Archive for the ‘Herbert’ Category

Brooks and Herbert

March 22, 2011

Obviously the blast faxes went out from Republicans, Inc.  Bobo is also concern trolling today, just like Putzy yesterday.  In “The Problem With Partners” he gurgles that as we enter Libya’s unknown, we should not react so strongly against unilateralism’s risks that we ignore multilateralism’s weaknesses.  International cooperation is Teh Suxxors!  WOLVERINES!!!  Jeez…  Mr. Herbert, in “Separate and Unequal,” says more than a half-century after Brown v. Board of Education, segregated schools remain a handicap for poor students.  Here’s Bobo:

These days we are all co-religionists in the church of multilateralism. The Iraq war reminded everybody not to embark on an international effort without a broad coalition.

Yet today, as an impeccably crafted multilateral force intervenes in Libya, certain old feelings are coming back to the surface. These feelings have been buried since the 1990s, when multilateral efforts failed in Kosovo, Rwanda and Iraq. They concern the structural weaknesses that bedevil multilateral efforts. They remind us that unilateralism may be no walk in the park, but multilateralism has its own characteristic problems, which are showing up already in Libya.

First, multilateral efforts are marked by opaque decision-making and strategic vagueness. It is hard to get leaders from different nations with different values to agree on a common course of action. When diplomats do achieve this, it is usually because they have arrived at artful fudges that allow leaders from different countries to read the same words in a U.N. resolution and understand them in different ways. The negotiation process to arrive at these fudges involves a long chain of secret discussions and it necessarily involves eliding issues that might blow everything up.

Sure enough, the decision-making process that led to the Libyan intervention was remarkably opaque. (It is still not clear why the Obama administration flipped from skepticism to resolve.) More important, the nations have not really defined what they hope to achieve.

Is the coalition trying to depose Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi? Are coalition forces trying to halt Qaddafi’s advances or weaken his government? Would the coalition allow Qaddafi to win so long as he didn’t massacre more civilians? Is it trying to create a partitioned Libya? Are we there to help the democratic tide across the region?

The members of the coalition could not agree on answers to any of these questions, so the purpose of the enterprise was left vague.

Second, leaders in multilateral efforts often obsess about the diplomatic process and ignore the realities on the ground. The reports describing how the Libyan intervention came about are filled with palace intrigue. They describe the different factions within the Obama administration, the jostling by France and Britain, the efforts to win over the Arab League. It’s not clear who was thinking about the realities in Libya.

Who are the rebels we are supporting? How weak is the Qaddafi government? How will Libyans react to a Western bombing campaign? Why should we think a no-fly zone will protect civilians when they never have in the past?

In this, as in so many previous multilateral efforts, the process blots out the substance. Diplomats become more interested in serving the global architecture than in engaging the actual facts on the ground.

Third, multilateral efforts are retarded and often immobilized by dispersed authority and a complicated decision-making process. They are slow to get off the ground because they have to get their most reluctant members on board. Once under way, they are slow to adapt to changing circumstances.

Sure enough, the world fiddled for weeks while Qaddafi mounted his successful counterinsurgency campaign. The coalition attacks are only days old, but already fissures are appearing. The Arab League is criticizing the early results. The French are not coordinating well with their allies. NATO leaders are even now embroiled in a debate about the operational command structure.

Fourth, multilateral forces often lose the war of morale and motivation. Most wars are fought by nations — by people aroused not only by common interests but by common passions, moralities and group loyalties. Multilateral campaigns rarely, on the other hand, arouse people. They are organized by elites, and propelled by calculation, not patriotism. No one wants to die for the Arab League, the United Nations or some temporary coalition of the willing.

In the Libyan campaign, Qaddafi’s defenders will be fighting for land, home, God and country. The multinational force will be organized by an acronym and motivated by a calibrated calculus to achieve a humanitarian end.

Finally, multilateral efforts are built around a fiction. The people who organize coalitions pretend that all the parties are sharing the burdens. In reality, only the U.S. can do many of the tasks. If the other nations falter, the U.S. will have to leap in and assume the entire burden. America’s partners go in knowing they do not bear ultimate responsibility for success or failure. Americans do.

All of this is not to say the world should do nothing while Qaddafi unleashes his demonic fury. Nor is this a defense of unilateralism. But we should not pretend we have found a superior way to fight a war. Multilateralism works best as a garment clothing American leadership. Besides, the legitimacy of a war is not established by how it is organized but by what it achieves.

Cripes.  Here’s Mr. Herbert:

One of the most powerful tools for improving the educational achievement of poor black and Hispanic public school students is, regrettably, seldom even considered. It has become a political no-no.

Educators know that it is very difficult to get consistently good results in schools characterized by high concentrations of poverty. The best teachers tend to avoid such schools. Expectations regarding student achievement are frequently much lower, and there are lower levels of parental involvement. These, of course, are the very schools in which so many black and Hispanic children are enrolled.

Breaking up these toxic concentrations of poverty would seem to be a logical and worthy goal. Long years of evidence show that poor kids of all ethnic backgrounds do better academically when they go to school with their more affluent — that is, middle class — peers. But when the poor kids are black or Hispanic, that means racial and ethnic integration in the schools. Despite all the babble about a postracial America, that has been off the table for a long time.

More than a half-century after the landmark Brown v. Board of Education school desegregation ruling, we are still trying as a country to validate and justify the discredited concept of separate but equal schools — the very idea supposedly overturned by Brown v. Board when it declared, “Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.”

Schools are no longer legally segregated, but because of residential patterns, housing discrimination, economic disparities and long-held custom, they most emphatically are in reality.

“Ninety-five percent of education reform is about trying to make separate schools for rich and poor work, but there is very little evidence that you can have success when you pack all the low-income students into one particular school,” said Richard Kahlenberg, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation who specializes in education issues.

The current obsession with firing teachers, attacking unions and creating ever more charter schools has done very little to improve the academic outcomes of poor black and Latino students. Nothing has brought about gains on the scale that is needed.

If you really want to improve the education of poor children, you have to get them away from learning environments that are smothered by poverty. This is being done in some places, with impressive results. An important study conducted by the Century Foundation in Montgomery County, Md., showed that low-income students who happened to be enrolled in affluent elementary schools did much better than similarly low-income students in higher-poverty schools in the county.

The study, released last October, found that “over a period of five to seven years, children in public housing who attended the school district’s most advantaged schools (as measured by either subsidized lunch status or the district’s own criteria) far outperformed in math and reading those children in public housing who attended the district’s least-advantaged public schools.”

Studies have shown that it is not the race of the students that is significant, but rather the improved all-around environment of schools with better teachers, fewer classroom disruptions, pupils who are more engaged academically, parents who are more involved, and so on. The poorer students benefit from the more affluent environment. “It’s a much more effective way of closing the achievement gap,” said Mr. Kahlenberg.

About 80 school districts across the country are taking steps to reduce the concentrations of poverty in their schools. But there is no getting away from the fact that if you try to bring about economic integration, you’re also talking about racial and ethnic integration, and that provokes bitter resistance. The election of Barack Obama has not made true integration any more palatable to millions of Americans.

I favor integration for integration’s sake. This society should be far more integrated in almost every way than it is now. But to get around the political obstacles to school integration, districts have tried a number of strategies. Some have established specialized, high-achieving magnet schools in high-poverty neighborhoods, which have had some success in attracting middle class students. Some middle-class schools have been willing to accept transfers of low-income students when those transfers are accompanied by additional resources that benefit all of the students in the schools.

It’s difficult, but there are ways to sidestep the politics. What I think is a shame is that we have to do all of this humiliating dancing around the perennially uncomfortable issue of race. We pretend that no one’s a racist anymore, but it’s easier to talk about pornography in polite company than racial integration. Everybody’s in favor of helping poor black kids do better in school, but the consensus is that those efforts are best confined to the kids’ own poor black neighborhoods.

Separate but equal. The Supreme Court understood in 1954 that it would never work. But our perpetual bad faith on matters of race keeps us trying.



Brooks and Herbert, and a linky

March 15, 2011

Bobo has extruded a thing called “The Ike Phase,” in which he babbles that at a time when urgent action calls, President Obama is choosing prudence. Is this wisdom or passivity?  Mr. Herbert, in “The Sport Needs to Change,” says the tragic side of pro football is increasingly emerging from the shadows.  Here’s Bobo:

On Jan. 20, 1961, John Kennedy delivered his rousing Inaugural Address. But this speech was preceded, as William Galston of the Brookings Institution has reminded us, by an equally important speech: Dwight Eisenhower’s farewell address.

Kennedy’s speech was an idealistic call to action. Eisenhower’s speech was a calm warning against hubris. Kennedy celebrated courage; Eisenhower celebrated prudence. Kennedy asked the country to venture forth. Eisenhower asked the country to maintain its basic sense of balance.

While Kennedy gloried in the current moment, Eisenhower warned the country to “avoid the impulse to live only for today, plundering, for our own ease and convenience, the precious resources of tomorrow.” We cannot, he said, “mortgage the material assets of our grandchildren without risking the loss also of their political and spiritual heritage.”

Furthermore, Ike warned, the country should never believe that “some spectacular and costly action could become the miraculous solution to all current difficulties.” He reminded the country that government is about finding the right balance — between public and private, civic duties and individual freedom, small communities and big industrial complexes.

I suspect that most of us can, in different moods, sympathize with both the Kennedy and the Eisenhower speeches, with both the rousing idealistic call and the prudent words of caution.

The Obama administration has tried to emulate both impulses. During the first two years, it hewed to Kennedy’s seize-the-moment style. Now it seems to be copying the Eisenhower mood.

The campaign of 2008 was marked by soaring calls for transformation. Now the administration spends much of its time reacting to events and counseling restraint.

The Arab masses have seized control of the international agenda with their marches and bravery. The Republicans on Capitol Hill and in Madison, Wis., have seized control of the domestic agenda with calls for spending cuts.

The Obama administration has reacted to both of these movements by striking a prudent, middling course. Internationally, the administration has sought a subtle (overly subtle) balance between democracy and stability. Domestically, the president offered a budget so tepid that it effectively ceded center stage. He called for a few cuts but asked people not to get carried away.

On Friday, President Obama gave a press conference that perfectly captured his current phase. He acknowledged rising gas prices but had no new energy policy to announce. On Libya, he emphasized the need to deliberate carefully our steps ahead but had no road map to propose. On the federal budget fight, he spoke passionately about the need to reach a compromise. But when given the chance to talk about what it might look like, he rose above the fray and vaguely counseled balance and moderation.

It is easy to see why the president should be striking this pose now. Prudence is always a nice trait in a leader, especially in the face of a thorny problem like Libya. At a time when the nation is anxious, Obama is coming across as a cautious and safe pair of hands. The man is clearly not going to do anything rash.

Politically, this is a style that seems to appeal to independents. Obama is not going to get sucked into a left-versus-right budget battle and see his presidency get washed away. On budget matters, he seems to be playing rope-a-dope — waiting for the Republicans to propose something courageous and foolhardy like entitlement reform, thus giving him an opening to step in as the bulwark against extremism. It’s likely that he can win the next election simply by force of personality, by overshadowing his opponent.

Yet this current cautious pose carries dangers, too. Eisenhower was president at a time when American self-confidence was at its zenith; Americans were content with a president who took small steps. Today, most Americans seem to think their country is seriously off course. They may have less tolerance for a president who leads cautiously from the back.

Prudence can sometimes look like weakness. Obama said his cautious reactions to the Libyan revolution amounted to “tightening the noose” around Qaddafi. Yet there is no evidence that Qaddafi is feeling asphyxiated or even discomforted. As he slaughters his opposition, Western caution looks like fecklessness.

Prudence is important, but Americans do have an expectation that their president will be the one out front, dominating the agenda, projecting strength and offering vision.

All in all, President Obama is an astoundingly complicated person. During the 2008 presidential campaign, and during the first two years of his term, I would have said that his troubling flaw was hubris — his attempts to do everything at once. But he seems to have an amazing capacity to self-observe and adjust. Now I’d say his worrying flaw is passivity. I have no confidence that I can predict what sort of person Obama will be as he runs for re-election in 2012.

Well, Bobo, we’ve got no confidence in your ability to predict anything.  And less in your ability to write fiction.  (Boy, oh boy, I’ll bet the review of your book in your very own paper stung…)  Here’s Mr. Herbert:

Dave Duerson was once a world-class athlete, a perfect physical specimen whose pro football career included Super Bowl championships with the Chicago Bears and New York Giants. Friends and former teammates would tell you that he was also a bright guy — a graduate of Notre Dame with a degree in economics and, at least for awhile, a successful businessman.

When he shot himself to death in his South Florida home last month, the despondent Duerson, who was 50, fired the bullet into his chest rather than into his head. He did not want to further damage his brain. As he explained in text messages and a handwritten note, the former all-pro safety wanted his brain tissue studied, presumably to determine whether he had been suffering from a devastating degenerative disease that is taking a terrible toll on what appears to be an increasing number of pro football players and other athletes.

As The Times has reported, Duerson wrote, “Please, see that my brain is given to the N.F.L.’s brain bank.”

