Archive for the ‘Kristof’ Category

Dowd, Cohen and Kristof

November 26, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Thanksgiving.


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

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

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

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

“But, Mommy, please.”

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

“Yes, Mom.”

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

“Wow. How was it organized before?”

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


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

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

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

“And then?”

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

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

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

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


“Are there any empires left today?”

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

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

“Not exactly, sweetheart. Dying where?”

“In Syria. Mom, what’s Syria?”

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

“Why are people fighting there?”

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

“Yes, Mommy.”

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


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

“Okay. Then what?”

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

“So he won?”

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

“Mom, I’m confused.”

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Who are these Syrian refugee monsters who terrify American politicians?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cohen, Kristof and Collins

November 19, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now there are body bags in Paris.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And now here’s Ms. Collins:

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Ease pilot health exams! Ease pilot health exams!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blow, Cohen, Kristof and Collins

November 12, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And now here’s Mr. Kristof:

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

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

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

But moral voices can also become sanctimonious bullies.

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

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

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

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

On both counts we fall far short.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I suggest we all take a deep breath.

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

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

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

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

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

And now we get to Ms. Collins:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blow and Kristof

November 5, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now here’s Mr. Kristof:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kristof, Bruni and Collins

October 29, 2015

In “Sentenced to be Crucified” Mr. Kristof says  Western governments bite their tongues as Saudi Arabia legitimizes fundamentalism and intolerance in the Islamic world.  No shit…  Mr. Bruni says “Ben Carson and Donald Trump Lack Electricity in a Charged Debate,” and that it’s Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz with the biggest moments in the third meeting of Republican contenders.  Which was still a comedy show.  Ms. Collins, in “Oh, Those Debating Republicans,” says one of these candidates is going to be the nominee for president. Really.  I know, Gail — it’s terrifying.  Here’s Mr. Kristof:

Any day now, our Saudi Arabian allies may behead and crucify a young man named Ali al-Nimr.

His appeals following his court sentence for this grisly execution have been exhausted, so guards may lead Nimr to a public square and hack off his head with a sword as onlookers jeer. Then, following Saudi protocol for crucifixion, they would hang his body as a warning to others.

Nimr’s offense? He was arrested at age 17 for participating in anti-government protests. The government has said he attacked police officers and rioted, but the only known evidence is a confession apparently extracted under torture that left him a bloody mess.

“When I visited my son for the first time I didn’t recognize him,” his mother, Nusra al-Ahmed,told The Guardian. “I didn’t know whether this really was my son Ali or not.”

Nimr was recently moved to solitary confinement in preparation for execution. In Britain, where the sentence has received attention, the foreign secretary says he does “not expect” it to be carried out. But Nimr’s family fears execution could come any day.

Saudi Arabia’s medieval criminal justice system also executes “witches,” and flogs and imprisons gay people.

It’s time for a frank discussion about our ally Saudi Arabia and its role legitimizing fundamentalism and intolerance in the Islamic world. Western governments have tended to bite their tongues because they see Saudi Arabia as a pillar of stability in a turbulent region — but I’m not sure that’s right.

Saudi Arabia has supported Wahhabi madrasas in poor countries in Africa and Asia, exporting extremism and intolerance. Saudi Arabia also exports instability with its brutal war in Yemen, intended to check what it sees as Iranian influence. Saudi airstrikes have killed thousands, and theblockading of ports has been even more devastating. Some Yemeni children are starving, and 80 percent of Yemenis now need assistance.

There’s also an underlying hypocrisy in Saudi behavior. This is a country that sentenced a 74-year-old British man to 350 lashes for possessing alcohol (some British reports say he may be allowed to leave Saudi Arabia following international outrage), yet I’ve rarely seen as much hard liquor as at Riyadh parties attended by government officials.

A Saudi prince, Majed Abdulaziz al-Saud, was just arrested in Los Angeles in a $37 million mansion he had rented, after allegedly drinking heavily, hiring escorts, using cocaine, terrorizing women and threatening to kill people.

“I am a prince,” he declared, according to an account in The Los Angeles Times. “And I do what I want.”

Saudi Arabia isn’t the enemy, but it is a problem. It could make so much positive difference in the Islamic world if it used its status to soothe Sunni-Shiite tensions and encourage tolerance. For a time, under King Abdullah, it seemed that the country was trying to reform, but now under King Salman it has stalled.

In effect, Saudi Arabia legitimizes fundamentalism, religious discrimination, intolerance and the oppression of women. Saudi women not only can’t drive, but are also told by some clerics that they mustn’t wear seatbelts for fear of showing the outlines of their bodies. Saudi Arabia inflames the Sunni-Shiite divide and sets a pernicious example of intolerance by banning churches.

Even Iran lately has mocked Saudi Arabia for mistreating women — and when misogynistic Iranian hard-liners can claim the high ground on women’s rights, you’ve got a problem.

I’ve defended Islam from critics like Bill Maher who, as I see it, demonize a diverse faith of 1.6 billion Muslims because a small percentage are violent extremists. But it’s incumbent on those of us who object to this demonization to speak up against genuine extremism. Sadly, Saudi Arabia is a gift to Islamophobes; it does far more damage to the reputation of Islam than any blaspheming cartoonists.

Granted, many Saudis are pushing for reform. One bright young writer,Raif Badawi, 31, called eloquently for women’s rights, education reform and freedom of thought, and Saudi Arabia has sentenced him to 10 years in prison, a $267,000 fine and a flogging of 1,000 lashes (50 at a time, with one session administered so far). His wife, Ensaf Haidar, tells me that his flogging is to resume soon after a long suspension, and that she fears he will not survive the entire lashing.

The United States government has largely averted its eyes from all this, at least in public, merely expressing deep concern about the crucifixion sentence even as it provides weaponry to enable the Saudi assault on Yemen.

That’s realpolitik. Saudi Arabia has oil and influence, and the Obama administration needed to cuddle with Saudi Arabia to win the Iranian nuclear deal. But now that that deal has been achieved, should we still be silent?

We do neither ourselves nor the Saudi people any favors when we wink at an ally that crucifies its people.

Well, we’ve decided that it’s just fine and dandy to torture people, so…  Here’s Mr. Bruni:

What a curious, fascinating spectacle: The two men in the lead got lost in the pack.

Coming into Wednesday night, much of the talk about the third Republican debate focused on Donald Trump and Ben Carson, who were trading places at the top of the polls, two outsiders with no business running for president and significantly more support from Republican voters than any of the conventional candidates could muster.

Which of the two would stand out?


Would either of the two seal the deal?


For the first hour of the debate, which was staged by CNBC, Trump largely disappeared. His rivals and the moderators demonstrated less interest in him than they had in the past, and a Trump without attention is like a petunia without water and light. It fades. It droops.

And while that presented a window of opportunity for Carson, he lacked the pep to get through a window or, for that matter, an extremely wide set of sliding doors. His eyelids sometimes went to half-mast as he swayed through an answer, making a sluggish voyage to an uncertain destination.

What is it that his supporters see in him?

That was John Kasich’s question, or rather his rant, and he started the evening with it, deciding to put all of his few remaining chips on the role of alarmed, truth-telling adult in a sandbox of delusional toddlers.

He made specific references to Trump’s promises to deport millions of immigrants and to Carson’s musings about eviscerating entitlement programs. He lambasted various opponents’ proposals for huge tax cuts.

“This stuff is fantasy,” he said, striving so hard for urgency that he practically yelped. “Folks, we gotta wake up. We cannot elect somebody that doesn’t know how to do the job.”

Trump knew full well that Kasich had him in mind, and noted that Kasich hadn’t talked this way months ago.

“Then his poll numbers tanked,” Trump said, “and he got nasty. So you know what? You can have him.”

Before the debate began, there was some worry—misplaced, as it turns out—that its fiscal focus would create a tame yawner of a night.

It did lead to an inordinate amount of chatter about flat taxes and shrunken tax policies and miniaturized tax returns. Carly Fiorina said that she’d collapse the whole tax code to three pages. Ted Cruz said that he’d enable Americans to file their tax returns on postcards.

I half expected Rand Paul to one-up them both by pledging to present all of his tax ideas in a single haiku. But he was too busy using his minimal speaking time to complain about his minimal speaking time.

Tempers flared. Voices rose. The economy-centered debate on the money-centered network packed ample emotion, in part because it strayed to such issues as gay rights and gun rights and in part because it came at a crucial moment for many of the debaters.

More so than during the first or second meeting of these candidates, participants acted as if this was the pivot point that would determine whether they’d be steaming forward or fading out. It was the time for meticulously plotted fury. It was the vessel for the best jokes, rejoinders and soliloquies they had. It was the cause for attack.

The defining exchange came early, when Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio banished any memory of their mentor-mentee relationship, which has been obliterated by their head-to-head competition to become level-headed Republicans’ answer to Trump and Carson.

Bush slammed Rubio for all the votes he had missed in the Senate as he concentrated on his presidential bid.

“When you signed up for this, this was a six-year term, and you should be showing up to work,” Bush admonished him. “I mean, literally, the Senate—what is it, like a French work week? You get, like, three days where you have to show up?”

He sharpened the dagger by addressing Rubio not as “Senator” but as “Marco.”

Cohen, Kristof and Collins

October 22, 2015

In “Camelot Comes to Canada” Mr. Cohen says the Trudeau story suggests limits to the bullying politics of anger and fear. America, take note.  Mr. Kristof considers “The Miracle Breast Milk Elixir” and says breast-feeding is a dazzlingly low-tech solution that saves children’s lives.  Ms. Collins, in “Hillary and Benghazi,” says the House Benghazi committee’s inappropriate approach is outdone only by the Stop Hillary PAC and its ghoulish commercial.  Here’s Mr. Cohen:

Michael Ignatieff, the former leader of Justin Trudeau’s victorious Liberal Party in Canada, told me he’d “never known an instance when any American took any lesson from Canada.”

