Archive for the ‘Nocera’ Category

Brooks and Nocera

May 26, 2015

In “Talent Loves English” Bobo babbles that as the world grows more prosperous, immigration is changing, and our ideas need to change with it.  In the comments “craig geary” from Redlands, FL had this to say:  “Finally David Brooks tells the truth.  “The republican party is insane…”  Not only on immigration, but taxes, man made climate change, perpetual war in the Middle East, the need for and sanity of universal healthcare, a woman’s right to choose, equal pay for equal work, marriage equality and our crumbling 20th century infrastructure.”  In “Smoking, Vaping and Nicotine” Mr. Nocera says the different ways of delivering nicotine come with different risks and need to be addressed.  Here’s Bobo:

Eight hundred years ago next month, English noblemen forced King John to sign the Magna Carta. It’s still having amazing effects on the world today. The Magna Carta helped usher in government with a separation of powers. It helped create conditions in which centralized authority could not totally control fiscal, political, religious or intellectual life. It helped usher in the modern Anglo-Saxon state model, with its relative emphasis on the open movement of people, ideas and things.

The Anglo-Saxon model has its plusses and minuses, but it is very attractive to people around the world. Today, as always, immigrants flock to nations with British political heritage. Forty-six million people in the United States are foreign born, almost 1 in 6. That’s by far the highest number of immigrants in any country in the world.

Canada, Australia and New Zealand are also immigrant magnets. The British political class was a set abuzz last week by a government reportshowing a 50 percent increase in net immigration in 2014 compared with 2013. The government has a goal of limiting immigration to 100,000 a year, but, in 2014, net inbound migration was estimated to be 318,000. Britain has the most diverse immigrant community of any nation on earth.

Some of the those people went to Britain from outside of Europe, but a great many flow from the sclerotic economies in the European Union: Italy, Spain and France. Compared with many other European countries, Britain is a job-creating paragon.

Across the English-speaking world, immigrants are drawn by the same things: relatively strong economies, good universities, open cultures and the world’s lingua franca.

The nature of global migration is slowly evolving, too. We have an image of immigrants as the poor, huddled masses yearning to breathe free. According to this stereotype, immigrants are driven from their homes by poverty and move elsewhere to compete against the lowest-skilled workers.

But immigrants do not come from the poorest countries. Nations like Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Niger — some of the poorest countries in the world — have some of the lowest outmigration rates. Less than 3 percent of their populations live outside their borders. Their citizens don’t have the resources to move.

Instead, immigrants tend to come from middle-class countries, and they migrate to rich, open ones. You might have thought that as the world gets more middle class, global immigration would decline because of more opportunity at home. In fact, the reverse is happening. As the developing world gets more middle class, immigration has increased because educational and income gains have led to ever higher aspirations.

The situation is complex. Less than a decade ago, six Mexicans migrated to the United States for every Indian or Chinese. But as Mexico has prospered, immigration has dropped. Meanwhile, as India and China have gotten richer, the number of Indians and Chinese living abroad has doubled.

Some of the Asian immigrants are quite wealthy. According to the China International Immigration Report, among Chinese with assets of more than $16 million, 27 percent had emigrated abroad and an additional 47 percent were considering such a move. The real estate website Soufun.net surveyed 5,000 people and found that 41 percent of such people were drawn to move abroad for better living conditions, 35 percent for better educational opportunities for their children and 15 percent for better retirement conditions.

And this talent pool has barely been tapped. According to a Gallup surveyin 2012, 22 million Chinese wanted to move to the U.S., as did 10 million Indians, 3 million Vietnamese and a surprising 5 million Japanese.

In short, it might be time to revise our stereotypes about the immigration issue. A thousand years ago, a few English noblemen unwittingly heralded in a decentralized political and intellectual model. This model was deepened over the centuries by people ranging from Henry VIII to the American founding fathers. It’s a model that is relatively friendly to outsider talent. We didn’t earn this model; we’re the lucky inheritors.

Meanwhile, globalization, with all its stresses and strains, has created a large international class of middle-class dreamers: university graduates who can’t fulfill their aspirations at home and who would enrich whatever nation is lucky enough to have them.

In this context, Hillary Clinton’s daring approach to immigration, supporting a “path to citizenship” for undocumented immigrants already in the United States, is clearly the right one. The Republican Party is insane if its conducts a 21st-century immigration policy based on stereotypes from the 1980s.

Bobo — letting his freak flag fly.  Here’s Mr. Nocera:

“We need a national debate on nicotine,” said Mitch Zeller.

Zeller is the director of the Center for Tobacco Products, a division of the Food and Drug Administration created in 2009 when Congress passed legislation giving the F.D.A. regulatory authority — at long last! — over cigarettes. In addition, the center will soon have regulatory authority over other tobacco products, including electronic cigarettes, which have become enormously controversial even as they have gained in use. Through something called a “deeming rule,” the center is in the process of asserting that oversight over e-cigarettes.

Opponents of electronic cigarettes, which include many public health officials, hope that the center will treat these new devices like it treats cigarettes: taking steps to discourage teenagers from “vaping,” for instance, and placing strict limits on the industry’s ability to market its products.

Proponents, meanwhile, hope that the center will view e-cigarettes as a “reduced harm” product that can save lives by offering a nicotine fix without the carcinogens that are ingested through a lit cigarette. In this scenario, e-cigarette manufacturers would be able to make health claims, and adult smokers might even be encouraged to switch from smoking to vaping as part of a reduced harm strategy.

When I requested an interview with Zeller, I didn’t expect him to tip his hat on which direction he wanted the center to go, and he didn’t. Indeed, one of the points he made was that the F.D.A. was conducting a great deal of scientific research — more than 50 studies in all, he said — aimed at generating the evidence needed to better understand where to place e-cigarettes along what he calls “the continuum of risk.”

Zeller is a veteran of the “tobacco wars” of the 1990s, working alongside then-F.D.A. Commissioner David Kessler, who had audaciously labeled cigarettes a “drug-delivery device” (the drug being nicotine) and had claimed regulatory authority. Zeller left the F.D.A. in 2000, after theSupreme Court ruled against Kessler’s interpretation, and joined the American Legacy Foundation, where he helped create its hard-hitting, anti-tobacco “Truth campaign.” After a stint with a consulting firm, Pinney Associates, he returned to the F.D.A. in early 2013 to lead the effort to finally regulate the tobacco industry.

“I am fond of quoting Michael Russell,” Zeller said, referring to an important South African tobacco scientist who died in 2009. In the early 1970s, Russell was among the first to recognize that nicotine was the reason people got addicted to cigarettes. “He used to say, ‘People smoke for the nicotine but die from the tar,’ ” Zeller recalled.

This is also why Zeller found e-cigarettes so “interesting,” as he put it, when they first came on the market. A cigarette gets nicotine to the brain in seven seconds, he said. Nicotine gum or patches can take up to 60 minutes or longer, which is far too slow for smokers who need a nicotine fix. But e-cigarettes can replicate the speed of cigarettes in delivering nicotine to the brain, thus creating real potential for them to become a serious smoking cessation device.

But there are still many questions about both their safety and their efficacy. For instance, are smokers using e-cigarettes to quit cigarettes, or they using them to get a nicotine hit at times when they can’t smoke cigarettes? And beyond that there are important questions about nicotine itself, and how it should be dealt with.

“When nicotine is attached to smoke particles, it will kill,” said Zeller. “But if you take that same drug and put it in a patch, it is such a safe medicine that it doesn’t even require a doctor’s prescription.” That paradox helps explain why he believes “there needs to be a rethink within society on nicotine.”

Within the F.D.A., Zeller has initiated discussions with “the other side of the house” — the part of the agency that regulates drugs — to come up with a comprehensive, agency-wide policy on nicotine. But the public health community — and the rest of us — needs to have a debate as well.

“One of the impediments to this debate,” Zeller said, is that the e-cigarette opponents are focused on all the flavors available in e-cigarettes — many of which would seem aimed directly at teenagers — as well as their marketing, which is often a throwback to the bad-old days of Big Tobacco. “The debate has become about these issues and has just hardened both sides,” Zeller told me.

It’s not that Zeller believes nicotine is perfectly safe (he doesn’t) or that we should shrug our shoulders if teenagers take up vaping. He believes strongly that kids should be discouraged from using e-cigarettes.

Rather, he thinks there should be a recognition that different ways of delivering nicotine also come with different risks. To acknowledge that, and to grapple with its implications, would be a step forward.

“This issue isn’t e-cigarettes,” said Mitch Zeller. “It’s nicotine.”

Brooks, Cohen and Nocera

May 19, 2015

In “Learning From Mistakes” Bobo tells us that the question, would you go back and undo your errors is unanswerable. He says the question is: What wisdom have you learned that will help you going forward?  Mr. Cohen, in “The Presence of the Past,” says not o remember, or to be overwhelmed by memory, are equally dangerous.  Mr. Nocera says we need “Chemo for the Planet,” and that instead of focusing on human behavior to reduce global warming, try using technology.  Of course the “technology” he’s touting is, at this point, pie in the sky with rafts of unintended consequences such as ocean acidification which he glosses over.  Here’s Bobo:

If you could go back to 1889 and strangle Adolf Hitler in his crib, would you do it? At one level, the answer is obvious. Of course, you should. If there had been no Hitler, presumably the Nazi Party would have lacked the charismatic leader it needed to rise to power. Presumably, there would have been no World War II, no Holocaust, no millions dead on the Eastern and Western fronts.

But, on the other hand, if there were no World War II, you wouldn’t have had the infusion of women into the work force. You wouldn’t have had the G.I. Bill and the rapid expansion of higher education. You wouldn’t have had the pacification of Europe, Pax-Americana, which led to decades of peace and prosperity, or the end of the British and other empires.

History is an infinitely complex web of causations. To erase mistakes from the past is to obliterate your world now. You can’t go back and know then what you know now. You can’t step in the same river twice.  [How very Baba Ram Dass of Bobo…]

So it’s really hard to give simple sound-bite answers about past mistakes. The question, would you go back and undo your errors is unanswerable. It’s only useful to ask, what wisdom have you learned from your misjudgments that will help you going forward?

Which brings us to Iraq. From the current vantage point, the decision to go to war was a clear misjudgment, made by President George W. Bush andsupported by 72 percent of the American public who were polled at the time. I supported it, too.

What can be learned?

The first obvious lesson is that we should look at intelligence products with a more skeptical eye. There’s a fable going around now that the intelligence about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction was all cooked by political pressure, that there was a big political conspiracy to lie us into war.

That doesn’t gibe with the facts. Anybody conversant with the Robb-Silberman report from 2005 knows that this was a case of human fallibility. This exhaustive, bipartisan commission found “a major intelligence failure”: “The failure was not merely that the Intelligence Community’s assessments were wrong. There were also serious shortcomings in the way these assessments were made and communicated to policy makers.”

