Archive for the ‘Kristof’ Category

Blow, Kristof and Collins

February 11, 2016

In “Stop Bernie-Splaining to Black Folks” Mr. Blow says history and experience have burned into the black American psyche a functional pragmatism whose existence doesn’t depend on others’ approval.  Mr. Kristof states the blindingly obvious in “The G.O.P. Created Donald Trump,” where he says the Republican establishment has itself to blame for a front-runner it loathes.  Ms. Collins considers “Hillary, Bernie and History” and concludes that Democratic women are voting their ages in the nominating contests.  Well, Gail, not this 70 year old.  I’m voting for Bernie.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

Now that Iowa and New Hampshire are vanishing in the rearview mirror, the Democratic contests shift more West and South — beginning with Nevada and South Carolina, states that have significantly more Hispanic or black voters, respectively, who at this point disproportionately favor Hillary Clinton to Bernie Sanders.

This support for Clinton, particular among African-American voters, is for some perplexing and for others irritating.

I cannot tell you the number of people who have commented to me on social media that they don’t understand this support. “Don’t black folks understand that Bernie best represents their interests?” the argument generally goes. But from there, it can lead to a comparison between Sanders and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.; to an assertion that Sanders is the Barack Obama that we really wanted and needed; to an exasperated “black people are voting against their interests” stance.

If only black people knew more, understood better, where the candidates stood — now and over their lifetimes — they would make a better choice, the right choice. The level of condescension in these comments is staggering.

Sanders is a solid candidate and his integrity and earnestness are admirable, but that can get lost in the noise of advocacy.

Tucked among all this Bernie-splaining by some supporters, it appears to me, is a not-so-subtle, not-so-innocuous savior syndrome and paternalistic patronage that I find so grossly offensive that it boggles the mind that such language should emanate from the mouths — or keyboards — of supposed progressives.

But then I am reminded that the idea that black folks are infantile and must be told what to do and what to think is not confined by ideological barriers. The ideological difference is that one side prefers punishment and the other pity, and neither is a thing in which most black folks delight.

It is not so much that black voters love Clinton and loathe Sanders. Indeed, in The Nation magazine, the estimable Michelle Alexander makes a strong case in an essay titled “Why Hillary Clinton Doesn’t Deserve the Black Vote.” For many there isn’t much passion for either candidate. Instead, black folks are trying to keep their feet planted in reality and choose from among politicians who have historically promised much and delivered little. It is often a choice between the devil you know and the one you don’t, or more precisely, among the friend who betrays you, the stranger who entices you and the enemy who seeks to destroy you.

It is not black folks who need to come to a new understanding, but those whose privileged gaze prevents them from seeing that black thought and consciousness is informed by a bitter history, a mountain of disappointment and an ocean of tears.

There is a passage by James Baldwin in his essay “Journey to Atlanta” that I believe explains some of the apprehension about Sanders’s grand plans in a way that I could never equal, and although it is long, I’m going to quote it here in full.

Of all Americans, Negroes distrust politicians most, or, more accurately, they have been best trained to expect nothing from them; more than other Americans, they are always aware of the enormous gap between election promises and their daily lives. It is true that the promises excite them, but this is not because they are taken as proof of good intentions. They are the proof of something more concrete than intentions: that the Negro situation is not static, that changes have occurred, and are occurring and will occur — this, in spite of the daily, dead-end monotony. It is this daily, dead-end monotony, though, as well as the wise desire not to be betrayed by too much hoping, which causes them to look on politicians with such an extraordinarily disenchanted eye.

This fatalistic indifference is something that drives the optimistic American liberal quite mad; he is prone, in his more exasperated moments, to refer to Negroes as political children, an appellation not entirely just. Negro liberals, being consulted, assure us that this is something that will disappear with “education,” a vast, all-purpose term, conjuring up visions of sunlit housing projects, stacks of copybooks and a race of well-soaped, dark-skinned people who never slur their R’s. Actually, this is not so much political irresponsibility as the product of experience, experience which no amount of education can quite efface.

Baldwin continues:

“Our people” have functioned in this country for nearly a century as political weapons, the trump card up the enemies’ sleeve; anything promised Negroes at election time is also a threat leveled at the opposition; in the struggle for mastery the Negro is the pawn.

Even black folks who don’t explicitly articulate this intuitively understand it.

History and experience have burned into the black American psyche a sort of functional pragmatism that will be hard to erase. It is a coping mechanism, a survival mechanism, and its existence doesn’t depend on others’ understanding or approval.

However, that pragmatism could work against the idealism of a candidate like Sanders.

Black folks don’t want to be “betrayed by too much hoping,” and Sanders’s proposals, as good as they sound, can also sound too good to be true. There is a whiff of fancifulness.

For instance, Sanders says that his agenda will require a Congress-flipping political revolution of like-minded voters, but so far, that revolution has yet to materialize. Just asin Iowa, in New Hampshire there were more voters — or caucusgoers — making choices in the Republican contest than in the Democratic one. That, so far, sounds more like a Republican revolution. If that trend holds for the rest of the primary season and into the general election, not only would Democrats not be likely pick up congressional seats, they could lose more of them.

That’s a stubborn fact emerging — a reality — and it is one that all voters, including black ones, shouldn’t be simply told to discount.

This is not to say that Clinton or Sanders is the better choice for Democrats this season, but simply that the way some of Sanders’s supporters have talked down to black voters does him a disservice, and makes clear their insensitivity to the cultural and experiential political knowledge that has accrued to the black electorate.

Next up we have Mr. Kristof:

The betting markets now say that the most likely Republican nominee for president is a man who mocks women, insults Latinos, endorses war crimes like torture, denounces party icons and favors barring people from the United States based on their religion.

He’s less a true-believer conservative than an opportunist, though, for he has supported single-payer health insurance, abortion rights and tighter gun measures. Lindsey Graham says he’s “crazy,” Jeb Bush says he would be worse than President Obama, and the conservative National Review warned that he is a “menace to American conservatism.”

It’s Donald Trump, of course. He’s smarter than critics believe — he understood the political mood better than we pundits did — but I can’t think of any national politician I’ve met over the decades who was so ill informed on the issues, or so evasive, or who so elegantly and dangerously melded bombast and vapidity.

So how did we get to this stage where the leading Republican candidate is loathed by the Republican establishment?

In part, I think, Republican leaders brought this on themselves. Over the decades they pried open a Pandora’s box, a toxic politics of fear and resentment, sometimes brewed with a tinge of racial animus, and they could never satisfy the unrealistic expectations that they nurtured among supporters.

Perhaps it started in 1968 with Nixon’s “Southern strategy,” recruiting white segregationists infuriated by the civil rights movement. It then expanded to encompass immigration and the three G’s — God, guns and gays.

Of course, Democrats also sometimes campaigned outrageously, and some Republicans scorned the politics of hate. There was a marvelous scene in 2008 when John McCain was running against Obama, and a woman at a McCain rally suggested that Obama was an Arab who couldn’t be trusted. McCain corrected her and then praised his rival: “No, ma’am. He’s a decent family man, a citizen, that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues.”

Political nastiness and conspiracy theories were amplified by right-wing talk radio, television and websites — and, yes, there are left-wing versions as well, but they are much less influential. Democrats often felt disadvantaged by the rise of Rush Limbaugh and Fox News, but in retrospect Limbaugh and Fox created a conservative echo chamber that hurt the Republican Party by tugging it to the right and sometimes breeding a myopic extremism in which reality is irrelevant.

A poll released in September found that Republicans were more likely to think that Obama was born abroad than that Ted Cruz was. That poll found that Trump supporters believed by nearly a three-to-one ratio that Obama was born overseas.

The Republican establishment profited from the insinuations that Obama is a Muslim, that he’s anti-American, that his health care plan would lead to “death panels.” Rick Perry has described Trump as a “cancer on conservatism” and said his movement is “a toxic mix of demagoguery and meanspiritedness and nonsense that will lead the Republican Party to perdition” — indeed, but it was a mix that too many Republican leaders accepted as long as it worked for them.

This echo chamber deluded its believers to the point that it sometimes apparently killed them. During the 2009-10 flu pandemic, right-wing broadcasters like Limbaugh and Glenn Beck denounced the call for flu shots, apparently seeing it as a nefarious Obama plot.

The upshot was that Democrats were 50 percent more likely than Republicans to say that they would get flu shots, according to a peer-reviewed article in The Journal of Health Politics, Policy and Law. So when the pandemic killed up to 18,000 Americans, they presumably were disproportionately conservatives.

The Republican strategy also nurtured expectations at the grass roots that could never be met. “The Republican Party created Donald Trump,” said Erick Erickson, the conservative radio host, “because they made a lot of promises to their base and never kept them.”

This is a theme of a smart new book by E.J. Dionne Jr., “Why the Right Went Wrong,” who argues that Republican leaders repeatedly made unrealistic pledges — of smaller government, preservation of bygone values and an end to demographic change. “The history of contemporary American conservatism is a story of disappointment and betrayal,” he writes, and that helps explain the disenchantment with the Republican establishment.

Maybe Trump’s campaign will fall apart, but he has a huge lead in the polls in the South Carolina primary coming up, and he has already done enormous damage to the G.O.P. establishment.

So today the leading candidate for president in the party of Lincoln is an ill-informed, inexperienced, bigoted, sexist xenophobe. And he’s not a conservative at heart, just a pandering opportunist.

Donald Trump is the consequence of irresponsible politicking by Republican leaders, the culmination of decades of cultivating unrealistic expectations within the politics of resentment. It’s good to see leading Republicans standing up to him today, but the situation recalls the Chinese saying, qi hu nan xia — when you’re riding a tiger, the hard part is getting off.

And now here’s Ms. Collins:

It’s a sad time for Hillary Clinton’s fans. Well, I guess that’s obvious, since she got clobbered in New Hampshire. But it’s the way she went down that was particularly painful. Bernie Sanders got more than half the women’s vote, mainly because younger women raced off to his corner in droves.

That triggered a generational cross-fire. “I’m frustrated and outraged by being constantly attacked by older feminists for my refusal to vote according to my gender,” a college sophomore told CNN.

Women tend to vote for candidates who support a strong social safety net, which is not exactly a problem in the current Democratic race. Historically, they’ve been less likely to show a particular preference for other women. I’ve always generalized that they won’t vote for men who yell. However, it appears that is totally inaccurate when the man in question is shouting, “Medicare for all!”

Still, the idea of a woman as president is a very important marker for people who grew up in a time when medical schools had tiny quotas for female students, newspapers had “help wanted” ads that divided everything by sex and half the population could get credit only in their husband’s or father’s name. Younger women don’t seem to share that yearning, and there are wounded feelings on both sides.

This is hardly the first time progressive women have had a generational conflict. Once women won the right to vote, the older suffragists wanted to keep battling for equal rights, while many of their juniors felt they had other things to do. “‘Feminism’ has become a term of opprobrium to the modern young woman,” wrote Dorothy Dunbar Bromley in a famous 1927 essay that suggested militants of the old school had a demoralizing tendency to wear unflattering shoes.

In the modern era, whenever cross-generational sniping occurred, younger women always had a champion in Gloria Steinem. “Their activism is fantastic,” she told me in a post-New Hampshire phone interview. Steinem, a Clinton supporter, was drawn into the fray when, during a TV appearance, she seemed to be suggesting that younger women were supporting Sanders because they wanted to meet boys. She says she misspoke, that she was talking about issues of power, not sex: “The person who’s being written about is not me.” Garbling a message is something that can definitely happen on the umpteenth leg of a book tour, and if anybody has earned the right to be taken at her word, it’s Steinem.

