Archive for the ‘Kristof’ Category

Blow, Cohen and Kristof

August 27, 2015

In “Enough Is Enough” Mr. Blow says that when people refer to the press as the fourth estate, it shouldn’t be confused with a Trump property.  Mr. Cohen, in “Middle Eastern Zen,” says don’t worry about the Middle East. Worry about China. The Middle East (unlike a large chunk of your portfolio) will still be around tomorrow.  Mr. Kristof ponders “Lessons From the Murders of TV Journalists in the Virginia Shooting” and says Wednesday’s killings provide further evidence of the need for more restrictive gun policies in the United States.  Which will happen, Nick, when pigs fly.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

When Donald Trump’s security escorted the Univision anchor Jorge Ramos out of a news conference on Tuesday, I decided that I was officially done.

Maybe I should have been long before that.

Maybe I should have been done the one and only time I ever met Trumpand his first words to me were a soliloquy about how black people loved him, and he was the most popular white man among black people.

Maybe I should have been done when Trump demanded to see the president’s birth certificate.

Maybe I should have been done any number of times over the years when Trump made any number of racist, sexist comments.

Earlier this month, Politico rounded up 199 of his greatest — and vilest — hits. Here are just a few from the magazine:

9. “I have black guys counting my money. … I hate it. The only guys I want counting my money are short guys that wear yarmulkes all day.” (USA Today, May 20, 1991)

23. “Oftentimes when I was sleeping with one of the top women in the world I would say to myself, thinking about me as a boy from Queens, ‘Can you believe what I am getting?’ ” (“Think Big: Make it Happen in Business and Life,” 2008)

32. “… she does have a very nice figure. I’ve said if Ivanka weren’t my daughter, perhaps I’d be dating her.” (ABC’s “The View,” March 6, 2006)

35. “If Hillary Clinton can’t satisfy her husband what makes her think she can satisfy America?” (Twitter, April 16, 2015)

117. “Rosie’s a person that’s very lucky to have her girlfriend. And she better be careful or I’ll send one of my friends over to pick up her girlfriend. Why would she stay with Rosie if she had another choice?” (“Entertainment Tonight,” Dec. 21, 2006)

121. Arianna Huffington is “a dog.” (Twitter, April 6, 2015)

Need I go on? (Thanks, Politico!)

Maybe I should have been done when Trump announced his candidacy this year with an attack on Mexican immigrants, saying:

“When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best — they’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems … drugs … crime … rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”

The Ramos episode wasn’t worse than these; it was just the last straw. A member of the media who dared to raise a truly substantive issue, even out of turn, was dismissed and removed. And yet the band played on. The live coverage continued. In that moment, I was disgusted at Trump’s contempt and the press’s complicity in the shallow farce that is his candidacy. Trump is addicted to press, but the press is also addicted to him, and the entire spectacle is wide and shallow.

(Ramos was allowed back in and permitted to ask his question. I had to see this later, because when he was ejected, I stopped watching.)

Yes, the Republican Party created this Frankenstein of hatred, hubris, narcissism and nativism, but the media is giving it life.

The never-ending, exhaustive, even breathless coverage of every outrage that issues forth from this man’s mouth is not news. Every offense and attack is not news.

Every morning that Trump rolls out of bed and calls in to a news show is not news.

Covering a political phenomenon as news is one thing. See the coverage of Bernie Sanders. Creating a political phenomenon and calling it news is quite another.

I reasoned in a 2010 column that Sarah Palin was no longer an elected official and wasn’t seeking elected office, and was therefore not worthy of constant attacks. But more important, the attacks were elevating her profile, not diminishing it. As I wrote:

“This is it. This is the last time I’m going to write the name Sarah Palin until she does something truly newsworthy, like declare herself a candidate for the presidency. Until then, I will no longer take part in the left’s obsessive-compulsive fascination with her, which is both unhealthy and counterproductive.”

I kept that promise. The only other time she appeared by name in one of my columns was in a passing reference to her speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference in 2013. This column is only the second reference.

The same is true of Trump. The constant harping on him only helps him.

He is different from Palin in 2010, however. He is not only running for office, he’s leading in the polls among Republican candidates. He can’t be ignored. But coverage is not the same as drooling over the daily shenanigans of a demagogue.

I will cover Trump as he addresses issues with specific policy prescriptions and details, like answers to the question Ramos asked.

Until then, this man is not worthy of the attention he’s garnering. We in the media have to own our part in this. We can’t say he’s not serious and then cover him in a way that actually demonstrates that we are not serious.

Is he an easy target for righteous criticism? Of course he is. But is he aware that criticism from the mainstream media is invaluable among certain segments of the political right? Of course he is. Is he also aware that he’s getting more free publicity for being outrageous than he would ever be willing to buy? Of course he is.

The media is being trolled on a massive scale and we look naïve and silly to have fallen for it, even if he draws readers and viewers. When people refer to the press as the fourth estate, it shouldn’t be confused with a Trump property.

Allow me to share one more of Trump’s quotes from Politico:

89. “My brand became more famous as I became more famous, and more opportunities presented themselves.” (Amazon.com, 2007)

Next up we have Mr. Cohen:

In case the gyrations in global markets have you confused, here’s anupdated Middle Eastern primer that will make you feel better:

1) The United States invasion of Iraq in 2003 brought the Shiite majority to power, so advancing the interests of Shiite Iran, America’s enemy. It ousted the Sunnis, upsetting the Sunni-Shiite balance in the Middle East. This infuriated Sunni Saudi Arabia, America’s ally, in theory.

2) The wealthy Saudi royal family underwrites a conservative Wahhabi Islam whose teachings are fiercely anti-American (don’t ask about the Saudi-American alliance). The Saudis have backed Sunni Islamists in war-ravaged Syria against the country’s Iranian-backed despot, Bashar al-Assad, who is from the quasi-Shiite Alawite sect. This maneuver backfired. A barbaric, tech-savvy, knife-wielding Sunni group calling itself Islamic State swept across Syria and Iraq, beheading and raping and destroying great treasures in pursuit of a medieval caliphate that would stretch across territory including modern-day Saudi Arabia. Talk about unintended consequences! Meanwhile the Saudis have bankrolled the destruction of Sunni Islamists in Egypt. This other bad sort of Sunni extremist, known as the Muslim Brotherhood, committed the ultimate lèse-majesté of believing in the ballot box as a source of authority.

3) Sunni-Shiite tensions have become regional. Saudi Arabia and other gulf monarchies are now so convinced that the United States is pro-Shiite (read pro-Iran!), and so persuaded of Iran’s anti-Sunni imperial designs, that they have embarked on a bombing campaign in — you guessed it! — Yemen. The purported aim is to stop the Houthis, seen in Riyadh as Iranian proxies.

4) In the aftermath of the Arab Spring (see below) the main functioning, stable states in the Middle East are non-Arab: Israel, Turkey and Iran. Israel has been in a stop-go war with Arabs since 1948, but is most exercised about Iran, which is not Arab, not Sunni, not on its border and not nuclear armed (see below).

5) The old Middle Eastern order is in tatters. Post-Ottoman states that were not nations, with century-old borders drawn up by Europeans, have split along sectarian lines and made nonsense of those borders. A metastasizing jihadi ideology driven by hatred of Western modernity, colonialism and perceived decadence has proved of unquenchable appeal. An independent Kurdistan, omitted from the post-Ottoman order, is now pretty close to realization. Cocktail-party nugget: Kurds and Israelis are tight.

6) The Obama administration called Syria’s Assad toast without having the means to turn him into toast. This was a huge blunder. A void ensued. Nobody loves a void like a jihadi. Enter Islamic State. America is now in a half-war with Islamic State. Half-war is like half-pregnancy: an illusory impossibility. America is still casting around for palatable nonfundamentalist Syrian opposition groups — a fool’s errand. Syria is gone, baby, gone.

7) Saudi views are increasingly identical to Israeli views (don’t sweat the details), especially on Iran. Wahhabi Islam, however, views Zionism as its implacable enemy. Hence identity of view does not translate into diplomatic rapprochement.

8) The Middle East has a longstanding cottage industry called the peace process. Palestinians are represented by the Palestinian Authority, an authority that has no authority over Palestinians in Gaza, no democratic legitimacy, no obvious claim to represent anything but itself, and no determination to change the status quo. Israel has a right-wing government with no interest in peace and every interest in quashing the very notion of Palestinian statehood — even of Palestinians themselves! The status quo suits Israel, although it involves intermittent small wars.

9) Israel has a nuclear deterrent. The United States and Israel have agreed never to talk about the Jewish state’s alleged nuclear weapons (again, don’t ask).

10) Several despots were swept out in the Arab Spring in 2011. But instead of bringing empowerment and agency through new forms of citizenship, the revolutions folded into sectarianism. Sectarianism means favoring your own and brutalizing the rest (see Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, etc.).

11) Iran is a theocracy split between hard-liners and reformists. The United States, China, Russia, Britain, France and Germany have reached a nuclear accord with Iran. It has stopped Iran’s nuclear program in its tracks. It is, on balance, the most effective way to keep Iran from a bomb. Still, every Republican member of Congress opposes the deal. They believe the White House, China, Russia, Britain, France and Germany are all deluded and they know better! Yep, they do. Plunging oil prices and America’s energy revolution have opened new strategic possibilities in the Middle East. The nuclear deal, too, could in time open new avenues for America to pursue its Middle Eastern interests. A region of recast alliances is anathema to status quo powers like Israel and the Sunni monarchies.

12) Got it? If not, don’t worry. Be Zen. There’s only so much anyone can worry about. Focus on China for now. My guess is the Middle East (unlike a large chunk of your portfolio) will still be around tomorrow.

And last but not least here’s Mr. Kristof:

The slaying of two journalists Wednesday as they broadcast live to a television audience in Virginia is still seared on our screens and our minds, but it’s a moment not only to mourn but also to learn lessons.

The horror isn’t just one macabre double-murder, but the unrelenting toll of gun violence that claims one life every 16 minutes on average in the United States. Three quick data points:

■ More Americans die in gun homicides and suicides every six months than have died in the last 25 years in every terrorist attack and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq combined.

■ More Americans have died from guns in the United States since 1968than on battlefields of all the wars in American history.

■ American children are 14 times as likely to die from guns as children in other developed countries, according to David Hemenway, a Harvard professor and author of an excellent book on firearm safety.

Bryce Williams, as the Virginia killer was known to viewers when he worked as a broadcaster, apparently obtained the gun used to murder his former co-workers Alison Parker and Adam Ward in response to the June massacre in a South Carolina church — an example of how gun violence begets gun violence. Williams may have been mentally disturbed, given that he videotaped Wednesday’s killings and then posted them on Facebook.

“I’ve been a human powder keg for a while … just waiting to go BOOM!!!!,” Williams reportedly wrote in a lengthy fax sent to ABC News after the killings.

Whether or not Williams was insane, our policies on guns are demented — not least in that we don’t even have universal background checks to keep weapons out of the hands of people waiting to go boom.

The lesson from the ongoing carnage is not that we need a modern prohibition (that would raise constitutional issues and be impossible politically), but that we should address gun deaths as a public health crisis. To protect the public, we regulate toys and mutual funds, ladders and swimming pools. Shouldn’t we regulate guns as seriously as we regulate toys?

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has seven pages ofregulations concerning ladders, which are involved in 300 deaths in America annually. Yet the federal government doesn’t make what I would call a serious effort to regulate guns, which are involved in the deaths of more than 33,000 people in America annually, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (that includes suicides, murders and accidents).

Gun proponents often say things to me like: What about cars? They kill, too, but we don’t try to ban them!

Cars are actually the best example of the public health approach that we should apply to guns. Over the decades, we have systematically taken steps to make cars safer: We adopted seatbelts and airbags, limited licenses for teenage drivers, cracked down on drunken driving and established roundabouts and better crosswalks, auto safety inspections and rules about texting while driving.

This approach has been stunningly successful. By my calculations, if we had the same auto fatality rate as in 1921, we would have 715,000 Americans dying annually from cars. We have reduced the fatality rate by more than 95 percent.

Yet in the case of firearms, the gun lobby (enabled by craven politicians) has for years tried to block even research on how to reduce gun deaths. The gun industry made a childproof gun back in the 19th century but today has ferociously resisted “smart guns.” If someone steals an iPhone, it requires a PIN; guns don’t.

We’re not going to eliminate gun deaths in America. But a serious effort might reduce gun deaths by, say, one-third, and that would be 11,000 lives saved a year.

The United States is an outlier, both in our lack of serious policies toward guns and in our mortality rates. Professor Hemenway calculates that the U.S. firearm homicide rate is seven times that of the next country in the rich world on the list, Canada, and 600 times higher than that of South Korea.

We need universal background checks with more rigorous screening, limits on gun purchases to one a month to reduce trafficking, safe storage requirements, serial number markings that are more difficult to obliterate, waiting periods to buy a handgun — and more research on what steps would actually save lives. If the federal government won’t act, states should lead.

Australia is a model. In 1996, after a mass shooting there, the country united behind tougher firearm restrictions. The Journal of Public Health Policy notes that the firearm suicide rate dropped by half in Australia over the next seven years, and the firearm homicide rate was almost halved.

Here in America, we can similarly move from passive horror to take steps to reduce the 92 lives claimed by gun violence in the United States daily. Surely we can regulate guns as seriously as we do cars, ladders and swimming pools.