That’s probably true. Americans, with the conspicuous exception of the documentary filmmaker Michael Moore, tend to think nothing of note, or at least serious note, takes place north of the border. But perhaps that lesson-taking moment has arrived.

Trudeau’s remarkable triumph, which saw the Liberal Party jump to 184 seats from 36 in the 338-member Canadian House of Commons, was a victory over mean-spiritedness and the politics of fear. It was a thorough repudiation, after almost a decade, of the belligerent politics of Prime Minister Stephen Harper. As Ignatieff noted, the “nasty party,” an epithet that once belonged to Britain’s Tories, had become a fair description of Harper’s Conservatives.

Harper had notably gone after Canada’s one million Muslims. His government’s attempt to prevent Muslim women from wearing a face-covering headdress, or niqab, during citizenship ceremonies was overturned this year by a court ruling. The prime minister, saying he found the veil “offensive,” decided to appeal the court decision, but lost last month.

His stand has had a tangible effect on Muslims. One, Rania El-Alloul, was told earlier this year by a judge in a Quebec court that she would not hear her case (a property matter) unless she removed her headscarf. A Conservative minister called the hijab a perversion of Canadian values.

No, the attempt to undermine Canadian values was Harper’s — and Canadians saw through him. They rejected his crass divisiveness. Trudeau was forthright in standing up for the right of Canada’s Muslim women to wear what they like. “Diversity is the at the very heart of Canada. It is who we are and what we do,” he declared in March. A “Francophone Quebecer,” as he has called himself, Trudeau knows how central diversity and multiculturalism are to the delicate weave of Canadian unity.

“We are a mosaic and Trudeau felt strongly about it,” Chrystia Freeland, a Liberal Member of Parliament, told me. “There was a very narrow and very partisan attempt by the government to play on baser instincts and create animosity that was not there.”

In short, a positive campaign won. Killer politics lost. Trudeau likes to talk about finding “common ground,” where Harper was all about winner take all. At a time when American politics are dismally polarized, this other North American political story is interesting, perhaps even instructive.

Republicans still seem to believe the unlikely proposition that elections are won on the angry margins. The two leading Republican candidates, Donald Trump and Ben Carson, try to outgun each other in attacking, respectively, Mexican immigration and the idea of a Muslim president in the White House (don’t hold your breath). The Trudeau story suggests limits to the bullying politics of anger and fear. Not even Lynton Crosby, the legendary Australian master of the take-no-hostage dark political arts, could revive Harper’s fortunes.

Camelot has come to Canada. For a moment at least, the duller part of North America looks sexier than its overweening cousin to the south. Trudeau and his wife, Sophie Grégoire, have razzmatazz. The incoming prime minister is very much his father’s son, a natural charmer. There’s no point denying it. The American political field looks wizened by comparison.

You don’t have to be seduced by Trudeau’s happy talk of “sunny ways,” or be persuaded by Trudeau’s Obamaesque allusions to the “better angels of our nature,” or be convinced by the equally Obamaesque references from Trudeau to the arc of the moral universe bending “toward justice” — all this will be tested by the harsh realities of power in a big country of competing interests. The glitter, it is safe to say, will fade. Shadows will dim the Trudeau sun. But the political tide has turned in Canada.

It has turned away from austerity toward deficit spending on infrastructure and growth — and this in a country where balanced budgets are, in Freeland’s words, “almost a fetish.” It has turned away from widening inequality (yes, even in Canada) toward addressing the challenges to social cohesion from globalization. It has turned away from Harper’s weird Canadian unilateralism toward a rediscovery of Canada’s traditional multilateral, United Nations-focused approach to foreign policy and leadership on refugee issues. It has turned away from bruising confrontation toward civility in politics.

Trudeau represents a break in style but also in economic approach at a time when sharpening inequality is probably the foremost issue in developed Western societies. In this sense, too, his election may be telling on the eve of a United States election year.

“One of the most difficult and urgent global problems is how to develop societies where people of different cultures can live together and build common ground,” Trudeau said during the campaign. If he does not lead on this issue — in Canada and beyond Canada — he will have failed the promise he represents.

Next up we have Mr. Kristof, writing from Lucknow, India:

What if there were a remedy that could save more children’s lives in the developing world than are claimed by malaria and AIDS combined?

A miracle substance that reduces ear infections while seeming to raise scores on I.Q. tests by several points? Available even in the most remote villages, requiring no electricity or refrigeration? Oh, and as long as we’re dreaming, let’s make it free.

This miracle substance already exists. It’s breast milk.

Current estimates backed by the World Health Organization and Unicef are that optimal breast-feeding would save 800,000 children’s lives a year in developing countries. That would amount to a 12 percent drop in child mortality, a huge gain.

I’m on my annual win-a-trip journey, in which I take a student with me to the developing world to look at neglected issues. The student, Austin Meyer of Stanford University, and I have been reporting in India, where 1.2 million children under the age of 5 die annually — and where nutritionists say that improved breast-feeding practices could save many.

Exclusive breast-feeding for six months, as strongly recommended by the World Health Organization, is practiced by just 46 percent of women in India, 17 percent in Nigeria, and 10 percent in Yemen, according to the latest Global Nutrition Report. (In the U.S., the figure is about 22 percent,according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.)

Let me get this out of the way: It’s awkward for men to hail breast-feeding, and it risks sounding patronizing because we’re not the ones doing the work.

And this: Sometimes promotion of breast-feeding carries an unfortunate edge of reproach for women who can’t breast-feed or choose not to, and that’s counterproductive. In America, there’s tension about these issues; an essay in The Times on Sunday warned that promotion efforts can degenerate into shaming women. That’s a fair caution.

In any case, where this is a life-or-death issue is not the West but in developing countries, where water is often contaminated and child mortality is high.

Infants who are not breast-fed are 14 times more likely to die than those who are exclusively breast-fed, according to a major metastudy just published by Acta Paediatrica, a pediatrics journal.

Here in northern India, Austin and I met a mother, Maher Bano, whose daughter had been born at home just hours earlier. The baby was underweight and in danger of dying. The best medicine in this context is breast milk: Studies from India, Nepal and Ghana show that prompt breast-feeding reduces neonatal mortality by 44 percent.

But Maher Bano said that for the first 24 hours, the baby would be given only tea with honey.

“I’ll breast-feed the baby tomorrow, or the next day,” she said, explaining that she was following the guidance of the traditional birth attendant who had helped her deliver the baby and cut the cord. This is common: Worldwide, only 43 percent of babies are put to the breast within an hour of birth, as recommended by the World Health Organization.

One reason for delays is suspicion of colostrum, the first, yellowish milk, which doesn’t look quite like milk but is packed with nutrients and antibodies; it’s sometimes called the “first immunization.”

Another big challenge: In hot countries, villagers also often give infants water on hot days, or start them on food before six months. Water both displaces milk and also is often contaminated. (Breast milk, in contrast, is safe even when the mom drinks contaminated water.)

Western companies are also to blame. Manufacturers of infant formula face stagnant growth in Western countries, so they aggressively pursue poorer countries. Researchers found that 85 percent of recently discharged mothers in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, had seen advertising for formula.

Some also believe that Western entertainment has sexualized the breast in ways that reduce breast-feeding.

While the clearest benefits of breast-feeding have to do with saving lives, there is also some evidence of other health and cognitive gains. In Belarus, children of women randomly assigned to exclusive breast-feeding promotion scored six points higher on I.Q. tests than controls.

A few studies haven’t found a tie to cognitive capacity, but most have. Over all, a new review of 17 studies found a mean gain of three I.Q. points for children who were breast-fed.

Global health experts focus on breast-feeding partly because efforts to support moms in this area pay off surprisingly well. A recent survey by Acta Paediatrica of 130 estimates found that breast-feeding promotion on average increased exclusive breast-feeding by an astonishing 44 percent.

This annual win-a-trip journey is a chance to highlight elegant solutions to global problems. Sometimes the solutions are dazzlingly high-tech, but almost nothing could save as many children’s lives each year as nature’s own miracle: breast milk.

And now here’s Ms. Collins:

When Americans are killed in a terror attack, there’s a natural, righteous need to find out what went wrong. And the trick is to do it in a way that doesn’t debase the human loss with a nasty political scrum.

For the right way, you can look at the 9/11 commission.

For the wrong way, there’s the House Select Committee on Benghazi, which has spent the last few months as a walking disaster. Well, actually, a sitting disaster. Or a hardly-ever-bothering-to-show-up disaster. In all its postures, it’s been a textbook for bad intentions.

And then there’s the ad a group called Stop Hillary PAC aired in a number of American cities during the Democratic debate last week. It featured photos of the four men who died in the attack on the American diplomatic mission, seemingly speaking from the grave to Clinton. “I’d like to ask you why you ignored calls for help in Benghazi and then four Americans were murdered,” says a voice, while the picture of C.I.A. contractor Glen Doherty is on the screen. In the end, a picture of Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens appears, while a voice says: “But Mrs. Clinton, I can’t. What difference does it make?” And then there’s his headstone.

The relatives were, of course, horrified. “It’s an insult to someone who is dead,” Stevens’s mother told The Washington Post, adding that she’d sue the makers if she could.

But she can’t. The only thing that controls people like Stop Hillary PAC is a national consensus that there are places you just don’t go when it comes to political exploitation of American deaths. We’ve been through a lot of that lately, including the Jeb Bush-Donald Trump argument about George W. and 9/11. “Next week Mr. Trump is probably going to say that F.D.R. was around when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor,” Jeb blurted out in a TV interview.

Say what? People, do you remember the days of yore, when you thought Jeb Bush was the adult in the Republican room? Now he’s nothing more than political toast and Donald Trump could actually get the Republican nomination. Or Ted Cruz. Jeb, you have a lot to answer for — just please, don’t try to say anything.

The first step on the road to national sanity is to acknowledge that our leaders all want to keep the people safe. There is absolutely no reason to worry on that point. But good intentions don’t always lead to safe results, and the second step is to figure out what went wrong in a calm and even-handed manner.