It’s easy to see why Sanders is attracting the youth vote. His events are electric. When he demands free tuition at public colleges and universities, the audience is practically orating with him, calling out their student loans (“Over 200,000, Columbia University graduate school!”). When he goes into his Medicare-for-all health care system, they shout their insurance deductibles (“5,000 … for a single person!”).

On the other hand, he hasn’t grown much as a candidate. All politicians tend to give the same stump speech over and over, but Sanders is practically in the Marco Rubio category when it comes to repetition. Clinton is nowhere near Sanders’s class as an orator, but there can be something compelling in her willingness to just dig in and trust the audience to follow.

Listening to Sanders wow a crowd in New Hampshire, I remembered a 2007 speech Clinton made in her first New Hampshire primary campaign. She called for an end to a tax loophole known as “carried interest” that’s beloved by hedge fund managers. Clinton wasn’t the first candidate on that particular bus, but what struck me was the time she took to explain how the system worked and how she was going to change it. She was totally fearless when it came to risking boredom in pursuit of an issue.

Strong as the emotions are in the Clinton and Sanders camps, both sides have to feel sort of chipper when they look over at the Republicans, who are engaged in something between professional wrestling and Godzilla Versus Rodan.

Plus, that generational divide has a positive side. The women who grew up in Clinton’s time thought of a female president as a distant, glorious achievement, like going to the moon. Then the moon landing happened, but they still couldn’t get a car loan in their own names.

It took almost 40 more years before a woman won a major presidential primary. That was, of course, Clinton in 2008 in New Hampshire. She didn’t win the election, but she was so credible, and finished so strong, that the nation came away believing a woman in the White House was a completely normal idea.

If the younger voters who are flocking to Bernie Sanders don’t share their elders’ intense feelings about needing to elect a woman president right now, it’s partly because Hillary Clinton helped create a different world. So no matter what comes next, everybody’s a winner.

Blow, Kristof and Collins

February 4, 2016

In “White America’s ‘Broken Heart'” Mr. Blow says the urgency of inequality as an issue is really about how some white Americans are now experiencing what many minorities here have long experienced.  Mr. Kristof has fallen into lock step with the Times and is asking Bernie Sanders questions nobody asks Clinton.  In “2 Questions for Bernie Sanders” he says an  admirer could use some reassurance.  Well, Nick, why don’t you ask for the same “reassurance” from Hillary?  (Who, by the way, isn’t all that much younger than Bernie despite what you imply.  And he seems to have more energy.)  Ms. Collins, in “And Now, the Marco Memo,” says he’s still giving much the same speech but not the same stances.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

On Sunday, at the Corinthian Baptist Church in Des Moines, former President Bill Clinton, looking frail and sounding faint, stumped for his wife, working through her qualifications with a husband’s devotion and a Svengali’s facility.

But one thing he said stood out to me for its clear rhetorical framing.

He attributed much of the anger that’s present in the electorate to anxiety over a changing demographic profile of the country, but then said: We are going to share the future. The only question is: What will be the terms of the sharing?

This idea of negotiating the terms of sharing the future is an expansive one, on both ends of the ideological spectrum, but it also seems to me to be an internal debate white America is having with itself.

Much of the energy on both the left and the right this cycle is coming from white Americans who are rejecting the direction of America and its institutions. There is a profound disappointment. On one hand, it’s about fear of dislocation of supremacy, and the surrendering of power and the security it provides. On the other hand, it’s about disillusionment that the game is rigged and the turf is tilted. It is about defining who created this country’s bounty and who has most benefited from it.

White America is wrestling with itself, torn between two increasingly distant visions and philosophies, trying to figure out if the country should retreat from its present course or be remade.

The results from the Iowa caucuses revealed that Republican caucusgoers gave roughly even support to the top three finishers — Ted Cruz, a much-loathed anti-institutional who has shown a pyromaniac’s predilection for wanting to torch Washington rather than make it work; the real estate developer spouting nativist and even fascist policies with the fervor of a prosperity preacher; and Marco Rubio, a too-slick-to-be-trusted stripling who oozes ambition with every obviously rehearsed response.

On the left, the white vote was nearly evenly split in Iowa between Hillary Clinton, a pragmatist who believes that the system can be fixed, and Bernie Sanders, a revolutionary who believes that system must be dismantled. At least on the Democratic side, age, income and liberalism seemed to be the fault lines — older, wealthier, more moderate people preferred Clinton and younger, less wealthy and “very liberal” people preferred Sanders.

Clinton won the support of nonwhites in Iowa 58 percent to Sanders’s 34 percent. This gap also exists — and has remained stubbornly persistent — in national polls, and in some polls is even wider. For instance, according to a January Monmouth University Poll, nationwide black and Latino support for Clinton was 71 percent as opposed to 21 percent for Sanders. At this point, this is a settled issue for nonwhite voters, and those voters are likely to be Democratic primary king- or queen-makers.

During Bill Clinton’s speech on Sunday, he brought up the recent reportabout the rising death rate among some white people in America.

As Gina Kolata reported in November in The New York Times:

“Something startling is happening to middle-aged white Americans. Unlike every other age group, unlike every other racial and ethnic group, unlike their counterparts in other rich countries, death rates in this group have been rising, not falling.”

He rattled off the reasons for this rise — suicide, alcoholism and drug overdoses — and then concluded that these white Americans were dying of “a broken heart.”

It was, again, an interesting framing: that these people dying of sadness and vice were simply the leading edge of a tragic, morbid expression of a disappointment and fear shadowing much of white America.

America has a gauzy, romanticized version of its history that is largely fiction. According to that mythology, America rose to greatness by sheer ruggedness, ingenuity and hard work. It ignores or sidelines the tremendous human suffering of African slaves that fueled that financial growth, and the blood spilled and dubious treaties signed with Native Americans that fueled its geographic growth. It ignores that the prosperity of some Americans always hinged on the oppression of other Americans.

Much of America’s past is the story of white people benefiting from a system that white people designed and maintained, which increased their chances of success as it suppressed those same chances in other groups. Those systems persist to this day in some disturbing ways, but the current, vociferous naming and challenging of those systems, the placing of the lamp of truth near the seesaw of privilege and oppression, has provoked a profound sense of discomfort and even anger.

In Sanders’s speech following the Iowa caucuses, he veered from his position that this country “in many ways was created” on “racist principles,” and instead said: “What the American people understand is this country was based and is based on fairness.” Nonwhite people in this country understand that as a matter of history and heritage this simply isn’t true, but it is a hallowed ideal for white America and one that centers the America ethos.

Indeed, the current urgency about inequality as an issue is really about how some white Americans are coming to live an experience that many minorities in this country have long lived — structural inequity has leapt the racial barrier — and that the legacy to which they fully assumed they were heirs is increasingly beyond their grasp.

Inequality has been a feature of the African-American condition in this country since the first black feet touched this ground.

Last month, the MSNBC anchor Chris Hayes tweeted: “This campaign is starting to feel more and more like a long, national nervous breakdown.” For white America, I believe this is true.

Next up we have Mr. Kristof, who’s starting to annoy me:

When Bernie Sanders won election as mayor of Burlington, Vt., in 1981, I called his office to see if there was a story there about a socialist elected official. I was interning at The Washington Post (I didn’t mention the intern part!) and spoke at length to some assistant who answered the phone in the mayor’s office.

I asked about Sanders’s plans, and the aide kept answering with “we” — which I thought a nice glimpse of contagious office socialism. After half an hour, I had enough to check with my editor, so I asked the aide’s name. “Oh,” he said a bit sheepishly, “actually, I’m Bernie Sanders.”

Sanders’s lack of political airs has helped catapult him forward in the presidential race, overcoming a 50-point deficit to just about tie Hillary Clinton in Iowa. He comes across as winningly uncalculated: Other candidates kiss babies; Sanders seems to fumble for a baby’s “off” switch so he can tell you more about inequality in America. Most politicos sweet-talk voters; he bellows at them.

I admire Sanders’s passion, his relentless focus on inequality and his consistency. When he was sworn in as mayor of Burlington, he declared: “The rich are getting richer, the poor are getting poorer and the millions of families in the middle are gradually sliding out of the middle class and into poverty.” That has remained his mantra across 35 years. And yet, I still have two fundamental questions for Sanders:

Can you translate your bold vision into reality?

On that, frankly, I’m skeptical. I’m for Medicare for All, but it won’t happen. And if it did, the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, a bipartisan group, found that Sanders’s sums come up short by $3 trillion over a decade.

Likewise, Sanders says he would prod America’s allies in the Middle East to lead the charge to defeat the Islamic State. Yes, but how? The United States has already been trying unsuccessfully to get these allies to do more against ISIS. What new leverage does he bring?

The Washington Post last month published a scathing editorial headlined “Bernie Sanders’s Fiction-Filled Campaign.” It derided his “fantastical claims” and added: “Sanders is not a brave truth-teller. He is a politician selling his own brand of fiction.”

I think that’s too harsh, for Sanders panders less than other politicians (a very low bar), and he has often staked out lonely positions that turned out to be correct—such as his opposition to the Iraq war. But there remains this open question of how he could achieve his ambitious agenda.

I also wonder if his age may be relevant here: Sanders would be 75 when he took office, by far the oldest person to become president (Reagan was 69; Clinton would be a slightly younger 69). Sanders now is indefatigable, but people often slow down in their late 70s and their 80s.

Another reason for skepticism is his congressional record. In 25 years in Congress, Sanders has been primary sponsor of just three bills that became law, and two were simply to rename post offices in Vermont; he did better with amendments. Clinton wasn’t particularly effective as a legislator, either, but to me Sanders’s record suggests that his strength is as a passionate advocate, not as a deal-maker who gets results.

Can you get elected? Or would your nomination make a President Cruz more likely?

When voters are polled today about how they would vote in a general election, Sanders does pretty well. For example, he beats Ted Cruz in the RealClearPolitics average, while Clinton loses to Cruz. But at this stage that’s almost meaningless: Republicans are blasting Clinton while ignoring Sanders. If he were the nominee, he would be savaged.

One particularly sobering item for Sanders supporters: A Gallup poll last year asking voters what kind of person they would be unwilling to consider voting for. Six percent of Americans say they wouldn’t vote for a Catholic, and 7 percent wouldn’t support a black or a Jew. Some 24 percent wouldn’t vote for a gay candidate, and more than a third would refuse to vote for a Muslim or an atheist.

However, the most objectionable kind of person by far was a socialist. Fifty percent of Americans said they would be unwilling to consider voting for a socialist.

Maybe Sanders could convince them that a “democratic socialist” isn’t exactly a socialist, or maybe he could charm some voters into rethinking their beliefs. He has done just that very successfully in Vermont, a state where he now wins elections by overwhelming margins, and skeptics have been underestimating him for 35 years. But if a Democratic nominee starts off with half the voters unwilling to consider someone like him, that’s a huge advantage for the Republican nominee.

So can he accomplish his goals, and is he electable? Lots of us admire Sanders and we would like reassurance.

Bite me, Nick.  And if Cruz winds up with the nomination he’ll have to confront the “uncanny valley” impression he oozes.  Here’s Ms. Collins:

Here we are, in the Marco Rubio Moment.

The Republican establishment is thrilled: A moderate-sounding Gen X senator from a swing state! And one so good at spin he managed to give a victory speech in Iowa after he came in third. No wonder all the other candidates are jealous.

“This isn’t a student council election, everybody. This is an election for president of the United States. Let’s get the boy in the bubble out of the bubble,” snarked Chris Christie. He was referring to Rubio’s tendency to be rather scripted in his appearances — one New Hampshire reportercompared him to “a computer algorithm designed to cover talking points.”