When there’s bacon in the branches…

Blow, Cohen and Kristof

August 13, 2015

In “Police Abuse is a Form of Terror” Mr. Blow says it  inspires a sense of outrage that the people charged with protecting your life could become a threat to it.  In “Why ISIS Trumps Freedom” Mr. Cohen tells us that young European Muslims join Islamic State to escape alienation and the unbearable weight of individual choice.  Mr. Kristof, in “Mr. Obama, Try These Arguments for Your Iran Deal,” says the  Iranian deal is ugly and flawed, but infinitely better than the alternatives.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

Writing about the wave of deadly encounters — many caught on video — between unarmed black people and police officers often draws a particular criticism from a particular subset of readers.

It is some variation of this:

“Why are you not writing about the real problem — black-on-black crime? Young black men are far more likely to be killed by another young black man than by the police. Why do people not seem to protest when those young people are killed? Where is the media coverage of those deaths?”

This to me has always felt like a deflection, a juxtaposition meant to use one problem to drown out another.

Statistically, the sentiment is correct: Black people are more likely to be killed by other black people. But white people are also more likely to be killed by other white people. The truth is that murders and other violent crimes are often crimes of intimacy and access. People tend to kill people they know.

The argument suggests that police killings are relatively rare and therefore exotic, and distract from more mundane and widespread community violence. I view it differently: as state violence versus community violence.

People are often able to understand and contextualize community violence and, therefore, better understand how to avoid it. A parent can say to a child: Don’t run with that crowd, or hang out on that corner or get involved with that set of activities.

A recent study by scholars at the Institution for Social and Policy Studies at Yale found that homicides cluster and overwhelmingly involve a tiny group of people who not only share social connections but are also already involved in the criminal justice system.

We as adults can decide whether or not to have guns in the home. According to a study in the Annals of Internal Medicine, having a gun may increase the chances of being the victim of homicide. We can report violent family members.

And people with the means and inclination can decide to move away from high-poverty, high-crime neighborhoods.

These measures are not 100 percent effective, but they can produce some measure of protection and provide individual citizens with some degree of personal agency.

State violence, as epitomized in these cases by what people view as police abuses, conversely, has produced a specific feeling of terror, one that is inescapable and unavoidable.

The difference in people’s reactions to these different kinds of killings isn’t about an exaltation — or exploitation — of some deaths above others for political purposes, but rather a collective outrage that the people charged with protecting your life could become a threat to it. It is a reaction to the puncturing of an illusion, the implosion of an idea. How can I be safe in America if I can’t be safe in my body? It is a confrontation with a most discomforting concept: that there is no amount of righteous behavior, no neighborhood right enough, to produce sufficient security.

It produces a particular kind of terror, a feeling of nakedness and vulnerability, a fear that makes people furious at the very idea of having to be afraid.

The reaction to police killings is to my mind not completely dissimilar to people’s reaction to other forms of terrorism.

The very ubiquity of police officers and the power they possess means that the questionable killing in which they are involved creates a terror that rolls in like a fog, filling every low place. It produces ambient, radiant fear. It is the lurking unpredictability of it. It is the any- and everywhere-ness of it.

The black community’s response to this form of domestic terror has not been so different from America’s reaction to foreign terror.

The think tank New America found in June that 26 people were killed by jihadist attacks in the United States since 9/11 — compared with 48 deaths from “right wing attacks.” And yet, we have spent unending blood and treasure to combat Islamist terrorism in those years. Furthermore,according to Gallup, half of all Americans still feel somewhat or very worried that they or someone in their family will become a victim of terrorism.

In one of the two Republican debates last week, Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina seemed to be itching for yet another antiterrorism war, saying at one point: “I would take the fight to these guys, whatever it took, as long as it took.”

Whatever, however, long. This is not only Graham’s position, it’s the position of a large segment of the population.

Responding to New America’s tally, Fareed Zakaria wrote in The Washington Post in July:

“Americans have accepted an unprecedented expansion of government powers and invasions of their privacy to prevent such attacks. Since 9/11, 74 people have been killed in the United States by terrorists, according to the think tank New America. In that same period, more than 150,000Americans have been killed in gun homicides, and we have done … nothing.”

And yet, we don’t ask “Why aren’t you, America, focusing on the real problem: Americans killing other Americans?”

Is the “real problem” question reserved only for the black people? Are black people not allowed to begin a righteous crusade?

One could argue that America’s overwhelming response to the terror threat is precisely what has kept the number of people killed in this country as a result of terror so low. But, if so, shouldn’t black Americans, similarly, have the right to exercise tremendous resistance to reduce the number of black people killed after interactions with the police?

How is it that we can understand an extreme reaction by Americans as a whole to a threat of terror but demonstrate a staggering lack of that understanding when black people in America do the same?

Next up we have Mr. Cohen:

What leads young European Muslims in their thousands to give up lives in France, Britain or Germany, enlist in the ranks of the movement calling itself Islamic State, and dedicate themselves to the unlikely aim of establishing a Caliphate backed by digital propaganda?

The honest answer is we don’t know why a 20-something Briton with a degree in computer engineering or a young Frenchman from a Norman village reaches a psychological tipping-point. Zealotry of any kind subsumes the difficulty of individual choices into the exalted collective submission of dedication to a cause. Your mission is suddenly set. It is presented as a great one with great rewards. Goodbye, tough calls. Goodbye, loneliness.

Islamic State has been adept in exploiting the alienation felt by many young Muslims, from the “quartiers” of Paris to the back streets of Bradford. It offers to give meaning, whether in this life or the next, to meaningless lives. The group has benefited from active support by online jihadi preachers and tacit backing, or at least acquiescence, from imams in some mosques who are inclined, in British Prime Minister David Cameron’s words, to “quietly condone.” It has manipulated anger over America’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, over Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo, over Shia ascendancy in the Middle East, over bleak existences on the margins of European society.

Still, the explanations fall short. Plenty of people experience great hardship or prejudice without opting to behead infidels and apostates, practice codified rape on teenage nonbelievers, and pursue the establishment of God’s rule on earth through his chosen caliph and in accordance with Shariah law.

Every effort of Western societies, particularly since 9/11, to curb the metastasizing jihadi ideology that threatens them has failed. Some of the organizations that grew out of that ideology have been hurt. But the ideas behind them, rooted in a violent rejection of modernity (but not all its tools, witness Islamic State’s slick use of the Internet) and in an extreme, literalist interpretation of certain teachings of Sunni Islam, have proved of unquenchable appeal. It’s a long way from Yorkshire to Raqqa in eastern Syria, yet some young British Muslims go. Other recruits arrive from Saudi Arabia and Russia, Libya and Australia. Islamic State has demonstrated very broad outreach.

It is clearly tapping into something deep. Perhaps that something is at root a yearning to be released from the burden of freedom. Western societies have been going ever further in freeing their citizens’ choices — in releasing them from ties of tradition or religion, in allowing people to marry whom they want and divorce as often as they want, have sex with whom they want, die when they want, and generally do what they want. There are few, if any, moral boundaries left.

In this context, radical Islam offers salvation, or at least purpose, in the form of a life whose moral parameters are strictly set, whose daily habits are prescribed, whose satisfaction of everyday needs is assured, and whose rejection of freedom is unequivocal. By taking away freedom, Islamic State lifts a psychological weight on its young followers adrift on the margins of European society.

Mark Lilla, in an essay earlier this year in The New York Review of Books on the French novelist Michel Houellebecq’s novel “Submission” (whose central character, a disaffected literature professor, ultimately chooses to convert to Islam) made this important point:

“The qualities that Houellebecq projects onto Islam are no different from those that the religious right ever since the French Revolution has attributed to premodern Christendom — strong families, moral education, social order, a sense of place, a meaningful death, and, above all, the will to persist as a culture. And he shows a real understanding of those — from the radical nativist on the far right to radical Islamists — who despise the present and dream of stepping back in history to recover what they imagine was lost.”

Lilla concluded of Houellebecq that he sees France in the grip of “a crisis that was set off two centuries ago when Europeans made a wager on history: that the more they extended human freedom, the happier they would be. For him, that wager has been lost. And so the continent is adrift and susceptible to a much older temptation, to submit to those claiming to speak for God.”

In Europe, right now, those speaking most ardently for God tend to be Muslims. Some of them have spoken out bravely against Islamic State. A majority sees the movement as a betrayal of their religion. But the jihadi temptation to escape from freedom into all-answering zealotry is there and will not soon be curbed.

It is interesting that another foe of the West, President Vladimir Putin, attacks its culture from a similar standpoint: as irreligious, decadent and relativist, and intent on globalizing these “subversive” values, often under the cover of democracy promotion, freedom and human rights.

The great victory in 1989 was of freedom. But every triumph stirs a counter-force. The road to Raqqa is the road from freedom’s burden.

And now here’s Mr. Kristof:

It would be a catastrophe for American influence in the world if Congress killed the Iranian nuclear deal.

Perhaps because the stakes are so high, the debate has become poisonous. Critics are (ludicrously) accusing President Obama of appealing to anti-Semitic tropes. And Obama (petulantly) suggested that some opponents were “alarmist,” “ignorant,” “not being straight” and “making common cause” with Iranians who chant “Death to America.”

Obama’s rhetoric was counterproductive. As former Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, a Texas Republican, told me, “At this point, the president has made it impossible for a Republican to vote for it.” Constituent calls to congressional offices are overwhelmingly against the deal, and with Senator Chuck Schumer defying the White House by opposing it, the opposition is more bipartisan than the support is. That’s tragic, for killing the deal would infuriate many allies, isolate America rather than Iran and ultimately increase the risk of ayatollahs with nuclear weapons.

I’ve already explained why I’m strongly in favor of the deal, and I urge President Obama to start over with his sales job and focus on three points.

First: Sure, the deal is imperfect, but it’s the best way to achieve a goal we all share passionately — preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons.

The great majority of arms experts support the deal, some enthusiastically, some grudgingly. They recognize shortcomings, but on balance, as 29 of America’s leading nuclear scientists and arms experts wrote in an open letter last week, it has “much more stringent constraints than any previously negotiated nonproliferation framework.”

Likewise, three dozen retired American generals and admirals released a joint letter declaring the deal “the most effective means currently available to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.”

Iran would go from maybe a few months from a bomb to a year away. The agreement doesn’t solve the underlying problem, but it may buy us 15 years.

Yes, it would be nice if Iran gave up all its enriched uranium. But isn’t it better that it give up 98 percent of its stockpile than that it give up none?

Everyone knows Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel opposes the deal, but not everyone realizes other Israelis with far more security expertise support it. Ami Ayalon, former head of Israel’s Shin Bet security service, describes it as “the best possible alternative.” And Efraim Halevy, former head of the Mossad, says, “What is the point of canceling an agreement that distances Iran from the bomb?”

Second, it’s true that Iran may try to cheat, but it’s easier to catch and stop the cheating with the deal than without.

Critics sometimes note that President Bill Clinton reached an agreement on nuclear weapons with North Korea in 1994, only to see North Korea cheat. The lesson they draw is that it’s pointless to negotiate with untrustworthy rogue regimes.

I’ve covered North Korea since I was a young reporter in Asia in the 1980s, and the lesson is actually more like the opposite.

That 1994 agreement was indeed flawed, and North Korea violated it. But even so, in the eight years the agreement was in place, North Korea made zero nuclear weapons, according to American intelligence estimates. After the deal collapsed in 2002, the Bush administration turned to a policy of confrontation, and North Korea then made perhaps nine nuclear weapons.

Third, if all goes south, or if Iran is stalling us and after 15 years races to a weapon, we retain the option of a military strike.

I asked David Petraeus, retired four-star general and former head of the C.I.A., about that. “I strongly believe,” he told me, “that there will continue to be a viable military option should Iran seek to break out and construct a nuclear device after the expiration of many of the elements of the inspections regime at the 15-year mark of the agreement.”

To me, this deal is ugly and flawed — and infinitely better than the alternatives. The criticisms of the deal strike me as reasonable, but the alternatives that the critics propose seem unreasonable and incoherent.

So President Obama should hit the restart button. He should acknowledge that the deal has shortcomings but also emphasize that it must be judged not by a referendum on its terms but rather as a choice: deal or no deal.

He can also take steps to reassure doubters. We could boost funding for the International Atomic Energy Agency to make oversight more effective. We could do more to speak up for human rights in Iran and to counter Iranian meddling in the region, especially in Syria.

Gen. Brent Scowcroft, the patriarch of Republican security experts, tells me that he supports the Iran deal in part because it exemplifies American leadership on a crucial global issue. I agree, and for Congress to kill it will not just set back American leadership, it will also increase the odds that Iran gets the bomb.

Blow, Cohen and Kristof

August 6, 2015

In “Darren Wilson’s Quest for Distance” Mr. Blow says Wilson must have made the calculation that a magazine profile would humanize and rehabilitate him in some way. He was wrong.  Mr. Cohen, in “Incurable American Excess,” says Europeans are hardwired to social protection, Americans to an individualism that rewards and ravages.  Mr. Kristof, in “Making Life Harder for Pimps,” says credit card companies have upended the business model of sex traffickers by eliminating a way they pay for advertising.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

Leading up to the first anniversary of the shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. — and the cultural convolutions that followed — The New Yorker has published an article including extensive interviews with Darren Wilson, the police officer who pulled the trigger.

