Archive for the ‘Kristof’ Category

Friedman and Kristof from yesterday

June 22, 2016

In “Another Age of Discovery” The Moustache of Wisdom says disruptions in Copernicus’s day offer lessons today.  Yesterday Mr. Kristof gave us “R.I.P., Jo Cox.  May Britain Remember Your Wisdom.”  Here’s TMOW from today:

Have we been here before? I know — it feels as if the internet, virtual reality, Donald Trump, Facebook, sequencing of the human genome and machines that can reason better than people constitute a change in the pace of change without precedent. But we’ve actually been through an extraordinarily rapid transition like this before in history — a transition we can learn a lot from.

Ian Goldin, director of the Oxford Martin School at Oxford University, and Chris Kutarna, also of Oxford Martin, have just published a book — “Age of Discovery: Navigating the Risks and Rewards of Our New Renaissance” — about lessons we can draw from the period 1450 to 1550, known as the Age of Discovery. It was when the world made a series of great leaps forward, propelled by da Vinci, Michelangelo, Copernicus and Columbus, that produced the Renaissance and reshaped science, education, manufacturing, communications, politics and geopolitics.

“Gutenberg’s printing press provided the trigger,” Goldin told me by email, “by flipping knowledge production and exchange from tight scarcity to radical abundance. Before that, the Catholic Churches monopolized knowledge, with their handwritten Latin manuscripts locked up in monasteries. The Gutenberg press democratized information, and provided the incentive to be literate. Within 50 years, not only had scribes lost their jobs, but the Catholic Church’s millennia-old monopoly of power had been torn apart as the printing of Martin Luther’s sermons ignited a century of religious wars.”

Meanwhile, Goldin added, Copernicus upended the prevailing God-given notions of heaven and earth “by finding that far from the sun revolving around the earth, the earth rotated around the sun,” and “voyages of discovery by Columbus, da Gama and Magellan tore up millennia-old maps of the ‘known’ world.”

Those were the mother of all disruptions and led to the parallels with today.

“Now, like then, new media have democratized information exchange, amplifying the voices of those who feel they have been injured in the upheaval,” said Goldin. “Now, like then, public leaders and public institutions have failed to keep up with rapid change, and popular trust has been deeply eroded.” Now, like then, “this is the best moment in history to be alive” — human health, literacy, aggregate wealth and education are flourishing — and “there are more scientists alive today than in all previous generations.”

And, yet many people feel worse off.

Because, as in the Renaissance, key anchors in people’s lives — like the workplace and community — are being fundamentally dislocated. The pace of technological change is outstripping the average person’s ability to adapt. Now, like then, said Goldin, “sizable parts of the population found their skills were no longer needed, or they lived in places left behind, so inequality grew.” At the same time, “new planetary scale systems of commerce and information exchange led to immense improvements in choices and accelerating innovations which made some people fabulously rich.”

Was there a Donald Trump back then?

“Michelangelo and Machiavelli’s Florence suffered a shocking popular power-taking when Girolamo Savonarola, a midlevel friar from Ferrara, who lived from 1452 to 1498, exploded from obscurity in the 1490s to enthrall Florentines, who felt left behind economically or culturally, with sermons that laid blame upon the misguided policies and moral corruption of their leaders,” said Goldin. “He and his zealous supporters, though a small minority, swept away the Medici establishment and seized control of the city’s councils.

“From there, Savonarola launched an ugly campaign of public purification, introducing radical laws including against homosexuality, and attacked public intellectuals in an act of intimidation that history still remembers as the Bonfire of the Vanities. Savonarola was amongst the first to tap into the information revolution of the time, and while others produced long sermons and treatises, Savonarola disseminated short pamphlets, in what may be thought of as the equivalent of political tweets.”

The establishment politicians of the day, who were low energy, “underestimated the power of that new information revolution to move beyond scientific and cultural ideas” to amplify populist voices challenging authority.

Yikes! How do we blunt that?

“More risk-taking is required when things change more rapidly, both for workers who have to change jobs and for businesses who have to constantly innovate to stay ahead,” Goldin argued. Government’s job is to strengthen the safety nets and infrastructure so individuals and companies can be as daring — in terms of learning, adapting and investing in themselves — as they need to be. At the same time, when the world gets this tightly woven, America “needs to be more, not less, engaged, with the rest of the world,” because “the threats posed by climate change, pandemics, cyberattacks or terror will not be reduced by America withdrawing.”

Then, as now, walls stopped working. “Cannons and gunpowder came to Europe that could penetrate or go over walls and books could bring ideas around them,” he said. Then, like now, walls only made you poorer, dumber and more insecure.

Now here’s Mr. Kristof from yesterday, writing from Cambridge, England:

As I listen to the stormy debates here in the run-up to Thursday’s Brexit vote on whether Britain should exit the European Union, my thoughts keep drifting to my friend Jo Cox, a member of Parliament assassinated last week.

Jo was a leader who fought for genocide victims in Darfur, for survivors of human trafficking, for women’s health, for Syrian refugees, and, yes, for remaining in the European Union. She was also a proud mom of two small children: When she was pregnant, she used to sign her emails “Jo (and very large bump).”

Jo’s dedication to the voiceless may have cost her life. At least one witness said that the man who stabbed and shot Jo shouted “Britain First!” and when he was asked to say his name at a court hearing he responded, “My name is death to traitors, freedom for Britain.”

Yet from awful events bittersweet progress can emerge. In three days, a fund in Jo Cox’s memory has raised about £1 million (about $1.5 million) for causes she supported. Likewise, perhaps revulsion at the murder will leave voters wary of the xenophobic tone of some of the Leave campaigners.

I hope so, for helping to save a united Europe would be a fitting legacy for a woman no longer able to influence the world in other ways — and also because the world needs Britain in Europe.

The British joke about their view of Europe, with a famous (and apparently apocryphal) headline once declaring: “Fog in Channel, Continent Cut Off.” But it’s also true, as John Donne wrote, “if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less.” And if Britain were washed away, Europe and Britain would both be less.

An International Monetary Fund report this month concluded that a British pullout from the European Union would “permanently lower incomes.” But more important are the political costs to an unraveling.

Among those who first called for a “United States of Europe,” was Sir Winston Churchill, in a 1946 speech, and the impetus for him and for Jean Monnet, “the father of Europe,” was primarily peace and security.

In many ways, that has been disappointing. The European Union has repeatedly failed political tests: It was paralyzed as genocide began in the former Yugoslavia, it adopted a common currency too soon, it mishandled the recent economic crisis, and it has bungled the refugee crisis. And that’s on top of the quotidian expense and wastefulness of a European bureaucracy translating in 24 official languages, including Maltese, Bulgarian, Slovak and Slovenian.

Immigration has also fed an anxiety about loss of control and about erosion of national identity, prompting a backlash not entirely dissimilar from the Donald Trump phenomenon in the United States. Jo Cox herself, in an article she wrote shortly before her death, acknowledged, “It’s fine to be concerned by immigration — many people are.” But her point was that practical concerns about immigration should be addressed with practical solutions, while Brexit would simply create new crises without solving old ones.

One risk is that if Britain leaves, others will follow, leading to a dismemberment of Europe and economic crisis. Donald Tusk, the European Council president, has warned that “Brexit could be the beginning of the destruction of not only the E.U. but also of Western political civilization in its entirety.”

That seems a little much. But we’ve seen the chaos in the Arab world since 2011, and the last thing the globe needs is another arc of instability.

One of the few triumphs of international cooperation of recent years was the joint effort by Britain, France and the United States to defeat Ebola in West Africa. That would have been more difficult if Britain and France were feuding and Europe were facing a deeper economic slump.

Likewise, a nightmare scenario is Russia overwhelming Estonia or its Baltic neighbors, testing NATO’s resolve (a test I’m not 100 percent sure NATO would pass or even survive). Such Russian adventurism is probably more likely if Europe is disintegrating.

Even the debate about Brexit has been poisonous in Britain. After Jo’s murder, a far-right group called National Action wrote of her killer: “#VoteLeave, don’t let this man’s sacrifice go in vain. Jo Cox would have filled Yorkshire with more subhumans!”

This is a scary period, compounded by the risk of Europe’s unraveling. It’s time for Britons to remember that immigration and integration have enriched their country as well as challenged it.

Jo Cox never had a chance to respond when her killer reportedly shouted “Britain First.” But in a sense, she already had. In her maiden speech in Parliament, she boasted of her constituency’s traditional English fish and chips — but also of its outstanding curries, made by immigrants. She declared, “We are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us.”

Rest in Peace, Jo. I hope Britain remembers your wisdom.

Kristof and Collins

June 9, 2016

In “Bernie, Hillary and, er, President Trump?” Mr. Kristof says Bernie Sanders and his followers need to consider the candidate who really benefits if they don’t stop sniping and start uniting.  Ms. Collins, in “The Hillary and Bernie Road Trip,” says in 2008, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton found a symbolically named town for post-primary bonding. Clinton and Sanders could go to Uncertain, Tex.  Here’s Mr. Kristof:

Bernie Sanders has had a stunning impact this year, helping set the political agenda and winning the passionate embrace of a demographic a quarter his age. A socialist, Jewish, non-pandering candidate who didn’t kiss babies but lectured their parents on social justice won 22 states. But now he has lost. It’s time for him and his followers to stop sniping and start uniting.

Sanders has said he will ultimately support the Democratic ticket, and I’m sure he intends to. But for now he’s still dividing more than coalescing.

In a New York Times/CBS News poll last month, nearly one-fourth of Sanders supporters said that in a Hillary Clinton-Donald Trump matchup, they would either vote for Trump (which suggests bipolar disorder!) or stay home. That figure is inflated by bitterness and resentment, but if some Sandernistas sit on their hands this fall they could help elect a man antithetical to everything they stand for.

At this point, Sanders has essentially zero chance of becoming our next president. Meanwhile, there is a modest risk that continued Democratic warfare will cost Clinton the election. The upshot is that continuing to tilt at windmills is many, many times more likely to elect Trump than Sanders.

We’ve seen this before. In 1968, liberal disenchantment with the Democratic nominee, Hubert Humphrey, assisted in the election of Richard Nixon. In 1980, Edward Kennedy’s endless challenge to Jimmy Carter undermined Carter and probably gave Ronald Reagan a lift.

And in 2000, many liberals regarded Al Gore the way some see Clinton today, as a flip-flopper short on inspiration and convictions. So a small number voted for a third-party candidate, Ralph Nader, probably helping put George W. Bush in office.

Nader, whom I admire for his transformational impact on consumer rights, disagrees: He tells me that it’s absurd to blame him for Bush’s election, and he wants Sanders to continue his campaign.

“Why would he want to lose his bargaining power?” Nader asks, suggesting that by staying in the race, Sanders can influence the Democratic platform and Clinton’s choice of a running mate. Anyway, he says, “Trump’s going to implode.”

He’s probably right on that count. I would bet that Trump will lose, and I’d even give two-to-one odds. But I remember how my mother in 1980, as a fan of President Carter, was overjoyed when Reagan became the Republican nominee since she figured that assured Carter’s re-election. She wasn’t so happy a few months later.

Presidential campaigns are driven in part by surprises: What if there is a new wave of Central American refugees, or a terror attack by a Muslim recently admitted to the U.S.? Either would bolster Trump’s chances.

The success of both Trump and Sanders this year should inspire humility on the part of all of us about predicting election results. I agree with Nader that it’s almost unthinkable for Trump to be elected. Then again, it once was unthinkable that he would win the Republican nomination.

Sanders supporters should also remember that they agree at least in part with Clinton on Wall Street excesses, income inequality and college debt. Likewise, whatever their distaste for the Clintons, they probably share her views on reproductive health, on Supreme Court nominees, on inclusiveness toward Muslims and Mexican-Americans, on immigration reform, on early-childhood investments, on a stronger social safety net, on women’s rights around the world, on reducing mass incarceration and on a global pact to confront climate change.

Senator Jeff Merkley, an Oregon Democrat who has been the only senator to back Sanders, acknowledges that now “we have a nominee.” He tells me that Sanders will continue his primary race through the Washington, D.C., vote next week but ultimately will focus on party unity.

“When I talked to Bernie when he was first thinking about running, he made it absolutely clear that he didn’t want to do anything that would result in the journey that we experienced with Ralph Nader,” Merkley said. “He will do everything possible to make sure that Trump is not in the Oval Office, and to do ‘everything possible’ certainly means that we’ve got to come together not just as a formality but in an inclusive, emphatic, unified fashion.”

In 2008, at about this time, Clinton stepped up and gave a powerful endorsement of Barack Obama. But she and Obama agreed on almost everything, while Sanders disagrees with Clinton on some issues and still exudes scorn for the Clinton campaign.

“Our struggle continues,” Sanders said in a new fund-raising email on Wednesday. Speaking in California on Tuesday evening, he did little to discourage his audience as it booed mention of Clinton.

That’s just irresponsible. And now that Clinton has won a majority of pledged delegates, it’s a violation of Sanders’s own principles to try to get superdelegates to vote for him rather than for the people’s choice.

“Defying history is what this campaign has been about,” Sanders said on Tuesday, but at this point he’s also defying his own values — and, just maybe, bolstering the prospects of the candidate who is the anti-Sanders.

I understand the passion and heartache of his followers, but I watched such idealism help elect Nixon and George W. Bush, and I flinch at the thought of similar idealists this year helping to elect a President Trump.

Right.  The last thing this country needs now is a bunch of purer-than-thou butthurt morons who will throw a tantrum if they don’t get their sparkleponies and unicorn poop.  Here’s Ms. Collins:

Do you remember back in 2008, when Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton betook themselves to Unity, N.H., for post-primary bonding? Clinton-Sanders seems like a tougher merge. Maybe they could be a little less ambitious and just get together in Friendly, W.Va.

There’s also Smileyberg, Kan. Although it’s sort of a ghost town, which isn’t great for analogies.

So far, Bernie Sanders doesn’t seem to be in a Smileyberg state of mind. He’s meeting with President Obama on Thursday, but in his post-primary speech to supporters he was vowing to battle on to the convention. “I am pretty good at arithmetic and I know that the fight in front of us is a very, very steep fight,” he said, in what may have been the biggest understatement of the campaign.

“We are going to fight hard to win the primary in Washington, D.C.,” he added.