Christie, pressing further — and when does Chris Christie not? — has also been saying that the speech Rubio sticks to is the same one he’s been giving since 2010. It’s true that there’s always the part about his parents, the striving Cuban immigrants. And you do get the feeling you’re supposed to vote for him because his dad and mom believed in the American dream.

As a young man, Rubio himself was not particularly hard working. In fact, in his memoir he admits he could be “insufferably demanding.” But he did sympathize with his parents’ struggles, and when his father, a bartender, went on strike in 1984, young Marco became “a committed union activist.”

And then — American dream! — the bartender’s son became a senator, who opposes raising the minimum wage and wants to eliminate “rules that empower unions.” You know, you grow.

Rubio was a slow starter, education-wise, but he eventually graduated from law school, saddled with a load of student debt. This is, as he always points out, a familiar American story. The next part, where he instantly runs for office and acquires a billionaire benefactor who helps him out by underwriting low-stress jobs for Rubio and his wife, is slightly less average.

The $800,000 advance he got for his memoir — the one that fails to explain his trajectory on the union issue — is also not exactly typical. But he’s been a terrible money manager, which he explains by saying that “I didn’t inherit any money.”

On the issues, Rubio says he has a new generation’s answers to the nation’s economic problems. The answers are mainly about reducing business taxes and regulations, but he says it in a much more youthful way.

He’s anti-choice, even for victims of rape and incest. Lately, he’s taken to pointing to instances when he supported legislation that did include an exception. This is true. As long as a bill makes it harder for women to have access to abortion rights, he’s there.

And then there’s the great Immigration Switcheroo. Follow the timeline:

2010 — Running for the U.S. Senate, Rubio is against giving people who are in the country without documentation any path to citizenship. That’s “amnesty,” and it’s just wrong, like failing to enforce the speed limit.

2013 — Marco is a senator, and he’s totally changed his mind about that path-to-citizenship matter. Why do you think that happened? Uncharitable observers thought he wanted to cozy up to big Republican donors who like the idea. But maybe he was just … growing.

He becomes one of the famous bipartisan “Gang of Eight” pushing for immigration reform. Rubio is a valuable partner for the Gang, and he makes them pay with repeated concessions, including a very strong provision for additional border security. Finally, the path-to-citizenship bill passes the Senate 68 to 32. “We are a compassionate people,” he says on the Senate floor.

2013 — Fast forward a few weeks. The Tea Party is enraged, the House is unenthusiastic and Rubio is backtracking wildly. “Look,” he tells Fox News, “it’s not the most important issue facing America. Obamacare is more important, for example.”

2015 — Marco Rubio is a candidate for president. He hates “amnesty.” And he says you can’t have immigration reform until you have additional border security.

In the competition with the other super-conservative Cuban-American contender, Ted Cruz, Rubio is regarded as more likable. This is not a heavy lift. He is also competing with Cruz for the affection of Christian conservatives, and while Rubio has always mentioned God in his political speeches, lately he’s been ramping things up. One of his ads in Iowa was about “the free gift of salvation offered to us by Jesus Christ.”

Rubio himself goes to two churches. Sometimes the family attends a Baptist-affiliated service on Saturday night and a Catholic Mass on Sunday.

Quick question: How would you feel about a presidential candidate who’s both Protestant and Catholic?

A) That’s great. Maybe it’s a sign he’s open-minded. B) That’s O.K., unless it’s just another way to fudge his positions. C) I am strongly against bringing a person’s religion into the political arena. Which is why I wish Marco Rubio would stop telling us about his.

Blow, Kristof, and Collins

January 28, 2016

In “Hillary Clinton’s Crucible” Mr. Blow says at the town hall, her back was against the wall, and she was brilliant. That seems to be when she gives her best performances.  It isn’t often that I disagree violently with Mr. Kristof, but today’s one of those days.  He gives us “Compassionate Conservatives, Hello?” in which he whines that Democrats are too quick to assume they have a monopoly on caring. He then says bravo to efforts by some Republicans to disprove them.  The “some Republicans” are headed up by the Zombie Eyed Granny Starver — Paul Ryan, of all people.  In the comments “JABarry” from Maryland had this to say:  “I’m sorry Mr. Kristof, but “Compassionate Conservative” is an oxymoron. Republicans have shown over many decades that their pretense of compassion is misleading advertisement…you must read the small print. For instance, you say Republicans “were right that the best way to spell aid is often j-o-b.” Progressives agree, a job is a pathway out of poverty, BUT what do Republicans say in the small print? They say that you must give the wealthy class more tax cuts, then jobs will trickle down. They say, NO to raising the minimum wage because they don’t believe in a living wage; they are quite satisfied that people work for slave-pay. Republicans don’t believe in labor unions, they don’t believe in employment benefits such as healthcare, maternity leave, childcare leave, or equal pay for women. They don’t believe in social security, which is earned based on work. The bottom-line is Republicans actually spell aid: s-e-r-v-i-t-u-d-e. Servitude fits in with their vision of serfs serving the interests of the privileged wealthy class–that is the small print Republican definition of “Compassionate Conservative.””  Amen.  Ms. Collins is “Deconstructing Hillary and Bernie” and says let’s look at how the two Democratic candidates — Martin who? — differ.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

Monday night’s presidential town hall provided the best format and platform yet for the Democratic candidates. Each was able to play to his or her strengths without the back-and-forth conflict-baiting that debate moderators seem to demand.

Even so, Hillary Clinton stood out.

Not only did she seem completely at ease in this environment, but she was also confident and wide-ranging in her answers, delivering many in an assertive tone that was one tick below yelling, and displaying a depth and breadth of knowledge that few can match.

She was at the top of her game.

She had to be. Senator Bernie Sanders is breathing down her neck in Iowa with a message that’s increasingly popular among dissatisfied liberals and that she hasn’t been able to counter sufficiently. Furthermore, at the previous debate, she made a huge tactical error by attacking Sanders’s motives and integrity, a move that made her appear smaller, desperate and hostile.

At the town hall, Clinton’s back was against the wall, and she performed brilliantly. Indeed, that seems to be when she gives her best performances — when her back is against the wall. But she is often in that position because of her own doing, her own lapses in judgment, her own miscalculations.

It is an odd, cyclical exercise to continue to praise her for climbing out of holes she digs for herself. There almost seems to be a self-destructive, self-defeating impulse at play, a need to be perpetually down so that she can perpetually fight her way back up, a sort of crisis dependency.

It is hard to see how this seesawing can produce a winning campaign or a successful presidency, should she win it. She’s going to have to stay at or near the top of her game for the duration.

Then there is the strange reality that the ritual of her fighting her way back, even with strong showings like Monday’s, can take on air of disingenuousness in and of itself.

The cynical read is that these command performances are calculated, the maneuvering of a purely political being with a gift for guile.

That assessment isn’t particularly fair, but it is quite real. I believe it happens in part because there can be an animatronic plasticity present in her comportment and conveyance that raises questions of ambition versus authenticity. She is hands down the most broadly qualified and experienced among the candidates. But there remains an intangible quality that eludes her: connectivity. Even many people who admire her simply don’t trust her.

This is the same problem that, to varying degrees, Mitt Romney, Al Gore and Bob Dole had. It’s not fixable. Indeed, attempts to fix it feel even more forced and phony.

Another part of this problem stems from something far more tangible: the taint of scandal that has trailed her and her husband much of their lives.

One of the questions she got Monday night cut to the quick of this issue for her.

A young man rose and asked the following:

“It feels like there is a lot of young people like myself who are very passionate supporters of Bernie Sanders. And I just don’t see the same enthusiasm from younger people for you. In fact, I’ve heard from quite a few people my age that they think you’re dishonest, but I’d like to hear from you on why you feel the enthusiasm isn’t there.”

These are Clinton’s biggest weaknesses: people’s sense of her trustworthiness, and the relative lack of excitement she engenders, particularly among young voters.

Perceptions of honesty and trustworthiness are bad and getting worse, even among Democrats. According to an ABC News/Washington Post poll released Wednesday, among Democrats and independents leaning that way:

“Sanders now leads by 12 points, 48-36 percent, in being seen as more honest and trustworthy, vs. 6 points last month and an even split in October.”

Then there is Clinton’s mounting younger-voter problem.

According to a USA TODAY/Rock the Vote poll conducted this month, Sanders leads Clinton among millennial Democrats and independents (those age 18 to 34) 46 percent to 35 percent. Among millennial Democratic and independent women, Sanders’s lead in the poll was even greater: 50 percent to Clinton’s 31 percent. Sanders’s strength, and Clinton’s weakness, is mostly driven by the youngest millennials. According to the paper:

“Among both genders, Sanders has 57 percent backing in the 18-25 age group, according to the USA Today/Rock the Vote poll. That drops to 36 percent for those ages 26-34. For Clinton, the opposite is true. She gets 44 percent of those ages 26 to 34 and 25 percent of those 18-25.”

Sanders has become the cool uncle and Clinton has become the cold aunt.

Although many of Sanders’s plans appear on their face to be unworkable and, if they were workable, would cause a massive, possibly unprecedented, expansion of government in this country, I don’t think young people think about it that way. I believe that many of them see Sanders as someone committed to dismantling a broken system and its component broken institutions — financial, political and educational.

Millennials are notoriously distrusting of institutions. Sanders is anti-institution. The Clintons are an institution.

Clinton answered the question at the town hall mostly by evading it, and turning her attention to the constant in her life: her enemies and their attacks on her. She said at one point:

“You know, look, I’ve been around a long time. People have thrown all kinds of things at me. And you know I can’t keep up with it. I just keep going forward.”

Survival doesn’t excite, and it’s not proof of moral rectitude. But it is evidence of a certain kind of I-will-survive resilience and an I-know-how-to-survive savvy.

And that informs the choice Democrats have to make in choosing a nominee: Do they want to put forth a survivor in chief, of whom many are suspicious and about whom few are truly excited, or a dream in chief (in the candidacy of Sanders) who says all the things they want to hear but that they quietly know he’ll never be able to deliver?

Now here’s the oh-so-wrong Mr. Kristof:

Back in 2000, George W. Bush did something fascinating: On the campaign trail he preached “compassionate conservatism,” telling wealthy Republicans about the travails of Mexican-American immigrants and declaring to women in pearls that “the hardest job in America” is that of a single mother.

Those well-heeled audiences looked baffled, but applauded.

That instinct to show a little heart helped elect Bush but then largely disappeared from Republican playbooks and policy. Yet now, amid the Republican Party’s civil war, there are intriguing initiatives by the House speaker, Paul Ryan, and some other conservatives to revive an interest in the needy.

Liberals like myself may be tempted to dismiss these new efforts as mere marketing gestures, meant to whitewash what one of the initiatives acknowledges is “the longstanding view of a meanspirited conservatism.”

Maybe the liberal skeptics will be proved right. But we should still all root for these efforts, because ultimately whether the poor get help may depend less on Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders than on Republicans at every level. Whether Medicaid is expanded, whether we get high-quality pre-K, whether we tackle addiction, family planning and job training, whether lead continues to poison American children — all these will depend mostly on Republicans who control Congress and most states.

Moreover, Democrats are too quick to assume that they have a monopoly on compassion. President Bush, for example, didn’t govern nearly as compassionately as he campaigned. Yet his program against AIDS saved millions of lives. He did a stellar job battling malaria and pressing the fight against sex trafficking.

This will be even harder for Democrats to accept, but Republicans have also sometimes been proved right on poverty issues. They were right that the best way to spell aid is often j-o-b. They were right on the importance of strong two-parent families: We now know that children in single-mother families are five times as likely to live in poverty as those in married households.