Professional football has a big, big problem on its hands, and I’m not talking about the lockout that is jeopardizing the 2011 season. The game is chewing up players like a meat grinder. The evidence is emerging of an extraordinary number of players struggling with lifelong physical debilitation, depression, dementia and many other serious problems linked to their playing days.

Duerson’s concern was believed to have been centered on chronic traumatic encephalopathy, an incurable disease associated with depression and dementia in athletes who played violent sports like football and boxing. A number of retired football players, including some who took their own lives, were found to have had the disease, which can only be diagnosed post-mortem.

Pro football, the nation’s most popular sport, had been ratcheting up its violence quotient for years. Fans loved it. But a backlash has developed as more and more stories come to light about the awful price retired players are paying for a sport that increasingly resembles Colosseum-like combat. Few players escape unscathed after years of brain-rattling, joint-crippling, bone-breaking, consciousness-altering collisions. Many live out their lives in chronic pain, varying degrees of paralysis, and all manner of cognitive and emotional distress.

The N.F.L. has taken some remedial steps, especially in the area of head injuries. But pro football, always violent, is now violent in the extreme, and there is some question as to whether that violent style of play — and the consequences that flow from it — can really be changed. Paul Tagliabue, a former N.F.L. commissioner, told The New Yorker about the comments of a group of former players who had looked closely at the way defensive play has changed. “They raised the idea,” said Tagliabue, “that it was no longer tackle football. It was becoming collision football. The players looked like bionic men.”

I am an enormous fan of football, but I get a queasy feeling when I see one of those tremendous hits that leaves the opposing player lying as if lifeless on the turf. Or when I read about players like Andre Waters, formerly of the Philadelphia Eagles and Arizona Cardinals, who shot himself to death in 2006 at the age of 44. A forensic pathologist said Waters’s brain tissue looked like that of an 85-year-old man. It turned out that he had been suffering from chronic traumatic encephalopathy, the disease that Duerson may have feared.

This is an enormous tragedy. So many players are suffering in the shadows. They need much more help from the N.F.L., the players’ union and the myriad others cashing in on a sport that has become a multibillion-dollar phenomenon. And big changes are needed in the rules, equipment and culture of the sport to cut down on the carnage inflicted on current and future players.

I once was a big fan of boxing. I marveled at the breathless, elaborately detailed stories my parents’ generation told about Joe Louis and the unparalleled Sugar Ray Robinson. I followed Muhammad Ali’s career from beginning to end. I read biographies of the great boxers of the 20th century.

But I also saw the televised fight in March 1962 in which Emile Griffith beat Benny (Kid) Paret so savagely that Paret died 10 days later. Robinson also killed a man in the ring, Jimmy Doyle, in a fight in 1947. And it’s no secret that even the greatest fighters tended to end up in bad shape, demented or enfeebled from the punishment of their trade — Louis, Robinson, Ali, so many others. I haven’t been able to watch the sport in years.

It’s a very bad sign that chronic traumatic encephalopathy, long associated with boxing, is now linked to football. With the carnage increasingly emerging from the shadows, there is no guarantee that football’s magical hold on the public will last. Players are not just suffering, some are dying. The sport needs to change.

It won’t.

The Times published a review of Bobo’s book.  Ouch.  Here’s a taste:

But fiction is not Brooks’s métier, and he lacks the ability to create characters that compel belief. The story of Harold and Erica, their formative years, eventual meeting, marriage and separate careers, is without interest: one doesn’t care what happens to them because in spite of Brooks’s earnest attempt to describe their psychological depths, they do not come to life; they and their supporting cast are mannequins for the display of psychological and social generalizations.

That’s gotta sting…

Collins, Blow and Herbert

March 12, 2011

Ms. Collins, in “Eye of the Newt,” says thanks to Newt Gingrich, we have learned of the link between patriotism and adultery.  Mr. Blow, in “The Biggest Losers,” says reducing childhood obesity should be an all-hands-on-deck issue, including the hands of the government.  Mr. Herbert, in “The Master Key,” says a national infrastructure bank, proposed by Senator John Kerry, could bypass the current austerity tide.  Here’s Ms. Collins:

The presidential race is barely under way, but already we have had our first Big Thought. I am speaking, of course, of Newt Gingrich’s suggestion that he was driven into serial adultery by hard work and patriotism.

“There’s no question that at times in my life, partially driven by how passionately I felt about this country, that I worked far too hard and that things happened in my life that were not appropriate,” he told an interviewer on the Christian Broadcasting Network.

You can imagine how much discussion this sparked. “Will ‘feeling passionate about this country’ become the new ‘hiking the Appalachian Trail’? ” asked Bruce Handy of Vanity Fair.

Really, the concept explains quite a bit. New York’s former governor, Eliot Spitzer, worked a lot. And right now New York City is reeling over the indictment of a powerful state senator, who turns out to have had a secret life in a waterside mansion that he shared with two male gynecologists and their mother. We are still sorting out the details, but I can tell you that this guy used to be the chairman of the Finance Committee. You can only sit through so many hearings on tax policy before the call of the wild starts ringing in your ears.

Also, whenever I hear “former Mayor Rudy Giuliani” I think of patriotism and round-the-clock dedication to the job. Also, about the time he called a press conference to announce that he and his wife were separating and the wife, who hadn’t heard, started telling reporters about an affair she believed Rudy had had with a female staffer.

Gingrich is asked about his personal life more often than most politicians. If you’re on your third wife, cheated perpetually on the first two, and are running for the Republican presidential nomination as a social conservative, these things come up.

The most famous story about Gingrich’s failed marriages is about his first wife, Jackie, who had been Newt’s high school math teacher before he appeared at her door and suggested a new equation. Jackie was recovering from surgery for uterine cancer when her husband walked in and started talking about the terms of a divorce.

She is not to be confused with the second wife, Marianne, who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and was visiting her mother when her husband called to tell her there was another woman.

Anyway, you can see how the topic of Gingrich’s home life would come up. Generally, he doesn’t seem all that thrilled by the invitation to explain himself. But he was very chatty on the Christian Broadcasting Network. Perhaps this was because of the way the interviewer, David Brody, phrased his question.

“Talk about a forgiving God?” he asked.

Newt was quite forthcoming about both God’s readiness to forgive him and the much, much better lifestyle he has embraced now that he’s found true love with Wife No. 3, converted to Catholicism and “learned an immense amount.”

People, can we all agree now that men who spend their early and middle ages betraying women right and left are not allowed to get credit for discovering the joys of monogamy at about the same time that they receive their first Social Security check?

Of course, Gingrich is being a better husband this time around. He’s 67! By then, most men have not just finished sowing their wild oats. The oats have been harvested, ground up, reprocessed and turned into soggy cornflakes.

“In general, in men and women, the sexual hormones decrease as you age. It’s a lot of work, dating and managing multiple partners,” says Rose Hartzell, a therapist at the San Diego Sexual Medicine Center.

God forgives you at any age, but voters should only reward reformations that occur before the miscreant receives his first copy of the AARP bulletin.

Gingrich offered up his analysis of the cause of his sexual indiscretions when he appeared with other presidential hopefuls at an event in Iowa sponsored by the Faith and Freedom Coalition. This is a group established by the former Christian Coalition leader Ralph Reed, who is recovering from a fall from grace himself. Reed’s involved secretly working with the disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff to block a ban on Internet gambling. Which I do not believe is the sort of thing you can blame on a heavy schedule and the flag.

In his public life, Gingrich’s rhetoric is less forgiving than apocalyptic. His speech in Iowa was laced with attacks on Democrats (“secular socialists”) and a call for “a political change so deep and so profound that nothing we have seen in our lifetime is comparable.” He has called Barack Obama “authentically dishonest,” and “a person who is fundamentally out of touch with how the world works, who happened to have played a wonderful con, as a result of which he is now president.”

If only Obama had committed adultery instead of health care reform, I’m sure they’d be getting along a lot better.

Newt Gingrich gives little lizards a bad name.  He’s a revolting excuse for a human being.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

Should the government have a significant role in reducing childhood obesity?

That’s the question the Pew Research Center began asking poll respondents a few weeks ago. Nearly 60 percent said yes. Only about 40 percent said no.

This is a remarkable change in public sentiment from 2005 when the Harvard School of Public Health asked a similar question and got almost the exact opposite result.

So what happened in the intervening years? One major occurrence has been the push by the president and first lady to combat the problem. Their initiatives promote commonsense approaches like increased breast-feeding, better diets and more exercise. Who could argue with that? The right, that’s who.

True to form, anything the Obamas support, no matter how innocuous or admirable, the right reflexively rejects, sometimes in malicious tones. Rush Limbaugh went so far as to comment on the first lady’s own weight as part of his criticism last month. (I have to bite my tongue and bind my fingers to keep from pointing out the obvious hypocrisy.)

So with that as background, one can see why the Pew poll found that only 49 percent of whites, 45 percent of the elderly, 41 percent of Republicans and 33 percent of those who agree with the Tea Party movement also agreed with the majority on this question. “Their Nanny State is trying to control our Kitchens!” (Oh, like how the right’s Daddy State has tried for decades to control our bedrooms? I get it, but I digress.)

The right objects even though, as the accompanying chart illustrates, many of the more conservative states, particularly in the South, are also the ones that struggle the most with obesity.

Now many would rightly argue that the data don’t delineate to what degree conservatives expressly contribute to the problem. And they’d argue that large percentages of minorities — who have higher obesity rates and are more Democratic — in many of those states could skew the numbers.

Fair points, but they don’t erase the anomaly.

Even when you strip away all minorities and only compare obesity rates among whites, the highest rates are still in West Virginia, Mississippi, Kentucky, Alabama, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Tennessee.

Even so, they’d say, there is no way to know how many of those whites are conservative. Yes, but — since John McCain averaged 71 percent of the white vote in those states in 2008 — it is safe to assume that many are.

Anyway, this really shouldn’t be a partisan issue. This should be an all-hands-on-deck issue, including the hands of the government.

And red states, many of which are now the biggest losers in the fight against childhood obesity, have the most to gain.

Here’s the graph. My state has covered itself in glory…  As usual.  And now here’s Mr. Herbert:

The United States is not racked with the turmoil that is shaking the Arab world, or the tragic devastation that has hit Japan. We are not in a state of emergency. We’re in a moment when it is possible to look thoughtfully at the American landscape and take rational steps to ensure a better, more sustainable future.

But we’re not doing that. The big news out of Washington this week was Representative Peter King’s Muslim witch hunt. Policy makers at all levels of government are talking austerity — sometimes sensibly, but most often mindlessly. Creative ideas regarding energy, education, jobs and so forth have trouble even getting a hearing.

Now comes Senator John Kerry hoping to buck the frustrating tide with a modest proposal. He mentioned in a speech in January that through most of its history America could build things — not just manufacture goods, but build the infrastructure that is required for a nation to be great: “We built a transcontinental railroad. We built an interstate highway system. We built the rockets that let us explore the farthest edge of the solar system and beyond.”

But that time has passed, and it’s not an overstatement to say that unless we atone for our infrastructure sins the high tide of American greatness will have passed as well. How is it, for example, that we don’t already have in place the infrastructure policies to support the vast potential of the green energy market, projected to surpass $2 trillion by the end of this decade?

It’s an investment opportunity not to be missed. But somehow the United States is missing it. “Two years ago,” said Senator Kerry, “China accounted for just 5 percent of the world’s solar panel production. Now it boasts the world’s largest solar panel manufacturing industry, exporting about 95 percent of its production to other countries, including the United States. We invented the technology, but China is reaping the rewards.”

It would cost the United States a staggering amount to get its overall infrastructure into decent shape — the best recent estimate is $2.2 trillion over the next five years. Without substantial investments, we’re in danger of being overwhelmed by an enormous range of problems, including ever-longer commutes, an inadequate energy grid, difficulties getting commercial products to market, breakdowns in essential communications and the loss of industries, investments and jobs to competitors overseas.

The investments are essential, but where is the money to finance them?

Senator Kerry will introduce legislation next week to create a federal infrastructure bank — officially, the American Infrastructure Financing Authority — to provide loans and loan guarantees to large, essential infrastructure projects. The loans will be seed money used to leverage other sources of funding.

“These are strictly loans — not grants — for commercially viable projects,” the senator said. “The federal government does no more than 50 percent of the loan. We expect that to leverage $600 billion or so in infrastructure investments over time.”

Mr. Kerry said the initial cost to the government would be $10 billion. Other proposals to establish an infrastructure bank have been more ambitious and more expensive. Senator Kerry is anticipating — or, at least, hoping for — bipartisan support and a nod from the Obama administration for this more modest initiative.

We’ve moved so far from that forward-looking, can-do philosophy of prior eras that there is a danger that we really are incapable of preventing the nation’s infrastructure from deteriorating further. We’ve seen how catastrophic that can be. New Orleans was all but lost for want of an adequate system of levees and floodwalls. Thirteen people were killed in the rush-hour collapse of the I-35W bridge over the Mississippi River in Minneapolis. Natural gas pipelines are blowing up in city after city. And the sorry condition of so many streets and highways contributes, at least in part, to the deaths of thousands of motorists every year.

