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Liberal Opinion

Liberal Opinion Week

July 24, 2013

Vol. 24 NO. 30 July 24, 2013



E.J. Dionne Jr.

Raising the stakes on immigration If you want to alleviate worries about the economic impact of immigration reform, increase the minimum wage. If you want to reassure communities that bear the highest costs from largescale immigration, revisit a proposal from 2006 by a senator named Hillary Clinton to help state and local governments cover some of the expense of providing health care and education to undocumented workers. What do these suggestions have in common? They address legitimate concerns while issuing a challenge to Republicans who believe they can block reform and still win future elections -as long as they expand their support among the white working class. The catch for the GOP is that it doesn’t seem eager to do anything concrete to earn the loyalty of such voters, many of whom stayed home in 2012 rather than vote for Mitt Romney. Battling for a higher minimum wage would test the Republicans’ newfound love for the salt of the earth. Are they willing to embrace an idea endorsed by seven in 10 Americans? Or do they retreat to Romney’s rhetoric privileging “job creators” over workers? Raising the minimum wage would also respond to a claim being put forward by opponents of immigration reform. “The last thing low-skilled native and immigrant workers already here should have to deal with is wage-depressing competition from newly arriving workers,” wrote William Kristol and Rich Lowry in a joint editorial this week signaling an enhanced level of opposition on the right to the Senate immigration bill. It’s heartwarming to know that the editors of the Weekly Standard and National Review are now worried about depressed wages. In truth, granting immigrants who are here illegally basic labor rights would have a positive effect on wages for all workers. But if Kristol and Lowry are really worried about low-paid workers, let their next literary collaboration be an endorsement of a $9 or $10 hourly minimum wage. Clinton’s 2006 proposal likewise has the virtue of giving a substantive reply to questions regularly voiced by immigration foes. The fiscal benefits of immigration reform to the federal government have

been documented by the Congressional Budget Office, which estimated it would reduce the deficit by nearly $850 billion over two decades. But states and localities face additional public costs for schools and health care when they need to provide services for many immigrants who arrived illegally. The result can be higher property and sales taxes that hit working-class Americans hardest. It makes sense for the federal government to share some of reform’s fiscal bounty with governments lower down the chain. Such assistance would be a better use of the $46 billion the Senate added to the bill to further militarize our southern border. The minimum wage and fiscal relief link to a larger imperative: With so many Republicans deciding that obstructing immigration reform is worth the political risks with Latino voters, this can no longer be seen a

normal legislative fight. Indeed, given the inclinations of House Republicans, there are no “normal” legislative fights anymore. Kristol and Lowry gave the game away: “In any case, House Republicans should make sure not to allow a conference with the Senate bill.” In other words, down with the traditional ways of reaching compromise. Just say no, and no, and no again. President Obama should see nattering negative nabobism as an invitation: Immigration reform now has to be dealt with as part of a concerted effort to create an economy that grows because it’s more just -- and is more just because it’s growing. Low- and middle-income workers took the biggest hit in the Great Recession, as a report released this week by the National Employment Law Project showed. Real median hourly wages fell overall by 2.8 percent

between 2009 and 2012, but by 5 percent or more in half of the top 10 low-wage occupations. Immigration reform is easier to kill if it is disconnected from the concerns of such wage earners. It’s easier to pass if it is seen as a necessary step toward an inclusive economy where the rights of native-born workers are strengthened because the rights of immigrants are protected -- and where the real wages of average workers are rising again. As for Republicans who want to stake their future on the working class, by all means let’s welcome a healthy competition. Let these voters ask the GOP: What will you do to raise our pay? And, by the way, new tax cuts for the rich are not an answer to the question. E.J. Dionne’s email address is (c) 2013, Washington Post Writers Group 13-7-10


Liberal Opinion Week

July 24, 2013

Jules Witcover

Amnesty, American style We Americans like to think of ourselves as a forgiving people, willing to turn the other cheek to offense in the interest of getting on with life. Although the most conservative of us rail against “amnesty” in its many forms, we actually practice it repeatedly. The Senate immigration reform bill, passed by all the Democrats and 14 Republicans, advocates forgiveness toward foreigners entering and staying here illegally. The bill offers them an eventual path to citizenship, as well as measures to beef up security on the southern border that prevent others from crossing illegally. House Republicans vow that they see the political need for extending conditional amnesty. But they seem bent on watering down the Senate bill with their own piecemeal approach to immigration reform that looks increasingly like a means to scuttle any at all. The Obama administration, meanwhile, harangued by complaints from employers of at least 50 workers, has agreed to a temporary amnesty of a different sort: a year’s delay in the health-care law’s mandate to cover employees. Rather than rejoicing over the reprieve, they and Republican allies

in the House continue their fight to “repeal and replace” the hated “Obamacare.” Admittedly, there’s little forgive and forget there. On the purely political front, amnesty is being sought for sexscandal principals Mark Sanford in South Carolina, as he has returned to Congress, and Anthony Weiner and Eliot Spitzer in New York as they seek a resurrection in public office. What was famously extended to Bill Clinton in beating the impeachment rap as president offers hope to each of them. We’re even seeing the extension of amnesty to former President George W. Bush, architect of the disastrous war of choice against Iraq and benign overseer of the Great Recession. His approval rating is rising in public opinion polls barely four years after he quietly exited office. To Bush’s credit, he is aware of the diminished public esteem with which he went out the door, and he has kept an uncommonly low profile for a former president. His recent and well-modulated endorsement of some manner of immigration reform echoes his views as a Texas governor. But he isn’t regarded as particularly influential in rallying Republican ranks to the cause.

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Down in Texas, the announcement of Gov. Rick Perry that he will not seek a fourth term was greeted, somewhat surprisingly, with some speculation that he might make a second try for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016. Such a move would be a bid for political amnesty of a sort, considering his abysmally embarrassing first try last year. He clearly demonstrated then that he wasn’t ready for prime time on that elevated stage. At the same time, we’re witnessing the publicized if otherwise invisible quest for political amnesty by national security surveillance whistleblower Edward Snowden. Having been branded a traitor in some quarters, Snowden has resurrected the same debate that seized national and international attention after Daniel Ellsberg leaked of the Pentagon Papers of the Vietnam War era. In a sense, the one individual who contributed more to the public debate over amnesty remains himself out in the political cold. Mitt Romney, after his remarks advocating self-deportation by illegal immigrants and writing off of “the 47 percent of Americans” he deemed politically forgettable in his failed 2012 presidential campaign,

has all but vanished from the public discourse. Perhaps he wonders what Dubya has done to deserve amnesty from the American people after his disastrous presidency, and hopes to emulate it to snap back from his sudden obscurity. An old axiom of politics for gauging a politician’s public support supposedly is his or her ability to respond favorably to the question: “What have you done for me lately?” Now, with amnesty everywhere in the air, the question seems, simply and forgivably, to be: “What have you done to me lately?” F. Scott Fitzgerald was wrong when he said in “The Last Tycoon” that “there are no second acts in American lives.” We have plenty of them, for adequate reason, whether for 11 million immigrants seeing amnesty or a few lost political souls seeking redemption. That’s the generosity of the American spirit, whatever label you want to put on it. Jules Witcover’s latest book is “Joe Biden: A Life of Trial and Redemption” (William Morrow). You can respond to this column at (c) 2013 Tribune Media Services, Inc. 13-7-11

Reference Guide Government

Immigration 1 Dionne 2 Witcover Republicans 3 Robinson 4 Krugman 4 Collins House 5 Witcover Health Care Reform 6 Harrop Prosperity 6 Krugman Economy 7 Meyerson Gender Revolution 8 Dionne

Government Obama 8 Kaul 9 Klein Spitzer-Weiner 10 Carlson 10 Marcus 11 Collins 12 Press 12 Marcus 13 Bruni Abortion 14 Young Blog 15 Hartmann