So I’d be thrilled if Republicans participated in debates about poverty, rather than forfeited the terrain. A real debate would also elevate issues that now are largely neglected, and it would create an opening to hold politicians’ feet to the fire: If Ryan cares, then why did he try to slash budgets for evidence-based programs that help children?

One of the new initiatives is “Challenging the Caricature,” based on a document that will be presented at an event at Stanford’s Hoover Institution next week. Written by Michael Horowitz, Michael Novak, John O’Sullivan, Mona Charen, Linda Chavez and other prominent conservatives, it calls on the right to tackle human rights issues so as to shatter “the caricatures that define conservatives as uncaring.”

“Our values are regarded by millions of Americans as inconsistent with theirs and with America’s inherent decency,” the document warns.

Ryan moderated a forum this month on poverty that drew six Republican presidential hopefuls and tried to frame a G.O.P. perspective on the issue. “We now have a safety net that is designed to catch people falling into poverty,” Ryan said, “when what we really need is a safety net that is designed to help get people out of poverty.”

One reason for skepticism that any of this will get traction: Among the candidates who skipped the forum were the front-runners, Donald Trump and Ted Cruz. Neither seems interested in this arena.

A final initiative is an excellent plan to reduce poverty put together by a team from the conservative American Enterprise Institute and the liberal Brookings Institution. The report pushes work requirements for government benefits, but also a modest rise in the minimum wage. Instead of increasing public funds for higher education, it suggests taking financial assistance that now goes to higher-income families and redirecting it to the neediest.

This report emphasizes that one way to bridge the political divide is to focus on evidence. We now have robust results showing that vocational programs like career academies help disadvantaged young people get jobs and raise their marriage rates.  Parent-coaching programs improve disadvantaged children’s outcomes so much that they save public money.

If you’re a liberal, you may be rolling your eyes. You’re sure that Republicans are just layering compassion camouflage over policies meant to benefit billionaires. Sure, be skeptical. But at least now there can be a debate about how to help, about what the evidence says, about whether Ryan and others act the way they speak.

The parties see each other as the root of all evil. But when they have cooperated on humanitarian efforts, real progress has been made: on AIDS, on prison rape, on the earned-income tax credit.

The sad truth is that neither party has done enough to address the shame of deep-rooted poverty in America. So let’s hope for a real contest in this area, because everybody loses — above all, America’s neediest — when most of the time one party doesn’t even bother to show up.

I’ll believe that ZEGS and the rest of the mole people give a crap about the poor when pigs fly.  Now here’s Ms. Collins:

The Democratic presidential race hasn’t been getting as much attention as the Republican side. This is for the same reason that professional wrestling gets more viewers than “Book TV.” There’s something compelling about a lot of grunting and body slams.

Let’s get focused. Time to discuss how Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton differ on the issues.

You forgot to mention Martin O’Malley.

No, I didn’t.

About Clinton and Sanders. Their positions on most things are similar. They both favor universal prekindergarten and support gay marriage, reproductive rights and a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. They both want to raise the minimum wage, but Sanders is shooting for $15 while Clinton says $12. They both have ambitious plans to fight climate change. Clinton wants to see more than half a billion solar panels in operation by 2020; Sanders has called for 10 million.

Ha! Who’s the transformational thinker there, Bernie?

Well, his campaign says it meant solar roofs. The more important point is that Sanders also wants a major tax on businesses that keep using fossil fuels. As we go along here, you will note that his proposals are almost all much bolder and that practically everything on his shopping list includes new or higher taxes on somebody. Occasionally everybody, although Sanders would argue that the little people will get their money back through things like free health care and generous family leave policies.

Clinton doesn’t want to raise taxes?

Some, but mainly on the superrich. Nothing on couples making less than $250,000.

I vote the person, not the platform. Who would I like more?

You’d like them both. These are politicians. They spend their lives trying to please people. You don’t get to this level if nobody can stand being around you. Unless, of course, you’re Ted Cruz.

Do you think Sanders has so many young supporters because he’s transformational or because he wants to make college free?

That’s certainly a big applause line. This is another good way of looking at the candidates’ differences. Sanders has a sweeping plan: free tuition at public colleges and universities, period. Clinton has a similar goal, but her plan is more complicated because she wants to screen out kids whose parents could afford to pay the freight themselves.

So his is easier to understand, while she avoids the problem of having to explain in the final election why the taxpayers should be underwriting chemistry class for Donald Trump’s grandchildren.

Are you going to talk about Wall Street? Preferably briefly. Without mentioning the repeal of Glass-Steagall.

Very, very basically, Bernie Sanders has a dramatic plan to regulate the big banks, tax the speculators and punish Wall Street evildoers. Clinton would argue that the banks have been pretty well taken care of by the Dodd-Frank law and that what you really need to do is focus on the hedge funds. This is so oversimplified, I’m kind of ashamed. Maybe we should go back and …

That’s plenty. Really! So Clinton isn’t in the pocket of big special interests who paid her millions of dollars to give speeches?

Many people think her Wall Street reform plan is O.K. But on a personal level, it was inexcusable of her to give those $200,000 speeches for investment bankers and the like when she knew she was going to be running for president. Not good at all.

You’d better say something positive about Hillary Clinton now or I’m going to call this quits.

She’s stupendously smart. She has a lifetime record of fighting for good causes, particularly children and women’s rights. She would almost certainly be a lot better at working with Congress than President Obama has been.

What about a President Sanders? Could he actually do any of the stuff he’s talking about?

It’s hard to imagine getting Congress to upgrade Obamacare to a single-payer system — what he describes as Medicare for all. You remember what an enormous lift it was to get any health care reform at all passed. But Sanders’s theory is that by electing him, the people will be sending a message so strong even Congress can’t ignore it.

Wow, do you think that could happen?

That’s the bottom line of the whole contest. Vote for Bernie: Send a message. Vote for Hillary: She knows how to make things work.

I would like to elect someone who can make things work while simultaneously sending a message.

Do you ever watch those house-hunting shows where people make the list of what they want in their next home, and it’s always a place in the heart of the city that’s quiet and has green space for the dog and four bedrooms so guests can come visit, for no more than $500 a month?

You’re saying I can’t have everything.

Hey, wait until I ask you to choose between Donald Trump and Ted Cruz.

Blow, Kristof and Collins

January 21, 2016

In “The Poisoning of Flint’s Water” Mr. Blow says it is hard to imagine such a thing happening in a city that didn’t have this particular demographic profile — mostly black and disproportionately poor.  In “America the Unfair?” Mr. Kristof says we need to leverage populist frustration into constructive postelection policy. He says it’s been done before.  In “Palin, Trump, Cruz and Corn” Ms. Collins says Sarah surfaces and Ted gets trounced for the wrong reason.  Well, whatever trounces him is good, doncha know…  Here’s Mr. Blow:

In November, I was the guest speaker at the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan’s annual dinner. Before I spoke, the group called to the stage a longtime investigative journalist who had done tremendous work bringing the Flint water crisis to light. His name was Curt Guyette. He, in turn, recognized the scientists, doctors, politician, lawyers and activists who had helped in that quest.

I was embarrassed to admit that I hadn’t heard about this crisis before that night, but the details they laid out hit me with the force of a train.

Local officials made the decision to switch the city’s water supply in 2014 from its longtime source supplied by the city of Detroit, which contained corrosion-control chemicals, to the Flint River, which did not contain those chemicals. It was billed as a cost-saving measure for a city facing financial distress.

But the Flint River water corroded the city’s pipes and leached poisonous metals into the city’s water supply, including lead, which is particularly dangerous if consumed by children or pregnant women.

Some of the water tested so high for lead contamination that it was “more than twice the amount at which the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency classifies water as hazardous waste,” according to Guyette.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

“No safe blood lead level in children has been identified. Lead exposure can affect nearly every system in the body. Because lead exposure often occurs with no obvious symptoms, it frequently goes unrecognized.”

The residents of Flint consumed this poisonous water, knowing that something was wrong because of its changing colors and smells, but mostly unaware of just how dangerous it was.

An entire American city exposed to poisoned water. How could this be?

It is hard to imagine this happening in a city that didn’t have Flint’s demographic profile — mostly black and disproportionately poor.

And, it got worse: Officials apparently kept assuring residents that things were under control, even though many residents knew intuitively that they were not.

As The New York Times reported in October:

“All along, through months of complaints from residents of this city about the peculiar colors and odors they said were coming from their faucets, the overriding message from the authorities here was that the water would be just fine.”

And not only did the city not respond quickly, according to Guyette’s reporting, it artificially suppressed finding on lead levels, and when the federal Environmental Protection Agency offered to help remedythe problem, city officials apparently declined the help.

The damage done by this misguided decision, and the callous apathy on the part of officials to quickly admit their error and work expeditiously to correct it, displays a staggering level of ineptitude, if not criminal negligence.

Lawsuits are sure to spring up by the thousand. It’s not clear whether anyone will be held criminally responsible, but it is highly likely that civil suits for damages could be successful, so much so that they could bring the state to its knees.

The possible damage seems almost incalculable and one can imagine that a jury would find that the monetary damages should match.

I have not stopped thinking about Flint since November, and now the story has gained new urgency as it has become a cause celebre and entered the national political debate.

Bernie Sanders has called for the resignation of Gov. Rick Snyder of Michigan, saying in a statement:

“There are no excuses. The governor long ago knew about the lead in Flint’s water. He did nothing. As a result, hundreds of children were poisoned. Thousands may have been exposed to potential brain damage from lead. Governor Snyder should resign.”

Hillary Clinton has condemned the Snyder administration, called for the federal government to “step up” in the crisis and dispatched two top campaign aides to meet with Flint’s mayor.

(On Tuesday that mayor, Karen Weaver, endorsed Clinton for president.)

The Rev. Jesse Jackson said Sunday of the situation that the city should have tape around it “because Flint is a crime scene.”

Celebrities, including P. Diddy and Magic Johnson, have expressed their outrage, and some, like Cher and Meek Mill, have pledged large donations of water to the city.

The Flint native Michael Moore, in an online petition, demanded that President Obama visit the city when he went to Michigan on Wednesday,writing:

“This week, you are coming to Michigan to attend the Detroit Auto Show. We implore you to come to Flint, less than an hour’s drive north of Detroit. Do not ignore this tragedy taking place every day. This may be Gov. Snyder’s Katrina, but it will become your Bush-Flying-Over-New Orleans Moment if you come to Michigan and then just fly away.”

(Obama did not go to Flint during his visit to the state, but did address it while there, and met with the mayor of Flint in Washington the day before.)

Snyder conceded Monday that the Flint water crisis wasindeed his Katrina and on Tuesday, during a State of the State address, apologized for the crisis.

But Moore tweeted a response Tuesday that might well capture the outrage many feel about this story:

“On Sat, I called Flint ‘Governor Snyder’s Katrina.’ Today he said he accepts that comparison. Except Bush didn’t cause the hurricane. #Jail

Next up we have Mr. Kristof:

Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders don’t agree on much. Nor do the Black Lives Matter movement, the Occupy Wall Street protests and the armed ranchers who seized public lands in Oregon. But in the insurgent presidential campaigns and in social activism across the spectrum, a common thread is people angry at the way this country is no longer working for many ordinary citizens.

And they’re right: The system is often fundamentally unfair, and ordinary voices are often unheard.

It’s easy (and appropriate!) to roll one’s eyes at Trump, for a demagogic tycoon is not the natural leader of a revolution of the disenfranchised. But the populist frustration is understandable. One of the most remarkable political science studies in recent years upended everything rosy we learned in civics classes.