The Iraq war error reminds us of the need for epistemological modesty. We don’t know much about the world, and much of our information is wrong. A successful president has to make decisions while radiating hesitancy, staying open-minded in the face of new evidence, not falling into the traps that afflict those who possess excessive self-confidence.

The second lesson of Iraq concerns this question: How much can we really change other nations? Every foreign policy dilemma involves a calibration. Should we lean forward to try to influence this or that region? Or should we hang back figuring we’ll just end up making everything worse.

After the 1990s, many of us were leaning in the interventionist direction. We’d seen the fall of the apartheid regime, which made South Africa better. We’d seen the fall of communist regimes, which made the Eastern bloc nations better. Many of us thought that, by taking down Saddam Hussein, we could end another evil empire, and gradually open up human development in Iraq and the Arab world.

Has that happened? In 2004, I would have said yes. In 2006, I would have said no. In 2015, I say yes and no, but mostly no.

The outcome, so far, in Iraq should remind us that we don’t really know much about how other cultures will evolve. We can exert only clumsy and indirect influence on how other nations govern themselves. When you take away basic order, people respond with sectarian savagery.

If the victory in the Cold War taught us to lean forward and be interventionist, the legacy of the 2003 Iraq decision should cause us to pull back from the excesses of that mentality, to have less faith in America’s ability to understand other places and effect change.

These are all data points in a larger education — along with the surge and the recent withdrawals from Iraq and Afghanistan. I wind up in a place with less interventionist instincts than where George W. Bush was in 2003, but significantly more interventionist instincts than where President Obama is inclined to be today.

Finally, Iraq teaches us to be suspicious of leaders who try to force revolutionary, transformational change. It teaches us to have respect for trimmers, leaders who pay minute attention to context, who try to lead gradual but constant change. It teaches us to honor those who respect the unfathomable complexity of history and who are humble in the face of consequences to their actions that they cannot fully predict or understand.

Gawd, I wish he’d go back to politics.  His recent crap is cringe-inducing.  Here’s Mr. Cohen:

As we grow older, the past looms larger. There’s more of it. The past is full of possibility.

It is ever-changing, an eddying tide, subject to the gusts — and lacunas — of memory.

The future may seem wan by comparison and, for each of us, we know more or less where it ends. With a bang or a whimper, Henry James’s “distinguished thing” awaits us.

Who, a friend asked me the other day, would ever want to be 90? The answer is somebody aged 89.

Old age is not for sissies, my grandmother liked to comment. Nor, however, is the other option.

So on we go, accumulating past with reckless abandon, like children guzzling candies.

Yet as Faulkner observed, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

Or as a disillusioned Yugoslav Communist once put it, “The most dangerous thing for a Communist is to predict the past.”

The past is potent, subject to manipulation. Wars nearly always involve memory trafficked into inflammatory myth.

I am a newspaperman. I try to understand, evoke and make vivid the present. That is not possible without understanding the past. We are the sum of our lived moments. It is worth turning time’s arrow backward.

I had always wanted to tell stories, the inner within the outer, the intimate secreting the universal. I liked to be the outsider looking in.

Often the stories were about lives swept away in the gale of history: the children of Beirut in 1983 who could not sleep without the familiar and so reassuring sound of gunfire; a Polish priest who discovered in middle age that he was a Jew entrusted by his Nazi-murdered parents to a Catholic family; Argentine twins stolen at birth from their murdered student mother by a childless junta army officer; mixed Bosnian families broken asunder by the boozy Serb killers who injected the virus of sectarian hatred into Sarajevo; a German woman loath to contemplate her beautiful blue eyes because they reminded her of a former Nazi concentration camp commander — her father.

Mirages, shadows, specters: the stuff of memory. How we remember, as nations and as individuals, is critical.

I first began to think seriously about the ferocious force of the past as a war correspondent covering Yugoslavia’s destruction. The Serbs who threw hundreds of thousands of Muslims out of their homes had been whipped into a nationalist frenzy. They had been convinced by a cynical leader that these secular Bosnian Muslims, so recently part of the same country called Yugoslavia, indistinguishable in fact, were a reincarnation of the Turks of old, latter-day Ottomans determined to affix the crescent moon of Islam to the church spires of Christian Europe.

When the past is suppressed, memory becomes explosive. Bosnians, Serbs and Croats re-enacted, in the 1990’s, the civil-war horrors of the 1940’s whose mention had become taboo under the clamp of Tito’s postwar Communist dictatorship.

When the past is cultivated at the expense of the present, memory becomes a blind alley. Those keys to long-lost Palestinian olive groves are now open-sesames only to further violence.

When the past overwhelms, it can turn victim into oppressor behind a shield called “Never Again.”

History illuminates. It can also blind.

The world may broadly be divided into areas that are captive of their pasts — the Balkans, the Middle East for example — and areas that are hard-wired to their futures — the United States and most of Asia. Europe, I think, lies somewhere in between.

One of my sons lives in Vietnam. Whenever I am there I marvel at the graves among the rice paddies. It is a powerful symbol of the living and the dead mingling, present and past. It is an image of acceptance. Nobody wants to talk about the war in Vietnam that ended 40 years ago.

How different from the dead of the Middle East, venerated as martyrs, martyrs of Islam demanding further sacrifice of life. Those celestial virgins have a lot to answer for.

I love the lines of the Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai about peace only coming to the Holy Land when a Jerusalem guide tells his tour group: “You see that arch from the Roman period? It’s not important. But next to it, left and down a bit, there sits a man who’s bought fruit and vegetables for his family.”

Fruit and vegetables, unlike that ancient arch, nourish a future.

The past is there. We must understand it, our own, our community’s and our nation’s. Suppressing it will only be achieved at a price. That price is often bloodshed. But nor can we be consumed by the past, re-fight its battles or succumb to the sterility of vengeance.

Not to remember, or to be overwhelmed by memory, are equally dangerous.

Only through a balanced view of the past, conscientious but not obsessive, may we shun victimhood, accept divergent national narratives, embrace decency, meet our daily obligations, and look forward.

And now here’s Mr. Nocera:

What’s the best way to reduce the chances of climate change wreaking havoc on Earth?

The most obvious answer — one we’ve known for years now — is to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide we’re pumping into the atmosphere. This can be done, for instance, by putting a price on carbon and thus create powerful market incentives for industries to lower their carbon footprint. Or by moving to renewable energy sources. Or by changing people’s behavior so that our collective actions radically reduce the amount of fossil fuel the world needs to power itself.

Despite this knowledge, however, few policies have been put in place to spur any of that. In the United States, the effective price of carbon, as Gernot Wagner and Martin Weitzman point out in their new book, “Climate Shock” is “about zero” (aside from California). Fossil fuels remain the world’s default energy source, and — despite the impressive growth of global solar capacity over the last decade — that’s likely to be the case for decades to come. A carbon tax on the worst emitters has gotten nowhere.

So maybe we need to start thinking about coming at the climate-change problem from a different direction. Instead of hoping that humans will start reducing their carbon use, maybe it’s time to at least consider using technology to keep climate change at bay.

The deliberate use of technology to manipulate the environment — usually in the context of fighting climate change — is called geoengineering. One method is carbon capture, traditionally conceived as a process that sucks up carbon from the air and buries it in the ground. A second is called solar radiation management, which uses techniques like shooting sulfate particles into the stratosphere in order to reflect or divert solar radiation back into space. This very effect was illustrated after the volcanic eruption of Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines in 1991. Spewing 20 million tons of sulfur dioxide in the air, the volcano caused global temperatures to fall, temporarily, by about 0.5 degrees Celsius, according to Wagner and Weitzman.

Somewhat to my surprise, a good portion of Wagner’s and Weitzman’s book is devoted to the subject of geoengineering, especially solar radiation management, which they describe as relatively inexpensive and technologically feasible, with a serious bang for the buck. The reason I was surprised is that the authors have solid environmental credentials — Weitzman is an environmental economist at Harvard, and Wagner is a senior economist at the Environmental Defense Fund — and many environmental groups object to the very idea of geoengineering. They even object to research into the subject, viewing the desire to manipulate nature as immoral. Ben Schreiber of Friends of the Earth, an advocacy group, recently described discussions about geoengineering as a “dangerous distraction.”

“Geoengineering presumes that we can apply a dramatic technological fix to climate disruption,” he said, “instead of facing the reality that we need to drastically reduce our carbon emissions.”

Schreiber was reacting to two reports by a National Academy of Sciences panel that came out just a week before “Climate Shock.” The reports concluded that, while “climate intervention is no substitute for reductions in carbon dioxide emissions,” the politics around carbon reduction have been so fractious that the day could well come when geoengineering was needed as part of a “portfolio” of responses to global warming. It urged further study for both methods, and, in particular, called for the establishment of a research program to examine the possible risks of solar radiation management.

Wagner and Weitzman do not deny the potential risks; indeed, they write quite cautiously about geoengineering. Wagner told me that it should be thought of as a last resort — something the world could turn to if it had to. He described it as a kind of “chemotherapy for the planet” — something you hope you don’t have to use, but you are ready to use if the need arises. And that requires doing research now to prepare for the future.

David Keith, a scientist who is perhaps the foremost proponent of geoengineering, told me that he believes that solar radiation management should be used even if decent carbon policies became law. “It has substantial benefits,” he said. “That would be true whether we were cutting emissions or not.”

But he also acknowledged that more research is needed. “If you put sulfur into the atmosphere, will there be a risk of ozone loss?” he said, as an example of the kind of risk that needed to be studied.

There is another kind of risk, of course: the risk that if people thought a technological solution were available to “solve” climate change, it would make it even less likely that they would collectively agree to do what is needed to be done to reduce carbon emissions. It is yet another reason that many environmentalists object to geoengineering.

Still, if disaster is truly approaching, wouldn’t you rather be safe than sorry?

I’d also like to be sure that what I was doing today wouldn’t guarantee a worse problem for my grandchildren.

Brooks and Nocera

May 12, 2015

In “The Center-Right Moment” Bobo informs us that across the globe, voters are electing center-right leaders with fairly similar platforms. He then whines that the notable exception is the United States.  In the comments “Tim Berry” from Mount Vernon, NH had this to say:  “Brooks is just a well spoken propagandist for the rich and powerful who are most definitely winning a long running war to destroy the common good.”  Mr. Nocera says “At Rutgers, It’s Books vs. Ballgames,” and that a fight ensues on the New Jersey campus over money spent on big-time athletics instead of academics.  Here’s Bobo:

The most surprising event of this political era is what hasn’t happened. The world has not turned left. Given the financial crisis, widening inequality, the unpopularity of the right’s stances on social issues and immigration, you would have thought that progressive parties would be cruising from win to win.

But, instead, right-leaning parties are doing well. In the United States, Republicans control both houses of Congress. In Israel, the Likud Party led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pulled off a surprising win in an election that was at least partly about economic policy. In Britain, the Conservative Party led by Prime Minister David Cameron won a parliamentary majority.