16-17 Liberal Delineations



18 Scheer 18 Robinson 19 Friedman 20 Witcover 20 Harrop 21 Greco and Collins

25 Estrich

Egypt and Syria


Summer Heat 22 Dvorak


22 Kristof Muslims 23 Bruni


24 Peirce 24 Pizzigati

Flight Attendants Republicans 25 Hightower

Nutrition 26 Petri

Petroleum/Fracking 26 Richardson 27 Brasch

Martin-Zimmerman Trial 28 Page 28 Page 29 Blow 30 Lyons 30 Estrich 31 Marcus

Liberal Opinion Week

July 24, 2013


Eugene Robinson

Party of No Self-delusion is a sad spectacle. Watching Republicans convince themselves that killing immigration reform actually helps the GOP is excruciating, and I wish somebody would make it stop. House Speaker John Boehner’s unruly caucus has been busy convincing itself not to accept or even modify the bipartisan immigration bill passed by the Senate. Rather, it wants to annihilate it. It’s not that these Republicans want a different kind of comprehensive reform, it’s that they don’t want comprehensive reform at all. The Obama administration “cannot be trusted to deliver on its promises to secure the border and enforce laws as part of a single, massive bill,” Boehner and the GOP leadership said in a statement. Instead, the idea is supposedly to deal with the tightly woven knot of immigration issues one at a time. That’s like sitting down with a piece of cake and saying, “First I’m going to eat the flour, then the sugar, then the eggs.” House Republicans think they can begin with “border security,” which would be laughable if the need for real immigration reform were not so serious. It is ridiculous to think the nearly 2,000-mile border between the U.S. and Mexico can be made impregnable.

The border, after all, was judged 84 percent secure last year by the federal Government Accountability Office -- meaning that only 16 percent of attempts to enter the country illegally from Mexico were successful. Any improvement, at this point, will necessarily be fairly modest. Perhaps Republicans know of a land border somewhere in the world that is 100 percent secure. I don’t. And never mind that the

flow of undocumented migrants is way down from its peak while apprehensions of would-be migrants are way up. According to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, the Senate bill, if enacted, could slash illegal immigration in half. No realistic increase in border security would do as much. So the House Republicans’ intransigence isn’t really about the border. It’s about avoiding the central question, which is what to do about the 11 million undocumented migrants who are here already. In the view that has become farright dogma, giving these people a path to citizenship “rewards bad behavior” and puts them ahead of presumably well-behaved foreigners who are waiting “in line” for admittance. For the most adamant House Republicans, giving the undocumented any legal status and permission to stay would amount to “amnesty.” No legal status, of course, means no solution. Opponents of comprehensive reform should just come out and say what they mean: Rather than accept measures that studies say would not only reduce illegal immigration but also boost economic growth, House Republicans would prefer to do

nothing. This makes no sense as policy or as politics. Amazingly, however, some conservatives who should know better -- magazine editors Bill Kristol of The Weekly Standard and Rich Lowry of National Review -now contend that the GOP would actually help itself politically by killing the Senate immigration bill. This line of argument -- I can’t call it reasoning -- holds that the Senate bill must be killed because it does not end illegal immigration for all time, it does not fix the legal immigration system for all time, and it is really long. The GOP should not waste time and effort chasing after Latino and Asian-American votes, according to this view, and instead should concentrate on winning working-class whites with an economic message for the striving middle class. As for the Senate bill, Kristol and Lowry wrote in a joint editorial that “House Republicans can do the country a service by putting a stake through its heart.” Some House Republicans worry openly that giving undocumented aliens a path to citizenship will eventually add millions of Democratic voters to the rolls. But they should be more concerned about the millions of Latino citizens who are unregistered or do not bother to vote. Democrats are making a concerted play for these people. Republicans are telling them they’d like to deport their relatives and friends. Most House Republicans have nothing to worry about for the time being; their districts are safe. But the GOP’s fortunes in national contests -- and eventually in statewide races as well -- will be increasingly dim. Maybe they’ll wake up when Texas begins to change from red to blue. In the meantime, it’s sad to see a once-great political party carry on as if whistling past the graveyard were a plan. Eugene Robinson’s email address is (c) 2013, Washington Post Writers Group 13-7-12


Liberal Opinion Week

July 24, 2013

Paul Krugman

Delusions of Populism Have you heard about “libertarian populism” yet? If not, you will. It will surely be touted all over the airwaves and the opinion pages by the same kind of people who assured you, a few years ago, that Rep. Paul Ryan was the very model of a Serious, Honest Conservative. So let me make a helpful public service announcement: It’s bunk. Some background: These are tough times for members of the conservative intelligentsia - those denizens of think tanks and opinion pages who dream of Republicans once again becoming “the party of ideas.” (Whether they ever were that party is another question.) For a while, they thought they had found their wonk hero in the person of Ryan. But the famous Ryan plan turned out to be crude smoke and mirrors, and I suspect that even conservatives privately realize that its author is more huckster than visionary. So what’s the next big idea? Enter libertarian populism. The idea here is that there exists a pool of disaffected workingclass white voters who failed to turn out last year but can be mobilized again with the right kind of conservative economic program - and that this remobilization can restore the Republican Party’s electoral fortunes. You can see why many on the right find this idea appealing. It suggests that Republicans can regain their former glory without changing much of anything - no need to reach out to nonwhite voters, no need to reconsider their economic ideology. You might also think that this sounds too good to be true - and you’d be right. The notion of libertarian populism is delusional on at least two levels. First, the notion that white mobilization is all it takes rests heavily on claims by the political analyst Sean Trende that Mitt Romney fell short last year largely because of “missing white voters” - millions of “downscale, rural, Northern whites” who failed to show up at the polls. Conservatives opposed to any major shifts in the GOP position - and, in particular, opponents of immigration reform - quickly seized on Trende’s analysis as proof that no fundamental change is needed, just better messaging. But serious political scientists like Alan Abramowitz and Ruy Teixeira have now weighed in and concluded that the missing-white-voter story is a myth. Yes, turnout among white voters was lower in 2012 than in 2008; so was turnout among nonwhite voters. Trende’s analysis basically imagines a world in which white turnout rebounds to 2008 levels but nonwhite turnout doesn’t, and it’s hard to see why that makes sense. Suppose, however, that we put this debunking on one side and grant that Republicans could do better if they could inspire more enthusiasm among “downscale” whites. What can the party offer that might inspire such enthusiasm?

Well, as far as anyone can tell, at this point libertarian populism - as illustrated, for example, by the policy pronouncements of Sen. Rand Paul - consists of advocating the same old policies, while insisting that they’re really good for the working class. Actually, they aren’t. But, in any case, it’s hard to imagine that proclaiming, yet again, the virtues of sound money and low marginal tax rates will change anyone’s mind. Moreover, if you look at what the modern Republican Party actually stands for in practice, it’s clearly inimical to the interests of those downscale whites the party can supposedly win back. Neither a flat tax nor a return to the gold standard are actually on the table; but cuts in unemployment benefits, food stamps and Medicaid are. (To the extent that there was any substance to the Ryan plan, it mainly involved savage cuts in aid to the poor.) And while many nonwhite Americans depend on these safety-net programs, so do many less-well-off whites - the very voters libertarian populism is supposed to reach.