Martin Gilens of Princeton University and Benjamin I. Page of Northwestern University found that in policy-making, views of ordinary citizens essentially don’t matter. They examined 1,779 policy issues and found that attitudes of wealthy people and of business groups mattered a great deal to the final outcome — but that preferences of average citizens were almost irrelevant.

“In the United States, our findings indicate, the majority does not rule,” they concluded. “Majorities of the American public actually have little influence over the policies our government adopts.”

One reason is that our political system is increasingly driven by money: Tycoons can’t quite buy politicians, but they can lease them. Elected officials are hamsters on a wheel, always desperately raising money for the next election. And the donors who matter most are a small group; just 158 families and the companies they control donated almost half the money for the early stages of the presidential campaign.

That in turn is why the tax code is full of loopholes that benefit the wealthy. This is why you get accelerated depreciation for buying a private plane. It’s why the wealthiest 400 American taxpayers (all with income of more than $100 million) ended up paying an average federal tax rate of less than 23 percent for 2013, and less than 17 percent the year before.

Conversely, it’s why the mostly black children in Flint, Mich., have been poisoned by lead coming out of the tap: As Hillary Clinton noted Sunday in the Democratic debate, this wouldn’t have happened in an affluent white suburb. Lead poisoning permanently impairs brain development, but it’s not confined to Flint. Some 535,000 children across the country suffer lead poisoning, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Those kids never have a chance — not just because of the lead, but also because they don’t matter to the American political system. American politicians are too busy chasing campaign donors to help them.

There are solutions — more about that in a moment — but a starting point is to recognize that this public mood of impotence and unfairness is rooted in something real. Median wages have stalled or dropped. Mortality rates for young white adults are rising, partly because so many self-medicate with painkillers or heroin. Blacks have been protected from this phenomenon by another unfairness: Studies indicate that doctors discriminate against black patients and are less likely to prescribe them painkillers.

America’s political and economic inequalities feed each other. The richest 1 percent in the U.S. now own substantially more wealth than the bottom 90 percent.

Solutions are complex, imperfect and uncertain, but the biggest problem is not a lack of tools but a lack of will. A basic step to equalize opportunity would be to invest in education for disadvantaged children as the civil rights issue of the 21st century.

“I think any candidate seriously aiming to reduce inequality would have a mild increase in tax on the rich to fund higher school spending,” says Nicholas Bloom, a Stanford expert on inequality. I would add that investments in education should begin early, with high-quality prekindergarten for at-risk children.

We also need political solutions to repair our democracy so that ordinary citizens count along with the affluent. “There is no magic bullet that will set things right, but meaningful campaign finance reform must be at the center of a reform agenda,” Gilens says. “States and cities are leading the way. Arizona, Maine and Connecticut have had statewide, publicly funded ‘clean election’ systems for some time with varying degrees of success.”

One step toward transparency: President Obama could require federal contractors to disclose political contributions.

Right now, the bitterness at America’s grass roots is often channeled in ways that are divisive and destructive: at immigrants, say, or at Muslims. The challenge will be to leverage the populist frustration into constructive postelection policy. But it has been done before.

“Reforms were adopted in the first Gilded Age, an era similarly plagued by government dysfunction, political corruption and enormous economic inequality,” Gilens notes. “Perhaps they will be again.” For the sake of our country, let’s work for an encore.

And now we get to Ms. Collins:

Sarah Palin is really falling apart.

“Trump’s candidacy, it has exposed not just that tragic, the ramifications of that betrayal of a transformation of our country, but too, he has exposed the complicity on both sides of the aisle that has enabled it, O.K.?” Palin told the crowd at her big announcement endorsing Donald Trump.

The man himself was standing next to her, with a half-smile. Hard to tell if it was self-satisfaction or the look someone might get when trapped at a dinner party next to a stranger who’s describing how she met President William Henry Harrison in a past life.

Even though Palin seemed to have a script, it didn’t help. “He is from the private sector, not a politician. Can I get a hallelujah? Where in the private sector you actually have to balance budgets in order to prioritize, to keep the main thing, the main thing, and he knows the main thing,” she continued.

Got that? It’s been quite a while since the world outside the Tea Party has checked in on Sarah Palin, but I think it’s safe to say there hasn’t been a whole lot of personal growth. The absolute high point of her rather long, rambling address was the moment when she complained that the United States pays for Middle Eastern “squirmishes.”

The next day, Palin spoke at another Trump rally, where she appeared to blame Barack Obama’s veterans policy for her son’s domestic violence arrest this week. Republicans seem currently O.K. with blaming the president for anything, including sunspots. But even some of them must have found it a little creepy.

Still, Trump has been having a super week. Palin wasn’t even the high point. That came when Iowa’s six-term Republican governor, Terry Branstad, urged voters to reject Trump’s main competitor, Ted Cruz.

“Ted Cruz is ahead right now. But what we’re doing is, we’re trying to do is educate the people of Iowa. He is the biggest opponent of renewable fuels,” Branstad told a press conference.

“Renewable fuels” is code for the government ethanol program, which has been stupendously profitable for the Iowa corn industry. Cruz has broken one of the great traditions of the Iowa caucus (First in the Nation! Forever!), which is that every major presidential candidate falls down to worship Big Corn.

Iowa’s many, many corn farmers have always gotten lots of government aid — the Environmental Working Group says that between 1995 and 2012, they received more than $15 billion in subsidies. On top of that, we’ve got the ethanol program, which requires gasoline to be mixed with biofuel, usually corn. This causes corn prices to soar and creates environmental problems due to overplanting. “A triple-layer subsidy cake,” said Scott Faber of the E.W.G.

All this is the opposite of fiscal conservatism, but generally, politicians find a way to evolve on the subject when they get to Iowa. This year Cruz has hung tough. Perhaps it’s because he’s close to Big Oil, which wants the gas tanks for itself. But whatever the reason, he’s paying the price. A pro-ethanol group, which happens to be led by the governor’s son, ran a mess of ads against him. Cruz seemed to waver, then stiffened. Out charged Branstad with his warning. A popular governor’s antipathy could be a big deal.

Let’s take a minute to feel sympathy for Ted Cruz. Poor guy.

O.K., time’s up.

“Dear Friend,” wrote Cruz to his mailing list on Wednesday. “I literally have no time to explain. … The longest-serving Republican career politician in the nation and his politically connected family is coordinating with establishment politicians and super PACs to lead an 11th-hour attack against us and sink our campaign.”

Ted said he is responding with “everything I have.” But that would be much easier if he had another $265,000 in donations posthaste.

Meanwhile, Donald Trump is supremely happy. “The governor just made a very big statement that was appreciated by many,” he told a gathering of — yes! — the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association before going on to announce that he was not only in favor of requiring corn in every tankful of gas, but he wanted to see the proportion go higher.

“As president I will encourage Congress to be cautious in attempting to … change any part of the R.F.S.,” he continued. That would be renewable fuel standard. Trump was reading this speech, which he claimed he had written himself. It was deep into ethanol-speak. All of you who think he’s still just a free spirit flying around the country saying whatever the hell comes into his mind, be aware. This is now an increasingly careful politician.

Cruz, he said, without actually mentioning any names, is a tool of the oil companies. “He goes wherever the votes are,” Trump said contemptuously.

None of that here, God knows.

Kristof and Collins

January 14, 2016

In “In Myanmar, A Wife’s Wrenching Decision” Mr. Kristof says a woman in a camp for Rohingya was forced to weigh what her son should sacrifice for her to save her husband’s life.  Ms. Collins, in “Politics: Everything’s Relative,” offers rules for dealing with family members showing up in the presidential race, like when to give them a break and when to go for the jugular.  Here’s Mr. Kristof, writing from Sittwe, Myanmar:

How much should you sacrifice to save your husband’s life?

And how much hardship do you inflict on your son to rescue your husband?

Those are the questions Jano Begum faced. Jano, 22, and her husband, Robi Alom, 30, are among the more than one million Muslims who belong to the Rohingya minority in Myanmar, subjected to an ethnic cleansing that a Yale study suggests may amount to genocide.

I’ve written several times over the years about the brutalization of the Rohingya, but I know that for some readers it seems obscure and remote. Why worry about a distant people when there are so many crises in our own backyard? But put yourself in Jano’s situation, as she sits in a hut in a concentration camp here, and think how far you would go to save your spouse.

Jano, Robi and other Rohingya have been confined since 2012 to concentration camps or isolated villages, stripped of citizenship and denied education, jobs and adequate food and health care. The conditions are calculated to induce despair. Sure enough, Robi proposed to his family that he join the wave of Rohingya boat people fleeing to Malaysia.

“I wouldn’t let him go,” Jano recalled. “We were arguing. He said, ‘Even if I die in the ocean, it’s better than being here.’”

Then one evening in October 2014 Robi disappeared. A friend passed a message to Jano: He had hopped on a human trafficker’s boat. He hadn’t dared to say goodbye for fear that Jano would stop him.

Jano was wounded and angry, but she also understood. “Here we live in something like a prison,” she said. “No jobs. No nothing. So that’s why he left.”

The Rohingya feel abandoned. The United Nations system, with the exception of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, has downplayed the problem. Western embassies and governments have been too complacent. And Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel Peace Prize winner whose party just won elections in Myanmar, has been silent.

In the same camp where I spoke to Jano I also met Arafa Begum, a 27-year-old widow who arranged with human traffickers last year to travel with her five children on a different ship to Malaysia. Arafa knew that she was at risk of being sold to a brothel, along with her daughters. But, not knowing how her children could survive if she stayed in Myanmar, she boarded a human trafficker’s ship in July. “There was almost no food or water,” she remembered — and conditions were hellish in the hold.

The ship sailed for 50 days, trying to sneak past the Thai Navy, but finally gave up. Arafa and her children are now back in the concentration camp, but she’s thinking of trying again.

As for Robi, two and a half months after he disappeared, Jano received a message from a human trafficker in Thailand. He was holding her husband, and he demanded $1,200 for her husband’s life.

Jano sold belongings, borrowed from relatives and pawned her food ration card, managing to raise $500 and transfer it to the traffickers’ bank account. In phone calls, the traffickers pressed for more money. Sometimes they put Robi on the line and beat him with sticks, so the family could hear his screams.

But Jano told them she had nothing left. She didn’t quite tell me so, but she hinted that perhaps she could have raised a little bit more, but feared that their 5-year-old son, Muhammad — already hungry — would starve. I got the sense that she also thought the traffickers would capitulate and eventually release Robi.

If that’s what she thought, she miscalculated. She received a final call from the traffickers: Robi had died in the jungle.

“I didn’t raise the money, so they killed him,” Jano told me. After a long, aching pause, she added: “I blame myself. I didn’t save my husband.”

It’s not clear what happened. Maybe the traffickers beat Robi to death or killed him to sell his kidneys. Perhaps he died of malaria. Or perhaps they sold him to a Thai fishing boat on which he is enslaved.

Jano hasn’t told Muhammad that his father may be dead. The boy is losing weight, from either worry or malnutrition. The family owes $200 to get back its ration card, so food is scarcer than ever. Jano washes clothes for neighbors, earning 20 cents a day to eke out an existence. (A human rights group called Fortify Rights is trying to help her.)

Multiply Jano’s tragedy by a million and you get the tapestry of the Rohingya suffering today. The horror arises not just from the savagery of human traffickers, but also from a government’s systematic effort to destroy a particular ethnic group, one met by global indifference.

Genocide? I don’t know. A stain on our collective humanity? Absolutely.

And now here’s Ms. Collins:

Have you noticed how often family members are turning up in the presidential campaign?