Creation of an infrastructure bank would be an important indication that leaders in Washington are still capable, despite most of the available evidence, of moving beyond partisan paralysis to engage one of the biggest challenges facing the country. If there is such a thing as a master key to a better American future, investment in the nation’s infrastructure would be it. That is the biggest potential source of jobs. That is how you build the foundation for new and innovative industries.

I sometimes try to imagine New York City without its subways, or the United States without the interstate highway system. Those kinds of projects could not be built today. Try to imagine life in the 21st century without the Internet. Imagine if we had never gone to the moon.

Maybe that’s what’s missing today. The ability to imagine.



Brooks, Cohen and Herbert

March 8, 2011

Bobo has produced another “think” (and I’m using that term VERY loosely) piece called “The New Humanism” in which he babbles that researchers are coming up with a more accurate view of who we are and are beginning to show how the emotional and the rational are intertwined.  It’s full of Bobo’s usual sweeping generalities of how “we” all function and what all of “our” motivations are.  Mr. Cohen, in “Libyan Closure,” says the deepest reason to oppose Western military intervention in Libya is the utter moral bankruptcy of the West with respect to the Arab world.  Why the hell should we care anything about the Arab world?  They’re sitting on top of OUR OIL…  Mr. Herbert, in “Flailing After Muslims,” says this week’s scheduled hearing into the Muslim community is an affront to America’s most precious ideals.  It’s being led by a moron, so what did you expect?  Here’s Bobo:

Over the course of my career, I’ve covered a number of policy failures. When the Soviet Union fell, we sent in teams of economists, oblivious to the lack of social trust that marred that society. While invading Iraq, the nation’s leaders were unprepared for the cultural complexities of the place and the psychological aftershocks of Saddam’s terror.

We had a financial regime based on the notion that bankers are rational creatures who wouldn’t do anything stupid en masse. For the past 30 years we’ve tried many different ways to restructure our educational system — trying big schools and little schools, charters and vouchers — that, for years, skirted the core issue: the relationship between a teacher and a student.

I’ve come to believe that these failures spring from a single failure: reliance on an overly simplistic view of human nature. We have a prevailing view in our society — not only in the policy world, but in many spheres — that we are divided creatures. Reason, which is trustworthy, is separate from the emotions, which are suspect. Society progresses to the extent that reason can suppress the passions.

This has created a distortion in our culture. We emphasize things that are rational and conscious and are inarticulate about the processes down below. We are really good at talking about material things but bad at talking about emotion.

When we raise our kids, we focus on the traits measured by grades and SAT scores. But when it comes to the most important things like character and how to build relationships, we often have nothing to say. Many of our public policies are proposed by experts who are comfortable only with correlations that can be measured, appropriated and quantified, and ignore everything else.

Yet while we are trapped within this amputated view of human nature, a richer and deeper view is coming back into view. It is being brought to us by researchers across an array of diverse fields: neuroscience, psychology, sociology, behavioral economics and so on.

This growing, dispersed body of research reminds us of a few key insights. First, the unconscious parts of the mind are most of the mind, where many of the most impressive feats of thinking take place. Second, emotion is not opposed to reason; our emotions assign value to things and are the basis of reason. Finally, we are not individuals who form relationships. We are social animals, deeply interpenetrated with one another, who emerge out of relationships.

This body of research suggests the French enlightenment view of human nature, which emphasized individualism and reason, was wrong. The British enlightenment, which emphasized social sentiments, was more accurate about who we are. It suggests we are not divided creatures. We don’t only progress as reason dominates the passions. We also thrive as we educate our emotions.

When you synthesize this research, you get different perspectives on everything from business to family to politics. You pay less attention to how people analyze the world but more to how they perceive and organize it in their minds. You pay a bit less attention to individual traits and more to the quality of relationships between people.

You get a different view of, say, human capital. Over the past few decades, we have tended to define human capital in the narrow way, emphasizing I.Q., degrees, and professional skills. Those are all important, obviously, but this research illuminates a range of deeper talents, which span reason and emotion and make a hash of both categories:

Attunement: the ability to enter other minds and learn what they have to offer.

Equipoise: the ability to serenely monitor the movements of one’s own mind and correct for biases and shortcomings.

Metis: the ability to see patterns in the world and derive a gist from complex situations.

Sympathy: the ability to fall into a rhythm with those around you and thrive in groups.

Limerence: This isn’t a talent as much as a motivation. The conscious mind hungers for money and success, but the unconscious mind hungers for those moments of transcendence when the skull line falls away and we are lost in love for another, the challenge of a task or the love of God. Some people seem to experience this drive more powerfully than others.

When Sigmund Freud came up with his view of the unconscious, it had a huge effect on society and literature. Now hundreds of thousands of researchers are coming up with a more accurate view of who we are. Their work is scientific, but it directs our attention toward a new humanism. It’s beginning to show how the emotional and the rational are intertwined.

I suspect their work will have a giant effect on the culture. It’ll change how we see ourselves. Who knows, it may even someday transform the way our policy makers see the world.

Well, maybe if The Powers That Be operated with a game plan other that FYIGM…  Here’s Mr. Cohen:

There’s a video of Dr. Alia Brahimi of the London School of Economics greeting Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi as “Brother Leader” at the school three months ago, and presenting him with an L.S.E. cap — a tradition, she says, that started when the cap was handed to Nelson Mandela.

It may be possible to sink to greater depths but right now I can’t think how.

Sir Howard Davies, the director of the L.S.E., had the decency to resign over the school’s financial links to Qaddafi and his own misjudgments. If only the L.S.E. were an isolated case. The Arab Spring is also a Western Winter.

I’m glad the United States and Europe have gotten behind the Bahrain-to-Benghazi awakening. But I’ve not heard enough self-criticism.

Hearings should be held in the U.S. Congress and throughout Western legislatures on these questions: How did we back, use and encourage the brutality of Arab dictators over so many years? To what degree did that cynical encouragement of despots foster the very jihadist rage Western societies sought to curb?

The West has long known what the likes of Qaddafi and Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak did. Hisham Matar, the acclaimed Libyan novelist, has a new novel out called “Anatomy of a Disappearance.” His father, Jaballa, disappeared in 1990, abducted from his Cairo apartment by Egyptian security agents who handed him over to Libya.

For more than a decade there has been no trace of this cultured man, a former diplomat last seen in Tripoli’s notorious Abu Salim prison. His crime was belief in democracy and freedom. He has vanished leaving a fine novelist aching for closure, demanding — if his father is dead — “to know how, where and when it happened.”

There you have the Cairo-Tripoli axis. They were useful, Mubarak and Qaddafi, for intelligence and renditions and a cold Israeli peace in the case of the Egyptian; for oil and gas in the case of the Libyan. They were also killers.

Disappear is a transitive verb for dictators. That’s what they do to foes, disappear them in the night for questioning that becomes a nameless forever.

No law governs these captives’ fate. They vanish — and then they are tossed into mass graves. Qaddafi massacred over 1,000 political prisoners at Abu Salim in June 1996. Was Jaballa Matar among them?

It’s important to have names. The skulls in the sand were once sentient beings who screamed for justice.

The entire Western world has been complicit in the pain of Hisham Matar, whose first novel “In the Country of Men” was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize. The West has embraced every Arab dictator now being toppled by the people they starved of rights and life itself.

Matar told The New Yorker this was “an appropriate moment for Americans to reflect on how they have for three decades allowed their elected officials to support a dictatorship as ruthless as Mubarak’s. To ask, for example, what are the reasons that have motivated the current vice president of the United States to say, as recently as Jan. 27, that Mubarak is no dictator.”

I think Joseph Biden might answer that question.

There are many reasons I oppose a Western military intervention in Libya: the bitter experience of Iraq; the importance of these Arab liberation movements being homegrown; the ease of going in and difficulty of getting out; the accusations of Western pursuit of oil that will poison the terrain; the fact that two Western wars in Muslim countries are enough.

But the deepest reason is the moral bankruptcy of the West with respect to the Arab world. Arabs have no need of U.S. or European soldiers as they seek the freedom that America and the European Union were content to deny them. Qaddafi can be undermined without Western military intervention. He cannot prevail: Some officer will eventually make that plain.

Timothy Garton Ash, in his book “Facts are Subversive,” quotes the Polish poet Czeslaw Milosz who wrote:

Do not feel safe. The poet remembers.

You may kill him — another will be born.

Deeds and words shall be recorded.

Yes, the poet remembers, and Qaddafi’s deeds — his crimes — will be recorded. One day we will know what befell Jaballa Matar and the numberless dead. I just watched Mohamed Al-Daradji’s powerful movie, “Son of Babylon,” in which an Iraqi Kurdish woman looks in vain for her son, disappeared in 1991 by Saddam Hussein. At one point she says, “I’ve been searching the prisons and now I’m searching the graves.”

Let’s put names to the dead, dates to the crimes, and details to our complicity. I know the world is unjust: Nobody made a big fuss about Dr. Brahimi’s words three months ago. All the more reason to be severe in assessing lessons learned.

In his new novel, Matar’s chief protagonist observes, “There are times when my father’s absence is as heavy as a child sitting on my chest.” He searches — “Everything and everyone, existence itself, has become an evocation, a possibility for resemblance.”

The foul Libyan regime that knows the answer must fall for the truth to be known. Closure time has come.

Now here’s Mr. Herbert:

It has often been the case in America that specific religions, races and ethnic groups have been singled out for discrimination, demonization, incarceration and worse. But there have always been people willing to stand up boldly and courageously against such injustice. Their efforts are needed again now.

Representative Peter King, a Republican from Long Island, appears to harbor a fierce unhappiness with the Muslim community in the United States. As the chairman of the powerful Homeland Security Committee, Congressman King has all the clout he needs to act on his displeasure. On Thursday, he plans to open the first of a series of committee hearings into the threat of homegrown Islamic terrorism and the bogus allegation that American Muslims have failed to cooperate with law enforcement efforts to foil terrorist plots.

“There is a real threat to the country from the Muslim community,” he said, “and the only way to get to the bottom of it is to investigate what is happening.”

That kind of sweeping statement from a major government official about a religious minority — soon to be backed up by the intimidating aura of Congressional hearings — can only serve to further demonize a group of Americans already being pummeled by bigotry and vicious stereotyping.

Rabbi Marc Schneier, the president of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, was among some 500 people at a rally in Times Square on Sunday that was called to protest Mr. King’s hearings. “To single out Muslim-Americans as the source of homegrown terrorism,” he said, “and not examine all forms of violence motivated by extremist belief — that, my friends, is an injustice.”

To focus an investigative spotlight on an entire religious or ethnic community is a violation of everything America is supposed to stand for. But that does not seem to concern Mr. King. “The threat is coming from the Muslim community,” he told The Times. “The radicalization attempts are directed at the Muslim community. Why should I investigate other communities?”

The great danger of these hearings, in addition to undermining fundamental American values, is that for no good reason — nearly a decade after the terrible attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 — they will intensify the already overheated anti-Muslim feeling in the U.S. There is nothing wrong with the relentless investigation of terrorism. That’s essential. But that is not the same as singling out, stereotyping and harassing an entire community.

On Monday, I spoke by phone with Colleen Kelly, a nurse practitioner from the Bronx whose brother, William Kelly Jr., was killed in the attack on the World Trade Center. She belongs to a group called September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows and is opposed to Mr. King’s hearings. “I was trying to figure out why he’s doing this,” she said, “and I haven’t come up with a good answer.”

She recalled how people were stigmatized in the early years of the AIDS epidemic and the way that stigmas become the focus of attention and get in the way of the efforts really needed to avert tragedy.

Mr. King’s contention that Muslims are not cooperating with law enforcement is just wrong. According to the Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security, an independent research group affiliated with Duke University and the University of North Carolina, 48 of the 120 Muslims suspected of plotting terror attacks in the U.S. since Sept. 11, 2001, were turned in by fellow Muslims. In some cases, they were turned in by parents or other relatives.

What are we doing? Do we want to demonize innocent people and trample on America’s precious freedom of religion? Or do we want to stop terrorism? There is no real rhyme or reason to Congressman King’s incoherent flailing after Muslims. Witch hunts, after all, are about seeing what kind of ugliness might fortuitously turn up.

Mr. King was able to concoct the anti-Muslim ugliness in his 2004 novel, “Vale of Tears,” in which New York is hit yet again by terrorists and, surprise, the hero of the piece is a congressman from Long Island. But this is real life, and the congressman’s fantasies should not apply.

America should be better than this. We’ve had all the requisite lessons: Joe McCarthy, the House Un-American Activities Committee, the demonization of blacks and Jews, the internment of Japanese-Americans, and on and on and on. It’s such a tired and ugly refrain.

When I asked Colleen Kelly why she spoke up, she said it was because of her great love for her country. “I love being an American, and I really try to be thankful for all the gifts that come with that,” she said. But with gifts and privileges come responsibilities. The planned hearings into the Muslim community struck Ms. Kelly as something too far outside “the basic principles that I knew and felt to be important to me as a citizen of this country.”

Mr. King would do better to investigate the “Christian” militias and crackpot groups who are actually responsible for home-grown terrorism.  You know, the kind of folks who vote for him.