Specifically, more than 60 percent of those benefiting from unemployment insurance are white. Slightly less than half of food stamp beneficiaries are white, but in swing states the proportion is much higher. For example, in Ohio, 65 percent of households receiving food stamps are white. Nationally, 42 percent of Medicaid recipients are non-Hispanic whites, but, in Ohio, the number is 61 percent. So when Republicans engineer sharp cuts in unemployment benefits, block the expansion of Medicaid and seek deep cuts in food stamp funding - all of which they have, in fact, done - they may be disproportionately hurting Those People; but they are also inflicting a lot of harm on the struggling Northern white families they are supposedly going to mobilize. Which brings us back to why libertarian populism is, as I said, bunk. You could, I suppose, argue that destroying the safety net is a libertarian act - maybe freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose. But populist it isn’t. c.2013 New York Times News Service 13-7-11

Gail Collins

The House just wants to snack And, now, the Tasty Bites theory of government. You might have heard that the House of Representatives passed a farm bill this week. Or possibly not. I have found that many Americans can go for a very long time without mentioning the farm bill. But we are going to talk about it today, and it will be absolutely fascinating. For decades, Congress has merged food stamps - which help poor people pay for their groceries - with agricultural subsidies in one big, messy, bipartisan farm bill that made everybody happy. Well, not euphoric. There was definitely that messy factor. But it did merge the interests/needs of urban and rural lawmakers, Democrats and Republicans. Lately, the House has begun chopping up big, complicated bills into what Speaker John Boehner once described as “bite-sized chunks that members can digest.” No more legislative sausage-making. No more bipartisan trading. The House was going to stick to clean, simple ideas, more along the lines of Liver Snaps. So the farm bill got divided. The two parts were not equally tidy. As Ron Nixon reported in The Times, the rate of error and fraud in the agricultural crop insurance program is significantly higher than in the food stamp program. Also, the agriculture part has a lot of eyebrow-raising provisions, like the $147 million a year in reparations we send to Brazil to make up for the fact that it won a World Trade Organization complaint about the market-

distorting effects of our cotton subsidies. And while food stamps go to poor people, most of the farm aid goes to wealthy corporations. So House Republicans passed the farm part and left food stamps hanging. Say what? Tea Party conservatives have an all-purpose disdain for anything that smacks of redistribution of wealth, and food stamps are a prime target. “The role of citizens, of Christians, of humanity, is to take care of each other. But not for Washington to steal money from those in the country and give to others in the country,” Rep. Stephen Fincher, R-Tenn., said during a speech in Memphis. So the food stamp program was the total opposite of a Tasty Bite to House Republicans. More like that Scottish thing with sheep stomach and oatmeal. But the agriculture part was billed as delicious restraint. They rallied behind the just-farm-stuff bill in a party line 216-208 vote. “This is a victory for farmers and conservatives who desired desperately needed reforms to these programs,” said Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Va., the majority leader. The House bill actually spent more money on subsidies for farmers than the bipartisan Senate version the Republicans scorned. It also dropped the Senate’s limit on aid to farmers with incomes of more than $750,000 a year. And while it

Collins continued on page 5

Liberal Opinion Week

July 24, 2013


Jules Witcover

The nuclear option again We’re decades past the Cold War years when the two leading nuclear powers of the day, the United States and the Soviet Union, talked freely about their MAD strategies, which stood for Mutual Assured Destruction in any nuclear-weapons exchange. Now, in a much more rational time, the Senate traffic cops -- Majority Leader Harry Reid and Senate Minority Mitch McConnell -- are again discussing use of “the nuclear option,” in the much less lethal legislative warfare being waged on Capitol Hill. Just as the mere threat of a nuclear exchange was enough to avoid Armageddon during the Cold War, so has the minority threat of Senate filibuster against confirmations of presidential nominees for executive and judicial branch appointments

deterred them now. Existing Senate rules require a 60-vote supermajority for confirmation, and the Republican minority of 46 votes is more than enough to bar the door as it pleases, and has done so. As the partisan lines have stiffened and tempers flared between Reid and McConnell, the Democratic leader last week threatened to change the supermajority rule by majority vote. All required would be a ruling by the presiding officer, presumably Vice President Joe Biden as President of the Senate, to that effect. An earlier threat to use “the nuclear option” by then-Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, a Republican, was soundly opposed by Senate Democrats when they were in the minority. They labeled the prospective move as an abuse of majority power, but now the

Collins continued from page 4 mimicked the Senate in dropping most of the much-derided direct payments to farmers, the House gave cotton farmers a two-year extension. Let’s take a special look at cotton, which is a particularly good example of the tendency of agricultural benefits to flow uphill. “Some of these guys - and they’re all guys - are getting more than $1 million in support. The bottom 80 percent are getting $5,000 on average,” said Scott Faber of the Environmental Working Group. Faber’s organization, which keeps careful track of these things, says direct payments to cotton farmers since 1995 have totaled $3.8 billion. That does not count the annual $147 million the United States has been sending to Brazil in hush money. Crop insurance gets bigger under the new plan. Here’s how: You, the taxpayer, fork over the majority of the cost of the farmers’ policy premiums. (Up to 80 percent in the case of cotton.) Also, you spend about $1.3 billion a year to compensate the insurance agents for the fact that they have to sell coverage to any eligible farmer, whatever his prospects for success. Plus, if yields actually do drop, you have to compensate the insurance companies for part of

the cost of claims. Is this beginning to sound a little like Obamacare? No! No way! The House Republicans hatehatehate Obamacare! They vote to repeal it as often as they change their socks! Because Obamacare will, you know, distort the natural operation of the markets. The larding of benefits to farmers didn’t come up during the House debate. It was all about food stamps, and Democrats asking to know why their colleagues wanted to cut aid to hungry children and old people. During an Agriculture Committee meeting on the bill, Rep. Juan Vargas, D-Calif., quoted Jesus’ lesson that “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” That raised Fincher’s hackles. “Man, I really got bent out of shape,” he told that Memphis audience, proudly reporting that he countered with Thessalonians: “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.” By now, you must be wondering why I keep bringing up this guy. Fincher is a farmer who has, over the years, received $3.5 million in federal agricultural subsidies, much of it for - yes! - cotton. c.2013 New York Times News Service 13-7-12

shoe is on the other foot. Reid says GOP obstructionism, rampant in the House, is also affecting the Senate in what has become routine blocking of Oval Office appointments. Just as Senate Democrats warned during the first “nuclear option” that a time would come when the Republicans would be in the minority, now GOP senators are singing the same tune in reverse. But the dysfunction of Congress as a whole has reached such a point that protection of minority rights seems to be throttling the virtues of majority rule in a democratic system. If so, the minority obstructionism seen in Republican and especially conservative tea-party opposition to President Obama seems to have brought Reid to a breaking point. It comes just as a rare outbreak of bipartisanship was achieved in Senate passage of a compromise immigration reform bill with 14 Republicans aboard. But House Speaker John Boehner has already thrown cold water on that demonstration of Senate cooperation by refusing to bring the bill to the House floor, instead moving ahead on a piecemeal approach to immigration reform of uncertain future. Meanwhile, on the executive appointments before the Senate, the majority there resists using the power to act bestowed on its members by the voters. The argument has long been made that the Senate must remain the bastion of free and unfettered speech, where the rights of the minority are protected in the best “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” tradition. But when partisan obstruction becomes

the standard posture of the Senate minority, as it already is of the House majority, something needs to be done to break the logjam. The very expression “nuclear option” illustrates the penchant in Washington among leaders of both parties to declare the sky is falling when any threat to business as usual is proposed. We saw that same phenomenon in Obama’s warning that the sequester deal on deficit reduction would cause certain chaos. But the government has managed to function despite cutbacks in certain programs and services. Conservative squawks that national security would be imperiled by cuts to Pentagon spending have been quieted somewhat by stories of military waste. For example, The Washington Post has reported the prospective abandonment, giveaway or even demolition of a new $34 million American state-of-the art headquarters facility in Afghanistan that has never been used. Neither the world nor the Senate will come to an end if Reid decides to make good on his threat to enable a majority of senators to work their will on confirmation of presidential appointments. For all of Obama’s 2008 promises to “change the way Washington works,” it may fall to the Senate itself to cut the so-called nuclear option down to size and get on with its business. Jules Witcover’s latest book is Joe Biden: A Life of Trial and Redemption” (William Morrow). You can respond to this column at (c) 2013 Tribune Media Services, Inc.