A grand jury refused to indict Wilson in Brown’s death and the Justice Department cleared him of willfully violating Brown’s civil rights. (Brown’s family is now pursuing a civil suit against the city of Ferguson, the former police chief and Wilson.)

Still, the case remains a polarizing one, as some view it as an example of a needless escalation of hostility that too often leaves a person dead; others view Wilson as a hero and now also as a victim. (Wilson says in the interviews that he has been subject to death threats, can’t move freely without worry in his own community and can’t land another police job.)

The Justice Department issued two reports in the case. The one that cleared Wilson also contradicted some claims of vocal witnesses, claims that became central to the outrage that followed. It found that Brown was not shot in the back, and it deemed unreliable assertions that Brown had his hands up in surrender when he was fatally shot.

But the second report, a comprehensive look at the Ferguson Police Department and courts, found widespread racial targeting of black citizens that permeated the system.

As Jake Halpern put it in The New Yorker article:

“Together, the two reports frustrated attempts to arrive at a clean moral conclusion. Wilson had violated no protocol in his deadly interaction with Brown, yet he was part of a corrupt and racist system.”

That is the backdrop against which Wilson’s comments in the article must stand.

Wilson and his attorneys must have made the calculation that a profile would humanize and rehabilitate him in some way, that the image that emerged of an isolated man being rebuffed by reticent police forces and barraged by threats would be empathetic and restorative. That effort, it seems to me, has backfired.

There is a calculated coldness, a willful obliviousness, a penchant for sweeping racial generalization that is unflattering, if not repugnant, in Wilson’s words.

Wilson admits that he hasn’t read the Justice Department report of systemic racism in Ferguson. (“I don’t have any desire,” he said. “I’m not going to keep living in the past about what Ferguson did. It’s out of my control.”) He also doesn’t seem to recognize or value Brown’s personhood. (“Do I think about who he was as a person? Not really, because it doesn’t matter at this point. Do I think he had the best upbringing? No. Not at all.”)

But to me, the most fascinating part of the interview was the portion where Wilson makes the false claim others often make: that the present is divorced from the past.

“People who experienced that, and were mistreated, have a legitimate claim,” he told me. “Other people don’t.” I asked him if he thought that young people in North County and elsewhere used this legacy as an excuse. “I think so,” he replied.

“I am really simple in the way that I look at life,” Wilson said. “What happened to my great-grandfather is not happening to me. I can’t base my actions off what happened to him.” Wilson said that police officers didn’t have the luxury of dwelling on the past. “We can’t fix in thirty minutes what happened thirty years ago,” he said. “We have to fix what’s happening now. That’s my job as a police officer. I’m not going to delve into people’s life-long history and figure out why they’re feeling a certain way, in a certain moment.” He added, “I’m not a psychologist.”

Ah, this is exactly why structural racism is so resilient: detachment. It requires a faith in individualism separate from systems and history, a faith in a lie. Both Wilson and Brown were operating in a cultural context informed by more than their own actions — it was born long before they were, it is ingrained, it is institutional, it is not only racially aware but racially conceived.

Nothing occurring in America can be divorced from America, the whole of America as it now exists and came to exist. Our present culture rests on historical context.

Yet this false detachment and distancing is what makes the predation of structural racism so perfect: It is an edifice without a single, maleficent architect or even a council thereof. It grows out of collective desire to perform a collective deed. It isn’t so much conscious brainchild as subliminal mind meld.

It is like the hive. No single bee need be aware of the hive’s entirety or its enormity. Just doing one seemingly innocuous task contributes to the whole. In fact, you needn’t participate at all to reap the benefits of the system.

It is as exquisite as it is insidious. It can also be deadly.

At another point, Wilson talks about the disproportionately black towns in what is called “North County” — where he chose to work, by the way, for career advancement reasons — as a kind of culturally degenerate morass. He is quoted as saying in the article of the citizens there: “They’re so wrapped up in a different culture than — what I’m trying to say is, the right culture, the better one to pick from.”

Here is the exchange with the author that follows:

This sounded like racial code language. I pressed him: what did he mean by “a different culture”? Wilson struggled to respond. He said that he meant “pre-gang culture, where you are just running in the streets—not worried about working in the morning, just worried about your immediate gratification.” He added, “It is the same younger culture that is everywhere in the inner cities.”

Wilson speaks of these communities as riddled with pathology rather than ravaged by poverty and, again, as if history, design and systemic racial oppressions like the ones described in the second Justice Department report play no role.

The station from which we start in the world is not arbitrarily assigned by birth lottery but preordained by legacy. Our lives are built upon past lives, those of parents and ancestors. Our access and mobility are enabled or restricted by structures, both young and ancient. I maintain that there is valor in effort, that trying to overcome is indeed a form of overcoming, that holding fast to hope in a world that would strip one naked of it is itself a herculean effort and a moral victory.

Yet I refuse to allow my abiding self-determinism to blind me to systems designed and built on devaluation and destruction. I know as others do the frustration and fatigue of swimming against a current rather than being carried by it. There are realities that must not be ignored or minimized.

Wilson’s interview doesn’t make him appear more human. It reaffirms the degree to which the American mind can seek to divest others of humanity, and it lays bare how historical illiteracy and incuriousness creates the comfortable distance on which pernicious structural racism relies.

Now here’s Mr. Cohen:

A few years ago, Americans and Europeans were asked in a Pew Global Attitudes survey what was more important: “freedom to pursue life’s goals without state interference,” or “state guarantees that nobody is in need.” In the United States, 58 percent chose freedom and only 35 percent a state pledge to eradicate neediness. In Britain, the response was the opposite: 55 percent opted for state guarantees and just 38 percent for freedom. On the European Continent — in Germany, France and Spain — those considering state protection as more important than freedom from state interference rose to 62 percent.

This finding gets to the heart of trans-Atlantic differences. Americans, who dwell in a vast country, sparsely populated by European standards, are hardwired to the notion of individual self-reliance. Europeans, with two 20th-century experiences of cataclysmic societal fracture, are bound to the idea of social solidarity as prudent safeguard and guarantor of human decency. The French see the state as a noble idea and embodiment of citizens’ rights. Americans tend to see the state as a predator on those rights. The French ennoble the dutiful public servant. Americans ennoble the disruptive entrepreneur.

To return from Europe to the United States, as I did recently, is to be struck by the crumbling infrastructure, the paucity of public spaces, the conspicuous waste (of food and energy above all), the dirtiness of cities and the acuteness of their poverty. It is also to be overwhelmed by the volume and vital clamor of American life, the challenging interaction, the bracing intermingling of Americans of all stripes, the strident individualism. Europe is more organized, America more alive. Europe purrs; even its hardship seems somehow muted. America revs. The differences can feel violent.

In his intriguing new book, “The United States of Excess,” Robert Paarlberg, a political scientist, cites the 2011 Pew survey as he grapples with these divergent cultures. His focus is on American overconsumption of fuel and food. Why, he asks, is the United States an “outlier” in greenhouse gas emissions and obesity, and what, if anything, will it do about it? Per capita carbon dioxide emissions in the United States are about twice those of the other wealthy nations of the 34-member Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. American obesity (just over a third of American adults are now obese) is running at about twice the European average and six times the Japanese.

Paarlberg argues persuasively that these American phenomena are linked. He finds their causes in demographic, cultural and political factors. A resource-rich, spacious nation, mistrustful of government authority, persuaded that responsibility is individual rather than collective, optimistic about the capacity of science and technology to resolve any problem, and living in a polarized political system paralyzed by its “multiple veto points,” tends toward “a scrambling form of adaptation” rather than “effective mitigation.”

Americans, in their majority, don’t want to increase taxes on fossil fuels or tax sugar-sweetened drinks because they see such measures as a regressive encroachment on individual freedoms — to drive an automobile and consume what you want. They won’t go the German route of promoting renewables like solar and wind power by guaranteeing higher fixed prices for those who generate it because higher electricity costs would result. Whether it comes to food or fuel, they don’t want measures where “voting-age adults are being coerced into a lifestyle change.”

Individualism trumps all — and innovation, it is somehow believed, will save the country from individualism’s ravages. Paarlberg notes that: “Americans eat alone while at work, alone while commuting to work in the car, alone at the food court while shopping, alone at home while watching TV, and alone in front of the refrigerator both before and after normal mealtime.”

But if all that eating continues to generate obesity — as it will — Americans tend to put their faith in “improved bariatric surgeries, and new blockbuster diet drugs” that “will be challenges welcomed by America’s innovative and responsive private market institutions.” Rather than cut back, they prefer to consume more — whether fuel or food — and then find ways to offset excess.

With the strong policy measures needed to control excess consumption — taxes, regulations and mandates — blocked, political leaders are “tempted to shift more resources and psychological energy toward the second-best path of adaptation,” Paarlberg writes: Easier, and potentially more profitable, to develop drought-resistant farm crops or improve coastal protection systems than tackle global warming by cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

His conclusions are pessimistic. The world should not expect America to change. Its response to overconsumption is inadequate. On global warming, the country adapts but does not confront, content “to protect itself, and itself alone.” On obesity, it shuns the kind of coordinated policy action that will help the less fortunate, particularly disadvantaged minorities.

The question, of course, is whether America’s virtues — its creative churn, vitality and energy — are intrinsic to these vices. My own pessimistic conclusion is that they probably are.

Last but not least we have Mr. Kristof:

In the long struggle against sex trafficking, we finally have a breakthrough!

It didn’t come from Congress, or the White House, from the courts or the police. Rather, it came from credit card companies: Pimps can no longer easily use American Express, Visa or MasterCard to pay for prostitution ads in which they sell 15-year-old girls as if they were pizzas.

That upended the business model of sex trafficking. Pimps all over the country are reduced to figuring out how to pay to promote their ads with, yes, Bitcoin!

Human trafficking is one of the most insidious human rights abuses in the United States — some 100,000 minors are trafficked into the sex trade each year in America. So let me explain how we came to enjoy a triumph over traffickers.

A website called Backpage.com has for years dominated the sex trade advertising business. In April alone it published more than 1.4 million ads in its adult services section in the United States. Almost every time a girl is rescued from traffickers, it turns out that she was peddled on Backpage.

Last year I wrote about a missing 15-year-old Boston girl whose parents were beside themselves with worry. In their living room, I pulled out my laptop, opened up Backpage and quickly found seminude advertisements for the girl, who turned out to be in a hotel room with an armed pimp.

Backpage is allowed to operate because of a loophole in the Communications Decency Act. Attorneys general from 48 states havepleaded with Backpage to stop this exploitation, to no effect. Girls who have been sold on Backpage when they were as young as 13 have sued the company, but haven’t succeeded because of the loophole.

Then suddenly this summer, the miracle of the market intervened.

Sheriff Tom Dart of Cook County, Ill., wrote tough letters to Visa and MasterCard, calling on them to stop allowing their cards to pay for sex ads on Backpage. Both companies effectively agreed. To its great credit, American Express in April stopped working with Backpage for adult ads, so as of the beginning of July pimps had no easy way to pay for advertisements.

Flummoxed, Backpage responded by making its basic sex ads free, but, even with a fee to promote a free ad, that’s not a business model that can sustain it. Backpage is suing Sheriff Dart, but my sense is that pimps won’t be using their credit cards again on the site any time soon.

“If it’s down for six months, that’s six months of children who aren’t raped,” says Yiota Souras of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

So bravo to American Express, MasterCard and Visa — and to Sheriff Dart — for getting results where Congress failed.

There will still be human trafficking, of course, and pimps will find other ways to peddle kids. But it may not be quite so easy for traffickers as it was.

“When on Backpage, I was advertised in the same way as a car or a phone, but with even less value than a bike,” one girl told me late last year. She said she was advertised at the age of 15 and 16 and raped 1,000 times as a result.

My guess is that a majority of sex ads on Backpage are for consenting adults. But a significant minority are for sex with children or with women who are coerced — representing some of the largest and most mistreated classes of human rights victims in America. We don’t have the moral authority to tell other countries to end modern forms of slavery when we don’t clean up our own act.

There has also been progress in other areas. The police in America are going after pimps more, and sometimes johns, as well (that still needs to happen more).

The Nordic model to combat trafficking and exploitation, pioneered in Sweden, has been gaining ground, too. It provides for the arrest of johns while offering help rebuilding the lives of women who were selling sex. Nothing works all that well in curbing sex trafficking, but this model has succeeded better than other approaches.

Yet in some quarters, there’s still a myopia about the degree to which this is a human rights issue. Amnesty International will consider a proposal in the coming days that would call for full decriminalization of the sex trade, including for johns, on the theory that this would benefit sex workers. Nice theory, but a failed one. It has been tried repeatedly and it invariably benefited johns while exacerbating abuse of women and girls: A parallel underground market emerges for underage girls.

Let’s hope Amnesty comes to its senses and, as Swanee Hunt of Harvard put it, avoids “endorsing one of the most exploitative human rights abuses of our time.” Then we can go back to celebrating the struggles of America’s sex traffickers as their business model is upended.

Cohen and Kristof

July 30, 2015

In “One Congressman’s Iran” Mr. Cohen says a Jewish representative digs deep into the Iran deal and rightly concludes that it should be supported.  Mr. Kristof, in “Why the Naysayers Are Wrong About the Iran Deal,” says sure, the agreement is flawed, but it would make us safer.  First up we have Mr. Cohen:

Representative Sander M. Levin, Democrat of Michigan and the longest-serving Jewish member of Congress, said something important this week: “In my view, the only anchors in public life are to dig deeply into the facts and consult broadly and then to say what you believe.”