Collins, Blow and Herbert

March 5, 2011

In “Poison Pen Politics” Ms. Collins says we’re in the era where bad writing is just as damaging to a political career as a sex scandal.  Mr. Blow, in “Tea Party Tailspin,” says for the Tea Party, anger is too exhausting an emotion to sustain.  In “College the Easy Way” Mr. Herbert says for a large portion of the nation’s seemingly successful undergraduates, studying is such a drag.  Here’s Ms. Collins:

We may be embarking on a new era in politics, in which candidates and officials are just as likely to be brought down by bad writing as adultery.

Today, let us consider the case of the Florida State Senate president, Mike Haridopolos.

Haridopolos is of interest to us non-Floridians for several reasons. One is his wavy blond hair, which curves around his 40-year-old forehead in a perfect dip and may be setting a whole new post-John-Edwards political hair standard.

Second, he is an early favorite to win the Republican nomination to take on United States Senator Bill Nelson, one of the Democratic incumbents expected to face a tough re-election battle in 2012.

“We’re only four seats short of a majority,” Haridopolos told a TV interviewer this week. “I can be one of those four seats … and join Marco Rubio as a Florida U.S. senator.” Rubio, who was just elected in November, is a young man with great hair himself. If Haridopolos were to join him in Washington, they would definitely wrest the hottest-Senate-delegation title away from New York’s Kirsten Gillibrand and Chuck Schumer.

But first Haridopolos is going to have to get past some current political unpleasantness about the fact that, a few years back, he got a community college in his district to pay him $152,000 to write a book on Florida government.

Which, The Associated Press pointed out recently, was supposed to become a textbook but wound up being a single 175-page, double-spaced manuscript stashed away in the Brevard Community College administration office.

Furor ensued. Florida journalists pointed out that on a per-copy basis, Haridopolos made 61,000 times more than J.K. Rowling did for the Harry Potter series.

I am hoping that the next defining series of political scandals will be about illegitimate prose. You will remember that last year, the leading candidate for the Republican gubernatorial nomination in Colorado was torpedoed by charges that he had plagiarized chunks of “Musings on Water,” a manuscript that a conservative foundation had paid him $300,000 to write.

Many of us were most fascinated by the idea that you could get $300,000 for musing about water. But the voters were upset about the plagiarism part. The candidate, Scott McInnis, lost the nomination to Dan Maes, a dark horse who arguably turned out to be the worst candidate for a major post in a year when his competition included Alvin Greene, the guy running for the Senate in South Carolina whose economic development program involved getting the unemployed to build action figures of Alvin Greene.

Haridopolos’s tome, “Florida Legislative History and Process,” is Literary Scandal Two, and if we get just one more we will have an official trend, suggesting that politicians can now get in more trouble with a laptop than a lap dance.

Wait! This just in! The director of the London School of Economics has resigned following charges that Seif Qaddafi, son of you-know-who, plagiarized chunks of his Ph.D. dissertation. Seif was awarded a doctorate from the London School of Economics shortly after Libya made a huge donation to the school. (This is not the Qaddafi son who got arrested for beating the servants with a coat hanger in a Swiss hotel, causing Libya to begin a campaign to have Switzerland removed from Europe. That was Hannibal, and he is not a big writer. Seif is the one you see on TV telling reporters that his father is in high spirits.)

But back to State Senator Haridopolos. He is a dedicated fiscal conservative, and when a reporter asked him whether the taxpayers got their money’s worth from his book, he replied: “I don’t know. How much are you worth?” We take this as a sign of incipient testiness.

One thing about crimes against writing is that journalists tend to take them more personally than crimes against marriage. But, generally, politicians are protected from their worst literary sins by the fact that nobody actually ever reads the books they produce.

Now the community college has agreed to make “Florida Legislative History and Process” available on Kindle, and both voters and writers will be able to judge for themselves whether Haridopolos is right when he blames the whole controversy on the fact that he is “running for office, trying to change America.”

Frank Cerabino of The Palm Beach Post gave the manuscript a quick read and reported that Haridopolos “somehow managed to write a political history of Florida that completely skips over the Florida recount of the 2000 election.” But he was most taken by the section entitled “Running for Office,” in which Haridopolos advised: “It is essential to study the issues before deciding to run.”

Other reviewers fixated on another insider tip: “A cellphone will be essential.” Although I am kind of partial to: “Most importantly, a candidate should avoid wasting money on useless novelty items such as wooden nickels.”

Or wooden prose.

Here’s Mr. Blow:

The Tea Party is synonymous with anger. Anger defined it. Anger fueled it. Anger marred it. Anger became its face and its heart. But anger is too exhausting an emotion to sustain.

A poll released Thursday by the Pew Research Center found that anger at the government among Tea Party supporters fell by 40 percent from September 2010 to this month. Furthermore, anger among Republicans fell by more than half, and anger among whites, the elderly and independents fell by 40 percent or more.

On the other hand, the percentage of Tea Party supporters who said that they trusted the government always or most of the time doubled from last March to this March, and the percentage of Republicans saying so nearly doubled. In fact, the percent of both Republicans and independents saying so is now higher than it has been since January 2007.

Less anger? More trust? What happened? The midterms happened, that’s what.

Elections have a way of cooling passions, especially when voters get what they want. (Remember how lethargic many Democrats became after November 2008?) Electoral success not only satisfies, it pacifies. The enormous gains by Republicans during the midterms assuaged much of the country’s grief. The pressure began to subside. The novelty dimmed. The urgency evaporated.

Yet Tea Party leaders are still sniping from the sidelines, holding politicians to overreaching promises made when the electorate was still stewing. Judson Phillips, founder of the Tea Party Nation, wrote a post on its Web site this week saying the House speaker, John Boehner, looks “like a fool” and should face a primary challenge in 2012 for not pursuing enough spending cuts this year.

For these Tea Partiers, any concession is a crime worthy of expulsion.

A September Pew Poll found that only 22 percent of those who identify with the Tea Party admire political leaders who make compromises. This is not the way the rest of the country feels. Fifty-five percent of Democrats and 36 percent of Republicans said that they admired politicians who compromise.

Staunch Tea Partiers seem to be guided by the worst kind of fundamentalist political extremism — immutable positions derived from a near-religious adherence to self-proclaimed inviolable principles. This could well be their undoing.

During the right’s season of anger, passion and convictions galvanized Tea Party supporters into an army of activism. But the vehicle is outliving its fuel. The movement is losing momentum. In fact, Tea Party-backed governors like Scott Walker in Wisconsin could be providing the rallying cry on the left to pick up the mantle of anger and send the momentum back the other way.

If Tea Party leaders continue to operate as if anger is still a major part of their arsenal and Republican politicians continue to feel pressured into untenable positions, Democrats could enjoy their very own Charlie Sheen-ism come 2012: “Winning!”

And now here’s Mr. Herbert:

The cost of college has skyrocketed and a four-year degree has become an ever more essential cornerstone to a middle-class standard of living. But what are America’s kids actually learning in college?

For an awful lot of students, the answer appears to be not much.

A provocative new book, “Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses,” makes a strong case that for a large portion of the nation’s seemingly successful undergraduates the years in college barely improve their skills in critical thinking, complex reasoning and writing.

Intellectual effort and academic rigor, in the minds of many of the nation’s college students, is becoming increasingly less important. According to the authors, Professors Richard Arum of New York University and Josipa Roksa of the University of Virginia: “Many students come to college not only poorly prepared by prior schooling for highly demanding academic tasks that ideally lie in front of them, but — more troubling still — they enter college with attitudes, norms, values, and behaviors that are often at odds with academic commitment.”

Students are hitting the books less and partying more. Easier courses and easier majors have become more and more popular. Perhaps more now than ever, the point of the college experience is to have a good time and walk away with a valuable credential after putting in the least effort possible.

What many of those students are not walking away with is something that has long been recognized as invaluable — higher order thinking and reasoning skills. They can get their degrees without putting in more of an effort because in far too many instances the colleges and universities are not demanding more of them.

The authors cite empirical work showing that the average amount of time spent studying by college students has dropped by more than 50 percent since the early 1960s. But a lack of academic focus has not had much of an effect on grade point averages or the ability of the undergraduates to obtain their degrees.

Thirty-six percent of the students said they studied alone less than five hours a week. Nevertheless, their transcripts showed a collective grade point average of 3.16. “Their G.P.A.’s are between a B and a B-plus,” said Professor Arum, “which says to me that it’s not the students, really — they share some of the blame — but the colleges and universities have set up a system so that there are ways to navigate through it without taking difficult courses and still get the credential.”

The book is based on a study, led by Professor Arum, that followed more than 2,300 students at a broad range of schools from the fall of 2005 to the spring of 2009. The study (available at showed that in their first two years of college, 45 percent of the students made no significant improvement in skills related to critical thinking, complex reasoning and communication. After the full four years, 36 percent still had not substantially improved those skills.

The development of such skills is generally thought to be the core function of a college education. The students who don’t develop them may leave college with a degree and an expanded circle of friends, but little more. Many of these young men and women are unable to communicate effectively, solve simple intellectual tasks (such as distinguishing fact from opinion), or engage in effective problem-solving.

“This is a terrible disservice, not only to those students, but also to the larger society,” said Professor Arum. “I really think it’s important to get the word out about the lack of academic rigor and intellectual engagement that’s occurring at colleges and universities today.”

While there are certainly plenty of students doing very well and learning a great deal in college, this large increase in the number of students just skating by should be of enormous concern in an era in which a college education plays such a crucial role in the lifetime potential of America’s young people. It can leave the U.S. at a disadvantage in the global marketplace. But, more important, the students are cheating themselves — and being cheated — of the richer, more satisfying lives that should be the real payoff of a four-year college experience.

“You have to ask what this means for a democratic society,” said Professor Arum. “This is the portion of the population that you would expect to demonstrate civic leadership in the future, civic engagement. They are the ones we would expect to be struggling to understand the world, to think critically about the rhetoric out there, and to make informed, reasoned decisions.

“If they’re not developing their higher order skills, it means they’re not developing the attitudes and dispositions that are needed to even understand that that’s important.”

Brooks and Herbert

March 1, 2011

Bobo has the answer.  Well, Bobo has an answer.  Seeing that it’s Bobo it’s the wrong answer.  In “The New Normal” he gurgles that Since we have to cut the deficit, we might as well learn to do it wisely. Starting with education.  I have a feeling that this column will be catnip for Doghouse Riley as well…  Mr. Herbert, in “Unintended, But Sound Advice,” says Lewis Powell’s advice to the corporate community in 1971 is sound advice for American workers today.  Here’s Bobo:

We’re going to be doing a lot of deficit cutting over the next several years. The country’s future greatness will be shaped by whether we cut wisely or stupidly. So we should probably come up with a few sensible principles to guide us as we cut.

The first one, as I tried to argue last week, is: Make Everybody Hurt. The sacrifice should be spread widely and fairly. A second austerity principle is this: Trim from the old to invest in the young. We should adjust pension promises and reduce the amount of money spent on health care during the last months of life so we can preserve programs for those who are growing and learning the most.

So far, this principle is being trampled. Seniors vote. Taxpayers revolt. Public employees occupy capitol buildings to protect their bargaining power for future benefits negotiations. As a result, seniors are being protected while children are getting pummeled. If you look across the country, you see education financing getting sliced — often in the most thoughtless and destructive ways. The future has no union.

In Washington, the Republicans who designed the cuts for this fiscal year seemed to have done no serious policy evaluation. They excused the elderly and directed cuts at anything else they could easily reach. Under their budget, financing for early-childhood programs would fall off a cliff. Tens of thousands of kids, maybe hundreds of thousands, would have their slots eliminated midyear.

Out in the states, the situation is scarcely better. Many governors of both parties are diverting money from schools in thoughtless and self-destructive ways. Hawaii decided to cut the number of days in the school year. Of all the ways to cut education, why on earth would you reduce student time in the classroom?

Texas is taking the meat cleaver approach. School financing will be cut by at least 13.5 percent, around $3.5 billion. About 85,000 new students arrive in Texas every year. There will be no additional resources to accommodate them.

Which leads to the third austerity principle: Never cut without an evaluation process. Before legislators and governors chop a section of the budget, they should make a list of all the relevant programs. They should grade each option and then start paying for them from the top down.

It seems simple, but that is not what is happening. Instead, legislators and administrators are simply cutting on the basis of what’s politically easy and what vaguely seems expendable. In education, many administrators are quick to cut athletics, band, cheerleading, art and music because they have the vague impression that those are luxuries. In fact, they are exactly the programs that keep kids in school and build character.

I have a lot of problems with President Obama’s tepid budget. But it does an excellent job of linking funds to outcomes, especially in education.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan gave a superb speech in November called the New Normal. He observed that this era of austerity should be an occasion to increase productivity and cut the things that are ineffective. Duncan is a fountain of ideas to make more with less.

For example, he says, if we have to increase class sizes, we should put more kids in with the best teachers and then we should pay those teachers more to compensate for the extra load. Most of us parents would rather see our kids in a class of 30 with a great teacher than a class of 25 with an average one.