The Benghazi committee went into its investigation with a promise to be fair. “There are certain things in our culture that have to transcend politics, and I don’t mean to sound naïve, but the murder of four fellow Americans and an attack on a facility that is emblematic of our country should transcend politics,” said the committee chair, Trey Gowdy.

The very fact that Gowdy thought he might be sounding naïve should have been a warning.

That was before the House majority leader bragged how well the committee had done in bringing down Clinton’s poll numbers. Before Gowdy criticized Clinton for forwarding an email containing the name of a C.I.A. source to her aide, and in the process accidentally made the name public himself.

Also before the world learned that the same Stop Hillary PAC which made that appalling ad has been a campaign contributor and all-round political helper to Representative Trey Gowdy.

How do you know if politicians are transcending their parties when they’re investigating these painful and sensitive matters? Well, do they seem interested in important but unsexy issues like the State Department security chain of command? Or are they flinging themselves in front of the cameras, claiming that the terrible error which was Benghazi is like the criminal conspiracy which was Watergate.

Looking at you, Representative Mike (“worse than Watergate”) Pompeo. A Kansas Republican who serves on the Benghazi investigating committee, Pompeo has been making the rounds on TV, arguing that Clinton erased way more emails than Richard Nixon did White House tapes. I believe I speak for many when I say that if email had been around during the Nixon administration, we would have seen erasures the size of Mount Whitney.

While we’re reclaiming the even course when it comes to preventing terror attacks, another good step might be for Jeb Bush to say that Hillary Clinton doesn’t deserve to be pilloried any more than his brother. This came up during a Jake Tapper interview on CNN, and Bush’s response was: “Well, I — it’s — the question on then Benghazi, which is — hopefully we’ll now finally get, get the truth to, is, was that — was the place secure? They had a responsibility, the Department of State, to have proper security.”


Blow, Kristof and Collins

October 8, 2015

Mr. Blow says “With Ben Carson, the Doctor is Always Out” and that after this week’s string of dumbfounding comments emanating from the candidate, I’m starting to doubt everything that comes out of his mouth.  Mr. Kristof considers “3 Peerless Republicans for President: Trump, Carson and Fiorina” and says any  of the front-runners would make history by being elected without basic experiences of every other occupant of the Oval Office.  Ms. Collins says “Too Many Bushes Spoil the Broth” and that Jeb’s supporters are hearing from the whole family: Columba, George, Barbara, George W. and Laura.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

Oh, Ben.

On Tuesday, Ben Carson was on “Fox & Friends” and was posed this hypothetical: “If a gunman walks up and puts a gun at you and says what religion are you, that is the ultimate test of your faith,” as the Oregon shooter reportedly did to his victims.

It wasn’t a question per se, but the interviewer obviously wanted to know how Carson would react in that incredibly stressful circumstance.

Carson responded:

“I’m glad you asked that question because not only would I not probably not cooperate with him, I would not just stand there and let him shoot me. I would say, ‘Hey guys, everybody attack him. He may shoot me, but he can’t get us all.’ ”

Then Carson chuckled.

Oh, Ben.

Do you not see why so many people saw this as a callous, thickheaded blaming of the victim? The statement doesn’t honor the heroism of Chris Mintz, who did exactly as Carson suggested — charged at the shooter, was shot seven times, but wasn’t able to incapacitate him — and it also devalues the lives and reactions of all the other victims who didn’t or couldn’t charge the shooter.

Which of us truly know precisely how we would react — even those of us who are sure that we would be fearless — when caught off guard and caught up in an active mass shooting where bodies, ripped open by bullets, are falling all around?

On Tuesday evening, Carson appeared on Fox News’ “The Kelly File,” where the host, Megyn Kelly, put this statement to him: “The accusation there, Dr. Carson, is that you appeared tone deaf and that you seemed callous in the laughter about a massacre and what you would have done.”

Carson responded, “I’m laughing at them and their silliness.” “Who?” Kelly asked. “The people asking that question,” Carson responded.

Hold up! When the original statement/question was put to Carson, the “them” were the hosts on “Fox & Friends,” and Carson’s response began with “I’m glad you asked that question…”

I’m starting to doubt everything that comes out of this man’s mouth.

On Wednesday on “CBS This Morning,” Carson defended his comments, saying, “I want to plant in people’s minds what to do in a situation like this because, unfortunately, this is probably not going to be the last time this happens.”

What Carson wants to plant in people’s minds flows counter to what the Department of Homeland Security wants to plant in their minds as “good practices.” The agency prioritizes personal protection and fleeing over engagement:

“If you suspect a potential active shooter situation, you must quickly determine the most reasonable way to protect your own life. If there is an accessible escape path, attempt to evacuate the premises.”

The recommendations continue:

“If evacuation is not possible, you should find a place to hide where the active shooter is less likely to find you.”

And then:

“As a last resort, and only when your life is in imminent danger, you should attempt to incapacitate the shooter by acting with physical aggression and throwing items at the active shooter.”

On Wednesday, Carson appeared again on Fox News, responding to the criticism over his Tuesday comments.

“I’m not gonna change and become — you know, you know — a vanilla envelope that they can accept. They’re never going to accept me because I don’t believe in political correctness. So I can twist myself in pretzels trying to fit into their silly little box or I can be who I am. And we need people who are willing to stand up and talk what’s logical right now.”


Oh, Ben.

Did you mean manila, perchance?


This is not about whether speech should conform to political correctness, Mr. Carson, but about having a reasonable expectation that politicians can speak correctly. You, apparently, cannot.

We have to deal with all of the issues that contribute to our epidemic of gun violence in this country — everything from better assessment and treatment of mental illness, to sensible, national gun-control measures, to addressing a fame-obsessed, violence-soaked culture.

Our politicians won’t stand up to the gun lobby. But we can’t simply, as Carson recommends, throw our bodies at armed men.

During a Facebook question and answer session, he seemed to suggest that he preferred bodies riddled with bullets to more gun control. Carson wrote:

“There is no doubt that this senseless violence is breathtaking — but I never saw a body with bullet holes that was more devastating than taking the right to arm ourselves away.”

Oh, Ben.

Next up we have Mr. Kristof:

The leading contenders for the Republican nomination for president tell us three interesting things about America.

First, many G.O.P. voters are so disenchanted they’re willing to entrust the country to candidates — Donald Trump, Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina — with zero experience in elective office or military command. Only two men without previous time in major elective office or the military have been president, Herbert Hoover and William Howard Taft, and both had held cabinet posts. No president has ever been as inexperienced as any of these three leading Republican candidates.

Second, the public feels an odd awe for C.E.O.s and presumes they know how to run things, even if their records suggest otherwise. This cultural reverence for C.E.O.s perhaps also explains why pay packages have increased — and why Fiorina was allowed to take home a $21 million severance package after she was fired as Hewlett-Packard’s chief executive for incompetence.

Third, the only kind of welfare that carries no stigma in America is corporate welfare. For all Trump’s criticisms of government, his familywealth came from feeding at the government trough. His father, Fred Trump, leveraged government housing programs into a construction business; the empire was founded on public money.

My bet is that Trump, Fiorina and Carson will fade, and that voters will eventually turn to a more conventional candidate, perhaps Senator Marco Rubio. From the Democrats’ point of view, the scariest Republican ticket might pair Rubio with John Kasich. Rubio has natural political skills, projects youth and change, and would signal that the Republican Party is ready to expand its demographic base. Rubio and Kasich would also have a decent chance of winning their home states, Florida and Ohio — and any ticket that could win Florida and Ohio would be a strong contender.

But instead, Republican primary voters for now are pursuing a bizarre flirtation with three candidates who are the least qualified since, well, maybe since Trump put his toe in the waters before the 2000 election.

In that sense, they offer a window into the American psyche — part of which is our adulation of the C.E.O.

There’s something to be said for C.E.O.s’ entering politics: In theory, they have management expertise and financial savvy. Then again, it didn’t work so well with Dick Cheney.

More broadly, the United States has overdone the cult of the C.E.O., partly explaining why at the largest companies the ratio of C.E.O. compensation to typical worker pay rose from 20 to one in 1965 to 303 to one in 2014,according to the Economic Policy Institute.

In any case, even if you were conducting a job search for a great C.E.O. to lead the free world, you wouldn’t turn to either Trump or Fiorina.

My sense is that Trump isn’t the idiot that critics often claim (the most common words voters used to describe him in a recent poll were “idiot,” “jerk,” “stupid” and “dumb”). This is a man who is near the top of diverse fields: real estate, book writing, television and now presidential politics. He’s a born showman, a master of branding and marketing. But he doesn’t seem a master of investing.

Back in 1976, Trump said he was worth “more than $200 million.” If he had simply put $200 million in an index fund and reinvested dividends, he would be worth $12 billion today, notes Max Ehrenfreund of The Washington Post. In fact, he’s worth $4.5 billion, according to Forbes.

In other words, Trump’s business acumen seems less than half as impressive as that of an ordinary Joe who parks his savings in an index fund.

An index fund might also have been less ethically problematic. In the 1970s, the Justice Department accused Trump of refusing to rent to blacks. And in 2013, New York State’s attorney general sued him, alleging “persistent fraudulent, illegal and deceptive conduct”; Trump denied the charges.

If Trump’s performance as a business executive was problematic, Fiorina’s was exceptional. Exceptionally bad.

Put aside the fact that she’s the C.E.O. who fired thousands of workers while raking in more than $100 million in compensation and pushing H.P. to acquire five corporate jets. Just looking at the bottom line, she earned her place on those “worst C.E.O.” lists she appeared on.

As Steven Rattner wrote in The Times, Hewlett-Packard’s share price fell 52 percent in the nearly six years she was at the helm. H.P. did worse than its peers: IBM fell 27.5 percent, and Dell, 3 percent.

Oh, and on the day she was fired, the stock market celebrated: H.P. shares soared 7 percent.

