple and Angie’s List.

Rather than simply protecting the free exercise of religion, the bill provides the possibility that religion could be used as a basis of discrimination against some customers.

One Indiana pizzeria, asserting that it is “a Christian establishment,” has already said that it will not cater gay weddings: “If a gay couple came in and wanted us to provide pizzas for their wedding, we would have to say no.” By the way, is wedding pizza a thing in Indiana? Just asking…

Objections to the law, which is repulsive and deserving of all manner of reprobation, were swift and vociferous.

It is true that there is a federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act, as well as a version of it in some 20 states. But Indiana’s is different.

As Garrett Epps put it in The Atlantic:

“First, the Indiana law explicitly allows any for-profit business to assert a right to ‘the free exercise of religion.’ The federal R.F.R.A. doesn’t contain such language, and neither does any of the state R.F.R.A.s except South Carolina’s; in fact, Louisiana and Pennsylvania, explicitly exclude for-profit businesses from the protection of their R.F.R.A.s.”

He continues:

“Second, the Indiana statute explicitly makes a business’s ‘free exercise’ right a defense against a private lawsuit by another person, rather than simply against actions brought by government.”

This was a whole other animal and people recognized it.

Anything that even hints at state-sponsored discrimination — blatant and codified — is not only discordant with current cultural norms but also anathema to universal ideals of fairness and human dignity.

Walmart has slammed a similar law passed this week in Arkansas — where the behemoth retailer is headquartered — with the C.E.O. saying of the law that it “threatens to undermine the spirit of inclusion present throughout the state of Arkansas and does not reflect the values we proudly uphold.”

And according to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette:

“Similar objections to HB1228 came from the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce and the Little Rock Conventions and Visitors Bureau. The Arkansas Municipal League and the Association of Arkansas Counties have also opposed the legislation.”

To his credit, Gov. Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas — whose son asked him to veto the bill — called on the Legislature to recall or amend the bill, and said he was considering using an executive order that would make “Arkansas a place of tolerance.”

For the most part, though, the religious conservative wing of the Republican Party on this issue is rushing headlong into an unwinnable culture battle, or more precisely one that has already been fought and lost.

As Emily Swanson, writing for The Associated Press, put it last month:

“In the late 1980s, support for gay marriage was essentially unheard-of in America. Just a quarter-century later, it’s now favored by [a] clear majority of Americans. That dramatic shift in opinion is among the fastest changes ever measured by the General Social Survey, a comprehensive and widely respected survey that has measured trends [in] a huge array of American attitudes for more than four decades.”

While it is heartening to see these corporations rushing to voice their opposition to the measure, there is still something about it that feels slightly out of kilter: a moral issue being driven by consumerism considerations.

It was in many ways a battle between big business corporate image egalitarianism and small business fundamentalism and religious conservatism, with disgruntled consumers in the middle. Big business had more to lose by appearing intolerant than small businesses had to gain by hewing to an exclusionary holiness.

But aside from whether opposing these pieces of legislation buys good will as an exercise of good public relations, equal treatment is simply the appropriate moral position, now and forever.

These laws raise broad issues.

What to do when people want to retain their right to hate and to discriminate — even if they choose to couch it in fuzzy, nonconfrontational wording or wrap it in the flimsy cloak of piety — after most of the country has lost the appetite for it?

How does America move forward as a beacon of tolerance — some would argue this precept vehemently — while retaining such disproportionate rates of religiosity relative to other wealthy countries?

Where are the lines between religious rights, business rights and human rights?

I would argue that when you enter the sphere of commerce in America — regardless of your “deeply held religious beliefs” — you have entered a nondiscriminatory zone in which your personal beliefs are checked at the register, and each customer is treated equally.

This is not to say that a gay couple on the eve of commitment should want to patronize a bigoted baker for a wedding cake, but rather that the refusal to render services based on that bigotry is untenable.

And yet, as the Harvard Kennedy School’s Shorenstein Center put it last week in citing key findings from a 2015 working paper from Harvard Law School:

“While the First Amendment was intended to protect individual freedom of religion, speech and assembly, as well as a free press, corporations have begun to displace individuals as its direct beneficiaries. This ‘shift from individual to business First Amendment cases is recent but accelerating.’ ”

And last, it raises questions about where one person’s opinion should end and another’s personal liberty should take up.