His words were important for two reasons. First, they defied a prevalent political culture of ignoring inconvenient facts, consulting narrowly if at all, and never saying what you believe when it’s not what your constituency wants to hear. Second, his statement concerned Iran, an issue where fact-based reasoning on Capitol Hill and beyond tends to take second place to preposterous posturing — as per Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee’s statement that the nuclear deal with Tehran would march Israelis “to the door of the oven.”

Levin’s reflection led him to the sober, accurate conclusion that the agreement is “the best way to achieve” the goal of preventing Iran from advancing toward a nuclear weapon, an outcome that will make Israel, the Middle East and the world “far more secure.” Not the ideal way, the perfect way, or a foolproof way, but, in the real world of ineradicable Iranian nuclear know-how, the best way attainable. That is also the view of other parties to the deal — the not insignificant or unserious powers of Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany.

Why? Levin, a longtime friend of Israel, was thorough. Because the accord, if fully implemented, slashes Iran’s stockpile of enriched uranium by 97 percent, prevents enrichment above 3.67 percent (a long way from bomb grade) for 15 years, intensifies international inspections exponentially, holds Iran at least a year from having enough material to produce a weapon (as opposed to the current two months), cuts off a plutonium route to a bomb, preserves all American options in combating Iranian support for Hezbollah, and is far better than an alternative scenario where international sanctions would fray and “support from even our best allies if we move to the military option would be less likely.”

Congress was given 60 days to review the deal. Sentiment is generally shoot-from-the-hip hostile. A resolution of disapproval that would be vetoed by President Obama is likely; the president probably has enough support to resist an override of his veto. But before following such an unsatisfactory path to assumption of a historic accord, members of Congress, including Senator Chuck Schumer, the normally outspoken New York Democrat who has discovered his inner reserve on this matter, should do their own version of Levin’s deep-dig questioning. They should also peruse a letter from five former U.S. ambassadors to Israel — including Thomas Pickering — and from former senior officials — including Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns — that urges both chambers not to reject a deal without which “the risks will be much higher for the United States and Israel.”

Yes, the risks will be far greater. There is huge, if uncertain, upside potential to the establishment of an American relationship with Iran through this agreement. The downside potential in its absence is as great — and includes war.

It is intriguing that, along with Israel and Republican members of Congress, the most vociferous criticism of the deal has come from Saudi Arabia. The Saudis have had it with what they see as American fecklessness. They have been convinced since the Iraq invasion that the United States is pro-Shia (read pro-Iran). They are so persuaded of Iran’s anti-Sunni imperial designs that they have embarked on an indiscriminate bombing campaign in Yemen with the purported aim of stopping the Houthis, seen as Iranian proxies.

Now the Saudis are American allies. Iran is, and will for the foreseeable future remain, a hostile power. But what have our “allies” done for the United States of late? Promoted, through madrasas and other means, the conservative Wahhabi Islam whose fierce anti-Western teachings provided the context for the emergence of Al Qaeda, the Taliban and, most recently, Islamic State. Manipulated oil prices, most recently down, in order to undermine America’s liberating energy revolution through an attempt to make shale oil uncompetitive. Shunned Obama’s attempts to reassure Sunni monarchies that the Iran deal will not mean diminished support — and all this, of course, from the country that furnished the manpower for 9/11.

The Saudis are in lockstep with Israel on hostility to the Iran deal but are no friends of Israel. Their goal, despite America’s dwindling dependence on the kingdom for oil, is to preserve a Middle Eastern status quo that limits American strategic options — including the possibility that Iran and the United States might find common cause in combating Islamic State or, years from now, re-establish diplomatic relations.

Any deep dig into the facts, of Levin’s courageous kind, cannot escape the question of whether a deal with an enemy, Iran, so fiercely opposed by this particular ally, Saudi Arabia, might not, over time, change the Middle Eastern equation in ways favorable to the American national interest.

And now here’s Mr. Kristof:

Mike Huckabee says President Obama is using his nuclear deal to “take the Israelis and march them to the door of the oven.” Mitt Romney describes it as a “generational calamity.” And while polls diverge, one recently taken by CNN suggests the public wants Congress to reject the agreement by a 52 percent to 44 percent majority.

This is one of the pivotal foreign policy decisions of the decade, so let’s examine the arguments:

Obama didn’t deliver what he promised. For example, we wanted “anywhere, anytime” inspections, but we caved and got a complex system that allows Iran to delay inspections. And in the later years of the agreement, Iran won a significant easing of controls. As Jeb Bush put it: “These negotiations began, by President Obama’s own admission, as an effort to deny Iran nuclear capabilities, but instead will only legitimize those activities.”

The U.S. didn’t get all it wanted (and neither did Iran) in an imperfect compromise. True, we didn’t achieve anywhere, anytime inspections, yet the required inspections program is still among the most intrusive ever. Remember too that this deal isn’t just about centrifuges but also about the possibility that Iran will come out of the cold and emerge from its failed 36-year experiment with extremism. That’s why Iran’s hard-liners are so opposed to the deal; they have been sustained by the narrative of the Great Satan as the endless enemy, and conciliation endangers them.

You doves think that a nuclear deal will empower reformers in Iran and turn it once more into the pro-American and pro-Israeli power it was under the shah. But sanctions relief may just give this regime a new lease on life.

Iran’s people are perhaps the most pro-American and secular of those of any country I’ve been to in the Middle East. (On my last trip to Iran, I took two of my kids along, and Iranians bought them meals and ice cream, and served them illegal mojitos.) The public weariness with the regime’s corruption, oppression and economic failings is manifest. I would guess that after the supreme leader dies, Iran will begin a process of change like that in China after Mao died.

That’s speculative. The real impact of the deal is that it will unlock tens of billions of dollars in frozen assets and new oil revenues, giving Iranian hard-liners more resources to invest in nuclear skulduggery and in extremist groups.

True, but that will happen anyway. Remember that this agreement includes Europe, Russia and China as parties. Even if Congress rejects the agreement, sanctions will erode and Iran will get an infusion of cash.

This agreement is a betrayal of Israel. Once Iran gets its hands on W.M.D.s, it will commit genocide.

Iran is widely believed to have developed biological and chemical weaponsback in the 1980s, and it hasn’t used those weapons of mass destruction against Israel. And what American officials find awkward to point out is that Israel is already a significant nuclear power with a huge military edge, which is why it has deterred Iran so far. If I lived in Tel Aviv, would I be nervous? Sure. But I’d be even more nervous without this deal, which reduces the chance that Iran will acquire a nuclear weapon in the next decade. That’s why five former U.S. ambassadors to Israel endorsed the accord. (It’s also notable that American Jews are more in favor of the agreement than the American public as a whole.)

Obama pretends that the alternative to this deal is war. No, the alternative is increased economic pressure until Iran yelps for surrender.As Marco Rubio puts it, “Give Iran a very clear choice: You can have an economy or you can have a weapons program.”

So we apply the same economic pressure that caused the collapse of the Castro regime in Cuba in 1964? The same isolation that overthrew the North Korean regime in 1993? The same sanctions that led Saddam Hussein to give up power peacefully in Iraq in 2000? Oh, wait.…

Look, even you admit that this is a flawed deal. So why risk it? As Rick Perry says, “No deal is better and safer than a bad deal.”

If the U.S. rejects this landmark deal, then we get the worst of both worlds: an erosion of sanctions and also an immediate revival of the Iran nuclear program.

We have a glimpse of what might happen. In 2003, Iran seemingly offered a comprehensive “grand bargain” to resolve relations with the United States, but George W. Bush’s administration dismissed it. Since then, Iran has gone from a tiny number of centrifuges to 19,000, getting within two months of “breakout” to a nuclear weapon. The point: Fulmination is not a substitute for policy, and a multilateral international agreement achieves far more protection than finger-wagging.

Diplomacy is rarely about optimal outcomes; it is about muddling along in the dark, dodging bullets, struggling to defer war and catastrophe for the time being, nurturing opportunities for a better tomorrow. By that standard, the Iran deal succeeds. Sure, it is flawed, and yes, it makes us safer.

Blow and Kristof

July 23, 2015

In “Questions About the Sandra Bland Case” Mr. Blow says that when there are lapses in logic in what people think would be reasonable explanations, suspicion spreads.  In “Starvation as a Product of War” Mr. Kristof says there’s a looming famine in South Sudan. What’s needed most isn’t food, but an end to the civil war.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

I have so many questions about the case in which Sandra Bland was arrested in a small Texas town and died in police custody. These are questions that ought to be easy to answer, questions that I suspect many others may share. Here are just some of my areas of inquiry.

1. On the video released by the Texas Department of Public Safety of Bland’s traffic stop, the arresting officer, Brian Encinia, tells her that the reason for her stop is that she “failed to signal a lane change.” The officer returns to his car, then approaches Bland’s vehicle a second time. He remarks to Bland, “You seem very irritated.” Bland responds, “I am. I really am.” She continues, “I was getting out of your way. You were speeding up, tailing me, so I move over, and you stop me. So, yeah, I am a little bit irritated.”

Was Bland simply trying to move out of the way of a police vehicle?

The video shows the officer’s car accelerating behind Bland’s and passing a sign indicating a speed limit of 20 miles per hour. How fast was the officer closing the distance on Bland before she changed lanes? Was it completely reasonable for her to attempt to move out of his way?

2. The officer, while standing at the closed driver’s side door, asks Bland to extinguish her cigarette. As soon as she refuses, he demands that she exit the vehicle. Was the demand to exit because of the refusal? If so, what statute in Texas — or anywhere in America! — stipulates that a citizen can’t smoke during a traffic stop?

3. According to Encinia’s signed affidavit, Bland was “removed from the car” and “placed in handcuffs for officer safety.” The reason for the arrest is unclear to me. At one point, Encinia says, “You were getting a warning until now you’re going to jail.” So, what was the arrest for at that point? Failure to comply? Later in the video, Encinia says, “You’re going to jail for resisting arrest.” If that was the reason, why wasn’t Bland charged with resisting arrest? The affidavit reads, “Bland was placed under arrest for Assault on Public Servant.”

Encinia’s instructions to Bland are a jumble of confusion. After she is handcuffed, he points for her to “come read” the “warning” ticket, then immediately pulls back on her arm, preventing her from moving in the direction that he pointed, now demanding that she “stay right here.” He then commands Bland to “stop moving,” although, as she points out, “You keep moving me!” What was she supposed to do?

4. According to Encinia’s affidavit, at some point after being handcuffed, “Bland began swinging her elbows at me and then kicked my right leg in the shin.” On the dashcam video, a commotion happens out of view of the camera, with Bland complaining that she is being hurt — “You’re about to break my wrist!” and “You knocked my head in the ground; I got epilepsy!” Encinia and another officer insist that Bland stop moving. Encinia can be heard to say, “You are yanking around! When you pull away from me, you are resisting arrest!” (Neither the dashcam video nor a video taken by a bystander shows a discernible kick.)

When Encinia re-enters the frame of the dashcam, he explains to a female officer: “She started yanking away, then kicked me, so I took her straight to the ground.” The female officer points to Encinia’s leg as she says: “Yeah, and there you got it right there.”

Encinia says, “One thing for sure, it’s on video.” Only, it isn’t. Why exactly was Bland walked out of the frame of view of the dashcam for the arrest procedure?

5. The initial video posted by Texas authorities also has a number of visual glitches — vanishing cars, looping sequences — but no apparent audio glitches.

The director of “Selma,” Ava DuVernay, tweeted: “I edit footage for a living. But anyone can see that this official video has been cut. Read/watch. Why?” She included a link to a post pointing out the discrepancies in the video.

According to NBC News:

“Tom Vinger, a spokesman for the Department of Public Safety, blamed a ‘technical issue during posting.’ He said that the department was working to correct the video.”

What kinds of “technical difficulties” were these? Why wouldn’t the audio also have glitches? (Authorities have now released a new, slightly shorter video.)

6. Texas authorities say that, while in the Waller County jail cell, Bland used a trash bag from a trash can in the cell to hang herself. Is it standard procedure to have trash cans with trash bags in jail cells? Is the can secured to the floor? If not, couldn’t it be used by an inmate to hurt herself, or other inmates or jail staff?

According to a report on Wednesday by The Houston Chronicle:

“Bland disclosed on a form at the jail that she previously had attempted suicide over that past year, although she also indicated she was not feeling suicidal at the time of her arrest, according to officials who attended the Tuesday meeting with local and state leaders investigating the case.” Shouldn’t they have known it was a suicide risk?

The Bureau of Justice Statistics points out that suicide is the No. 1 cause of non-illness-related deaths in local jails (although blacks are least likely to commit those suicides), and between 2000 and 2011 about half of those suicides “occurred within the first week of admission.”

Why weren’t more precautions taken, like, oh, I don’t know, removing any suicide risks from the cell?

7. Houston’s Channel 2 aired “exclusive video from inside the Waller County jail cell where Sandra Bland was found dead.” In the video, a trash can — a very large one — is clearly visible. But, strangely, it appears to have a trash bag in it. If Bland used the trash bag to hang herself, where did the one in the can come from? Did they replace it? Why would the jail staff do that?