What’s going on here?

Well, there are some issues in each election specific to that country, but there are a few broader trends to be observed. The first is that the cutting-edge, progressive economic arguments do not seem to be swaying voters.

Over the past few years, left-of-center economic policy has moved from opportunity progressivism to redistributionist progressivism. Opportunity progressivism is associated with Bill Clinton and Tony Blair in the 1990s and Mayor Rahm Emanuel of Chicago today. This tendency actively uses government power to give people access to markets, through support for community colleges, infrastructure and training programs and the like, but it doesn’t interfere that much in the market and hesitates before raising taxes.

This tendency has been politically successful. Clinton and Blair had long terms. This year, Emanuel won by 12 percentage points against the more progressive candidate, Chuy Garcia, even in a city with a disproportionate number of union households.

Redistributionist progressivism more aggressively raises taxes to shift money down the income scale, opposes trade treaties and meddles more in the marketplace. This tendency has won elections in Massachusetts (Elizabeth Warren) and New York City (Bill de Blasio) but not in many other places. Ed Balls, the No. 2 figure in the Labour Party in Britain, co-led the group from the Center for American Progress that wrote the most influential statement of modern progressivism, a report on “inclusive prosperity.” Balls could not even retain his own parliamentary seat in the last election.

The conservative victories probably have more to do with the public’s skepticism about the left than with any positive enthusiasm toward the right. Still, there are a few things center-right parties have done successfully.

First, they have loudly (and sometimes offensively) championed national identity. In this era of globalization, voters are rewarding candidates who believe in their country’s exceptionalism.

Second, they have been basically sensible on fiscal policy. After the financial crisis, there was a big debate over how much governments should go into debt to stimulate growth. The two nations most associated with the “austerity” school — those who were suspicious of debt-based stimulus — were Germany and Britain. This will not settle the debate, but these two nations now have some of the strongest economies in Europe and their political leaders are in good shape.

Third, these leaders did not overread their mandate. Cameron in Britain promised to cut the size of government, and he did, from 45.7 percent of G.D.P. in 2010 to 40.7 percent today, according to The Economist. The number of public-sector jobs there has gone down by 1 million.

But he made these cuts without going overboard. Public satisfaction with government services has gone up. And there have been some sensible efforts to boost those at the bottom. As The Economist pointed out, “The richest 10 percent have borne the greatest burden of extra taxes. Full-time workers earning the minimum wage pay a third as much income tax as in 2010. Overall, inequality has not widened — in contrast to America.”

The British electorate and the American electorate sometimes mirror each other. Trans-Atlantic voters went for Reagan and Thatcher together and Clinton and Blair together. In policy terms, Cameron is a more conservative version of President Obama.

Cameron’s win suggests the kind of candidate that would probably do well in a general election in this country. He is liberal on social policy, green on global warming and pragmatically conservative on economic policy. If he’s faulted for anything, it is for not being particularly ideological, though he has let his ministers try some pretty bold institutional reforms to modernize the welfare state.

Globally, voters are disillusioned with large public institutions. They seem to want to reassert local control and their own particular nationalism (Scottish or anything else). But they also seem to want a slightly smaller public sector, strong welfare state reform and more open and vibrant labor markets as a path to prosperity.

For some reason, American politicians are fleeing from this profile, Hillary Clinton to the further left and Republicans to the right.

He’s so very, very tiresome…  Here’s Mr. Nocera:

It’s not exactly a secret that big-time college sports often distort priorities on university campuses. But every once in a while, something bursts into public view to put those priorities in glaring relief. A recent example is a fight that is taking place at Rutgers University. The dispute pits faculty members who want to restrain the athletic department’s out-of-control costs against some powerful alumni who want the Rutgers athletic department to spend even more money to better compete in its new conference, the Big Ten.

Guess who’s likely to win?

Although Rutgers is said to have played the first American college football game ever — against Princeton, in 1869 — it has never been an athletic powerhouse. In the 1990s, yearning to join the elite, Rutgers became part of the Big East Conference. But, with the exception of women’s basketball, its overall athletic performance has generally remained mediocre.

What’s more, the Rutgers athletic department has consistently run large deficits; indeed, since the 2005-6 academic year, deficits have exceeded $20 million a year. In the last academic year, Rutgers athletics generated $40.3 million in revenue, but spent $76.7 million, leaving a deficit of more than $36 million. In other words, revenue barely covered half the department’s expenses.

And how did the university cover this shortfall? Partly, it used its own funds, to the tune of $26 million last year, money that might have gone to professors’ salaries or other academic needs. It also took it out of the hide of the students themselves, who have been assessed steadily rising fees to help cover the athletic department’s deficit. Last year, fees that went to athletics amounted to $10 million.

A few years ago, in an effort to relieve the financial pressure, Rutgers accepted an invitation to join the Big Ten, perhaps the wealthiest conference in the country. With football powers like Ohio State and Michigan, the Big Ten not only has lucrative deals with ABC and ESPN, it also has its own TV network. Thanks to those TV deals, last year the Big Ten paid out some $27 million to its 11 qualifying universities.

Yet even with the Big Ten’s money (and to be fair, as a new member, Rutgers won’t reap the full rewards for six years), the Rutgers athletic department is projecting deficits at least through the 2021-22. Indeed, according to figures compiled by a faculty committee, Rutgers athletics is projecting a total deficit of $183 million between now and 2022.

You can see, of course, why this would infuriate faculty members — or, for that matter, anyone who cares about academics. Like most state schools, Rutgers has seen its state financing shrink drastically over the last decade,while tuition and fees have been going up. Academic departments have had multiple rounds of belt-tightening. “At the school of arts and sciences,” said Mark Killingsworth, a Rutgers economics professor who has been a leading voice against the athletic department’s costs, “we have been told that we can hire one person for every two who leave.” The library, he noted, recently had its budget cut by more than $500,000. Meanwhile, Kyle Flood, the football coach, is getting a $200,000 raise next year, taking his salary to $1.25 million.

In late March, the Rutgers faculty senate approved, by a wide margin, a report written by its Budget and Finance Committee that called on the athletic department to eliminate its losses within five years; to end the use of student fees to cover the athletic budget; and to treat the use of discretionary funds as loans.

Almost immediately afterward, a powerful Rutgers alumnus, State Senator Raymond Lesniak, commissioned a study aimed at showing that Rutgers needed to invest more in athletics, not less. Why? One reason is the supposed economic benefits that come with a successful sports program. Another rationale is that now that Rutgers is in the Big Ten, it will have to step up its game to compete — which, of course, would require lavish facilities, just like those at Ohio State and Michigan.

Lesniak, who just filed a bill that would give Rutgers $25 million in tax credits for infrastructure projects, clearly relishes the idea of Rutgers becoming, as he puts it, “Big Ten-ready.” So do other alums, including Greg Brown, the chairman of the Rutgers Board of Governors. “We weren’t interested in joining the Big Ten,” Brown said after one board meeting. “We were interested in competing and winning in the Big Ten.” And if that requires spending money, well, that’s what the big boys do.

Responds Killingsworth: “The mantra has always been that if we spend enough money, we’ll have good teams, and generate more revenue. It’s never happened.”

Rutgers is an enormous public institution, with an annual budget of $3.6 billion. It is responsible for educating 65,000 students. Why isn’t that more important that competing in the Big Ten?

Why does the tail always wag the dog?

Bread and circuses, Mr. Nocera, bread and circuses…

Brooks and Nocera

April 28, 2015

In “Goodness and Power” Bobo burbles that Contrary to popular House-of-Cards cynicism, our leaders’ moral failings make them not only less inspiring but also less effective.  He brought up Hillary Clinton but not a single member of the Republican party.  In the comments “gemli” from Boston had this to say:  “The fact that Brooks’ description of a moral failure sounds like the book jacket blurb for Chris Christie’s biography made me realize that most of the Republican candidates would fail the morality test, not to mention a history test, and most certainly a science test. It astounds me that Mr. Brooks can write with such seeming sincerity about a concern for morals, strength of character, kindness and humility while he shills shamelessly for the Republican Forces of Darkness.”  Mr. Nocera considers “Europe’s Google Problem” and addresses the politics behind the European Union’s antitrust charges against the American Internet giant.  Here’s Bobo:

There was an interesting poll result about Hillary Clinton last week.According to a Quinnipiac poll, 60 percent of independent voters believe that she has strong leadership qualities. But when these same voters were asked if she is honest and trustworthy, the evaluations flipped. Sixty-one percent said she is not honest and trustworthy. Apparently there are a lot of Americans who believe that Hillary Clinton is dishonest and untrustworthy but also a strong leader.

Let’s set aside her specific case for a second. These poll results raise a larger question: Can you be a bad person but a strong leader?

The case for that proposition is reasonably straightforward. Politics is a tough, brutal arena. People play by the rules of the jungle. Sometimes to get anything done, a leader has to push, bully, intimidate, elide the truth. The qualities that make you a good person in private life — kindness, humility and a capacity for introspection — can be drawbacks on the public stage. Electing a president is different than finding a friend or lover. It’s better to hire a ruthless person to do a hard job.

I get that argument, but outside the make-believe world of “House of Cards,” it’s usually wrong. Voting for someone with bad private morals is like setting off on a battleship with awesome guns and a rotting hull. There’s a good chance you’re going to sink before the voyage is over.

People who are dishonest, unkind and inconsiderate have trouble attracting and retaining good people to their team. They tend to have sleazy friends. They may be personally canny, but they are almost always surrounded by sycophants and second-raters who kick up scandal and undermine the leader’s effectiveness.

Leaders who lack humility are fragile. Their pride is bloated and sensitive. People are never treating them as respectfully as they think they deserve. They become consumed with resentments. They treat politics as battle, armor up and wall themselves off to information and feedback.

You may think they are championing your cause or agenda, but when the fur is flying, they are really only interested in defending themselves. They keep an enemies list and life becomes a matter of settling scores and imagining conspiracies. They jettison any policy that might hurt their standing.

It is a paradox of politics that the people who set out obsessively to succeed in it usually end up sabotaging themselves. They treat each relationship as a transaction and don’t generate loyalty. They lose any honest internal voice. After a while they can’t accurately perceive themselves or their situation. Sooner or later their Watergate will come.

Maybe once upon a time there was an environment in which ruthless Machiavellians had room to work their dark arts, but we don’t live in Renaissance Italy. We live in a world of universal media attention. Once there is a hint of scandal of any kind, the political world goes into maximum frenzy and everything stops.

We live in a world in which power is dispersed. You can’t intimidate people by chopping your enemies to bits in the town square. Even the presidency isn’t a powerful enough office to allow a leader to rule by fear. You have to build coalitions by appealing to people’s self-interest and by luring them voluntarily to your side.