Consider the irony of that Ted Cruz-Canada debate. Cruz was born in Calgary and Donald (“People Are Saying”) Trump has raised the question of whether that makes him ineligible to be president. We’ll let constitutional scholars figure it out. But, meanwhile, we can enjoy recalling that Cruz’s father, Rafael, once told a Texas Tea Party group that he’d like to send President Obama “back to Kenya.” Hehehehe.

Even noncrazy relatives are popping up all over. This week Chelsea Clinton set off a major battle over Bernie Sanders’s health care plan. There’s been reporting on Marco Rubio’s brother-in-law, who was once a rather high-level drug dealer in Florida. Ted Cruz’s little daughters popped up in a political cartoon.

Remember Jeb? He was going to run as his own man, but people on the campaign mailing list are getting requests for donations from George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush, Barbara Bush, George P. Bush and Columba Bush. The family that fund-raises together stays together.

And how are we supposed to react to all this? Let’s review a few rules:

Forget family members who aren’t in politics — unless they hijack a plane or something. Don’t hold it against Marco Rubio that his brother-in-law, Orlando Cicilia, served 12 years in prison on drug charges. Perhaps in a perfect world, when Rubio was a leader in the Florida Legislature and sent a letter recommending that the newly released Cicilia be given a real estate license, he might have mentioned that the ex-convict in question was something more than a typical constituent. But still.

In his memoir Rubio wrote about the trauma of the arrest, and coming home as a teenager to find his pregnant sister sleeping on the family sofa with her little boy. The image, Rubio wrote, “has remained with me all my life.” This is the only part of the story I would like us to consider a little bit, since the chapter does not end with Marco offering his sister his own bed for the night. Maybe he was too modest to mention it. But inquiring minds want to know.

Never make fun of children. Not even if Ted Cruz puts his small daughters in a campaign ad in which the 7-year-old reads from a mock Christmas book called “The Grinch Who Lost Her Emails.” A Washington Post cartoon portrayed them as trained monkeys and that was out of line. Leave the kids alone. When they’re teenagers, they’ll figure out their own ways to get revenge.

Adult relatives should generally get a break. Right now there are dozens of spouses, siblings and offspring of candidates staggering around Iowa shaking hands, thanking people for coming and recounting homey anecdotes about the time Dad or Mom flew a thousand miles to get to the school play. They’re tired and they just discovered they’ve gained seven pounds since that raccoon roast in Arkansas. Have mercy.

However, there’s a limit. We hardly need note that Bill Clinton gets no family-member slack, ever. Chelsea Clinton is a little different. In the past she’s been superdisciplined. I remember back in 2000 watching her trot after her parents to the New York State Fair, looking dutifully at a life-size refrigerator carved out of butter, and thinking this is a whole new level of being a good daughter.

But Chelsea made news this week in New Hampshire where she told an audience that “Senator Sanders wants to dismantle Obamacare … dismantle Medicare and dismantle private insurance.” This is a whole new line of attack, and you’d at least expect it to come first from the candidate. “Chelsea Clinton is as policy-obsessed and as smart and as attentive to the details as both her parents when it comes to policy,” said a Clinton spokesman. That’s campaign-speak for “it was an accident.”

Go for the jugular if the relative is saying something the candidate wants to say without being held responsible.This takes us back to Rafael Cruz, an evangelical minister who has claimed, among other things, that gay rights advocates want to “legalize pedophiles” and that if America had no abortions it would also have no national debt. His son is currently trying to court the far right without sounding quite that loopy in person.

Cruz talks a lot about his hyper-patriotic father, who came to the United States from Cuba on a student visa, worked his way through college and then began climbing up in the world. Actually, most of the climbing occurred in Canada, where Dad worked and became a citizen in 1973. The family came back to the United States, but Rafael didn’t get around to becoming an American for 30 years.

The delay was due to “I guess laziness, or — I don’t know,” he once told David Welna of NPR.

Just saying.

Cohen and Kristof

December 31, 2015

In “America’s Bountiful Churn” Mr. Cohen says those who would make America great again by building walls are in fact closing America down.  Mr. Kristof says you should “Test Your Savvy About 2016 With a Quiz.”  Will Trump, Cruz, Clinton or Sanders win the presidency? Will the refugee crisis improve? He gives us a multiple-choice exam on what’s to come.  Here’s Mr. Cohen, writing from Gallup, NM:

The main drag in Gallup runs along Historic Route 66, adjacent to the railroad. The Hotel El Rancho, where movie stars filming westerns once stayed, is still there. A host of trading posts sell Navajo jewelry, pottery and rugs, as well as artifacts made by the smaller Zuni Nation.

I wandered into the Silver House Trading Co. and found Hafiz Nassar watching CNN with his wife. He managed a tired, amiable smile. Turned out he was a Palestinian who had left a village near Jerusalem more than four decades ago, tried New York and found it too noisy, moved on to Denver, before coming out to New Mexico to sell Lebanese and Turkish rugs. “You know, I just stopped here,” he said. “You have to stop somewhere.”

The Navajos and Zunis were interested in exchanging their products for his — and a decent barter business was born. Things are slower and harder now. As we talked, a young Navajo woman came in, showed Nassar a silver ring set with a turquoise stone, and pleaded for 10 bucks. He gave her a crisp bill.

We got talking about Middle Eastern politics, the last thing I expected to do in downtown Gallup, but you never know when or where conversation may veer to the travails of the Holy Land.

Nassar goes back to his village once a year for a few weeks. He complained about the Israeli roadblocks that turn the short distance to Al Aqsa Mosque into a long and tiresome journey. He talked about the connivance that cements the violent status quo. He said peace would have to come one day and on that day the world would be amazed at the wealth Israelis and Palestinians could create together. I agreed, a little wearily, a little wanly. On the eve of a new year the urge to imagine an end to the 67-year-old conflict resurfaces, even absent any progress.

We shook hands, Arab and Jew, there on what had long been America’s Main Street, the road westward from Chicago to Santa Monica, Calif., avenue of hopes for countless migrants fleeing the drought of the Dust Bowl and assorted other disasters.

Like refugees today, they did not know where they were going but they knew what they wanted to leave behind.

I had been reading D. H. Lawrence, who lived in New Mexico in the early 1920s. He wrote: “That’s why most people have come to America and still do come. To get away from everything they are and have been.”

No vehicle for reinvention as powerful as America has ever been or is likely to be created. The vast emptiness of New Mexico, an invitation to the imagination, is a reminder of the space here to forget and begin anew. Those who would “make America great again” by building walls are in fact closing America down.

I thought of the just-married Syrian couple I met on the Greek island of Lesbos in September and the way the man, a dentist from Damascus, deadpanned, “This is our honeymoon.” I thought of the four Syrian Christians, lost souls, I found in a fifth-century monastery near Mardin, in southeastern Turkey.

This has been the year of the Great Migration — one million refugees arriving in Europe by boat, some 60 million displaced people on the move, more than at any time since 1945. This is a plausible moment to play on fears, to beat the nationalist drum. Those new buddies, Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump, specialize in that. The Vladimir Trump policy school teaches that big lies produce big fears that produce big yearnings for big strongmen.

Therein lies danger. Decency demands that in 2016 Western societies do better in accommodating the millions fleeing the Syrian debacle.

In Albert Camus’s “The Plague,” the doctor at the center of the novel, Bernard Rieux, concludes that the only way to save people is through decency. Asked what that is, he responds, “In general, I can’t say, but in my case I know that it consists of doing my job.”

My daughter, Jessica Rollin, a psychiatrist, is doing her job. She and her French-born husband, François, also a doctor, moved from A to Z this year, from Atlanta to Zuni. She now treats the mental health problems of the Zuni Nation. Zuni’s remote — it makes Gallup seem like a metropolis — and I thought there of the twists of repetitive displacement and migration that brought my grandparents from Lithuania to South Africa, my parents from South Africa to London, my cousins from South Africa to Israel, myself from London to New York, and my daughter to, of all places, Zuni.

Migration is loss, but also reinvention, as Nassar’s story of Palestinian-Zuni trade reminded me. Jessica’s second child will be born in Gallup next month, just off Route 66. I see hope and symbolism in that. America’s bountiful churn endures, quieter yet stronger than the angry bombast of division.

Next up we have Mr. Kristof:

1  At the end of 2016, Donald Trump caused a stir by …­
  • Preparing for his presidential inauguration by renaming the White House “Trump Palace.”

  • Raising funds to renovate the Statue of Liberty so that its arms move, waving immigrants away.

  • Actually, no stir at all. After being crushed in the presidential race, he has been quietly trying to repair business relations with Mexicans, Muslims, women — well, with everybody.

2  In the Republican presidential race …

  • Ted Cruz built on his Iowa caucuses victory to make further gains on Super Tuesday and win the nomination.

  • The failure of any candidate to win enough delegates led the convention to draft House Speaker Paul Ryan.

  • Marco Rubio overcame his failure to win either Iowa or New Hampshire to narrowly win the nomination.

3  Hillary Clinton …­

  • Dropped out of the race after a series of scandals, and a last-ditch effort to draft Joe Biden came too late. Bernie Sanders won the Democratic nomination and became America’s first democratic socialist president after Ted Cruz split G.O.P. votes with the

  • Easily won the Democratic nomination but then lost in November as Senator Marco Rubio and his running mate, John Kasich, portrayed her as a crony capitalist whose time had passed.

  • Became the first woman elected president.

4  In Russia, President Vladimir Putin ended 2016 …

  • By appearing in a television documentary riding bare-chested across Siberia on a dragon borrowed from “Game of Thrones.”

  • By dispatching provocateurs to instigate unrest in Estonia, then dispatching troops “to protect Russian lives” there. NATO responded by holding meetings.

  • By crushing growing anti-government demonstrations across Russia.

5  President Obama’s 2016 Syria strategy consisted of …

  • Persuading Sunni Arab countries to battle the Islamic State in conjunction with Kurdish forces.

  • Reluctantly dispatching 10,000 ground troops into northern Syria to destroy the Islamic State capital, Raqqa.

  • Really? You think he has a Syria strategy?

6  Regarding Obamacare, in 2016 …

  • Republicans voted 23 more times to repeal Obamacare, making it a major theme of the 2016 campaign.

  • The unpopularity of fines for lack of insurance made it a growing embarrassment to the Democratic Party.

  • Amid evidence of its success, Republican candidates dropped the subject.

7  In response to the Black Lives Matter movement …

  • Princeton University announced that it would rename the Woodrow Wilson School and invited bids for naming rights. Donald Trump bought them.

  • Not much happened: Attention switched to the presidential race.

  • After the election, Mr. Obama announced the formation of a National Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

8  Chinese-U.S. relations …­

  • Were set back after a naval clash in the South China Sea near the Spratly Islands.

  • Deteriorated because of President Xi Jinping’s nationalist policies in the South China Sea and oppressive human rights policies at home.

  • Improved because undetected Chinese government hackers wrote glowingly about China in the President’s Daily Brief.

9  The technological breakthrough of 2016 was …

  • The Amazon/Uber joint venture to send a drone to pick you up and carry you to your destination.

  • The spread of bloodstream bots that roam your arteries and veins, looking for cancer cells to destroy.

  • The formation of a company to operate self-driving taxis.

10  The refugee crisis …

  • Ameliorated as Europe guarded its borders more tightly.

  • Deteriorated but received less attention as Europe bribed Turkey to curb the passage of refugees to Greece and make the problem less visible.

  • Worsened as hundreds of thousands of Iranians, Nigerians, Ethiopians, Afghans and others left for Germany.

11  Democracy …

  • Was the title of a smash Broadway show about early America by Lin-Manuel Miranda, who also created “Hamilton.”

  • Retreated in central Africa, as leaders of Burundi, Rwanda and Congo all tried to cling to power.

  • Came to Belarus, often described as the last dictatorship in Europe.