Too many people in this country continue to have an unhealthy obsession with what other people do in their bedrooms rather than focusing on what they do — or don’t do — in their own.

Mind your own faith and your own business and allow other people to define their own relationships with a god, if he or she believes and chooses such a spiritual communion.

As Langston Hughes wrote in the poem “Personal”:

In an envelope marked:
Personal
God addressed me a letter.
In an envelope marked:
Personal
I have given my answer.

Next up we have Mr. Cohen, who probably doesn’t like to wear his seatbelt:

In Vietnam, where I recently spent a week, streets are a sea of scooters and small motorcycles. Saigon, or Ho Chi Minh City if you insist, buzzes to the eddying of this two-wheeled tide. Entire families perch themselves on bikes, often with a small child up front who gets the best view, the hot breeze in her face and, of course, the least chance of emerging unscathed from a collision. Adults wear helmets; children and live animals do not.

Along with the living — a chicken or piglet perhaps — various things may be wedged at angles, including small refrigerators, potted plants, metal frames and bunches of bananas. Bikes, the cars of the newly affluent, and pedestrians weave around one another in a seamless pattern fashioned not by any rule or organizing principle but by individual awareness. Major intersections, unburdened by anything as cumbersome or inflexible as traffic lights, function as massive group exercises in tentative advance, the principle being to coax others to the prudence of the brake by nosing ahead with just the right dose of insistence. Lo, the sea divides. A path opens. There is no logic at work, but there is a great deal of humanity.

Madness might be a verdict on all this, but then to the average Vietnamese biker there might be equal madness to Western culture, hemmed in by all the controls that a combination of fear and technology produce. Surely there must be a happy medium between placing a toddler on the handlebars of a scooter and denying children the freedom to roam and discover that is essential to their development. Surely there is an appropriate balance between a free-for-all on the roads and a camera at every corner. But humanity tends to deal more in irrational exuberances than happy mediums. The pendulum swings too far.

In Britain, over-the-top safety obsessions have produced a society where cameras and so-called traffic-calming speed bumps are everywhere, visitors to churches and colleges are warned that medieval paving stones may be a little uneven, schoolchildren have been advised to wear goggles when using certain glues (and helmets under chestnut trees), trainee hairdressers are not allowed scissors in the classroom, and mail delivery gets suspended in an entire region if a postman slips and hurts his shoulder. David Cameron, the prime minister, spoke out five years ago against the health-and-safety culture that had produced “a stultifying blanket of bureaucracy, suspicion and fear that has saturated our country, covering the actions of millions of individuals.” Not much has changed.

Britain is only an extreme example of the broader phenomenon that can see the world’s greatest city, New York, shut down not by a snowstorm but by the possibility of a snowstorm (the blizzard that never happened); and the bizarre term “free-range parenting” applied to American moms and dads who believe their children should be allowed to walk home from school alone and play outside. Earlier this year a Maryland couple was found responsible for “child neglect” because they let kids walk home alone from a neighborhood park. Whatever happened to the land of the free and home of the brave?

I am not recommending that Western urban planners go to Vietnam to study traffic management. I am suggesting that developed Western societies, increasingly fear-driven, tend to fall into a nanny-state mind-set where health, safety and security must all be stringently regulated, adults are viewed as children, and the emotional intelligence of humanity is underestimated or discounted. To cross a highway in Saigon — perhaps with a wave here and there to remind onrushing scooters and cars of your existence — is to experience not just relief at reaching the other side, but wonderment at how unregulated people can work together.

The Dutch traffic engineer Hans Monderman was intrigued by this phenomenon. His “shared space” idea turned traditional thinking about road safety on its head. For much of the 20th century the assumption was that efficient traffic flow depended on a full separation of cars and pedestrians, complemented by traffic signals, signs, barriers and road markings that would keep people safe. The state took charge through regulation; the individual only had to obey instructions.

