Archive for the ‘TOMC’ Category

Collins, Blow and Herbert

August 9, 2008

That Collins creature gives us “Ken Doll in Lust,” and says sex scandals will always exist in politics, but you would think that by now politicians would know how to make a decent public confession.  In “Racism and the Race” Mr. Blow poses a question:  So why is the presidential race a statistical dead heat? The pundits have offered a host of reasons, but one in particular deserves more exploration: racism.  Mr. Herbert’s column is titled “Finding the Upside,”and he says sometimes voters give the stomach-churning campaign tactics of racism or anti-Semitism what they deserve — defeat.  Here’s that Collins woman:

When it comes to politicians and sex, our expectations are not all that great. Human nature being what it is, there will continue to be adultery no matter how many instructive scandals they’re exposed to. But you really would think that by now they’d know how to make a decent public confession.

Yet there was John Edwards, ignoring the many, many previous examples of why it is so important to admit the truth quickly and keep it simple. Unable to deny any longer that he had had an affair with a campaign worker, he insisted on parsing. It was all a mistake. If she was paid off, it wasn’t my money. And, in what may be a new high in the annals of weaseldom: my wife’s cancer was in remission.

As to why he did it, Edwards blamed “an egotism, a narcissism that leads you to believe that you can do whatever you want.” That we could have figured out on our own.

For a man bent on clearing things up, Edwards seemed strangely incurious during his interview on “Nightline” on ABC. He had no idea why his national finance chairman has been funneling payments to his ex-mistress, and he was apparently never tempted to pick up the phone to ask. His 2 a.m. visit with the woman, Rielle Hunter, at a Beverly Hills hotel last month was a secret mission to keep her from going public about their liaison, the briefness and meaninglessness of which cannot be stressed too often. And he has no idea what baby that was in The National Enquirer picture.

Edwards met Hunter in a bar in New York in 2006, and paid her $114,000 to follow him around, documenting his every move for campaign videos. (In a TV interview back in happier times, Hunter called the experience “life-altering.”) Said videos were posted, then mysteriously disappeared from the Edwards Web site, with officials muttering something about campaign finance rules. They exist today on YouTube, where you can see the candidate sitting on his plane, grinning like a hound dog in heat, while he tells Hunter that he doesn’t want to be “some plastic Ken doll that you put in front of the audience,” and pokes himself in the chest while announcing, “I actually want the country to see who I am — who I truly am.”

When The National Enquirer ran a story that Hunter was pregnant and named Edwards as the father, he denied that there had been any relationship. One of his campaign workers stepped up and took responsibility for the baby. But when the little girl was born, Hunter did not list any father on the birth certificate.

All this is weirdly reminiscent of the saga of Grover Cleveland, my favorite American president when it comes to sex scandals. He had barely been nominated in 1884 when a small, scurrilous newspaper from his hometown of Buffalo accused him of being the father of a love child born to Maria Halpin, a store clerk. She later took to drink, and Cleveland, a bachelor, arranged to have the baby adopted by friends.

“Moral Monster,” said my favorite headline, in The Cincinnati Penny Post. “Grover Cleveland’s True Character Laid Bare. A Boon Companion to Buffalo Harlots. A Drunken, Fighting, Roistering Roué.” The scandal almost cost him the election, and the baby inspired a famous political slogan: Ma, Ma, where’s my Pa? Gone to the White House, ha, ha, ha.

It probably wasn’t Cleveland’s child. The birth certificate lists the baby’s name as Oscar Folsom Cleveland, and Oscar Folsom was Cleveland’s married law partner, who had been killed in an accident before the birth. But Cleveland stolidly refused to defend himself and Folsom’s name was never really connected to the scandal. Then, once he was safely in the White House, the new president married Folsom’s beautiful 21-year-old daughter, Frances.

This is as good as it gets for sex scandal survivors. The marriage was happy and Cleveland wound up serving two terms. The American public has always had an extremely pragmatic attitude toward their elected officials and will overlook almost anything if they believe the sinning pol can deliver on the job.

If Edwards’s political career is toast, it will be because he has always seemed to be less than a sum of his parts: the position papers, the “Two Americas,” the photogenic grin, the supersmart wife. The only piece of the package that consistently disappointed was the man himself. He wasn’t a very good running mate for John Kerry, and as a presidential candidate, he always struck me as being about 2 inches deep.

We take whatever lessons we can get from these sad public messes. We will marvel, yet again, at how much less damage would have been done if the offender had taken the inventive tactic of not lying. But on one front, at least, human behavior really does seem to be evolving. Edwards told his wife that she didn’t need to sit loyally by his side while the TV cameras rolled.

Here’s Mr. Blow:

This is supposed to be the Democrats’ year of destiny. Bush is hobbling out of office, the economy is in the toilet, voters are sick of the war and the party’s wunderkind candidate is raking in money hand over fist.

So why is the presidential race a statistical dead heat? The pundits have offered a host of reasons, but one in particular deserves more exploration: racism.

Barack Obama’s candidacy has shed some light on the extremes of racism in America — how much has dissipated (especially among younger people) and how much remains.

According to a July New York Times/CBS News poll, when whites were asked whether they would be willing to vote for a black candidate, 5 percent confessed that they would not. That’s not so bad, right? But wait. The pollsters then rephrased the question to get a more accurate portrait of the sentiment. They asked the same whites if most of the people they knew would vote for a black candidate. Nineteen percent said that those they knew would not. Depending on how many people they know and how well they know them, this universe of voters could be substantial. That’s bad.

Welcome to the murky world of modern racism, where most of the open animus has been replaced by a shadowy bias that is difficult to measure. As Obama gently put it in his race speech, today’s racial “resentments aren’t always expressed in polite company.” However, they can be — and possibly will be — expressed in the privacy of the voting booth.

If the percentage of white voters who cannot bring themselves to vote for a black candidate were only 15 percent, that would be more than all black voters combined. (Coincidentally, it also would be more than all voters under 24 years old.) That amounts to a racial advantage for John McCain.

And this sentiment stretched across ideological lines. Just as many white independents as Republicans said that most of the people they knew would not vote for a black candidate, and white Democrats were not far behind. Also, remember that during the Democratic primaries, up to 20 percent of white voters in some states said that the race of the candidate was important to them. Few of those people voted for the black guy.

Some might say that turnabout is fair play, citing the fact that 89 percent of blacks say they plan to vote for Obama. That level of support represents a racial advantage for him, too, right? Not necessarily. Blacks overwhelmingly vote Democratic in the general election anyway. According to CNN exit polls John Kerry got 88 percent of the black vote in 2004.

Think racism isn’t a major factor in this election? Think again.

And now here’s Mr. Herbert:

Sometimes when you cover politics it helps to have a bottle of Pepto-Bismol handy.

Some of the tactics of the McCain campaign have given me agita recently. But the latest campaign to turn my stomach was that of Nikki Tinker, a black woman who challenged a Jewish congressman, Steve Cohen, in a Democratic primary in Memphis.

Ms. Tinker was a candidate with nothing substantive to offer. A corporate lawyer, she was not particularly knowledgeable about Iraq or the economy or other important issues of the day. The raison d’être of her campaign seemed to be that she was an African-American running in a district in which the majority of the voters were also African-American.

And so she turned to the lowest tactics imaginable. In essence: let’s smear the white guy and get rid of him.

Mr. Cohen is seeking a second term. He is a reliably progressive congressman and an opponent of the Iraq war, and he has had a consistently solid record on civil rights. He was described by Speaker Nancy Pelosi as “the conscience of the freshman class.”

So it was not just bizarre, but absolutely perverse of Ms. Tinker to try and link him in a television ad to the Ku Klux Klan. The ad, which ran this week, juxtaposed an image of Mr. Cohen with that of a hooded Klansman. The issue the ad was trying to make was completely spurious.

Mr. Cohen was criticized for a vote he cast in 2005 when he was on a development board in Memphis. The vote opposed the renaming of a park that was named for Nathan Bedford Forrest, a Confederate general who was a founder of the Klan. The measure he opposed would also have required that Forrest’s body and a statue of Forrest be removed from the park.

Mr. Cohen (and a number of black officials, as well) felt the matter was not worth the protracted community turmoil that could have resulted from the proposed changes.

Commenting on the absurdity of the attempted link to the Klan, Mr. Cohen wryly commented, “It’s not like Nathan Bedford Forrest was inviting Jews over to celebrate Seder.”

The egregious Ms. Tinker was hardly finished traveling the low road. The Ku Klux Klan ad was followed by the “prayer ad.” Having exploited race against a candidate who was white, it was time to exploit religion against a candidate who also happened to be Jewish.

In the ad that followed the Klan garbage, the image of Mr. Cohen was displayed while viewers listened to the voice of a child praying, “Now I lay me down to sleep …” The prayer is interspersed with the voice of a woman (clearly intended to sound African-American) who says:

“Who is the real Steve Cohen anyway? While he’s in our churches, clapping his hands and tapping his feet …”

The emphasis on the word “our” is in the ad, which goes on to say, again spuriously, that Mr. Cohen voted against school prayer. The message is sick. It’s saying, in essence: Here’s this Jewish guy coming into “our” churches, tapping his feet and clapping his hands, when in reality he’s got a problem with letting “our” children pray.

The truth: Mr. Cohen has never voted against school prayer. That’s a constitutional issue that has been decided by the Supreme Court. More than 10 years ago, as a state senator, Mr. Cohen voted against a grandstanding piece of meaningless legislation named by its pandering sponsor as the “religious student liberty act.”

The proposal would have had no effect whatever on whether children could pray in school.

The prayer ad came in an environment in which leaflets were being spread, apparently by an out-of-town minister, asking: “Why do Steve Cohen and the Jews hate Jesus?”

Talk about a sinkhole. Or cesspool. Choose your metaphor.

Now the good news.

The primary vote was Thursday. And in that Ninth Congressional District of Memphis, a district that is predominantly black in a city that has had its share of racial trouble — the city in which the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was shot and killed — Mr. Cohen won an astonishing 80 percent of the vote, sweeping all demographic categories and destroying the disgusting (yes, stomach-turning) campaign of Nikki Tinker.

For the moment, at least, we can put the Pepto-Bismol aside and raise a glass of Champagne.

The voters in Mr. Cohen’s district rejected the Tinker tactics overwhelmingly, refusing to succumb to the blandishments of racism or anti-Semitism. Instead of abandoning their congressman, they rallied around him when the filth started coming his way.

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Collins, Cohen and Kristof

March 13, 2008

La Collins says the Spitzer scandal has completely undermined her confidence as a voter. She says you pull the lever for your clean-up-the-government candidate, and it turns out he’s into high-risk hookups.  Mr. Cohen’s column is titled “The Global Rose as a Social Tool,” and he says he’s not asking you to remove the romance from a rose, but as you pick out blooms for your beloved, try resetting your rose associations in order to see the world as it is.  Mr. Kristof urges us to “Do as He Said,” and says the New York prostitution law that Governor Spitzer pushed should be enforced firmly, by cracking down on pimps and customers.  Here’s La Collins:

Confession: I thought electing Eliot Spitzer governor of New York was a really good idea. Now it’s clear to me why some people refuse to register to vote. You never know.

Sure, you think you’re up on the issues. And you watch for character flaws — we’ve been watching Hillary Clinton’s for so long we could give them pet names. But we don’t really know. What if she has a secret life as a French undercover agent or a space alien?

The Spitzer scandal has completely undermined my confidence as a voter. You pull the lever for your feisty clean-up-the-government candidate with years and years of experience putting the bad guys in jail, and it turns out he’s into high-risk, high-priced hookups. Or, if we go back to the Rudy Giuliani era, he has a meltdown and calls a press conference to announce he’s divorcing his wife so he can marry his mistress.

No more electing prosecutors to high office, people. Too high strung.

How can you guarantee that a candidate isn’t going to go all weird on you 14 months into the job? It’s not that we expect perfection, or even good performance. It was disappointing, but not really all that surprising, when Spitzer instantly alienated the entire State Legislature and got entangled in a dumb scandal about whether he’d asked the State Police to spy on the Senate majority leader. To be honest, we had all worried about the arrogance thing.

However, although Spitzer has been in New York politics for years and years, I never ever heard a single person say, “What if it turns out he’s paying for $1,000-an-hour call girls with wire transfers — you know, like the ones he used as evidence when he was attorney general?”

Really, it never came up.

Maybe this democracy thing is overrated. What’s the worst that could happen with a monarchy? I hear benevolent dictatorships are nice. At least if the dictator turns out to have an $80,000 prostitute habit, I won’t feel complicit.

Spitzer apparently preferred to schedule his assignations outside of New York, a courtesy that the home state has so far failed to appreciate. In order to arrange the now-famous meeting in Washington with the now-famous Kristen, he bullied Congress into inviting him to testify at a hearing on bond insurance. It will go down in history as the only time the House Financial Services subcommittee on capital markets has been used as a beard.