Liberal Opinion Week

July 24, 2013

Froma Harrop

Health Reform will happen, and none too soon Obamacare is going ahead. It’s happening, and concerted efforts by its foes to scare the public and otherwise delegitimize the health care reforms will be ultimately futile. That doesn’t mean that Republican opponents won’t try. The question is why, other than crude political posturing, would they want the Affordable Care Act to fail? Our health care system has been milking the taxpayers, the government and individuals for decades. The United States spends two times the rich-country average per person on health care. We’re talking rich countries -- the Switzerlands and the Germanys. And this average spending is enormous, given that it includes millions of Americans with no health insurance at all. Health care costs are eating the American economy alive, and these reforms represent the first serious attempt to address the crazy waste and overcharging. In the United States, for example, the average amount paid for childbirth is nearly $10,000, versus just over $4,000 in Switzerland -- a country offering the highest-tech care and where a McDonald’s Big Mac costs $6.81. From 2004 to 2010, the price insurers paid for vaginal births rose 49 percent in this country. And the average out-of-pocket expenses for the parents jumped 400 percent. This is done by billing separately for every blood test, ultrasound and other routine service, prescribing too many of them and overcharging at the same time. Women whose ultrasounds show healthy babies at 20 weeks report being told to have expensive scans every week afterward, though medical guidelines don’t call for them. Prominent conservatives keep talking about health reforms as some kind of moonshot to Jupiter’s Io, though every other modern country has done it. They shake their heads in wonderment at the prospect of government regulating 17 percent of the economy. First off, the federal government is already paying 55 percent of the country’s health care bills. Secondly, the rest of health care is highly regulated by both the feds and the states. The one thing that isn’t well regulated is the waste. Health care is 17 percent of the economy precisely because we throw so much damn money at it without question. Oh, no, the delegitimizers moan, companies will use Obamacare to drop their workers’ coverage. They’ll prefer paying the penalty to providing health insurance. But in Massachusetts, which supplied the model for Obamacare, the opposite happened. In the seven years since the Massachusetts law went into effect, the number of residents covered by their employers actually rose 1 percent. (Nationally, employer-based insurance fell 5.7 percent.) No one expected this, including the economists

who help design the plan. Furthermore, Obamacare’s large-employer penalty of up to $3,000 per uninsured employee is far higher than the $295 penalty in Massachusetts, giving employers there even less incentive to provide coverage. But two things happened, according to a PricewaterhouseCoopers study. The individual mandate prompted many people who didn’t join their employers’ health plans to do so. And companies found that health benefits were essential to attracting and keeping good workers. Between 2005 and 2011, the percentage of small companies offering coverage in Massachusetts rose from 49 percent to 59 percent.

Heaven knows, the Obama administration has done a miserable job of pushing, promoting and explaining its health care reforms. Its decision to delay for a year the penalties to be charged large companies (more than 50 employees) for each uninsured worker affects relatively few people and is not a big deal. The vast majority of big companies already provide such benefits. But the delay has created opportunity for further eroding of public confidence in Obamacare. There will be other mishaps along the way, but there must be no stopping the health-reform train. Otherwise, medical spending will sink us. Copyright 2013 The Providence Journal Co. 13-7-11

Paul Krugman

Defining prosperity down Friday’s employment report wasn’t bad. But given how depressed our economy remains, we really should be adding more than 300,000 jobs a month, not fewer than 200,000. As the Economic Policy Institute points out, we would need more than five years of job growth at this rate to get back to the level of unemployment that prevailed before the Great Recession. Full recovery still looks a very long way off. And I’m beginning to worry that it may never happen. Ask yourself the hard question: What, exactly, will bring us back to full employment? We certainly can’t count on fiscal policy. The austerity gang may have experienced a stunning defeat in the intellectual debate, but stimulus is still a dirty word, and no deliberate job-creation program is likely soon, or ever. Aggressive monetary action by the Federal Reserve, something like what the Bank of Japan is now trying, might do the trick. But far from becoming more aggressive, the Fed is talking about “tapering” its efforts. This talk has already done real damage; more on that in a minute. Still, even if we don’t and won’t have a jobcreation policy, can’t we count on the natural recuperative powers of the private sector? Maybe not. It’s true that after a protracted slump, the private sector usually does find reasons to start spending again. Investment in equipment and software is already well above pre-recession levels, basically because technology marches on, and businesses must spend to keep up. After six years during which hardly any new homes were built in America, housing is trying to stage a comeback. So yes, the economy is showing some signs of healing itself.

But that healing process won’t go very far if policymakers stomp on it, in particular by raising interest rates. That’s not an idle worry. A Fed chairman famously declared that his job was to take away the punch bowl just as the party was really warming up; unfortunately, history offers many examples of central bankers pulling away the punch bowl before the party even starts. And financial markets are, in effect, betting that the Fed is going to offer another such example. Long-term interest rates, which mainly reflect expectations about future short-term rates, shot up after Friday’s job report - a report that, to repeat, was at best just OK. Housing may be trying to bounce back, but that bounce now has to contend with sharply rising financing costs: 30year mortgage rates have risen by a third since the Fed started talking about relaxing its efforts about two months ago. Why is this happening? Part of the reason is that the Fed is constantly under pressure from monetary hawks, who always want to see tighter money and higher interest rates. These hawks spent years warning that soaring inflation was just around the corner. They were wrong, of course, but rather than change their position they have simply invented new reasons - financial stability, whatever - to advocate higher rates. At this point it’s clear that monetary hawkery is mainly a form of Puritanism in H.L. Mencken’s sense - “the haunting fear that someone, somewhere may be happy.” But it remains dangerously influential. Unfortunately, there’s also a technical issue that plays into the prejudices of the monetary hawks. The statistical techniques policymakers often

Krugman continued on page 7

Liberal Opinion Week

July 24, 2013


Harold Meyerson

A part-time economy Is the full-time American job going the way of the dodo? The signs aren’t exactly heartening. Consider the jobs report released Friday. The United States added 195,000 new jobs in June, it said, including 322,000 new part-time jobs - a number that comprises only part-timers who want full-time work but can’t find it. Assuming my grade-school arithmetic skills haven’t completely eroded, that suggests that the number of fulltime jobs actually declined. Critics of Obamacare have a ready explanation: The 30-hour-aweek cutoff of the now-postponed employer mandate - which requires many employers to either provide health-care coverage for employees who work at least that much or to pay a penalty - was compelling employers to reduce workers’ hours. That mandate, The Wall Street Journal editorialized, gave businesses “an incentive to hire more part-time workers.” If the employer mandate really were the problem, then the lot of the American worker wouldn’t look so grim. There is, to be sure, much anecdotal evidence that some employers are cutting workers’ hours to avoid the mandate. A closer

look at the long-term rise of parttime work, however, makes clear that the decline of working hours and the rise of low-wage work reflect structural changes in the U.S. economy. Of the 195,000 jobs created in June, fully 75,000 came in “Leisure and Hospitality” - Labor Department-speak for hotels,

Krugman continued from page 6 use to estimate the economy’s “potential” - the maximum level of output and employment it can achieve without inflationary overheating - turn out to be badly flawed: They interpret any sustained economic slump as a decline in potential, so that the hawks can point to charts and spreadsheets supposedly showing that there’s not much room for growth. In short, there’s a real risk that bad policy will choke off our already inadequate recovery. But won’t voters eventually demand more? Well, that’s where I get especially pessimistic. You might think that a persistently poor economy - an economy in which millions of people who could and should be productively employed are jobless, and in many cases have been without work for a very long time - would eventually spark

public outrage. But the political science evidence on economics and elections is unambiguous: What matters is the rate of change, not the level. Put it this way: If unemployment rises from 6 to 7 percent during an election year, the incumbent will probably lose. But if it stays flat at 8 percent through the incumbent’s whole term, he or she will probably be returned to power. And this means that there’s remarkably little political pressure to end our continuing, if low-grade, depression. Someday, I suppose, something will turn up that finally gets us back to full employment. But I can’t help recalling that the last time we were in this kind of situation, the thing that eventually turned up was World War II. c.2013 New York Times News Service 13-7-7

restaurants, fast-food joints and bars. Workers in this sector averaged just 26.1 hours a week - a figure that hasn’t changed in the past 12 months, even as Obamacare’s deadlines drew nigh. Thirty-seven thousand retail jobs were added, and these workers put in, on average, 31.3 hours a week. Workers in manufacturing, by contrast, had full-time jobs, averaging 40.9 hours a week - but 6,000 manufacturing jobs were eliminated in June. Worse yet, the jobs being created paid a lot less than the jobs that were lost. While the average hourly wage of non-supervisory employees in manufacturing was $19.26 in June, it was $13.96 for retail employees and $11.75 for hotel and restaurant workers. Indeed, the median hourly wages of all American workers declined 2.8 percent from 2009 to 2012, according to a study published this week by the National Employment Law Project. There’s no doubt that if the economy were at full employment, workers’ hours would be longer and their wages higher. But the decline in workers’ hours has been going on for decades: In 1966, the American worker put in an average of 38.7 hours a week; last month, she put in 34.5. More than anything else, this reflects the economy’s shift away from manufacturing to services (a catch-all category that includes retail, restaurants and most everything else). The