If I wanted a circus ringmaster, I’d hire Trump. If I wanted advice on brain surgery or hospital management, I’d turn to Carson. Fiorina would make an articulate television pundit. But for president?

The fact that these tyros are the three leading presidential contenders for a major political party is a sad window into our political dysfunction.

And now here’s Ms. Collins:

Happiness is being on the Jeb Bush campaign mailing list. Recent highlights:

Sept. 27 — Columba Bush emailed to say she wants me to get to know the Jeb she knows, who is a person of principle. Also very tall. “But Friend, no one is going to see that side of him if he misses his critical End of Quarter fundraising goal of $200,000.”

Sept. 29 — President George H.W. Bush is in my inbox. The good Bush! He wants me to know that Jeb is ready.

Later that day …

Barbara Bush just wrote, asking me to donate some money. She admits she’s not as big into email as her son. (Jeb brags that he spent 25 to 30 hours a week emailing when he was governor. He has a book coming out about this and a lot of the messages seem to involve thanking people for writing.) Anyhow, the former first lady mentions that — although she has no idea why — her family calls her “The Enforcer.” I am not entirely clear on why she’s bringing that up. Is it a threat?

Sept. 30 — Oh, wow, they’re rolling out W. He feels Jeb “has what it takes to lead our nation.” Also, both he and Laura would really appreciate it if I send some money.

Later that day …

Jeb wants to make sure I caught his brother’s note: “Really thankful to have his support on this journey.” I think someday we should discuss the national tendency to describe everything as a “journey.” Journey is getting a bad name.

Oct. 4 — Big news from Jeb: He’s been talking with his parents, and they think it would be great if I could get to know them personally. “Today we’re launching a contest to fly one lucky winner down to Texas at the end of the month to meet Mom and Dad. All you have to do is chip in $1.”

Oct. 6 — Columba wants to make sure I got Jeb’s note about the contest to meet George H.W. and Barbara. “Jeb loves meeting his biggest supporters, and I can’t think of a better way to do that than flying you to Houston to meet the whole family.” She and Jeb are going to be there, too. Although not, apparently, W. and Laura. Maybe they’re on a different journey.

• • •

This is far from the first time a candidate for president has dragged the family into fund-raising efforts. (By the end of the campaign, you’re going to see third cousins serving as honorary guests at $100-a-plate dinners.) And eventually, we’re going to have some serious conversations about Bill Clinton. But right now, we’re starting to get so many Bushes, the nation is in danger of becoming one large political hedge.

This week Jonathan Martin and Matt Flegenheimer reported in The Timesthat the Bush organization is seriously considering having George W. campaign for his brother in South Carolina, where people apparently look back on the invasion of Iraq as the best of times. South Carolina was a critical victory for W. in 2000 and I remember interviewing Republican primary voters who said they were going to vote for him because they knew if he got in trouble, his parents would straighten him out. It seemed sort of sweet at the time. Oh well.

The longer the race goes on, the closer Jeb seems to snuggle up to his older brother. We’ve come a long way from the “my own man” distancing epoch. After that, there was the arm’s-length era of Well, I wouldn’t have expanded Medicare. And then it was on to the fabled moment during the last debate when Donald Trump dissed W., and Jeb shot back: “You know what? As it relates to my brother, there’s one thing I know for sure. He kept us safe.” He then went on to mention the hugging of the firefighter at ground zero.

The World Trade Center was such a terrible, terrible tragedy that it seems unseemly to use it for political leverage in any way. However, if you’re going to bring it up, the accurate way to describe George W. Bush in relation to 9/11 would be something like, “The man who, despite the best intentions in the world, failed to keep us safe.”

Chances are, Jeb did envision a campaign in which he was the only Bush in sight. Just last month he told voters he knew he’d never get elected “by being the third Bush running for president.” But desperate times breed desperate measures. Very hard to go around bragging that you were a terrific Florida governor at the same time Florida Republicans are saying they’d much rather vote for Trump.

Plus, the big donors are getting restless. Dissatisfaction on the part of your former constituents is one thing, but there’s nothing worse than cranky oligarchs. Dangers abound. It’s a time when you need to see your kin flocking to the rescue. One person’s hedge is another person’s security blanket.

Blow, Kristof and Collins

October 1, 2015

In “Jeb Bush: Crying Out Loud” Mr. Blow says most of his speeches ooze over him like cold gruel. But there’s one special phrase, when he hears it, that tells him to perk up and pay attention.  In “The Most Important Thing, and It’s Almost a Secret” Mr. Kristof says everyone knows about the spread of war and the hopeless intractability of poverty. But everyone is wrong.  In “Planned Parenthood Talks” Ms. Collins says the only game in town goes into extra innings in Congress.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

In an interview this week with Sirius XM’s POTUS channel, the presidential candidate and former Florida governor Jeb Bush said that Washington Redskins was not an offensive team name. As Bush put it, “It’s a sport, for crying out loud. It’s a football team.” He continued, “I’m missing something here, I guess.”

Ah, Mr. Bush, you always seem to be missing something.

As The New York Times reported, But Change the Mascot, an advocacy group that represents Native American tribes, responded in a statement that read:

“What is surprising is that in promoting the use of this slur, the governor somehow believes he speaks for Native Americans and can assert that Native American people do not find this slur offensive.”

The Times also reported that according to a Federal Election Commission filing, the Redskins owner, Dan Snyder, “donated $100,000 this year to Right to Rise, the super PAC that supports Mr. Bush.”

As always, follow the money.

But there is something else that I also follow when it comes to Bush: his penchant for saying “for crying out loud,” particularly when his back is a bit against the wall and he realizes that what he’s saying will be found controversial by some. It seems to be his way of dampening backlash before it happens.

As a person who uses language for a living, I find it hard not to notice rhetorical quirks committed by others.

It has become something of a parlor game for me to note whenever he says “for crying out loud,” which always seems to signal some level of exasperation. And, somewhere around that phrase, he seems to say something interesting, sometimes something careless, nearly always something that makes news.

It’s one of those subconscious things that speakers do — like scratching their nose while telling a lie or taking a drink of water when listening to a question that makes them uncomfortable — that journalists learn to pay attention to.

For instance, while in Berlin during the summer, Bush addressed turmoil in his campaign, saying:

“This is an adjustment based on the skills of people that I got to know during the last three months. … It’s June, for crying out loud, so we’ve got a long way to go.”

When complaining that the Democratic presidential candidate Martin O’Malley should not have apologized for conflating “all lives matter” with “black lives matter,” Bush said:

“No, for crying out loud, no. We’re so uptight and so politically correct now that we apologize for saying lives matter?”

He continued:

“Life is precious. It’s a gift from God. I frankly think that it’s one of the most important values that we have. I know in the political context it’s a slogan, I guess. Should he have apologized? No.”

When a Democratic National Committee spokeswoman asserted in March that Republican hopefuls were being disingenuous in their attacks on Hillary Clinton over her email, and specifically asked “what emails has Jeb Bush not turned over?” Bush responded that he was “totally transparent. I have a BlackBerry as part of my official portrait, for crying out loud. There was nothing to hide.”

In August, Bush complained about the impracticality of building a border wall between the United States and Mexico, a plan advocated by the Republican front-runner. Bush detailed his own plan, which included beefing up the border patrol and local law enforcement along the border as well as using more technology like drones and GPS. Yet he demanded, “But do it as a conservative, for crying out loud.” He continued, “I don’t think we should spend hundreds of billions of dollars with an impractical solution.”

As a person who uses language for a living, I find it hard not to notice rhetorical quirks committed by others.

It has become something of a parlor game for me to note whenever he says “for crying out loud,” which always seems to signal some level of exasperation. And, somewhere around that phrase, he seems to say something interesting, sometimes something careless, nearly always something that makes news.

It’s one of those subconscious things that speakers do — like scratching their nose while telling a lie or taking a drink of water when listening to a question that makes them uncomfortable — that journalists learn to pay attention to.

For instance, while in Berlin during the summer, Bush addressed turmoil in his campaign, saying:

“This is an adjustment based on the skills of people that I got to know during the last three months. … It’s June, for crying out loud, so we’ve got a long way to go.”

When complaining that the Democratic presidential candidate Martin O’Malley should not have apologized for conflating “all lives matter” with “black lives matter,” Bush said:

“No, for crying out loud, no. We’re so uptight and so politically correct now that we apologize for saying lives matter?”

He continued:

“Life is precious. It’s a gift from God. I frankly think that it’s one of the most important values that we have. I know in the political context it’s a slogan, I guess. Should he have apologized? No.”

When a Democratic National Committee spokeswoman asserted in March that Republican hopefuls were being disingenuous in their attacks on Hillary Clinton over her email, and specifically asked “what emails has Jeb Bush not turned over?” Bush responded that he was “totally transparent. I have a BlackBerry as part of my official portrait, for crying out loud. There was nothing to hide.”

In August, Bush complained about the impracticality of building a border wall between the United States and Mexico, a plan advocated by the Republican front-runner. Bush detailed his own plan, which included beefing up the border patrol and local law enforcement along the border as well as using more technology like drones and GPS. Yet he demanded, “But do it as a conservative, for crying out loud.” He continued, “I don’t think we should spend hundreds of billions of dollars with an impractical solution.”

He was asked at a campaign event in Florida in July about his commitment to overhauling the immigration system. “Yes, for crying out loud,” he said. “It’s a broken system used as a wedge issue for political purposes.”

Many conservatives have accused Bush of supporting what they call amnesty and what others simply call a path to citizenship for some immigrants now illegally in the country. And of course, there was the conservative outrage over Bush saying that many immigrants come illegally as “an act of love.”

In an interview with Georgia Public Broadcasting following the first presidential debate in which Bush bombed, he blasted the front-runner for his criticism of one of the moderators, saying:

“Megyn Kelly is a top-notch journalist. And the fact that she asked the guy tough questions … I mean, if you’re running for president of the United States and you think this is tough, try dealing with Putin for crying out loud.”