Yes, there’s one more primary left, next Tuesday. But no one is going to pay any attention. I’m sorry, D.C. voters. You don’t have a senator, you’ve got about one-fifth of a member of Congress and now we’re going to totally ignore your opinion about the presidential nomination. You deserve better. Tell them next time to let you go ahead of New Hampshire.

The road to Unity eight years ago wasn’t devoid of potholes. Before the convention, Clinton was bitter and her supporters were furious. They wanted to put her name in nomination, make speeches about her superiority as a candidate and then cast all their delegate votes for her just to make it clear to the Obama people that they hadn’t changed their minds.

In the end, there was a deal. Clinton released her delegates and urged everyone to support Obama. Everyone didn’t comply. One of the most ardent Hillary camps was called PUMA, which either meant People United Means Action or Party Unity My Ass, depending on your mood. The PUMA people never came around. On Election Day, a group founder, Will Bower, told CNN that he had voted for John McCain because “I didn’t want to validate corruption or reward the campaign for what I thought was a fraudulent victory.”

Does that sound familiar? People who lose elections always suspect foul play, but the first useful thing Sanders needs to do is to stop suggesting that Clinton stole the nomination. The primary rules are weird, but you cannot keep complaining about the role of superdelegates when the winner is the person who got 16.2 million votes to your 12.3 million.

Unless, of course, you’re Donald Trump. “To all of those Bernie Sanders voters who have been left out in the cold by a rigged system of superdelegates, we welcome you with open arms,” he said on Tuesday. This was during the speech in which he attempted to prove that he could behave like a normal candidate and read lines from a teleprompter, none of them having to do with the capacity of Mexican-American judges to deliver fair verdicts.

And how did it go? Well, it turns out that Donald Trump being a normal candidate is so dull that the family members behind him on the stage looked ready to nod off. This is never going to last.

But about the Democrats.

The real difference between today and 2008 is that the two feuding candidates have serious policy differences. Also, Sanders is not going to be moved by any considerations of his future in the party, of which he has been a member for about three minutes. To bring him and his supporters around, Clinton will probably have to make some concessions on the issues they care about.

And that would be a good thing for everyone. The Democrats might not need every Bernie supporter this November, but the party most definitely needs an infusion of younger progressive leadership at every level. Really, right now it looks as if everybody’s been in office since the birth of disco.

Clinton has actually come around on some of Sanders’s issues already, although she hasn’t exactly been yelling from the rooftops. She supports free tuition at public community colleges. She’s opposed to reducing any Social Security benefits. She’s backtracked on free trade. But now that the primaries are over and she’s about to be pitted against Trump, Sanders has every right to suspect that she’ll be inclined to move to the squishy middle.

That would mean a campaign in which Clinton talks a lot about bringing us together and being president for all Americans, which sounds good but doesn’t really mean much. Candidates always say stuff like that. Zachary Taylor wanted to be president for all Americans, and what did he deliver? The destruction of the Whig Party and Millard Fillmore.

This is the obvious path: Sanders admits Clinton won fair and square. Clinton takes some big, serious jumps on policy. Otherwise, I understand the hotel rates in War, W.Va., are very reasonable this time of year.

Blow, Cohen, Kristof and Collins

June 2, 2016

In “A Chill Wind Blows” Mr. Blow says that Trump’s rhetoric suggests that in his mind, adulation is the only honesty.  Mr. Cohen, in “The Right Asian Deal,” says Congress should ratify the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and that its failure would be a big victory for China.  In “Building Children’s Brains” Mr. Kristof says that in order to get  more kids to college we should invest in infants.  Ms. Collins, in “Tightwad Trump Explodes,” says Donald, just show us the money for veterans.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

Donald Trump, a man who tosses the truth around with the callous disdain of a spoiled child with a toy he has outgrown, has spent much of his campaign calling the media dishonest, even though his manipulation of the media is the only reason he’s the last Republican standing.

He seems to view any unflattering, or otherwise critical, coverage as an attack. His rhetoric suggests that in his mind, adulation is the only honesty.

Such is his wont. And no Republican in a party that continues to veer dangerously toward fact-hostile absolutism has ever lost points with his base by calling the media biased against him.

But there is a strand of these comments and behavior that heralds something more dangerous than an ideological animosity toward the press. Trump keeps signaling that if he had his druthers, he would silence dissent altogether.

At a spectacle of a news conference on Tuesday, Trump laid into reporters for asking simple accountability questions about funds going to charity groups. He even called one reporter a “sleaze” and complained that coverage of his donations to the groups “make me look very bad.”

This isn’t the first time he has used base language to attack reporters with whom he disagreed or was annoyed. The New York Times has collected a comprehensive list of his Twitter insults (often waged against journalists), which simply boggles the mind. (I am among those he has accused of “dishonest reporting.”)

But even that isn’t what’s most troubling. What’s troubling is that under a Trump administration, the First Amendment itself — either in spirit or in law, or both — could be severely weakened. What we have to worry about is a chill wind blowing from the White House.

This is no small thing. Our constitutionally protected freedom of speech and freedom of the press are pillars that make this country great, and different.

Not only did Trump say Tuesday that if he became president he was going to “continue to attack the press,” but in February, he said:

One of the things I’m going to do if I win, and I hope we do and we’re certainly leading. I’m going to open up our libel laws so when they write purposely negative and horrible and false articles, we can sue them and win lots of money. We’re going to open up those libel laws. So that when The New York Times writes a hit piece which is a total disgrace or when The Washington Post, which is there for other reasons, writes a hit piece, we can sue them and win money instead of having no chance of winning because they’re totally protected.

Exceptions for falsehoods are already part of our libel jurisprudence, but the worrisome nature of that comment lies in its vagueness. What does “open up our libel laws” mean? Is he equating “purposely negative” and “horrible” — both subjective determinations — with “false”?

These principles of free press and free speech, which are almost as old as the country itself, are not things to be tinkered with on the whim of a thin-skinned man who has said flattering things about dictators like North Korea’s Kim Jong-un, ruler of a country that the press watchdog group Freedom House calls “one of the most repressive media environments in the world,” where “listening to unauthorized foreign broadcasts and possessing dissident publications are considered ‘crimes against the state’ that carry serious punishments, including hard labor, prison sentences, and the death penalty.”

It should come as no surprise, then, that this week Time magazine reported that “a North Korean state media outlet has praised Donald Trump as a ‘wise politician’ and ‘farsighted candidate’ who can reunify the Korean Peninsula.”

Trump’s dictatorial instinct to suppress what he deems “negative” speech, particularly from the press, is the very thing the founders worried about.

In 1737, more than 50 years before the Constitution was adopted, signed and ratified — before the First Amendment was adopted — Benjamin Franklin wrote in The Pennsylvania Gazette:

“Freedom of speech is a principal pillar of a free government; when this support is taken away, the constitution of a free society is dissolved, and tyranny is erected on its ruins. Republics and limited monarchies derive their strength and vigor from a popular examination into the action of the magistrates.”

Our unfettered freedom to interrogate and criticize our government and our leaders are part of our patriotism and an expression of our national fealty.

James Baldwin put it this way: “I love America more than any other country in the world, and exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.”

And that extends to the country’s politicians.

This idea is so much bigger than Trump, a small man of small thought who is at war with scrutiny.

Freedom of speech and the press are principles that we must protect from this wannabe authoritarian.

Next up we have Mr. Cohen, writing from Ho Chi Minh City:

An American who has been a resident here for a few years said to me the other day: “You know, they still look at us here the way we want to be looked at. America equals opportunity, entrepreneurship and success. That’s not true in so many places anymore.”

Four decades after the war, in one of the world’s consoling mysteries, the United States enjoys an overwhelming approval rating in Vietnam, reflected in the outpouring of enthusiasm for President Obama during his three-day visit last month. In this fast-growing country of 94 million people, about one-third of them on Facebook, America is at once the counterbalance to the age-old enemy, China, and an emblem of the prosperity young people seek.

The best way to kick Vietnamese aspirations in the teeth, turn the country sour on the United States, and undermine the stabilizing American role in Asia, would be for Congress to fail to ratify the Trans-Pacific Partnership, Obama’s signature trade agreement with 11 Pacific Rim countries including Vietnam but not China.

If T.P.P. falls apart, China wins. It’s as simple as that. Nonratification would signal that Beijing gets to dictate policy in the region, and the attempt to integrate Vietnam comprehensively in a rules-based international economy fails.

Obama’s decision to spend so much time here was an indication of the importance he attaches to this cornerstone of his so-called Asia “pivot.” The agreement — with countries accounting for close to 40 percent of the global economy — anchors the United States as a Pacific power and reinforces its critical offsetting role in Asia as China rises. By visiting Ho Chi Minh City and Hiroshima, Japan, Obama also made a powerful statement that past enmities can be overcome in the name of mutual prosperity — a signal to Cuba and Myanmar, among others.

But such long-term transformations, pulling hundreds of millions out of poverty in Asia, are not the stuff of an American election characterized by anger above all. Among the popular one-liners is this: International trade deals steal American jobs. Not one of the three surviving candidates backs the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Hillary Clinton was for it — and right — before she was against it — and wrong. Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump are simply against it, big time.

The trade agreement — with countries including Peru, Mexico, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and Malaysia — has flaws, of course. There are issues it does not address, like currency manipulation. Legitimate concerns have been raised about the impact that patent enforcement will have on affordable medicines.

The Obama administration has acknowledged that some manufacturing and low-skilled jobs will be lost, but argued this will be offset by job growth in higher-wage, export-reliant industries. The Peterson Institute for International Economics, in a report issued this year, found the accord would stimulate job “churn” but was “not likely to affect overall employment in the United States,” while delivering significant gains in real incomes and annual exports.

What the agreement will do, as Clinton noted when she backed the deal, is deliver “better jobs with higher wages and safer working conditions, including for women, migrant workers and others.” It obliges countries like Vietnam to allow workers to form independent unions; it requires a minimum wage and higher health standards; it bans child labor and forced labor. It binds Vietnam to countries where the rule of law is arbiter rather than authoritarian diktat.

At a time when a drought in the Mekong Delta, Vietnam’s rice bowl, and a massive fish kill along the coast have sparked protests and sharpened concerns about global warming, the agreement is also designed to combat overfishing, illegal logging and other environmental scourges. It commits countries to shift to low-emissions economies.

To which, all Donald Trump has to say in a recent article in USA Today is that T.P.P. is “the biggest betrayal in a long line of betrayals” of American workers. But when pressed in a Republican debate on which parts of the deal were badly negotiated, he could only cite currency manipulation and “the way China and India and almost everybody takes advantage of the United States.”

China and India, of course, are not part of the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

As for Clinton, she believed in 2012 that the T.P.P. “sets the gold standard in trade agreements,” before deciding last October that “I am not in favor of what I have learned about it.” The best that can be said about this is that it was probably a tactical cave-in she would reverse if she wins.

Developed economies face huge problems that have produced this season of rage. But the world has enjoyed growing prosperity over decades because of continuously reduced trade barriers. A reversal would be the road to conflict. Like the best trade accords, the Trans-Pacific Partnership is also a strategic boost to liberty and stability in the fastest-growing part of the globe. Congress should resist populist ranting and ratify it.

Next up we have Mr. Kristof:

First, a quiz: What’s the most common “vegetable” eaten by American toddlers?

Answer: The French fry.

The same study that unearthed that nutritional tragedy also found that on any given day, almost half of American toddlers drink soda or similar drinks, possibly putting the children on a trajectory toward obesity or diabetes.

But for many kids, the problems start even earlier. In West Virginia, one study found, almost one-fifth of children are born with alcohol or drugs in their system. Many thus face an uphill struggle from the day they are born.

Bear all this in mind as Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump battle over taxes, minimum wages and whether to make tuition free at public universities. Those are legitimate debates, but the biggest obstacles and greatest inequality often have roots early in life:

If we want to get more kids in universities, we should invest in preschools.

Actually, preschool may be a bit late. Brain research in the last dozen years underscores that the time of life that may shape adult outcomes the most is pregnancy through age 2 or 3.

“The road to college attainment, higher wages and social mobility in the United States starts at birth,” notes James Heckman, a Nobel-winning economist at the University of Chicago. “The greatest barrier to college education is not high tuitions or the risk of student debt; it’s in the skills children have when they first enter kindergarten.”

Heckman is not a touchy-feely bleeding heart. He’s a math wiz renowned for his work on econometrics. But he is focusing his work on early education for disadvantaged children because he sees that as perhaps the highest-return public investment in the world today.

He measures the economic savings from investments in early childhood — because less money is spent later on juvenile courts, prisons, health care and welfare — and calculates that early-education programs for needy kids pay for themselves several times over.

One of the paradoxes of American politics is that this is an issue backed by overwhelming evidence, enjoying bipartisan support, yet Washington is stalled on it. Gallup finds that Americans by more than two to one favor universal pre-K, and Clinton and Sanders are both strong advocates. Trump has made approving comments as well (although online searches of both “Trump” and “preschool” mostly turn up comparisons of him to a preschooler).

To be clear, what’s needed is not just education but also help for families beginning in pregnancy, to reduce the risk that children will be born with addictions and to increase the prospect that they will be raised with lots of play and conversation. (By age 4, a child of professionals has heard 30 million more words than a child on welfare.)

The best metric of child poverty may have to do not with income but with how often a child is spoken and read to.

So it’s in early childhood that the roots of inequality lie. A book from the Russell Sage Foundation, “Too Many Children Left Behind,” notes that 60 to 70 percent of the achievement gap between rich and poor kids is already evident by kindergarten. The book recommends investing in early childhood, for that’s when programs often have the most impact.

It is true that cognitive gains from preschool seem to fade by the third grade, but there are differences in life outcomes that persist. Many years later, these former pre-K students are less likely to be arrested, to drop out of high school, to be on welfare and to be jobless.

A wave of recent research in neuroscience explains why early childhood is so critical: That’s when the brain is developing most quickly. Children growing up in poverty face high levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which changes the architecture of the brain, compromising areas like the amygdala and hippocampus.

A new collection of essays from Harvard Education Press, “The Leading Edge of Early Childhood Education,” says that this “toxic stress” from poverty impairs brain circuits responsible for impulse control, working memory, emotional regulation, error processing and healthy metabolic functioning. Early-childhood programs protect those young brains.