We’ll see in a year how we all did. May our hopes be realized and our fears prove unwarranted. And happy New Year to all my readers!

 

Dowd, Cohen and Kristof

November 26, 2015

Oh, FFS, MoDo has called upon her Republican brother Kevin to irritate us on Thanksgiving.  In “King Kevin Versus Queen Cersei” she says we should let the cacophonous feasting, with right wings of the turkey and left, begin!  Oddly enough, no one is allowed to comment on Kevin’s delusional ravings, probably to spare his tender teaparty fee-fees.  Mr. Cohen ponders “World War III” and moans that sometimes, as Syria shows, little things get bigger, people lose patience, there’s a spark and you get a big mess.  And again, no comments are allowed, probably to spare his tender, hand-wringing fee-fees.  Mr. Kristof, in “Donald Trump, Meet a Syrian Refugee Named Heba,” says a young woman who dreams of being an artist is still afraid after escaping her ISIS-controlled homeland — because she fears she will be sent back.  Hmmm…  you can comment on Mr. Kristof’s offering.  And people have commented in fierce opposition to allowing Syrian refugees into the country.  Apparently Mr. Kristof is made of sterner stuff than MoDo or Mr. Cohen.  Here, FSM help us, is MoDo/Kevin:

The intense interest in the thrill-a-minute, through-the-looking-glass 2016 race, fueled by anger at maladjusted Washington and anxiety after the Paris attacks, has spawned predictions that Thanksgiving political debates will be noisier and nastier than ever. Plenty of turkeys with a bone to pick and plenty of dressing down to go with the dressing. The Democratic National Committee actually issued talking points for the “lively” conversations with Republican uncles, aunts and brothers. Clearly, the people at the D.N.C. don’t have any Republican relatives. It’s never a parley. It’s a lecture. So I decided to let my Republican brother offer his red-state soliloquy now, hoping he’d let me eat my white meat in peace. He-e-e-ere’s Kevin:

While liberals and the mainstream media may regard the myriad Republican presidential candidates as a “house of crazies,” I see an embarrassment of riches. It is the ultimate irony that the Republican field blows the Democrats away on one of their favorite topics — diversity.

Here’s how I see the Republican contest and the Democratic coronation:

Donald Trump: With all his bombast and incivility, Trump has joyfully debunked political correctness for the complete fraud that it is. With his talent for making debate ratings soar, he has allowed all the other candidates to be seen and heard at celestial levels unreachable without him. He has touched a nerve because people are fed up with liberal groups being offended at every slight, real or imagined. (I can assure you none of these people were taught by Jesuits.) Three Ivy League schools are currently under siege, with students at Princeton demanding the removal of Woodrow Wilson’s name from a building. Washington and Jefferson are up next as former slave owners, leaving Al Sharpton as the default “father of our country.” We are tired of apologies for America’s exceptionalism.

Ben Carson: Not since Eisenhower has a complete novice politician been so legitimate a contender. Can he avoid the traps set for him by the media? He presents intriguing possibilities as part of the ticket, forcing African-Americans to choose between him and the wife of the man Toni Morrison called our “first black president.”

Marco Rubio: Young, whip smart and self-assured, he has an encyclopedic knowledge of foreign affairs and is a stunning contrast to Hillary Clinton both in generation and vision. Wait until he starts delivering his speeches in Spanish.

Ted Cruz: The Hispanic heir apparent to Barry Goldwater had the best moment in the third debate, calling out an obscure cable TV host looking for his 10 minutes of fame.

Jeb Bush: I like the Bushes, all of them. Jeb would have been the perfect Republican candidate from 1988 to 2000. In this age of instant gratification, his wonkish grasp of policy does not move the needle. Too bad.

Chris Christie: Trump with better manners. A certain pick for attorney general if this gig does not work out.

Contrast our informed candidates with the Democratic lineup of Queen Cersei, the socialist Doc Brown from “Back to the Future” and the lead singer of O’Malley’s March. I keep waiting for Martin O’Malley during debates to whip out his guitar for a few Irish songs. It would be more entertaining.

Clinton: She’s seeking the highest office in the land even though 60 percent of the country does not trust her and her emails are currently under F.B.I. review for potential national security breaches.

Bernie Sanders: His proposals for free health care, free college and expanded Social Security have a price tag of $18 trillion with no way to pay for it. Not even a candidate for budget director.

O’Malley: Does anyone know his reason for running?

The next president will have to deal with a severely weakened hand, at home and abroad. The bill for “leading from behind” has come due. After the Radical Islam (dare I say thy name?) attack on France, the president who called ISIS “contained” was left to issue his familiar disclaimer that Islam is a religion of peace. In dealing with foes, Clinton, in a 2014 speech at Georgetown University, called for “trying to understand, and insofar as is psychologically possible, empathize with their perspective.” Note to Hillary: Any enemy with beheading as a menu item does not deserve empathy.

A peeved President Obama lashed out at Republicans for daring to pass a bill asking for a more robust screening process for the Syrian refugees. His adviser, Ben Rhodes — the political hack behind the deceitful Benghazi talking points — assured us that our screening was airtight even as 47 Democrats voted for the bill. The president has been forced to face the inconvenient truth that others will lead the world in this battle while he continues his lonely quest against the world’s “greatest threat”: climate change.

Our enemies do not fear us, and authority at home is being questioned by a disgraceful campaign since Ferguson to undermine the police. I am the son of a policeman, and a police officer is killed in the line of duty every 60 hours. The thin blue line is the only thing that separates our society from anarchy. There will be awful shootings by police officers like the one in Chicago, but these are exceptions. My dad told me that any job where you can legally carry a gun will occasionally draw the wrong type of person. Police officers certainly do not deserve to see the media turning criminals into celebrated victims. The next time you see a police officer, say thank you.

So, ask yourself three questions: Do you want a president who refuses to name the enemy? Who do you want to appoint the next three Supreme Court justices? And who will protect the homeland and honor the Constitution? Then pray that you got it right.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Kevin

In case you want to see what a delusional old Republican looks like, MoDo supplied a picture of Kevin:

That’s some comb-over, or possibly a really, really bad rug.  Next up we have Mr. Cohen:

“Mommy, please tell me again, how did World War I begin?”

“Sweetheart, I already told you, that was long ago. A century is a very long time.”

“But, Mommy, please.”

“Well, it’s complicated. Do you really, really want to know?”

“Yes, Mom.”

“It’s a sad story. The world was organized in one way, and that way collapsed, and in the process millions of people were killed.”

“Wow. How was it organized before?”

“There were things called empires. They controlled vast territories full of different peoples, and some of these peoples wanted to rule themselves rather than be governed by a faraway emperor.”

“O.K.”

“The Austro-Hungarian Empire was one of them. It had lots of grand palaces in its capital, Vienna, where people danced at fancy balls. It governed parts of a poor corner of Europe called the Balkans where its rule was disliked. One day in 1914, the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne and his wife were assassinated in a Balkan city called Sarajevo by a young man, a Bosnian Serb, who wanted the freedom of the south Slavs from imperial rule.”

“That’s sad, Mommy. Guess the music stopped. But so what?”

“The empire got really angry. It told Serbia to do a bunch of things or face war. The ruler in Vienna was confident because he had a close friend, a rising power called Germany. Serbia also had a good buddy, a country called Russia, which is big. Anyway, Serbia kind of dithered around, like you with homework, so Austria-Hungary went to war against it.”

“And then?”

“Then Germany declared war on Russia, whose friend was France, which didn’t like Germany for various reasons. Soon Germany attacked France through Belgium. That made Britain cross. It went to war against Germany. Another empire — a sickly one — called the Ottoman Empire, eventually joined the German and Austro-Hungarian side. Later the United States, a rising power, came in on the British and French team. After a few years, more than 16 million people were dead. The Austro-Hungarian, Ottoman, German and Russian empires had collapsed.”

“All because a couple was killed? Mom, that’s weird.”

“Sometimes little things get bigger, people lose patience and perspective, there’s a spark and you get a big mess.”

“Mom, it couldn’t happen again, right?’

“Nope.”

“Are there any empires left today?”

“Some people call America an empire even if it doesn’t have an emperor. It is the most powerful country on earth, with soldiers all around the world and different peoples that rely on it for direction and protection. But America’s getting weaker.”

“So, Mommy, is it kind of like what you said about the world being organized one way, and then being organized in another way, and lots of people dying in the process?”

“Not exactly, sweetheart. Dying where?”

“In Syria. Mom, what’s Syria?”

“It’s a small country with different peoples and religions that came into being when the Ottoman Empire got so sickly it collapsed.”

“Why are people fighting there?”

“It’s complicated. Do you really, really want to know?”

“Yes, Mommy.”

“Well, there was this brutal, remote tyrant behaving like an emperor and some of the peoples in Syria rose up against him. The tyrant started shooting them. America and Britain and France, among other countries, didn’t like that, and they said they’d kind of support the rebels, but didn’t really.”

“Why?”

“Because, like I said, America is sickly. It’s getting weaker.”

“Okay. Then what?”

“The tyrant had a big friend called Russia. He had another quite big friend called Iran. They both really did support him.”

“So he won?”

“Not quite. Many of the people who wanted to get rid of the tyrant were Sunni Muslims. They had the backing of Saudi Arabia, which is Sunni Central and hates Iran and has supported Sunni fanatics. Turkey, which was the successor to the Ottoman Empire and hates the Syrian tyrant, also got on the rebel team. But Turkey hates another people in Syria called the Kurds even more than the tyrant — so much it’s been ready in a sneaky way to help one group of Sunni crazies who slit throats, kill Kurds and shoot people in Western cities.”

“Mom, I’m confused.”

“Syria has broken up, like the Ottoman Empire. Russia is bombing some enemies of the Syrian tyrant. America is bombing the throat-slitters. So is France. Turkey shot down a Russian plane. Russia is angry. The Kurds want the state they didn’t get 100 years ago. Saudi Arabia is fighting a region-wide war against Iran. That war is most intense in Syria, where hundreds of thousands are dead.”

“All because some folks wanted to get rid of a bully?”

“Sometimes little things get bigger, there’s a spark and it’s a big mess.”

“Mom, what would World War III be like?”

“Don’t worry, darling, everything is different now.”

“Totally?”

“Totally. We have life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Happy Thanksgiving, my love.”

And now here’s Mr. Kristof, writing from Lesbos, Greece:

Ben Carson has compared Syrian refugees to rabid dogs. Donald Trump says that he would send them back.

Who are these Syrian refugee monsters who terrify American politicians?

Meet Heba, a frightened, desperate 20-year-old woman who dreams of being an artist and has just made a perilous escape from territory controlled by the Islamic State in northern Syria.

She was detained two months ago with her sister by Islamic State enforcers because her sister’s baby girl had too short a skirt — even though the baby was just 3 months old.

“That was crazy,” Heba said, shaking her head. “This was an infant!”

Heba says she and her sister argued that infant girls should have a little leeway in showing skin, and eventually the family was let off with a warning.

But Heba, strong-willed and self-confident, perhaps had been too outspoken or too sarcastic, and the police then cast a critical eye on her clothing. She was covering even her hands and face, but the authorities complained that her abaya cloak wasn’t loose enough to turn her into a black puff that concealed her form. The police detained her for hours until her family bailed her out by paying a $10 fine.

Heba was lucky, for other women have been flogged for violating clothing rules. Her sister saw a woman stoned to death after being accused of adultery.

“If I were wearing this,” Heba told me, pointing down at the tight jeans she was wearing as we spoke, “my head would come off.” She offered a hollow laugh.