8. NBC News’ John Yang also toured the cell, and in his video he says that “things are really the same as it was that morning” when officers found Bland’s body, including food (“Dinner Untouched” was the language used in title of the video on NBCNews.com) and a Bible on the bed opened to Psalms. (That Bible appears to be closed in the Channel 2 video. Who opened it between the two videos?).

And what page is the Bible opened to in the NBC video? It is open to Psalm 119 and at the top of the page are verses 109-110: “Though I constantly take my life in my hands, I will not forget your law. The wicked have set a snare for me, but I have not strayed from your precepts.” Eerie. Or, convenient.

Also in the Channel 2 video, there are orange shoes on the floor by the bed. In the NBC video, they are gone. Who moved them? Why? Where are they?

Yang says of the trash bag in the can: “Around her neck, they say, was a trash bag, an extra trash bag from this receptacle.” So what gives here? “Extra trash bag”? Was there more than one trash bag in the cell or had that one been replaced?

(It is also worth noting that the video shows what appears to be a rope holding a shower curtain.)

Isn’t this an active investigation? Shouldn’t that cell be treated like a crime scene? Why are reporters allowed to wander through it? Who all has been in it?

Maybe there are innocent and convincing answers to all these questions, and others. I hope so. People need things to make sense. When there are lapses in logic in what people think would be reasonable explanations, suspicion spreads.

Now here’s Mr. Kristof, writing from Aweil, South Sudan:

One gauge of the famine looming in South Sudan is that people are simply collapsing from hunger.

As I was driving into this city, a woman was lying inert on the road. She was Nyanjok Garang, and she said she hadn’t eaten for three days. She had set out to look for work, maybe washing clothes, in hopes of keeping her two children alive. After a day of fruitless walking she had collapsed.

“My children are hungry,” she said. “I’m hungry. There’s not even a cent left to buy bread.” Her husband is a soldier in the government forces fighting in South Sudan’s civil war, but she doesn’t even know if he is still alive. So she left her children with a neighbor and set out in hopes of finding work — “and then I blacked out.”

A horrific famine enveloped what is now South Sudan in 1988, and there are some signs that this year could see a repeat. As in 1988, weather has led to poor harvests on top of civil war that has made it difficult to plant crops and move food around the country.

President Obama will be focusing on the South Sudan civil war in his trip starting Thursday night to Kenya and Ethiopia, both neighbors to South Sudan. The war is not only a military crisis but also ahumanitarian catastrophe, which makes it all the more important to step up efforts to bring about peace.

You might think that what’s needed to end a famine is food. Actually, what’s essential above all is an international push of intensive diplomacy and targeted sanctions to reach a compromise peace deal and end the civil war. Yes, Obama has plenty on his plate already, but no other country has the leverage America does. And in peace, South Sudan can care for itself. But as long as the war continues, South Sudanese will face starvation — especially women and girls.

The gender dynamics of hunger are obvious: In Aweil, the hospital ward is full of skeletal women and girls, looking like concentration camp survivors. That’s because (as in many places around the world) when food is insufficient, families allocate it to men and boys, and women and girls disproportionately starve.

One 15-year-old girl in the hospital, Rebecca Athian, was so malnourished that her bones pushed through her skin and she had a measure of anemia (a hemoglobin level of 3) that in the West is pretty much unheard-of. Yet the hospital was now forced to discharge her to make way for new patients.

Rebecca has already lost two siblings in the last year, and although the causes of death were never fully determined, it’s a good guess that they were malnutrition-related. Her mother would like to marry Rebecca off, because it would then be her husband’s duty to feed her and keep her alive. But she says Rebecca has been raped, so men are unwilling to marry her.

The United Nations says 4.6 million people in South Sudan — more than one-third of the population — are “severely food insecure,” and the situation will deteriorate in the coming months because the next major harvest won’t come until October or November. Until then, there is nothing to eat.

“It is the first time we’ve seen so many cases like this,” said Dr. Dut Pioth, the acting director of the hospital. “It’s going to be like what we saw in 1988.”

Dr. Dut was 11 years old during that famine, and he remembers some relatives starving to death. His family fled to Khartoum, where he thrived in school and attended medical school. But he is frustrated because what patients often need now isn’t so much medical care, but rather food and peace.

To see starving children is particularly wrenching. They show no emotions: They do not cry or smile or frown, but simply gaze blankly, their bodies unwilling to waste a calorie on emotion when every iota of energy must go to keep major organs functioning.

It’s striking that this area of South Sudan is not directly affected by fighting; it’s calm here. But the hunger is still war-related, for the conflict is keeping food and supplies out. The road from the capital, Juba, has been blocked by fighting, and disputes with Sudan have closed the border to the north. So this area is cut off, prices are skyrocketing, jobs are disappearing, and ordinary workers can’t afford to buy food.

The only certainty is that it will get worse in the coming months, and the women and girls who die will be war casualties. “Those who are dying of gunshots,” Dr. Dut notes, “are fewer than those who are dying of hunger.”

Blow and Kristof

July 16, 2015

Gail Collins is off on book leave.  I sure hope she’s back in time to cover the Clown Car debates…  This morning, in “Trump Builds One Brand and Damages Another,” Mr. Blow says that his true gift is an ability to exploit other people’s emotions, even those whose response to him is revulsion. It’s the art and craft of a demagogue.  In “Dalai Lama Gets Mischievous” Mr. Kristof says the Dalai Lama has a suggestion for China’s Communist leaders: Take up reincarnation.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

Donald Trump is exactly what the Republican Party deserves.

The Republican Party has nurtured anti-immigrant, xenophobic nastiness for years, but it has tried to do so, at least at the national level, in language that disguised it as a simple issue of law and order.

Trump has blown all that to bits.

Trump is now leading in the polls as measured by support of likely Republican primary/caucus voters, according to a USA TODAY/Suffolk University poll released this week. Although, it should be noted, he leads with only 17 percentage points in the crowded field, just three points ahead of Jeb Bush, a gap that is still within the poll’s margin of error.

But Trump leading in the polls is all the media needs to allow Trump to also lead the debate. There is nothing a television camera likes more than spectacle.

Let me be clear: Trump will not be the president of the United States. But I firmly believe that Trump not only knows that, he doesn’t want to be president. Trump is brand-building. This is all free publicity for a salesman in the business of selling himself.

In the same USA TODAY/Suffolk University poll, Trump has a staggering unfavorable rating among all voters, including Democrats and independents. According to the newspaper: “In the poll, 61 percent have an unfavorable impression of him and 23 percent a favorable one.” In comparison, “Bush’s favorable-unfavorable rating is 35 percent-42 percent.”

But Trump is milking his moment.

There is a cottage industry among some public people that is breathing new life into the adage “all press is good press.” These people use ignobility as an elevator; they inflame their way to infamy. They get the country talking and their names trending, then they turn that cultural currency into hard currency.

Every minute Trump is on your television screens, it’s good for Trump. Every time Trump’s name is mentioned on social media, it’s good for Trump. Every time someone writes about Trump, it’s good for Trump. This column is good for Trump.

But Trump is an egotist. He is at the center of his own universe. He’s not so much concerned about politics, or his party or the presidency. Trump is good for Trump.

But, what’s good news for the Trump brand could prove disastrous news for the Republican brand.

Trump recently boasted, “I’m, like, a really smart person.” I believe that’s true — not necessarily in the erudite, intellectual sense, but rather in the instinctive, people-reading sense.

When Trump made his campaign announcement last month, he said:

“When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”

Set aside the fact that he provided no evidence of the Mexican government’s “sending” anyone to this country. Set aside the fact that, asThe Washington Post put it, “data show that new immigrants — including illegal immigrants — are actually less likely to commit crime, not more.”

Facts are not the point for Trump. He spouts so much unsubstantiated idiocy that trying to correct it all would drive any respectable fact-checker mad. Indeed, taking Trump seriously enough to attempt the appropriate fact checks, in a way, only serves to elevate his obvious provocations to serious rhetorical argumentation.

Some corporations distanced themselves from Trump in the wake of his comments, but Trump seems to be making the calculation, probably rightly so, that the business he loses by being in the news is worth less than the free airtime that doing so affords him.

The whole point of Trump’s perfidy is provocation, which is itself a way of positioning him for more profits. Republicans get excited; Trump gets richer. Detractors get angry; Trump gets richer.

This is where his true gifts are on display, this form of emotional intelligence and business acumen, the ability to tap into and exploit other people’s emotions, even those whose response to him is revulsion. This is the art and craft of the demagogue.

You have to see Trump’s statement for what it was: A naked attempt at Willie Horton-izing Mexican immigrants, and thereby the exploiting of the image, substantiated or not, of the brown-bodied predator destroying our country and taking the virtue of our women.

It provides language for people to hide their racism and nativism inside the more honorable shell of civility and chivalry. It allows Trump to tap into anger and call it adulation.

Trump knows how to get a rise out of people, and he’s doing it.

On Sunday, Senator Lindsey Graham, another of the gaggle of Republican presidential candidates, said of Trump on CNN:

“I think he’s hijacked the debate. I think he’s a wrecking ball for the future of the Republican Party with the Hispanic community and we need to push back.”

But the Republican Party isn’t innocent here. Trump isn’t imposing a poisonous view of Hispanics; he’s voicing it. And he’s voicing it in precisely the blunt and noxious terms that a sizable portion of the party feels it and in which they want to hear it discussed.

While some Republicans have sought to distance themselves from Trump, if not completely condemn him, the terrain of those responses has been wobbly. This allows all the more weight to Hillary Clinton’s charge that Republican candidates are “on a spectrum of hostility” when it comes to immigrants.

But there are also Republicans who outright applaud Trump. As Senator Ted Cruz, another Republican presidential candidate, put it:

“When it comes to Donald Trump, I like Donald Trump. I think he’s terrific. I think he’s brash. I think he speaks the truth.”

As long as portions of the Republican Party laud the divisive, fact-challenged Trump as a terrific truth-teller, the party’s brand will continue to sustain incalculable damage, particularly among the vital immigrant population.

There is no need for anyone to have one ounce of sympathy for the G.O.P. Its chicken has come home to roost.

Now here’s Mr. Kristof:

The Dalai Lama, who may be the only octogenarian spiritual leader with a profoundly mischievous streak, has a suggestion for China’s Communist leaders: Take up reincarnation.

I’m interviewing him in his hotel room in Manhattan, at the end of an overseas tourmarking his 80th birthday, and we’re talking about what happens after he dies. He is the 14th Dalai Lama, each considered a reincarnation of the previous one, and usually after one has died a search is undertaken for an infant to become the next. But he has said that he may be the last of the line, or that the next Dalai Lama might emerge outside Tibet — or might even be a girl.

This talk infuriates Beijing, which is determined to choose the next Dalai Lama (to use as a tool to control Tibet). So, startlingly, the atheists in the Chinese Communist Party have been insisting that Buddhist reincarnation must continue.

“The Chinese Communist Party is pretending that they know more about the reincarnation system than the Dalai Lama,” said the Dalai Lama, laughing. “The Chinese Communists should accept the concept of rebirth. Then they should recognize the reincarnation of Chairman Mao Zedong, then Deng Xiaoping. Then they have the right to involve themselves in the Dalai Lama’s reincarnation.”

The Dalai Lama hinted that he would hold some kind of referendum among Tibetan exiles, and consultations among Tibetans within China, about whether a new Dalai Lama should succeed him. The issue will be formally resolved around his 90th birthday, he said.

One reason to end the line, he suggested, is that a future Dalai Lama might be “naughty” and diminish the position. His biggest concern seems to be that after he dies, China will select a new pet Dalai Lama who may act as a quisling to help the Chinese control Tibet and to give legitimacy to their policies there.

“Sadly, the precedent has been set,” he said, referring to the Panchen Lama, the second most important reincarnated lama in Tibetan Buddhism. After the 10th Panchen Lama died in 1989, China kidnapped the baby chosen by Tibetans as his successor and helped anoint a different child as the 11th Panchen Lama. Nobody knows what happened to the real Panchen Lama.

I admire the Dalai Lama enormously, and in 2007 he bravely used my column to send an important olive branch to Beijing — only to be criticized by fellow Tibetans as too conciliatory, and rejected as insincere by China. But I told him that I also thought there were times when he had been too cautious and had missed opportunities for rapprochement with Beijing. My examples: In the 1980s, when the leaders Hu Yaobang and Zhao Ziyang sought compromise on Tibet; after the 10th Panchen Lama died; and in the run-up to the Beijing Olympics.

The Dalai Lama was having none of that — he doesn’t think he missed opportunities. But he acknowledged that Zhao had been sympathetic and added that if Zhao and Hu had not been ousted, “the Tibetan issue would already be solved, no question.”

To my surprise, the Dalai Lama was also enthusiastic about Xi Jinping, the current Chinese leader. He spoke admiringly of Xi’s anticorruption campaign, said Xi’s mother was “very religious, a very devout Buddhist,” and noted Xi himself had spoken positively of Buddhism.

So, President Xi, if you’re reading this, the Dalai Lama would like to visit China. How about an invitation?

I had asked my followers on Twitter and Facebook to suggest questions for the Dalai Lama, and here are his responses to some of the issues they raised:

On the Myanmar Buddhists who have murdered, raped and oppressed Muslims: As he has before, the Dalai Lama strongly condemned the violence. He added: “If Buddha would come at that moment, he definitely would save or protect those Muslims.”