Modern politics, like private morality, is about building trust and enduring personal relationships. That means being fair, empathetic, honest and trustworthy. If you stink at establishing trust, you stink at politics.

People with good private morality are better at navigating for the long term. They genuinely love causes beyond themselves. When the news cycle distracts and the short-term passions surge, they can still steer by that distant star. They’re less likely to overreact and do something stupid.

People with astute moral sentiments have an early warning system. They don’t have to think through the dangers of tit-for-tat favor-exchanges with billionaires. They have an aesthetic revulsion against people who seem icky and situations that are distasteful, which heads off a lot of trouble.

Of course, private morality is not enough. You have to know how to react to unprincipled people who want to destroy you.

But, historically, most effective leaders — like, say, George Washington, Theodore Roosevelt and Winston Churchill — had a dual consciousness. They had an earnest, inner moral voice capable of radical self-awareness, rectitude and great compassion. They also had a pragmatic, canny outer voice. These two voices were in constant conversation, checking each other, probing for synthesis, wise as a serpent and innocent as a dove.

I don’t know if Hillary Clinton possesses this double-mindedness. But I do know that if candidates don’t acquire a moral compass outside of politics, they’re not going to get it in the White House, and they won’t be effective there.

So, Bobo, howzabout a similar column about The 2016 Clown Car passengers?  I expect to see pigs flying past my window before I see that…  Here’s Mr. Nocera:

Have you heard the term Gafa yet? It hasn’t caught on here in the United States — and I’m guessing it won’t — but in France, it has become so common that the newspapers hardly need to spell out its meaning. Everyone there already knows what Gafa stands for: Google-Apple-Facebook-Amazon.

In America, we tend to think of these companies as four distinct entities that compete fiercely with each other. But, in Europe, which lacks a single Internet company of comparable size and stature, they “encapsulate America’s evil Internet empire,” as Gideon Rachman put it in The Financial Times on Monday. Nine out of 10 Internet searches in Europe use Google — a more commanding percentage than in the United States — to cite but one example of their utter dominance in the countries that make up the European Union.

Not surprisingly, this dominance breeds worry in Europe, however fairly it was achieved. The French fear (as the French always do) the imposition of American culture. The Germans fear the rise of an industry more efficient— and more profitable — than their own. Industry leaders, especially in publishing, telecommunications and even autos fear that the American Internet companies will disrupt their businesses and siphon away their profits. Europeans worry about the use of their private data by American companies, a worry that was only exacerbated by the Edward Snowden spying revelations. There is a palpable sense among many politicians, regulators and businesspeople in Europe that the Continent needs to develop its own Internet platforms — or, at the least, clip the wings of the big American Internet companies while there’s still time.

I bring this up in the wake of the decision by Margrethe Vestager, the European Union’s relatively new (she took office in November) commissioner in charge of competition policy, to bring antitrust charges against Google, the culmination of a five-year investigation. The case revolves around whether Google took advantage of its dominance in search to favor its own comparison-shopping service over those of its rivals. Vestager also opened an inquiry into Google’s Android mobile operating system — and said the European Union would investigate other potential violations if need be.

Not long after announcing the charges, Vestager made a speech in Washington. “We have no grudge; we have no fight with Google,” she said. “In all our cases, we are indifferent to the nationality of the companies involved. Our responsibility is to make sure that any company with operations in the territory of the E.U. complies with our treaty rules.”

Well, maybe. But it is also true that, to an unusual degree, this investigation, especially in its latter stages, has been driven by politics. The political rhetoric around Google in Europe has been so heated that had Vestager decided not to bring a case, her political standing might have been weakened, “probably compromising her ability to pursue effectively other high-profile antitrust cases,” wrote Carlos Kirjner, an analyst with Sanford C. Bernstein & Co.

Consider, for instance, what happened last year when Google was close to settling the case with Vestager’s predecessor, Joaquín Almunia. Google had agreed to make changes that it found cumbersome and intrusive, but it wanted to get the case behind it and move on. Instead, European politicians, especially in France and Germany, and prodded by Google’s competitors, complained that Almunía was being too accommodating to the company. “The offers by Google aren’t worthless, but they’re not nearly enough,” one such politician, Günther Oettinger of Germany, told The Wall Street Journal.

At the time, Oettinger was serving as the European Union’s energy commissioner, making him one of the 28 commissioners who would have to approve any settlement. By September, he had been nominated for a new job: commissioner for digital economy and society. At a hearing before a European Parliament committee, he took credit for blowing up the Google settlement.

As the digital commissioner, Oettinger has continued to advocate for what has become the German position on Google — namely that Google’s power must be reined in. In a speech two weeks ago, he essentially said that Europe should begin regulating Internet platforms in such a way as to allow homegrown companies to overtake the American Internet giants. And on Thursday, a document leaked from his office to The Wall Street Journal that outlined just such a plan, claiming that if nothing was done, the entire economy of Europe was “at risk” because of its dependency on American Internet companies. There have even been calls in Europe to break up Google.

Europe has every right to regulate any company and any sector it wants. And it can bring antitrust charges as it sees fit. But given the rhetoric surrounding Google and the other American Internet giants, suspicion of Europe’s real motives is justified.

From here, the European charges against Google look a lot like protectionism.

Nocera and Collins

April 25, 2015

In “On the Export-Import Bank, the Numbers Come First” Mr. Nocera says a conservative think tank makes the case for the Export-Import Bank.  Ms. Collins is a brave woman.  In “Presidential Primary Book Club” she tells us that at 43, Senator Marco Rubio of Florida has already written an autobiography. And she’s read it so we won’t have to.  Here’s Mr. Nocera:

In June, for the third time since 2012, the Export-Import Bank of the United States, an export credit agency that backs loans to foreign entities that help cement deals with American exporters — and thus helps create American jobs — must be reauthorized by Congress. Otherwise it will go out of business.

For most of its existence, the Ex-Im Bank wasn’t even remotely controversial; it would be routinely reauthorized for four to seven years at a time. Its underwriting was — and remains — impeccable, with a default rate of under 2 percent. With dozens of other countries using their own export credit agencies to help homegrown companies land deals, the Ex-Im Bank was viewed as an important equalizer for American companies, especially small businesses, which often can’t find funding when they want to sell their goods in foreign markets.

But in the last few years, prodded in part by Delta Air Lines, which objects to the lending assistance the Ex-Im Bank gives to foreign purchasers of Boeing aircraft, Tea Party Republicans have agitated to shut it down. In doing so, they have turned the fight over the Ex-Im Bank into an ideological litmus test. The bank’s dealings with Boeing, they claim, are an example of “crony capitalism.” The bank is in the business of picking “winners and losers,” something the government shouldn’t be doing, they say.

It gets in the way of truly free markets. The last time the Ex-Im Bank was up for reauthorization, in September, Republicans grudgingly agreed to a short-term extension. Now its opponents are moving in for the kill.

Leading the charge are the conservative think tanks, like the Heritage Foundation and Americans for Prosperity, which just the other day sponsored a conference call with Senator — and presidential candidate — Marco Rubio, who described the agency’s work as “corporate welfare.”

There is, however, one conservative think tank that has refused to join the crowd: the five-year-old American Action Forum, or A.A.F., co-founded and led by the economist Douglas Holtz-Eakin. Since last May, it has issued a series of reports making the case that the country is better off with the Ex-Im Bank than without it. Given the way apostasy is treated among conservative ideologues, this struck me as courageous.

As it turns out, Holtz-Eakin doesn’t view the American Action Forum’s stance as especially courageous. “I am a conservative,” he stressed — and most of the policy positions his think tank takes, on issues like tax policy and regulation, are unambiguously conservative.

“But,” he added, “I think too many conservative arguments are made on the basis of ideology and faith. We are dedicated to the numbers at A.A.F. We can’t just assert that markets work; we have to show it.”

Simply put, his think tank supports the Ex-Im Bank because that’s where the numbers — and the facts — led it.

Holtz-Eakin, 57, has held a number of important policy jobs in government. He was part of the Council of Economic Advisers under both Presidents Bush, the second time as its lead economist. He was an adviser to Senator John McCain during his presidential race. And between 2003 and 2005, he was the director of the Congressional Budget Office, which places a high premium on just-the-facts-ma’am numbers and research. “It is really important to have that kind of information in any sort of policy debate,” Holtz-Eakin told me.

Thus it is that Holtz-Eakin believes that immigration reform should reward skills and let in more immigrants. “The data shows that immigration offers great opportunity as an economic policy,” he said. As a member of the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, he refused to sign on to the right wing’s pet theory that the entire crisis could be blamed on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. “I have no love of Fannie and Freddie,” he said. “But they weren’t the sole cause of the crisis.”

As for the Ex-Im Bank, Holtz-Eakin decided to get his think tank involved last year, as the agency became a hot-button issue among conservatives. He directed a young research associate, Andy Winkler, to do a series of deep dives into the Ex-Im Bank; that research led the American Action Forum to support its continued existence. “It would be a negative if we got rid of it,” Holtz-Eakin says.

The most recent piece of research by Winkler showed that, far from being in the back pocket of big companies like Boeing, the Ex-Im Bank made loans that were an accurate reflection of American trade itself. Big companies make up a small percentage of the corporations that export goods, but they account for a high volume of the dollars involved. The vast majority of exporters are small businesses, though their aggregate dollar volume is much smaller. The Ex-Im Bank’s loan portfolio is in about the same ratio.

Winkler, who is 24, came to the American Action Forum straight out of college. What have you learned from working with Holtz-Eakin? I asked him.

“The numbers come first,” he replied.

Now here’s Ms. Collins:

Concerned citizens bear many great burdens, one of which is trying to follow a presidential race in which virtually every candidate has written one or more books about their lives, hopes, dreams, theories — and, in the case of Mike Huckabee, diets.

You cannot possibly read them all. It is very likely you don’t want to read any. That’s what we are here for. Today: Marco Rubio.

Rubio is 43, and he has already written an autobiography (“An American Son”) and a book on policy (“American Dreams”). Do not feel compelled to go back and look at “100 Innovative Ideas for Florida’s Future.”

Right now, we’re going to concentrate on the autobiography, which is a great corrective for anyone under the impression that Rubio had an impoverished childhood. His parents, working-class Cuban immigrants, most definitely did struggle financially. But Rubio makes it clear none of the struggling trickled down to him: he lived a “charmed, happy life” and was, in fact, “an insufferably demanding kid.”

Kudos for candor, Marco Rubio!

He certainly did have a talent for getting his way. Rubio’s family were Mormon converts, but, when Marco was about 12, he argued that everyone should go back to Catholicism. Which they did. He then requested that he and his sister be allowed to go to Catholic school, and his parents agreed, even though it was a financial stretch. Marco soon decided he didn’t like it, and successfully demanded a transfer to the local public school.