So in this presidential campaign, let’s move beyond the debates about free tuition and minimum wages to push something that might matter even more: early-childhood programs for needy kids.

“It is in the first 1,000 days of life that the stage is set for fulfilling individual potential,” writes Roger Thurow in his powerful and important new book on leveraging early childhood, “The First 1,000 Days.” “If we want to shape the future, to truly improve the world, we have 1,000 days to do it, mother by mother, child by child.”

America’s education wars resemble World War I, with each side entrenched and exhausted but no one making much progress. So let’s transcend the stalemate and focus on investing in America’s neediest kids.

We rescued banks because they were too big to fail. Now let’s help children who are too small to fail.

Well, Mr. Kristof, maybe YOU can get the Forced Birthers to start giving a crap about children once they’re in the post-fetal stage.  You know, born.  Last but not least we have Ms. Collins:

Donald Trump has a simple reason for his long delay in explaining what happened to the money he raised for veterans’ charities: He didn’t want any publicity.

“Because I wanted to make this out of the goodness of my heart,” he told a press conference in which he castigated reporters for forcing him to provide details.

Of all conceivable explanations, “too self-effacing” ranks somewhere below “temporarily kidnapped by space aliens.” Let’s look elsewhere. The best possibilities seem to be:

A) Cheapness.

B) Tendency to make things up.

C) Difficulty in getting a disorganized, minimally qualified, perpetually short-handed staff to keep track of the cash.

Obviously, we’re going for all three.

The story so far: Trump was supposed to do a Republican primary debate in January on Fox News, a network with which he was feuding. So he staged his own counter-event, a much-publicized fund-raiser for veterans’ charities. The highlight was an announcement that the veterans were getting $6 million, including a $1 million donation from the Donald himself.

Time passed. And he wouldn’t say where the money went.

People, I know you’re tired of hearing Donald Trump stories, but did you want the reporters to just drop the subject? Trump certainly did. Particularly when it came to his own personal million-dollar contribution, which did not actually materialize until the news media, particularly The Washington Post, started asking questions. Many questions. Which went unanswered.

“Oh, I’m totally accountable, but I didn’t want to have credit for it,” Trump said.

The money was turned over to a veterans’ charity about, um, a week ago.

We have heard a lot from Trump about his passion for veterans lately. It’s an intense interest that goes back at least … a year. Before that, his major involvement with the military appeared to be getting a deferment for “a foot thing” when he was eligible for the draft during the war in Vietnam.

It is not unusual for presidential candidates to have avoided military service. Bill Clinton did. Bernie Sanders did. Most of Congress did. Dick Cheney got himself five deferments — and, O.K., when it came to Dick Cheney we took offense. But in general, we’ve gotten used to nonveterans as the political norm.

One of the very few major American politicians who did serve, under fire, is John McCain, and one of the first things Trump did in his race for president was to make fun of McCain’s years as a prisoner of war. (“I like people who weren’t captured.”) He also portrayed himself as a guy who had done way, way more to help veterans than John McCain, a claim that was … oh Lord, let’s not even go there.

The donations to Trump’s January fund-raiser were supposed to be distributed through the Donald J. Trump Foundation, which had been around for years without previously making veterans a priority, or even an afterthought.

We will not bother to point out that Donald J. Trump himself did not have a history of being a big donor to the Donald J. Trump Foundation. In fact, Trump never seemed to give much money to anybody. This appears to be one of the most tightfisted billionaires since Scrooge McDuck.

Unless he’s not a billionaire at all. If Trump ever releases his tax records and it turns out that he’s only worth, say, $755,000, he’ll deserve a big apology from those of us who thought he was a self-centered rich guy with zero interest in sharing his wealth with the less fortunate. Honestly, I will be the first to raise my hand.

But about the veterans. Trump brings up his commitment to our fighting men and women all the time now. Really, the only person he talks about more than the American soldier is Bobby Knight, the former basketball coach who is famous for roughing up his players and endorsing Donald Trump for president.

On Memorial Day weekend, Trump spoke to a gathering of veterans and bikers in Washington, and managed to both drop Bobby Knight’s name and complain about the small crowd. “I thought this would be like Dr. Martin Luther King, where the people will be lined up from here all the way to the Washington Monument,” he said.

On Tuesday, Trump said he was just joking. Let’s accept that at face value and agree that he simply made a humorous remark in which he compared himself to a slain civil rights leader.

He also insisted the media was conspiring to undercount the attendance: “So instead of saying Trump made a speech in front of a packed crowd they said Trump was disappointed.” Have we ever had a president who referred to himself in the third person? The answer, as a number of readers have been kind enough to point out is — yes! We had Richard Nixon.

See if that makes you feel any better.

Blow, Kristof and Collins

May 26, 2016

In “Violence Is Never the Answer” Mr. Blow says it’s easy to see why young people are having a make-me-want-to-holler moment, but you don’t want to strengthen your enemies and weaken your cause.  Mr. Kristof has “Sore, Happy Feet on the Pacific Crest Trail” and says a backpacking trip provides both an escape from life’s distractions and an annual bonding experience for father and daughter.  Ms. Collins unleashes some “Memorial Day Weekend Ranting” and says she has  met the enemy, and it is the airlines.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

As I watched violence erupt on television among anti-Donald Trump protesters in Albuquerque, on Tuesday, my heart sank. This outbreak came on the heels of the chaotic scene at the state Democratic convention in Nevada and death threats against the state party chairwoman there.

I understand the frustration and the desire for change, but violence simply isn’t the way to create it. Once violence springs forth, moral authority dries up.

I understand the fear, anger and even rage that the systems that govern this country and the citizens who constitute it could allow — and even enthusiastically cheer — the ascendance of a demagogue like Trump.

It is incredibly dispiriting, because it makes one question what must lurk in the hearts of one’s neighbors. How is it that anyone could support a man who has made the assertions, both personal and political, that Trump has?

And yet, many people do support him. For many, he is giving public voice to private thought. Trump has not so much planted a sentiment as surfaced one that already existed.

How could this man become the presidential nominee of a major party? How is it that he stands an actual chance of becoming president? What does it say about us?

The answers to these questions are terrifying to contemplate, but contemplate them we must, with all their attendant anxieties, which are no doubt amplified among portions of the population who have been targets of Trump’s dangerous rhetoric.

Both Trump on the Republican side and Bernie Sanders on the Democratic side have run popular campaigns that have castigated the political system as rigged and unfair.

This sentiment has had greater resonance on the left, where Sanders will almost definitely fall short of securing the nomination, than on the right, where Trump will secure it.

As the Pew Research Center found in a report published in March:

“The share of Democrats expressing a positive view of the primary process has declined 22 percentage points (from 52 percent) in February 2008. Republicans views are little different than in 2000 or 2008.”

Indeed, Trump’s supporters were the only group of supporters in which a majority viewed the nominating process favorably.

I am convinced that this vise grip is squeezing young people most, particularly liberal ones, because they already have a troubled relationship with society’s systems.

A Harvard IOP poll released this year found that while there were some marginal increases of trust among young adults in some institutions, their distrust of the federal government, Congress, Wall Street and the media was still considerable.

In addition, young people are experiencing real, unprecedented strain.

Pew reported Tuesday, under the headline “For First Time in Modern Era, Living With Parents Edges Out Other Living Arrangements for 18- to 34-Year-Olds,” that “In 2014, for the first time in more than 130 years, adults ages 18 to 34 were slightly more likely to be living in their parents’ home than they were to be living with a spouse or partner in their own household.”

They attribute part of this change to partnering patterns, but another part to economic stress, particularly among young men.

As the report put it:

“Employed young men are much less likely to live at home than young men without a job, and employment among young men has fallen significantly in recent decades. The share of young men with jobs peaked around 1960 at 84 percent. In 2014, only 71 percent of 18- to 34-year-old men were employed. Similarly with earnings, young men’s wages (after adjusting for inflation) have been on a downward trajectory since 1970 and fell significantly from 2000 to 2010. As wages have fallen, the share of young men living in the home of their parent(s) has risen.”

And The Wall Street Journal reported earlier this month that:

“About seven in 10 seniors set to graduate this spring borrowed for their educations. Along with their diplomas, they’ll carry an average $37,172 of student debt as they enter the work force, according to a new analysis by higher-education expert Mark Kantrowitz. That breaks the record set by the 2015 class, which owed just over $35,000, on average.”

Add to that the fact that this is one of their first elections — if not the absolute first — and on the one side they have a dangerous cartoon villain, while on the other they are likely to have a candidate who has performed astonishingly poorly among young voters.

It is easy to see why young people are having a make-me-want-to-holler moment, but violence only strengthens your enemies and weakens your cause.

I understand the need to take a stand and make your voices heard, to engage in the direct democracy of protest and be a visible and vocal counterpoint to people you deem unfit and systems you deem unfair.

But here is a hard truth: There are no quick and easy fixes in this country. Everything you call broken was broken bit by bit over a long time and must be fixed the same way.

Democracy is an exercise in patience and persistence, not quick corrections.

The way we fix our systems and our politics is not only with vociferous displays in the moment, but also with vigilant crusades over a lifetime.

Next up we have Mr. Kristof:

Every spring or summer, in lieu of professional help, I ditch civilization for the therapy of the wilderness. I’ve just been backpacking with my 18-year-old daughter on the Pacific Crest Trail in California, abandoning our material world for an alternative reality in which the aim is to possess as little as possible — because if you have it, you lug it.

Our lives were downsized to 10 pounds of possessions each, not counting food and water. We carried backpacks, sleeping bags, jackets, hats, a plastic groundsheet, a tarp in case of rain, a water filter and a tiny roll of duct tape for when things break.

Few problems in life cannot be solved with duct tape.

O.K., I know I’m supposed to use my column to pontificate about Donald Trump and global crises. But as summer beckons, let me commend such wilderness escapes to all of you, with your loved ones, precisely to find a brief refuge from the pressures of the world.

This isn’t for everybody; astonishingly, some folks prefer beaches and clean sheets. But for me at least, a crazy jaunt in the outdoors is the perfect antidote to the absurdity of modern life.

In the 21st century, we often find ourselves spinning on the hamster wheel, nervously jockeying for status with our peers — Is my barbecue bigger than my neighbor’s? Is my car flashier? — even as we’re too busy to barbecue anything. We’re like dogs chasing after our tails.

That’s why I find it so cathartic to run away from home. My parents took me backpacking beginning when I was about 7, and my wife and I took our three children on overnight hikes as soon as they could toddle.

Don’t tell Child Protective Services, but when my daughter was 4, I took her on an overnight trip on Oregon’s Eagle Creek Trail, carrying her most of the first day on my shoulders, on top of my backpack. The next morning, I bribed her: If she would walk by herself all 13 miles back to the car, I would buy her a spectacular ice cream in the nearest town.

So we set off for the car. At every rest stop, we conjured that ice cream and how cold it would be, and, fortified, we trundled on down the trail beside glorious waterfalls. When we reached the car, we were both proud of her heroism, and she beamed tiredly as I buckled her into her car seat.

When we arrived at an ice cream shop 20 minutes later, she was fast asleep. I couldn’t wake her.

Thus began our hiking partnership, sometimes undertaken with the whole family, sometimes just the two of us. At home we’re all busy, but on the trail we’re beyond cellphone coverage or email reach and we’re stuck with each other.

So we talk. Even as we’re disconnected, we reconnect. And on rest breaks and at night, camping under the stars, we read aloud to each other: On this trip, my daughter and I have been reading Adam Johnson’s brilliant Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, “The Orphan Master’s Son,” and talking about what it means.

No self-respecting teenage girl would normally allow her dad to read to her, but out in the wilderness, it’s a bond we share.

It’s true that not everybody can get time off, the cost of equipment can add up and it can be a hassle to get to and from a trail. (When I’ve tried hitchhiking out, drivers see a bedraggled, unshaven hobo and speed up!). Still, costs are modest: While car campgrounds often charge, backpacking in the great outdoors is almost always free. And day after day, there is simply nowhere to spend money.

I can’t pretend it’s glamorous. We’ve been scorched by the sun and chilled by rain, hail and snow. Sure, in trail conversations we bare our innermost thoughts, but we also spend plenty of time whining about blisters, rattlesnakes and 20-mile stretches without water. We curse trail designers for PUDS, or pointless ups and downs.

And let’s be blunt: I stink. When you’re carrying everything on your back, you don’t pack any changes of clothing. We bathe our feet in creeks (hoping that anyone drinking downstream is using a water filter), and on this trip we luxuriated in the Deep Creek hot springs beside the trail. We commiserate together, and we exult together in America’s cathedral of the wild, our stunning common heritage and birthright.

My daughter and I have now hiked across Washington and Oregon and hundreds of miles of California, and eventually we’ll have limped the entire Pacific Crest Trail from Mexico to Canada. Nothing is as different from my daily life, nor as treasured, and that is why I suggest the wilderness to friends.

For members of my family at least, these spring and summer hikes are a reminder that what shapes us is not so much the possessions we acquire but the memories we accumulate, that when you scrape away the veneer, what gives life meaning is not the grandest barbecue or the sportiest car. It’s each other.

And now here’s Ms. Collins:

Summer is upon us, and we are facing important travel decisions. Such as who to blame when we get stuck in interminable airport lines.

So many options. There’s the government, but how many times can you can complain about Congress in the course of a lifetime? There’s the public — air traffic up 12 percent since 2011. But really, people, don’t blame yourself.

Let’s pick a rant that’s good for you, good for me, good for the lines in security: Make the airlines stop charging fees for checked baggage.

Seems simple, doesn’t it? Plus, if you do manage to make it to your flight, these are the same people who will be announcing there’s a $3 fee if you want a snack.

The largest airlines charge $25 for the first checked bag, thus encouraging people to drag their belongings through the airport, clogging the X-ray lines and slowing the boarding process as everybody fights to cram one last rolling duffel into the overhead compartment.

The idea that travelers should be hit by an extra charge for, um, having luggage began in 2008, when the cost of fuel went through the roof. We understood the airlines’ pain, sort of. Maybe. But now fuel prices have fallen into the cellar. The airlines are taking in stupendous profits — last year nearly $26 billion after taxes, up from $2.3 billion in 2010.