average workweek in services last month came to 33.4 hours - 7.5 hours shorter than the workweek of manufacturing employees. The move toward part-time work isn’t the economy’s only epochal shift. Another is the move toward temporary employment; that is, toward an economy in which employers regularly use workers from temp agencies. The advantages are clear: Employers are under no pressure to provide raises or benefits to temporary workers, nor are they legally liable if the workers turn out to be undocumented or are hurt on the job. Of the new jobs created last month, 10,000 came through temp agencies. Their designation notwithstanding, many temp workers find they’re both full time and permanent. As The New York Times’ Catherine Rampell has pointed out, the average workweek of a temp surpassed that of nontemps in 2009, and it remains longer today. For the past decade, many warehouse workers who load and unload goods for Wal-Mart and other chains have worked steadily in the same job for a succession of temp agencies in places such as California’s Inland Empire an arrangement that allows WalMart and its ilk to disclaim any responsibility for the conditions in which these employees labor. A number of the foreign-owned auto factories that have sprung up in Southern states - among them, BMW and Nissan - are also staffed by temps, only a fraction of whom are hired by the manufacturers after their initial six months on the job. Left to its own devices, the American economy is eroding the American job. Hours decline, dragging take-home pay down with them. The identity of the boss becomes mystified, much to the boss’s advantage. A government commitment to full employment, backed up by the public investment required to create it, would bolster not just the quantity but also the quality of our jobs. Republicans are dead set against that, however, and most Democrats appear to have abandoned the fight. So much for the American job. Meyerson is editor-at-large of The American Prospect. Special to The Washington Post 13-7-11


Liberal Opinion Week

July 24, 2013

E.J. Dionne Jr.

The quiet gender revolution American politics has gone through a gender revolution that has barely been noticed. Take the discussions of the 2016 presidential election which, as a matter of habit, we have begun even before the end of the first year of the current president’s second term. What’s obvious to everyone is that Hillary Clinton is the overwhelming Democratic favorite, if she decides to get in. Just last week, a Public Policy Poll in Iowa found Clinton supported by 71 percent, with 12 percent going to Vice President Joe Biden, and the other alternatives trailing badly. Recall that it was her loss in Iowa to Barack Obama that ended her front-runner status in 2008 and set Obama on his path to victory. The difference between then and 2016 is that there is a yearning across the range of Democratic opinion for Clinton’s candidacy. The last time, she had to persuade the party. This time, the party wants to persuade her. Clinton’s gender is certainly relevant to the desire of so many who want her nominated. She would, indeed, appeal to women of diverse political views who want to break the presidential glass ceiling. But support for Clinton has at least as much to do with hard-core calculations that she could win because of her wide experience, her likely reach to working-class voters, and her sheer endurance in the face of tests that few other politicians have had to confront. It gets even more interesting when you think about what could happen if Clinton doesn’t run -- and, even more, whom the party might turn to after the Hillary Clinton era it is hoping for ends. In that PPP poll, for example, Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts places third, at 5 percent, behind Clinton and Biden. With Clinton out of the race, Warren rose to 16 percent, against Biden’s 51 percent. And here’s something even more noteworthy: If Biden and Clinton are both removed from the list, Warren leads the field with 20 percent followed by 18 percent for New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, 12 percent for Newark Mayor and New Jersey senatorial candidate Cory Booker, and 7 percent for New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand. Of course a survey at this time shouldn’t be taken as predictive (and there’s also all the margin of error stuff). What’s unprecedented in our political history is (1) that there are two possible female front-runners, Clinton and Warren, and (2) that the inclusion of both Warren and Gillibrand as contenders makes simple, cold political sense. It doesn’t matter how you feel about gender equality. All three women have to be rated as strong potential candidates. That’s how they got onto Public Policy Polling’s list in the first place. “We’re really just trying to put in the most high-profile, plausible Democrats we can think of,” said director Tom Jensen. His organization canvasses online and

through Twitter for advice on which candidates to include. Jensen pointed to the “Madam President” campaign being organized by EMILY’s List, which raises money to elect Democratic women and has been insisting that pollsters (and pundits) recognize how presidential gender politics has changed. “It’s not like I’m making this stuff up,” said Stephanie Schriock, the organization’s president, who noted there are now 16 Democratic and four Republican women in the Senate. Schriock can offer a lengthy list of women who need to be considered over the long haul, including New Hampshire Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (the only woman in American history to have served as both a U.S. senator and a governor), along with Sens. Warren, Gillibrand and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota. She also mentions Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, retiring Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano -- both

former governors -- and Christine Gregoire, who served as Washington state chief executive. I t should be said that the same gender story cannot yet be told of the Republican Party. Still, Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann are two of the most prominent voices for the political right, and Govs. Susana Martinez of New Mexico and Nikki Haley of South Carolina could play larger national roles. On the day she withdrew from the 2008 campaign, Hillary Clinton declared that from then forward, “it will be unremarkable for a woman to win primary state victories, unremarkable to have a woman in a close race to be our nominee, unremarkable to think that a woman can be the president of the United States.” This much has already happened. E.J. Dionne’s email address is ejdionne@ (c) 2013, Washington Post Writers Group 13-7-15

Donald Kaul

Taking embarassing to a new level Virtually every president gets on a roll at some time during his administration, generally early on. And while he’s on that roll, every day is a wedding. He gets bills passed, international relations go his way, and people love him. It seems he can’t make a bad move. It happened to Lyndon B. Johnson, whose early years gave promise of giving us the greatest presidency of modern times. And it happened to Richard Nixon, who, much to the consternation of his enemies, seemed to get stronger as his years in office mounted up. Eventually, the roll ends. Whether it’s Watergate, Monica Lewinsky, the Iran-Contra scandal, the Vietnam War turning sour, or the Iranian hostage crisis — every administration hits rough waters. The president goes into a slide and things are never the same again. Suddenly, he can’t do anything right. Every day brings a new headline that lands like a punch to the stomach. President Barack Obama is not on a roll. His good times may not have been spectacular, but he did win re-election by a wide margin and things were looking up. That seems a distant memory now. If he had nothing more than the disastrous Edward Snowden affair to deal with, it would be enough. Not only did the youngish intelligence worker reveal that we are building the capability of spying on every man, woman, and child in the nation, the documents he released showed we are also spying on our best friends and allies. Doesn’t everybody do that, you ask? Perhaps,

but to have it revealed to the global community via a leak from our most secretive government agency takes “embarrassing” to a new level. And to have Snowden flee to Russia, of all places, allowing Vladimir (The Thug) Putin to withhold granting asylum unless Snowden promised to stop revealing U.S. intelligence secrets…well, that’s an irony almost beyond endurance. We have, in short, become a laughingstock in the international community. But that’s not all. The so-called “Arab Spring,” which we welcomed as the healthy introduction of democracy into autocratic Middle Eastern and North African countries, has gone completely off the rails. The popular uprising in Syria has degenerated into what amounts to a full-scale civil war. We now face the choice of getting involved in it — which we definitely do not want — or looking like a pitiful helpless giant. Egypt had its own popular uprising against the military strongman (and our ally) Hosni Mubarak, replacing him with an elected Islamic leader. We weren’t altogether happy about that, but we made approving noises in support of democracy. Within a year, the Islamists had screwed things up so badly that they inspired another popular uprising, followed by a military coup. Naturally, people want Obama to do something about it. They just don’t say what. If that weren’t enough, the major countries of Europe are threatening to break off important