Besides his extremely cooperative relatives, the most vivid characters in the book are probably the Miami Dolphins, who come up all the time. Although his sister and fiancée won positions as cheerleaders, Rubio’s own hopes of making the team were quashed by reality. But not before he tried to pursue the dream by accepting a football scholarship to a 500-student private college in Missouri that was more than a two-hours’ drive from Kansas City and flirting with bankruptcy.

Somewhere during freshman year, he seems to have gotten a grip, and it was back to Florida, community college and then upward and onward through law school. At this point, with his early flaws corrected, Rubio starts confessing that he was a bad boyfriend to his future wife, Jeanette, and later, an absentee father as his political career took off.

But all of Rubio’s faults, it turns out, are personal. Politically, he has no regrets. He manages to go from a youthful labor union enthusiast to Tea Party poster boy without any hint of internal struggle. And while the book is jammed with details about polls and campaign staff shake-ups and fund-raising, it’s often weirdly apolitical. The first time Rubio says he felt “a genuine desire to engage in federal policy debates” was in 2008 when Barack Obama was elected president, and he was already a former speaker of the Florida House of Representatives.

Rubio was elected to the State Legislature at 28, and he made it to speaker in six years. (Florida has eight-year term limits, so there’s actually no such thing as a slow, steady climb to power.) When he arrived, the governor was Jeb Bush, who Rubio describes as pretty much the best person in the universe. Later, when he was considering a race for an open Senate seat, Rubio dutifully checked first to see if Jeb was interested. “If he were to run, no one would challenge him in the primary — certainly not me,” he wrote. Ah, history.

Rubio clashed with Bush’s successor, Charlie Crist, over Rubio’s idea — the first of those we’re really hearing about — for eliminating all property taxes in favor of higher sales taxes. It was an early harbinger of Rubio’s antipathy for taxation according to the ability to pay, but Crist successfully countered with a much more modest proposal.

Their other big battle involved Crist’s ambitious efforts to fight global warming. Rubio’s discussion of this entire issue takes up two paragraphs, and despite the fact that Florida is absolutely awash in the effects of climate change, it’s the only mention of the subject in his autobiography. Also — spoiler alert — it’s not going to come up at all in his policy book.

Meanwhile, that Senate race is looming. Crist is running, too, and the first part of Rubio’s campaign seems to mainly consist of whining. (“Why would God put me in this position?”) God figures a lot in this story, and although Rubio says he knows “God didn’t endorse candidates,” he does make it pretty clear that he knows who would win if God had an absentee ballot.

Triumph! Marco Rubio is off to the Senate in 2011. His career there takes up only five pages. “What has surprised me the most,” he confides to readers who have stayed with him until the bitter end, “is that life as a U.S. senator is pretty much what I expected it to be.”

Go, Dolphins.

Brooks and Nocera

April 21, 2015

In “The Talented Mr. Rubio” Bobo tells us not to underestimate Marco Rubio, and that his story and charisma offer much upside to his candidacy.  In the comments “David Chowes” from New York City had a lengthy comment, but I’ll just quote the very first line, which could be used to sum up all of Bobo’s comments, past and future as well:  “MR. BROOKS, ARE YOU JOKING? . . .”  Mr. Nocera, in “Lessons From #RaceTogether,” says one initiative may have backfired, but Howard Schultz is as committed as ever to the mission.  Here’s Bobo:

Political audiences always like patriotic rhetoric, but as several reporters have noticed, this year’s Republican audiences have a special hunger for it. The phrase “American exceptionalism” has become a rallying cry. There is a common feeling on the right that the American idea is losing force and focus, that the American dream is slipping out of reach, that America is stepping back from its traditional role in the world and that President Obama doesn’t forthrightly champion the American gospel.

Even more than normal, Republicans seem to want their candidate for president to be drenched in the red, white and blue.

Along comes Senator Marco Rubio of Florida. Rubio, 43, doesn’t just speak in the ardent patriotic tones common to the children of immigrants like himself. His very life is the embodiment of the American dream: parents who tended bar and worked at Kmart with a son who rose to become a United States senator. His heritage demonstrates that the American dream is open to all who come here legally and work hard. He is what many Republicans want their country to be.

So there is beginning to be a certain charisma to his presidential campaign. It is not necessarily showing up in outright support. The first-term senator still shows up only with 8.3 percent support on the Real Clear Politics average of 2016 Republican presidential nomination polls, leaving him tied for 5th in the field. But primary voters are open to him; the upside is large.

As Harry Enten of FiveThirtyEight pointed out, Rubio’s net favorable/unfavorable rating is higher than every other candidate except Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin. Philosophically, he is at the center of the party. In an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, 56 percent of Republican primary voters said they could see themselves supporting him even if he wasn’t their first choice at the time, which put him above every other candidate.

So it’s probably right to see Rubio as the second most likely nominee, slightly behind Jeb Bush and slightly ahead of Walker.

He is, for starters, the most talented politician in the race. Set aside who has the most money and who has the best infrastructure. (Overrated assets at this stage in the race.) Set aside the ideological buckets we pundits like to divide the candidates into. (Voters are not that attuned to factional distinctions.) In most primary battles, the crown goes to the most talented plausible candidate.

Rubio gives a very good speech. He has an upbeat and pleasant demeanor. He has a great personal story. His policy agenda is more detailed and creative than any of his rivals. He has an overarching argument — that it is time for a new generation to reform and replace archaic structures.

The circumstances of the race might benefit him. With such a big field, nobody is going to lock up the race early. Republicans will likely be beating each other up for months while looking across the aisle and seeing Hillary Clinton coasting along. At some point, they are going to want to settle on a consensus choice.

That point may come around March 15, when Florida holds its winner-take-all primary. Rubio was virtually tied with Bush among Florida Republicans, 31 percent to 30 percent, according to a Mason-Dixon pollconducted last week. If Bush is bloodied in the earlier primaries, Rubio could win Florida and loom as a giant.

His weaknesses are not killers. Rubio’s past support for comprehensive immigration reform irks activists. But it’s not clear if it will hurt him with the voters who are more divided on reform. According to a Pew Research Center survey conducted last year, 66 percent of Republicans believed that illegal immigrants should be eligible for citizenship if they meet certain criteria. Immigration reform didn’t kill John McCain’s candidacy seven years ago.

Rubio’s inexperience concerns everybody. But at least he was speaker of the Florida House. As Jim Geraghty of National Review has detailed, his record running that body was pretty good. He was a tough but reasonably successful negotiator. On his first day in office, he handed each legislator a book with the cover “100 Innovative Ideas for Florida’s Future.” The pages were blank. He was inviting his members to fill them in — a nice collaborative touch.

Can Rubio win a general election? Well, he believes more in expanding the party than in just mobilizing the base. In his past races, he’s done better than generic Republican candidates because of his success with Hispanics. Youth is America’s oldest tradition. Who’s to say that voters won’t side for the relative outsider over the know-what-you’re-getting Hillary Clinton?

One big test for Rubio is this: Are Americans disillusioned with government or just disgusted? If they are disillusioned, they would likely want to play it safe and go with the experienced, low-risk candidates, Bush and Clinton. If they are disgusted, then they would be more likely to take a flier on change. The New American could be the guy.

Yeah, right…  Go read Charlie Pierce at Esquire about him.  Rubio can’t say anything without stepping on a rake.  Here’s Mr. Nocera:

Howard Schultz has a way of making a believer out of you.

I first found this out in 2008, when I was writing the Talking Business column for the Business Day section of The Times. With Starbucks floundering, Schultz, who was then the company’s chairman, had fired the chief executive and retaken the position, which he hadn’t held since 2000. The question I asked, in a somewhat snarky column, was whether he was still “the right guy to bring Starbucks back.”

Not long afterward, Schultz asked me to meet in him New York. Instead of berating me, or even arguing with me, he simply told me his story, a story that began in the housing projects of Canarsie, Brooklyn, where he grew up poor, and ended in Seattle, where he bought a tiny coffee chain and turned it into, well, Starbucks.

What I remember most about that conversation was Schultz’s insistence that Starbucks could not be just another faceless corporation. It had to be a company with values. Hence his insistence that part-time employees get company-sponsored health care. Or the company’s early stance in giving benefits to same-sex partners. Or granting stock options to baristas. Listening to him, there could be no doubting his sincerity — or his passion.

I turned out to be completely wrong in questioning his ability to return Starbucks to financial strength; its market value today is around $72 billion, up from $5.3 billion in 2008. And I admit, as I’ve gotten to know him better, I’ve lost much of the skepticism I might have once had about his powerful sense of social mission.

In recent years, he has tried to use his voice — and Starbucks’ footprint, as he likes to call it — to help not just his employees but the country. In 2011, fed up with political polarization, he called for a political contribution boycott until the two parties began to work together again. With the economy stagnant, he began an effort to make small business loans, partly with money from the Starbucks Foundation and partly with customer contributions. Last year, his concern for the plight of veterans led him toco-author a book about veterans with Rajiv Chandrasekaran, who covered the Iraq war for The Washington Post; make a $30 million contribution toward veterans’ efforts from his family foundation; and vow to employ 10,000 veterans. (Chandrasekaran became such a believer that he left The Post to start a media company, in association with Starbucks, that will use storytelling to tackle important social issues.) Some of these ideas were stronger than others, but they were all genuine attempts to make a difference, rather than corporate gimmicks.

All of which brings me, inevitably, to his latest initiative, on race relations. Last month, Schultz started something he called Starbucks’ Race Together campaign, suggesting that baristas write #RaceTogether on coffee cups, and see where that led. It backfired. “Honest to God, if you start to engage me in a race conversation before I’ve had my morning coffee, it will not end well,” tweeted Gwen Ifill, the co-anchor of “PBS NewsHour.” And that was one of the tamer tweets. Schultz was mocked for, essentially, being a middle-aged white guy who was tackling a subject that was beyond his ken — or that was inappropriate for a corporation.

But I think that, despite the mistakes with Race Together, Schultz’s actions over the past few years have earned him the benefit of the doubt. He is the rare chief executive who is willing to stand for more than quarterly profits, and isn’t that what we want from our corporate chieftains? And whatever mistakes Starbucks made in rolling out its campaign on race, it will learn from them.

So will Schultz, who says he has no intention of turning back. So far, he has held 10 forums for employees to speak their mind on race relations; I watched a tape of a recent one in Atlanta. It was raw, visceral and, at times, deeply moving. He has promised that Starbucks will hire 10,000 youths who are neither in school nor in the work force. He is going to open stores in disadvantaged neighborhoods, including in Ferguson, Mo. All of his initiatives are geared toward one ultimate goal: to re-establish the American dream, “not for a select few, but for everyone,” as he put it to me in an email. He wants future generations to have the same chances he had.

“I view this effort as being quintessentially Howard,” said Mellody Hobson, the president of Ariel Investments, who sits on the Starbucks board. When I brought up the criticism of Schultz, Hobson, who is African-American, replied, “If he wakes up one day and decides he wants to help improve race relations, what’s wrong with that? He could be doing something else. Or nothing.”