The president’s budget increases spending on things like early education, and it is also stuffed with mechanisms to make programs perform better. When I spoke with the mavens that put the budget together, I found that they had a clear and skeptical view of whether many of these programs work. They perfectly described the studies measuring the strengths and weaknesses of each program.

They know that Head Start, for example, is a hodgepodge. Some facilities are great. Many are terrible. The administration would evaluate each program. The bottom 25 percent would have to compete to keep their financing. Those that didn’t improve would get replaced.

Similarly, Pell grant levels have surged in recent decades, but college completion rates have been flat. The administration would reform the Pell grant program, eliminating parts that don’t work. More important, it would establish stronger incentives so colleges have an interest in getting kids to graduate, not simply attend.

During the fat years, nobody bothered to link pay to performance. Government workers and government programs got funding increases no matter how they did. This model is anathema to most Americans, especially those under 40.

This period of austerity will be a blessing if it spurs an effectiveness revolution. It will be a disaster if the cutting is done politically or mindlessly. Unfortunately, that’s often how it is being done now.

Funny how they never talk about land wars in Asia or bloated defense budgets, isn’t it?  As I predicted Doghouse Riley took Bobo’s last column about Mitch Daniels apart — his response is a thing of great beauty which you can find here.  Here’s Mr. Herbert:

In Lewis Powell’s now-famous memo to America’s business community, which felt beleaguered in the political environment of 1971, the future Supreme Court justice stressed the importance of organizing.

“Strength lies in organization,” he wrote, “in careful long-range planning and implementation, in consistency of action over an indefinite period of years, in the scale of financing available only through joint effort, and in the political power available only through united action and national organizations.”

Powell’s memo points to the reason why there is such an effort now not just to extract concessions from public employee unions to help balance state budgets, but to actually crush those unions, to deprive them once and for all of the crucial and fundamental right to bargain collectively.

When you talk to the workers who are hurting most in this epic downturn, they are overwhelmingly out there on their own. No one has their back. The corporate community and the politicians who do their bidding know better than anyone else that workers who are not organized are most often helpless. They have no leverage. They cannot demand raises or health and retirement benefits or paid vacations or sick leave. They cannot negotiate shorter hours or better working conditions. It’s the boss’s way or the highway.

It’s not just pocketbook issues but the dignity of American workers that is at stake in the confrontations in Wisconsin, Ohio and elsewhere. These confrontations are about so much more than the right of public employees to bargain collectively, as important as that is. This most recent assault on labor is part of an anti-worker movement that has been on the march for decades. Jobs have been shipped overseas. Workers have been denied their rightful share of productivity gains. Wages have been depressed and benefits in many, many instances have disappeared.

It’s true that states are facing serious fiscal problems, crises in some cases, but a much bigger threat to America as we’ve known it is the increasing inability of hard-working men and women to earn enough to maintain a middle class standard of living, even as the corporate sector is thriving. The economic lives of the poor and an ever-widening portion of the middle class have become maddeningly insecure as the wealth of the society has been funneled, increasingly and unconscionably, to those at the top.

There was no net job creation during the first 10 years of the 21st century, and median incomes fell during that period, an abysmal record unmatched by any similar period in the modern post-World War II era.

I have long believed that virtually all workers should be organized, whether they were actually in a union or not. The man or woman who goes home after a long shift with barely enough to pay bills and nothing put away for an emergency, and who knows that he or she could be terminated at any moment for any reason, is subject to a permanent state of anxiety. There should be someone, some group or organization, to turn to for advice and support.

Unemployed workers who show up fully qualified to apply for a job only to be told that the prospective employer will not even consider someone who is already out of work should not have to feel that there is absolutely no alternative, that it is impossible to fight back. American workers should not be treated as if they don’t matter.

Working America is a pro-worker advocacy organization affiliated with the A.F.L.-C.I.O. that has signed up millions of nonunion members in an effort to increase the organized reach of workers. Much more organizing, on myriad fronts, is desperately needed.

Millions of Americans throughout the country are facing extreme economic hardship. The Community Service Society in New York City does an annual survey of low-income residents. Twenty-seven percent of respondents to its most recent survey said they had lost a job; 26 percent had had their hours, wages or tips reduced; 23 percent said they had often skipped meals because they did not have enough money to buy food; and 26 percent said they had been unable to fill a needed prescription because of a lack of money or insurance.

One of the saddest things I’ve read in The New York Times recently was a comment by Richard Freeman, a Harvard economist, who said that he views the current hostility toward unions by members of the general public as a sign of the erosion of the aspirational nature that has for so long characterized Americans. “It shows a hopelessness,” he said. “It used to be, ‘You have something I don’t have; I’ll go to my employer to get it, too. Now I don’t see any chance of getting it. I don’t want to be the lowest one on the totem pole, so I don’t want you to have it either.’ ”

Lewis Powell’s advice to the corporate community in 1971 is — though he certainly never intended it to be — the best advice I can think of for workers today who are fighting to hold off the tide of lower living standards. It is not a struggle that can possibly be won alone.


Collins, Blow and Herbert

February 26, 2011

In “Presidential Primary Book Club” Ms. Collins says this week’s installment of the Presidential Primary Book Club reveals a tale of two Mike Huckabees.  Mr. Blow, in “The G.O.P.’s Abandoned Babies” says the Republicans’ budget exposes their contradictory position on child welfare: “pro-life” before birth, utter indifference afterward.  It’s nice that someone has finally pointed that out…  Mr. Herbert, in “Absorbing the Pain,” says at a gathering in Philadelphia this week, the deep pain of working Americans was readily apparent.  Here’s Ms. Collins:

One of a journalist’s most important duties is to seek out information in places the readers wouldn’t go themselves, like following troops into combat or covering charter revision commission hearings. In that spirit, I have been reading all the books written by likely candidates for the Republican presidential nomination.

Almost all. Some. It’s one thing to tackle the oeuvre of Tim Pawlenty, which is one book. But our author today, Mike Huckabee, has written nearly a dozen, including “Living Beyond Your Lifetime,” “Can’t Wait Till Christmas” and “Quit Digging Your Grave With a Knife and Fork.” We are just going to stick to his I-want-to-be-president efforts.

I know you would rather hear about Christmas and dieting. But be serious. We have a campaign to prepare for.

Huckabee, you will remember, ran for president in 2008 and was regarded as the most likable guy in the Republican debates. This was not actually all that heavy a lift and he has an excellent chance of continuing the tradition, if the rest of the field is Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum.

His political intentions are still a little hazy, but personally, I hope he runs. I am looking forward to having more opportunities to discuss his revelation during the last campaign that when he was in college, he used to fry squirrels in a popcorn popper in the dorm room.

Also, it will be interesting to see exactly which Huckabee shows up. The guy who wrote his early books does not much resemble his most recent literary incarnation. Both authors dislike big government, but I believe it is only the new Huckabee who hates government-subsidized school breakfasts. (“Our pioneer forebears — who grew the wheat for their toast and the apples for their juice, who raised the cow for their milk — would be appalled at how pathetic many of us have become.”)

Huckabee’s new book, which he will be signing in Iowa this weekend, is called “A Simple Government: Twelve Things We Really Need From Washington (And a Trillion That We Don’t!)” This guy has a real thing about the number 12. Witness “A Simple Christmas: Twelve Stories That Celebrate the True Holiday Spirit.”

And then there’s my favorite, “From Hope to Higher Ground,” which was written by the rather sweet-natured 2007 Mike Huckabee. It has 12 chapters with titles like “STOP Robbing the Taxpayers” and “STOP Abusing Our Planet.” Each chapter ends with 12 “action steps” that you, the reader, can take to accomplish the goal. By the end you have a 144-item to-do list, ranging from “Buy Girl Scout cookies” to “Run for office!”

Some of the action steps are extremely practical (“Keep receipts for tax-deductible items”) and some are unarguable. (“Always say ‘Thank you.’ ”) However, I’m not sure that I’m prepared to stop people I see taking their kids shopping and say: “It just does my heart good to see a parent spend time with his/her child!”

That old Mike Huckabee spent his defining years as a minister and had sympathy for the most ostracized of the downtrodden, like illegal immigrants. “It hardly seems Americans should truly feel threatened by people who pluck chickens, pick tomatoes, make beds, wash dishes or mow lawns,” he wrote in “From Hope to Higher Ground.”

The best solution to the problem, he said, was to allow people who are here illegally to “pay a reasonable fine” and then put them on a path to legal citizenship. (The to-do list recommended: “Attend a naturalization ceremony.”)

The new book, however, is by a Huckabee whose defining life experience seems to have been hanging out at the Fox studios. Perhaps he contracted some sort of personality-changing virus. Or maybe visitors from another planet swooped down and switched his brain with Glenn Beck’s.

In “A Simple Government,” Huckabee laces into Democrats for suggesting that illegals “pay a fine and back taxes” and then be put on a path to legal citizenship. That’s “amnesty!” Mike 2.0 hates it!

The new book is basically one long howl about the Obama White House, whose occupants Huckabee compares to “the kid in school who waves his A test score in front of the entire class but never gets picked to play baseball. He’s an arrogant nerd, and no matter how smart he is, he can’t hit, he can’t throw and he can’t run.”

This is after he warns, in the introduction, that “if you’ve come here looking for a personal attack on President Obama and those in Washington, you should head to another shelf in the bookstore.” That’s on Page 1. The brain-switching space alien arrived somewhere around Page 6.

His current book tour may take him to your hometown any day. If it does, ask him about the illegal immigrants. Also, whether the squirrels were dead before they got popped.

Squirrels in a popcorn popper?  Really???  Ewww….  Here’s Mr. Blow:

Republicans need to figure out where they stand on children’s welfare. They can’t be “pro-life” when the “child” is in the womb but indifferent when it’s in the world. Allow me to illustrate just how schizophrenic their position has become through the prism of premature babies.

Of the 33 countries that the International Monetary Fund describes as “advanced economies,” the United States now has the highest infant mortality rate according to data from the World Bank. It took us decades to arrive at this dubious distinction. In 1960, we were 15th. In 1980, we were 13th. And, in 2000, we were 2nd.

Part of the reason for our poor ranking is that declines in our rates stalled after premature births — a leading cause of infant mortality as well as long-term developmental disabilities — began to rise in the 1990s.

The good news is that last year the National Center for Health Statistics reported that the rate of premature births fell in 2008, representing the first two-year decline in the last 30 years.

Dr. Jennifer L. Howse, the president of the March of Dimes, which in 2003 started a multimillion-dollar premature birth campaign focusing on awareness and education, has said of the decline: “The policy changes and programs to prevent preterm birth that our volunteers and staff have worked so hard to bring about are starting to pay off.”

The bad news is that, according to the March of Dimes, the Republican budget passed in the House this month could do great damage to this progress. The budget proposes:

• $50 million in cuts to the Maternal and Child Health Block Grant that “supports state-based prenatal care programs and services for children with special needs.”

• $1 billion in cuts to programs at the National Institutes of Health that support “lifesaving biomedical research aimed at finding the causes and developing strategies for preventing preterm birth.”

• Nearly $1 billion in cuts to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for its preventive health programs, including to its preterm birth studies.

This is the same budget in which House Republicans voted to strip all federal financing for Planned Parenthood.

It is savagely immoral and profoundly inconsistent to insist that women endure unwanted — and in some cases dangerous — pregnancies for the sake of “unborn children,” then eliminate financing designed to prevent those children from being delivered prematurely, rendering them the most fragile and vulnerable of newborns. How is this humane?

And it doesn’t even make economic sense. A 2006 study by the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies estimated that premature births cost the country at least $26 billion a year. At that rate, reducing the number of premature births by just 10 percent would save thousands of babies and $2.6 billion — more than the proposed cuts to the programs listed, programs that also provide a wide variety of other services.

This type of budgetary policy is penny-wise and pound-foolish — and ultimately deadly. Think about that the next time you hear Republican representatives tout their “pro-life” bona fides. Think about that the next time someone uses the heinous term “baby killer.”

And now here’s Mr. Herbert:

Lynda Hiller teared up. “We’re struggling real bad,” she said, “and it’s getting harder every day.”

A handful of people were sitting around a dining room table in a row house in North Philadelphia on Wednesday, talking about the problems facing working people in America. The setting outside the house on West Harold Street was grim. The remnants of a snowstorm lined the curbs and a number of people, obviously down on their luck, were moving about the struggling neighborhood. Some were panhandling.

The small gathering had been arranged by a group called Working America, which is affiliated with the A.F.L.-C.I.O., but the people at the meeting did not belong to unions. They were just there to talk in an atmosphere of mutual support.

What struck me about the conversation was the way people talked in normal tones about the equivalent of a hurricane ripping through their lives, leaving little but destruction in its wake.

Ms. Hiller had come in from Allentown. She’s 63 years old and still undergoing treatment for breast cancer. Her husband, Howard, who was not at the meeting, had been a long-distance truck driver for 35 years before losing his job in 2007, the same year Ms. Hiller received her diagnosis. Mr. Hiller thought at the time that with all of his experience he would find another job pretty quickly. He was mistaken.