Yet the baggage fees are still with us. In fact, they’ve gone up by about two-thirds. Last year, the nation’s airlines made more than $3.8 billion off what I believe it is fair to call a scam. It’s also an excellent way to make your prices look lower than they really are when people surf for the cheapest ticket, a number that never includes details like the special fees for bags, food, canceling a reservation, booking by phone, sitting in a minimally more comfortable emergency row or, in some cases, requesting a pillow.

Shouldn’t the airlines offer up the baggage fee as a token of solidarity with their miserable passengers? The idea has come up. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson asked the airlines to “consider possibly” this modest bow to air travel sanity. Two U.S. senators, Edward Markey of Massachusetts and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, wrote a letter to the airlines asking them to just drop the fees during the high-traffic summer months.

We pause now for the sound of silence and crickets chirping.

The airlines have maximized profits by making travel as miserable as possible. The Boeing Company found a way to cram 14 more seats into its largest twin-engine jetliner by reducing the size of the lavatories.Bloomberg quoted a Boeing official as reporting that “the market reaction has been good — really positive.” We presume the market in question does not involve the actual passengers.

But the industry is so powerful that it seems to be able to get away with squishing people into smaller and smaller spaces. Last month, Senator Chuck Schumer of New York offered an amendment to a bill reauthorizing the Federal Aviation Administration that would have imposed a moratorium on reductions in seat size and space between rows. It failed, 54 to 42.

Nobody spoke out against the proposal, but only one Republican, Susan Collins of Maine, voted for it. We salute Susan Collins, who has been, for a number of years, virtually the entire population of the Moderate Republican Caucus.

When Schumer flies, his first move is to empty the seat pocket in front of him. “I take out the magazine and the airsickness bag so I have an extra eighth of an inch,” he said in a phone interview. It’s a matter of some passion — when the presidents of three airlines visited Schumer’s office for discussion of a totally unrelated issue, he moved the coffee table so it was an inch from their knees. “I said: ‘O.K., now you know how it feels.’”

But about the bags.

Rather than reducing the number of bags in security lines, the airlines would like the government to deal with the problem by adding more workers to screen them. And the perpetually beleaguered Transportation Security Administration is going to spend $34 million to hire more people and pay more overtime this summer. Which, it assured the public, is not really going to solve much of anything.

(Who, you may ask, pays for the security lines anyway? For the most part you the taxpayer do. Also you the passenger pay a special security fee on your tickets. Which Congress tends to grab away from the T.S.A. for use in all-purpose deficit reduction. I know, I know.)

A spokesman for Delta Air Lines, which took in more than $875 million on baggage fees last year, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that bowing to the extremely modest Markey-Blumenthal request for a summer suspension of the baggage fee wouldn’t “really help alleviate a lot.” It would also, he said, require a “considerable change to the business model.”

Heaven forfend we mess with the business model.

Blow, Kristof, and Collins

May 12, 2016

In “As West Virginia Goes…” Mr. Blow says if Trump has a path to the presidency, it will likely be because of the Democrats’ weakness among voters who look a lot like the voters in this state.  Mr. Kristof, in “Congress to America: Drop Dead,” says Republicans played politics two years ago with the Ebola epidemic, and now they’re stalling on the president’s funding request to fight Zika.  Ms. Collins says “Bring Hillary and Bernie Together” and that Democrats could turn his standard speech into the party’s platform.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

West Virginia turned on Hillary Clinton.

In 2008, when running for the Democratic nomination against then-Senator Barack Obama, Clinton won every county in the state, carrying it by a whopping 41 points.

Clinton said in 2008 during her West Virginia victory speech that no Democrat had won the White House since 1916 without taking West Virginia. What she didn’t say was that they all could have won without it. The margins of victory in those races ranged from 23 to 515 electoral votes. West Virginia has five.

That is precisely what Obama did. He won the election in 2008 without winning West Virginia, and he was re-elected in 2012 without winning even a single county in the state.

The Hill reported this week that, according to a political-science professor at a West Virginia college, West Virginia voters were so “fiercely anti-Obama that they voted in large numbers in 2012 for his primary opponent, who was a jailed felon in Texas.”

This cycle, a major part of Clinton’s strategy has been to so closely align herself with President Obama that there is very little light between them. This helped her secure and retain some minority voters, but most likely distanced her from many white ones.

On Tuesday, Clinton lost every county in the state and trailed Bernie Sanders by nearly 16 points.

So what’s going on in West Virginia? First, it is one of the whitest states in the country, and the absolute whitest in the South. It is also the least educated state and one of the poorest.

As of 2014, almost 94 percent of its citizens are white, only 18.7 percent have attained a bachelor’s degree and 17.2 percent fall below the poverty threshold.

West Virginia is the only state wholly contained in Appalachia, a collection of counties that stretches from Mississippi to New York and covers portions of swing states like Pennsylvania, Ohio, Virginia and North Carolina. This region has been trending away from Democrats in recent elections. Obama won fewer than 30 of Appalachia’s 420 counties in 2012; he won 44 in 2008; John Kerry won 48 in 2004; and Al Gore won 66 counties 2000.

West Virginia is also heavily reliant on the coal industry, which is at odds with liberal clean-energy initiatives.

In an interview with The San Francisco Chronicle in 2008, Obama said of his proposed energy plans:

If somebody wants to build a coal-powered plant, they can. It’s just that it will bankrupt them because they’re going to be charged a huge sum for all that greenhouse gas that’s being emitted. That will also generate billions of dollars that we can invest in solar, wind, biodiesel, and other alternative energy approaches.

Bankruptcies aside, the Obama years saw a steep decline in coal production in the state. According to a report published by West Virginia University, “After climbing to nearly 158 million short tons in 2008, the state’s coal mine output has tumbled in each successive year to an annual total of approximately 115 million short tons in 2014 ─ or a cumulative decline of 27 percent.”

This was the right long-term clean-energy approach, but it hit a sour chord in West Virginia.

True to her Obama-emulating form, Clinton took a similar tack this cycle when she said during a CNN town hall:

I’m the only candidate which has a policy about how to bring economic opportunity using clean renewable energy as the key into coal country. Because we’re going to put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business, right?

And we’re going to make it clear that we don’t want to forget those people. Those people labored in those mines for generations, losing their health, often losing their lives to turn on our lights and power our factories.

Now we’ve got to move away from coal and all the other fossil fuels, but I don’t want to move away from the people who did the best they could to produce the energy that we relied on.

Again, smart long-term policy, but doesn’t sit well in West Virginia. Clinton recently apologized for the “misstatement,” saying, “I don’t know how to explain it other than what I said was totally out of context for what I meant because I have been talking about helping coal country for a very long time.”

But the apology was too little, too late for voters in West Virginia.

West Virginia illustrates the danger that accompanies the Clinton strategy of closely aligning with President Obama and his policies: Many white voters, particularly white men, detest him. Many on the right think he went too far and many on the left don’t think he went far enough. The populist movements at both ideological extremes are to some degree anti-Obama movements.

As ABC News reported Tuesday about preliminary exit polls in the state, “the highest level of economic concern in any Democratic primary this year and greater-than-usual turnout among men, whites, political independents and critics of President Obama characterized Hillary Clinton’s challenges in the West Virginia primary.”

In 2014, Gallup reported on the depths of this problem for Democrats in general:

President Barack Obama’s job approval rating among white non-college graduates is at 27 percent so far in 2014, 14 percentage points lower than among white college graduates. This is the largest yearly gap between these two groups since Obama took office. These data underscore the magnitude of the Democratic Party’s problem with working-class whites, among whom Obama lost in the 2012 presidential election, and among whom Democratic House candidates lost in the 2014 U.S. House voting by 30 points.

These white non-college graduates are a strong base of support for Donald Trump, who exclaimed in Nevada, “I love the poorly educated.” Apparently, the feeling is mutual.

If Trump has a path to the presidency, it will most likely be because of Clinton’s — and Democrats’ — weakness among people who look an awful lot like the voters in West Virginia.

Next up we have Mr. Kristof:

In a moment, we’ll get to the Zika virus.

First, remember how scathing Republicans were about President Obama’s handling of Ebola in the fall of 2014? They lambasted his reluctance to ban travelers from affected nations, with Paul Broun, a House member from Georgia then, even wondering if Obama had a “purposeful” plan to use Ebola to harm America.

Phyllis Schlafly, the conservative gadfly, suggested that Obama didn’t care if Ebola devastated the United States: “He wants us to be just like everybody else, and if Africa is suffering from Ebola, we ought to join the group and be suffering from it, too.”

A Fox News contributor, Dr. Keith Ablow, suggested in a radio broadcast that Obama perhaps wanted America to suffer from Ebola because “his affiliations” are with Africa rather than with America.

Then there was Donald Trump. After a New York physician, Craig Spencer, returned from treating Ebola patients in West Africa and showed symptoms of the disease, Trump tweeted that if the doctor developed Ebola (he did), “Obama should apologize to the American people & resign!”

Trump added: “President Obama, you are a complete and total disaster, but you have a chance to do something great and important: STOP THE FLIGHTS!” That was a reference to what appeared to be the G.O.P. strategy at the time: Let Ebola destroy Africa and much of the rest of the world, but try to seal off the United States from infection.

In the 2014 elections, Republican candidates ran hundreds of ads denouncing the Obama administration’s handling of Ebola.

Meanwhile, Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey forcibly confined Kaci Hickox, a nurse returning from West Africa, as she passed through Newark’s airport on her way to Maine. By quarantining her in a tent though she tested negative for Ebola, he complicated initiatives to send health workers to fight the disease in Africa.

In contrast, Obama’s approach was spectacularly successful. With crucial support from Britain and France, and heroic efforts by groups like Doctors Without Borders and Samaritan’s Purse, Obama deployed troops to West Africa and was able to pretty much extinguish the virus there, averting a global humanitarian and economic catastrophe.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had calculated that without an intervention there might be 1.4 million cases of Ebola in Liberia and Sierra Leone by January 2015. From there it could have catapulted around the world, killing millions, entering the United States, devastating the global economy and becoming impossible to eradicate in some places.

That might have happened if someone like Trump or Christie had been in charge. It’s tragic that 11,300 West Africans died from Ebola, but the toll would have been incomparably higher — in Africa and in America — if not for Obama’s actions.

Hey, Mr. Trump, do you still think that President Obama should resign for his handling of Ebola?

All of that is worth reviewing because congressional Republicans are now again trying to block a sensible effort to address a public health crisis, this time a Zika virus outbreak that is steadily moving to the continental U.S., bringing with it calamitous birth defects.

In February, Obama urgently requested more than $1.8 billion to address Zika, and Congress since then has done nothing but talk. Republicans have protested that the administration doesn’t need the money, that they have questions that haven’t been answered or that the request is vague. These objections are absurd.

Even Senator Marco Rubio laid into his fellow Republicans a few weeks ago, saying: “The money is going to be spent. And the question is, Do we do it now before this has become a crisis, or do we wait for it to become a crisis?”

Rubio is right. It’s always more cost-effective and lifesaving to tackle an epidemic early.

“I’m very worried, especially for our U.S. Gulf Coast states,” said Dr. Peter Jay Hotez, a tropical diseases expert at Baylor College of Medicine. “I cannot understand why a member of Congress from a Gulf Coast state cannot see this train approaching. It’s like refusing emergency preparedness funds for an approaching hurricane.”

We don’t know how badly Zika will hit the U.S. But, the first American has just died of it, and federal health professionals are debating whether to counsel women in Zika areas to avoid pregnancy — and to me, that sounds serious.

The larger mistake is that budget cutters have systematically cut public health budgets that address Zika, Ebola and other ailments. The best bargain in government may be public health, and Republicans have slashed funding for it while Democrats have shrugged.

“Special funds for public health preparedness have been cut by more than 30 percent over the last decade and hospital preparedness by more than half,” said Dr. Irwin Redlener of Columbia University and its National Center for Disaster Preparedness. “All of this leaves the country far more vulnerable than people realize to threats like a Zika outbreak — or whatever else the future has in store.”

He added, “We will pay a steep price for this particular shortsightedness.”

And now we get to Ms. Collins:

Bernie Sanders is not going away. And why should he? The weather is nice, the crowds are enormous and he keeps winning primaries. Hillary Clinton has what appears to be an insurmountable lead in delegates, but hope springs eternal.

“It is a steep hill to climb,” he admits.

Actually, probably harder to surmount than Gangkhar Puensum. (Which is the world’s highest unclimbed mountain. I am telling you this to distract you from the subject of delegate counts.)

But about Sanders: Democrats, what do you think he should do?

A) Convention floor fight. “Game of Thrones”! Jon Snow is alive!

B) Go away. When Clinton lost, did she torture Barack Obama over who was going to be on the platform committee? No, she sucked it up and gave an extremely nice endorsement speech.

C) Why can’t we all just get along?

Personally, I think that last one is possible. Although it would probably be a good idea to avoid saying a Clinton nomination could be a “disaster simply to protect the status quo,” as Sanders’s campaign manager did in an email on Wednesday.

In an ideal world the Democrats would nominate a presidential candidate who’s got an inspiring vision of change and the competence to run the country from Day 1. This person is not going to be on the ballot this year. So let Hillary Clinton have the nomination and give Bernie Sanders the party platform.

He deserves a role. Sanders has spent the last year speaking about narrowing the gulf between the rich and the bottom 99 percent, fighting climate change and keeping special interests out of government. He’s inspired millions. It’s pretty much always the same speech, but he’s the one who can bring the music.

(Question: Will the Republicans have a fight about their platform? Nah — Donald Trump will let his opponents put in anything they want. Look, the man has convention entertainment to plan. Given the option of choosing the party position on health care or the dance numbers, you know which way he’s going to go.)

The Democrats could just make the Sanders speech into a platform, then join hands and march into the future. There actually aren’t a lot of areas of disagreement. Clinton thinks his call for free public college tuition is … well, let’s not say dumb. Dumb is not going to get you a united convention. Let’s just say too much of a good thing. But she does want free community college tuition. Did you know that? She announced it on the very first official stop of her campaign. Since then not, um, frequently. Feel free to remind her.

They both believe in universal health care coverage. Sanders wants “Medicare for all.” Clinton’s campaign says she does, too, in theory, but just doesn’t believe anything like that could get through Congress. This week she proposed a new option for 50-somethings that The Times’s Alan Rappeport and Margot Sanger-Katz called “Medicare for more.”