Sounds like Hobson’s become a believer, too.

Never did like Starbucks — probably because I don’t care for scorched coffee.

Brooks and Nocera

March 17, 2015

Bobo has another piece telling us we just can’t cut it in today’s world.  In “Skills in Flux” he scolds us — saying that we are already using a set of subtle, flexible new skills to fit the new economy, and it’s time we understood them.  (As if he had a clue…)  I went for the shortest, pithiest comment today, from “Ian” in West Palm Beach, FL:  “David Brook’s default mode is condescension. His columns reek of it.”  Mr. Nocera considers “The Hidden Talent of Steve Jobs” and says genius alone didn’t bring Apple back. It took management chops.  Here’s Bobo:

Several years ago, Doug Lemov began studying videos of excellent teachers. He focused not on their big strategies but on their microgestures: How long they waited before calling on students to answer a question (to give the less confident students time to get their hands up); when they paced about the classroom and when they stood still (while issuing instructions, to emphasize the importance of what’s being said); how they moved around the room toward a student whose mind might be wandering.

In an excellent piece on Lemov for The Guardian, Ian Leslie emphasizes that these subtle skills are often not recognized or even discussed by those who talk about education policy, or even by those who evaluate teachers.

Leslie notes that the Los Angeles school system tabulated the performance of roughly 6,000 teachers, using measures of student achievement. The best performing teacher in the whole system was a woman named Zenaida Tan. Up until that report, she was completely unheralded. The skills she possessed were invisible. Meanwhile, less important traits were measured on her evaluations (three times she was late to pick up students from recess).

In part, Lemov is talking about the skill of herding cats. The master of cat herding senses when attention is about to wander, knows how fast to move a diverse group, senses the rhythm between lecturing and class participation, varies the emotional tone. This is a performance skill that surely is relevant beyond education.

This raises an important point. As the economy changes, the skills required to thrive in it change, too, and it takes a while before these new skills are defined and acknowledged.

For example, in today’s loosely networked world, people with social courage have amazing value. Everyone goes to conferences and meets people, but some people invite six people to lunch afterward and follow up with four carefully tended friendships forevermore. Then they spend their lives connecting people across networks.

People with social courage are extroverted in issuing invitations but introverted in conversation — willing to listen 70 percent of the time. They build not just contacts but actual friendships by engaging people on multiple levels. If you’re interested in a new field, they can reel off the names of 10 people you should know. They develop large informal networks of contacts that transcend their organization and give them an independent power base. They are discriminating in their personal recommendations since character judgment is their primary currency.

Similarly, people who can capture amorphous trends with a clarifying label also have enormous worth. Karl Popper observed that there are clock problems and cloud problems. Clock problems can be divided into parts, but cloud problems are indivisible emergent systems. A culture problem is a cloud, so is a personality, an era and a social environment.

Since it is easier to think deductively, most people try to turn cloud problems into clock problems, but a few people are able to look at a complex situation, grasp the gist and clarify it by naming what is going on.

Such people tend to possess negative capacity, the ability to live with ambiguity and not leap to premature conclusions. They can absorb a stream of disparate data and rest in it until they can synthesize it into one trend, pattern or generalization.

Such people can create a mental model that helps you think about a phenomenon. As Oswald Chambers put it, “The author who benefits you most is not the one who tells you something you did not know before, but the one who gives expression to the truth that has been dumbly struggling in you for utterance.”

We can all think of many other skills that are especially valuable right now:

Making nonhuman things intuitive to humans. This is what Steve Jobs did.

Purpose provision. Many people go through life overwhelmed by options, afraid of closing off opportunities. But a few have fully cultivated moral passions and can help others choose the one thing they should dedicate themselves to.

Opposability. F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote, “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.” For some reason I am continually running across people who believe this is the ability their employees and bosses need right now.

Cross-class expertise. In a world dividing along class, ethnic and economic grounds some people are culturally multilingual. They can operate in an insular social niche while seeing it from the vantage point of an outsider.

One gets the impression we’re confronted by a giant cultural lag. The economy emphasizes a new generation of skills, but our vocabulary describes the set required 30 years ago. Lord, if somebody could just identify the skills it takes to give a good briefing these days, that feat alone would deserve the Nobel Prize.

And some people actually think he’s a “deep thinker”…  Here’s Mr. Nocera:

The relationship between journalists and Steve Jobs could often be fraught, but there were always a handful of reporters he liked and trusted. They included John Markoff of The New York Times; Steven Levy, formerly of Wired magazine (he’s now at Medium); Walt Mossberg, the longtime technology columnist for The Wall Street Journal (he’s now at Re/code); and Brent Schlender of Fortune. They had all been on the technology beat seemingly forever, and they had known Jobs for decades.

As Schlender writes in “Becoming Steve Jobs,” the forthcoming book he co-authored with Rick Tetzeli, he first met Jobs in April 1986, eight months after the Apple co-founder had been ousted by John Sculley, then Apple’s chief executive. Jobs, who had started a new company called NeXT, was 31. Schlender, who had just joined The Wall Street Journal’s San Francisco bureau, was 32.

During the next quartercentury, Schlender conducted “more than 150 interviews and informal conversations” with Jobs. He wrote cover stories for Fortune about Apple, some of which Jobs liked, and some of which he hated. On occasion, he visited Jobs at his home in Palo Alto, Calif. What began as a subject-journalist relationship evolved into something deeper — “a long, complicated and mostly rewarding relationship,” as Schlender characterizes it in the book.

So it is not a huge surprise that Schlender — and his friend Tetzeli, a former Fortune deputy managing editor — would see Jobs in a different light than most. (Disclosure: I worked with Schlender and Tetzeli during my decade at Fortune.) After Jobs died, they write, the coverage reflected “stagnant stereotypes.” On the one hand, “Steve was a genius with a flair for design,” whose powers of persuasion were such that he could convince people that the sun rose in the west and set in the east. On the other hand, he was also “a pompous jerk,” who humiliated employees and “disregarded everyone else in his single-minded pursuit of perfection.”

It is Schlender’s and Tetzeli’s contention that Jobs was a far more complex and interesting man than the half-genius/half-jerk stereotype, and a good part of their book is an attempt to craft a more rounded portrait. What makes their book important is that they also contend — persuasively, I believe — that, the stereotype notwithstanding, he was not the same man in his prime that he had been at the beginning of his career. The callow, impetuous, arrogant youth who co-founded Apple was very different from the mature and thoughtful man who returned to his struggling creation and turned it into a company that made breathtaking products while becoming the dominant technology company of our time. Had he not changed, they write, he would not have succeeded.

For Schlender and Tetzeli, the crucial period was the most overlooked part of Jobs’s career: The years from 1985 to 1997, when he was in exile from Apple and running NeXT. As a business, NeXT was a failure. Begun as a company that was going to bring affordable yet superior computers to the higher education market, it eventually had to abandon the hardware side of the business and become a pure software company. The point that is normally made about NeXT is that when Jobs returned to Apple, he brought with him the NeXTSTEP operating system, which became the foundation for a new generation of Macs and was a critical component of the company’s revival.

Every bit as important, though, was that Jobs brought his core group of executives with him to Apple, and they stayed with him for years. At the same time he was running NeXT, Jobs also owned Pixar, the animation studio he bought from George Lucas. It took years before Pixar came out with its first full-length movie, “Toy Story.” During that time, he saw how Ed Catmull, Pixar’s president, managed the company’s creative talent. Catmull taught Jobs how to manage employees.

When Jobs returned to Apple, he was more patient — with people and with products. His charisma still drew people to him, but he no longer drove them away with his abrasive behavior and impossible demands. He had also learned that his ideas weren’t always the right ones, and he needed to listen to others.

Perhaps the most important example of this was the App Store. Jobs had initially opposed allowing outside developers to build apps for the iPhone, but he did a quick about-face once he realized he was wrong. The App Store has been hugely important in making the iPhone perhaps the most profitable consumer electronic device ever.

Jobs has long been hailed as one of the great creative minds of modern business. His genius for creating products and his marketing flair have also been rightly hailed. All of that comes through in “Becoming Steve Jobs,” but so does something else: He was a great manager. You can’t build a great company if you aren’t one.

Nocera and Collins

March 14, 2015

Mr. Cohen played the MoDo card and wrote a ridiculous parody letter which I can’t be bothered to put here.  In “Syracuse, Boeheim and the N.C.A.A.” Mr. Nocera has a question:  Is the takedown of a big-team basketball program and its coach just another abuse of power?  Who cares?  It’s bread and circuses…  In “Globe? Warm? Who, Me?” Ms. Collins says the popular response to questions about climate change and global warming seems to be: I’m not a scientist.  Here’s Mr. Nocera:

There are few organizations that can make a mountain out of a molehill like the N.C.A.A. Believe it or not, the scathing report it issued last week, accusing Syracuse University and its basketball coach, Jim Boeheim, of a pattern of cheating, is a pretty good example.

I say “believe it or not” because to read about the report is to get the impression that Boeheim oversaw a program that was incorrigibly corrupt — a “decade-deep sewer,” as Pat Forde of Yahoo Sports characterized it.

This is surely the impression the N.C.A.A. hoped to convey. “Over the course of a decade,” the Committee on Infractions wrote, Syracuse committed violations including “academic fraud, instances of extra benefits,” cash payouts to players, etc. It accused Boeheim of failing to monitor his staff and claimed that the school showed a “lack of control over its athletic program.”

When the N.C.A.A. makes that last accusation, you can be sure it will be accompanied with stiff penalties. Among other things, Syracuse’s basketball team was put on probation for five years. It will lose some scholarships. Boeheim is to be suspended for part of next season, and he has been stripped of more than 100 wins.

I hold no brief for Boeheim. Coaches like him, who are bigger than the universities that employ them, are a problem for anyone who believes that a university’s academic mission is more important than its basketball team. But neither should the N.C.A.A. use its enforcement powers to cut such a coach down to size just because, well, it can. Especially when it hasn’t delivered the goods.

Boeheim appears to have made two terrible personnel moves. In 2005, he hired Stan Kissel to oversee the basketball team’s academic progress. And, in 2009, he recruited a 7-foot-tall Brazilian basketball player named Fab Melo. Kissel appears to have been a bad actor who monitored players’ class work by getting control of the athletes’ email accounts, which he then used to communicate with professors, supposedly without letting the professors know it was him.

Melo, a native Portuguese speaker who still had difficulty with English, was one of those athletes who simply didn’t belong on a university campus — yet another big problem with college sports that the N.C.A.A. is hardly in a position to remedy. Basketball was the only reason he was attending Syracuse.

Halfway through his sophomore season, Melo was declared ineligible because of poor grades. A professor agreed to allow him to submit a paper that might improve his grade and get him back on the court. According to the N.C.A.A., Kissel, along with a receptionist, gave Melo “unauthorized assistance” with the paper, which he submitted the very next day. It appears likely, in fact, that one of them wrote it.