• On eating meat: The Dalai Lama said he had been a pure vegetarian for 20 months but then developed jaundice, so his doctors told him to start eating meat again. He now eats meat twice a week and is vegetarian the rest of the week, he said, but added that he thinks vegetarianism is preferable.

• On Pope Francis: “I admire his stance,” the Dalai Lama said. “He dismissed one German bishop [for too luxurious living]. I was so impressed. I wrote a letter to him. I expressed my admiration.”

• On gender: The Dalai Lama says he considers himself a feminist and would like to see more women leaders because he thinks women are often innately more sensitive and peaceful. “I insist that women should carry a more active role,” he said. “If eventually most of the leaders of different nations are female, maybe we’ll be safer.”

Cohen and Kristof

July 9, 2015

In “Iran’s Unserious Critics” Mr. Cohen says a good nuclear deal was made in 2013; a still better one can be had now.  Mr. Kristof considers “Jimmy Carter, His Legacy and a Rabbit” and says we owe Jimmy Carter an apology. He may well have done more to improve the lives of more people than any other recent president.  Here’s Mr. Cohen:

The Republican chorus gets ever louder: Walk away from an Iran nuclear deal. But of course there is a deal in place, an interim one, much derided by that same chorus when it was concluded in November 2013. At the time, Bob Corker of the Senate Foreign Relations committee lambasted the accord as requiring “no sacrifice on their part whatsoever.”

Now Corker, a Republican of Tennessee and the committee’s chairman, seems to think it’s good enough to leave in place for the moment, holding back criticism of it even as he urges President Obama to avoid a “bad deal” that would hurt “the United States, the region and the world.” The change of tune is not surprising. The interim agreement, respected to the letter by Iran, has proved a milestone.

It has curtailed the country’s nuclear program in a way not seen in many years. Instead of steadily adding centrifuges, the pattern before Obama’s diplomacy, Iran has stopped installation, eliminated or diluted its 20-percent-enriched uranium, and permitted intensified international inspection, among other measures. It has proved Corker’s prediction of “no sacrifice” dead wrong.

This is instructive. It does not mean Iran is to be trusted. It does mean that hard-nosed agreements with Iran can stick and that Tehran must be taken seriously in its declared readiness to reach a fair deal with the United States and its partners. It makes nonsense of Florida Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio’s statement that the Vienna talks are a “diplomatic charade.”

All the overblown doomsday criticism is easy because the prospective deal is not perfect — diplomacy does not do perfection — and because the Islamic Republic is a hostile power with a record of deception. The tough but worthy endeavor is preventing a nuclear-armed Iran through a rigorous, unambiguous and enforceable agreement that also brings a hopeful, young, highly educated nation closer to the world.

The bottom line is that none of the critics of an Iran deal, from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to all the harrumphing Republican presidential hopefuls, has offered a single credible alternative that accomplishes even what has been achieved since 2013.

Absent an accord, Iran will in time resume where it left off 20 months ago. The United States, under Obama or his successor, is not about to go to war with Iran; forget about it. We’ll get the next facile metaphor along the lines of Netanyahu’s warning that an Iranian nuclear threat is coming “to a theater near you,” and another crescendo of rhetoric designed to disguise helpless navel-gazing and, perhaps, a touch of remorse for the opportunity squandered to ring-fence and cut back Iran’s nuclear program under relentless inspection.

There is a transformative opportunity. It will not last long. Iran is vulnerable, economically squeezed, in unusual and delicate equilibrium between its hard-line and reformist forces. What Iran is not, and will never be, is weak enough to be brought to its knees on a core issue of national pride and prestige. Ownership of nuclear know-how (which cannot be bombed out of existence) is as important to Iranians as ownership of its oil was in the early 1950s, before an American-instigated coup. It’s worth recalling that this July marks the 27th anniversary of the shooting down by a United States warship of an Iranian civilian plane with almost 300 people on board. It’s not just for Americans that any accord involves a big psychological hurdle.

There’s a good deal to be had. The opportunity must not be squandered. The deal is not yet in place but enormous obstacles have already been overcome since secret U.S.-Iranian talks began and a productive Washington-Tehran relationship was established for the first time since 1979.

The outstanding issues include unfettered access for International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors to all Iranian sites, including military sites; the sequencing of sanctions lifting; the permitted scope of Iranian nuclear research; and the fate of the arms embargo on Iran. Of these, the first is the most intractable. Obama cannot settle for less than unambiguous Iranian acquiescence to full site access. On the Iranian side, only the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, can grant that. He has said he won’t. Then again, he has said many things and talks have proceeded. Khamenei knows how much the vast majority of Iranians want this door-opening accord, and how critical it is to a battered economy. His absolute power does not make him politically immune.

Both sides probably have a few weeks to play with. But to imagine the interim deal will hold, absent a final accord, is folly. America’s coalition will fray; Russia and China will start the blame game; Iran will eventually start installing new centrifuges again; the politics of Iran and the United States will shift; Israel will take its brinkmanship an inch or two further; and the hooded, throat-slitting barbarians of Islamic State — enemies of Shiite Iran and the United States — will advance, kill and plunder, relieved of the one conceivable effective coalition to confront them.

Now here’s Mr. Kristof:

Quiz time: Which American president was attacked by a “killer rabbit”?

It was Jimmy Carter, although the incident says more about the news media than it does about Carter. He was fishing from a boat in a pond when a rabbit swam frantically for the president’s boat.

Where’s the Secret Service when you need it? Carter fended off the rabbit with an oar.

A few months later, Carter’s press secretary happened to mention the incident to a reporter. Soon there was a flood of articles and cartoons about a hapless president cowed and outmatched by a wet bunny.

One of our worst traits in journalism is that when we have a narrative in our minds, we often plug in anecdotes that confirm it. Thus we managed to portray President Gerald Ford, a first-rate athlete, as a klutz. And we used a distraught rabbit to confirm the narrative of Carter as a lightweight cowed by anything that came along.

The press and chattering class have often been merciless to Carter. Early on, cartoons mocked him as a country rube using an outhouse or associating with pigs, writers pilloried him as a sanctimonious hick, and in recent years it has been common to hear that he’s anti-Israel or anti-Semitic (This about the man whose Camp David accord ensured Israel’s future!).

Now that Carter is 90 and has been an ex-president longer than anyone in history, it’s time to correct the record. He is anything but an empty suit.

At a time when “principled politicians” sometimes seem a null set, it’s remarkable how often Carter showed spine.

He has a new memoir, “A Full Life,” out this week, recounting that his father was a segregationist. Yet Jimmy Carter says he was the only white man in his town who refused to join the White Citizens’ Council, and he fought to integrate his church. At one point, after a racist slur was posted on his door, he considered giving up and moving away.

Carter persevered. When he was inaugurated governor of Georgia, he declared, “I say to you quite frankly that the time for racial discrimination is over.” He then erected a portrait of Martin Luther King Jr. in the State Capitol.

A black woman who was a convicted murderer, Mary Prince, was assigned to work at the governor’s mansion in a work-release program. Carter became convinced that she was innocent and later applied to be her parole officer, so he could take her to the White House to be his daughter’s nanny. Prince was eventually pardoned.

It’s true that Carter sometimes floundered as president. He also had great difficulty, as an outsider, managing Washington, and suffered from a measure of anti-Southern prejudice. When the Reagans took over 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, their interior decorator reportedly couldn’t wait to “get the smell of catfish out of the White House.”

But Carter was also a pioneer. He was the first to elevate human rights in foreign policy. He appointed large numbers of women, Latinos and blacks. He installed solar panels on the White House (President Reagan removed them). He established diplomatic relations with China.

Carter also had a deep sense of honesty — sometimes too deep. Other politicians have affairs and deny them. Carter didn’t have affairs but nonetheless disclosed that “I’vecommitted adultery in my heart many times.” File that under “too much information.”

After leaving the presidency, Carter could have spent his time on the golf course. Instead, he roamed the globe advocating for human rights and battling diseases from malaria to blinding trachoma.

Because of Carter’s work, the world is very close to eradicating Guinea worm disease, an excruciating ailment, and has made enormous headway against elephantiasis and river blindness as well. Only five cases of Guinea worm disease have been reported worldwide in 2015: It’s a race, Carter acknowledges, between him and the Guinea worm to see which outlasts the other.

I’m betting on Carter. In 2007, I joined him on an Africa visit because his aides said it would be his last major foreign trip. So as we sat by a creek for an interview, I noted that this was his last major overseas trip and ——

“Whatever would give you that idea?” Carter interrupted. His icy tone made clear that he planned to be touring remote Ethiopian villages until at least his 200th birthday.

Carter, the one-termer who was a pariah in his own party, may well have improved the lives of more people in more places over a longer period of time than any other recent president. So we in the snooty media world owe him an apology: We were wrong about you, Mr. President. You’re not a lightweight at all, and we can’t wait to see what you’ll do in your next 90 years!

Kristof and Collins

July 2, 2015

In “A Toddler’s Death in a Foxhole” Mr. Kristof says as long as the world allows Sudan’s savagery, civilians will die.  Ms. Collins has a “Fourth of July Quiz” and says Happy upcoming Independence Day! Let’s celebrate with a presidential primary quiz.  Here’s Mr. Kristof, who is in the Nuba Mountains, Sudan:

It’s not clear whether the Sudanese Air Force was trying to bomb the village of grass huts, or the girlshigh school next to it.

Hamida Osman, 23, simply knew that a Sukhoi fighter jet was roaring toward her village. She grabbed her only child, Safarina, 2, and jumped into the foxhole that the family had built for those frequent occasions when Sudan decides to bomb its people.

Inside the foxhole, Hamida used her own body to try to shield her daughter. They heard the sound of bombs whistling downward, and then there were two enormous explosions.

The next thing Hamida knew, she was covered with blood and had shrapnel wounds to her arms and legs. She looked down. A piece of shrapnel had taken away much of Safarina’s head.

Another day, another dead civilian. President Omar Hassan al-Bashir of Sudan, having committed crimes against humanity in South Sudan and Darfur, is now waging them with equal impunity in the Nuba Mountains in the far south of the country, and major nations are once more reacting mostly with indifference. With President Obama headed to East Africashortly, let’s hope he raises these atrocities and pushes for humanitarian access to the Nuba Mountains.

Limping from her injuries, Hamida showed me where the bombs had struck beside her now-incinerated hut.

“I don’t know what they’re trying to hit,” she said, “but they’re always dropping bombs on homes here.”

Sudan is deliberately bombing civilians and girls schools as part of its brutal counterinsurgency campaign against tens of thousands of armed rebels in the Nuba Mountains. The aim seems to be to terrorize the population and depopulate the area.

To keep out aid and eyewitnesses, Sudan bars visits by aid workers, diplomats and journalists. I slipped in through rebel lines without a visa, as I did on my three previous visits to the Nuba Mountains.

In the village of Endeh, schoolchildren gave me an impromptu lesson in the sounds I should listen for: the whoom-whoom of an Antonov bomber, the roar of a Sukhoi fighter, and the warbling of a bomb as it falls through the air. It was eerie: One moment they giggled as they mimicked the sounds, and the next moment they described how a bombing at their school had killed a teacher and three students.

The village rebuilt the school near caves used as shelter during bombings. When the children showed me the caves, I noticed a freshly shed snake skin, from a spitting cobra. The villagers gently explained to me that cobras are, on balance, less terrifying than bombs.

The bombs have fallen in Nuba for four years and they accelerated early this year. Nuba Reports, a monitoring organization, counted 1,764 bombs dropped between December and February, more than ever before in a three-month period.

This isn’t exactly the same as Sudan’s slaughter in Darfur, for that has involved militias burning villages. Here in the Nuba Mountains, the rebels keep out militias, so Sudan kills from the air with bombs, artillery shells and cluster munitions. President Bashir also blockades the area to keep out all food, medicine and supplies. Sudan even bombs trucks carrying food, and its denial of food and medicine probably kills more civilians than the bombings do directly.

The blockade of medicine is particularly infuriating. Only 5 to 10 percent of children in rebel-held areas get vaccinated, and one of the biggest measles outbreaks in Africa last year occurred in the Nuba Mountains.

Unicef and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, are reluctant to send in vaccines for fear of antagonizing the Sudanese government and losing access in other parts of Sudan. So parents see their children dying not only from shelling but also from measles.

Let’s demand humanitarian access — and if it is not granted, aid agencies should send in medicine anyway. It’s unconscionable to let children die because of diplomatic protocol.

There are precedents. In the late 1980s, Sudan similarly blocked aid to rebel-held areas in the south, and the Reagan and first Bush administrations worked with Unicef to start Operation Lifeline Sudan, sending in aid directly to needy areas. Today we need a new Operation Lifeline.

To his credit, President Obama has quietly provided food to the Nuba Mountains, thus averting starvation. It’s a model of what could also be done with medicine. But Obama overall has been weaker than the four previous presidents in standing up to Sudan.

As for Safarina’s killing, it’s unclear whether Sudan was aiming for her village or the girls school. It speaks volumes that Sudan regularly targets both villagers and schoolgirls.

It’s a brutal way to live, and in the case of children like Safarina, to die. And as long as world leaders and aid agencies acquiesce and Sudan pays no price for its savagery, nothing will change.