Kaul continued on page 9

Liberal Opinion Week

July 24, 2013


Ezra Klein

Is Obama’s biggest problem Obama? For the White House, immigration reform perfectly encapsulates the most frustrating reality of President Barack Obama’s second term: If it’s to be a success, Obama needs to stay out of it - or at least out of the parts that involve Congress. That’s the message he’s gotten from Democratic and Republican legislators alike. In the New Yorker, Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez of New Jersey recounted a White House meeting at which he told Obama how Republicans would respond to public appeals on immigration. “Right now, if you put out your bill, they will feel like they’re being cornered,” he said. Obama wasn’t happy, Menendez recalled. “He basically said, ‘After you guys pushed me so hard in notso-subtle tones, being critical at times about lacking leadership, now you’re asking me to hold off?’ And so we took the browbeating for a little while and then I went back and said, ‘I understand why you’re upset and how you might feel this way.’ “

Kaul continued from page 8 trade negotiations with us because of our spying on everybody. On the home front, the conservative Supreme Court has just made it easier for states to suppress voting by the poor and people of color. Obstructionist House Republicans are treating the immigration bill, on which Obama has spent so much of his political capital, as their favorite hostage. I have an old and dear friend, a woman only slightly to the left of Lenin, who recently wrote, “Obama is the worst president we’ve ever had.” I also have a rabid conservative friend. He thinks Dick Cheney is the greatest vice-president we’ve ever had, and he agrees with her. And, don’t forget, it won’t be long before Obama has to convince Congress that it should raise the debt ceiling so the nation can pay for the things it’s bought recently. Good luck to him with that. No, Obama is definitely not on a roll. OtherWords columnist Donald Kaul lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan. 13-7-10

That’s Obama’s second term in one quote. In a matter of months, he went from stomping the Republican Party in the 2012 election to “I understand why you’re upset and how you might feel this way.” Ouch. The worst part for White House staff is that Menendez is right - and they know it. This is perhaps the most important and least understood fact in today’s Washington: Presidents polarize.As the effective leader of one of two political parties, the president is inevitably a polarizing figure. And Obama himself is a special case. Last year, a Gallup poll found a difference of 76 percentage points in how Republicans and Democrats assessed his administration. That tied the gap measured in the fourth year of George W. Bush’s term as the most polarizing on record. Frances Lee, a political scientist at the University of Maryland, has studied the effect of presidential polarization on the U.S. Congress. In her book “Beyond Ideology,” she shows that when the president announces his position on an issue - even an uncontroversial one - it increases the likelihood of a partyline vote. “Whatever people think about raw policy issues, they’re aware that presidential successes will help the president’s party and hurt the opposing party,” Lee told me. “It’s not to say they’re entirely cynical, but the fact that success is useful to the president’s party is going to have an effect on how members respond.” That effect is not, from the president’s perspective, all bad. It

makes it easier for him to corral members of his own party, as Obama discovered from 2009 to 2010, when Democrats controlled the House and Senate and passed the stimulus, health-care reform, Dodd-Frank financial regulations and much more. But today’s intense polarization means that most any bill associated with Obama is automatically targeted for defeat by Republicans. Policy compromise, as the White House has found out again and again, isn’t enough to overcome the zero-sum world of modern politics. So in Obama’s second term, in which Democrats have no real shot of recapturing control of Congress, the single biggest impediment to Obama’s legislative agenda might be . . . Obama - or at least the Republican reaction to Obama. Jon Favreau, who in February stepped down as Obama’s chief speechwriter, said that dealing with the Republican Party’s reflexive opposition is a pervasive reality in the White House. “People take a very realistic approach to it,” he said. “They’re not frustrated or upset. It’s more, ‘This is just the way things are and this is how we’ll deal with it.’ The strategy always comes to ‘What gives us the best chance to get something passed?’ “ That process begins with taking Congress’ temperature. “If it looks like there’s a path to something passing, then, as in immigration reform, he’s got to step back,” Favreau said. That doesn’t mean Obama has to keep mum. But he

does have to keep himself out of the headlines. “All of our immigration speeches have been very toned down,” noted Favreau. There is still plenty the White House wants to accomplish that has no chance of passing Congress. That’s when the speechwriting team can unleash the rhetoric - and the president. “When it doesn’t look like there’s a path forward, you light a fire under these guys by going to the public and making your case,” Favreau said. “That hasn’t worked as much. But when you have a situation where you don’t see the votes for something passing, there’s no other option than going to the public.” Global warming fits that category. “We don’t have time for a meeting of the Flat Earth Society,” the president railed in a recent speech. You won’t hear Obama use that kind of derisive language when he talks about immigration. A presidential put-down is generally indicative of a legislative lost cause. Yet the background strategy hardly guarantees success. In fact, in most cases, failure is probable, which simply underscores that in a highly polarized era, divided government makes big, new laws unlikely. It hasn’t always been that way. Historically, divided government has achieved as much as unified government. But the current era defies that trend. The 112th Congress - which served from January 2011 to January 2013 passed 220 laws, making it the least productive Congress on record. So far, this Congress is on track to set a new record for doing nothing. Congress appears to be growing comfortable with its paralysis. Last week, legislators couldn’t manage a relatively simple legislative fix to stop interest rates on student loans from doubling - an outcome that both parties had publicly sworn to prevent. But nothing got done and, on July 8, the rates doubled. And this wasn’t one of those cases where legislators were huddled in tense, round-theclock negotiations. Congress didn’t bother showing up for work that week. And Obama knew full well there was nothing he could do to force them to compromise. (c) 2013, The Washington Post 13-7-12


Liberal Opinion Week

July 24, 2013

Margaret Carlson

Sex scandal just a Spitzer campaign event And now for something completely the same: another disgraced official staging a comeback. Eliot Spitzer, the former New York state governor, has announced that he is running for New York City comptroller. You have to wonder if a sex scandal hasn’t become just another way to get free media time and name recognition. Really, who knew Anthony Weiner before he was forced to resign his congressional seat because he had texted photos of his barely concealed male parts to women near and far? Despite it all, according to a front-page article in the New York Times this weekend, Weiner is being granted a second chance: Almost every professional following the New York City mayoral race puts him in the runoff. Not everyone gets to come back as a serious candidate. A few people disappear. Remember Sen. Larry Craig, the archconservative who adopted a wide stance in a restroom in the Minneapolis airport, and Rep. Mark Foley, whose transgressions involved underage congressional pages. The other career ender is to cheat on a dying wife with a videographer and then try to excuse yourself by saying the affair occurred while the cancer was in remission. We have seen the last of former senator John Edwards. But second acts are more common than not. Italian widows spend more time wearing black than our disgraced politicians spend out of the spotlight. Spitzer is hoping to follow in the footsteps of Sen. David Vitter, who won reelection in Louisiana after being linked to the D.C. Madam. Former governor Mark Sanford of South Carolina looked finished after we learned he wasn’t hiking on the Appalachian Trail with or without his Argentinian mistress; he is now representing his state in the House of Representatives. You can make the case that running for that House seat helped Sanford put the shameful episode behind him. If you were on a public stage, you need another one - and here’s where a campaign comes in - from which to beg forgiveness. A little humility, some oblique references to the act itself, generous references to religious concepts such as redemption and penance, a press corps to write about it all, and voila, your pollster has you in double digits. Spitzer has a long, hard slog. The details of his fall are pathetic: elaborate ruses to meet up with high-end hookers who were paid on a sliding scale depending on what unsafe practices they were willing to engage in. Client 9, as he was known at the Emperors Club V.I.P. escort service, supposedly kept his socks on. At the March 2008 news conference where he announced his resignation, his wife, Silda Spitzer, stood heroically by him, in a jaunty scarf she had the grace to add in the midst of the worst event in their long life together.