And you know, if Clinton could actually deliver on those two promises, it would be stupendous. This is an excellent example of the Democratic bottom line: On many, many issues, her platform is what the Sanders platform would look like if it actually got through the congressional wringer.

On other matters, the Democrats’ current policy divisions are just about doubting Hillary Clinton’s intentions. Sanders wants to bring back the Glass-Steagall Act, which bars commercial banks from going into the investment banking business. Clinton says she can crack down on Wall Street better with more recent legislation. Sanders followers don’t believe she means it.

I say, be impressed that there’s a party full of young voters for whom “Glass-Steagall” is a big applause line. You can’t not want to encourage that. Put Glass-Steagall in the platform. Even if Clinton is right, all you’d have is duplication of effort, and it would be an excellent gesture of solidarity.

Finally, there’s the influence of big-money donors on American politics. In theory, Sanders and Clinton are pretty much in the same place. But in practice, he’s built his entire campaign around the concept of throwing out special interest money, while Clinton’s barely provided lip service.

“One of the four pillars of her campaign was going to be democracy issues,” said Fred Wertheimer, president of the reform group Democracy 21. “Well, the pillars haven’t been around too much.”

Wertheimer had his heart broken by Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, who both promised to make campaign finance a top priority, then didn’t. Hillary Clinton, he thinks, ought to promise something more specific that she could implement right away. “Set up a task force in the White House whose job it is to pursue this reform. Of top staff people,” he suggested.

Or a blue-ribbon committee featuring Bernie Sanders. Who would certainly never let her hear the end of it if she failed to deliver. Put that in the platform and smoke it.

Blow, Kristof, and Collins

April 28, 2016

In “Bernie Sanders’s Legacy” Mr. Blow says it’s over, but the cause lives. The issues his campaign has raised are likely to resonate with the progressive left for decades, if not forever.  Mr. Kristof, in “Candidates, Let’s Talk About Women’s Health,” says a crucial issue — a matter of life or death — is missing from the presidential race.  In “Trump Deals the Woman Card” Ms. Collins says that he  doesn’t get that Hillary Clinton has spent her life championing women and their issues.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

At this point, Bernie Sanders is the figurehead of a living idea and a zombie campaign.

The issues his campaign has raised are likely to resonate with the progressive left for decades, if not forever, but his path to becoming the Democratic nominee is now narrower than a cat’s hair.

It’s over. He knows it and we know it. The New York Times reported on Wednesday that Sanders “is planning to lay off ‘hundreds’ of campaign staffers across the country and focus much of his remaining effort on winning California.” And yet he continues to carry the torch and keep the flame alive so that his supporters — or more appropriately, the supporters of the causes he has advanced — have an opportunity to cast protest votes in the few remaining contests.

He has gone from leading a revolution to leading a wake.

I think people have mischaracterized the choice being made between Sanders and Clinton. It is not necessarily a clean choice between idealism and pragmatism, between principle and politics, between dynamism and incrementalism — though all those things are at play to some degree.

But to me, it is more about where we peg the horizon and how we get from here to there. The ideals are not in dispute. What’s in dispute is whether our ideals can be reasonably accomplished by a single administration or a generation.

Sometimes you have to cut deals to reach ideals. That’s politics.

Now, you could argue that our politics are broken, as Sanders has, and you would be right. Moneyed interests — that of industries and individuals — have far too much influence. Our two-party system is heavily skewed to favor establishment candidates, although Sanders’s success and Donald Trump’s offer strong evidence that the party apparatuses are not inviolable.

(Yes, I’m using Trump’s name again. I didn’t for months as my own personal protest against the inexcusable and embarrassing degree to which media abetted and enabled his ascendance. But now, regardless of who helped make the monster, the monster is made — he seems on track to become the Republican nominee — and we have to deal with him as a direct threat, by name.)

What requires less debate is the often-repeated refrain that Sanders’s supporters are the future of the Democratic Party. In state after state, often whether he won it or not, he carried youth vote by wide margins.

Part of this is a generation coming into political awakening in the wake of the Great Recession, in the shadow of America’s longest war and saddled with ballooning student loan debt.

But another part of it is what Harry Enten pointed out on FiveThirtyEight on Friday:

The Democratic electorate turning out in 2016 has been a lot more liberal than it was in the last competitive Democratic primary, in 2008.”

Enten explained:

It wouldn’t be surprising to see the moderate/conservative portion of the Democratic primary electorate become a minority in the next 10 years. It’s the youngest Democrats who are more likely to identify as “very liberal.” It could very well be that someone matching Sanders’s ideological outlook will be more successful down the road.

First we have to see what comes of the general election, in a contest that at this point seems to pit Clinton against Trump. Although current polling shows Clinton with an overwhelming edge, making political predictions seven months in advance is a fool’s errand. If that could be done, Ben Carson would still be tied with Trump for front-runner status.

And while current polling favors Clinton, history does not. The last time a Democratic president succeeded a multiterm Democratic president was when Harry Truman succeeded Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1945.

However the election breaks in November, the Sanders coalition — largely young, liberal and white — will not likely be satisfied. Either Clinton will win, and it will simply feel like a lesser of two evils, a subsuming of a righteous cause into a waffling contrivance; or Clinton will lose, and the Sanders coalition will feel vindicated that the wrong Democratic candidate won the nomination.

Either way, the cause lives.

Universal health care becomes no less attractive. Neither does free public college, or campaign finance reform, or a more pacifist foreign policy.

The Democratic Party, for better or worse, is likely to move further toward progressive purity in Sanders’s wake. This may backfire, and encourage a nominating process that pushes otherwise moderate and widely attractive candidates to adopt increasingly extreme policies that make them nearly unelectable, as has happened with the Republican Party.

That, to me, seems to be at least part of the Democratic Party’s future. Whether that is a utopian or dystopian future, only time will tell, but the reckoning is coming. This, I believe, will be a fixture of the Sanders legacy: Drag a center-left party further left — whether one calls that True Left or Extreme Left.

Next up we have Mr. Kristof:

What if we talked about gun violence, and discussed only bullet size?

To me, that seems akin to the presidential campaign discussion of women’s health. Somehow in nine Democratic debates, not a single question was asked about women’s health, and when the issue came up elsewhere it was often in the narrowest form, about abortion: Democrats proclaim a woman’s right to choose, and Republicans thunder about the sanctity of human life.

Women’s health goes far beyond that. It should be a national scandal that a woman dies of cervical cancer almost once every two hours. That about 70 percent of pregnancies to young, unmarried women are unplanned. That a woman dies every eight hours from domestic violence.

In each case, we know how to address these problems. But we’re not doing it urgently enough.

It may seem, er, odd for a man to be raising the topic, but the lives of women shouldn’t be a priority for women alone. Mark Twain once mused about where men would be without women: “They would be scarce, sir — almighty scarce.” Twain is right that we men have a stake in the status of women, for we are sons, husbands and fathers to women we love.

The shortcomings in women’s health parallel those of men’s health and children’s health, and include a myopia about the importance of preventive and reproductive health. It’s a tragedy that nearly a dozen women die a day of cervical cancer in the United States, many of them young women in the prime of life. This is utterly unnecessary, for cervical cancer can be detected early with screenings and then defeated, but many women just don’t get screenings.

Likewise, the HPV vaccine prevents most cases of cervical cancer, but even now, 40 percent of adolescent girls don’t get the vaccination, along with 58 percent of boys (the vaccine protects boys from other, rarer cancers and can benefit their partners).

When nearly a dozen women die a day of something so preventable — far more than are killed by, say, terrorism — you’d think we’d be urgently trying to save lives. In some ways we have made progress: Kudos to President Obama for making HPV vaccinations and cervical cancer screenings typically free.

But we’re going backward when states close Planned Parenthood clinics that perform the screenings, without even ensuring that there are alternatives in place.

A second under-addressed area of women’s health is family planning. A slight majority of American women will have an unplanned pregnancy at some point in their lives, and surveys show that American kids have sex about as often as European kids but have babies about three times as often as Spanish kids and eight times as often as Swiss kids. That’s partly because of meager U.S. sex education, and partly because of a lack of access to contraception, particularly LARCs — long-acting reversible contraceptives, like implants and IUDs.

The Title X national family planning program provides LARCs, cancer screenings and much more, and an analysis by the Guttmacher Institute found that Title X-supported clinics prevent three women a day from dying of cervical cancer — and also prevent one million unplanned pregnancies a year and 345,000 abortions. That makes Title X one of the most successful anti-abortion programs, yet Republicans regularly try to defund it. After inflation, Title X now has less than one-third as much money as in 1980.

“Women’s health” goes beyond the pelvis, so the conversation should include domestic violence. A woman is assaulted in the United States every nine seconds, and 20,000 calls a day are placed to domestic violence hotlines. When millions of women are beaten, threatened or stalked by current or former boyfriends or husbands, what is that but a women’s health issue?

I’ll never forget hearing from women in shelters about the gut-wrenching fear for themselves and their children that they constantly face — often with little help from the authorities.

In each of these areas, we have solutions. Screenings and HPV vaccinations prevent deaths from cervical cancer. Ready access to LARCs hugely reduce unplanned pregnancies and abortions. Cracking down on domestic violence offenders, mandating treatment and taking guns from those under protection orders — all these help. But we’re not doing enough.

So let’s broaden the conversation about women’s health this political season, for the benefit of women and the men who love them.

And now here’s Ms. Collins:

And it came to pass, barely seconds after he became the near-inevitable Republican presidential nominee, that Donald Trump began a gender war.

“Frankly, if Hillary Clinton were a man, I don’t think she’d get 5 percent of the vote. The only thing she’s got going is the women’s card,” Trump said in the aftermath of his five-state primary sweep on Tuesday. “And the beautiful thing is, women don’t like her.”

Observers felt they discerned a distinct eye roll on the part of Chris Christie’s wife, Mary Pat, who was standing onstage behind the triumphant Trump. Her husband maintained his now-traditional demeanor of a partially brainwashed cult member.

People, why in the world do you think Trump went there?

A) He analyzed Clinton’s entire public career and decided her weakest point was the possibility of being the first woman president.

B) He felt his unimpeachable record on feminist issues gave him the gravitas to bring the matter up early.

C) The remarks were a self-censored version of an initial impulse to comment on her bra size.

Maybe all of the above. The man evolves.

Ted Cruz may have seen an opportunity, because he suddenly announced that Carly Fiorina would be his vice-presidential nominee. Fiorina, of course, was the candidate who Trump once made fun of for her looks. (“Can you imagine that, the face of our next president?”) It would have been quite a coup if Cruz were not coming off a quintuple-trouncing in the Tuesday primaries, as well as a failed attempt to woo Indiana sports fans in which he referred to a basketball hoop as a “ring.” The idea of being named his running mate was a little like being named second in command of the Donner Party.

Trump has actually used the “women’s card” line before, and his handlers do not seem to have made any serious attempt to dissuade him, perhaps being preoccupied with prepping him for that big foreign policy speech in which he mispronounced “Tanzania.”

Clinton loved it. “Well, if fighting for women’s health care and paid family leave and equal pay is playing the ‘woman card,’ then deal me in,” she said during her own victory speech.

Trump, in return, sniped at Clinton for “shouting.” Chatting with the hosts on “Morning Joe” post-primary, he said: “I know a lot of people would say you can’t say that about a woman, because of course a woman doesn’t shout. But the way she shouted that message was not — oh, I just — that’s the way she said it.” He also proudly announced that he was about to get an endorsement from “the great Bobby Knight,” former Indiana coach who once told an NBC interviewer that his theory on handling stress was, “I think that if rape is inevitable, relax and enjoy it.”

We would not be bringing up Bobby Knight’s checkered history today if it had not been for the gender comments. Trump is the former owner of a deeply unsuccessful football franchise. (Make the New Jersey Generals Great Again!) He is going to be endorsed by a trillion sports stars, and if we vetted all of them for sexism, we really would have no time for anything else.

But back to the woman card. “She is a woman. She’s playing the woman card left and right. … She will be called on it,” Trump told CNN. The interviewer, Chris Cuomo, reasonably asked how “you call someone on being a woman” and Trump retorted that “if she were a man and she was the way she is she would get virtually no votes.”

Do not ask yourself how many votes Donald Trump would get if he were a woman and he was the way he is. Truly, you don’t want to go there.

The bottom line on Hillary Clinton is that she’s spent her life championing women and their issues. She began her career with the Children’s Defense Fund, fought for better schools in Arkansas, for children’s health care as first lady and for reproductive rights as the senator from New York. As secretary of state she spent endless — endless — days and weeks flying to obscure corners of the planet, celebrating the accomplishments of women craftsmen, championing the causes of women labor leaders, talking with and encouraging women in government and politics.

It is true that politicians have a tendency to get carried away when it comes to hyping convenient details in their biographies. (Listening to Marco Rubio talk about being Cuban-American, you almost got the impression he had personally participated in the Bay of Pigs invasion.) But Trump is a white, male offspring of an extremely rich New Yorker of German descent. He’s had an unusual lack of charitable causes for a guy that wealthy. The problem suddenly becomes very clear.

The poor guy hasn’t got anything to talk about except real estate. He’s suffering from a severe lack of cards.

Blow and Kristof

April 21, 2016

Mr. Blow asks “What Is Sanders’s Endgame?”  He says what he has accomplished is miraculous. But having a meaningful impact does not necessarily create a sustainable movement, let alone a revolution.  Mr. Kristof, in “Obama in Saudi Arabia, Exporter of Oil and Bigotry,” says the Islamophobia festering in the U.S. is fed by extremism fostered by the Saudis.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

Hillary Clinton’s commanding victory in New York on Tuesday put yet another nail in the coffin of Bernie Sanders’s candidacy.

As The Upshot’s Nate Cohn put it:

“New York, like every contest at this stage, was a state he needed to win. The result confirms that he is on track to lose the pledged delegate race and therefore the nomination.”

At this pace, Clinton will finish this nomination cycle having won more votes, more states and more pledged delegates than Sanders. Furthermore, Clinton has also won six of the nine general election swing states that The New York Times listed in 2012.

And yet Sanders soldiers on, as is his right.