On Wednesday, Spitzer announced his resignation at a press conference, accompanied once again by his wife, Silda. (Memo to future disgraced politicians: The nation has discussed this at length, and we do not want to see any more stricken spouses at the press conference. Not even if she volunteers; it’s your moment of supreme humiliation, not hers. And while we’re at it, it’s impolite to register under the name of a friend/campaign donor when you’re checking into a hotel for the purposes of entertaining a visitor from the Emperor’s Club V.I.P.)

The about-to-be-ex-governor looked pretty Eliot-like, square-shouldered and assertive. He promised a comeback, sort of: “I will try once again, outside of politics, to serve the common good …” That might work, particularly if he’s thinking in terms of handing out vaccine in Darfur. But I wouldn’t plan on, say, becoming president of a major university.

Meanwhile, the poor New York state government that was all ready to be cleaned up is left again to molder. David Paterson, the new governor, is a smart guy and very well-liked, which will certainly be a big change. But he has spent the last 20 years as a member of the minority party in the State Senate, a job whose only major duties involve eating lunch and complaining.

The new lieutenant governor will be Joseph Bruno, the Senate majority leader, who is — yes! — being investigated by the F.B.I. (It has to do with Bruno’s side job with an investment firm that got a lot of business from New York union pension funds.) In a less than reassuring moment of introspection, Bruno told New York magazine: “Who the hell knows if, inadvertently, there’s something there — that they uncovered, that they want to accuse you of.”

The state comptroller, by the way, is now an appointee, since the one the voters elected, Alan Hevesi, turned out to have big-time ethics problems. I thought Hevesi was a great comptroller, too.

But I’m not going to be fooled again. From now on, I’m bringing up every possible worst-case scenario. Go ahead and vote for Barack Obama if you want to — but what if it’s actually not Barack in front of the cameras at all, but his evil twin brother, the pirate? What if we elect Clinton and it turns out she’s secretly operating a dog-fighting ring out of Chappaqua?

Just remember, I warned you.

Here’s Mr. Cohen, writing from Naivasha, Kenya:

The view persists that a rose is a rose is a rose. But that’s so 20th century! In this new era a rose is a global product vested with the power to bring social and environmental change.

I am not asking you to remove the romance from a rose, for that would be asking too much, but as you pick out blooms for your beloved at the supermarket, try resetting your rose associations in order to see the world as it is.

From here in Kenya’s Rift Valley, Longonot Horticulture exports 90,000 rose stems a day. Its rose bushes come in red, yellow, orange, white, pink and cerise. Whatever color bunch a London or Copenhagen supermarket needs, it will provide pronto.

Flower production has grown rapidly. Longonot started with just 10 acres of roses in 2002; it now farms 60 acres. “The conditions are right,” Harry Milbank, the general manager, told me. “You’ve got many hours of sunlight and high altitude coolness. If it’s too hot, the rose bolts. It puts out a flower with a small head.”

Nobody loves a bolting rose, of course. Long stems and large heads are prized. As with good wine, too much heat is the enemy of refinement.

Milbank, from a white Zimbabwean farming family targeted by the peevish tyrant Robert Mugabe, ushered me into a greenhouse of 60,000 bushes. He explained how the planting is done at a slight slope so that water is recuperated and the need to cut when a bud is neither too tight nor too open.

“If there’s too much cerise,” he said, “We hold back and send yellow.”

Now, walk yourselves back from those pretty yellow roses on a store shelf and what you find is this: Kenyan women in green uniforms, taking roses from a cold room, cutting them to a standard length of 20.5 inches, removing leaves and thorns, bunching them, and wrapping them (complete with plant food package).

Within two days, the roses will be in Europe, probably Britain, where 70 percent of production goes. A small number is flown to the United States. By the fifth day, they will be in supermarkets. A four-day shelf life is allowed, and a 7-day guarantee is given buyers. So the roses must be good for just over two weeks.

Most of the roses I saw were destined for the Sainsbury’s supermarket chain in Britain, with a price tag of the equivalent of $10 already affixed. I asked Helen Buyaki, aged 27, one of 1,800 employees at the farm, what she earns: “4,500 shillings a month.” That’s 70 bucks.

Look at the global economy one way and Buyaki earns the equivalent of seven bunches of roses for a month’s labor. That smacks of exploitation. Look at it another and she has a job she’d never have had until globalization came along.

I say what’s going on here is hopeful. It’s a primer in how globalization can be good for humanity – and not just rich humanity. As Milbank put it, “More and more people want a socially and ethically acceptable rose.”

What’s that mean? It means Longonot has worked to acquire “fair trade” certification from the International Fair Trade Association, a group that insists producers look after workers in industries from flowers to coffee. Europeans and Americans are increasingly demanding “fair trade” products.

So Buyaki, like others, gets free health care. Workers spraying chemicals have the right protective clothing. Use of chemicals is cut by the breeding of tiny predatory mites that feed on destructive flower-eating mites and by the production of natural compost.

Being anti-globalization is dumb. A good way to improve globalization is to insist on fair trade certification. The harsh edges of capitalism were once rounded in Europe under socialism’s rose banner. That’s done. Now the challenge is global poverty.

Africans don’t need charity. They need the jobs globalization brings. They also need the developed world’s social and environmental pressure.

It makes sense to produce flowers here. The carbon footprint of a Kenyan rose is much smaller than that of a Dutch rose grown with artificial heating and lighting.

But life has been hard recently. Kenya’s many tribes have long flocked to the Rift Valley for economic opportunity. So when a disputed election sparked ethnic violence, the local toll was heavy.

Longonot was shut down; Luo employees fled to the west and have not returned; a camp down the road houses about 1,300 refugee Luos in tents.

This violence reflects many things, among them how critical African job-creation is. “These clashes are really about poverty. If people have money, they care less who’s ruling,” Julius Njuguna, a manager, told me.

Think again: roses, refugees and righting African wrongs are linked. A rose that’s a social tool can smell as sweet.

Here’s Mr. Kristof:

The last time I saw Eliot Spitzer, he encouraged me to write about his work involving prostitution. So here goes.

The governor buttonholed me because he wanted credit for passage of a tough state law against sex trafficking. Frankly, he deserves credit, for the law took the innovative step of cracking down on johns by increasing penalties.

The big worry now among those working to stop trafficking is that the Spitzer scandal will add to perceptions of prostitution as a “victimless crime.” On my blog, www.nytimes.com/ontheground, one person named “Carmen” argued, “if a man can hire a pro to help improve his golf, why not let him hire a pro to help improve his sex?”

Another poster, who identified herself as a former prostitute in Australia, said she had “never felt exploited or trapped” and added, “It was one of the best jobs I’ve ever had.”

Yet the evidence is overwhelming that, in the United States, prostitution is only very rarely just another career choice. Studies suggest that up to two-thirds of prostitutes have been sexually abused as girls, a majority have drug dependencies or mental illnesses, one-third have been threatened with death by pimps, and almost half have attempted suicide.

Melissa Farley, a psychologist who has written extensively about the subject, says that girls typically become prostitutes at age 13 or 14. She conducted a study finding that 89 percent of prostitutes urgently wanted to escape the work, and that two-thirds have post-traumatic stress disorder — not a problem for even the most frustrated burger-flipper.

The mortality data for prostitutes is staggering. The American Journal of Epidemiology published a meticulous study finding that the “workplace homicide rate for prostitutes” is 51 times that of the next most dangerous occupation for women, working in a liquor store. The average age of death of the prostitutes in the study was 34.

“Women engaged in prostitution face the most dangerous occupational environment in the United States,” The Journal concluded.

We as a society forbid certain behavior by consenting adults because we deem it too dangerous or harmful. We do not permit indentured servitude or polygamy, or employment for less than the minimum wage. So why permit people to work in the unusually dangerous business of selling sex?

One response would be: Prostitution is inevitable, so we might as well legalize and regulate it. That’s a pragmatic argument that I used to find persuasive. If brothels were legalized and inspected, I believed, then we could uproot child prostitution and reduce AIDS and sexually transmitted infections.

I changed my mind after looking at the experiences of other countries. The Netherlands formally adopted the legalization model in 2000, and there were modest public health benefits for the licensed prostitutes. But legalization nurtured a large sex industry and criminal gangs that trafficked underage girls, and so trafficking, violence and child prostitution flourished rather than dying out.

As a result, the Netherlands is now backtracking on its legalization model by closing some brothels, and other countries, like Bulgaria, are backing away from that approach.

In contrast, Sweden experimented in 1999 with a radically different approach that many now regard as much more successful: it decriminalized the sale of sex but made it a crime to buy sex. In effect, the policy was to arrest customers, but not the prostitutes.

Some Swedish prostitutes have complained that the policy reduced demand and thus lowered prices, while forcing sex work underground. But the evidence is strong that the new approach reduced trafficking in Sweden, and opinion polls show that Swedes regard the experiment as a considerable success. And the bottom line is that if you want to rape a 13-year-old girl imported from Eastern Europe, you’ll have a much easier time in Amsterdam than in Stockholm.

A growing number of other countries are pursuing the Swedish model. South Korea had a vast trafficking industry in the 1990s, but a crackdown has led Korean gangs to traffic girls to California instead — because pimping teenagers there is seen as safer and more profitable than at home.

No approach is going to work perfectly. But the Swedish model seems to have worked better than any other. The New York law that Governor Spitzer pushed was inspired partly by the Swedish experience, and New York should enforce that law firmly, by cracking down on pimps and customers.

We’re not going to end the world’s oldest profession, any more than we’ll ever end the world’s oldest crime, murder. But mounting evidence from around the world suggests that a demand-side crackdown would drive some pimps to peddle pirated DVDs instead of pubescent flesh — and that would be a positive legacy of Governor Spitzer’s tenure that might balance its tawdry hypocrisy.

Collins and Herbert

March 8, 2008

La Collins says that while Barack Obama may understand the audacity of hope, only Hillary Clinton really gets the audacity of audacity.  She also included a bit of a history lesson on the only President from Pennsylvania.  Mr. Herbert says Barack Obama can’t win wrestling in the mud with Hillary Clinton, and that it will not put him in the White House.  Here’s La Collins:

We live in a great country. Despite all our problems, this is still a nation where parents believe that if their child works hard and plays by the rules, some day he or she may grow up to be a superdelegate.

The Democrats are feeling a little blah right now. True, a six-and-a-half-week slog to the Pennsylvania primary is not the ideal way to spend the spring. But the good news is that voters who are intrigued but a little dubious about Barack Obama will get to see how he performs under pressure.

Admit it, people. When you try to envision how the politics of hope would play out in the real world, things go a bit fuzzy. How’s Obama going to get Republicans to work with Democrats on national health care when Republicans don’t want national health care? How’s he going to run a positive ship in a sea of negativity?

The latest crisis, in which Samantha Power, an Obama foreign policy adviser, got quoted calling Hillary Clinton “a monster” in an interview with The Scotsman, is the sort of thing that happens all the time in a hot presidential race. (Although we’d like to know why talking to members of the British Commonwealth seems to make this campaign go gaga.) And it’s a good sign that Obama dumped the poor woman. The last thing we need is another president with a loyalty hang-up. But it didn’t necessarily feel like a “Yes we can!” kind of moment.

So we’ll see. If Barack looks good after his fifth trip to Wilkes-Barre, then he’s the one. If not, there’s still Hillary.

And here’s the rundown:

WYOMING On Saturday, all eyes turn to Wyoming, where Democrats are choosing presidential delegates, using the popular caucus system, which worked so well in Texas that they still don’t know who won. This year, Democratic caucuses around the country have been imploding with huge crowds, long lines and massive numbers of large adults forced to sit for hours on teeny tiny chairs in elementary school cafeterias.

The good news is that you won’t get that kind of problem in Wyoming unless every single Democrat in the state decides to participate and then reproduces several times on the way to vote.

PENNSYLVANIA Trees will bud. Grass will grow. Babies will learn to walk. Easter, opening day and the first use of a baseball analogy to describe the presidential race will come and go. Then, at last, on April 22, Pennsylvanians will tell the country whether they like Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama better. It will have almost no effect on the critical delegate count. Still, we need to find meaning in our lives somewhere, and IT’S ALL UP TO PENNSYLVANIA.

For all its awesomeness, Pennsylvania’s only contribution to the presidency was James Buchanan. He was in office at the onset of the Civil War and is celebrated mainly for holding down the bottom of the Worst Presidents lists. Historians often describe him as “our only bachelor president,” although Buchanan did live for many years with William King of Alabama, who later became our only bachelor vice president. We do not hear much speculation about whether Buchanan was our first gay president because, frankly, most gay Americans would prefer to start with somebody who didn’t preside over the secession of the South.

The good news is that this really has nothing to do with the Democratic primary. But I do think a little bit of history can liven up a dreary morning.

FLORIDA AND MICHIGAN Here we have a classic Election 2008 quandary: equal parts intense controversy, great importance and utter incomprehensibility. In (very) brief, Florida and Michigan moved their primaries to January, breaking the parties’ rules. The Democratic National Committee took away both states’ presidential delegates as punishment.