Now here’s Ms. Collins:

Happy upcoming Independence Day! Let’s celebrate with a presidential primary quiz.

1       Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey is the latest Republican candidate for president. His slogan is:

  • “Telling it like it is.”
  • “Yelling it like it is.”
  • “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.”
  • “I don’t need any stupid slogan. You got a problem with that?”

2       Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, the second latest Republican to announce he’s a presidential candidate:

  • Is known in New Orleans as “Les Bon Temps Bobby.”
  • Said he once participated in an exorcism.
  • Gave a thrilling Republican response to the State of the Union speech.
  • Is less popular in Louisiana than anybody but Barack Obama.

3       Jeb Bush told a gathering of wealthy Manhattan financiers that his most influential adviser on the Middle East was:

  • His brother George.
  • His brother Marvin.
  • The billionaire casino magnate Sheldon Adelson.
  • “A wealthy Manhattan financier I just had a great talk with in this very room.”

4       In one of her emails as secretary of state, Hillary Clinton:

  • Misspelled “Benghazi.”
  • Urged John Podesta to wear socks to bed.
  • Debated whether her playlist should include something from the Marvelettes.
  • Tutored an aide on how to use a fax.

5       Which of the following statements about Mike Huckabee is NOT true?

  • Hosted an infomercial promoting a cinnamon-heavy “Diabetes Solution Kit.”
  • Has trouble relating to people who don’t “order fried green tomatoes for an appetizer.”
  • Wrote a strange essay about rape and bondage 40 years ago, which he describes as a precursor to “Fifty Shades of Grey.”
  • Enjoyed frying squirrels in a popcorn popper as a college student

6       Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky:

  • Loves squirrels.
  • Once attempted to equate abortion rights to government support for low-flush toilets.
  • Is the son of guitar legend Les Paul.
  • Decorated his office like a scene from “Downton Abbey.”

7       Senator Ted Cruz of Texas once:

  • Put together a group of advisers who described early childhood education as a “Godless environment.”
  • Tweeted a picture of himself posing with what looked like a rug made from an endangered species.
  • Demanded the return of deep-fried foods to school cafeterias. (“It’s not about French fries; it’s about freedom.”)
  • Called for special supervision of S. military exercises this summer because of concerns that the soldiers might take over and confiscate everyone’s guns.

8       Rick Perry has a campaign theme song that goes: “Rick Perry supporter …

  • “… I love law and order.”
  • “… Let’s protect our border.”
  • “… Can you spare a quarter?”
  • “… Take your hands off my daughter.”

9       Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin:

  • Delivered his college valedictorian speech on women’s rights.
  • Got an across-the-board endorsement from the cast of “Duck Dynasty.”
  • Responded to a child’s question about global warming by saying that he is a former boy scout who “always thought maybe campsites should be cleaner.”
  • Responded to a child’s question about global warming by complaining about “gotcha” inquiries.

10     Which Democrat used part of the presidential announcement speech to call for adoption of the metric system?

  • Hillary Clinton
  • Bernie Sanders
  • Martin O’Malley
  • Lincoln Chafee

11     One candidate for president seemed sure that the mass murder of nine black people in a historic black church was an attack on religion. (“…What other rationale could there be?”) That was:

  • Carly Fiorina.
  • Ben Carson.
  • Rick Santorum.
  • Marco Rubio.

12     Donald Trump:

  • Showed his support for the American worker by having his line of ties manufactured in Kansas.
  • Has signed up to host a repackaged quiz show called “Who Wants to Be a Thousandaire?”
  • Is vowing to “Do for America what I did for Atlantic City.”
  • Says he has a secret plan to defeat ISIS but doesn’t “want the enemy to know what I’m doing.”

13     The first presidential primary debate, featuring the top 10 Republicans, will be in Ohio in August. It’s already causing controversy because:

  • Fox News, the broadcaster, wants to raise ratings by requiring the candidates to answer questions while suspended over the Grand Canyon.
  • The governor of Ohio might not make the cut.
  • Rand Paul has called for a more millennial-friendly “Twitter-off.”
  • Jeb Bush is insisting that all of his male relatives be permitted to pass him notes.

 

 

 

Now here’s the answer key, using A through D since she used bullets:

 

1A, 2B, 3A, 4B, 5C, 6B, 7B, 8B, 9C, 10D, 11C, 12D, 13B

Blow, Kristof and Collins

June 25, 2015

In “Confederate Flags and Institutional Racism” Mr. Blow says taking down symbols is well and good. But we are focusing on the 10 percent of the iceberg above the water and not the 90 percent below.  Mr. Kristof says “Tearing Down the Confederate Flag Is Just a Start” and that he’s all for celebrating the drawing down of the flag, but now let’s pivot from symbolic moves to substantial ones.  Ms. Collins is “Poking the Republican Pyramid” and says the field of presidential candidates is full of past and present governors with records worth considering.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

In the wake of the Charleston massacre, there is a rapidly growing consensus sweeping the country to remove the Confederate flag, a relic of racial divisiveness, from civic spaces.

Gov. Nikki Haley of South Carolina has called for its removal from the grounds of that state’s capitol.

Alabama’s governor, Robert Bentley, has used executive powers to take down Confederate flags at that state’s capitol grounds.

As The Associated Press reported Wednesday:

“U.S. Senator Roger Wicker became Mississippi’s second top-tier Republican to call for changing the flag that state has used since Reconstruction. Wicker said it ‘should be put in a museum and replaced by one that is more unifying.’”

“Lawmakers in Tennessee said a bust of Confederate general and Ku Klux Klan leader Nathan Bedford Forrest must go from their Senate. Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe was among several state leaders taking aim at vanity license plates with Confederate symbols.”

Furthermore:

“Wal-Mart, e-Bay, Amazon, Target and Sears were among those removing Confederate merchandise from stores and online sites, and at least three major flag makers said they will no longer manufacture the Confederate flag.”

All of this is well and good. We should move overt symbols of racial division to places like museums, where they can be displayed in proper context and where education is part of the mission.

And yet, there is a part of me that still believes we are focusing on the 10 percent of the iceberg above the water and not the 90 percent below.

When do we move from our consensus over taking down symbols to the much harder and more important work of taking down structures?

I worry much less about individual expressions of racism than I do about institutional expressions of racism. And we live in an age where people are earnestly trying to convince us that institutional racism doesn’t exist.

In an interview for the podcast “WTF With Marc Maron,” President Obama used a racial slur to make the point that eliminating the use of such language from polite society wasn’t the “measure of whether racism still exists or not.”

The slur got most of the attention; far less was devoted to the point the president was making about the resilience of institutional, intergenerational racism.

As the president put it: “It’s not just a matter of overt discrimination. Societies don’t, overnight, completely erase everything that happened” 200 to 300 years ago.

This is not to deny progress, but only to point out that the process isn’t complete. It is to point out that overt displays of racism are not the appropriate measure thereof. Focus less on the individual and more on the institutions.

Yet The Wall Street Journal’s editorial page this week juxtaposed Civil Rights-era institutional racism with our present day environment to argue that institutional racism no longer exists in this country.

According to The Journal: “Back then and before, the institutions of government — police, courts, organized segregation — often worked to protect perpetrators of racially motivated violence, rather than their victims.”

It continued: “Today the system and philosophy of institutionalized racism identified by Dr. King no longer exists.”

The Fox News contributor Monica Crowley said this week on “The O’Reilly Factor”:

“Are there individual racists in this country? Sadly, yes. Does institutional racism exist anymore? No, it does not.”

She continued:

“We’ve got to understand that when we talk about racists or racism in America, it is not created by government action or codified law or social acceptance. O.K. But you have people on the far left who believe that America is a nation that was founded on genocide, theft, crimes and lies.”

“Slavery,” Bill O’Reilly sighed.

“Slavery,” Crowley agreed.

On Fox News’s “Hannity,” after the contributor Deneen Borelli said of the president, “I have dubbed him today Rapper in Chief,” the guest host David Webb posed the question to another guest: “Is America institutionally racist, that’s racism which requires codified law, a social acceptance, societal acceptance — and we know that racists, racists will always exist. Bias, prejudice in some form, black, white, in any form will always exist. Is America institutionally racist or are there racists in America?”

As if the two are necessarily mutually exclusive.

Webb later answered his own question: “I say we’re not.”

All of these definitions of institutional racism are incredibly narrow, and therefore take an incredibly myopic view of what institutional racism looks like. These definitions require a sort of direct discrimination, an articulation either in law or custom, to be deemed real.

But institutional racism will not be limited in that way. Institutional racism is often like a pathogen in the blood: You can’t see it; you have to test for it. But you can see its destructive effects as it sickens the host.

Furthermore, institutional racism doesn’t require the enlisting of individual racists. The machine does the discriminating. It provides a remove, a space, between the unpleasantness of racial discrimination — and indeed hatred — and the ultimate, undeniable and, for some, desirable outcome of structural oppression.

I prefer the Aspen Institute’s definition: “Institutional racism refers to the policies and practices within and across institutions that, intentionally or not, produce outcomes that chronically favor, or put a racial group at a disadvantage.”

Yet institutional racism’s defenders — or more precisely, its concealers — demand an articulated proof for something that moves in silence. They demand to see chapter and verse for something that is unwritten. They demand to know the names of the individual architects of a structure built subconsciously over time by each member of the vast multitudes adding their own bit, like beavers adding branches to a dam.

Institutional racism isn’t so much a grand design as it is an accumulation of racial detritus.

Symbols are important. Those Confederate flags must come down. That will be a spiritual victory. But we must not stop there. Institutional racism is the real prize on this hunt. Bring that down and cheers can truly go up.

Now here’s Mr. Kristof:

Suppose African-Americans marked their heritage with flags depicting Nat Turner’s rebellion of 1831, in which slaves massacred about 60 whites before the uprising was crushed? The flag wouldn’t be celebrating the murder of whites, of course, but would simply commemorate a factual milestone in black history!

Suppose Mexican-Americans waved a flag depicting the battle of the Alamo? The point would not be to celebrate the slaughter of Texans, but to express pride in Mexican heritage!

Suppose Canadian-Americans displayed a flag showing the burning of the White House in the War of 1812? Nothing against the Yanks, mind you — just a point of Canadian historical pride!

Suppose American women waved flags of Lorena Bobbitt, who reacted to domestic abuse in 1993 by severing her husband’s penis and throwing it into a field? The aim wouldn’t be to approve of sexual mutilation, of course — but Bobbitt’s subsequent acquittal was a landmark in the recognition of domestic violence!

Well, you get the point. That’s how the Confederate battle flag looked to many of us. And at least Nat Turner was fighting for his own freedom, while the Confederate battle flag was the banner of those who fought freedom, defended slavery, clubbed civil rights workers — and, most recently, murdered black churchgoers. And it’s exhilarating to see the same distaste expressed in the Southern mainstream.

“The Confederate battle flag was the emblem of Jim Crow defiance to the civil rights movement, of the Dixiecrat opposition to integration, and of the domestic terrorism of the Ku Klux Klan,” noted Russell Moore of the Southern Baptist Convention. “White Christians ought to think about what that flag says to our African-American brothers and sisters.”

The last year has brought a far-reaching conversation about race in America. But much of that conversation seemed polarizing more than clarifying, leaving each side more entrenched than ever — so it’s thrilling to see a wave of action now.

South Carolina may finally remove the flag from the State House grounds, Alabama has removed four Confederate flags from its state Capitol grounds, and Mississippi may also take a Confederate battle cross off the state flag. Virginia, Tennessee, Maryland and North Carolina seem poised to keep the Confederate flag off license plates. A bust of Nathan Bedford Forrest, the Confederate general and early leader of the Ku Klux Klan, is expected to be evicted from the Tennessee State House. Walmart, Sears, Amazon, e-Bay and other retailers will no longer sell Confederate merchandise.

So we’re finally seeing not just conversation but movement.

But the movement is in some ways chimerical. It’s about a symbol — and now the progress on the symbol needs to be matched by progress on racial inequality in daily life.

America’s greatest shame in 2015 is not a piece of cloth. It’s that a black boy has a life expectancy five years shorter than a white boy. It’s that the net worth of the average black household in 2011 was $6,314, compared with $110,500 for the average white household, according to census data.

It’s that almost two-thirds of black children grow up in low-income families. It’s that more than one-third of inner-city black kids suffer lead poisoning (and thus often lifelong brain impairment), mostly from old lead paint in substandard housing.

More consequential than that flag is our flawed system of school finance that perpetuates inequity. Black students in America are much less likely than whites to attend schools offering advanced science and math courses.

The one public system in which America goes out of its way to provide services to African-Americans is prison. Partly because of our disastrous experiment in mass incarceration, black men in their 20s without a high school diploma are more likely to be incarcerated than employed, according to a study by the National Bureau of Economic Research.

So I’m all for celebrating the drawing down of the Confederate battle flag, but now let’s pivot from symbolic moves to substantial ones.

That means, for example, early childhood programs, which offer the most cost-effective interventions to create a more even starting line. These include home visitation, high-quality preschool and literacy programs.

A Stanford University randomized trial examined a simple, inexpensive program called Ready4K!, which simply sent three text messages a week to parents to encourage them to read to their preschoolers — and it was astonishingly successful. Parents read more to children, who then experienced learning gains — and this was particularly true of black and Hispanic children. And because this was text messaging, the cost was less than $1 a family for the whole school year.