“He looked for two years,” Ms. Hiller said. “He applied every place he could, sometimes four or five times at the same company. He went everywhere, to every job fair you can think of, to every place where there was even a mention of an opening. But for every job that came available, there were 20 people or more who showed up for it.”

Last fall, Mr. Hiller took a part-time job as a dishwasher at a Red Lobster restaurant. “It’s a job,” Ms. Hiller said. “It’s not fancy. It’s not truck driving.”

And it was not enough for them to keep their home. Ms. Hiller lost her job at a bank when she became ill. With both paychecks gone, meeting the mortgage became impossible. The Hillers lost their home and are now living day to day. “If my husband can get 30 hours of work in a week, then maybe we can pay some bills,” Ms. Hiller said. “If he can’t, we can’t. We’ve downsized our lives so much.”

The meeting was in the home of Elizabeth Lassiter, a certified nursing assistant whose job is in Hatfield, Pa., about 45 minutes north of Philadelphia. She doesn’t earn a lot or get benefits, but it’s a big step up from last year when she was working part time in Warminster and for a while had to sleep in her car.

“Back then I was working for a nursing agency and they kept saying they didn’t have full-time work,” she said. Until she could raise enough money for an apartment, the car was her only option. “I needed someplace to lay my head,” she said. “It was very hard.”

These are the kinds of stories you might expect from a country staggering through a depression, not the richest and supposedly most advanced society on earth. If these were exceptional stories, there would be less reason for concern. But they are in no way extraordinary. Similar stories abound throughout the United States.

Among the many heartening things about the workers fighting back in Wisconsin, Ohio and elsewhere is the spotlight that is being thrown on the contemptuous attitude of the corporate elite and their handmaidens in government toward ordinary working Americans: police officers and firefighters, teachers, truck drivers, janitors, health care aides, and so on. These are the people who do the daily grunt work of America. How dare we treat them with contempt.

It would be a mistake to think that this fight is solely about the right of public employees to collectively bargain. As important as that issue is, it’s just one skirmish in what’s shaping up as a long, bitter campaign to keep ordinary workers, whether union members or not, from being completely overwhelmed by the forces of unrestrained greed in this society.

The predators at the top, billionaires and millionaires, are pitting ordinary workers against one another. So we’re left with the bizarre situation of unionized workers with a pension being resented by nonunion workers without one. The swells are in the background, having a good laugh.

I asked Lynda Hiller if she felt generally optimistic or pessimistic. She was quiet for a moment, then said: “I don’t think things are going to get any better. I think we’re going to hit rock bottom. The big shots are in charge, and they just don’t give a darn about the little person.”

I agree with her.  It’s going to get a whole lot worse before it starts to get any better.

Brooks and Herbert

February 22, 2011

Bobo is at his most poisonous in “Make Everybody Hurt,” in which he says debt fighters everywhere, including Wisconsin, must establish a set of practices to help us cut spending effectively now and in the future.  Bobo, you poisonous toad, instead of attacking the most vulnerable and lowest paid why don’t you consider rolling back Bush’s horrendous tax cuts?  Oh, right — that might gore YOUR ox…  Prick.  Mr. Herbert has visited Bernie Sanders’ web site.  In “At Grave Risk” he says some letters to an independent senator describe the erosion of America’s great promise.  Here’s that asshole Bobo:

Over the past few weeks we’ve begun to see the new contours of American politics. The budget cutters have taken control of the agenda, while government’s defenders are waging tactical retreats. Given the scope of the fiscal problems, it could be like this for the next 10 or 20 years.

No place is hotter than Wisconsin. The leaders there have done everything possible to maximize conflict. Gov. Scott Walker, a Republican, demanded cuts only from people in the other party. The public sector unions and their allies immediately flew into a rage, comparing Walker to Hitler, Mussolini and Mubarak.

Walker’s critics are amusingly Orwellian. They liken the crowd in Madison to the ones in Tunisia and claim to be fighting for democracy. Whatever you might say about Walker, he and the Republican majorities in Wisconsin were elected, and they are doing exactly what they told voters they would do. It’s the Democratic minority that is thwarting the majority will by fleeing to Illinois. It’s the left that has suddenly embraced extralegal obstructionism.

Still, let’s try to put aside the hyperventilation. Everybody now seems to agree that Governor Walker was right to ask state workers to pay more for their benefits. Even if he gets everything he asks for, Wisconsin state workers would still be contributing less to their benefits than the average state worker nationwide and would be contributing far, far less than private sector workers.

The more difficult question is whether Walker was right to try to water down Wisconsin’s collective bargaining agreements. Even if you acknowledge the importance of unions in representing middle-class interests, there are strong arguments on Walker’s side. In Wisconsin and elsewhere, state-union relations are structurally out of whack.

That’s because public sector unions and private sector unions are very different creatures. Private sector unions push against the interests of shareholders and management; public sector unions push against the interests of taxpayers. Private sector union members know that their employers could go out of business, so they have an incentive to mitigate their demands; public sector union members work for state monopolies and have no such interest.

Private sector unions confront managers who have an incentive to push back against their demands. Public sector unions face managers who have an incentive to give into them for the sake of their own survival. Most important, public sector unions help choose those they negotiate with. Through gigantic campaign contributions and overall clout, they have enormous influence over who gets elected to bargain with them, especially in state and local races.

As a result of these imbalanced incentive structures, states with public sector unions tend to run into fiscal crises. They tend to have workplaces where personnel decisions are made on the basis of seniority, not merit. There is little relationship between excellence and reward, which leads to resentment among taxpayers who don’t have that luxury.

Yet I think Governor Walker made a strategic error in setting up this confrontation as he did. The debt problems before us are huge. Even in Wisconsin they cannot be addressed simply by taking on the public sector unions. Studies done in North Carolina and elsewhere suggest that collective bargaining only increases state worker salaries by about 5 percent or 6 percent. That’s not nearly enough to explain current deficits. There are many states without collective bargaining that still face gigantic debt crises.

Getting state and federal budgets under control will take decades. It will require varied, multipronged approaches, supported by broad and shifting coalitions. It’s really important that we establish an unwritten austerity constitution: a set of practices that will help us cut effectively now and in the future.

The foundation of this unwritten constitution has to be this principle: make everybody hurt. The cuts have to be spread more or less equitably among as many groups as possible. There will never be public acceptance if large sectors of society are excluded. Governor Walker’s program fails that test. It spares traditional Republican groups (even cops and firefighters). It is thus as unsustainable as the current tide of red ink.

Moreover, the constitution must emphasize transparent evaluation. Over the past weeks, Governor Walker increased expenditures to pump up small business job creation and cut them on teacher benefits. That might be the right choice, but if voters are going to go along with choices such as these, there is going to have to be a credible evaluation process to explain why some things are cut and some things aren’t.

So I’d invite Governor Walker and the debt fighters everywhere to think of themselves as founding fathers of austerity. They are not only balancing budgets, they are setting precedent for a process that will last decades. By their example, they have to create habits that diverse majorities can respect and embrace. The process has to be balanced. It has to make everybody hurt.

So, Bobo, when your teatard heroes decide to shut down the ebil gummint I hope it goes on long enough for lots of them to miss their socialist Social Security checks.  Bastards, all y’all.  (As an aside, I’ll wager that Bobo is a union member, the prick.)  I can’t wait until Doghouse Riley sinks his teeth into this turd.  Here’s Mr. Herbert:

Buried deep beneath the stories about executive bonuses, the stock market surge and the economy’s agonizingly slow road to recovery is the all-but-silent suffering of the many millions of Americans who, economically, are going down for the count.

A 46-year-old teacher in Charlotte, Vt., who has been unable to find a full-time job and is weighed down with debt, wrote to his U.S. senator, Bernie Sanders:

“I am financially ruined. I find myself depressed and demoralized and my confidence is shattered. Worst of all, as I hear more and more talk about deficit reduction and further layoffs, I have the agonizing feeling that the worst may not be behind us.”

Similar stories of hardship and desolation can be found throughout Vermont and the rest of the nation. The true extent of the economic devastation, and the enormous size of that portion of the population that is being left behind, has not yet been properly acknowledged. What is being allowed to happen to those being pushed out or left out of the American mainstream is the most important and potentially most dangerous issue facing the country.

Senator Sanders is a Vermont independent who caucuses with the Democrats. He asked his constituents to write to him about their experiences coping with the recession and its aftermath. Hundreds responded, including several from outside Vermont. A 69-year-old woman from northeastern Vermont wrote plaintively:

“We are the first generation to leave our kids worse off than we were. How did this happen? Why is there such a wide distance between the rich and the middle class and the poor? What happened to the middle class? We did not buy boats or fancy cars or diamonds. Why was it possible to change the economy from one that was based on what we made and grew and serviced to a paper economy that disappeared?”

A woman with two teenagers told the senator about her husband, a building contractor for many years, who has been unable to find work in the downturn:

“I see my husband, capable and experienced, now really struggling with depression and trying to reinvent his profession at age 51. I feel this recession is leaving us, once perhaps a middle-class couple, now suddenly thrust into the lower-middle-class world without loads of options except to try and find more and more smaller jobs to fill in some of the financial gaps we feel day to day.

“All we want to do is work hard and pay our bills. We’re just not sure even that part of the American Dream is still possible anymore.”

One of the things I noticed reading through the letters was the pervasive sense of loss, not just of employment, but of faith in the soundness and possibilities of America. For centuries, Americans have been nothing if not optimistic. But now there is a terrible sense that so much that was taken for granted during the past six or seven decades is being dismantled or destroyed.

A 26-year-old man who emerged from college with big dreams wrote: “I had hoped to be able to support not just myself by this point, but to be able to think about settling down and starting a family. My family always told me that an education was the ticket to success, but all my education seems to have done in this landscape is make it impossible to pull myself out of debt and begin a successful career.”

How bad have things become? According to the National Employment Law Project, a trend is growing among employers to not even consider the applications of the unemployed for jobs that become available. Among examples offered by the project were a phone manufacturer that posted a job announcement with the message: “No Unemployed Candidate Will Be Considered At All,” and a Texas electronics company that announced online that it would “not consider/review anyone NOT currently employed regardless of the reason.”

This is the environment that is giving rise to the worker protests in Wisconsin, Ohio and elsewhere. The ferment is not just about public employees and their unions. Researchers at Rutgers University found last year that more than 70 percent of respondents to a national survey had either lost a job, or had a relative or close friend who had lost a job. That is beyond ominous. The great promise of the United States, its primary offering to its citizens and the world, is at grave risk.

A couple facing foreclosure in Barre, Mass., wrote to Senator Sanders: “We are now at our wits end and in dire straits. Our parents have since left this world and with no place to go, what are we to do and where are we to go?” They pray to God, they said, that they will not end up living in their car in the cold.

The letters on Sen. Sanders’ web site will break your heart…

Dowd, Herbert and Rich

February 20, 2011

Mr. Kristof is off today, and The Moustache of Wisdom is back on book tour.  In “Stars and Sewers” MoDo has a question:  Is technology rewiring our brains to be more callous?  Mr. Herbert addresses “The Human Cost of Budget Cutting,” and says more necessary now than ever, community action agencies are threatened with draconian cuts.  Mr. Rich, in “The G.O.P.’s Post-Tucson Traumatic Stress Disorder,” says the Republicans are adrift with a shortfall of substance, offering the president a golden chance to seize the moment.  Given the last two years, the odds are excellent that the opportunity will be squandered.  Here’s MoDo:

Rarely have we seen such epic clashes between the forces of light and darkness.

We watch in awe as revolutions somersault through the Middle East. We see instantaneous digital communication as a weapon against oppression and, in the hands of tyrants who tap into its power, as a weapon for oppression.

While the cloud spurs some people to reach for the stars, delighting in freedom of expression, it seduces others to sprawl in the gutter, abusing freedom of expression.

When CBS’s Lara Logan was dragged off, beaten and sexually assaulted by a mob of Egyptian men in Tahrir Square the giddy night that Hosni Mubarak stepped down, most of us were aghast. But some vile bodies online began beating up on the brave war correspondent.

Nir Rosen, a journalist published in The Nation, The New Yorker and The Atlantic who had a fellowship at New York University’s Center on Law and Security, likes to be a provocateur. He has urged America to “get over” 9/11, called Israel an “abomination” to be eliminated, and sympathized with Hezbollah, Hamas and the Taliban. Invited to testify before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 2008 about the Iraq surge, he told Joe Biden, the committee chairman then, that he was uncomfortable “advising an imperialist power about how to be a more efficient imperialist power.”

Rosen must now wish Twitter had a 10-second delay. On Tuesday, he merrily tweeted about the sexual assault of Logan: “Jesus Christ, at a moment when she is going to become a martyr and glorified we should at least remember her role as a major war monger.”

He suggested she was trying to “outdo Anderson” Cooper (roughed up in Cairo earlier), adding that “it would have been funny if it happened to Anderson too.”

Rosen lost his fellowship. He apologized in a whiny way, explaining that he “resented” Logan because she “defended American imperial adventures,” and that she got so much attention for the assault because she’s white and famous. He explained in Salon that “Twitter is no place for nuance,” as though there’s any nuance in his suggestion that Logan wanted to be sexually assaulted for ratings.