So what about the voters? In Florida, although none of the candidates campaigned and there were no delegates at stake, 1.7 million Democrats still turned out for the primary, which Clinton won. We will refrain from making obvious references to Florida, disenfranchisement, presidential elections, etc. In Michigan, where Obama wasn’t even on the ballot, Clinton beat her only major opposition, the fearsome Uncommitted, by an underwhelming 55-40 percent.

Michigan and Florida say they’ll only accept a do-over if somebody else pays for it — to the tune of around $28 million. We will refrain from making the obvious references to Iraq, purple fingers, several trillion dollars, etc., etc.

Some people are proposing a compromise in the form of cost-cutting caucuses. Do not let them have any caucuses! Retirees will topple off the cafeteria chairs if you have caucuses in Florida.

Clinton says the party should just forgive and forget, and hand over her delegates.

The good news is: While Barack may understand the audacity of hope, only Hillary really gets the audacity of audacity.

Here’s Mr. Herbert:

The high anxiety in the Obama circles has thrown the campaign off its game.

Samantha Power, one of Senator Barack Obama’s senior foreign policy advisers, had to quit Friday after she lost her cool in an interview with a Scottish newspaper and called Senator Hillary Clinton a “monster.”

The campaign apologized for the flap. But Mr. Obama himself seems unsure of how to respond to the trash-and-thrash tactics that helped Senator Clinton defeat him in Ohio and Texas this week.

The anger that caused Ms. Power to blurt out the monster comment is widespread inside the Obama camp. But Senator Obama, for a variety of reasons — some of them self-imposed — is sharply constrained in the way that he can respond to provocations.

And if there is one thing the Clinton crowd knows how to do, it’s provoke.

On Thursday, Senator Clinton’s spokesman, Howard Wolfson, likened Senator Obama to Ken Starr, the independent prosecutor who hounded the Clintons in the Monica Lewinsky scandal. Why the Clinton forces would want to inject that poisonous bit of business into the campaign is a mystery.

But there was Mr. Wolfson on Thursday, in response to a call from the Obama campaign for Mrs. Clinton to release her tax returns, asserting: “I, for one, do not believe that imitating Ken Starr is the way to win a Democratic primary election for president.”

More serious was Senator Clinton’s assertion that she was qualified to be commander in chief, and that John McCain had also “certainly” crossed that “threshold,” but that the jury was still out on Mr. Obama.

In other words, if a choice on national security had to be made today between Senators Obama and McCain, voters — according to Mrs. Clinton’s logic — should choose Senator McCain.

That is a low thing for a Democratic presidential candidate to do to a rival in a party primary. Can you imagine John McCain saying that Rudy Giuliani or Mitt Romney or even the guitar-strumming Mike Huckabee might be less qualified than Hillary Clinton to be commander in chief? It couldn’t happen.

But Senator Clinton never gave a second thought to opening the trap door beneath her fellow Democrat.

And then there was Mrs. Clinton on “60 Minutes,” being interviewed by Steve Kroft. He had shown a clip on the program of a voter in Ohio who said that he’d heard that Senator Obama didn’t know the national anthem, “wouldn’t use the Holy Bible,” and was a Muslim.

Mr. Kroft asked Senator Clinton if she believed that Senator Obama is a Muslim. In one of the sleaziest moments of the campaign to date, Senator Clinton replied: “No. No. Why would I? No, there is nothing to base that on. As far as I know.”

As far as I know.

If she had been asked if she thought President Bush was a Muslim, would her response have included the caveat “as far as I know”? What about Senator McCain? Why, then, with Senator Obama?

In the run-up to the crucial Texas and Ohio primaries, the plan in the Clinton camp, as The Times reported, was to unleash as many lines of attack as possible — a “kitchen sink” fusillade — in the hope that something would work. Senator Obama is still trying to figure out how to respond.

Whatever anger and frustration he may be feeling, he should stick to the high road. He can’t win wrestling in the mud with Hillary Clinton. That will not put Barack Obama in the White House.

Mr. Obama’s strength was his message of hope and healing, the idea that he could bring disparate groups together to work on the nation’s toughest problems. That has gotten him this far, which is much further than almost anyone expected.

He now needs an added dimension. He needs to articulate a vision. He needs to spell out to voters where he wants to take this country over the next few years, how he will alleviate the suffering of millions trapped in vicious economic circumstances and what he will do to restore the honor and prestige of the U.S. around the world.

Political campaigns are not about fairness, but they can often be about vision. Voters want more from Senator Obama.

He may not be able to close the deal with, say, working-class whites, but he more than anyone else has the eloquence to try and make a compelling case. He should go for it.

We have seen election after election in which candidates have won by fanning the anxieties of voters. Elect me, or something terrible will happen to you!

That is now the Clinton mantra, which is a measure of how grim our politics have become.

Collins, Cohen and Kristof

March 6, 2008

La Collins says that of all the things that went right for Hillary Clinton on Tuesday, the Ohio primary win was most impressive.  Mr. Cohen writes about “The Obamas of the World” and says that piecing together Barack Obama’s family is like piecing together the world. It’s a rich experience, but not easy.  Mr. Kristof’s column is titled “Good News: Karlo Will Live.”  He says African children like Karlo may actually have more at stake in the outcome of the presidential election than children in the United States.  Here’s La Collins:

It’s all up to Pennsylvania!

Yes folks, over the next seven weeks — the amount of time it takes a normal country to conduct an entire national election — we will be obsessing about the critical upcoming Pennsylvania primary. Harrisburg! Altoona! The Poconos! Did you know that in the Poconos, some hotels have bathtubs shaped like hearts or Champagne glasses? We actually plan on bringing that up a lot.

Of all the things that went right for Hillary Clinton on Tuesday, the Ohio primary win was most impressive. Although Ohioans politely tiptoed out of Hillary’s more boring round-table discussions, they came to believe she could be a president who would fix things, no matter how complicated or frustrating. The mere fact that she had the staying power to keep her eyes open, they felt, was a good sign.

In response, the Obama campaign has reportedly decided to do far fewer exciting rallies and lots more mind-numbing round-table discussions in Pennsylvania. I’m sure I speak for everyone when I say we are all really looking forward to that.

Ohio was great. I don’t know how anybody could not love a primary where the big scandal involves gossip about Nafta among Canadian diplomats.

And where, in a critical strategic move, Bill Clinton seemed to have been permanently reassigned to a lecture circuit in Chillicothe.

The Texas primary results were much closer. The white male vote, which keeps shifting, was split. I’m beginning to suspect that the white males have realized that they’re either going to be accused of racism or sexism and have therefore made a secret pact to take turns.

Once the primary voting ended, there were caucuses to choose a third of the Texas delegates. Given the way the counting is going, we should have the results sometime in 2009. But the Clinton campaign instantly issued complaints about rule-breaking. (“Numerous calls have shown that Obama supporters prematurely removed convention packets from polling places …”).

That was truly unfair. People who never knew these caucuses existed before this week did the best they could under ridiculous circumstances, including an innovative rule that no one is in charge when the event begins.

“The secretary is the first precinct captain who manages to take a leadership role. It’s a little ambiguous to be totally honest,” said Alexander Baugh, a graduate student and an Obama captain at Mathews Elementary School in Austin.

Inside, hundreds and hundreds of voters were trying to squeeze into the caucus, which was held in a child-size cafeteria. There was a great deal of time to contemplate a poster listing CAFETERIA EXPECTATIONS, which were so wise I feel compelled to share a couple with you:

• Eat your own food.

• Keep hands, feet and objects to yourself.

The Mathews Elementary voters got a temporary leader, May Schmidt, who actually seemed to understand the rules. This is the only thing that spared them from the fate of the voters at a library outside of Houston, where it took two and a half hours for the would-be leaders to figure out how to open the door and let people inside.

Schmidt had made way more copies of the critical forms than she had been allotted, avoiding the fate of many, many caucuses that ran out. And she dispatched her daughter to negotiate with the janitorial staff.

“They’re opening up the gym. They don’t like it, but they’re opening,” she said. “Now if you’re Obama, hold up your hands.”

The vast majority of the room started waving, and making a hoot of victory that sounded very much like the one the Spartans used in “300.”

The Hillary people, looking a little deflated, trudged off to the gym, where they stood in line to register. Meanwhile, they got a special chair for an 87-year-old woman who had made her way to the school to caucus for Clinton, carrying her cane and a big flashlight. “I’m just about blind, so they have to help me. They’ve been real good about it,” she said cheerfully.

Am I wrong in thinking this is above and beyond the call of duty? Cheers to Obama, who is caucus king thanks to the way he has mobilized his ultra-enthusiastic supporters. But if I were a superdelegate forced to choose between two attractive candidates, I’d look for the one who won the big primaries where people were actually encouraged to vote.

For now, it’s all up to Pennsylvania in April, until it’s all up to Indiana and North Carolina in May. (This Saturday is the Wyoming caucus, but it’s not all up to Wyoming.) Finally on June 7, it will all be up to Puerto Rico, until it’s over and we discover that we’re right back where we are now.

Then comes the kind of convention political reporters have dreamed about since we were little nerds in the third grade writing essays on the electoral college. It will be August with nothing on television but “Big Brother XXXIII,” and you will have to listen to us.

Life is wonderful. Eat your own food.

Here’s Mr. Cohen:

 Piecing together Barack Obama’s family is like piecing together the world. It’s a rich experience, but not easy.

Here, at the end of a road of reddish earth, past women carrying bags of maize to market, past mud shacks with thatch roofs and kids in school uniform, under the mango trees and beside the chickens poking around, sits Auma Obama, the senator’s older half-sister. She’s the key.

Behind her, in a corner of the Obama homestead, where calves scamper and avocado trees grow, is the grave of their father. It says simply: Barack Hussein Obama, born 1936, died 1982. He’s the mystery.

The wind rustles in the branches; otherwise not a sound. Such peace is shocking, a stranger to modernity. I’ve come here to remote western Kenya to understand the breathtaking dimensions of the one-generation leap made by Senator Obama.

It is his ability to bridge universes that is central to his appeal — particularly to Americans under 40, a post-baby-boom generation that has intuited how interconnected the globe has become and thirsts for a new American lexicon, a new approach to a transformed world.

“We first started corresponding after my dad died,” Auma, who was born the year before her famous brother, tells me. “Barack’s handwriting is exactly the same as my dad’s. And he wrote to me on this large yellow foolscap paper that Americans use and that my dad used. It was weird.”

His words, linking estranged siblings, crossed universes. Auma’s Kenyan mother, Grace Kezia, who now lives in Britain, was pregnant with her when her father left in 1959 to study in Hawaii. There the older Obama would meet Ann Dunham, from Wichita, Kan., and their son, the Democratic presidential candidate, would be born in 1961.

Auma stayed behind with an older brother. Later, after her father’s return to Kenya in the mid-1960s with degrees from the University of Hawaii and Harvard, Grace had two more sons with him. Three other boys, half-brothers, were born to two other women, before the older Obama died in a Nairobi car crash.

Both of Obama’s parents perished young: his father at 46, his mother at 52. His life has been pitched forward. No wonder, as he describes in his first book, “Dreams From My Father,” he quested for a past, in which lay identity. Auma was the conduit to that.

She is vibrant, spirited, precise. She studied linguistics in Heidelberg, Germany, lived in Britain for many years, and has a 10-year-old British daughter, Akinyi. But Kenya — this place in particular — is home. “My family crosses all the continents,” she observes. From here, the Obamas spanned outward.

I find her argument persuasive: that her brother is a “unifying figure” representing the “change people want to see in the world”; a man with a father “black as pitch” and a mother “white as milk,” as Obama has written, whose exposure to several continents gives him a particular understanding of a world in which violent division and unprecedented intermingling coexist, and danger and opportunity vie.

Auma tells me she was worried before she met Obama in Chicago for the first time in the 1980s. “I was not sure it would work out. We got on well on the phone, but when your expectation is so special, you can be disappointed.”

So she hedged. She went to see a German friend, Elke, in Carbondale, in southern Illinois, and then rode a Greyhound bus for seven hours to meet her brother. If it didn’t work out, she figured, she could return.

But, she tells me, “it was easy, so easy, like being able to exhale at last.”

From her, finally, came the key to the mystery: the stories about the “old man,” a father who died too young — his political problems as a member of the Luo ethnic group, his drinking, his women, his stop-go career, his capricious tenderness, his agonizing disappearance — information for which Obama had quested.

Strangely, Obama places his pivotal first meeting with Auma at a Chicago airport rather than the Greyhound terminal, where she says it happened.

“I pulled into the airport parking lot at a quarter past three and ran to the terminal as fast as I could,” Obama writes in “Dreams.” He goes on: “Panting for breath, I spun around several times, my eyes scanning the crowd of Indians, Germans, Poles, Thais and Czechs gathering their luggage.” Then he sees “an African woman emerging from behind the customs gate.”