Bush has been struggling to get his footing in the race and rebuff and detract from an onslaught of insults coming his way.

While campaigning in New Hampshire in August, Bush commented on the huge Republican field — trying to deflect attention from the fact that he was no longer the G.O.P. front-runner — and how the candidates compared with the Democratic front-runner:

“There’s a lot of differences amongst ourselves but the differences pale in comparison to the differences that I have with Hillary Clinton, for crying out loud.”

The list of Bush’s nervous usage of the idiom goes on and on. I could have filled every one of these column inches with examples.

But Mr. Bush, I must say that I appreciate your little quirk. Most of the time your speeches ooze over me like cold gruel. At least now, when I hear your say “for crying out loud,” I know to perk up and pay attention.

Just think … Jeb! is supposed to be “the smart one.”  Here’s Mr. Kristof:

We journalists are a bit like vultures, feasting on war, scandal and disaster. Turn on the news, and you see Syrian refugees, Volkswagen corruption, dysfunctional government.

Yet that reflects a selection bias in how we report the news: We cover planes that crash, not planes that take off. Indeed, maybe the most important thing happening in the world today is something that we almost never cover: a stunning decline in poverty, illiteracy and disease.

Huh? You’re wondering what I’ve been smoking! Everybody knows about the spread of war, the rise of AIDS and other diseases, the hopeless intractability of poverty.

One survey found that two-thirds of Americans believed that the proportion of the world population living in extreme poverty has almost doubled over the last 20 years. Another 29 percent believed that the proportion had remained roughly the same.

That’s 95 percent of Americans — who are utterly wrong. In fact, the proportion of the world’s population living in extreme poverty hasn’t doubled or remained the same. It has fallen by more than half, from 35 percent in 1993 to 14 percent in 2011 (the most recent year for which figures are available from the World Bank).

When 95 percent of Americans are completely unaware of a transformation of this magnitude, that reflects a flaw in how we journalists cover the world — and I count myself among the guilty. Consider:

• The number of extremely poor people (defined as those earning less than $1 or $1.25 a day, depending on who’s counting) rose inexorably until the middle of the 20th century, then roughly stabilized for a few decades. Since the 1990s, the number of poor has plummeted.

• In 1990, more than 12 million children died before the age of 5; this toll has since dropped by more than half.

• More kids than ever are becoming educated, especially girls. In the 1980s, only half of girls in developing countries completed elementary school; now, 80 percent do.

Granted, some 16,000 children still die unnecessarily each day. It’s maddening in my travels to watch children dying simply because they were born in the wrong place at the wrong time.

But one reason for our current complacency is a feeling that poverty is inevitable — and that’s unwarranted.

The world’s best-kept secret is that we live at a historic inflection point when extreme poverty is retreating. United Nations members have just adopted 17 new Global Goals, of which the centerpiece is the elimination of extreme poverty by 2030. Their goals are historic. There will still be poor people, of course, but very few who are too poor to eat or to send children to school. Young journalists or aid workers starting out today will in their careers see very little of the leprosy, illiteracy, elephantiasis and river blindness that I have seen routinely.

“We live at a time of the greatest development progress among the global poor in the history of the world,” notes Steven Radelet, a development economist and Georgetown University professor, in a terrific book coming in November, “The Great Surge: The Ascent of the Developing World.”

“The next two decades can be even better and can become the greatest era of progress for the world’s poor in human history,” Radelet writes.

I write often about inequality, a huge challenge in the U.S. But globally, inequality is diminishing, because of the rise of poor countries.

What does all this mean in human terms? I was thinking of that last week while interviewing Malala Yousafzai, the teenage Nobel Peace Prize winner. Malala’s mother grew up illiterate, like the women before her, and was raised to be invisible to outsiders. Malala is a complete contrast: educated, saucy, outspoken and perhaps the most visible teenage girl in the world.

Even in countries like Pakistan, the epoch of illiterate and invisible women like Malala’s mother is fading; the epoch of Malala is dawning. The challenge now is to ensure that rich donor nations are generous in supporting the Global Goals — but also that developing countries do their part, rather than succumbing to corruption and inefficiency. (I’m talking to you, Angola!)

There’s one last false argument to puncture. Cynics argue that saving lives is pointless, because the result is overpopulation that leads more to starve. Not true. Part of this wave of progress is a stunning drop in birthrates.

Haitian women now average 3.1 children; in 1985, they had six. In Bangladesh, women now average 2.2 children. Indonesians, 2.3. When the poor know that their children will survive, when they educate their daughters, when they access family planning, they have fewer children.

So let’s get down to work and, on our watch, defeat extreme poverty worldwide. We know that the challenges are surmountable — because we’ve already turned the tide of history.

And now here’s Ms. Collins:

Ten years ago, did you imagine that Planned Parenthood would be the center of our national political life? No, 10 years ago we were just worried about George W. Bush and high oil prices. Sometimes I miss high oil prices.

On Wednesday the House passed a bill to keep the government running until December. Only 91 Republicans supported the idea, because it included funding for Planned Parenthood. (Thank you for keeping the national parks open, Nancy Pelosi.) John Boehner resigned because he was exhausted with the fight.

Right now the House of Representatives has at least three different committees investigating Planned Parenthood. That’s a lot of committees, although you do have to remember that there were once seven investigating what happened in Benghazi. And the current House specialBenghazi investigation has now taken longer than the one that looked into Watergate.

“Everybody thought Hillary Clinton was unbeatable, right? But we put together a Benghazi special committee, a select committee. What are her numbers today? Her numbers are dropping,” Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy bragged to Sean Hannity on Fox News. McCarthy is hoping to succeed John Boehner as speaker, and he’s probably nervous about all the praise Boehner has been getting lately for evenhanded leadership. McCarthy’s remarks sounded awful to innocent bystanders — aren’t these things supposed to at least pretend to be fair? But it was probably meant to reassure his supporters that the team has never really faltered in its commitment to insanely irrational partisanship.

We will look forward to the questioning when Clinton appears before that special committee on Oct. 22. But about Planned Parenthood…

This week’s episode involved an appearance by Planned Parenthood head Cecile Richards before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. Some critics have claimed the members made no attempt to actually get any information from their witness, but just made speeches for the cameras. Well, duh. At least they let Richards into the room. Which is more than you could say for the Judiciary Committee’s recent hearing on “Planned Parenthood Exposed: Examining the Horrific Abortion Practices at the Nation’s Largest Abortion Provider.”

Richards was fine, whenever she could get a word in edgewise. She explained several times that Planned Parenthood’s federal funding was mainly just Medicaid payments for treating low-income patients. However this is a concept that her opponents made it clear they plan to never get their heads around.

Peering down at Richards, Representative John Duncan Jr., a Tennessee Republican, noted that the Boys & Girls Clubs of America “received $26 million from the federal government, compared to your $528 million. Seems a little bit lopsided to me.”

Richards mildly noted that as much as she respected the Boys & Girls Clubs, it doesn’t do a whole lot in the way of providing health care services to Medicaid recipients. Unmoved, Duncan then demanded to know if Richards would defend “the sale of baby body parts.”

This is of course a reference to those heavily doctored videos that are supposed to prove that Planned Parenthood sells fetal tissue for a profit. They have been determined to be false, false, false on one count after another, but the anti-abortion activist who made them has never been invited to a congressional hearing to explain anything.

The committee members are also sure that Planned Parenthood is replaceable. In the immortal words of Representative Jim Jordan of Ohio, they believe they can just “shift the money from an organization caught doing what they were caught doing and give it to the community health centers.” You can tell them a million times that there aren’t nearly enough providers to take care of all those low-income patients. You can show them congressional studies. You can also tell them that Planned Parenthood wasn’t caught doing anything. Never mind. It’s hopeless.

Several Democrats on the committee charged their Republican colleagues with sexism because they continually interrupted Richards and talked over her answers. (Representative Gerry Connolly of Virginia complained about “the disrespect, the misogyny rampant here today.”) But to be fair, this is really standard operating procedure in the House these days, and Richards, who is the daughter of former Texas Gov. Ann Richards, is not exactly a delicate flower.

Her interrogators also harped on her salary, which is more than $520,000 a year. It’s a lot of cash, but not a stunning amount of money for a job at that level, even for a normal large nonprofit where the challenges are mainly administration and fund-raising. Being at the helm of Planned Parenthood in the current climate is more like steering a boat carrying unstable explosives through a rocky and narrow channel while surrounded on both sides by enemy pirates throwing burning torches and threatening to close down the government.

The base salary for the head of the Boys & Girls Clubs, by the way, is $576,000.

Blow, Cohen, Kristof and Collins

September 24, 2015

In “The Soft Bigotry of Ben Carson” Mr. Blow says his  pedigree as a neurosurgeon adds gravitas to his nonsensical utterances and provides some cover for poisonously harmful, over-the-line invectives.  In “Jews as Far as Possible” Mr. Cohen says being part of Stefan Zweig’s “community of expulsion,” Jews cannot now turn their backs on the expelled.  Mr. Kristof, in “A Pope for All Species,” says Francis’ empathy lifts humans, animals and Christianity itself.  Ms. Collins considers “The Pope and Clark Gable” and says a  parochial school teacher once offered twisted insight into the actor’s success and afterlife. The Catholic Church has made progress since.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

The Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” “I would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation. I absolutely would not agree with that.”

At first, he stood by that outrageously prejudiced remark, but after coming under fire from not only Muslim groups but also many conservatives, he soon tried to walk it back, to cushion and to caveat it.

On Monday night, he posted a message on Facebook that included this line: “I could never support a candidate for President of the United States that was Muslim and had not renounced the central tenant of Islam: Sharia Law.”

Then on Tuesday, at a news conference, Carson said, “It has nothing to do with being a Muslim.” He continued: “That was the question that was specifically asked. If the question had been asked about a Christian and they said, ‘Would you support a Christian who supports establishing a theocracy?’ I would have said no.”