Monderman, who died in 2008, had other ideas. He wanted to raise collective awareness and responsibility by doing away with all that separateness, and he believed that safety might be increased by making all travelers intensely aware of one another. Cars, bicyclists and pedestrians would all move on a single curb-free surface, without sidewalks or signs. Sometimes he would test his schemes — developed in various Dutch, German and Scandinavian towns — by walking backward into dense traffic in a shared-space area. Of late the idea of “shared space” has even gained a foothold in London.

I recommend walking backward into a Saigon street, for the heck of it, but also to be reminded of the limits of regulation and the power of shared humanity.

Now we get to Mr. Kristof:

To prove that Americans can be every bit as crazy as Iranians, I took my daughter along on my last trip to Iran, in 2012, for a road trip across the country.

Iranians were stunned to see a 14-year-old Yankee teeny-bopper in their midst. In Mashhad, a conservative Islamic city that might seem wary of Americans, three Iranian women in black chadors accosted my daughter — and then invited her to a cafe where they plied her with ice cream, marveling at her and kissing her on the cheek as she ate.

They weren’t political, but they yearned for Iran to be a normal country again.

As the Iranian nuclear talks creep on into double overtime, let’s remember that this isn’t just about centrifuges but also about creating some chance over time of realigning the Middle East and bringing Iran out of the cold. It’s a long shot, yes, but it’s one reason Saudi Arabia is alarmed, along with Iranian hard-liners themselves. Those hard-liners survive on a narrative of conflict with the West, and depriving them of that narrative undermines them.

It’s odd to be debating a deal that hasn’t been reached, but, frankly, critics are mostly right in their specific objections to a deal, and in their aspirations for it.

“A better deal would significantly roll back Iran’s nuclear infrastructure,” noted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel. “A better deal would link the eventual lifting of the restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program to a change in Iran’s behavior.”

All true. Of course, a better deal would also involve gifts of delicious Persian baklava for every American. And a pony.

Netanyahu also suggests that a deal would give “Iran’s murderous regime a clear path to the bomb.” That’s a fallacy.

Iran is already on a path to nuclear capability. Netanyahu should know, because he’s been pointing that out for more than two decades. Beginning in 1992, he asserted that Iran was three to five years from a nuclear capability. Over time, that dropped to “a year or two,” and then to “months.”

But even if Netanyahu’s warnings have been alarmist, he has a point: Iran is getting closer. The problem is that fulminations don’t constitute a policy.

The West essentially has three options:

■ We can try to obtain a deal to block all avenues to a bomb, uranium, plutonium and purchase of a weapon. This would allow Iran to remain on the nuclear path but would essentially freeze its progress — if it doesn’t cheat. To prevent cheating, we need the toughest inspections regime in history.

■ We can continue the sanctions, cyberwarfare and sabotage to slow Iran’s progress. This has worked better than expected, but it’s not clear that we have a new Stuxnet worm to release. And, partly because of congressional meddling, international support for sanctions may unravel.

■ We can launch military strikes on Natanz, Isfahan, Arak, Fordow and, possibly, Tehran. This would be a major operation lasting weeks. Strikes would take place in the daytime to maximize the number of nuclear scientists killed. All this would probably delay a weapon by one to three years — but it could send oil prices soaring, lead to retaliatory strikes and provoke a nationalistic backlash in support of the government.

Imagine if we had launched a military strike against Chinese nuclear sites in the 1960s. In that case, Beijing might still be ruled by Maoists.

On balance, with either the military option or the sanctions option, Iran probably ends up with a nuclear capability within a decade. With a nuclear deal, it’s just possible that we could prevent that from happening. Perhaps no deal is achievable; the Iranian side has been recalcitrant lately. In that case, we continue with sanctions and hope that the economic pressure further delegitimizes the government and eventually forces Iran back to the table.

But, again, this isn’t just about uranium but also about undermining an odious regime and creating the conditions for Iran to become a normal country. I’ve rarely been to a more pro-American country, at the grass-roots, and there’s a pent-up anger at corruption and hypocrisy. That doesn’t mean that there’s going to be a revolution anytime soon. But it means that there’s a chance for movement after the death of the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who is 75 and underwent prostate surgery last year.