But Spitzer can find inspiration in the pantheon of those who have overcome worse (see above and President Bill Clinton). He also will be helped by his post-scandal steps back into public life (a Newsweek cover story, a show on CNN, a financial column, and frequent guest-speaker appearances at global conferences) and his record as the sheriff of Wall Street, which still desperately needs one. He is running for an office suited to his talents: The New York City comptroller manages $140 billion in pension funds and sees to the financial health of the five boroughs. It is also suitably humble, a bit of a step down from his previous incarnations as attorney general, governor and possible presidential candidate. In talking about his entry into the race, he told the New York Times that he could do for the underthe-radar office of comptroller what he did for the attorney general job, where he went after white collar crime and securities fraud without fear or favor and with lots of gusto, including suing Richard Grasso, the chairman and chief executive officer of the New York Stock Exchange, over his outsize pay package. Unlike so many regulators who aren’t nearly as smart as the Steven Cohentype hedge-fund titans they are supposed to be policing, Spitzer has a full grasp of the games Wall Street can play and an appetite to stop them. It’s also an office where he won’t be in New

Yorkers’ faces every day or leading prayers at Ground Zero. That comes later. First, he must prove himself in a sleepy backroom of city hall. If his hopes are higher, and everyone thinks they are, there is another lesson to be learned from the disgraced politician handbook. Be in love and be a good father. Look at Weiner’s apology tour, conducted in part by his wife, Huma Abedin, a close friend of Hillary Clinton, who has also made him a father. Pictures of Weiner with his baby son are slowly replacing those tweeted selfies. It was as a father that Sanford got me back. When, near the end of his congressional campaign, his wife, Jenny, charged him with trespassing for going to their former home when she was away, Sanford explained that he was there because he didn’t think his son should have to watch the Super Bowl alone. What might have killed him carried him across the finish line. Over to you, Candidate Spitzer. Get the cheaters who confuse a bull market with brains. Thank Silda, the mother of your children, for standing by you when it counted most. Hold your daughters close. There’s no telling how far, in the new political world, you can go. Margaret Carlson is a Bloomberg View columnist. (c) 2013, Bloomberg News 13-7-9

Ruth Marcus

A Redemption Epic “I have no spur To prick the sides of my intent, but only Vaulting ambition, which o’erleaps itself And falls on the other.” -- Macbeth Oh what Shakespeare could have done with the intertwined dramas and flawed characters of Eliot Spitzer and Maurice Greenberg. The fallen politician and the fallen tycoon have found themselves -- have propelled themselves -into the headlines once again. Spitzer, mirroring the post-sex scandal redemption narratives of Mark Sanford and Anthony Weiner, has announced an eleventhhour bid for New York City comptroller. A fall, to be sure, from the heights of the governorship and the prospect of a presidential bid, but a borehole back into the alluring, ego-gratifying world of politics. “I think anybody who has been through what I have been through -- sure you want redemption,” Spitzer told “CBS This Morning,” just before insisting that service, not redemption, was his goal. “It’s not that I want the security detail of the governor’s office or the mansion,” Spitzer said. Still, he conceded, “The roar of the crowd is

something people like.” Greenberg, who was forced to resign as head of insurance giant AIG under the shadow of an investigation by, you guessed it, then-New York Attorney General Spitzer, is himself back in the news. At 88, he is staging what The Wall Street Journal terms “an improbable comeback,” crisscrossing the globe -- nine trips to China last year alone -- to assemble a new insurance conglomerate, not quite as spectacular as the one he built, but still ... redemption. This even as Greenberg prepares to defend himself against the remnants of Spitzer’s lawsuit. New York’s top court refused last month to dismiss the allegations that Greenberg manipulated earnings at AIG, a subject that has already produced a $115 million class-action settlement from Greenberg and other top executives and Greenberg’s agreement to pay $15 million to settle charges by the Securities and Exchange Commission. Meanwhile, Greenberg pursues his own $25 billion lawsuit asserting that the federal government’s 2008 rescue of AIG, whose risky derivatives contracts helped trigger the financial crisis, was actually an unconstitutional “taking.” Greenberg was gone from AIG by then, but his

Marcus continued on page 11

Liberal Opinion Week

July 24, 2013


Gail Collins

Positive aspects of New York City’s Weiner-Spitzer summer: 1) Opportunities for invigorating dinner conversations over who would be worse to have as a major city official. Personally, I think Eliot Spitzer is behaving as if he’s much crazier. But it’s true that you can never look at Anthony Weiner without imagining his underwear. 2) Opportunities to discuss what would happen if we got both. It could be pretty exciting. The entire city would come to a halt as the two staffs fired rocket launchers at each other. The movie version would be in 3-D and star Channing Tatum as Eliot Spitzer. 3) Opportunities to bring up New York sex scandals of the past, beginning with Grover Cleveland and ending with the time that Mayor Rudy Giuliani announced his separation plans at a press conference before telling his wife. But about our current situation.

New York Sizzles

Disgraced former congressman Anthony Weiner is, as you know, running for mayor in the Democratic primary this September. We had just sort of gotten used to that when Eliot Spitzer jumped into the city comptroller race this week. Spitzer resigned as governor in 2008 after the world discovered our law-andorder chief executive was a patron of high-priced prostitution services. When he left, he vowed to try “outside of politics, to serve the common good.” Then, suddenly, this week, he was back inside politics! Announcing that he was going to run for office again because, as he said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” “I believe in service.” Time after time, we hear a scandaltarred politician vow to go away and make amends. Time after time, we envision a stint as a missionary or a hospital volunteer. Time after time, we are disappointed.

Marcus continued from page 10 Starr International Company was AIG’s largest private shareholder, and a federal judge just ruled that Starr’s case can proceed. Chutzpah, thy name is Greenberg. You have to ask -- Shakespeare would ask -- what is it that impels these men? Their drive, their refusal to fade away, is at once impressive and disturbing. The metrics of success are different -- in politics, power; in business, cash -- but the compulsion to succeed is the same. This is not normal behavior. A normal man humiliated and forced to resign after confessing to having sex with prostitutes would not be itching to get back in the headlines. (Monday’s New York Post: Here we ho again! New York Daily News: Lust for power. “You need fortitude. You need skin as thick as a rhinoceros has,” Spitzer told CBS. “And you need a desire to serve the public.” A normal man Greenberg’s age would not be flying back and forth from Oman in the space of a single weekend. “I am doing what I do best,” Greenberg told the Journal. “I like building things.” This is the impressive part, the man in the arena and all that. The disgraced pol who confesses to having “sinned” and tries again may have more to recommend him than the one who simply slinks off. The hard-driving octogenarian will probably be

happier, and live longer, than his couch-potato counterpart. Ye t there is simultaneously something needy, even unhealthy, about the politician or tycoon unable to relinquish power, however it is measured. How much money is enough? How much public attention? There is something Shakespearean in the twin comeback bids of the old antagonists, Spitzer and Greenberg, but there is also a touch of Melville: Greenberg as the great Wall Street whale, Spitzer as relentless pursuer. The ambitious, unrepentant businessman blames the ambitious, self-righteous politician for unfairly hounding him from the corporate suite. The politician continues to assert that he acted in the public interest and that the businessman has yet to be brought to justice. Spitzer said he made the decision to launch the comptroller bid just last weekend. It’s not hard to imagine him reading the Journal story on Greenberg and thinking, If he can rehabilitate himself ... It’s not hard to imagine Greenberg reading about Spitzer’s campaign and wondering, How much can I give to the other candidate? Ruth Marcus’ email address is (c) 2013, Washington Post Writers Group 13-7-10

Consider the example of former Rep. Steve Driehaus of Cincinnati, a person who, I should point out immediately, did not do anything wrong whatsoever except lose a race for re-election in 2010. He then packed up his family and went off to join the Peace Corps in Swaziland. “He’s working with folks with HIV/ AIDS. He loves it,” reported his sister, Denise. In this week’s TV tour, Spitzer failed to address the question of why he was not in Swaziland. He said on “Morning Joe” that during his five years in exile, “I’ve tried to do things that matter in a small, quiet way.” This seemed like a strange way to describe multiple stints hosting political talk shows. His late-breaking campaign entry had an unplanned, semihysterical air. He seemed to have no staff or organization, and he announced just four days before the deadline for turning in nominating petitions. This is one of the many quaint parts of the New York democratic tradition, intended to make it difficult for people who are not incumbent officeholders to get on the ballot. Nobody knows what drove Spitzer to jump in. Did Weiner’s entry trigger a case of disgraced-politician competitiveness? Is he bored? Did the fact that he’s run through every possible cable news show option send him into a panic? He said that people were always coming up to him on the street and urging him to get back in the game. This is sort of true. A few years back, I had breakfast with him in a little diner and a couple of people did approach, unprompted, to say that they thought he got a raw deal. “They wouldn’t have made you quit in Europe,” one said.