Only his original comment was unambiguous: It had everything to do with being a Muslim. And it was bigoted.

But this isn’t Carson’s first time at this rodeo. This has become his modus operandi.

Carson has a way of speaking in a flat, sing-song-y tone while flashing his toothy, 100-watt smile, that can be utterly disarming, if not completely charming.

His undeniable pedigree as an acclaimed pediatric neurosurgeon adds an air of gravitas to his nonsensical utterances and provides some cover for what can be poisonously harmful, over-the-line invectives.

Carson says in low register what others shout in anger, and he gets a bit of a pass because of the discordant message and method of delivery.

Just because a person is soft-spoken doesn’t mean that he is well-spoken.

Since Carson used his 2013 speech at the National Prayer Breakfast to criticize President Obama’s policies to his face, he has been lionized in conservative quarters.

It’s not that others have not criticized the president before or since, but it was the particularity of the racial imagery of Carson’s critique — one smart, accomplished black man undressing another in public — that gave it particular power. It insulated the attack from racial characterization. He said things from the lips of a black conservative that roiled the minds of white ones. And it represented a prominent breaking of ranks, a slicing off of black solidarity from not only Democratic loyalty but also from fidelity with this president.

Since then, Carson’s rhetoric has seemed to get only more reckless.

He has called Obama a psychopath and a liar. He has compared Obama’s supporters to Nazi sympathizers. He has said that Obamacare is the “worst thing that has happened in this nation since slavery,” even worse than the terrorist attacks on 9/11.

He has asserted that being gay is “absolutely” a choice as evidenced by people who “go into prison straight — and when they come out, they’re gay.” He later apologized in a statement that read in part:

“I do not pretend to know how every individual came to their sexual orientation. I regret that my words to express that concept were hurtful and divisive. For that I apologize unreservedly to all that were offended.”

And even when his rhetoric isn’t reckless, it can be wrongheaded.

He has used the shallowness of race as a biological construct to disavow and diminish the depth of racism as a very real cultural construct.

And he makes the mistake many people do, of using his personal story of success as a societal prescription for all problems. I have always held that working hard and following the rules are their own reward, but I am not naïve enough to believe that personal behavior can completely countervail structural oppression.

Carson knows that his outrageous antics in his role as the anti-Obama are a most profitable enterprise. He mixes political critique with Christian theological messaging to rake in quite a bit of money on the lecture circuit.As Politico reported in July, Carson “brought in nearly $2 million delivering inspirational speeches to faith-based groups like Christian high schools and pregnancy centers in 2014,” with speaking fees ranging “from $12,320 to $48,500.”

This is a sad turn — spurred, I believe, by profit motive — for such a great legacy.

I, like many other African-Americans, had come to see Carson as a hero before his foray into politics because of the resonance of his personal story — a poor inner-city child being raised by a driven single mother who valued education and instilled in him a sense of character that would allow him to become a staggering success.

Carson was the embodiment of possibility. His 1990 book, “Gifted Hands,” was required reading for many young people.

But as a political figure, his stature is diminished as he reveals himself to be intolerant, bordering on soft bigotry, and also reckless and needlessly inflammatory. No one can discount what Carson accomplished professionally, but those accomplishments must now stand shoulder to shoulder with this new persona: whisper-soft purveyor of hyperbolic hucksterism.

Next up we have Mr. Cohen:

I should not be writing this column on Yom Kippur, in a break from shul, on an empty stomach, but there we are. Let’s put it down to another inflection in the many inflections of being Jew-ish.

Jews are a practical people. They deal with this world not the next. They are an argumentative people. They know that truth may be a matter of disputation, or may be arrived at only through disputation. They tend to accept that being Jewish, one may have to be Jew-ish at times, fall a little short, be a little approximate.

I have a column to write. Deadlines are unforgiving. Less forgiving than this Day of Atonement, whose significance was expressed in a phrase of Maimonides: “We have freed ourselves of our previous deeds, have cast them behind our backs, and removed them from us as far as possible.”

I love that “as far as possible.” Jews, as I said, are a practical people. Their interest is in the feasible not in magic wands.

This is a day of the inward gaze, of breaking from the world. It is a time for turning the mind and soul elsewhere, away from the ephemeral toward the eternal, away from multitasking toward mercy.

A column is very much of this world. Once published, it is debated in real time, commented on, bounced across social media, its clicks counted; and so publication, no longer a singular event, becomes a process that may be protracted and distracting. Life today is a battle against distraction. You start off intent on doing one thing and end up doing another. Or not doing anything at all.

It feels good, then, to set aside pretense of action for the fecund inaction of sitting still in synagogue, in my case the beautiful 175-year-old West London Synagogue, to listen to many things (including silence); and to reflect, arrested now and then by a phrase or just by the sunlight glinting through stained glass into a place of proportions that speak of harmony.

How inexhaustible are the words of the sage Hillel: “If I am not for myself, who is for me? But if I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now when?”

A couple of millennia have not produced a better summation of realism allied to humanity allied to the urgency of the deed, nor a more powerful injunction against self-delusion, selfishness and procrastination.

I had arrived in London from the Greek island of Lesbos, where thousands of refugees who have fled the Syrian war are entering Europe every day on inflatable rafts. “Refugees Welcome,” said a banner at the entrance to the synagogue — scarcely the general view of Britain or its government. Jews, part of what Stefan Zweig called “the ever-recurring — since Egypt — community of expulsion,” cannot in good conscience turn their backs on the expelled.

In different renderings, throughout the day, a cornerstone of Jewish ethics was expressed: “You shall love the stranger as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” Recall what it is to be driven out of your land with no land to go to.

At no time did I hear of the God of dangerous certainties endemic to every form of fundamentalism. I did not hear of a God of revealed truths used to stoke the fires of confrontation between peoples, nor of an unforgiving God invoked by believers to justify zealotry or beheadings or discrimination or exclusive claims to land. No, this was the God of “whoever saves one soul, it counts as if he saved the whole world.”

Jews came up with the idea of a faceless God with whom they had a covenant, and that covenant — binding over thousands of years of uprooted wandering — was in essence a covenant of ethics. For a long time it was a covenant of the powerless. It would be a terrible outcome if it proved irreconcilable with the exercise of power, now that the long-awaited return to Jerusalem has occurred, and a strong and vibrant modern Israel exists whose founding charter of 1948 says the state will be based on “freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel.”

Those prophets’ word was present in the synagogue. Zealotry is not the answer to zealotry. Being a practical people who have learned through the ultimate trial that without power survival itself is at risk cannot mean Jewish acquiescence to the injustice of dominion over another displaced people, the Palestinians. The teachings of the “community of expulsion” demand ever-renewed commitment to inclusion, even when it seems hopeless. Justice and peace are incompatible with the status quo in the Holy Land.

Perhaps such ideas are Jew-ish, the delusions of which “real Jews” in their absolutist certainties have rid themselves. But I will take the “as far as possible” of the Jewish philosopher over the all-or-nothing conviction of the Messianic Jewish settler.

And now here’s Mr. Kristof:

We all know that Pope Francis cares deeply for the marginalized, but did you realize that his compassion bridges the species barrier? Hesuggests that animals will go to heaven and that the Virgin Mary “grieves for the sufferings” even of mistreated livestock.

“Eternal life will be a shared experience of awe, in which each creature, resplendently transfigured, will take its rightful place,” he has written.

I share his conviction that dogs go to heaven — indeed, heaven would be diminished if there were no dogs. And it’s exhilarating to see a spiritual leader whose empathy goes beyond the widow and orphan to, say, the parrot (Francis once blessed a parrot belonging to a former male stripper).

More on Francis’ empathy for animals in a moment. In a larger sense, it is this boundless compassion that has made him such a popular figure, even among non-Catholics.

Indeed, here’s the delicious irony: Pope Francis is revered even by many atheists.

The backdrop is that the Christian “brand” has suffered from culture wars, hypocritical televangelist blowhards and the sense that Christian leaders have spent more time condemning gays (whom Jesus never mentions) than helping the needy (Jesus’ passion). Some young people have gone so far as to avoid the label “Christian,” calling themselves followers of Jesus instead. It carries less baggage.

Yet I wonder if that taint isn’t beginning to fade. In the Protestant world, the baton has passed to evangelical leaders who are less interested in culture wars, and under Francis the same may increasingly be true of Roman Catholicism. In his remarks during his White House visit on Wednesday, Francis focused once again on climate change, the environment and immigrants.

Our public figures are often narcissists, utterly self-absorbed in their quest for power. And into this mix strides Pope Francis, drawn to the powerless, focused on issues like climate change and human trafficking, declaring, “I prefer a church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets rather than a church which is unhealthy from being confined.”

Richard Stearns, president of World Vision, the evangelical aid group, cites that passage and says Francis’ writing should be required reading across denominations.

“I have been deeply grieved by the damage done to the reputation of Christianity in recent years by Christians shaking their fists at the culture,” Stearns says. “Perhaps the shortest definition of God in Scripture is from 1 John 4:8, ‘God is love.’ Pope Francis is trying to show the world the simplicity of that revolutionary idea.”

Deborah Fikes, of the World Evangelical Alliance, puts it this way: “As a U.S. evangelical who has been so disappointed in how leaders from my own faith tradition have lost sight of what an authentic Christian witness really looks like, Pope Francis is nailing it, and this is resonating with Catholics and Protestants, including evangelicals.”

The excitement about Francis is about his tone as much as his substance, and he shares many of the conservative social values of his predecessors. To me, one of the most striking shifts that go beyond tone is one that has commanded almost no notice: his calls for animal rights.

“We must forcefully reject the notion that our being created in God’s image and given dominion over the earth justifies absolute domination over other creatures,” he declared in his encyclical on the environment. “The Bible has no place for a tyrannical anthropocentrism.”

There are many such passages, including a warning against unnecessary experiments on animals.