In the office of Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, whom Khamenei edged out to be supreme leader, I was once jokingly introduced as coming from the “Great Satan.” An aide, referring to Iran’s own regime, immediately quipped: “America is only Baby Satan. We have Big Satan right here at home.”

So, sure, a nuclear deal carries risks and will be ugly and imperfect, but, on balance, it probably reduces the risk that Iran gets the bomb in the next 10 years. It may also, after Ayatollah Khamenei is gone, create an opportunity for Iran to end its chapter in extremism, so that the country is defined less by rapacious ayatollahs and more by those doting matrons in Mashhad.

Last but not least we get to Ms. Collins:

Last year Indiana chose “Honest to Goodness Indiana” as its new tourism slogan. Not everyone was charmed. Some critics said they’d have preferred something more cosmopolitan. Although it doesn’t seem likely they’d be happier with the runners-up, one of which was “Seasoned Just Right.”

Now, however, the slogan makes a kind of sense, especially if you throw in a little punctuation:

Honest to goodness, Indiana! Really, what were you thinking?

Last week, you may remember, Gov. Mike Pence of Indiana signed a “religious freedom” law that was widely decried around the country as an attack on gay civil rights. One state business pulled the plug on a planned expansion in protest. Conferences were canceled, events called off. The N.C.A.A., which is based in Indianapolis, was looking extremely uneasy. Other states and cities began imposing Indiana travel bans.

This is the exact same thing that happened in Arizona a year before, except that the governor there responded to the outcry by vetoing the law. Nevertheless, the Republicans who run Indiana claimed they were shocked, shocked by these totally unexpected developments.

“We have suffered under this avalanche for the last several days of condemnation, and it’s completely baseless,” Pence complained to George Stephanopoulos on ABC on Sunday. It was very possibly one of the worst appearances by a governor in television history. The best Pence could do was to babble desperately that “Hoosiers don’t believe in discrimination.”

Stephanopoulos: “Do you think it should be legal in the state of Indiana to discriminate against gays or lesbians?”

Pence: “George …” He never could quite bring himself to just say no.

Pence and the Legislature’s majority party thought they were on safe ground because their law really did look like a federal freedom of religion act passed during the Clinton administration. Except for the part about giving businesses the right to refuse service on religious grounds. Like a bakery declining to provide a wedding cake for a gay couple. Which was absolutely not in any way the example the State Legislature had in mind. No, sirree.

The federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act is known as RFRA despite the unfortunate resemblance to the sound of a hoarse Labrador retriever. It was passed in 1993 in response to the problems of Native Americans in Oregon, who smoked peyote in a religious ceremony and were then fired from their jobs and denied unemployment benefits.

The Indiana law was passed at a time of major frustration by the state’s social conservatives over a court ruling that made it impossible to pass a constitutional amendment against same-sex marriage.

All those who believe the Indiana Legislature was acting out of concern over the right of Native Americans to use peyote raise their hands.

“The politics as it went through the statehouse was clear,” said Deborah Widiss, a law professor at Indiana University.

Pence did have another explanation for why Indiana needed a religious freedom law right now. He said he wanted to expand the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision, which held that corporations have the right to refuse to cover the cost of contraception under the Affordable Care Act. “With the Supreme Court’s ruling, the need for a RFRA at the state level became more important, as the federal law does not apply to states,” the governor wrote in The Wall Street Journal.

Think about that for a minute. Indiana passes a law that is widely regarded as a sop to the state’s social conservatives for their inability to ban same-sex marriage. The Republican establishment expresses dismay at this interpretation, and insists that its only intention was to deprive female residents of the right to get birth control.

Yippee.

We seem to have a pattern here. Last year in Arizona when the governor vetoed the anti-gay bill, the Legislature vented its frustration by passing a new anti-abortion law. The gay rights movement is winning, big time. But governments are still insisting on their authority to mess with the sex lives of heterosexual women.

Right now, Indiana is in a mess, and residents are worried about the loss of jobs and investment because of a meaningless and spiteful piece of legislation. They should feel free to blame their governor. Mike Pence was supposed to be one of those evenheaded fiscal conservatives that moderate Republicans point to as a potential presidential candidate. But he didn’t have the foresight to see how badly this would turn out, or the spine to push back. In Arkansas, Gov. Asa Hutchinson is watching him flounder and making a last-minute attempt to beat back a similar bill there.