That’s a major transgression, not just of N.C.A.A. rules, but also of Syracuse’s academic standards. The university has not shirked from the seriousness of the offense, describing it as “wrongful conduct.” Both Kissel and the receptionist were let go long before the N.C.A.A. completed its investigation.

What else? Nearly a decade ago, three football players received course credit for an internship that they hadn’t earned. So now we’re up to four cases of academic fraud in 10 years, only one of which was committed by a basketball player. (By comparison, in the 2013-14 school year alone, Syracuse students racked up 184 charges of academic dishonesty.)

Also: Some players were involved in charity benefits without getting approval. A booster was given too many complimentary tickets. Years ago, three players were paid by a local Y.M.C.A. for what the N.C.A.A. says was volunteer work, and at least one of the players insists was a summer job. “On one occasion in 2004,” the report actually says, a coach drove a Syracuse athlete 45 miles. Seriously?

Finally, although the N.C.A.A. believes that several other athletes committed academic fraud, it couldn’t bring that charge because the university, going through the same process it would with any other student, concluded that it didn’t have enough evidence. So instead, the N.C.A.A. tagged the athletes with receiving “extra benefits,” because, you know, something bad might have happened even if it couldn’t be proved. Actual proof has never mattered much in N.C.A.A. investigations.

I have dwelled on this report because it illustrates that despite the blows it has taken recently — in court and elsewhere — the N.C.A.A. remains not only a powerful institution, but one that is all too willing to abuse that power. To nail Syracuse’s basketball program — for who knows what reason — it had to pad one serious 2012 offense with a handful of extraneous, at times silly, allegations that had occurred, here and there, over the course of a decade.

Syracuse, concluded the N.C.A.A., violated the association’s “fundamental core values.” Not really. Very soon, the annual March Madness college basketball tournament will be upon us. The N.C.A.A. will reap somewhere on the order of $800 million. Now, we’re talking core values.

Now here’s Ms. Collins:

This is the time of year when we start to think about global warming. Because the weather is about to get warmer. Please God.

A new angle comes up almost every day. A Harvard professor recently reported that 7,000-year-old mummies in Chile are turning into “black ooze” because the air around them is getting more humid. In California, baby sea lions are in trouble because the ocean is heating up.

Meanwhile, in Florida, there’s a report that state employees have been barred from using the term “climate change.”

Since Florida is drowning in rising tides, you’d think this would be a tough rule to follow. It would be like telling prosecutors in New York not to mention the term “indicted state legislator.” Or banning Texas road crews from ever saying “dead armadillo.”

But, according to the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting, some employees at the Florida Department of Environmental Protection say they have indeed been directed to avoid the terms “global warming” and “climate change,” even when they’re talking about conserving the coastline or the coral reefs. Gov. Rick Scott denies there is any prohibition, and it’s certainly possible his underlings just decided to clamp down on their own, once they became aware of his position.

The governor’s position is to point out that he is “not a scientist” whenever the topic comes up. It’d be a bit tough to follow suit if you are, say, a D.E.P. scientist.

But other people find his approach extremely attractive. Former governor and future presidential candidate Jeb Bush has revealed that he, too, is not a scientist. A spokeswoman told The Wall Street Journal that Bush does believe the climate is changing but he’s not sure about “the extent to which humans contribute.” Also, whatever he concludes is not going to involve “alarmist, far left environmental policies.”

Most of the other potential Republican contenders follow a similar route when they can’t avoid the matter entirely. The one who’s been pressed hardest on global warming recently may be the governor of Wisconsin, Scott Walker, who was at a conservative conference outside of Washington when he was approached by a second grader who wanted to know where he stood.

Walker said he is a former boy scout who “always thought maybe campsites should be cleaner.” I swear.

“Do you care about climate change?” the child pressed. He is the son of an environmental activist, so don’t be expecting this kind of persistence every time a politician takes a grade-school tour.

“Ultimately, to me, I want to make sure that we have all the natural resources as possible moving forward just like I’ve done for everybody in Wisconsin. O.K.?” responded the governor.

Now climate change is perhaps the most important long-term issue the next American president will have to deal with. Our international enemies will come and go; our deficits will rise and fall. But if the atmosphere keeps getting clogged with greenhouse gases, future generations will be too busy with the floods and droughts to care.

If you were seriously thinking about running for president of the United States, wouldn’t this be something you’d want to have studied up on? Have you ever heard anybody say he couldn’t comment on tax policy because he wasn’t an accountant?

These guys don’t act like people who think the scientists are wrong when they say global warming is real, and that human activity creates all or part of the problem. They act like people who don’t want to have to face up to the facts and come up with solutions. Which would involve making the coal and oil companies super unhappy.

They’re sort of like the mayor in “Jaws” who won’t admit there’s a killer shark out there because it’s the start of the town’s tourism season. (“Now I am not a marine biologist …”)

It’s one thing to be a climate-change denier like Senator James Inhofe, the (gasp) chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, who brought a snowball into the Senate to demonstrate his conviction that the Earth is not getting warmer. It’s another to pretend as if it’s O.K. to dodge the whole question.

If you’re a presidential candidate, the only three intellectually honest answers to global warming queries are:

“My thoughts about this are similar to those of my intellectual role model, James Inhofe.”

“Yes, climate change is real, and I will give you my plan for reducing carbon emissions just as soon as my six biggest campaign donors finish slamming the door on their way out.”

“Sure, it’s real. But by the time Miami goes under water, I’ll be dead. So who cares?”

Or you can tell people that the shark might or might not be in the water, and might or might not be hungry, but that this is no time to stop swimming.

Brooks, Cohen and Nocera

March 10, 2015

In “The Cost of Relativism” Bobo babbles that the stark and growing gap between the lives of kids from college-educated parents and kids from parents who didn’t go to college demands a complex response: political, social, and moral.  In the comments “Karen Garcia” from New Paltz, NY sums it up for us:  “Another slick exercise in poor-shaming by David Brooks.”  In “Where the Road From Auschwitz Ends” Mr. Cohen tells how in a small town in Sweden, placid and increasingly prosperous, the horror proved insuperable.  Mr. Nocera, in “College For a New Age,” says an author has an education model that is not just cheaper, but also better.  Here’s Bobo:

One of America’s leading political scientists, Robert Putnam, has just come out with a book called “Our Kids” about the growing chasm between those who live in college-educated America and those who live in high-school-educated America. It’s got a definitive collection of data about this divide.

Roughly 10 percent of the children born to college grads grow up in single-parent households. Nearly 70 percent of children born to high school grads do. There are a bunch of charts that look like open scissors. In the 1960s or 1970s, college-educated and noncollege-educated families behaved roughly the same. But since then, behavior patterns have ever more sharply diverged. High-school-educated parents dine with their children less than college-educated parents, read to them less, talk to them less, take them to church less, encourage them less and spend less time engaging in developmental activity.

Interspersed with these statistics, Putnam and his research team profile some of the representative figures from each social class. The profiles from high-school-educated America are familiar but horrific.

David’s mother was basically absent. “All her boyfriends have been nuts,” he said. “I never really got to see my mom that much.” His dad dropped out of school, dated several woman with drug problems and is now in prison. David went to seven different elementary schools. He ended up under house arrest, got a girl pregnant before she left him for a drug addict.

Kayla’s mom married an abusive man but lost custody of their kids to him when they split. Her dad married a woman with a child but left her after it turned out the child was fathered by her abusive stepfather. Kayla grew up as one of five half-siblings from three relationships until her parents split again and coupled with others.

Elijah grew up in a violent neighborhood and saw a girl killed in a drive-by shooting when he was 4. He burned down a lady’s house when he was 13. He goes through periods marked by drugs, clubbing and sex but also dreams of being a preacher. “I just love beating up somebody,” he told a member of Putnam’s team, “and making they nose bleed and just hurting them and just beating them on the ground.”

The first response to these stats and to these profiles should be intense sympathy. We now have multiple generations of people caught in recurring feedback loops of economic stress and family breakdown, often leading to something approaching an anarchy of the intimate life.

But it’s increasingly clear that sympathy is not enough. It’s not only money and better policy that are missing in these circles; it’s norms. The health of society is primarily determined by the habits and virtues of its citizens. In many parts of America there are no minimally agreed upon standards for what it means to be a father. There are no basic codes and rules woven into daily life, which people can absorb unconsciously and follow automatically.

Reintroducing norms will require, first, a moral vocabulary. These norms weren’t destroyed because of people with bad values. They were destroyed by a plague of nonjudgmentalism, which refused to assert that one way of behaving was better than another. People got out of the habit of setting standards or understanding how they were set.

Next it will require holding people responsible. People born into the most chaotic situations can still be asked the same questions: Are you living for short-term pleasure or long-term good? Are you living for yourself or for your children? Do you have the freedom of self-control or are you in bondage to your desires?

Next it will require holding everybody responsible. America is obviously not a country in which the less educated are behaving irresponsibly and the more educated are beacons of virtue. America is a country in which privileged people suffer from their own characteristic forms of self-indulgence: the tendency to self-segregate, the comprehensive failures of leadership in government and industry. Social norms need repair up and down the scale, universally, together and all at once.

People sometimes wonder why I’ve taken this column in a spiritual and moral direction of late. It’s in part because we won’t have social repair unless we are more morally articulate, unless we have clearer definitions of how we should be behaving at all levels.

History is full of examples of moral revival, when social chaos was reversed, when behavior was tightened and norms reasserted. It happened in England in the 1830s and in the U.S. amid economic stress in the 1930s. It happens through organic communal effort, with voices from everywhere saying gently: This we praise. This we don’t.

Every parent loves his or her children. Everybody struggles. But we need ideals and standards to guide the way.

Now here’s Mr. Cohen:

The most important word in the title of Goran Rosenberg’s beautifully wrought book, “A Brief Stop on the Road From Auschwitz,” is the unlikely one that precedes the name of the Nazi death camp. Auschwitz, for the Jews, and not only for them, was a destination with no return ticket, a place of gas and ashes.

But some did survive; those sent the other way on the ramp to be worked to death for Hitler’s Reich, except of course that it might just be, if they were resilient enough, that the 1,000-year Reich expired in flames before them. As was the case with Rosenberg’s father, David, for whom there was a road, of sorts, from Auschwitz.

It first leads, as Rosenberg chronicles with a sinuous sobriety, through an archipelago of slave labor camps in Germany, where skeletal figures from Auschwitz, among others, are put to work making machinery desperately needed by the German war industry, whose engineers have reached the startling realization that the mass murder of Jews does not, precisely, contribute to the war effort. German industry needs slaves by the second half of 1944; it even needs Jewish slaves. To this requirement Rosenberg’s father, a Polish Jew from Lodz, owes his life.