It would be a mistake to say, as one animal rights group did, that the pope’s message is “go vegan,” and it’s unclear what the practical implications are. Bruce Friedrich of Farm Sanctuary has called on the pope to match his words by making the Vatican cafeteria vegetarian — but I wouldn’t bet on that happening soon.

Still, Francis is relentlessly shining his spotlight on the voiceless, whether two-legged or four-legged, and that is new.

Pope Paul VI is said to have once comforted a boy by saying that he could see his dog again in heaven, but Pope Benedict XVI contradicted that.

Charles Camosy, a Catholic theologian at Fordham University who has written a book about the theology of animal protection, says that Francis’ carefully reviewed encyclical this year constitutes the first authoritative Catholic statements that animals enjoy eternal life. Camosy says this is a milestone, although he says he would have also welcomed Francis’ clarifying our moral obligations to, say, pigs versus mosquitoes.

The pope’s sweeping empathy will benefit the poor, the refugees and, perhaps gradually, animals we abuse in factory farms. But it does more; his humility and compassion also benefit the reputation of Christianity itself, by helping to recast it from pointing fingers to helping hands.

And last but not least here’s Ms. Collins:

Watching the nation come to a screeching halt over Pope Francis’ visit, I had a flashback to my childhood in Cincinnati. One day I saw a picture of then-Pope Pius XII on the front page of the evening paper and I was shocked — Shocked! I had no idea that anybody in Ohio outside my immediate neighborhood knew who he was.

In our Catholic school, the nuns stressed our isolation, and they kept prepping us to be ready to die for our faith at any moment. Like St. Ursula, who was on a pilgrimage with 11,000 virgins, all of whom instantly chose martyrdom rather than surrender their purity to infidel Huns. (At the time, I just knew virgins were women who hadn’t married, and I had a vision of throngs of young ladies being pursued by barbarians waving engagement rings.)

Or St. Tarcisius, a Roman boy who was carrying holy communion to imprisoned Christians. There are many versions of this story, but in the one my teachers told, the job was supposed to be performed in total silence. When his pagan playmates asked him to join their game, Tarcisius clasped his sacred package to his heart and shook his head. Then the pagan boys guessed what was up and beat him to death.

I spent a lot of time trying to figure out how Tarcisius might have gotten away unscathed. Maybe by pretending to have a sore throat? It seemed important to identify the best strategy, because some modern-day version of the Huns or pagan Romans could arrive at any minute.

Catholicism was, as I learned after the Pius XII incident, the largest faith in my city. Many of our teachers were probably only a generation away from being picked-on immigrants, and maybe they brought their sense of paranoia with them to the classrooms. That’s understandable, but being both the powerful majority and the persecuted minority is like having your cake and eating it, and then taking over the bakery and bolting the front door.

This brings us back to Pope Francis, a humble man who accepts that he’s very powerful. He may have a little car and a modest home, but when he looks out at the world, his gaze isn’t defensive. He wants Catholicism to thrive — on a planet without global warming. He knows there are places where Catholics are suffering terribly for their faith, but when he looks at an embattled flock, he also sees Muslim immigrants who need Christian countries to open their borders.

Almost everybody appreciates this is a terrific gift to the world. Many people were hoping for a second one: some change in the church’s dogma on sex. This seems highly unlikely. But if Francis can at least change the context, that would be terrific.

Catholic schools don’t focus on sex now the way they did when I was a student. But the current crop of bishops was probably educated in schools like mine, where the subject came up 24/7. When Clark Gable died, one of my teachers explained that since the actor had had several wives, God knew he was going to hell and had probably given him earthly success to make up for any good deeds he performed in this world.

This was not official Catholic doctrine. The reform-minded John XXIII was pope by then and he would have fainted if confronted by the Clark Gable theory. But it was an excellent example of how loopy things can get if a religion obsesses on consensual private behavior.

I remember one priest who told us that when Christ was dying on the cross, he sadly envisioned us Catholic girls sinning in the back seat of a car.

“Aren’t there any other sins?” I asked one day. I’d be sort of proud of having come up with the question if the follow-up hadn’t been such a failure. I couldn’t think of any other immediate possibilities. Nobody in my school even swore.

“Like …” I groped. “…Greed?” All I knew about greed was cartoons of Scrooge McDuck sitting on a pile of money.

There were obviously a lot of character failings we could have discussed. My friends and I were capable of floating for weeks without seriously directing attention at anything that didn’t involve ourselves. But as long as we kept away from boys’ wandering hands, we felt spiritually A-O.K.

This pope is highly unlikely to accept gay marriage, and he’ll never give abortion a pass. But in Washington he grouped abortion in a long catalog of wrongs that need to be righted: hungry children, bombing, “immigrants who drown in the search for a better tomorrow,” old or sick people who are treated as a burden, terrorism, war, drug trafficking and environmental devastation.

It’s a long, long way from believing that God looked at Clark Gable’s soul and saw nothing but a guy who got divorced.

Kristof, Bruni and Collins

September 17, 2015

In “When Crime Pays: J&J’s Drug Risperdal” Mr. Kristof says marketing the antipsychotic got Johnson & Johnson a criminal record, big settlement costs and penalties — and bigger profits.  Mr. Bruni had “An Overdose of Donald Trump at the G.O.P. Debate,” and says the second meeting of Republican candidates often revolved around the supposedly entertaining billionaire, and that isn’t amusing.  Ms. Collins watched too.  In “At Debate, Republicans Talk the Talk” she says some of the 15 candidates on stage said things to catch viewers’ attention, but it took five long hours to hear them through.  Here’s Mr. Kristof:

Risperdal is a billion-dollar antipsychotic medicine with real benefits — and a few unfortunate side effects.

It can cause strokes among the elderly. And it can cause boys to grow large, pendulous breasts; one boy developed a 46DD bust.

Yet Johnson & Johnson marketed Risperdal aggressively to the elderly and to boys while allegedly manipulating and hiding the data about breast development. J&J got caught, pleaded guilty to a crime and has paid more than $2 billion in penalties and settlements. But that pales next to some $30 billion in sales of Risperdal around the world.

In short, crime pays, if you’re a major corporation.

Oh, and the person who was in charge of marketing the drug in these ways? He is Alex Gorsky, who was rewarded by being elevated to C.E.O. of J&J. He earned $25 million last year.

This tale is told in a devastating 58,000-word epic by Steven Brill that is being serialized on The Huffington Post. Some has already been covered in The Times and other papers, or in Senate investigations and innumerable court decisions, but it’s still wrenching to read the comprehensive account of how a company put profit above everything and then benefited handsomely for doing so.

The story begins when J&J’s previous antipsychotic medicine ended its patent life, so sales plunged as generics gained market share. In 1994, J&J released Risperdal as a successor, but the Food and Drug Administration said it wasn’t necessarily better than the previous version and in any case was effective primarily for schizophrenia in adults. That’s a small market, and J&J was more ambitious. It wanted a blockbuster with annual revenues of at least $1 billion.

So J&J reinvented Risperdal as a drug for a broad range of problems, targeting everyone from seniors with dementia to children with autism.

The company also turned to corporate welfare: It paid doctors and others consulting fees and successfully lobbied for Texas to adopt Risperdal in place of generics. This meant that the state paid $3,000 a year for each Medicaid patient taking it, rather than $250 a year for each, Brill says.

Building on that, J&J reached out to Omnicare, a company that provided pharmaceutical services in nursing homes. The two companies cut a deal so that Omnicare doctors would prescribe Risperdal, and the profits would be shared with Omnicare. (Yes, that’s called a kickback.)

Even though Risperdal wasn’t approved for the elderly, J&J formed a sales force, called ElderCare, with 136 people to market it to seniors. The F.D.A. protested and noted that there were “an excess number of deaths” among the elderly who took the drug.

J&J seems to have shrugged. It was making vast sums, and the F.D.A. didn’t have teeth.

At the same time, J&J was also expanding into another forbidden market: children. The company began peddling the drug to pediatricians, so that by 2000, more than one-fifth of Risperdal was going to children and adolescents.

In 2003, the company had a “back to school” marketing campaign for Risperdal, and a manager discussed including “lollipops and small toys” in sample packages, Brill says.

All this was great for business, and by 2004 Risperdal was a $3-billion-a-year drug.

One challenge was that a J&J study had found that Risperdal led 5.5 percent of boys to develop large breasts, a condition known as gynecomastia. J&J covered this up, Brill says, quoting internal documents.

I asked J&J and Gorsky for comment. In particular, I wanted to understand why an executive who presided for years over conduct that the company conceded was criminal had been elevated to chief executive.

Gorsky declined to comment, and a company spokesman, Ernie Knewitz, didn’t really want to have that conversation. Knewitz did say the company “vehemently” disagrees with Brill’s take, denies a cover-up and considers Risperdal a useful drug with real benefits.

He’s right: Risperdal is a good drug that helps people. But it was marketed too broadly, and the system failed to protect consumers.

Brill calculates J&J may in the end have to pay a total of $6 billion in settlements for its misconduct. But he estimates the company made $18 billion in profits on Risperdal, just within the United States (on $20 billion in domestic sales, and there was $10 billion more in sales abroad).

Last week the Appeal of Conscience Foundation, an interfaith organization, announced it would honor Gorsky with an award as a “man of integrity” and a “corporate leader with a sense of social responsibility.”

So even though the company was caught, criminality paid off, for the company and for executives.

That’s why we need tougher enforcement of safety regulations, and why white-collar criminals need to be prosecuted (as Attorney General Loretta Lynch has promised will happen).

Risperdal is a cautionary tale: When we allow businesses to profit from crimes, we all lose.

Next up we have Mr. Bruni:

It was a debate that worked almost in spite of itself.

As the hours dragged on, the issues were indeed hashed out: whether a Republican president should immediately tear up the Iran deal or wait and see; whether the federal government should be shut down in the service of defunding Planned Parenthood; whether a wall along the Mexican border is a feasible plan or empty bluster.