Pence and the Legislature want to appease the business community by amending the law. They’re currently trying to find a way to accomplish that mission while not upsetting the social conservatives they made so happy just last month.

Good luck with that one, guys.

Solo Collins

March 28, 2015

Mr. Nocera is off today, so Ms. Collins has the place to herself.  She has a “Ted Cruz Pop Quiz.”  She says we officially have a 2016 presidential candidate! She also asks how well do you know him?  Here she is:

The presidential race is on! And right now the official pack of contenders consists of … Ted Cruz.

Don’t panic. There will be others. Really, April is going to bring a veritable shower. But, right now, unless you count all the people who register to run for president on the Unknown ticket, and the anesthesiologist in Cleveland who declared his candidacy but forgot to tell his wife, Cruz is the only genuine, more-or-less serious, on-the-record candidate we’ve got. Attention must be paid.

Cruz, a freshman senator from Texas, is 44 with about two years of experience in elective office. (Barack Obama’s success seems to have given hope to the wrong people.) He announced his candidacy in a big speech to the students at Liberty University, a conservative evangelical school in Virginia.

It was a great setting — an auditorium full of fresh faces, all of them eager to support Ted Cruz and avoid a $10 fine the university levied for nonattendance.

The announcement was long on biography: Cruz tells his family story a lot, stressing the terrible obstacles overcome on the road to American success. As a public service, we are going to check to see whether you’ve been paying attention:

Ted Cruz was born in:

  • A) Cuba.

  • B) A manger somewhere south of Houston.

  • C) Canada.

Cruz is very close to his father, an evangelical pastor who has said that President Obama:

  • A) Is a lot like Fidel Castro.

  • B) Should be sent “back to Kenya.”

  • C) ”Seeks to destroy all concept of God.”

  • D) All of the above.

Cruz describes leaving home for college as a very difficult experience. (“He was alone and scared,” the presidential candidate told his audience at Liberty, speaking in the third person.) His traumatic voyage into higher education took place at:

  • A) An exchange student program in Ulan Bator.

  • B) A community college in a tough neighborhood in Toledo.

  • C) Princeton.

Cruz worked two jobs to get through college. This was partly for tuition and partly because:

  • A) He had lost $1,800 playing poker.

  • B) He wanted to give generous donations in the Sunday collection plate.

  • C) He was saving up to buy an embossed copy of the Constitution.

After college Cruz was lucky enough to get into Harvard Law School. Later, he recalled Harvard Law as a place with:

  • A) Enlightening classes.

  • B) Great poker games.

  • C) Communist professors.

After law school, Cruz’s struggles continued, and he:

  • A) Attempted to volunteer for the military but was rejected for poor vision. So he signed up instead for four years of missionary work in Papua New Guinea.

  • B) Taught in a low-income neighborhood in San Antonio while devoting his weekends to coaching midnight basketball at the Y.

  • C) Clerked for Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist, worked as a $695-an-hour appellate lawyer and nabbed an appointment as Texas solicitor general.

Cruz was a big music fan in his youth, but he claims he stopped liking rock after:

  • A) 9/11.

  • B) Led Zeppelin broke up.

  • C) Mick Jagger turned 70.

Cruz has been making the regular stops for a presidential hopeful. In Iowa, when a reporter asked him for a personal fact no one knows, he confided that he despises:

  • A) Avocados.

  • B) Alexander Hamilton and the influence of urban mercantilism in the post-Revolutionary era.

  • C) Everything Beyoncé has done since Destiny’s Child.

In New Hampshire, Cruz recently gave his apocalyptic speech about the way the Democrats are ruining the country. When he declaimed “The whole world is on fire!” he appeared to:

  • A) Levitate.

  • B) Scare a little girl.

  • C) Glow in the dark.

 

Here’s the answer key:  1C, 2D, 3C, 4A, 5C, 6C, 7A, 8A, 9B

I got them all right.  I wonder if that should alarm me…

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.


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