He professed to be baffled by the fact that he had 1,000 new Twitter followers, noting: “It’s a bizarre, voyeuristic Internet culture and everybody in the mob is looking to get in on the next fight.” It’s been Lord of the Flies for a while now, dude, and you’re part of it.

The conservative blogger Debbie Schlussel smacked Logan from the right: “Lara Logan was among the chief cheerleaders of this ‘revolution’ by animals. Now she knows what the Islamic revolution is really all about.”

On her LA Weekly blog, Simone Wilson dredged up Logan’s romantic exploits and quoted a Feb. 3 snipe from the conservative blog Mofo Politics, after Logan was detained by the Egyptian police: “OMG if I were her captors and there were no sanctions for doing so, I would totally rape her.”

Online anonymity has created what the computer scientist Jaron Lanier calls a “culture of sadism.” Some Yahoo comments were disgusting. “She got what she deserved,” one said. “This is what happens when dumb sexy female reporters want to make it about them.” Hillbilly Nation chimed in: “Should have been Katie.”

The “60 Minutes” story about Senator Scott Brown’s revelation that a camp counselor sexually abused him as a child drew harsh comments on the show’s Web site, many politically motivated.

Acupuncturegirl advised: “Scott, shut the hell up. You are gross.” Dutra1 noted: “OK, Scott, you get your free pity pills. Now examine the image you see in the mirror; is it a man?”

Evgeny Morozov, author of “The Net Delusion: The Dark Side of Internet Freedom,” told me Twitter creates a false intimacy and can “bring out the worst in people. You’re straining after eyeballs, not big thoughts. So you go for the shallow, funny, contrarian or cynical.”

Nicholas Carr, author of “The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains,” says technology amplifies everything, good instincts and base. While technology is amoral, he said, our brains may be rewired in disturbing ways.

“Researchers say that we need to be quiet and attentive if we want to tap into our deeper emotions,” he said. “If we’re constantly interrupted and distracted, we kind of short-circuit our empathy. If you dampen empathy and you encourage the immediate expression of whatever is in your mind, you get a lot of nastiness that wouldn’t have occurred before.”

Leon Wieseltier, literary editor of The New Republic, recalled that when he started his online book review he forbade comments, wary of high-tech sociopaths.

“I’m not interested in having the sewer appear on my site,” he said. “Why would I engage with people digitally whom I would never engage with actually? Why does the technology exonerate the kind of foul expression that you would not tolerate anywhere else?”

Why indeed?

Now here’s Mr. Herbert:

John Drew believes, quaintly, that we are our brother’s keeper.

President Obama does not seem to believe this quite as strongly. And, of course, many of the Republicans in Congress do not believe it at all.

Mr. Drew is the president of Boston’s antipoverty agency, called Action for Boston Community Development, which everyone calls ABCD. In today’s environment, people who work with the poor can be forgiven if they feel like hunted criminals. Government officials at all levels are homing in on them and disrupting their efforts, sometimes for legitimate budget reasons, sometimes not.

The results are often heartbreaking.

Community action agencies like ABCD are not generally well known but they serve as a lifeline, all across the country, to poor individuals and families who desperately need the assistance provided by food pantries, homeless shelters, workers who visit the homebound elderly, and so forth. They offer summer jobs for young people and try to ward off the eviction of the jobless and their dependents.

More than 20 million people receive some kind of assistance from community action agencies over the course of a year. This winter an elderly man in Boston was found during a routine visit to be suffering in his home from frostbite of the hands and feet. The visit most likely saved his life.

We should keep in mind the current extent of economic suffering in the U.S. as we consider President Obama’s misguided plan to impose a crippling 50 percent reduction in the community service block grants that serve as the crucial foundation for community action agencies. The cuts will undoubtedly doom many of the programs. (The Republicans in the House would eliminate the block grants entirely.)

It’s a measure of where we are as a country that this has not been a bigger news story.

“I’ve been like 40 years on the front lines here and never saw anything quite like what we’re going through now,” said Mr. Drew. “I go back to when President Nixon tried to put us out of business. Reagan tried to push us off the table. They didn’t succeed. Quite frankly, I didn’t expect that at this stage of the game we’d be facing these kinds of cuts from a President Obama. And the Republicans in the House — well, they’re just nihilistic. I don’t know where the moral center of the universe is anymore.”

Community action agencies were established decades ago to undergird the fight against poverty throughout the U.S., in big cities, small towns, rural areas — wherever there were people in trouble. It’s the only comprehensive antipoverty effort in the country, and the need for them has only grown in the current long and terrible economic climate.

President Obama’s proposal to cut the approximately $700 million grant by 50 percent is an initiative with no upside. The $350 million reduction is meaningless in terms of the federal budget deficits, but it is enough to wreck many of these fine programs and hurt an awful lot of people, including children and the elderly.

It seemed like just a moment ago that these programs were held in high esteem by the president, a former community organizer himself. Community action agencies received $5 billion in stimulus funds to train people to weatherize homes. They ended up being ranked eighth out of 200 federal programs that got stimulus money in terms of the number of jobs created.

Now, suddenly, these agencies are dispensable.

The block grant money from the federal government is highly leveraged. The agencies secure additional public and private funds that enable them to support a wide network of programs that offer an astonishing array of important services. These include Head Start, job training and child care programs, legal services, affordable housing for the elderly, domestic violence intervention, and on and on.

When these kinds of programs are zeroed out, the impact is profound. Jobs are eliminated and vital services are no longer available. Poverty and its associated costs to governments increase. In terms of budgets, it’s the definition of being penny-wise and pound-foolish. ABCD, for example, has been very effective in preventing evictions, working diligently with landlords, tenants and others to keep individuals and families from becoming homeless. When such efforts are successful, they not only keep individuals and families in their homes, they keep taxpayers from having to foot the very expensive bill of housing individuals and families in shelters.

President Obama may be trying to score a few political points by presenting himself as a budget cutter willing to attack programs that he has said he favors. But the price of those points in potential human suffering is much too high.

The president’s budget director, Jacob Lew, said in The New York Times: “The budget is not just a collection of numbers, but an expression of our values and aspirations.”

I couldn’t agree more.

Now here’s Mr. Rich:

Six weeks after that horrific day in Tucson, America has half-forgotten its violent debate over the power of violent speech to incite violence. It’s Gabrielle Giffords’s own power of speech that rightly concerns us now. But all those arguments over political language did leave a discernible legacy. In the aftermath of President Obama’s Tucson sermon, civility has had a mini-restoration in Washington. And some of the most combative national figures in our politics have been losing altitude ever since, much as they did after Bill Clinton’s oratorical response to the inferno of Oklahoma City.

Glenn Beck’s ratings at Fox News continued their steady decline, falling to an all-time low last month. He has lost 39 percent of his viewers in a year and 48 percent of the prime 25-to-54 age demographic. His strenuous recent efforts to portray the Egyptian revolution as an apocalyptic leftist-jihadist conspiracy have inspired more laughs than adherents.

Sarah Palin’s tailspin is also pronounced. It can be seen in polls, certainly: the ABC News-Washington Post survey found that 30 percent of Americans approved of her response to the Tucson massacre and 46 percent did not. (Obama’s numbers in the same poll were 78 percent favorable, 12 percent negative.) But equally telling was the fate of a Palin speech scheduled for May at a so-called Patriots & Warriors Gala in Glendale, Colo.

Tickets to see Palin, announced at $185 on Jan. 16, eight days after Tucson, were slashed to half-price in early February. Then the speech was canceled altogether, with the organizers blaming “safety concerns resulting from an onslaught of negative feedback.” But when The Denver Post sought out the Glendale police chief, he reported there had been no threats or other causes for alarm. The real “negative feedback” may have been anemic ticket sales, particularly if they were to cover Palin’s standard $100,000 fee.

What may at long last be dawning on some Republican grandees is that a provocateur who puts her political adversaries in the cross hairs and then instructs her acolytes to “RELOAD” frightens most voters.

Even the Rupert Murdoch empire shows signs of opting for retreat over reload. Its newest right-wing book imprint had set its splashy debut for Jan. 18, with the rollout of a screed, “Death by Liberalism,” arguing that “more Americans have been killed by well-meaning liberal policies than by all the wars of the last century combined.” But that publication date was 10 days after Tucson, and clearly someone had second thoughts. You’ll look in vain for the usual hype, or mere mentions, of “Death by Liberalism” in other Murdoch media outlets (or anywhere else). Even more unexpectedly, Murdoch’s flagship newspaper, The Wall Street Journal, ran an op-ed essay last week by the reliably conservative Michael Medved trashing over-the-top Obama critiques from Palin, Rush Limbaugh and Dinesh D’Souza as “paranoid” and “destructive to the conservative cause” — the cause defined as winning national elections.

If the next step in this declension is less face time for Palin on Fox News, then we’ll have proof that pigs can fly. But a larger question remains. If the right puts its rabid Obama hatred on the down-low, what will — or can — conservatism stand for instead? The only apparent agendas are repealing “Obamacare” and slashing federal spending as long as the cuts are quarantined to the small percentage of the budget covering discretionary safety-net programs, education and Big Bird.

This shortfall of substance was showcased by last weekend’s annual Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, a premier Republican rite that doubles as a cattle call for potential presidential candidates. Palin didn’t appear — CPAC, as the event is known, doesn’t pay — and neither did her fellow Fox News personality Mike Huckabee. But all the others were there, including that great white hope of un-Palin Republicans, Mitt Romney. What they said — and didn’t say — from the CPAC podium not only shows a political opposition running on empty but also dramatizes the remarkable leadership opportunity their fecklessness has handed to the incumbent president in post-shellacking Washington.

As it happened, CPAC overlapped with the extraordinary onrush of history in the Middle East. But the Egyptian uprising, supposedly a prime example of the freedom agenda championed by George W. Bush, was rarely, and then only minimally, mentioned by the parade of would-be presidents. Indeed, with the exception of Ron Paul — who would let the Egyptians fend for themselves and cut off all foreign aid — the most detailed discussions of Egypt came from Ann Coulter and Rick Santorum.

Santorum, a former Pennsylvania senator who lost his 2006 re-election bid by a landslide of 17 percentage points, believes he can be president despite being best known for having likened homosexuality to “man on dog” sex. Even less conversant in foreign affairs than canine coitus, he attacked Obama for deserting Hosni Mubarak, questioning the message it sent to America’s “friends.” But no one (with the odd exception of George Will) takes Santorum’s presidential ambitions seriously. Romney, on the other hand, is the closest thing the G.O.P. has to a front-runner, and he is even more hollow than Santorum. Indeed, his appearance at CPAC on the morning of Friday, Feb. 11, was entirely consistent with his public image as an otherworldly visitor from an Aqua Velva commercial circa 1985.

That Friday was the day after Mubarak’s bizarre speech vowing to keep his hold on power. At 9:45 a.m. that morning, as a rapt world waited for his next move, CNN reported that there would soon be a new statement from Mubarak — whose abdication was confirmed around 11 a.m. But when Romney took the stage in Washington at 10:35, he made not a single allusion of any kind to Egypt — even as he lambasted Obama for not having a foreign policy. His snarky, cowardly address also tiptoed around “Obamacare” lest it remind Tea Partiers of Massachusetts’s “Romneycare.” He was nearly as out of touch with reality as Mubarak the night before.

There was one serious speech at CPAC — an economic colloquy delivered that night by Mitch Daniels, the Indiana governor much beloved by what remains of mainstream conservative punditry. But Daniels was quickly thrashed: Limbaugh attacked him for his mild suggestion that the G.O.P. welcome voters who are not ideological purists, and CPAC attendees awarded him with only 4 percent of the vote in their straw poll. (The winners were Paul, with 30 percent, and Romney, with 23 percent.) Indeed, Daniels couldn’t even compete with the surprise CPAC appearance of Donald Trump, a sometime Democrat whose own substance-free Obama-bashing oration drew an overflow crowd. Apparently few at CPAC could imagine that Trump might be using them to drum up publicity for his own ratings-challenged television show, “Celebrity Apprentice,” which returns in just two weeks — or that he had contributed $50,000 to the Chicago mayoral campaign of no less an Obama ally than Rahm Emanuel.

THE G.O.P. has already reached its praying-for-a-miracle phase — hoping some neo-Reagan will emerge to usurp the tired field. Trump! Thune! T-Paw! Christie! Jeb Bush! Soon it’ll be time for another Fred Thompson or Rudy groundswell. But hardly had CPAC folded its tent than a new Public Policy Polling survey revealed where the Republican base’s heart truly remains — despite the new civility and the temporary moratorium on the term “job-killing.” The poll found that 51 percent of G.O.P. primary voters don’t believe that the president was born in America and that only 28 percent do. (For another 21 percent, the jury is still out, as it presumably is on evolution as well.)

The party leadership is no less cowed by that majority today than it was pre-Tucson. That’s why John Boehner, appearing on “Meet the Press” last weekend, stonewalled David Gregory’s repeated queries asking him to close the door on the “birther” nonsense. (“It’s not my job to tell the American people what to think,” Boehner said.) The power of the G.O.P.’s hard-core base may also yet deliver a Palin comeback no matter what the rest of the country thinks of her. In the CNN poll nearly two weeks after Tucson, Republicans still gave her a 70 percent favorable approval rating, just behind Huckabee (72 percent) and ahead of Romney (64 percent).