This appears to be one of the “lapses of memory” for which he excuses himself in the introduction. I’m not sure how a bus station morphs into an airport “at a quarter past three,” but I’ll excuse him; the courage and intellectual honesty with which he quested for often painful memory are singular. “He can be trusted,” says Auma, “to be in dialogue with the world.”

Obama’s implausible attacks on free trade notwithstanding, I believe her. The long road from Nyangoma-Kogelo to Chicago is one of reconciliation.

Here’s Mr. Kristof:

The farm families living in these rocky hills in central Sudan confront every disease imaginable, from leprosy to malaria, and perhaps one-quarter of children die by the age of five.

Yet this is a “good news” column. Karlo will live.

The number of children who die worldwide each year before the age of five has dropped below 10 million for the first time in recorded history — compared with 20 million annually in 1960 — Unicef noted in a report last month, “Child Survival.” Now the goal is to cut the death toll to four million by 2015.

Think about that accomplishment: The lives of 10 million children saved each year, 100 million lives per decade.

To put it another way, the late James P. Grant, a little-known American aid worker who headed Unicef from 1980 to 1995 and launched the child survival revolution with vaccinations and diarrhea treatments, probably saved more lives than were destroyed by Hitler, Mao and Stalin combined.

One of the lives saved this year seems to be that of Karlo, an 8-month-old baby boy who lives in a thatch-roof hut here. His older brother, Kuti, had died a few days before I arrived: Kuti was taken to the hospital and tested positive for malaria, but the doctor believed that he probably died from meningitis.

Then Karlo fell sick, and his mother was frantic at the thought that he would die as well. The father, Bolus Abdullah, was more fatalistic.

“Many children die here,” Mr. Bolus explained to me as volunteers with an American aid group, Samaritan’s Purse, drove the family to the nearest hospital over a fantastically rutted road. “But if that’s the will of God, then there’s nothing we can do.”

Yet there are things we can do — and that brings us to the American presidential campaign.

African children like Karlo may actually have more at stake in the outcome of the presidential election than children in the United States. Just imagine if the next president were to wage a serious war on malaria. At a tiny fraction of the cost of the war in Iraq (or a war on Iran!) such a campaign would save millions of lives and be a huge boost to African economies whose productivity is sapped by diseases.

The hospital to which we took Karlo is run by an aid group, German Emergency Doctors, and is run by a husband-wife team of physicians, Karl Eiter and Gabi Kortmann. The hospital, whose “wards” are thatch-roof huts with no electricity, is perched on a rural mountainside to protect it from aerial bombings by the Sudanese government. (Sudan’s main involvement in health care in contested areas like this has been to strafe hospitals.)

Dr. Eiter ordered a blood test for Karlo, and it came back positive for malaria. He gave Karlo a medication that is almost always effective against malaria here, artemisinin combination therapy, costing just 50 cents for an entire course of treatment.

Saving children’s lives in rural Africa or Asia, where millions die of ailments as simple as diarrhea, pneumonia or measles, is achingly simple and inexpensive. The starting point is vaccinations and basic sanitation.

“We never have all the vaccines that are required,” Dr. Eiter said.

For years, the rationale for opposing foreign assistance has been that it doesn’t work. It’s true that humanitarian aid is devilishly difficult to get right, money is squandered and the impact of aid is often oversold.

But President Bush’s record underscores that other policies are difficult to get right as well: Iraq is a mess, and social security reform and immigration reform both failed. Mr. Bush’s greatest single accomplishment is that his AIDS program in Africa is saving millions of lives.

That makes it all the more stunning that Mr. Bush’s proposed budget for 2009 cuts U.S. funding for child and maternal health programs around the world by nearly 18 percent.

Fortunately, all the candidates are saying the right things about malaria, AIDS and support for education in Africa (although John McCain is fuzzier about commitments). You can compare the candidates’ positions on global humanitarian issues at www.onevote08.org.

Voters should remember this: A president may or may not be able to improve schools or protect manufacturing jobs in Ohio, but a president probably could help wipe out malaria. Compared with other challenges a president faces, saving a million children’s lives a year is the low-hanging fruit.

Karlo, bouncing in his mother’s lap, underscores the hope. With the medicine, he recovered quickly and was sent home from the hospital after a few days. The news here is simple and giddy … he’s alive!

Collins and Herbert

March 1, 2008

La Collins says everything — the Democratic nomination, the fate of the presidency, the solution to global warming, the next American Idol — hinges on Tuesday’s primaries.  Mr. Herbert says in recent days both Clinton and Obama supporters have been predicting a long and possibly brutal fight if Senator Barack Obama does not lock up the nomination on Tuesday.  Here’s La Collins:

It’s all up to Texas and Ohio!

Everything — the Democratic nomination, the fate of the presidency, the solution to global warming, the next American Idol — hinges on Tuesday’s primaries. Texas and Ohio rule!

O.K., and Rhode Island and Vermont.

You must have lots of questions about all the exciting things going on in places where you aren’t voting.

Feel free to ask.

Why Ohio? Isn’t it going to be all up to Ohio in November? This seems kind of greedy.

Yes, and your state should have thought of that before it joined the unseemly race to the front of the pack while Ohio just sat back and politely said: “Oh, no. We’ll wait our turn.” Anyway, if Hillary Clinton manages to pull this off, it’ll all be up to Pennsylvania.

Do Texas and Ohio appreciate how lucky they are?

There was a schoolteacher going into the debate audience in Cleveland on Tuesday — this would be the 20th Clinton-Obama confrontation this season — who told the TV cameras that she learned last week that she was getting a ticket “and I haven’t breathed since.” We have not seen this sort of anticipation at a political event since they held one of the Maine caucuses in the same building where “High School Musical” was being performed.

Is it true that Hillary Clinton’s campaign is in shambles, awash with second-guessing and back-stabbing?

Well, let’s hope so. If they were chipper and confident at this point, you’d worry that they’d turned into some kind of cult.

Do the problems in the campaign reflect badly on the candidate? I mean, if you can’t run a campaign …

Don’t blame Hillary for hiring the wrong consultants. As far as I can tell, there aren’t any geniuses or villains in this business, just people who guess right and people who charge too much. That said, I cannot completely get past the fact that the Clinton campaign spent $100,000 on food for the night of the Iowa caucuses. My memory of the post-defeat party in Des Moines is Fritos and the kind of dip you make with dried onion soup mix.

Why do people keep fainting at Obama rallies? Are you sure this isn’t some kind of a setup?

They’re swooning on their own. Possibly helped along by the fact that the fans closest to the stage have to stand there for several hours before the event begins.

I just learned that John McCain was born in the Panama Canal Zone while his father was stationed there and that it might make him ineligible to become president. Is that true?

Only if you presume that a court would inform our men and women in the military that their children are lesser citizens because they’re born on an overseas rotation. However, this does seem like something Congress ought to clean up. And it may explain why Mitt Romney’s family has been mentioning that Dad is still ready to serve.

Is Ohio going to be able to count the votes this time without triggering any conspiracy theories?

Ohio, like the rest of the country, has been working hard to end the Election Day delays and errors that have done so much to undermine confidence in our democracy. Authorities here have spent well over $100 million on new voting machines, none of which the secretary of state regards as reliable.

While we’re at it, would you please explain the Texas primaucus?

The primaucus is a large, featherless bird that feeds on roadkill and ethanol.

Seriously?

While Texas Republicans have a rather straight winner-take-all primary system, the Texas Democrats have added a few curlicues here, a bunch of furbelows there and wound up with something that resembles one of the more unfortunate dresses at the Academy Awards. Tuesday there will be a primary. Then as soon as the polls close there will be caucuses. Then there will be some conventions and an apportioning of delegates that will be understood only by people with doctorates in physics.

Finally, there will come the terrible moment when the public asks itself what a Democratic-constructed national health care plan would look like if this is the way they build a simple election.

Obama says he’s the bridge-builder. But I keep hearing right-wing radio types say they’d vote for Hillary Clinton before John McCain. None of them ever say they’d vote for Obama. Should Hillary be highlighting that?

I don’t know if “Bridge-Builder to the Lunatic Right” is the kind of nickname you want at this point in the campaign.

Is there any chance Hillary can pull this out?

It looks hopeless, which was exactly the way it looked in New Hampshire right before she won. So, sure.

Here’s Mr. Herbert:

When does a dandy fight become an ugly brawl?

For the Democrats, perhaps on Tuesday.

If Barack Obama wins in either Texas or Ohio, the race for the nomination will effectively be over. At that point the Clintons, if they have any regard for the fortunes of the party, will be duty-bound to graciously fold their tents and try to rally their supporters behind a candidate who will be stepping into a firestorm of hostility from the other side.

If Hillary Clinton wins both Texas and Ohio, the Democrats will need a trainload of aspirin and a shrink.

The superdelegates currently sprinting toward Obama would suddenly look over their shoulders and wonder what happened to his O-mentum. The Clintons would declare themselves (yet again) the Comeback Kids, although they would still be behind in delegates. They would continue their push to have the Michigan and Florida delegations seated. They would step up their attacks on the Obama forces with understandable glee. And they would use whatever persuasive powers they could muster to push the idea with party regulars that Senator Obama is unelectable.

That is a scenario guaranteed to infuriate the Obama true-believers. If Senator Clinton managed to secure the nomination under those circumstances, it would open deep wounds in the party that would be very difficult to heal.

There is a third scenario: Senator Clinton wins just one of the big ones on Tuesday but decides to hang on rather than gracefully step aside, hoping that some blunder, or some other unforeseen force — a news event, a scandal — causes the Obama effort to implode. That would also cause bad feelings that would be difficult to assuage.

(If Senator Obama wins Ohio and Texas, there’s nothing more to talk about. He’s the nominee.)

The Republicans, who had nothing going for them in this election, who had a weak field of candidates and were on the wrong side of virtually every major issue, are beginning to feel a bit like Lazarus. Democratic voters were courageous enough to put two candidates at the head of their line of potential nominees who have built-in political disadvantages. Party unity and a strong message are essential to overcoming those disadvantages. The longer the Clinton-Obama fight goes on, and the more bitter it gets, the better it is for the G.O.P.

In recent days both Clinton and Obama supporters have been predicting a long and possibly brutal fight if Senator Obama does not lock up the nomination on Tuesday. A Clinton advocate, who asked not to be identified because he didn’t want to be seen as wavering in public, said: “I don’t see how this gets resolved if she wins both Ohio and Texas. She needs blowouts to overcome Obama’s lead in delegates, but I don’t see that happening.

“On the other hand, she has a case to make if she heads toward the convention having won New York, California, New Jersey, Texas, Ohio and maybe Pennsylvania. But if she’s still behind in the delegates, how do you give her the nomination?”

The danger for the Democrats is a standoff steeped in rancor. The Republicans, assuming Senator Obama will be the nominee, are already having a field day. Those claiming the high road are mocking his foreign policy positions while the lowlifes are making sport of his name, suggesting he is unpatriotic, inferring that he is a Muslim and trying to drive a wedge between him and Jewish voters.

Mr. Obama seems at the moment like someone standing alone against the attacks. Since he hasn’t secured the nomination, he doesn’t have the biggest names in the party rallying to his defense. His supporters are busy battling the Clintons. (The same would be the case for Senator Clinton if she were the front-runner but hadn’t wrapped up the nomination.)

A further complication for the Democrats is the possibility that the results in Texas — which has a ridiculously complex primary-caucus setup — will be unclear. If Senator Clinton wins Ohio and there’s a battle royal in Texas (both sides are prepared for a legal fight), the McCain forces will pop the corks on another round of Champagne.

Democratic voters are tremendously excited about this presidential election. In addition to the obvious concerns about war and the economy, voters in both the Clinton and Obama camps believe that some of the fundamental values of the United States are at risk. They are worried, for example, about the undermining of governmental checks and balances, the erosion of civil liberties and the makeup of the Supreme Court.

Tuesday’s elections may decide the nominee. But if they don’t, the wisest heads in the party will be faced with the awesome task of preventing a train wreck that would ruin what was supposed to have been a banner year.

Collins, Cohen and Kristof

February 28, 2008

TOMC typed something called “Hillary, Buckeye Girl,” where she says that if Hillary Clinton can win Ohio — and if she doesn’t, she is as cooked as reheated risotto — it will be because people here worry that Barack Obama is getting show-offy.  Mr. Cohen’s column is called “The Long Haul in Afghanistan,” and he says if troops are to stay until 2013, as the NATO secretary general suggests, the alliance will need re-branding.  Re-branding, like breakfast cereal…  Mr. Kristof tells us about “A Genocide Foretold,” and says without easing the outrage over Darfur — where the bloodshed has been particularly appalling lately — we must broaden the focus to include the threat to the south.  Here’s TOMC:

If Hillary Clinton were a state, she’d be Ohio.