But that substance had to muscle its way through the show business, by which I mean Donald Trump’s attempt to turn everything into an adolescent popularity contest and CNN’s willingness to reward that by filtering the entire evening through the prism of the Republican field’s proven ratings magnet: Trump, Trump, Trump.

What did Trump think of something mean that someone else on the stage had said about him? What did someone else think about something nasty that Trump had said about him or her?

Trump had insulted Jeb Bush’s wife: Discuss! Trump had insulted Carly Fiorina’s business career: Respond!

So it went, somewhat tediously and surreally, for many stretches of the debate on Wednesday night and especially for the first half-hour, during which Rand Paul took the precise measure of — and raised the correct question about — the egomaniacal front-runner.

“Do we want someone with that kind of character, that kind of careless language, to be negotiating with Putin?” Paul asked.

“I think really there’s a sophomoric quality that is entertaining about Mr. Trump, but I am worried,” he added, and I nodded so vigorously at the “worried” part that I’m going to need balm and a neck brace tomorrow.

Paul went on to single out Trump’s “visceral response to attack people on their appearance — short, tall, fat, ugly. My goodness, that happened in junior high. Are we not way above that?”

No, we aren’t. Or at least Trump isn’t. And “junior high” is too easy on him, too kind. Trump comes from, and belongs in, the sandbox, as he demonstrated the second that Paul paused and Trump fired back: “I never attacked him on his look, and believe me, there’s plenty of subject matter right there.”

How lovely. And how adult. And less than an hour later, Fiorina had to stand there and try not to squirm as she was asked to react to Trump’s recent comments about her in a Rolling Stone interview: “Look at that face. Would anyone vote for that?”

Fiorina held her head, including her face, high. “I think women all over this country heard very clearly what Mr. Trump said,” she stated tightly, and with more dignity than Trump or the situation deserved.

Trump rushed in: “I think she’s got a beautiful face and I think she’s a beautiful woman.” Watch out, Carly. Next comes an invitation for a private ride in his Trump-i-copter.

I mentioned my nodding, but my real injuries came from shaking my head, over and over, because I couldn’t quite believe the Trump-centric nature of it all. I’m still mystified that he’s done this well in the polls for this long.

I know that Americans have lost faith in institutions — understandably. I know that Americans are turned off by politics as usual — justly.

But have we sunk to a point where we’re prepared to reach for someone so careless with his insinuations, so merrily and irresponsibly ignorant, that he used some of his precious time on Wednesday night to fan irrational, repudiated fears about a link between vaccines and autism?

Are we buoyed by a bully who calls anyone who disagrees with him a “loser,” promises vaguely that his presidency will be “unbelievable” (his favorite adjective, and an unintentionally telling one), and presents little besides his tumescent ego and stagey rage?

The CNN anchor Jake Tapper, who was the debate’s moderator, pressed hard to get Trump to say, with even a scintilla of specificity, why he believes that he’d be more effective in dealing with Vladimir Putin than Obama has been.

And all that Trump could muster was: “I would get along with him.”

How? Why? Not a single detail. But Trump doesn’t do details. He just crows that he will know the most, be the best and win. He’s a broken record of grandiose, self-infatuated music.

The most satisfying, encouraging moments of the debate were those when other candidates tried to point that out directly or indirectly. Chris Christie did so several times. During his opening remarks, he asked the camera to move from him to the audience, saying that the election isn’t really about the candidates, who soak up the spotlight, but the people, who deal with the consequences.

He returned to that idea after Trump and Fiorina wrangled over her past performance as the chief executive of Hewlett-Packard, an exchange that followed much tussling over Trump’s business bona fides.

“While I’m as entertained as anyone by this personal back-and-forth about the history of Donald and Carly’s career, for the 55-year-old construction worker out in that audience tonight who doesn’t have a job, who can’t fund his child’s education, I’ve got to tell you the truth — they could care less about your careers,” Christie said to Trump and Fiorina.

“You’re both successful people,” he continued. “Congratulations.” But then he pleaded that there be more discussion of issues and an end to “this childish back-and-forth between the two of you.”

Mike Huckabee built on that, bemoaning “a lot of back-and-forth about ‘I’m the only one who has done this, the only one who has done that, I’ve done great things.’ We’ve all done great things or we wouldn’t be on this stage.”

During the second half of the debate in particular, the conversation moved far enough away from Trump for all of the candidates to strut their stuff, for whatever that stuff was worth.

But because there were eleven of them, those struts were so brief and sporadic that I don’t think anyone’s fortunes will be significantly changed.

Marco Rubio showed great confidence about foreign affairs. Fiorina’s crispness came through. John Kasich seemed to vanish for long chunks but, when present, managed to be both avuncular and authoritative: an effective, appealing combination.

Cruz predictably won the awards for Most Strident and Most Smarmy, talking directly to the camera rather than whoever had asked him a question. Carson was the anti-Trump, as docile as Trump was domineering, and he brilliantly sought to reeducate Trump on vaccines.

Did Bush find some spine and spark? Yes, but he seemed to fumble for it. He picked a fight with Trump about casinos in Florida. He spoke succinctly about his brother’s administration, no longer pantomiming a deer in headlights. He made a marijuana joke and then another joke, about his energy level, saying that he’d want his Secret Service nickname to be “Eveready.” Like the battery.

But there remains something wan about him: In a season of such garish colors, he always looks a little pale.

He’s not enough of a clown, and Trump has done his best to turn this into a circus, erasing the blurry line between entertainment and politics and beckoning commentators and networks toward uncharted summits of breathlessness.

“It is electric,” Anderson Cooper said to Wolf Blitzer in the hours before the debate began, describing the atmosphere.

“It doesn’t get much bigger than this,” Blitzer said to Cooper, and he repeatedly interrupted the pundits around him to provide updates on whether Trump had been spotted yet at the Reagan library, where the debate was held.

“Donald Trump, we’re told, is arriving!” Blitzer trumpeted at one point, minutes later adding: “Hold on! Hold on! . . . He’s walking in right now.” The camera documented it, step after step.

Were we supposed to get goose bumps? I just felt queasy.

Well…  That was much longer than it needed to be.  And now we get to Ms. Collins:

Our national attention span is … short. The Republican presidential primary debate on Wednesday was … long. Really, if you throw in the earlier loser debate, it was the longest ever.

The Lincoln-Douglas debates would go on for three hours. But that was back when in many towns, the most exciting public activity of the year was pole-raising.

Are people going to remember the shallow, sassy Donald Trump from the first half-hour? (“I wrote ‘The Art of the Deal.’ I say not in a braggadocio’s way I’ve made billions and billions of dollars.”)

Or the middle-section Trump who clearly didn’t have a clue about how to critique President Obama’s Syrian policy? (“Somehow he just doesn’t have courage. There’s something missing from our president.”)

And then there was the completely, unbelievably irresponsible Trump of the finale who claimed he knew people whose daughter got autism from a vaccine shot. (This happened, he said, to “people that work for me just the other day.”)

Remember when the vaccination issue destroyed Michele Bachmann’s political career? One can only hope.

Of course everyone wanted to hear Jeb Bush take on the front-runner. Smackdown! Bush got his opportunity very early. Where would he go? Immigration? Taxes? Foreign affairs?

Bush accused Trump of giving him campaign donations in order to get casino gambling in Florida.

“Totally false,” said Trump. “I promise if I wanted it, I would have gotten it.”

Do you think that’s what Bush was practicing over the last couple of weeks? There were six or seven people on the stage who sounded more forceful than he did. A recent poll in Florida suggested that only 52 percent of Florida Republicans want their former governor to continue running for president. At times on Wednesday, that seemed like overenthusiasm.

Bush perked up a little in the middle, when he volunteered that he’d smoked marijuana in his youth. Then at the end, when he was asked what woman he’d like to see on the 10-dollar bill, he said … Margaret Thatcher.

Nobody wanted to deal with the global warming issue. Virtually everybody made up a Planned Parenthood scenario that never existed. Ah, Republicans …

And in other activities, Carly Fiorina managed to yet again drop the name “my good friend … Bibi Netanyahu.” Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin repeated his previous debate trick of vanishing entirely into the scenery. Walker’s poll numbers are vanishing, too, and it appears his only playing card is to remind people that he fought against public employee unions. Lately he’s been desperately upping the anti-union ante so much that his next step would have to be demanding that federal employees be prohibited from talking with one another outside of work.

Marco Rubio — remember Marco Rubio? The senator who vanished all summer except the time he hit the kid in the head with a football? He definitely looked rested.

Ben Carson, at one point, appeared to be accusing Trump of socialism.

Chris Christie did pretty well. Too bad he’s such a terrible governor. New Jersey would rather have another traffic crisis at the George Washington Bridge than vote again for Chris Christie.

What do you think it is about governors in this race? Florida is deeply unenthusiastic about Jeb Bush, Wisconsin seems to hate Scott Walker, and if Louisiana had a chance to get its hands on Bobby Jindal, God knows what would happen.

The debate went on for so long it was a wonder no one fainted. And think about the viewers who made it all the way from the first segment — the one where the CNN preview featured a zipper at the bottom of the screen announcing, “PATAKI ARRIVES AT DEBATE HALL.”

“The first four questions are about Donald Trump!” former Gov. George Pataki complained. Senator Lindsey Graham repeatedly slid in the fact that his parents ran a bar and a poolroom. Graham insists he’s really enjoying himself, although when someone keeps saying “I’m running because I think the world is falling apart,” it’s sort of a downer.

Former Senator Rick Santorum and Governor Jindal tried so hard to break through the barrier of national indifference they sounded like rabid otters.

Yes, some political junkies watched Republicans debating for almost five hours Wednesday. This should be a message to the Democrats. Right now the party is engaged in a fight about whether its schedule of three debates in 2015 is too puny. There are a number of democratic nations in the world where you could easily overcome this argument by pointing out that the election is not until 2016.

But the American people are fine with more debates. Honest, there can be one every night as long as the American people are not actually forced to watch them. It could be a kind of endurance contest. Last person standing gets the nomination.


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