An opposition this adrift from reality — whether about Obama’s birth certificate, history unfolding in the Middle East or the consequences of a federal or state government shutdown — is a paper tiger. It’s a golden chance for the president to seize the moment. What we don’t know is if he sees it that way. As we’ve learned from his track record both in the 2008 campaign and in the White House, he sometimes coasts at these junctures or lapses into a pro forma bipartisanship that amounts, for all practical purposes, to inertia.

Obama’s outspokenness about the labor battle in Wisconsin offers a glimmer of hope that he might lead the fight for what many Americans, not just Democrats, care about — from job creation to an energy plan to an attack on the deficit that brackets the high-end Bush-era tax cuts with serious Medicare/Medicaid reform and further strengthening of the health care law. Will he do so? The answer to that question is at least as mysterious as the identity of whatever candidate the desperate G.O.P. finds to run against him.


Brooks, Friedman and Herbert

February 8, 2011

Bobo has seen fit to address “The Splendor of Cities,” and babbles that Rahm Emanuel’s run for mayor of Chicago showcases the strengths specific to city governance and urban politics.  The Moustache of Wisdom, who has finally made it to Tahrir Square, sends us “Speakers’ Corner on the Nile,” and gurgles that in 40 years of writing about the Middle East, there has never been anything like what is happening in Tahrir Square.  Mr. Herbert addresses “A Terrible Divide,” and says with too many condemned to shrunken standards of living, the U.S. needs new ideas on a grand scale.  Here’s Bobo, who’s in Chicago:

The people who run the federal government spend almost no time outdoors. They get driven from home to work and move through corridors from meeting to meeting. So it was a little odd after all those times interviewing Rahm Emanuel when he was the White House chief of staff to be chasing him, outside, down an icy Chicago street.

He was underdressed for the weather, as all politicians feel compelled to be, in a leather jacket and jeans, and he was knocking on doors as part of a campaign for mayor. Emanuel was a colorful figure in Washington, but back home he’s off the leash.

He’s clearly a much happier person — glowing, bouncing, reminiscing and hugging. Gone are all the death-grip battles with Republicans and the Washington interest groups. Now startled people in sweatpants greet him when he shows up at their doorway, sometimes wrapping him in an embrace and sometimes bringing their kids out to pose for pictures. Nearly every single person he meets gets an ebullient high-five, though the cause for each celebration is not always clear.

I was struck by how many voters wanted to talk to him about education. Chicagoans have clearly internalized the fact that their city can’t prosper so long as so many public school students are dropping out. So Emanuel rips through his school reform agenda, which is like Obama’s national agenda, except on steroids.

He’s got a Chicago version of the Race to the Top in which schools that reform the fastest get a pot of money. He’s for school performance contracts in which school leaders vow to meet certain goals or risk losing control of their schools. He’s for sending school report cards out to parents so they can measure how well their own schools are performing.

As people come and talk to him, everything has a marvelous concreteness. In Washington, it’s sometimes hard to connect the abstract laws that are being passed to the actual effects on neighborhoods or families. But in a mayoral race, people talk about this specific playground or that recycling center or the police precinct over there. Many of us are drawn to the big power politics of Washington, but city politics is better than national politics because the problems are more tangible and the communication is more face to face.

This is a point Edward Glaeser fleshes out in his terrific new book, “Triumph of the City.” Glaeser points out that far from withering in the age of instant global information flows, cities have only become more important.

That’s because humans communicate best when they are physically brought together. Two University of Michigan researchers brought groups of people together face to face and asked them to play a difficult cooperation game. Then they organized other groups and had them communicate electronically. The face-to-face groups thrived. The electronic groups fractured and struggled.

Cities magnify people’s strengths, Glaeser argues, because ideas spread more easily in dense environments. If you want to compete in a global marketplace it really helps to be near a downtown. Companies that are near the geographic center of their industry are more productive. Year by year, workers in cities see their wages grow faster than workers outside of cities because their skills grow faster. Inventors disproportionately cite ideas from others who live physically close to them.

For years, cities like Detroit built fancy towers and development projects in the hopes that this would revive the downtown core. But cities thrive because they host quality conversations, not because they have new buildings and convention centers.

The cities that have thrived over the past few decades tend to have high median temperatures in January (people like warm winters and other amenities). But even cold cities like Chicago can thrive if they attract college grads. As the number of college graduates in a metropolitan area increases by 10 percent, individuals’ earnings increase by 7.7. This applies even to the high school grads in the city because their productivity rises, too.

When you clump together different sorts of skilled people and force them to rub against one another, they create friction and instability, which leads to tension and creativity, which leads to small business growth. As Glaeser notes, cities that rely on big businesses wither. Those that incubate small ones grow.

Recently, Emanuel visited Valois: See Your Food, a South Side institution that gives new meaning to the phrase “greasy spoon.” As he made his way from table to table — from cops to middle-class families, graduate students, the unemployed and single moms — he fell into a dozen intense and divergent conversations.

Chicago has its problems: it suffers under one of the biggest debt loads in the country. But it has thrived because it has had good leadership, a constantly updated housing stock, a good business environment and an ethos that attracts talent and celebrates blunt conversation.

Now here’s The Moustache of Wisdom:

I’m in Tahrir Square, and of all the amazing things one sees here the one that strikes me most is a bearded man who is galloping up and down, literally screaming himself hoarse, saying: “I feel free! I feel free!” Gathered around him are Egyptians of all ages, including a woman so veiled that she has only a slit for her eyes, and they’re all holding up cellphones taking pictures and video of this man, determined to capture the moment in case it never comes again.

Aren’t we all? In 40 years of writing about the Middle East, I have never seen anything like what is happening in Tahrir Square. In a region where the truth and truth-tellers have so long been smothered under the crushing weight of oil, autocracy and religious obscurantism, suddenly the Arab world has a truly free space — a space that Egyptians themselves, not a foreign army, have liberated — and the truth is now gushing out of here like a torrent from a broken hydrant.

What one hears while strolling around are all the pent-up hopes, aspirations and frustrations of Egyptians for the last 50 years. I know the “realist” experts believe this will all be shut down soon. Maybe it will. But for one brief shining moment, forget the experts and just listen. You have not heard this before. It is the sound of a people so long kept voiceless, finally finding, testing and celebrating their own voices.

“We got a message from Tunis,” Hosam Khalaf, a 50-year-old engineer stopped me to say. “And the message was: Don’t burn yourself up; burn up the fear that is inside you. That is what happened here. This was a society in fear, and the fear has been burned.” Khalaf added that he came here with his wife and daughter for one reason: “When we meet God, we will at least be able to say: ‘We tried to do something.’ ”

This is not a religious event here, and the Muslim Brotherhood is not running the show. This is an Egyptian event. That is its strength and its weakness — no one is in charge and everyone in the society is here. You see secular girls in fashionable dress sitting with veiled women. You see parents pushing their babies wearing “Mubarak must leave” signs. You see students in jeans and peasants in robes. What unites all of them is a fierce desire to gain control of their future.

“This is the first time in my life I get to say what I think in public,” said Remon Shenoda, a software engineer. “And what is common here is that everyone wants to say something.”

Indeed, there is a powerful sense of theft here, that this regime and its cronies not only stole wealth, but they stole something so much more precious: the future of an entire generation of Egyptians, whom they refused to empower or offer any inspiring vision worthy of this great civilization.

“All Egyptian people believe that their country is a great country with very deep roots in history, but the Mubarak regime broke our dignity in the Arab world and in the whole world,” said Mohamed Serag, a professor at Cairo University. By the way, everyone here wants to give you their name and make sure you spell it right. Yes, the fear is gone.

Referring to Egypt’s backward public education system that depends so much on repetition, one young girl was wearing a sign urging Mubarak to leave quickly. It said: “Make it short. This is history, and we will have to memorize it at school.”

Grievances abound. An elderly woman in a veil is shouting that she has three daughters who graduated from the college of commerce and none of them can find jobs. There are signs everywhere asking about Mubarak, a former Air Force chief. Questions such as: “Hey Mr. Pilot, where did you get that $17 billion?”

You almost never hear the word “Israel,” and the pictures of “martyrs” plastered around the square are something rarely seen in the Arab world — Egyptians who died fighting for their own freedom not against Israel.

When you enter the square now, one row of volunteers checks your ID, another frisks you for weapons and then you walk through a long gauntlet of men clapping and singing an Egyptian welcome song.

I confess, as I walked through, my head had a wrestling match going on inside. My brain was telling me: “Sober up — remember, this is not a neighborhood with happy endings. Only bad guys win here.” And my eyes were telling me: “Just watch and take notes. This is something totally new.”

And the this is a titanic struggle and negotiation between the tired but still powerful, top-down 1952 Egyptian Army-led revolution and a vibrant, new, but chaotic, 2011, people-led revolution from the bottom-up — which has no guns but enormous legitimacy. I hope the Tahrir Square protesters can get organized enough to negotiate a new constitution with the army. There will be setbacks. But whatever happens, they have changed Egypt.

After we walked from Tahrir Square across the Nile bridge, Professor Mamoun Fandy remarked to me that there is an old Egyptian poem that says: “ ‘The Nile can bend and turn, but what is impossible is that it would ever dry up.’ The same is true of the river of freedom that is loose here now. Maybe you can bend it for a while, or turn it, but it is not going to dry up.”

Great copy editing at the Times these days.  The next to last paragraph starts off with a bang, doesn’t it?  Here’s Mr. Herbert:

The Ronald Reagan crowd loved to talk about morning in America. For millions of individuals and families, perhaps the majority, it’s more like twilight — with nighttime coming on fast.

Look out the window. More and more Americans are being left behind in an economy that is being divided ever more starkly between the haves and the have-nots. Not only are millions of people jobless and millions more underemployed, but more and more of the so-called fringe benefits and public services that help make life livable, or even bearable, in a modern society are being put to the torch.

Employer-based pensions, paid vacations, health benefits and the like are going the way of phone booths and VCRs. As poverty increases and reliable employment becomes less and less the norm, the dwindling number of workers with any sort of job security or guaranteed pensions (think teachers and other modestly compensated public employees) are being viewed with increasing contempt. How dare they enjoy a modicum of economic comfort?

It turns out that a lot of those jobs were never so secure, after all. As the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities tells us:

“At least 44 states and the District of Columbia have reduced overall wages paid to state workers by laying off workers, requiring them to take unpaid leave (furloughs), freezing hew hires, or similar actions. State and local governments have eliminated 407,000 jobs since August 2008, federal data show.”

We have not faced up to the scale of the economic crisis that still confronts the United States.

Standards of living for the people on the wrong side of the economic divide are being ratcheted lower and will remain that way for many years to come. Forget the fairy tales being spun by politicians in both parties — that somehow they can impose service cuts that are drastic enough to bring federal and local budgets into balance while at the same time developing economic growth strong enough to support a robust middle class. It would take a Bernie Madoff to do that.

In the real world, schools and libraries are being closed and other educational services are being curtailed. Police officers are being fired. Access to health services for poor families is being restricted. “At least 29 states and the District of Columbia,” according to the budget center, “are cutting medical, rehabilitative, home care, or other services needed by low-income people who are elderly or have disabilities, or are significantly increasing the cost of these services.”

For a variety of reasons, there are not enough tax revenues being generated to pay for the basic public services that one would expect in an advanced country like the United States. The rich are not shouldering their fair share of the tax burden. The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq continue to consume an insane amount of revenue. And there are not enough jobs available at decent enough pay to ease some of the demand for public services while at the same time increasing the amount of taxes paid by ordinary workers.

The U.S. cannot cut its way out of this crisis. Instead of trying to figure out how to keep 4-year-olds out of pre-kindergarten classes, or how to withhold life-saving treatments from Medicaid recipients, or how to cheat the elderly out of their Social Security, the nation’s leaders should be trying seriously to figure out what to do about the future of the American work force.

Enormous numbers of workers are in grave danger of being left behind permanently. Businesses have figured out how to prosper without putting the unemployed back to work in jobs that pay well and offer decent benefits.

Corporate profits and the stock markets are way up. Businesses are sitting atop mountains of cash. Put people back to work? Forget about it. Has anyone bothered to notice that much of those profits are the result of aggressive payroll-cutting — companies making do with fewer, less well-paid and harder-working employees?

For American corporations, the action is increasingly elsewhere. Their interests are not the same as those of workers, or the country as a whole. As Harold Meyerson put it in The American Prospect: “Our corporations don’t need us anymore. Half their revenues come from abroad. Their products, increasingly, come from abroad as well.”

American workers are in a world of hurt. Anyone who thinks that politicians can improve this sorry state of affairs by hacking away at Social Security, Medicare and the public schools are great candidates for involuntary commitment.

New ideas on a grand scale are needed. The United States can’t thrive with so many of its citizens condemned to shrunken standards of living because they can’t find adequate employment. Long-term joblessness is a recipe for societal destabilization. It should not be tolerated in a country with as much wealth as the United States. It’s destructive, and it’s wrong.