This is a no-frills kind of place, suspicious of glamour. Barack Obama’s promise to make politics cool again doesn’t necessarily resonate here. Eight presidents came from Ohio, and the coolest was William McKinley.

When I grew up in Cincinnati, we always rooted for the players who worked really, really hard, not the ones who were so talented they made everything look easy. If Hillary were a baseball player, she’d be Pete Rose. Minus, of course, the unfortunate gambling issues and the tendency to scratch inappropriate places while standing in the infield.

So there she was Wednesday here in Zanesville, holding an economic summit in a gymnasium with a huge table stuffed full of participants, including the founder of Weight Watchers; former Senator John Glenn, the heroic astronaut who once put the entire Democratic presidential convention to sleep with his keynote speech; and the governor of Ohio, a vice presidential hopeful who looks like an unidentified passer-by.

“We have to start acting like Americans again, and roll up our sleeves and start solving our problems,” Clinton said, launching one of the least-exciting discussions of economic development in memory.

There she sat, one of the best-known human beings on the planet. The first woman ever to be a serious United States presidential contender; the face that launched a thousand books; a former first lady, current U.S. senator and survivor of the most famous sex scandal of the century. And yet she has managed to become the boring candidate in this primary.

This is one of the great anti-glamour stories in history. How could Ohio not relate?

If Hillary can win this one — and if she doesn’t, she is as cooked as reheated risotto — it will be because people here worry that Barack Obama is getting show-offy.

It’s not his fault. Contrary to rumor, he is not planting those people who faint from excitement at his rallies. Nevertheless, they continue to topple, and by now Barack is so used to this particular crisis that it has become almost a part of the rally routine. “If we have an E.M.T. in the house, I think somebody got faint,” he said calmly when a woman keeled over in front of the stage in Cincinnati. “They just need a little water and some juice.”

At the debate on Tuesday, Clinton followed through on her promise to hit Obama hard on campaign fliers that she said mischaracterized her positions on trade and health care. She had been billing this confrontation in terms usually reserved for professional wrestling grudge matches. But earlier that day, a right-wing radio commentator at a John McCain rally denounced Obama in terms so over the top that McCain felt obliged to apologize. After that, a sloppy quotation mark in a Nafta pamphlet sounded pretty petty.

What’s the Clinton campaign come to when she can’t get equal denunciation time from a right-wing nut job?

Back around Debate 10 — lo those many debates ago — Hillary routinely wiped the floor with Barack. He was reluctant and stumbling. She was confident and presidential. Then, as Adam Nagourney pointed out in The Times this week, he suddenly evolved. Now, he’s better than she is — calm and witty at crucial junctures, always to the point, never obsessing on the small stuff. After this week’s Debate 20, Hillary’s people gloated over the fact that Barack had said he agreed with her entirely on several key points, as if this was an admission of weakness rather than the key to his campaign — the promise to find whatever consensus there is and build on it.

If Hillary is stumbling, it may be because there just isn’t any good path to take. Nobody wants a bloodbath, and fighting against the first possible African-American president can be as tricky as going after the first possible woman. Still, she might have been able to handle all that, and the fact that he is a product of Kansas and Hawaii and Kenya, of Christians and Muslims, of a single mom on food stamps and Harvard Law, if he didn’t also turn out to have the best learning curve in political history.

You don’t often see a candidate on a trajectory like Obama’s, and at some point it will inevitably head down again. But until it does, even the original Bill Clinton would have a hard time beating him.

If things don’t go well for Hillary over the next few weeks, some of her consultants may need retraining for a promising new career in, say, motel management, but here’s what I hope she understands. She’s done fine. And she’d probably have won the nomination walking away if Barack hadn’t picked this moment to mutate into BARACK!

You do your best, and if things don’t work out, it just wasn’t your time. Life isn’t always fair.

All of which Ohio understands very well.

Here’s Mr. Cohen:

A whole post-cold-war European generation has grown up in peace, give or take “some Balkan horror on television,” which makes it hard to explain that “it’s a political and moral imperative to fight for our core values in the Hindu Kush.”

The words are those of Jaap de Hoop Scheffer of the Netherlands, the NATO secretary general. As he utters them, he leans forward, insisting that he doesn’t think “Europe is becoming pacifist.” But Afghanistan is testing European military resolve. It’s the long war. It’s Europe’s Iraq.

Just back from Afghanistan, where NATO now has some 50,000 troops deployed, de Hoop Scheffer tells me it will be four to five years before international forces can pull back, taking a limited role in support of the emergent Afghan National Army.

“A window of four to five years from now is an interesting window to watch in terms of reaching a situation where our forces are in the background,” he says. That takes us to 2013 or thereabouts. I wonder if a Europe more energized by carbon footprints than military footholds has the stomach for that.

Robert Gates, the U.S. defense secretary, has not concealed his concern over European commitment to the better war — better than Iraq, that is.

He’s had the honesty to say Iraq dampened European zeal to fight in Afghanistan. He’s pleaded for more troops and matériel. He’s warned that the alliance risks going “two-tiered,” with “some allies willing to fight and die to protect people’s security and others who are not.”

De Hoop Scheffer is categorical: “I am not overseeing a two-tier alliance.” Then he pulls back — “NATO is not monolithic.” Among the 26 members there are varying “caveats.” For that Latinism read limitations — set by the German, Spanish, Italian and other governments — on when, why and where soldiers will fight and die rather than do the soft-power, school-building, Euro thing.

“As secretary general, I will always advocate zero caveats and if zero is not achievable, I will fight for the least possible,” he tells me. “But I have to be realistic. If I must choose between forces with caveats or no forces at all, my choice is easily made.”

That’s understandable: 3,200 German troops in the quiet north are better than none. But as I’ve said before, it’s time for some Bundesmacht, or German war-fighting commitment.

Hauling Afghanistan from the Middle Ages and the Taliban’s vestigial clutches will involve every lever of power — economic, social, diplomatic and military. The last of these is not the least. If solidarity dissolves at the point of danger, the war’s lost.

Already, Canada, which does front-line stuff in the Afghan south, speaks of withdrawing its 2,500 troops if European allies don’t do more. The United States just committed 3,200 additional marines. No better front exists for President Nicolas Sarkozy of France to demonstrate his increased alliance commitment. He should dispatch more French troops.

“We are missing 10 percent of the military requirement we have set ourselves,” de Hoop Scheffer says. The shortfall includes close to two dozen training teams for the Afghan Army. “I am not happy until I get what we need. I want 100 percent.”

But if NATO gives more, so should President Hamid Karzai. “He can do better in fighting corruption and seeing that noncorrupt police chiefs are appointed,” de Hoop Scheffer says.

In one measure of the political disarray, Zalmay Khalilzad, the Afghan-born U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, has been getting daily calls from Afghan politicians urging him to run for president next year. He says he won’t. Still, the impression is widespread that Karzai’s office resembles a tea house.

Karzai blames Pakistan for the Taliban’s resurgence. He’s not wrong. U.S. policy toward Afghanistan and Pakistan has been all over the place. De Hoop Scheffer says: “NATO must enter into a serious dialogue with a new Pakistani government soon because those destabilizing Pakistan are the same as those destabilizing Afghanistan.”

I see Europeans yawning. Can Waziristan really be a threat to the West? O.K., the frontier regions are where Ayman al-Zawahiri and other Al Qaeda leaders are said to be hiding, but they’re isolated. As for the Madrid and London bombings, bad stuff happens. Always did, always will.

Such insouciance is an alliance failure. NATO has failed to prove its relevance to a post-modern European generation. NATO needs re-branding. It needs to be more hip in getting across where a precious peace came from.

I’d start with an ad campaign in which Poles or Slovaks enthuse about locking in security and freedom through NATO membership. Ask the Macedonians, Albanians and Croats why they’re banging on NATO’s door. Ukraine and Georgia should also be welcomed one day: Let the Russians, who once subjugated them, bleat.

Kabul is an unlikely Berlin, but as pivotal.

And here’s Mr. Kristof, writing from Juba, Sudan:

The Sudanese government started the first genocide of the 21st century in Darfur, and now it seems to be preparing to start the second here among the thatch-roof huts of southern Sudan.

South Sudan is rich in oil, but its people are among the poorest in the world, far poorer than those in Darfur. Only 1 percent of girls here finish elementary school, meaning that a young woman is more likely to die in pregnancy or childbirth than to become literate. Leprosy and Ebola linger here. South Sudan is the size of Texas, yet it has only 10 miles of paved road and almost no electricity; just about the only running water here is the Nile River.

The poverty is mostly the result of the civil war between North and South Sudan that raged across the southern part of the country for two decades and cost 2 million lives. For many impoverished villagers, their only exposure to modern technology has been to endure bombings by the Sudanese Air Force. The war finally ended, thanks in part to strong American pressure, in 2005 with a landmark peace agreement — but that peace is now fraying.

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir is backing away from the peace agreement, and prodding Arab militias to revive the war with the South Sudan military forces. Small-scale armed clashes have broken out since late last year, and it looks increasingly likely that Darfur will become simply the prologue to a far bloodier conflict that engulfs all Sudan.

Even my presence here is a sign of the rising tensions and mistrust. The Sudanese government refuses me visas, but the authorities in the south let me enter from Kenya without a visa because they want the word to get out that war is again looming.

The authorities in disputed areas such as the Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile State also welcomed me, rather than arresting me, even though those areas technically are on the northern side of the dividing line. Local officials in both areas warned that President Bashir and his radical Arab political party are preparing to revive the war against non-Arab groups in the south and center of the country.

“If things go on as they are now, war will break out,” said Sila Musa Kangi, the commissioner of Kormuk in Blue Nile. “And it can break out at any time.”

Although people speak of renewed “war,” the violence is more likely to resemble what happens in a stockyard. If it is like the last time, government-sponsored Arab militias will slaughter civilians so as to terrorize local populations and drive them far away from oil wells.

Under the 2005 deal that ended the war, Sudan is supposed to hold elections early next year, but President Bashir is unlikely to allow them because he almost surely would lose. Likewise, Mr. Bashir is unlikely to abide by his commitment to allow the south to hold a referendum in 2011 to decide whether to separate from Sudan because southerners would likely vote overwhelmingly for independence — and more than three-quarters of the country’s oil is in the south.

Already, the Sudanese government is backtracking on its commitments under the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, or C.P.A.: It still hasn’t withdrawn all of its troops from the south; it hasn’t accepted a boundary commission report for the oil-rich border area of Abyei; it keeps delaying a census needed for the elections; and it appears to be cheating the south of oil revenues. And the U.S. and other countries have acquiesced in all this.

“We say to the international community, ‘you midwifed the C.P.A., and then you left,’ ” said Rebecca Garang, the widow of the longtime southern leader, John Garang. “You must come back and check the baby.”

Those who focused on Sudan’s atrocities in Darfur, myself included, may have inadvertently removed the spotlight from South Sudan. Without easing the outrage over Darfur — where the bloodshed has been particularly appalling lately — we must broaden the focus to include the threat to the south.

One of the lessons of Darfur, Rwanda and Bosnia is that it is much easier to avert a genocide ahead of time than to put the pieces together afterward. So let’s not wait until gunshots are ringing out again all over the south.

There are steps that the U.S. can take to diminish the risk of a new war. We can work with the international community to raise the costs to President Bashir of defying his treaty obligations.

We can warn Sudan that if it starts a new war, we will supply anti-aircraft weapons to the south to make it harder for the north to resume bombing hospitals, churches and schools. We can also raise the possibility of protecting the south with a no-fly zone, which might be enough to deter Mr. Bashir from starting yet another genocide.

Collins and Herbert

February 23, 2008

La Collins says it’s “A Bad Year to Be a Mallard,” and points out that there is something about an election year that makes politicians start bragging about how many critters they’ve killed.  Mr. Herbert’s column is titled “Hillary on the High Road,” and he suspects that Hillary Clinton’s biggest hurdle from the beginning was the unforgiving nature of time — the tides of history changing.  Here’s La Collins:

“I shot a banded duck,” said Hillary Clinton.

Who says we have heard everything there conceivably could be to say from the presidential candidates?

There is something about an election year that makes politicians start bragging about how many furry or feathered critters they’ve killed. Otherwise, God forbid, voters might think they were interested in doing something about gun control.

So far, the most memorable gun comments during this campaign have been:

I’m pretty sure there will be duck hunting in heaven, and I can’t wait.” — Mike Huckabee

I’ve been a hunter pretty much all my life.” — Mitt Romney

I’ve always been a rodent and rabbit hunter. Small varmints if you will.” — Mitt Romney, amending the record once it was pointed out that he had never had a hunting license.

Maybe he can get out his small varmint gun and drive those Guatemalans off his yard.” — John McCain

My father taught me to shoot 100 years ago.” — Hillary Clinton

This last, which we believe to be a slight exaggeration, came last week in Wisconsin. At another stop, when someone asked about gun control, Clinton told a story about how she went duck-hunting when she lived in Arkansas, and how the rest of her group, all male, made her shoot first in an effort to embarrass her.