But Tuesday, Sanders’s campaign manager, Jeff Weaver, told MSNBC that if Clinton doesn’t clinch the nomination by pledged delegates alone, even if she has won the most popular votes, pledged delegates and states, Sanders will still take his fight to the convention. Sanders will “absolutely” try to turn superdelegates, who overwhelmingly support Clinton, and win the nomination that way.

First, barring something unforeseen and unimaginable, there is no way I can see that this strategy stands a gnat’s chance in hell of coming to fruition. It’s a fairy tale written in pixie dust.

But still, stop and consider what this means: The purist-of-principle, anti-establishment Sanders campaign would ask the superdelegates — the Democratic Party establishment — to overturn the will of the majority of participants in the Democrats’ nominating process.

The whole idea is outrageous coming from anyone, but coming from Sanders it seems to undermine the very virtues that make him attractive.

Power — even the proximity to it and the potential to wield it — is truly an intoxicant that blurs the vision and the lines.

Let’s back up and say this: What Sanders has accomplished is nothing short of miraculous. He has gone from a little-known senator from a little state to being a formidable opponent to Hillary Clinton, a person who Gallup called in 2014 “the best known and best liked of 16 potential 2016 presidential candidates.”

And he has done it largely by hewing to a well-worn set of principles and values that he has followed his whole life. This has buttressed his aura of authenticity, particularly among young people jaded by institutions and establishments.

But miraculous feats do not necessarily make messianic figures, and having a meaningful impact does not necessarily create a sustainable movement, let alone a revolution.

That said, Sanders has tapped into a very real populist sentiment on the left, particularly among young people, that shouldn’t be denied. And he has made space for a similar candidate in the future to be more seriously considered from the outset.

He has also shined a light on how differently young people view our democracy, compared with previous generations.

Protests, rallies, marches and, yes, even caucuses, can feel more like direct democracy, where there is no remove between the people and their power. These expressions also offer a crowd-fueled adrenaline rush. This can be particularly attractive to people who have grown up in a social media world of viral videos, where collective outrage or adoration can yield nearly instant results.

Traditional voting is just the opposite. When you vote, you are alone with your ballot, even if your polling place is packed. The vote is private, not a public display of behavior to be instantly liked, disliked or commented on. Voting makes you part of the system, the representative democracy system, on which this country was founded and still operates.

This is not to say that young people don’t vote. They do. But the energy you see at Sanders’s impressive rallies, like those he held in New York, doesn’t always translate into electoral success. There seems to be a bit of a falloff.

While Sanders was campaigning in New York as a movement candidate, Clinton was campaigning as a micro-targeted candidate, appealing individually to each important demographic and burning something into supporters’ memories that they would recall when they were alone with their ballots.

That’s how elections are won. That’s how lasting change is made. It’s not by careening from one movement to the next, spawning of-the-moment hashtags for your activism.

Still, many of these young people have put their trust and faith in Sanders, who may well be a once-in-a-generation candidate, and he and they are loath to wake from the dream of his possible election. But, sadly, every day it feels more and more like a dream, and they will inevitably have to wake up.

Sanders has to figure out how he lands this doomed plane — does he set it down easy so that everyone walks away relatively unscathed, or does he go out in a blaze of glory?

Whatever he chooses to do will say quite a bit about his allegiance to his adopted Democratic Party and about his character. At the end of the day, is his ethos greater than his ego?

And now here’s Mr. Kristof:

A college senior boarded a flight and excitedly called his family to recount a United Nations event he had attended, but, unfortunately, he was speaking Arabic. Southwest Airlines kicked him off the plane, in the sixth case reported in the United States this year in which a Muslim was ejected from a flight.

Such Islamophobia also finds expression in the political system, with Donald Trump calling for a temporary ban on Muslims entering the country (“Welcome to the U.S.A.! Now, what’s your religion?”) and Ted Cruz suggesting special patrols of Muslim neighborhoods (in New York City, by the nearly 1,000 police officers who are Muslim?). Some 50 percent of Americans support a ban and special patrols.

Such attitudes contradict our values and make us look like a bastion of intolerance. But for those of us who denounce these prejudices, it’s also important to acknowledge that there truly are dangerous strains of intolerance and extremism within the Islamic world — and for many of these, Saudi Arabia is the source.

I’m glad that President Obama is visiting Saudi Arabia, for engagement usually works better than isolation. But let’s not let diplomatic niceties keep us from pointing to the insidious role that Saudi Arabia plays in sowing instability, and, for that matter, in tarnishing the image of Islam worldwide. The truth is that Saudi leaders do far more to damage Islam than Trump or Cruz can do, and we should be as ready to denounce their bigotry as Trump’s.

Americans are abuzz about the “missing 28 pages” — unsupported leads suggesting that Saudi officials might have had a hand in the 9/11 attacks. But as far as I can tell, these tips, addressed in a still-secret section of a congressional report, were investigated and discredited; Philip Zelikow of the 9/11 Commission tells me the 28 pages are “misleading”; the commission found there was “no evidence” of the Saudi government or senior officials financing the plot.

The much better reason to be concerned with Saudi Arabia is that it has promoted extremism, hatred, misogyny and the Sunni/Shiite divide that is now playing out in a Middle East civil war. Saudi Arabia should be renamed the Kingdom of Backwardness.

It’s not just that Saudi women are barred from driving, or that when in cars they are discouraged from wearing seatbelts for fear of showing their contours, or that a 19-year-old woman who was gang-raped was sentenced to 200 lashes (after protests, the king pardoned her). It’s not just that public churches are banned, or that there is brutal repression of the Shiite minority.

As the land where Islam began, Saudi Arabia has enormous influence among Muslims worldwide. Its approach to Islam has special legitimacy, its clerics have great reach, its media spread its views worldwide and it finances madrasas in poor countries to sow hatred.

From Pakistan to Mali, these Saudi-financed madrasas have popped up and cultivate religious extremism — and, sometimes, terrorists. A State Department cable released through WikiLeaks reported that in Pakistan these extremist madrasas offered impoverished families a $6,500 bounty for turning over a son to be indoctrinated.

To be blunt, Saudi Arabia legitimizes Islamic extremism and intolerance around the world. If you want to stop bombings in Brussels or San Bernardino, then turn off the spigots of incitement from Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries.

“Saudi Arabia is not an enemy of the U.S., but it is an enemy of itself,” a Kuwaiti once told me.

A new survey finds that young Arabs in the Middle East and North Africa want to modernize, with 52 percent saying that religion plays too big a role in the Middle East. That’s true of many, many Saudis as well, and some have tried to start a desperately needed conversation about tolerance. One of them, Raif Badawi, a blogger, was arrested and sentenced to 1,000 lashes.

In the past I sometimes defended Saudi Arabia on the basis that it was at least moving in the right direction. But in the last few years it has been backtracking while also starting a brutal war in Yemen. Obama’s biggest mistake with Saudi Arabia was providing arms for that war, implicating America in what Human Rights Watch says may be war crimes.

In short, as a Saudi father named Mohammed al-Nimr says, “Saudi Arabia is now going in the wrong direction.” He should know: His brother, a prominent Shiite religious figure, was executed in January, and his son, Ali al-Nimr, has been sentenced to death for participating in protests when he was a minor.

“Americans should care, because what happens here can affect the world,” the father told me, and he cautioned that Saudi repression destabilizes the entire Middle East. He’s right.

Bill O’Reilly has denounced me as a “chief apologist” for Islam, and I’ll continue to decry what I see as Islamophobia in the West. But at the same time, let’s acknowledge that Saudi Arabia is more than our gas station; it is also a wellspring of poison in the Islamic world, and its bigotry fuels our bigotry.

Blow, Cohen, and Kristof

April 14, 2016

In “Campaigns of Ultimate Disappointment” Mr. Blow says this country wasn’t designed to facilitate change. It took centuries to arrive at its current condition and will need time to shift away from it.  Mr. Cohen is wringing his hands and weeping over “The Death of Liberalism.”  He moans that authoritarianism is ascendant and with it anti-rational bigotry. History does not end. It eddies, he says.  Mr. Kristof reminds us of the glaringly obvious in “The Real Welfare Cheats.”  He says the tax code is rigged to give America’s biggest corporations a free ride.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

I’m already completely exhausted by this presidential campaign season. The candidates seem to share that fatigue. Nerves are fraying as story lines grow stale.

There is the demagogic, megalomaniac Republican front-runner who simply appears to be winging it, just as surprised as the rest of us that he has duped enough people to position himself to have a strong chance of securing the nomination.

There is Ted Cruz, a power-hungry extremist who never learned how to play well with others, who wears other folks’ hatred of him as a badge (or many badges), and whose policies in many cases are even more strident and worrisome than those of the front-runner.

There is John Kasich, the mealy-mouthed “other option” who won only one state — his own — and whose primary pitch is that he is not the front-runner or Cruz and therefore stands the greatest chance of beating the eventual Democratic nominee.

Speaking of Democratic nominees: You have Hillary Clinton, whose greatest strength is pragmatic reality — a message that doesn’t exactly sizzle — and whose saving grace is strong support from minorities, without which her candidacy would have long ago tanked. And yet she is surrounded by people, like her husband, who seem to be working assiduously to damage that minority support. Just last week, Bill Clinton launched into an awkward, rambling defense of the 1994 crime bill and his wife’s use of the term “superpredator.” This week her supporter Bill de Blasio, New York City’s mayor, made a cringe-worthy joke (with which she happily played along!) about running on “C.P. time,” which I have always understood to be “colored-people’s time,” a corrosive stereotype of the perpetual lateness of black people.

And then there’s Bernie Sanders, the pied piper of pipe dreams, who articulates a noble set of principles but outlines unworkable and, in some cases, outlandish policies that will never see the light of day with the next Congress, which is not likely to be dissimilar from the existing Congress. The New York Daily News was brutal in its endorsement of Clinton this week: the paper’s editorial board referred to Sanders as “a fantasist who’s at passionate war with reality” who has “proved utterly unprepared for the Oval Office while confirming that the central thrusts of his campaign are politically impossible.” Ouch.

And the truth is that very little about this race has changed in the last month, though some might argue that Cruz has a gust of wind in his sails and Sanders’s string of recent victories is impressive. But what largely gives the appearance of change is that contests have been held in states that favor a particular candidate over others. This gives the impression of momentum, when in fact it is simply a function of the map.

The basic foundation of support remains relatively unchanged, and if those dynamics persist until all the contests have been completed, simple math tell us that the front-runners now will be the front-runners then.

We are just watching cars crash in slow motion.

That’s boring. There is a tremendous political media infrastructure whose job it is to make this sound like it’s still interesting, fascinating even, but it’s just not. It’s boring.

It won’t truly be interesting again, at least not for me, until we reach the potential chaos of the conventions, and after that, move into the general election, where the contrasts in visions for the future of this country will likely be as stark as they’ve ever been.

But that said, this whole political season seems to me rife with profound disappointment. Too many people are making too many big promises that they know full well they can’t deliver, but the individual voters believe that they can and the media establishment is doing far too little to disabuse voters of those notions.

Last month the president spoke at the Toner journalism prize ceremony, saying:

A job well done is about more than just handing someone a microphone. It is to probe and to question, and to dig deeper, and to demand more. The electorate would be better served if that happened. It would be better served if billions of dollars in free media came with serious accountability, especially when politicians issue unworkable plans or make promises they can’t keep.[Applause.] And there are reporters here who know they can’t keep them. I know that’s a shocking concept that politicians would do that. But without a press that asks tough questions, voters take them at their word. When people put their faith in someone who can’t possibly deliver on his or her promises, that only breeds more cynicism.

I fear that the cynicism the president describes is inevitable because this country, in its founding documents, wasn’t designed to easily facilitate change, let alone revolutionary change.

It took centuries for this country to arrive at its current condition and will take time to shift away from it.

That isn’t what people want to hear in an anti-establishment, revolutionary change cycle, but that doesn’t make it any less true.

I fear that we are going to move from the race’s current banality to an eventual, and most assured, sense of betrayal in which armies of voters see promises of radical change come crashing to earth. That to me is unfortunate and even frightening.

Next up we have Mr. Cohen:

Liberalism is dead. Or at least it is on the ropes. Triumphant a quarter-century ago, when liberal democracy appeared to have prevailed definitively over the totalitarian utopias that exacted such a toll in blood, it is now under siege from without and within.

Nationalism and authoritarianism, reinforced by technology, have come together to exercise new forms of control and manipulation over human beings whose susceptibility to greed, prejudice, ignorance, domination, subservience and fear was not, after all, swept away by the fall of the Berlin Wall.

As Communism fell, and closed societies were forced open, and an age of rapid globalization dawned, and the United States earned the moniker of “hyperpower,” it seemed reasonable to believe, as Francis Fukuyama argued in 1989, that, “The triumph of the West, of the Western idea, is evident first of all in the total exhaustion of viable systematic alternatives to Western liberalism.” Therefore, per Fukuyama, the end point of history had been reached with “the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government.”

This was a rational argument. It made sense. Hundreds of millions of people enslaved within the Soviet imperium had just been freed. They knew — everyone knew — which system worked better. The problem is that the hold of reason in human affairs is always tenuous.

Looking back at human history, the liberal democratic experiment – with its Enlightenment-derived belief in the capacity of individuals possessed of certain inalienable rights to shape their destinies in liberty through the exercise of their will — is but a brief interlude. Far more lasting have been the eras of infallible sovereignty, absolute power derived from God, domination and serfdom, and subjection to what Isaiah Berlin called “the forces of anti-rational mystical bigotry.”

Such anti-rational forces are everywhere these days — in Donald Trump’s America, in Marine Le Pen’s France, in Vladimir Putin’s Russia, throughout much of the Middle East, in North Korea. Representative government under the rule of law has proved to be insipid fare for an age that traffics in heady images of power and violence through solipsistic social media and online games.

Berlin, well before Fukuyama, identified a potential weakness of liberalism. In “The Crooked Timber of Humanity,” he wrote: “A liberal sermon which recommends machinery designed to prevent people from doing each other too much harm, giving each human group sufficient room to realize its own idiosyncratic, unique, particular ends without too much interference with the ends of others, is not a passionate battle-cry to inspire men to sacrifice and martyrdom and heroic feats.”

No, but as the framers of the U.S. Constitution knew, machinery of such liberal inspiration is the best hope to afford citizens a lasting defense against tyranny.