I spoke to her after she left her mother and siblings behind in Syria (her father died years ago of natural causes) and fled with a handful of relatives on a perilous journey to Turkey, then on a dangerously overcrowded boat to this Greek island. I took Heba and her relatives to a dinner of pizza — Western food is banned by the Islamic State — and as we walked to the pizzeria she made a game of pointing out all the passers-by who would be decapitated by ISIS for improper dress, consorting with the opposite sex or sundry other offenses.

“It’s a million percent difference,” she exulted of life in the West. “Once you leave that area, you feel so good. Your whole body relaxes.”

Americans are understandably afraid of terrorism after the Paris attacks, and that fear is channeled at Syrian refugees. So pandering politiciansportray the refugees as menaces whom the vetting process is unable to screen out, and Americans by nearly two to one oppose President Obama’s plan to admit 10,000 Syrians over a year.

In fact, despite the impressions left by American politicians and by the Islamic State, Syrians are in general more educated and middle class than many other people in the region, and the women more empowered. Heba’s aspirations to be an artist aren’t unusual.

Security concerns are legitimate, but the refugee screening is a rigorous two-year process. It would be far simpler for the Islamic State to infiltrate the U.S. by dispatching European passport holders (like those who carried out the Paris attacks) on tourist visas, or just use supporters who are already American citizens.

The anti-refugee legislation that overwhelmingly passed the House of Representatives would effectively end the intake even of Christians and Yazidis who have been particularly targeted by the extremists.

In person, Syrian refugees are less scary than scared. Heba wouldn’t allow me to use her last name or publish her photo for fear of getting her family in trouble, and she cannot contact her mother for the same reason. (I’m not mentioning the town she lived in because she’s terrified that the Islamic State might try to identify and punish her family for her escape and for her candor to a Western journalist.)

Really, Ben Carson, you want to compare this freedom-loving woman to a rabid dog?

Donald Trump, when you said of Syrian refugees, “If I win, they’re going back,” do you really intend to deport Heba back to the Islamic State to be flogged or decapitated?

Heba is fed up with violence and extremism — but now in the West she encounters a new kind of political extremism that targets refugees like her. These Syrian refugees find themselves accused of potentially being the terrorists they flee.

“We have no connection to terrorism,” she told me, mystified that anyone could fear her. “We’re running away from all that.”

Heba showed me her abaya, which she keeps in her backpack. She says she never wants to wear it again, so I asked why she doesn’t discard it.

“I’m scared,” she admitted. “If they send us back, I will need it.”

Ben Carson and Donald Trump, Heba is neither a rabid dog nor a crazed terrorist, but a desperate young woman whose life is on the line. Let’s drop the fearmongering and let Heba cast away that abaya forever.

Cohen, Kristof and Collins

November 19, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now there are body bags in Paris.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And now here’s Ms. Collins:

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Ease pilot health exams! Ease pilot health exams!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blow, Cohen, Kristof and Collins

November 12, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And now here’s Mr. Kristof:

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

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

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

But moral voices can also become sanctimonious bullies.

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

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

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

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

On both counts we fall far short.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I suggest we all take a deep breath.

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

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

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

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

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

And now we get to Ms. Collins:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blow and Kristof

November 5, 2015

In “Suicide of a Dishonest Officer” Mr. Blow says sometimes bad people simply do bad things. Not everything in real life fits neatly into a narrative.  Mr. Kristof considers “Drugs, Greed and a Dead Boy” and says Andrew Francesco was a boy who needed help. For pharmaceutical companies, he was a source of revenue.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

There is no way to fully process the betrayal by Charles Joseph Gliniewicz, a police lieutenant in Illinois who an investigator said Wednesday had committed a “carefully staged suicide” after years of stealing money from a local youth group that he ran.

He betrayed his family, he betrayed his fellow officers, he betrayed the public he served, and he betrayed the children in the program.

Shortly after Gliniewicz’s death, his widow took the stage at a vigil in his honor, flanked by the couple’s sons, and read a statement that said:

“We all lost somebody yesterday. A husband, a father, a son, a brother, a mentor, a leader, a role model and a friend. And of course, a brother in blue. Joe was my best friend, my world, my hero, the love of my life for the last 26 and a half years.”

She continued: “My world got a little bit smaller with his passing, and he will truly be missed by all of us.”

Her sense of pain was palpable; her sense of loss raw. And yet, her dead husband had set her and everyone else up with a lie.

Senator Dick Durbin even tweeted on Sept. 2: “Officer Gliniewicz of#FoxLake exemplified what it means to be a law enforcement officer&was a true mentor to his fellow officers&community.”

But according to authorities, that mentor was also a thief. As The Chicago Tribune reported, authorities say the amount of the theft was “in the five figures.” And, the paper reported last month, the cost of the investigation into his death topped $300,000.

This is an exponential tragedy, and there is only one person at fault here: Officer Gliniewicz, the officer lovingly referred to as G.I. Joe. His family and his community bear no guilt here. They, too, are victims.

But there are others for whom that claim cannot be made. They are the people who from the beginning went further than any evidence would support in trying to link Gliniewicz’s death to so-called anti-police rhetoric and presidential politics.

On “The Kelly File,” the host, Megyn Kelly, said that it was too early to know the exact circumstance of the “murder” of Gliniewicz, “but it clearly comes just days after Deputy Darren Goforth of the Sheriff’s Department was shot execution-style in an attack that his boss linked to the, quote, ‘dangerous environment created by the Black Lives Matter movement.’ ”

Gov. Scott Walker, of neighboring Wisconsin, wrote on HotAir.com that Gliniewicz had been “assassinated” as “people responsible for keeping us safe are targeted because they are law enforcement officials.”

He continued: “In the last six years under President Obama, we’ve seen a rise in anti-police rhetoric. Instead of hope and change, we’ve seen racial tensions worsen and a tendency to use law enforcement as a scapegoat.”

Immediately following Gliniewicz’s death, a former United States Secret Service agent, Dan Bongino, went on Fox News and, as images of the search for Gliniewicz’s phantom killers played on the screen, said of President Obama:

“The man has been a complete disgrace when it comes to dealing with police officers, and it really gives me no joy in saying that. I know people can engage in hyperbolic statements here, but it’s just the truth. I mean, how many people are going to have to die, how many police officers, before President Obama has that Sista Souljah moment President Clinton had and he comes out and says ‘enough is enough’?”

In an October interview with Crime Watch Daily, even Gliniewicz’s widow lamented that she had not heard from the president and said, while sobbing, “When our officers can’t go home without being shot at, then there’s a problem.”

This case illustrates the ultimate danger of reactionary narrative-building and rabid hashtag orthodoxy.

In the same way that not every black life taken is taken with malice, or without an awareness that it matters, not every police life taken is the result of a hostile policing environment in which calls for justice translate into a call for retribution.

Sometimes bad people simply do bad things. Not everything in real life fits neatly into a narrative. And indeed, trying to force everything pushes out the legitimacy from otherwise honorable pursuits.

The people who sought to politicize Gliniewicz’s death should feel chastened and embarrassed. Rather than simply mourning his death, empathizing with his family and waiting for the results of the full investigation — the very same thing they ask of those unsettled by the deaths of people at the hands of police officers — they pushed an association that didn’t exist.

So eager — or at least too recklessly willing — were they to add another tick mark to the tally of officers fallen in the supposed war on the police, and to ding protesters and the president, that they built a sham argument on a sham murder. Shameful.

Now here’s Mr. Kristof:

Andrew Francesco was a rambunctious, athletic and joyful child, but also a handful. When he was 5 years old, a psychiatrist prescribed Ritalin. As he grew older, he disrupted classes and was given a growing number of potent antipsychotic and other medications.

These didn’t work, so he was prescribed more. Pushed out of one school after another, Andrew grew frustrated, unhappy and sometimes alarming. His parents hid the kitchen knives. Then his mother died at 54; the family believes that the stress of raising Andrew was a factor.

When Andrew was 15, the medications caught up with him and he suffered a rare complication from one of them, Seroquel. One Friday he was well enough to go to school; on Sunday he was brain-dead.

That’s the story that Steven Francesco, a longtime pharmaceutical industry executive and consultant, tells in “Overmedicated and Undertreated,” his harrowing memoir of raising Andrew, his son. He makes clear that the larger problem — even from his view as an industry insider — is a sector that sometimes puts profits above public well-being.

Here’s the central issue: Children with emotional or mental disorders have become a gold mine for the drug industry. Psychiatric medicines for children account for billions of dollars in sales annually, and the market has boomed.

Between the mid-1990s and the late 2000s, prescriptions of antipsychotics for childrenrose about sevenfold.

And now the industry is getting even greedier. It is pushing for a First Amendment right to market its drugs for off-label uses, a path that would leave children like Andrew with mental health issues particularly vulnerable. You may think of free speech as a citizen’s right to dissent; pharmaceutical executives see it as a tool to market drugs for unapproved uses.

Two courts have ruled for the drug companies. That’s the triumph of an ideology that sees corporations as virtuous players endowed with individual freedoms, and regulators as untrustworthy Luddites.

“The recent court decisions could erode the F.D.A. approval process — put in place to protect the public — and threaten public health and patient safety,” warns Dr. Margaret Hamburg, until recently the Food and Drug Administration’s commissioner.

Experts on mental health fear that these rulings could lead to “terrible trouble by confounding science with marketing,” says Dr. Steven E. Hyman, a Harvard expert on psychiatry and former director of the National Institute of Mental Health.

Already, 80 percent of the psychiatric medicine administered to children is “off label,” Francesco estimates, meaning that the F.D.A. hasn’t approved its use for that purpose. Sometimes, off-label use makes sense, but it must be done with care, not just as a result of aggressive marketing by pharmaceutical companies simply aiming to boost quarterly profits.

“Children, because their brains are still developing, are not just small adults,” Hyman notes.

The pharmaceutical industry repeatedly has shown why “regulation” shouldn’t be a dirty word in American politics:

■ In the early 1960s, many countries allowed the “wonder drug” thalidomide to treat morning sickness in pregnant women. A heroic female doctor at the F.D.A., Frances Kelsey, resisted industry pressure to approve thalidomide in the United States, thus averting thousands of horrific birth defects like those it caused abroad.

■ In the mid-1990s, pharmaceutical companies argued that doctors systematically under-treated pain, and as a solution the manufacturers aggressively marketed opioids. The companies’ behavior was sometimes criminal (executives of the company that made OxyContin pleaded guilty to criminal charges), but also hugely profitable. This helped lead to a crisis of addiction to prescription painkillers and heroin; today, drug overdoses kill more Americans than guns or cars do.

■ In a recent column, I recounted how Johnson & Johnson deceptively marketed an antipsychotic medicine called Risperdal, concealing for example the fact that it can cause boys to grow large, pendulous breasts (one boy developed a 46DD bust). J&J got caught, pleaded guilty and paid more than $2 billion in penalties and settlements — but also registered $30 billion in Risperdal sales. The executive who oversaw this illegal marketing effort was Alex Gorsky, who then was promoted to chief executive of J&J. If you’re a pharmaceutical company, crime sometimes pays.

It’s true of course that pharmaceuticals are, literally, lifesavers; indeed, they may have saved my life from malaria. Steven Francesco says that while one drug killed Andrew, another seemed to help him, although he also says that animal therapy, in the form of a dog, seemed to help him more. Children’s mental health in particular is complicated, with difficult trade-offs, requiring oversight.

Think of cars: They, too, offer a huge benefit but still require careful regulation.

So if you agree with today’s politicians thundering against regulation, or if you think that pharmaceutical companies should enjoy a free speech right to peddle drugs, then talk to a family fighting opiate addiction. Or a parent of a thalidomide child. Or consult the grieving family of Andrew Francesco.


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