Thence followed a happy ending for everybody except the duck.

During this presidential campaign the nation has experienced an extraordinary number of grisly shooting incidents, including four mass murders on college campuses, two at suburban shopping malls and the slaughter of city officials at a Missouri town meeting.

Yet the subject of gun control never comes up. If people ask, politicians who have not been outdoors in months start tossing out hunter-talk in a manner that suggests that they’re driving around in a pickup with a deer carcass in the back.

Clinton used to be very vocal about gun control when she was running for Senate in New York, but now there’s nothing about it on her Web site. Barack Obama has a 64-page “Blueprint for Change” manual that you can download if you feel burdened by an excess of both leisure and paper. It does not mention gun control once.

Obama, to be fair, does not tell any stories about shooting waterfowl, and his campaign says he has never been hunting. However, he shares the general enthusiasm for avoiding the subject of gun control. In the old pre-presidential days, Obama indicated support for a ban on handguns in response to a questionnaire. Asked about that in Idaho recently, he said the form was filled out incorrectly by a staff member.

John McCain ran afoul of the National Rifle Association when he tried to close a legal loophole that allows gun sellers to avoid doing background checks if they conduct their business at gun shows. That was then. More recently, he was quoted as saying he believes the Second Amendment means “no gun control.”

Clinton hit a new peak of obfuscation when she suggested the issue be handed over to a gun control summit “where everybody comes together on all sides of this issue.” Really, the one potential downside of a Hillary Clinton presidency no one has discussed is the threat of summit overcrowding.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg says he sent a questionnaire to all the presidential candidates asking what they would do to help get illegal guns off the street. Only John Edwards and Ron Paul responded. (Maybe Obama was worried the rogue staff member might get his hands on it.)

There was a time in this country when we seemed within reach of a sane gun policy that would have included licensing, laws against multiple gun purchases and bans on weapons that were of no use for sports or personal protection, like say, assault rifles. There was vast public support for these ideas, but they were extremely unpopular among critical pockets of voters in swing states. Many people believe Al Gore lost West Virginia — and the 2000 election — because of National Rifle Association attack ads.

Since then, we’ve had the sound of silence. When Tim Russert brought up gun control during a Democratic debate in Nevada, the candidates seemed to stiffen, as if he’d made a tasteless joke.

“Well, I am against illegal guns,” said Clinton, unnecessarily, before getting to the point: “I am also a political realist, and I understand that the political winds are very powerful against doing enough to get guns off the street, get them out of the hands of young people.” For a finale, she retracted her former support for a national licensing registration plan.

Russert pointed out that as a state senator, Obama had talked a lot about licensing and registering gun owners, and he asked Obama if he would pursue that goal as president.

“I don’t think that we can get that done,” Obama responded.

Yes We Can’t.

Here’s Mr. Herbert:

A referee would stop the fight. Hillary Clinton is exhausted, and her supporters are becoming increasingly demoralized. The candidate who tried to present herself as inevitable has been out-maneuvered nearly every step of the way by a prodigy with a warm and brilliant smile who still seems as energetic as an athlete doing calisthenics before a big game.

Texas and Ohio and several other states still have to vote. But there was a wistful quality and a strong hint of resignation in Senator Clinton’s voice at the end of the debate Thursday night when, after saying she was “honored to be here with Barack Obama,” she added:

“Whatever happens, we’re going to be fine. We have strong support from our families and our friends. I just hope that we’ll be able to say the same thing about the American people.”

Mrs. Clinton said later that she had not become pessimistic about her chances to win the democratic presidential nomination. But her words were an unmistakable echo of John Edwards’s remarks last month when he ended his campaign in New Orleans.

Just a few months ago, the prevailing wisdom in the world of punditry was that the Obama campaign was in trouble. Senator Clinton was enjoying a huge advantage in fund-raising and big leads in national polls.

A pair of headlines placed side by side on the front page of The New York Observer in October said: “Aaaaugh-bama!” and “Clinton Campaign Gets in Gloat Mode with $27 Million.”

Senator Obama, according to the conventional wisdom, was too soft. His call for a new kind of politics was naïve. And quietly, behind the scenes, the widespread view was that he couldn’t get enough white votes to secure the nomination.

No one outside the Obama campaign was paying much attention to the disaster for the Clintons that was already taking shape in Iowa.

There’s nothing like the terra firma of hindsight. Senator Obama, it turned out, was a far more gifted candidate and strategist than many of us gave him credit for. And Senator Clinton, for all of her command of the issues, was mediocre, at best, on the stump. He was the inspirational leader. She remained the wonk.

And then there was Bill. It was an article of faith that Senator Clinton’s campaign had a built-in advantage: her husband was the smartest Democrat of them all. But when you think about it, Bill Clinton was never much of a benefactor for others in his party.

When he took office in January 1993, Democrats controlled the White House and both houses of Congress. Less than two years into his presidency, the Republicans swept to majorities in both houses, putting Newt Gingrich in line to become speaker. A New York Times article at the time described Democrats in the House as “disoriented.”

When Mr. Clinton left office in 2001, the Republicans were still in control of Congress, and the Monica Lewinsky scandal and impeachment had opened the door to the era of George W. Bush.

The former president’s less-than-magic touch in Senator Clinton’s presidential campaign contributed to her devastating defeat in the South Carolina primary. He’s been kept more or less under control since then.

You can analyze the Clinton campaign every which way from sundown. But I suspect that the senator’s biggest hurdle from the beginning was the unforgiving nature of time. The tides of history change. Some of Barack Obama’s young and most fervent supporters were just three or four years old when Bill and Hillary Clinton were joined by Al and Tipper Gore for a remarkably successful bus tour through eight states to kick off their campaign against George H.W. Bush and Dan Quayle in 1992.

The Clintons and the Gores seemed the embodiment of youthful promise, of change, and that turned the country on. Their campaign theme song was Fleetwood Mac’s “Don’t Stop,” with the crucial lyric, “Don’t stop thinking about tomorrow.”

Barack Obama, who is 46, the same age that Bill Clinton was on that bus tour, has managed in his campaign to make the Clintons seem the embodiment of yesterday. “Something better awaits us,” he told a cheering crowd after his victory in Iowa, “if we have the courage to reach for it.”

Senator Clinton’s options are not officially closed. But to have any chance at all, she would need a sudden startling string of prodigious victories against a candidate who is better-financed and riding a tremendous wave of momentum.

At the debate on Thursday night, Senator Clinton, who is 60, passed on a number of opportunities to harshly criticize Senator Obama. She refused to say that he was not ready to serve as the nation’s commander in chief. And she suggested that she does not intend to pursue a ruinous fight for superdelegates at the Democratic convention.

She seemed like someone unwilling to sacrifice her dignity or the interests of her party in an attempt to stave off a likely defeat.

Collins, Cohen and Kristof

February 21, 2008

Ms. Collins ponders the shooting down of the out-of-commission satellite.  She says as details emerged, the Pentagon’s plan to shoot down an intelligence-gathering satellite began to seem somewhat less attractive.  Mr. Cohen writes about “A Change to Believe In,” and says that sovereignty, in a globalized world, is more than authority over territory and people. It is also responsibility.  Mr. Kristof, writing from Kisumu, Kenya, discusses “Machetes and Elections,” and says the U.S. has pursued policies in Africa that are akin to our policies in Pakistan, and Mwai Kibaki of Kenya is one of our African Musharrafs.  Here’s Ms. Collins:

Let us pause to consider the Pentagon’s effort to shoot down USA-193, an intelligence-gathering satellite the size of a bus that went out of commission shortly after its launch in 2006 and then began hurtling toward Earth. A window of opportunity opened Wednesday night and soon the world will know whether it has been saved from peril.

This was a plan that I was originally behind 1,000 percent. Who among us wants to be hit by a falling bus? And the shooting-it-before-it-impacts strategy has worked well many times before, usually in movies starring Bruce Willis.

However, as details emerged, the plan began to seem somewhat less attractive. We’ve been sending stuff into orbit for half a century. An estimated 17,000 items, weighing up to 100 tons, have already fallen back into the atmosphere. The odds against one of them hitting a human being — I am thinking in particular of me — are, at worst, several million to one.

The critical thing about USA-193, according to the Pentagon, is that it was carrying an unusual amount of fuel, which could release toxic fumes on impact. According to Gen. James Cartwright of the Marines, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, it was the deadly gas threat that made President Bush decide to go for satellite assassination.

“It affects your tissues and your lungs. You know — it has a burning sensation,” General Cartwright said. “If you stay very close to it and inhale a lot of it, it could in fact be deadly.”

Let’s think about this for a minute. If you were, say, sitting on the porch reading the newspaper when a satellite plummeted into the backyard, emitting foul-smelling fumes, what are the chances you’d decide to stay very close to it and inhale a lot of it?

Continuing his explanation of the imminent threat, General Cartwright said that the gas might cover an area “roughly the size of two football fields” and any unlucky person who wound up within proximity “would at least incur something that would make you go to the doctor.”

The price tag for shooting USA-193 is up to $60 million. Try making a list of the threats to your personal safety that could be reduced for that amount of money. For instance, there’s a construction site next to our office building, and I personally spend a great deal of time worrying that the monster crane will come crashing through my office window and squash me. I bet $60 million would go a long way toward convincing the contractors to find another way to lift things.

Small, paranoid minds wondered if the government was not being completely forthright about its motives. The weapons the military mobilized to do the shooting are part of the missile defense system. Some people think the whole poison-gas story is just an excuse to give the Pentagon a chance to test its hardware.

This is only conceivable if you can imagine that the people who are in charge of intelligence-gathering might attempt to mislead the American public.

The only known instance of somebody shooting down a satellite occurred last year when the Chinese brought down one of their old weather satellites, also citing vague threats to humanity. At the time, the United States was extremely peeved and complained the Chinese were creating space debris. (If you’re going to play in outer space, you really should clean up after yourself.)

But in truth, our military thought their military was demonstrating that they could knock out anything we shot into space whenever they felt like it.

So there is this suspicion that we’re just trying to prove we can do it back. Which would only make sense if we believed the leaders of the military-industrial complex were capable of behaving like babies.

Other conspiracy theories include:

— The Pentagon is afraid the supersecret satellite will fall into the hands of our enemies, revealing the sophisticated new technology that conked out shortly after leaving Earth and utterly failed to accomplish its mission.

— Pentagon is hoping to bolster support for the missile defense system by demonstrating that it has many other side benefits, such as the ability to shoot down rogue satellites full of poisonous gas that could force victims to endure inconvenient waits at the doctor’s office.

— Pentagon wants something to think about besides sectarian religious feuds in the Middle East.

Before it fired at the satellite Wednesday night, the military was hesitating about making a shot, citing the possibility of “choppy seas.” Cynics who asked whether this means the nation’s quadrillion-dollar missile defense system only works when the weather is calm were told to stop being ridiculous.

All I know is, if something large and smelly plummets into your backyard, don’t forget to see a doctor.

Here’s Mr. Cohen:

Fidel Castro has quit after a half-century in power. An African-American has become a serious contender for the U.S. presidency, winning a 10th consecutive victory over his rival for the Democratic nomination. A new European state, Kosovo, has been born.

And that’s just in the last week.

Communist dictators don’t quit. Blacks don’t have broad U.S. electoral appeal. European borders don’t shift without bloodshed. History has been upended. Change, as Barack Obama would put it, is something you can believe in.

After the cold war’s end, and close to one million dead in the genocides of Bosnia (1992) and Rwanda (1994), and the digitally-induced dissolution of barriers and distances and hierarchies, some governments thought everything could remain the same.

They thought wrong, and not just in Havana and Pyongyang. They believed that in the age of globalization the principles of the Treaties of Westphalia, dating back to 1648, would be enough. In places like Moscow and Beijing and Belgrade, they clung to the idea that state sovereignty — the unfettered power of a state within its own jurisdiction — was the inviolable basis of international law.

Boris Tadic, the Serbian president, took this line at the United Nations this week, insisting that Kosovo’s independence ”annuls international law, tramples upon justice and enthrones injustice.”

He’s wrong. Let’s set aside the fact that Kosovo held one of the eight seats in the rotating presidency of a defunct state, Yugoslavia, and other holders of those federal seats from Slovenia to Bosnia to Macedonia all become independent.

At a deeper level, the story of little Kosovo is the story of changing notions of sovereignty and international law.

After the above-mentioned genocides, one perpetrated by the late Slobodan Milosevic of Serbia, both revealing a U.N. Security Council too divided to stop mass slaughter, NATO circumvented the council in 1999. It waged war for the first time to prevent Milosevic doing his worst again in Kosovo.

The war, in the words of Thomas Weiss, a political scientist at the City University of New York, ”had legitimacy even if its legality was questioned.” This legitimacy stemmed from an evolving consensus that, as Tony Blair once put it, ”acts of genocide can never be a purely internal matter.”