Liberty, however, requires certain things. Liberalism demands acceptance of our human differences and the ability to mediate them through democratic institutions. It demands acceptance of multiple, perhaps incompatible truths. In an age of declamation and shouting, of polarization and vilification, of politics-for-sale and the insidious submersion of politics in fact-lite entertainment, the emergence of Trump is as unsurprising as it is menacing.

No wonder Putin admires him. Russian authoritarianism is all about the muscular trappings of power and popular adulation cultivated through fawning media for a Czar-like figure. Berlin noted there was “some truth” to the conservative writer Joseph de Maistre’s view that “the desire to immolate oneself, to suffer, to prostrate oneself before authority, indeed before superior power, no matter whence it comes, and the desire to dominate, to exert authority, to pursue power for its own sake” are forces that are “historically at least as strong as desire for peace, prosperity, liberty, justice, happiness, equality.”

And so history does not end. It eddies back and forth.

The broad failure of the Arab Awakening — the greatest liberation movement since 1989, an attempt by Arab peoples to empower themselves — had many causes, but a central one was the absence of any liberal constituency in societies from Egypt to Libya. Even a country with a large middle class like Egypt was not ready to accept the mediation of multiple truths through democratic institutions. So power went back to the generals, and the Islamists — even the moderates among them — were condemned to prison or worse.

In Russia, and now in countries from Hungary to Poland, and in China, forms of authoritarianism are ascendant and liberalism (or even modest liberalization) are in retreat. In the Middle East, the Islamic State casts its long, digitized shadow. In Western societies beset by growing inequality (neo-liberal economics has also sapped the credentials of liberalism), political discourse, debate on college campuses and ranting on social media all reflect a new impatience with multiple truths, a new intolerance and unwillingness to make the compromises that permit liberal democracy to work.

The threat for liberal Western societies is within and without. Liberalism may be feeble as a battle cry, but nothing is more important for human dignity and decency.

Geez, Roger… Take a pill, or get a stiff drink…  Now here’s Mr. Kristof:

We often hear how damaging welfare dependency is, stifling initiative and corroding the human soul. So I worry about the way we coddle executives in their suites.

A study to be released Thursday says that for each dollar America’s 50 biggest companies paid in federal taxes between 2008 and 2014, they received $27 back in federal loans, loan guarantees and bailouts.

Goodness! What will that do to their character? Won’t that sap their initiative?

The study was compiled by Oxfam and it comes on top of a mountain of evidence from international agencies and economic journals underscoring the degree to which major companies have rigged the tax code.

O.K., O.K., I know you see the words “tax code” and your eyes desperately scan for something else to read! Anything about a sex scandal?

But hold on: The tax system is rigged against us precisely because taxation is the Least Sexy Topic on Earth. So we doze, and our pockets get picked.

John Oliver has a point when he says, “If you want to do something evil, put it inside something boring.” The beneficiaries of tax distortions are counting on you to fall asleep, but this is a topic as important as it is dry.

It’s because the issues seem arcane that corporate lobbyists get away with murder. The Oxfam report says that each $1 the biggest companies spent on lobbying was associated with $130 in tax breaks and more than $4,000 in federal loans, loan guarantees and bailouts.

And why would a humanitarian nonprofit like Oxfam spend its time poring over offshore accounts and tax dodges? “The global economic system is becoming increasingly rigged” in ways that exacerbate inequality, laments Ray Offenheiser, president of Oxfam America.

One academic study found that tax dodging by major corporations costs the U.S. Treasury up to $111 billion a year. By my math, less than one-fifth of that annually would be more than enough to pay the additional costs of full-day prekindergarten for all 4-year-olds in America ($15 billion), prevent lead poisoning in tens of thousands of children ($2 billion), provide books and parent coaching for at-risk kids across the country ($1 billion) and end family homelessness ($2 billion).

The Panama Papers should be a wake-up call, shining a light on dysfunctional tax codes around the world — but much of the problem has been staring us in the face. Among the 500 corporations in the S.&P. 500-stock index, 27 were both profitable in 2015 and paid no net income taxglobally, according to an analysis by USA Today.

Those poor companies! Think how the character of those C.E.O.s must be corroding! And imagine the plunging morale as board members realize that they are “takers” not “makers.”

American companies game the system in many ways, including shifting profits to overseas tax havens. In 2012, American companies reported more profit in low-tax Bermuda than in Japan, China, Germany and France combined, even though their employees in Bermuda account for less than one-tenth of 1 percent of their worldwide totals.

Over all, the share of corporate taxation in federal revenue has declined since 1952 from 32 percent to 11 percent. In that same period, the portion coming from payroll taxes, which hit the working poor, has climbed.

Look, the period of the Oxfam study included the auto and banking bailouts, which were good for America (and the loans were repaid); it’s also true that the official 35 percent corporate tax rate in the U.S. is too high, encouraging dodging strategies. But we have created perverse incentives: C.E.O.s have a responsibility to shareholders to make money, and tax dodging accomplishes that. This isn’t individual crookedness but an entire political/economic system that induces companies to rip off fellow citizens quite legally.

It’s now widely recognized that corporations have manipulated the tax code. The U.S. Treasury, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, theEuropean Union and professional economic journals are all trying to respond to issues of tax evasion.

Bravo to the Obama administration for cracking down on corporations that try to move abroad to get out of taxes. Congress should now pass the Stop Tax Haven Abuse Act, and it should stop slashing the I.R.S. budget (by 17 percent in real terms over the last six years).

When congressional Republicans like Ted Cruz denounce the I.R.S., they empower corporate tax cheats. Because of I.R.S. cuts, the amount of time revenue agents spend auditing large companies has fallen by 34 percent since 2010. A Syracuse University analysis finds that the lost revenue from the decline in corporate audits may be as much as $15 billion a year — enough to make full-day pre-K universal.

Meanwhile, no need to fret so much about welfare abuse in the inner city. The big problem of welfare dependency in America now involves entitled corporations. So let’s help those moochers in business suits pick themselves up and stop sponging off the government.

Kristof and Collins

April 7, 2016

In “So Little to Ask For: A Home” Mr. Kristof says President Obama’s plan to end family homelessness is a bargain.  Ms. Collins, in “The Bible Meets the Salamander,” says Tennessee has an idea for a new entry on its list of State Things.  Here’s Mr. Kristof:

One of the people I greatly admire is Khadijah Williams, a young woman who was homeless for much of her childhood.

Khadijah bounced from home to home, shelter to shelter, from the time she was 6. “I can’t count how many times I’ve been forced to move,” she recalls.

“Though school was my salvation, my test scores suffered as a result of missing so much school and having no place to study,” she adds. “I stopped trying to make friends because I was so tired of crying about losing friends.”

Ultimately, Khadijah found a home — because she won a scholarship to Harvard, enabling her to move into a dormitory. Now 25, she’s working for the city government in Washington, D.C., and one of her tasks is helping homeless kids.

But Khadijah’s trajectory is exceptional. The United States has 64,000 families who are homeless, including 123,000 children, and many will be permanently harmed by the experience. We have growing evidence that traumas like homelessness can flood a child’s brain with a stress hormone, cortisol, and impair brain development.

In a year in which there finally is serious talk about inequality, the ultimate poverty is lack of shelter. And the good news is that in the last decade or so, we’ve figured out what works to address it; the problem is not inevitable. The Housing First approach, which gets people quickly into permanent housing and then offers support services to keep them there, seems particularly cost-effective.

Family homelessness is down almost one-fifth since 2010, and veteran homelessness is down much more — two states say they have functionally ended homelessness of veterans.

Another reason for optimism: With almost no fanfare, President Obama’s budget proposal includes $11 billion over 10 years, which he says would end family and youth homelessness. This is a step to end a level of homelessness that just isn’t tolerated in other developed countries.

So if we can have a robust national debate about the way Donald Trump’s campaign manager grabbed a reporter’s arm, let’s also muster a debate about whether candidates will help end family homelessness in America. This goes to the heart of American poverty — and values.

You think addressing family homelessness sounds worthy but unaffordable? To put this Obama budget request in perspective, the average annual sum is only about 1 percent of what we were spending in Afghanistan at the peak.

I’ve been thinking about housing after reading a superb new book, “Evicted,” by Matthew Desmond, a sociologist at Harvard. Desmond lived as a researcher in impoverished sections of Milwaukee and tells of his neighbors there struggling to find places to live.

“Every year in this country, people are evicted from their homes not by the tens of thousands or even the hundreds of thousands but by the millions,” Desmond notes. About one-fourth of all moves by Milwaukee’s poorest renters were involuntary, and such moves disrupt children’s education, make it harder to hold onto jobs and damage the fabric of entire neighborhoods.

“Without stable shelter, everything else falls apart,” Desmond says.

The system is also dysfunctional. A renter who calls 911 too many times will be evicted, which puts battered women in an impossible situation: They can summon help when they are beaten or strangled, but that may land them out on the street.

Liberals who write about poverty sometimes ignore self-destructive behaviors, while conservatives sometimes see nothing else. To his credit, Desmond acknowledges that people on the edge periodically abuse drugs or squander money — he writes about one woman who devoted her entire monthly allocation of food stamps to a grand lobster dinner. But he also emphasizes that it’s not so much irresponsibility that causes poverty as the other way around.

And Desmond notes the generosity among the neediest: The woman who bought the lobster used her food stamps in a different month to buy food for a neighbor who was even more desperate.

The United States does allocate immense resources to housing. But they go mostly to benefits for homeowners, like the mortgage interest tax deduction. These benefits aren’t particularly effective: Homeownership rates are lower in the U.S. than in Canada, which doesn’t have the deduction.

In comparison to the mortgage deduction, Obama’s request to end family and youth homelessness would cost a pittance.

“Compared to the cost of so many things out there, and to the cost of inaction, this is a great deal,” Julián Castro, the secretary of housing and urban development, told me.

My friend Khadijah managed to overcome her lack of shelter as a child, but most of the 123,000 kids who are homeless won’t be so lucky.

“Housing was once the forefront of the progressive agenda,” Desmond told me, but then it fell off. Today the problem isn’t a lack of solutions, but a lack of political will and a failure to fund programs that work. So let’s ask the candidates: Will you back the president’s budget request and try to end family homelessness?

Now here’s Ms. Collins:

Amid all the truly awful things state legislatures do, one of the rare bright spots has been the naming of official symbols. Who was ever made unhappy by the designation of a state rock?

Tennessee, alas, is screwing up the record. The governor is currently trying to decide whether to sign a piece of legislation that would put the Bible on the list of State Things, alongside the salamander (amphibian), milk (beverage), honeybee (agricultural insect), raccoon (wild animal), several variations on the theme of state tree and flower, and nine — nine! — official state songs. The last of which, adopted in 2011, was “Tennessee.”

The next question you’re probably asking is why it took nine tries for Tennessee to get a song named “Tennessee,” and the answer is that it actually has two. You have to admit that’s pretty inclusive. On the other hand, picking the Christian holy book as a state symbol seems simultaneously divisive and unnecessary. Not to mention sort of disrespectful to the Bible, which doesn’t usually get included on the same list as the salamander and the smallmouth bass.

“It’s been a hard year for diversity and inclusion in Tennessee,” said Senator Lee Harris, a Memphis Democrat, in a phone interview. Harris is the Senate minority leader, which means he heads a hearty band of five out of 33 members, an all-time low for his party. Besides the Bible bill, the Legislature recently passed a new Confederate heritage measure, and on Wednesday the House approved a bill aimed at allowing counselors and therapists to deny services to gay or transgender patients. Meanwhile, one member left a DVD in her colleagues’ mailboxes titled “America’s Mosques Exposed! Video Evidence They Are War Factories.”

Feel free to blame this all on Donald Trump.

In the great scheme of things, making the Bible the state book may be the least of Tennessee’s problems. But it’s sad to see the state messing with a time-honored, cheerful tradition. For generations, middle-school civics classes have studied how a bill becomes a law by petitioning their legislature to honor the otter as state animal, or the blueberry muffin as the official … state muffin. (Here’s looking a you, Minnesota.)

Then, jovial hearings take place. Serious-minded colleagues complain that the House and Senate are wasting valuable time. This is true only if you labor under the assumption that the lawmakers would otherwise be busy reforming the contract procurement process.

Years ago, when I was covering the Connecticut state legislature, a fight between the deer and the whale forces went on for so long that the Senate went into a brief rebellion and voted to name the human being as the official state mammal. It was at that moment that I decided I wanted to spend my life covering politics.

The point of the symbol-naming has always been amity and good citizenship. But recently, the cultural wars have intruded. In 2011 Utah became the first state to pick an official state gun, an automatic pistol called the Browning M1911. (“This firearm is Utah,” said the sponsor.) Hot on its heels came Arizona and the Colt revolver, a gun that won the West or — as a few legislators noted — drove out the Native Americans.

The momentum kept gathering. Erin McCoy, the executive director of State Symbols USA, a website dedicated to — well, you know — says she misses the days when the only weapon-related designations involved retired battleships and war memorials. Now firearms may be the fastest-growing category. “I don’t enjoy doing pages for them,” she admitted.

There are now seven states with official guns, although to be fair, some are so extremely old and inefficient they really might count as historic artifacts. The exceptions include — yes! — Tennessee, which recently honored a .50-caliber rifle, the Barrett M82/M107. Critics pointed out that the designee has the power to knock down a commercial aircraft, although the debate in the State Senate seemed to suggest that might be a good thing. One supporter noted proudly that witnesses had “seen this thing go a mile and a half through a cinder block to take out its target.”

The lone senator to speak against the bill, Jeff Yarbro of Nashville, complimented the weapon maker, a local boy, on his ingenuity. But, he added, when “our elementary school kids are going through looking at the mockingbird, the raccoon, the purple iris, I’m not sure that the Barrett sniper rifle is a necessary addition.“

This is not what symbols were made for. Skip the guns and save the state dance. Books seem to be dicey territory, although we can all rally around Massachusetts’ choice of “Make Way for Ducklings.”

The next time your state legislators try to stick religious preference into the designations, tell them everybody would be much happier with another rock, legume or fossil. Or they could follow Utah in one of its happier days, and pick an official state cooking pot. Nobody was ever made unhappy by a nod to the Dutch oven.