As Rosenberg, a Swedish journalist and author, writes, “Luck, chance and freak are the stones with which every road from Auschwitz is paved. There are no other roads from Auschwitz but those of improbability.” He continues: “You’re part of a group of 350 Jewish men who were recently on their way from the ghetto in Lodz to the gas chambers and crematoriums in Auschwitz, and who by some blind fate have been nudged onto a route leading to a freight depot platform in the heart of Germany.”

Luck, of course, is a relative term. With a crazed frenzy, the war lost, German guards drive Jews through various slave camps. At his liberation, David Rosenberg weighed 80 pounds. There is little left of him; there is nothing left of the Jewish community of Lodz. He is alive. His world is gone.

By further chance, David Rosenberg, then in his early 20s, is put on a transport to Sweden, whose government has decided to give refuge to “some ten thousand children and invalids” from the refugee camps of Europe. He will end up in Sodertalje, near Stockholm, where he goes to work on the production line of a truck factory. This town with its tall pines and ordered streets starts out as “a brief halt on the road to somewhere else.” It becomes the place where this survivor lives out his days.

One of the great merits of Rosenberg’s book is the way he contrives to relive his father’s life forwards, not prejudging events through the prism of the outcome, but imbuing each stage of what he calls “the project” — that is, his parents’ aim of reconstructing a normal life in Sweden — with a kind of tender hope. Things will be all right. The project will work. Rocked in the cradle of Sweden’s welfare state and postwar boom, the Rosenbergs will overcome the Nazi torment.

At first, the project looks viable. David’s sweetheart, Halinka, from whom he has been separated at Auschwitz-Birkenau, has also survived. She comes to Sweden. The author is born, then a sibling. The family moves to a larger apartment. David’s pay improves, even if his professional ambitions meet obstacles. The Rosenbergs acquire a VW Beetle, and David tries for a while to market an ingenious luggage rack he has invented, the “Piccolo,” that attaches to the rear of the car above the engine. It doesn’t fly.

Rosenberg writes, “The Place seems to offer a world in which every dream is feasible, since it’s a world where no dreams have been shattered, including the dreams that were shattered in the world you come from, which is a world the Project will help put behind you.”

The project unravels through the 1950s. Frustration, darkness and depression creep into David Rosenberg. What the Nazis have done to him cannot be left behind after all. He goes to Israel, thinks of emigrating, but no. Some of the most wrenching pages chronicle his attempts to obtain reparations from the German government, efforts frustrated by a doctor chosen by Germany who writes in 1956 that: “Without a doubt the patient is exaggerating.” He concludes: “The symptoms of psychoneurosis that the patient alleges he has can no longer necessarily be linked to possible harm inflicted in the concentration camps.”

This bureaucratic letter is of a singular obscenity. Possible harm!

Written with tender precision, “A Brief Stop on the Road From Auschwitz,” recently published in the United States, is the most powerful account I have read of the other death — the death after the camps, the death from damage that proves insuperable, the death that in this case comes 15 years later, in 1960, after electroshock treatment, in a Swedish lake beside a mental hospital. The project was indeed brief.

And now we get to Mr. Nocera:

Kevin Carey has a 4-year-old girl. Carey, the director of the education policy program at the New America Foundation, has been thinking about the role of universities in American life for virtually his entire career. But after his daughter was born, that thinking took on a new urgency.

“All of a sudden there is a mental clock,” he told me the other day. “How am I going to pay for her college education? I wanted to write a book that asked, ‘What will college be like when my daughter is ready to go?’ ”

His answer is his new book, “The End of College,” which is both a stinging indictment of the university business model and a prediction about how technology is likely to change it. His vision is at once apocalyptic and idealistic. He calls it “The University of Everywhere.”

“The story of higher education’s future is a tale of ancient institutions in their last days of decadence, creating the seeds of a new world to come,” he writes. If he is right, higher education will be transformed into a different kind of learning experience that is cheaper, better, more personalized and more useful.

Universities in their current form have been with us for so long that it is difficult to imagine them operating any other way. But Carey begins “The End of College” by making a persuasive case that the university model has long been deeply flawed. It has three different missions: “practical training, research and liberal arts education.” Over time, the mission that came to matter most within the university culture was research. Great research institutions derived the most status. And professors who did significant research — publish or perish! — were the ones who reaped the rewards of the university system.

On the other hand, actual teaching, which is what the students — and their parents — are paying for, is scarcely valued at all. There is also the absurd importance of the football team. The hundreds of millions of dollars spent to create an ever newer, ever fancier campus. The outmoded idea that college should cater to students just out of high school, even though a significant portion of students are in different stages of life.

And, of course, there is the cost. Student debt now tops $1 trillion, and Carey spoke to students who were going to graduate with more than $100,000 of debt, a terrible burden at the beginning of one’s career. Schools like George Washington University and New York University became top-tier universities in no small part by aggressively raising their prices — which, in turn, became part of the reason they are now considered prestigious universities.

Although Carey has long been aware of the flaws of the university model, it is the out-of-control cost of college that he believes will cause people to search for a different way to educate students. Indeed, much of the rest of his book is devoted to the educators, scientists, entrepreneurs, and venture capitalists who are developing new ways to provide learning that make much more sense for many more students. “You don’t need libraries and research infrastructure and football teams and this insane race for status,” he says. “If you only have to pay for the things that you actually need, education doesn’t cost $60,000 a year.”

Carey spends a good chunk of “The End of College” exploring the new world of online learning, for instance. To that end, he took an online course — problem sets and exams included — offered by Eric Lander, the M.I.T. professor who was a principal leader of the Human Genome Project. It was, he concludes, a better experience than if he had sat in Lander’s classroom.

He expects that as more people take to online learning, the combination of massive amounts of data and advances in artificial intelligence will make it possible for courses to adapt to the way each student learns. He sees thousands of people around the world taking the same course and developing peer groups that become communities, like study groups at universities. “A larger and larger percentage of the education that has been historically confined to scarce, expensive colleges and universities will be liberated and made available to anyone, anywhere.” That’s what I mean when I say his vision is an idealistic one.

(Carey also believes that over time, new kinds of credentials will emerge that will be accepted by employers, making it less necessary to get a traditional college degree. He explored this subject for The Upshot, which was published in Sunday Review in The Times over the weekend.)

When might all this take place? I asked him. He wasn’t ready to hazard a guess; colleges are protected by government regulation, accreditation boards, and cultural habit, among other things. But, he said, it was inevitable that we were going to see an increased educational experience at a far lower cost.

Maybe he’ll even be able to stop saving for his daughter’s college education. Maybe the rest of us will, too.

Nocera, solo

March 7, 2015

Ms. Collins is off today, so Mr. Nocera has the place to himself.  In “Bullets Over Washington” he says when some armor-piercing ammunition was banned in the ’80s, the regulations were largely uncontroversial. My, how things have changed.  Well, Joe, the Mole People weren’t in charge in the 80s…  Here he is:

In 1986, Congress passed, and Ronald Reagan signed into law, the Law Enforcement Officers Protection Act. It directed the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to ban certain types of ammunition that could pierce the body armor worn by police officers. The National Rifle Association had originally opposed the legislation — which, in fact, was one of a series of events that caused a split between the N.R.A. and most police associations — but the logic behind it was irrefutable.

“Certain forms of ammunition have no legitimate sporting, recreational or self-defense use and thus should be prohibited,” Reagan said during the signing ceremony. The House of Representatives passed the measure by a vote of 400 to 21.

When the A.T.F. wrote the regulations to outlaw “cop-killer bullets,” as they were known, the agency made an important distinction between two kinds of armor-penetrating bullets. Those that were used primarily for “sporting purposes” were still allowed, but those that could be used in handguns were banned. As a practical matter, this meant that the agency was permitting rifle ammunition on the theory that rifles represented sporting weapons. But criminals are likely to use handguns, which they can better hide on their person. Although some armor-piercing bullets were ultimately banned, the regulations were largely uncontroversial.

My, how things have changed.

One thing that has changed is the handguns. Seven or eight years ago, makers of assault rifles like the popular AR-15 began making handgun versions of these powerful weapons. These handguns use the same bullets as the assault rifles, including some that are armor-piercing. In addition, since 2011, the A.T.F. has received numerous requests from manufacturers to “exempt” ammunition they want to sell — in effect, categorizing armor-piercing handgun bullets as being primarily for sporting purposes.

Quite sensibly, the A.T.F. realized it needed to take another look at the issue of whether certain armor-piercing bullets that had long been associated with rifles were now more problematic because they could be used in these new, more lethal handguns. Agency employees met with industry representatives and law enforcement officials. And last month, the A.T.F. published a document outlining a new framework for deciding whether certain bullets that had been exempt should now be banned. One bullet in particular, widely used by AR-15 owners and described by the A.T.F. as “5.56-mm projectiles in SS109 and M855 cartridges,” would be banned under the new framework. Why? Because if used in handguns, they could kill cops.

Which, of course, leads to the second thing that has changed. Congress no longer passes bills opposed by the N.R.A., even if the intent is to save the lives of police officers. Indeed, in the Obama era, the right-wing echo chamber is quick to label even an effort as benign — and as sane — as the A.T.F.’s proposed framework as yet another example of the president abusing his authority.

The N.R.A. quickly labeled Obama a “dictator.” Pro-gun bloggers screamed about this latest assault on their Second Amendment rights. “[Obama] wants to take guns out of everybody’s hands, and if he can’t do that, he’s gonna take the bullets,” said Mr. Echo Chamber himself, Rush Limbaugh.

And Congress? This week, 239 House members — more than half of the House of Representatives — sent a letter to B. Todd Jones, the director of the A.T.F., telling him, in effect, to buzz off. (“The effects of these restrictive interpretations are untenable.”) Jones will soon be getting a similar letter from the Senate side. It is hard to imagine that the A.T.F., already under siege, thanks to its botched Operation Fast and Furious, will be able to withstand this much congressional pressure.

On Friday morning, I spoke to one of the more thoughtful House conservatives, Scott Rigell of Virginia, who had signed on to the letter. I told him I couldn’t understand why there was such a furor over armor-piercing bullets that could kill police officers. “When I first heard about this,” he said, “I was truly stunned.” He had three objections. First, the ammunition in question is widely available and has never been a problem for the police. Second, he agreed with those who said that the administration was trying to impose its “deeply held views” on the country by fiat. And third, he felt that this could be the proverbial slippery slope. “If you conclude that this round is armor-piercing, then you have opened the dam completely,” he said.

On Friday afternoon, however, I spoke to J. Thomas Manger, the chief of the Montgomery County, Md., police department, and the president of the Major Cities Chiefs Association, which supports the A.T.F. effort. “Congress has asked them to make these kinds of decisions, and Congress should heed their recommendation,” he said.

When I mentioned that armor-piercing ammunition used to be called cop-killer bullets, he quickly corrected me.

“They’re still called cop-killing bullets,” Manger said. “I think every cop understands that.”


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