Sovereignty, after Bosnia, after Rwanda, in a globalized world, was more than authority over territory and people. It was also responsibility.

When that responsibility to protect was flouted, when a government abused the basic rights of its citizens through slaughter or ethnic cleansing, sovereignty could in effect be suspended. As Kofi Annan, the former U.N. secretary general, put it: ”State sovereignty, in its most basic sense, is being redefined.” For Annan, as Weiss has noted, ”Human rights transcended narrow claims of state sovereignty.”

Which brings us to ”R2P.” That’s not a rock band or a chemical compound.

In 2005, the World Summit adopted the ”responsibility to protect,” known by that acronym. R2P formalized the notion that when a state proves unable or unwilling to protect its people, and crimes against humanity are perpetrated, the international community has an obligation to intervene — if necessary, and as a last resort, with military force.

Member states declared that, with Security Council approval, they were prepared “to take collective action in a timely and decisive manner” when “national authorities manifestly fail to protect their populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.”

An independent Kosovo, recognized by major Western powers, is in effect the first major fruit of the ideas behind R2P. It could not have happened if the rights of human beings were not catching up at last with the rights of states.

Appropriately, Kosovo’s emergence coincided with the establishment in New York of the Global Center for the Responsibility to Protect, directed by Weiss. Backed by the Canadian, British and Dutch governments, among others, and with support from Ban Ki Moon, Annan’s successor, the organization’s mission is the spread of R2P principles.

They need bolstering. The Iraq war has revived a 21st century sovereignty fetish exploited by Sudan to stall U.N. efforts to stop genocide in Darfur, where the government has failed utterly in its ”responsibility to protect” without provoking “timely and decisive” international action.

Interventionism is increasingly seen in the Middle East and Africa as a camouflage for Western interests.

But I believe the tide will eventually turn. R2P will be a reference. It is part of what Lawrence Weschler has called ”the decades-long, at times maddeningly halting, vexed, and compromised effort to expand the territory of law itself.”

The ”territory of law” is now also the universal territory on which human life is protected. Westphalian principles meet R2P. An R2P generation is coming. The prizing open of the world is slow work, but from Kosovo to Cuba it continues.

Here’s Mr. Kristof:

Until he was circumcised with a machete in front of a jeering mob and then dragged off to be beheaded, Robert Ochieng had been a symbol of modern, post-tribal harmony in Kenya.

A member of the Luo ethnic group, 16-year-old Robert had played and studied with members of another ethnic group, the Kikuyu. They were friends. And then Kenya erupted in rioting after a rigged election, and suddenly Luos were chasing and killing Kikuyus, and a mob of Kikuyus was running down Robert.

He claimed that he was Kikuyu as well, but the suspicious mob stripped him naked and noted that he was not circumcised, meaning that he could not be Kikuyu. That’s when his attackers held him down — smashing his arm when he tried to protect himself — and performed the grotesque surgery in the street to loud cheers from a huge throng.

The crowd shouted war cries and was preparing to decapitate Robert with a machete when the police arrived and rescued him. Doctors did some repair work and say he will recover physically, but as he sat in a church shelter for the displaced here in Kisumu in western Kenya, he seethed with hostility that may never heal.

“When I see Kikuyu shops that have been burned down,” he told me, “I feel good inside.” Never again will Robert be friendly with Kikuyu or have anything to do with them; he is now a symbol of the primeval tribal tensions that threaten Kenya’s future.

The prime villain is President Mwai Kibaki, who would have been hailed as a hero if he had obeyed the will of the people in the December election. Instead, he — and a cast of thugs around him — appear to have stolen the election, starting a spiral of tribal violence that has killed more than 1,000 people and displaced 300,000. Mr. Kibaki’s intransigence risks the collapse of his country, possibly even civil war.

The man who probably had the election stolen from him, Raila Odinga, is a Luo, as was Barack Obama’s Kenyan father. Many Kenyans grimly note that a Luo may become president of the United States before being permitted to become president of Kenya.

Many Kenyans also say that the United States has been a part of the problem. In our desire for stability, we acquiesced in election irregularities in countries like Ethiopia and Nigeria, inadvertently signaling that Mr. Kibaki could get away with stealing re-election.

The United States cozied up to Mr. Kibaki and initially congratulated him on his “victory,” without being emphatic enough that election-rigging is intolerable.

Since then, the U.S. has come around and played a helpful role in nudging Mr. Kibaki to make concessions, and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s visit to Kenya on Monday usefully added pressure.

More broadly, the U.S. has pursued policies in Africa that are akin to our policies in Pakistan, and Mr. Kibaki is one of our African Musharrafs. In the interest of short-term stability, we acquiesce in despotic behavior that eventually creates instability. Granted, these are tough balances to strike. But look at Kenya or Pakistan today, and it’s clear that we got the balance wrong.

Flying over northern Kenya to Eldoret, you see smoke still rising from some of the countless Kikuyu farms that have been burned to the ground in areas where many Kikuyu were murdered. And here in Kisumu, the arriving Luo tell horrific stories.

“My wife was burned to death with our two children, aged 5 and 1 ½,” said Nicholas Ochieng, speaking as if in a daze. “Now I have no wife, no children, no house, no job. I have nothing.”

Mary Odhiambo, an aid worker tending to the new arrivals, said one shell-shocked woman arrived on a bus still clutching her husband’s head, wrapped up in newspapers, after a mob had hacked it off and mockingly presented it to her. A man arrived with his own severed penis in a sock.

“We have people coming in from Kikuyu areas, and they swear that before they die, they have to kill a Kikuyu,” said Ms. Odhiambo.

If Mr. Kibaki does not back down, Kenya will completely blow up. Kofi Annan is working heroically to broker a compromise, and a power-sharing agreement is possible in which Mr. Kibaki remains president for a couple of years and Mr. Odinga serves as prime minister.

But so far, Mr. Kibaki hasn’t been willing to make necessary concessions.

“If the talks collapse, there will be an explosion countrywide,” Mr. Odinga said in an interview, adding: “It will be bloodier than before.”

Collins and Herbert

February 16, 2008

TOMC’s column is titled “The Mittification of McCain.”  She says John McCain’s inconsistency is actually nothing new, and that we saw a lot of it during the Bush tax debates.  Mr. Herbert has a question:  How is it that you can have a rampage in broad daylight on a street in New York City and not be able to show in any way that the rampage occurred?  Here’s TOMC:

As Mitt Romney said this week when he endorsed John McCain, the campaign might have been rough but “we always had good laughs together.” As examples of this hitherto-unnoticed good fellowship, Mitt pointed cheerily to the fact that he and McCain had shaken hands before the debates and “said hi to each others’ wives.”

Getting along with people you loathe is part of the business of politics, and nobody is blaming McCain for buddying up to the man he virtually accused of aiding and abetting Al Qaeda during the Florida primary. Although when you’ve said that somebody’s campaign was “based on a wholesale deception of voters,” calling it a “hard, intensive, fine, honorable” effort is perhaps one adjective too many.

It’s not as if McCain has been caving in on anything important, like economic recovery …

(Feb. 6: The Senate votes on a Democratic economic stimulus plan, which would give more help to the unemployed, veterans and senior citizens than the version President Bush wants. Forced to choose between Bush and the unemployed/veterans/elderly, McCain flew back to Washington and — skipped the vote.)

Or torture …

(Feb. 13: The Senate considers a bill, vehemently opposed by the White House, which would prohibit C.I.A. interrogators from using tactics like waterboarding on detainees. McCain, whose ringing denunciation of waterboarding was the highlight of the Republican debates, votes — no. He says his own Detainee Treatment Act already bans use of physical force during interrogations. This would be the law that Bush, in one of his famous signing statements, said the president did not have to follow.)

Perhaps all this is just a momentary lapse, caused by McCain’s need to keep a lid on the Republican right while Mike Huckabee is still in the race. True, Huckabee appears to be hopelessly, impossibly, behind. However, his consultants are said to be working on a new and promising strategy that involves triggering an earthquake along the San Andreas fault, causing the West Coast to sink into the sea, dramatically reducing McCain’s current delegate count.

McCain’s inconsistency is actually nothing new. We saw a lot of it during the Bush tax debates. McCain opposed the tax cuts as unwise and unfair, and then opposed getting rid of them under the theory that it would be a shock to the upper-income people who benefited from them and never noticed they were scheduled to expire. McCain seems to have developed a kind of right-to-life theory of economics under which any tax cut that comes into being has to remain on the books for all eternity.

The senator from Arizona is clearly unhappy about the possibility of having to run against Barack Obama, who he has disliked ever since Obama had the temerity to present himself as a campaign finance reformer without McCain’s permission. And the fact that the 46-year-old Obama keeps referring to the 71-year-old McCain as a military hero, in tones that suggest the conflict in question was the Spanish Civil War, doesn’t help.

If McCain wants to retaliate, he might consider this week’s hearings of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, which called into question the entire basis of Obama’s candidacy.

You may remember that the committee, in its unrelenting pursuit of government reform, has been devoting its time to the critical issue of whether or not Roger Clemens took steroids. After all the questioning was over, the Democrats felt Clemens was a liar and the committee chairman called Brian McNamee, his weaselly ex-trainer, “very credible.” Meanwhile, the Republicans on the committee said McNamee was an unreliable drug dealer and their leader suggested Clemens was the victim of a “lynching.”

Now Obama’s big selling point is his promise to get rid of mindless partisanship on heavy issues like health care. His signature pledge is to put the health care negotiations on C-Span so the lawmakers would feel that they’re under public scrutiny and thus be compelled to work together for the common good.

Do you wonder if this is really going to work when the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform was posturing for network news and still couldn’t even agree on whether Roger Clemens is a jerk?

I’m just asking.

Correction: Thursday’s column underestimated the number of caucusgoers in the state of Washington. While the Republicans are still counting, the Democrats estimated 244,458 attendees at their caucuses. That amounts to more than 7 percent of the state’s registered voters.

Here’s Mr. Herbert:

 It happened last spring.

The police commissioner’s office and a New York City police captain tried to convince the public that a marauding band of kids had gotten out of control and terrified residents, motorists and pedestrians on a street in the Bushwick section of Brooklyn.

The cops were wrong. And they must have known that they were wrong, that the picture they were creating of youngsters climbing on top of cars and blocking vehicular and pedestrian traffic was completely false.

The Brooklyn district attorney, Charles Hynes, carried the canard further. That had to have been deliberate, too. He went on the Brian Lehrer radio program on WNYC and said that his office had investigated the matter — had conducted what he described as an “independent inquiry.”

“We had many, many interviews with local store owners and people who live in the neighborhood who are, frankly, scared to death of these kids,” he said. “And they were not just walking on one car; they were trampling on all sorts of cars. It was almost as if they were inviting their arrest.”

Thirty-two people were arrested on that Bushwick street last May 21, including young women and children. They had been walking along a quiet, tree-lined block of Putnam Avenue on their way to a subway station where they had hoped to catch a train to attend a wake for a friend who had been murdered. The police, who have said that the friend was a gang leader, surrounded the group and closed in.

The youngest person arrested was 13. All of the kids were handcuffed, cursed at and humiliated, and several spent 30 hours or more in jail.

To date, there has been no evidence produced — no witnesses, no photographs or videotapes, no dented vehicles or broken mirrors, nothing whatsoever — to indicate that any of the youngsters had done anything at all that was wrong.

How is it that you can have a rampage in broad daylight on a street in New York City and not be able to show in any way that the rampage occurred?

At least 22 of the 32 people arrested have had their charges dismissed or were never formally charged at all. No one has been convicted of anything.

The case against 18-year-old Zezza Anderson was dropped last month after his lawyer, Ron Kuby, filed a motion demanding that Mr. Hynes’s office produce documentary evidence of the youngsters misbehaving. No evidence was produced. Instead, an assistant district attorney moved to have the charges against Mr. Anderson dismissed, acknowledging that the case against the defendant could not be proved.

I’d like to know why, after the better part of a year, the authorities are still tormenting some of these kids. Why are charges still hanging over 10 of them? Why should it take more than nine months to resolve charges of unlawful assembly and disorderly conduct?

A number of the kids have missed days at school to show up for court dates at which nothing of consequence happens. Asher Callender, a senior at Bushwick Community High School, had to go to court on Friday, only to have his case postponed again until March 3.

These are not gangsters. These are not drug dealers. These are kids who were trying to go to a wake for a friend. It was not the kids who were out of control, it was the criminal justice system, which can’t seem to tell the difference between right and wrong, between the truth and deliberate lies, or between justice on the one hand and gratuitously cruel behavior by public officials on the other.

All the charges in this case should be dropped and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, who apparently wants to be mayor of this city, and District Attorney Hynes should offer the kids a public apology.

The authorities have become accustomed to treating disadvantaged young people in New York City like dirt and getting away with it. In this case, local school officials, community residents and the civic group Make the Road New York rallied to the youngsters’ cause.