So, sure, good riddance to Confederate flags across the country! And then let’s swivel to address the larger national disgrace: In 2015, so many children still don’t have an equal shot at life because of the color of their skin.

And now here’s Ms. Collins:

Is it my imagination, or are half the governors in the country running for president?

On the Republican side they’re piling up like … those huge stacks of walruses we see off the coast of Alaska now that there’s global warming. A stack of governors! Different from the walruses only in 1) lack of tusks, and 2) failure to believe that melting ice floes are a serious problem.

This week Bobby Jindal (Louisiana). Next week maybe Chris Christie (New Jersey). Sometime in July, Scott Walker (Wisconsin) and probably John Kasich (Ohio). We’ve already got a bunch of former governors in the race, like Jeb Bush (Florida) and Rick Perry (Texas). The guys who are still in office have been stalling, attempting to disguise their total disinterest in their current jobs until a state budget is passed. Although Walker, in a stroke of true political genius, has decided that really means the day the budget is supposed to be passed.

That’s Wisconsin’s problem. Our question for today is what we can learn about our own national priorities from the governor-candidates God has given us.

Almost all governors brag about their economic development programs — hey, it’s economic development! But we could have an excellent conversation about how often these things really work. They’re frequently huge, thudding wastes of money. Louisiana, for instance, covers about a third of the in-state production costs for any movie that’s filmed there, a policy that will pay off only if it turns out that tourists visit New Orleans just because it was the site of “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.”

“Louisiana sank more into ‘Green Lantern’ than it is putting into the University of New Orleans this year,” a state paper noted in December.

Next door in Texas, then-Gov. Rick Perry claimed that his Texas Enterprise Fund created more than 12,000 jobs with a $50 million investment in an institute for genomic medicine. It was actually more like 10 jobs once you stopped counting every single biotech job created anywhere in the entire state for the previous six years.

In Florida, when Jeb Bush was governor, he came up with a plan for biotech corridors that would spawn tens of thousands of jobs, transforming the state just the way Disney World did in the 1970s, except possibly without any pirates. Reuters studied the results and estimated that Florida state and local governments had anted up $1.32 billion and generated 1,365 jobs, or $1 million per new employee.

Often, the goal of these programs is to simply lure a business from one state to another. Then we get a battle of the tax breaks, creating a hole that will have to be filled by you, the ordinary taxpayer.

Ohio, home of potential presidential candidate John Kasich, offered Sears a $400 million deal to ditch Illinois and move to Columbus. Sears decided to stay put after the Illinois Legislature passed a super-emergency $275 million counteroffer. One economics professor suggested the company should pay Ohio a 10 percent commission.

“We’re disappointed that it didn’t work out,” Kasich said in a statement. “But it is very exciting that Ohio was in serious contention up to the very end, and that it took a special session of the Illinois Legislature to beat us.”

Honestly, this kind of thing ought to be unconstitutional.

The great irony here is that finding the lowest taxes generally isn’t a top business priority. What companies really want is to be near suppliers and markets. Maybe occasionally the C.E.O.’s house. “As a part of business cost structure, state and local taxes are about 2 percent,” said Greg LeRoy, the executive director of Good Jobs First, a nonprofit that tracks these programs.

But tax cuts do help make friends. In Wisconsin, the State Economic Development Corporation board — which Scott Walker used to lead — approved a $6 million tax credit for Ashley Furniture Industries, whose owners forked over $20,000 to Walker’s re-election campaign. As The Wisconsin State Journal reported, in return for the tax credit, Ashley Furniture promised to expand the company headquarters and keep at least half of its current jobs in the state for the next five years. Doesn’t that sound like a kind of low bar?

Under Chris Christie, New Jersey has handed out $630 million to get companies to move jobs to the woebegone city of Camden. Which would seem like a worthy goal, except that most of the jobs in question were already in the state — in fact, frequently in an adjoining neighborhood. “Most of the jobs coming to Camden are filled by existing employees who currently work just a few miles away,” reported The Associated Press. “Nearly all the recipients boast notable political connections.”

I think we have a topic. Nudge the governor pile and let the debate begin.

Blow and Kristof

June 18, 2015

In “The Delusions of Dolezal” Mr. Blow says her performance of blackness may have been born of affinity, but was based on a lie. It’s a spectacular exercise in hubris, narcissism and deflection.  Mr. Kristof, in “Malachi’s World,” says this year’s win-a-trip journey starts with a stop in Baltimore to look at some of the challenges presented by poverty here at home.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

Rachel Dolezal, a woman with no known black heritage, has apparently, through an elaborate scheme of deception and denial, claimed for years to be a product of black heritage.

This has sparked a national conversation about how race is constructed and enforced, to what extent it is cultural and experiential, and whether it is mutable and adoptable.

If this were simply a matter of a person appreciating, emulating or even appropriating the presentation and performance of a race other than the one society prescribes to her based simply on her appearance, it wouldn’t be a story.

But this isn’t simply that. This is about privilege, deceitful performance and a tortured attempt to avoid truth and confession by co-opting the language of struggle, infusing labyrinthine logic with the authority of the academy, and coat-tailing very real struggles of transgender people and transracial adoptees to defend one’s deception.

This is a spectacular exercise in hubris, narcissism and deflection.

And we have been distracted from real conversation about real things in order to try to contextualize a false life based on a false premise. For a moment, blackface seemed to matter more than actual black lives.

On this issue of appearance, Ezra Dolezal, her adopted brother, hasdescribed her transformation as a form of “blackface.” When Matt Lauer asked, “Have you done something to darken your complexion?” she responded, “I certainly don’t stay out of the sun.” (TMZ reportedWednesday that according to their “tanning sources,” Dolezal was a “loyal customer at Palm Beach Tan in Spokane” and “was a fan of Mystic Tan…a brand of spray tan.” Make of all that what you will.)

Dolezal added: “This is not some freak ‘Birth of a Nation’ mockery blackface performance. This is on a very real, connected level.”

Full stop. Let’s just marvel at the efficient catchphrase saturation in those sentences. She takes the whole universe of possible attacks and issues them in her own tongue as a method of neutralizing them. It is a clever, if calculated, bit of argumentation, the kind that one might practice in a mirror.

But Dolezal didn’t stop there. She also told the MSNBC host Melissa Harris-Perry, “I have really gone there with the experience, in terms of being a mother of two black sons and really owning what it means to experience and live blackness.”

Yes, but she did so by choice and with a trap door. She was always aware that she could remove her weave and stop tanning (assuming that’s true) and return to what society registers as whiteness. People of actual black heritage don’t have that option. Her sons don’t have that option. And make no mistake: Having that option is a privilege.

The whole notion of “transracial” as it has been applied to Dolezal is flawed in part because it isn’t equally available to all.

Whiteness in this country has historically been incredibly narrowly drawn to protect its purity, and this was not simply enforced by social mores, but also by law. Conversely, blackness was broadly drawn, serving as something of a collecting pool for anyone with even the most minute detectable and provable Negro ancestry. If you weren’t 100 percent white, you were black.

This meant that society became accustomed to blackness presenting visually in an infinite spectrum of possibilities, from pass-for-white lightness to obsidian darkness lacking all ambiguity.

This means that the way Dolezal was able to convincingly present and perform blackness as a light-skinned black woman is a form of one-directional privilege that simply isn’t available to a black person starting at the other end of the melanin spectrum.

Racial passing has been a societal feature probably for as long as race has been a societal construct. But it was more often practiced by a person who was not purely white by heritage passing herself or himself off as such. In some ways, this may have been understandable, even if distasteful, as these people identified as white in a society that privileged whiteness and devalued, diminished or attempted to destroy — both spiritually and physically — others.

Choosing a life of privilege over one of oppression must have seemed particularly attractive to some, particularly to those whose parents are different races and who, one could argue, could make the most compelling case to identify with whichever parent’s heritage they chose.

But Dolezal wasn’t passing in that sense. She was commandeering and concocting a biography of burden to obscure the shift and lay claim to authenticity.

According to a report in The Washington Post, however, the transracial-adoption (“when a child of one race is adopted by the family of another”) community has not taken kindly to being linked to Dolezal’s deception. Kimberly McKee, the assistant director of the Korean-American Adoptee Adoptive Parent Network and a professor at Grand Valley State University where she studies transracial adoption, told The Post, “You’re turning something that is a historical experience into something that’s almost being made a joke.”

A letter signed by McKee and 21 other scholars and advocates made the point even more forcefully: “We find the misuse of ‘transracial,’ describing the phenomenon of a white woman assuming perceived markers of ‘blackness’ in order to pass as ‘black,’ to be erroneous, ahistorical, and dangerous.”

Indeed, one would be hard pressed to find scientific support for transracialism, as it is being applied for Dolezal’s deception and identity, as a legitimate area of serious inquiry beyond a sociological phenomenon.

How can one be born discordant with a racial identity if race is a more socialized construct than rigid, biological demarcation and determinism? In other words, how can one be born discordant with an experience one has yet to have?

At best, this appears to be an issue of having an affinity for a culture that grows around a social construct. That is because, to my sense of it, cultural race identity has more scientific grounding than biological race identity, and those cultures of racial identity are in fact a response to the structure itself. Some people perform in response to their privilege and others to their lack thereof.

In that regard, one can not only like and want to emulate the look of another racial group (though, one must be ever-questioning of oneself as to what motivates this, making sure that it isn’t the outgrowth self-hatred), but one can even prefer the culture that developed around that look.

But changing appearance and even cross-cultural immersion doesn’t alter the architecture of race that gave birth to and reinforced those differences in the first place.

Dolezal’s performance of blackness may have been born of affinity, but it was based on a lie — one she has never sufficiently recanted — and her feeble attempts to use professorial language and faux-intellectual obfuscations only add insult to the cultural injury.

Now here’s Mr. Kristof, writing from Baltimore:

Meet Malachi, a charming toddler I met here.

The first puzzle was that Malachi, at the age of 2 years and 4 months, still doesn’t speak. He says only two words: “no” and “ouch.” He doesn’t say “mom” or “dad.”

That leads to the second puzzle: Where are his mom and dad?

Candace Williams, 26, Malachi’s caregiver, seems to be doing a fine job. She says that Malachi’s mom, who lives in York, Pa., has 11 children and a drug problem and left him with her.

Williams says the mom periodically asked her to look after Malachi but then wasn’t very diligent about picking him up. “I would have him for months at a time,” Williams recalled.

Then, on the boy’s second birthday in February, Williams dropped by to wish him well. She says she found food and knives on the floor and the house in chaos. At that point, she says, the mom handed her the boy. As far as Williams is concerned, Malachi is now her child to raise, although she has no papers to document that.

And the boy’s father? He is in prison for a drug-related offense, Williams said.

As for his inability to speak, that may be because he has tested positive for lead poisoning — an echo of Freddie Gray, the black man whose arrest and subsequent death sparked the rioting in Baltimore. As a child, Gray also suffered from lead poisoning.

It should be a scandal that lead (mostly from old paint) still poisons 535,000 children in the United States from ages 1 to 5, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Disproportionately affecting poor children, it robs them of mental abilities and is associated with disruptive behavior and crime in adulthood. If this were afflicting wealthy kids, there would be a national outcry.

I’m on the first leg of my annual win-a-trip journey, in which I take a university student on a global reporting trip; we will go this fall to India and Nepal. This year I’ve added an American swing to look at domestic challenges. So my student winner, Austin Meyer of Stanford University, and I have visited Baltimore to examine the challenges of the inner city.

Some 58 percent of whites said in a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll conducted in late April that the riots in Baltimore were the result of “people seeking an excuse to engage in looting and violence.” Many middle-class and affluent Americans don’t fully appreciate, I think, the inequity and frustrations boiling in some communities across the United States.

Malachi exemplifies the challenges some kids face in places like this. Americans often say that poverty is about bad choices or personal irresponsibility, but Malachi himself hasn’t made any bad choices.

Sean Berry-Bey, who has known Malachi’s mother for years and for a time looked after other children of hers, firmly backs Williams’s account that the boy was neglected and mistreated.

When I reached the mother, she started to dispute all this and told me that Williams was just looking after Malachi for a few months. Then she declined to speak further.

I’m impressed by Williams’s commitment, and she’s getting no government assistance. Indeed, she recently lost her job as an armored truck driver — she says caring for Malachi interfered with her work — so there’s now greater financial pressures on the household.

It is easier, of course, to describe a problem than to prescribe a solution, and helping people is harder than it looks.

One valuable program is WIC, which provides nutritional support for women, infants and children. Yet because it gives free infant formula to low-income mothers, it unintentionally discourages breast-feeding.

“If I had to buy formula, with no WIC vouchers, I’d breast-feed,” Alia Brooks, a teenage single mom in Baltimore, told me.

In short, helping people is complicated. Yet we do have programs that help — not everyone, not all the time, but often. Indeed, WIC is among them.

We accompanied a health department lead abatement team that took lead readings in Malachi’s home and offered sage advice on how to get medical care and access to social services for the boy — and also provided steel wool to plug rat holes.

Lynnelle Boyd, a member of the team, also figured out that the family has an immediate problem: Williams may be paying rent to someone who doesn’t actually own the house. Boyd explained how to reduce the risk of eviction.

That’s the reason for our win-a-trip reporting journey in America, to underscore that global poverty and inequity exist not just in India or Nepal, but right here in the United States, still waiting to be addressed.


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