Blow, Kristof, and Collins

March 31, 2016

Mr. Blow says that “‘Bernie or Bust’ Is Bonkers,” and that elections are not always between a dream candidate and a dreaded one. Sometimes they’re between common sense and catastrophe.  Mr. Kristof considers “Trump and Abortion” and comes to the conclusion that he’s poorly informed even on his own position.  In “The Republican Gun-Free Zone” Ms. Collins says if you want to be safe from being shot by a well-armed Donald Trump or Ted Cruz, go to the G.O.P.’s convention.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

Bernie Sanders’s surrogate Susan Sarandon went on MSNBC’s “All in With Chris Hayes” earlier this week and said something that made folks’ jaws drop.

When Hayes asked Sarandon whether Sanders’s supporters would vote for Hillary Clinton if Clinton won the Democratic nomination, this exchange followed:

SARANDON: I think Bernie probably would encourage people because he doesn’t have any ego. I think a lot of people are, sorry, I can’t bring myself to do that.

HAYES: How about you personally?

SARANDON: I don’t know. I’m going to see what happens.

HAYES: Really?

SARANDON: Really.

HAYES: I cannot believe as you’re watching the, if Donald Trump…

SARANDON: Some people feel Donald Trump will bring the revolution immediately if he gets in then things will really, you know, explode.

HAYES: You’re saying the Leninist model of…

SARANDON: Some people feel that.

(I don’t generally use the Republican front-runner’s name in my columns, but I must present the quote as transcribed. Sorry.)

What was Sarandon talking about with her coy language? “Bring the revolution”? Exactly what kind of revolution? “Explode”? Was the purpose to present this as a difficult but ultimately positive development?

The comments smacked of petulance and privilege.

No member of an American minority group — whether ethnic, racial, queer-identified, immigrant, refugee or poor — would (or should) assume the luxury of uttering such a imbecilic phrase, filled with lust for doom.

But I don’t doubt that she has met “some people” with a Bernie-or-bust, scorched-earth electoral portentousness. As The Wall Street Journal reported earlier this month, “A new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll indicates one third of Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders’ supporters cannot see themselves voting for Hillary Clinton in November.”

Be absolutely clear: While there are meaningful differences between Clinton and Sanders, either would be a far better choice for president than any of the remaining Republican contenders, especially the demagogic real estate developer. Assisting or allowing his ascendance by electoral abstinence in order to force a “revolution” is heretical.

This position is dangerous, shortsighted and self-immolating.

If Sanders wins the nomination, liberals should rally round him. Conversely, if Clinton does, they should rally round her.

This is not a game. The presidency, particularly the next one, matters, and elections can be decided by relatively small margins. No president has won the popular vote by more than 10 percentage points since Ronald Reagan in 1984.

When Al Gore ran against George W. Bush in 2000, some claimed that a vote for Gore was almost the same as a vote for Bush and encouraged people to cast protest votes for Ralph Nader. Sarandon supported Nader during that election. Bush became president, and what did we get? Two incredibly young, incredibly conservative justices, John G. Roberts Jr. and Samuel A. Alito Jr., who will be on the court for decades, and two wars — in Afghanistan and Iraq — that, together, lasted over a decade.

In addition to setting the tone and direction of the country, the president has some constitutional duties that are profound and consequential. They include being commander in chief, making treaties and appointing judges, including, most importantly, justices to the Supreme Court. Bush demonstrated the consequences of that.

The real estate developer is now talking carelessly about promoting nuclear proliferation and torture (then there’s Ted Cruz’s talk of carpet bombing and glowing sand).

And, there is a vacancy on the Supreme Court. Not only that, but as of Tuesday, there were also 84 federal judiciary vacancies with 49 pending nominees.

The question of who makes those appointments matters immensely.

As Jeffrey Toobin pointed out in The New Yorker in 2014:

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

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

“Sheldon Goldman, a professor at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and a scholar of judicial appointments, said, ‘The majority of Obama’s appointments are women and nonwhite males.’ Forty-two percent of his judgeships have gone to women. Twenty-two percent of George W. Bush’s judges and 29 percent of Bill Clinton’s were women. Thirty-six percent of President Obama’s judges have been minorities, compared with 18 percent for Bush and 24 percent for Clinton.”

And beyond war and courts, there is the issue of inclusion.

Take Obama’s legacy on gay rights. He signed the bill repealing “don’t ask, don’t tell.” And in 2012, Obama became the first sitting president to support same-sex marriage. Last year, Obama became the first president to say “lesbian,” “transgender” and “bisexual” in a State of the Union speech.

Of more substance, according to the Gay & Lesbian Victory Institute:

“To date, the Obama-Biden Administration has appointed more than 250 openly LGBT professionals to full-time and advisory positions in the executive branch; more than all known LGBT appointments of other presidential administrations combined.”

There is no reason to believe that this level of acceptance would continue under the real estate developer’s administration. In fact, the Huffington Post Queer Voices editor at large Michelangelo Signorile wrote an article in February titled, “No, LGBT People Aren’t Exempt from Donald Trump’s Blatant Bigotry,” responding to a trending idea that the Republican front-runner wasn’t as bad for queer people as other Republican candidates:

“It’s absolutely false — he’s as extreme as Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, and will do nothing for LGBT rights — and it’s time to disabuse the media and everyone else of this notion once and for all.”

Then there are all the other promises — threats? — the real estate developer has made. He has said he would deport all undocumented immigrants, build a border wall between the United States and Mexico, end birthright citizenship, dismantle Obamacare and replace it with something “terrific” (whatever that means), defund Planned Parenthood and temporarily ban most foreign Muslims from coming to this country, among other things.

There is no true equivalency between either of the Democratic candidates and this man, and anyone who make such a claim is engaging in a repugnant, dishonorable scare tactic not worth our respect.

It is unfortunate for Sanders, who seems infinitely sober and sensible, that some of his surrogates and supporters present themselves as absolutist and doctrinaire. As Sanders himself has said, “on her worst day, Hillary Clinton will be an infinitely better candidate and president than the Republican candidate on his best day.”

The New York Times Upshot even pointed out last May that Sanders and Clinton “voted the same way 93 percent of the time in the two years they shared in the Senate” and in many of the cases in which Clinton voted differently from Sanders, “she voted with an overwhelming majority of her colleagues, including Republicans.”

That doesn’t mean that those differing votes weren’t significant. They were. As the Upshot put it, the 31 times they disagreed “happened to be” on some of “the biggest issues of the day, including measures on continuing the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, an immigration reform bill and bank bailouts during the depths of the Great Recession.”

And yet those differences hardly bring either candidate anywhere close to being as frightening as the specter of the real estate developer assuming the office of president of the United States.

Elections are about choices, not always between a dream candidate and a dreaded one, but sometimes between common sense and catastrophe. Progressives had better remember this come November, no matter who the Democratic nominee is.

Amen.  Now here’s Mr. Kristof:

Just when you thought Donald Trump couldn’t say anything more shocking, he suggested that women who get abortions should be punished.

On MSNBC, he said abortion must be banned and then “there has to be some form of punishment” for women who manage to get abortions.

He declined to say what the punishment should be, dodging a question about whether it should be “10 years” in prison or something milder. But his comment raised the possibility of following the lead of countries like El Salvador, where women can be dragged off from a hospital to prison for getting an abortion. Indeed, rights groups say that women were wrongly imprisoned in El Salvador simply for having miscarriages.

Trump doesn’t seem to have thought deeply about the issue — what a surprise! — and he departed from the mainstream anti-abortion position of targeting not women but abortion providers. As one person said on Twitter: “He’s a walking cartoon parody of every leftist accusation against Republicans.”

After the TV interview was over and the backlash had begun, Trump tried to back off his comment, saying in a statement, “The doctor or any other person performing this illegal act upon a woman would be held legally responsible, not the woman.”

Who knows where that leaves us!

One lesson is that Trump is an uninformed opportunist, but the episode does highlight two basic problems for the anti-abortion movement.

First, as long as the focus is on the fetus or on the claim of “protecting women,” many in the public are sympathetic to the anti-abortion view. The moment the focus shifts to criminalizing women, sympathy shifts.

Anti-abortion activists have generally taken a savvy approach over the years by concentrating on extreme situations — such as late-term so-called partial-birth abortions — and on legislating obstacles that in practice reduce access: Of the 1,074 state restrictions on abortion put in place after Roe v. Wade in 1973, more than one-quarter were enacted since 2010, according to the Guttmacher Institute.

Many Americans are ambivalent on abortion. But Trump has now turned the attention back from the fetus to the woman. And remember that three in 10 American women get an abortion at some point in their lives.

Second, the data suggests that one of the most effective ways to reduce the number of abortions would be to increase the availability of publicly funded family planning. In 2013, publicly funded family planning prevented two million unintended pregnancies, including almost 700,000 abortions, according to the Guttmacher Institute.

Yet Republicans try to defund Title X, the traditional family planning program in the United States. After inflation, its funding level is less than one-third what it was in 1980.

In truth, Trump’s stance — whatever it is — would matter only if a more conservative Supreme Court revisited Roe v. Wade and some states were allowed to ban abortion altogether.

Moreover, medical abortion, achieved by taking two kinds of pills, is gaining ground on surgical abortion and is much more difficult to stop. In particular, one of the pills, misoprostol, is very cheap, has other uses and is at least 80 percent effective on its own in inducing an abortion early in pregnancy. The upshot is that early abortions will be increasingly difficult to prevent.

Trump’s comments about punishing women are worth pondering because they reflect the logical conclusion of equating a fetus with any other human being.

This penalizing approach has been tried before and failed. A dozen years ago, I went to Portugal to cover such an effort. The police staked out women’s health clinics, looking to arrest women who appeared likely to have just had abortions based on being pale or seeming upset. Some 48 women and a 16-year-old girl were prosecuted, along with accomplices such as husbands, boyfriends, parents and even a taxi driver who drove a woman to a clinic.

The women were humiliated on trial, their most intimate gynecological history revealed to the public. And the public was revolted. The women were all acquitted, and the public turned decisively in favor of abortion rights, by a majority of 79 percent to 14 percent.

“Forbidding abortion doesn’t save anyone or anything,” Sonia Fertuzinhos, a member of the Portuguese Parliament, told me at the time. “It just gets women arrested and humiliated in the public arena.”

The episode left many Portuguese both anti-abortion and pro-choice. They were distressed by abortion, especially late in pregnancies, but they were aghast at the idea of prosecuting young women for making wrenching personal choices. I think many Americans feel the same way.

So maybe Trump, in his flip-flopping wavering about women’s issues, can at least remind us of a larger truth. Whatever one thinks of abortion, criminalizing it would be worse.

Let’s all consider that if men had babies abortion would be a sacrament.  And now here’s Ms. Collins:

Latest in the long, long line of Controversies We Weren’t Really Expecting: the right to bear arms at the Republican National Convention.

A petition calling on the Republicans to allow people to carry their pistols when they assemble this July collected more than 50,000 signatures rather speedily this week. The Secret Service instantly turned thumbs down. The presidential candidates, who are normally so rapturous about all things gun-related, refused to get involved.

The author of the petition later told CBS that he was just trying to point out that Republicans’ enthusiasm for weaponry does not necessarily extend to large, potentially rancorous gatherings at which they are personally present. This gives us an excellent opportunity to talk about guns and politics.

There was a time when Americans seemed O.K. with a middle-of-the-road approach to guns. The public tended to regard them as things you used for hunting or household defense, and favored laws that regulated them accordingly. But no more. The National Rifle Association is beginning to run out of places to demand that people be allowed to bring their pistols, having already thrown down the gauntlet on bars, kindergartens, airports and college campuses.

The theory is that once everybody is armed 24/7, no matter what bad thing occurs, there will always be good guys on hand to shoot the evildoer. In the real world very few people — including police officers — are skilled enough to aim accurately during a scary emergency. But if you want to win the Republican presidential nomination, it’s important to pretend otherwise. After the terrorist mass murders in France, Donald Trump argued that if only Parisian concertgoers had been packing heat, the outcome would have been much different.

“You know what? If I’m in that room and let’s say we have two or five or 40 people with guns, we’re going to do a lot better because there’s going to be a shootout,” he said.

Two important points here: Even in the confines of Second Amendment aficionados, you don’t normally hear the term “we’re going to do a lot better because there’s going to be a shootout.” Plus, note the suggestion that people would be safer with an armed Donald Trump in the building.

Trump does not appear to know anything much about firearms. Do you remember back in January, when he boasted that he “could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters”? No one took him literally, possibly because no one believed that Trump could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and actually hit anything. While he says he owns a gun, when asked if he ever uses it, he replied, “none of your business.” Mainly, he brags that his sons are crack hunters, and you can see the proof of that if you Google Donald Trump Jr. and “dead elephant tail.”

Do you think Hillary Clinton could beat Trump at a firing range? Clinton actually meets the basic political standard for marksmanship, which involves being in possession of one anecdote about having gone hunting and shot a bird. Hers goes back to her days in Arkansas when she was with a group of friends who didn’t believe she knew how to handle a gun, then watched as she downed a duck on the first try. The dead-fowl tradition is sort of silly, but it does hark back to the good old days when people thought about shooting in terms of sport and scaring off burglars.

Clinton has been talking a lot about gun regulation lately, because it’s one of the very few issues on which she can attack Bernie Sanders from the left. Sanders, who appears to have no personal interest in guns whatsoever, has been historically weak when it comes to voting on things like background checks. Their debate would be much more useful if it carried on into the general election. But it won’t. The sad truth is that Democrats don’t believe gun control is a winning issue. And the Republicans are so completely in bed with the N.R.A., the mattress is buckling.

The one candidate in this year’s race who actually has some skill as a marksman is Ted Cruz. He shot two pheasants while campaigning in Iowa, which is perfectly reasonable. He also carried out the tradition that calls for ambitious right-wing politicians to put on camouflage and face paint and go hunting with someone from “Duck Dynasty,” which is really embarrassing.

But if you want to know where Cruz stands on a reasoned approach to handling weapons, I suggest you take a look at the video in which he demonstrates how to cook bacon by wrapping it around the barrel of an assault rifle. (“Mmmm, machine gun bacon.”) The mantra is pretty straightforward. Nobody wants to think about armed convention delegates. But otherwise guns belong everywhere. Tomorrow morning, brew the coffee and shoot the breakfast.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 172 other followers