Neither the police nor the district attorney expected to be confronted in any kind of sustained way over their treatment of these kids. Mr. Hynes said on the radio program: “None of these kids are going to be prosecuted. They’re not going to go to jail … We are going to offer every one of them community service.”

What he meant was that he expected the kids to go quietly, to plead guilty and passively accept the blot on their records and what he thought of as mild punishment.

But the kids had a surprise for him. They refused to plead guilty to something they hadn’t done. Ten of them are still paying the price for standing up for themselves.

Collins, Cohen and Kristof

February 14, 2008

TOMC says Democrats are having an exciting race for the presidential nomination, which always means trouble.  Roger Cohen says the fact is that the independence of Kosovo is justified, unique and unavoidable.  Mr. Kristof says America spends millions of dollars bolstering public diplomacy to the Islamic world — and then undoes it all with Guantánamo Bay.  Here’s TOMC:

Once again, we are discovering that our election process works great as long as it doesn’t actually have to decide anything.

Democrats are having an exciting race for the presidential nomination, which always means trouble. Now we’re being told that it all comes down to Ohio (currently engaged in voting-machine litigation) and Texas, which has a system that involves both a primary and a caucus.

One-third of the states that have voted for a presidential nominee so far have done it by caucus. There is an impression abroad that these caucuses are grass-roots democracy, like those cute town meetings in “The Gilmore Girls.” Even if that were true, which it’s not, consider whether you would really want a presidential nominee selected by about 20 colorful characters in a barn.

Most people have never been to a caucus, even if their state happens to have them. In Washington, the caucuses last Saturday drew a little more than 1 percent of the registered voters. Mike Huckabee won his much-heralded victory in Kansas in caucuses where less than 20,000 Republicans participated.

I was at a Democratic caucus at the South Portland High School gymnasium in Maine last weekend. It was run by some lovely, public-spirited people and was attended by about 1,000 voters who took the trouble to come out of their homes on an extremely snowy Sunday. Kudos to all. However, on the down side:

A) The parking lot was also accommodating the audience for the final performance of “High School Musical.” Hillary! Barack! Troy! Gabriella! If only they’d had Hannah Montana in the library, we could have backed up the cars into New Hampshire.

B) The gym’s seating was not constructed for people over the age of 18. If you were inspired by those Iraqis with purple fingers, envision an elderly man with a cane trying to clamber up over several tiers of benches so he could spend the afternoon sitting on a backless bench in order to vote for a presidential nominee.

C) The caucus was scheduled to open at 1 p.m. Three hours later, they were just approaching the part where people actually vote.

“I know this is not the most pleasant place to spend the afternoon,” said Larry Bliss, a state representative who seemed as close to being in charge as anyone. Babies cried. Clinton supporters diverted themselves by spelling out HILLARY over and over. The Obama supporters, who were clearly more numerous, had not remembered to bring giant letters and were having a little trouble with BARACK.

Caucuses normally work fine because somewhere around the New Hampshire primary, the presidential nominees usually become a foregone conclusion. Then the only job for the parties in other states is to conscript a handful of delegates to a state convention and ratify the inevitable choice. Caucuses are great for this. And the states like them because they don’t have to pay for a real primary. This is the crucial point. Caucuses have nothing to do with recapturing the spirit of the New England town meeting. They exist because they cost the states nothing. And you get what you pay for.

The South Portland Democrats, who were all working as volunteers, had prepared for the 1,000-odd voters who showed up. But they could not handle the very large number who were not party members and had to be registered before the caucus could get under way. Then came speeches from candidates for Congress and the State Legislature. Then the nominating speeches, which were complicated by the fact that about a dozen Dennis Kucinich partisans insisted on speaking out for their man. The attorney general of Rhode Island spoke for Obama and then introduced Representative Patrick Kennedy of Rhode Island, who spoke for Obama again.

State Representative Bliss then announced that it appeared that Barack had really gotten two speeches, so there would be additional remarks by the Clinton and Kucinich camps to make everything fair.

That was about when we lost a woman who was on chemotherapy. An elderly lady with hip problems stuck it out to the bitter end and should be given a Medal of Freedom.

Finally, it was time for people to divide into groups and be counted. On one side of the gym, a leader was addressing the confused crowd through a toy megaphone, for want of any better amplification system. “I’m reading the instructions as we go along,” he said.

On the other side, once voters were divided into Clinton, Obama and Kucinich camps, and noses counted, the leaders seemed at a loss as to what to do next. “We’ll get back to you,” one of them told the crowd. About 20 minutes later, everyone was dismissed. They had yet to figure out exactly who had won what.

I can’t wait for Texas.

I can’t wait for her to STFU.  Here’s Mr. Cohen:

Europe will get a new state, Kosovo, on Sunday and the long, bloody unraveling of Yugoslavia will be concluded 17 years after the first war of its dissolution broke out in Slovenia. That is cause for celebration.

I say celebration although Serbia will rail against what its prime minister calls “this fictitious state on Serbian territory,” and the Russian bear will growl, and Balkan tensions will flare for a while, and lawyers will fret over precedent.

The fact is the independence of Kosovo is justified, unique and unavoidable. There is no other way. Serbia lost a nationalist gamble on Kosovo a long time ago; the differences stemming from it are unbridgeable. Further delay of the inescapable can only damage the region.

So, come Sunday, I am reliably told, Kosovo will proclaim independence and early next week major powers — including the United States, France, Britain and Germany — will recognize the new state.

European Union foreign ministers meet Monday and may agree on a “platform” statement saying conditions for recognition have been met. A clear majority of the 27 European Union members — certainly no less than 20 — are expected to recognize Kosovo rapidly.

Cyprus, with its Turkish-occupied northern third, will lead the holdouts. Other European Union states that are recognition-reluctant, some out of concern over separatist minorities, include Spain, Romania, Slovakia, Greece and Bulgaria.

Unanimity would be nice, but broad consensus is sufficient. Thanks largely to the work of Wolfgang Ischinger, the German ambassador to Britain, the European Union will be united enough. More important, the United States and Europe will march in step, not a frequent occurrence of late.

“This has been a common endeavor illustrating the way we and Europe ought to work together,” said Frank Wisner, the former U.S. ambassador to India who labored fruitlessly with Ischinger last year to bring Kosovo and Serbia closer. Wisner’s view: “There was never an attempt by anyone in Belgrade to reach out to a Kosovar Albanian.”

Reaching out to Kosovo had scarcely been the Serbian thing in recent decades. Slobodan Milosevic, the late dictator, set Serbia’s murderous nationalist tide in motion on April 24, 1987, when he went to Kosovo to declare that Serbian “ancestors would be defiled” if ethnic Albanians had their way.

Milosevic’s quashing of Kosovo’s autonomy was central to his conversion of Yugoslavia into “Serboslavia.” The revolt against his bullying brought independence to former Yugoslav republics from Croatia to Macedonia. Serbs will kick and scream, but Kosovo is just the last piece of a dead state to go its inevitable way.

Albanians accounting for about 95 percent of a Kosovo population of 2.1 million cannot be reconciled with a Serbia that suppressed, beat up, evicted and killed them until NATO’s 1999 intervention. Belgrade is no Berne: a Pristina inside Serbia would always be Pariahville.

But, Serbs protest in their blind pursuit of an untenable moral equivalency, the Kosovo Liberation Army were no kittens. Nor, once the Serbian genocide against Bosnian Muslims of April to September 1992 was completed, was the emergent Bosnian army. That’s right: persecute a people with enough savagery and they will in the end unite, rise up, fight and go their own way.

What will Serbia do now? Vojislav Kostunica, the nationalist prime minister, says he won’t allow “such a creation to exist for a minute.”

That’s been the nihilistic Serbian drumbeat ever since United Nations Resolution 1244 of 1999 made clear that a U.N.-overseen and NATO-protected autonomy in Kosovo would extend only until “a final settlement.” Belgrade never wanted to settle.

I expect Serbia to make modest trouble but stop short of violence and cutting off Kosovo’s electricity. Some of the 120,000 Serbs in Kosovo may hit the road. Serbs in the pocket north of Mitrovica may be encouraged to go for partition.

But the recent election of a pro-western Serbian president, Boris Tadic, will be a force for restraint. So will U.S. and European pressure on Albanians. Kosovo’s prime minister, Hashim Thaci, has been making gestures to Serbs: that’s positive.

Russia will call an emergency United Nations Security Council meeting. It will scream. But it’s backed the wrong horse. Europe is right to demonstrate that it will not cave to Moscow’s pressure. Ultimately, Serbia will want to move toward European Union membership.

Kosovo is not Transdniestria or Abkhazia or South Ossetia. It is an anachronistic remnant of a now defunct country, Yugoslavia, a province that has been under U.N. administration for eight years pending a final settlement impossible within Serbia. Milosevic rolled the dice of genocidal nationalism and lost.

In the long run, I believe this outcome will be positive for Serbia. Instead of dwelling on medieval battles, victory-in-defeat symbolism, shrinking borders and a poisonous culture of victimization, Serbia will begin to see what it wrought and look forward — to the West rather than the East.

Here’s Mr. Kristof:

The most famous journalist you may never have heard of is Sami al-Hajj, an Al Jazeera cameraman who is on a hunger strike to protest abuse during more than six years in a Kafkaesque prison system.

Mr. Hajj’s fortitude has turned him into a household name in the Arab world, and his story is sowing anger at the authorities holding him without trial.

That’s us. Mr. Hajj is one of our forgotten prisoners in Guantánamo Bay.

If the Bush administration appointed an Under Secretary of State for Antagonizing the Islamic World, with advice from a Blue Ribbon Commission for Sullying America’s Image, it couldn’t have done a more systematic job of discrediting our reputation around the globe. Instead of using American political capital to push for peace in the Middle East or Darfur, it is using it to force-feed Mr. Hajj.

President Bush is now moving forward with plans to try six Guantánamo prisoners before a military tribunal, rather than hold a regular trial. That will call new attention to abuses in Guantánamo and sow more anti-Americanism around the world.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice pushed last year to close Guantánamo because of its wretched impact on American foreign policy. But they lost the argument to Alberto Gonzales and Dick Cheney. So America spends millions of dollars bolstering public diplomacy and sponsoring chipper radio and television broadcasts to the Islamic world — and then undoes it all with Guantánamo.

Suppose the Iranian government arrested and beat Katie Couric, held her virtually incommunicado for six years and promised to release her only if she would spy for Iran. In such circumstances, Iranian investments in public diplomacy toward the United States wouldn’t get very far, either.

After Mr. Hajj was arrested in Afghanistan in December 2001, he was beaten, starved, frozen and subjected to anal searches in public to humiliate him, his lawyers say. The U.S. government initially seems to have confused him with another cameraman, and then offered vague accusations that he had been a financial courier and otherwise assisted extremist groups.

“There is a significant amount of information, both unclassified and classified, which supports continued detention of Sami al-Hajj by U.S. forces,” said Cmdr. Jeffrey Gordon, a Pentagon spokesman, adding that the detainees are humanely treated and “receive exceptional medical care.”

Military officials did acknowledge that Mr. Hajj was not considered a potential suicide bomber and probably would have been released long ago if he had just “come clean” by responding in greater detail to the allegations and showing remorse.

Mr. Hajj’s lawyers contend that he has already responded in great detail to every allegation. One indication that the government doesn’t take its own charges seriously, the lawyers say, is that the U.S. offered Mr. Hajj a deal: immediate freedom if he would spy on Al Jazeera. Mr. Hajj refused.

Most Americans, including myself, originally gave President Bush the benefit of the doubt and assumed that the inmates truly were “the worst of the worst.” But evidence has grown that many are simply the unluckiest of the unluckiest.

Some were aid workers who were kidnapped by armed Afghan groups and sold to the C.I.A. as extremists. One longtime Sudanese aid worker employed by an international charity, Adel Hamad, was just released by the U.S. in December after five years in captivity. A U.S. Army major reviewing his case called it “unconscionable.”

Mr. Hajj began his hunger strike more than a year ago, so twice daily he is strapped down and a tube is wound up his nose and down his throat to his stomach. Sometimes a lubricant is used, and sometimes it isn’t, so his throat and nose have been rubbed raw. Sometimes a tube still bloody from another hunger striker is used, his lawyers say.

“It’s really a regime to make it as painful and difficult as possible,” said one of his lawyers, Zachary Katznelson.

Mr. Hajj cannot bend his knees because of abuse he received soon after his arrest, yet the toilet chair he was prescribed was removed — making it excruciating for him to use the remaining squat toilet. He is allowed a Koran, but his glasses were confiscated so he cannot read it.

All this is inhumane, but also boneheaded. Guantánamo itself does far more damage to American interests than Mr. Hajj could ever do.

To stand against torture and arbitrary detention is not to be squeamish. It is to be civilized.

Comment on this column on my blog at: www.nytimes.com/ontheground. I also have guest bloggers there, including a public school teacher in Chicago, a Columbia University public health specialist in Rwanda, a British midwife in Ethiopia and an American aid worker in Bangladesh.