“Maybe I should move to Europe,” Spitzer responded cheerfully. People like to be able to go home and tell their families that they met a celebrity, even a disgraced one. Actually, more particularly a disgraced one. (You could get a lot more mileage by describing your encounter with former Gov. Eliot Spitzer than former Gov. George Pataki.) And when you’re looking for a celebrity conversation starter, “I hope you run for something again” goes a lot farther than “Why are you still here?” In his re-entry interview with Jonathan Van Meter in The Times Magazine, Anthony Weiner said people were always coming up to him saying he should run. (Although some, Weiner added, also said: “Spitzer! You’re Governor Spitzer!”) New York is a liberal place, but can there be that much hunger for sex-scandal-scarred candidates? Meanwhile, people are coming up to Scott Stringer, the other Democratic candidate for comptroller, and saying things like, “You gotta beat Eliot Weiner.” Stringer, the current Manhattan borough president, was stunned when the news about Spitzer broke on Sunday night. “I’m 53, and I got more calls and texts than I think I’d gotten in my entire life,” Stringer said. “Thank God I have the unlimited plan.” A poll conducted by Marist for The Wall Street Journal and NBC 4 New York, showed Spitzer ahead, 42 percent to 33 percent. It might just be name recognition. But if this guy wins, all hopes of getting errant politicians to do penance anywhere but a CNN studio is gone forever. c.2013 New York Times News Service 13-7-10


Liberal Opinion Week

July 24, 2013

Bill Press

Welcome to the land of second chances

One thing for sure about American politics: We are quick to condemn. Just ask Bill Clinton, David Vitter, Mark Sanford and Anthony Weiner. But we are also quick to forgive. Just ask Bill Clinton, David Vitter, Mark Sanford and Anthony Weiner. Politically speaking, we are, indeed, the “Land of Second Chances.” Americans love a Comeback Kid. We’ve already proven that many times and we’re about to prove it yet again, with news that former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer is attempting his return to public life as New York City comptroller. Not so long ago, chances for Spitzer’s political resurrection didn’t look so hot. On April 28, 2012, four years after his resignation in disgrace, when both of us were newly minted hosts on Current TV, I accompanied Spitzer to the White House Correspondents’ Dinner. Because traffic was so snarled on Connecticut Avenue, we hopped out of our car to walk the last block to the Washington Hilton. What a scene! As soon as they spotted him, the crowd on the street started chanting: “Client Number Nine! Client Number Nine!” That was the code name given Spitzer by his escort service. And, no doubt, questions about his involvement with prostitutes will continue to haunt him during this new campaign. Indeed, they already are. Monday’s New York Post put his photo on the cover with the headline: “Here We Ho Again.” The Daily Caller wondered if, perhaps, Spitzer had a bad case of “Weiner envy.” But Spitzer believes voters will look beyond his personal transgressions to what he accomplished while in public office. As he told me on Current TV: “Politics is a contact sport. I made significant errors. I stood up, accepted responsibility, resigned. It’s now been five years. I hope the public will extend its forgiveness to me. I will ask for it. I will say to the public, ‘Look at what my record was as attorney general and governor.’” On that score, New Yorkers should not only vote for Spitzer to return to public office, they should beg him to. Nobody has a better record of fighting white-collar crime. As Manhattan assistant district attorney, he’s credited with launching the investigation that ended the Gambino family’s control over Manhattan’s garment and trucking industries. As New York attorney general, he was the scourge of Wall Street, waging relentless war on securities fraud, computer chip price fixing, investment bank stock price inflation, predatory lending practices and fraud at AIG, among other targets. There’s no doubt that, had Spitzer been Obama’s attorney general, several former Wall Street CEOs would be following his latest campaign from their prison cells. Instead, they’re quaking in their Guccis that he’ll soon be back on their trail. Even in New York City, most people never heard of the obscure position of city comptroller. But Spitzer told me he has big plans for the

job, targeting three areas over which the city comptroller has specific responsibilities: helping shape the city budget; using the shareholder power of city pensions to fight for better corporate governance and exercising tough oversight over city departments. Spitzer must first collect 3,750 valid signatures to qualify for the ballot, and then convince voters he’s a better choice for comptroller than Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer. But my guess is that voters will make that decision based on which one can do the better job as comptroller, and not on which has the more checkered past. American voters are, indeed, willing to forgive and forget, as long as it’s a question of sex and not of money -- a lesson never learned by Virginia Gov. Robert McDonnell. As reported in the Washington Post, McDonnell and his wife accepted $145,000 in cash, including $15,000 to pay the catering costs for his daughter’s wedding, from wealthy Virginia businessman Jonnie R. Williams Sr.,

without disclosing it as a gift or loan, as required by law. On top of that, Williams gave McDonnell a $6,500 Rolex watch and bought $15,000 worth of clothes for his wife. If McDonnell survives, he can forget about running for any other office. Instead of stuffing his pockets, he’d have been better off having an affair. Meanwhile, ain’t politics fun? By the end of the year, New Yorkers might boast Mayor Anthony Weiner and Comptroller Eliot Spitzer. Both are great politicians and both remind us that we’re all human and we all make mistakes. Bill Press is host of a nationally-syndicated radio show, the host of “Full Court Press” on Current TV and the author of a new book, “The Obama Hate Machine,” which is available in bookstores now. You can hear “The Bill Press Show” at his website: His email address is: (c) 2013 Tribune Media Services, Inc. 13-7-11

Ruth Marcus

A governor’s tin ear

There are two swift routes to political downfall. One is sex. The other is money. The first is humiliating but recoverable. The second tends to be terminal, even criminal. Today’s topic is the second, in the form of Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and the now mountainous evidence that -- whether or not he technically complied with Virginia’s Swiss cheese disclosure laws in accepting thousands of dollars in gifts from a wealthy businessman -- he has no business continuing in office. The sordid McDonnell details in a bit, but first the comparisons between politicians and illicit sex and politicians and illicit money. They are linked to the twin delusions of the erring politician: his (I use the male form intentionally) sense of entitlement and his conviction of invulnerability. I work so hard, the politician tells himself. I deserve a little (insert specific failing). No one will find out, the politician tells himself. I was smart enough to get elected (governor/ president/senator). Wrong, wrong, wrong. There are differences, as well, between the politician tripped up by sex and the one felled by greed. The former can argue that he was not thinking with, well, he was not thinking. He is hardly the first to do something dumb in the grip of lust, love, whatever. Yet he most likely has a wife and family, collateral damage in his sexual escapades. Points off for that -- and more off if he has his wife by his side at the confessional news conference. The greedy pol is blameworthy in a different way, again both heightening and lessening his guilt. On the negative side, he was not swept away by the passion of the moment; he calculated that

he could take the money, the Rolex, whatever, and get away with it. On the plus side -- and this is explanation, not excuse -- he may have been acting under familial pressure, and in what he conceived as the best interests of his family, rather than against it, as the straying spouse certainly has. Much modern political corruption, especially of the penny-ante sort, can be explained by the yawning gap between the relatively paltry income of the politician and the wealth of the privatesector types fluttering around him. The politician feels aggrieved, which in turn feeds his sense of entitlement. The political spouse sees her friends driving fancier cars, wearing fancier clothes -- all this while her husband is probably working longer hours, to the detriment of his family. You can understand, although not excuse, the husband whose ethical judgment is warped by marital guilt, the wife whose judgment is warped by marital resentment. Which brings us to the McDonnells, and the flagrant, repeated misconduct exposed by The Washington Post’s Rosalind Helderman. The story began with relatively trivial, if astonishingly morally obtuse, bits of graft and back-scratching: -- The $15,000 check that businessman Jonnie R. Williams Sr. gave to help cover the catering bill at the McDonnells’ daughter’s wedding -- an event that took place three days before Virginia first lady Maureen McDonnell flew to Florida, where she touted a dietary supplement made by Williams’ company, Star Scientific Inc. Three months later, Star Scientific used the governor’s

Marcus continued on page 13

Liberal Opinion Week

July 24, 2013


Frank Bruni

Sex and the Sorriest Pols Virginia is for lovers. New York is for penitents. There are two in the headlines, Anthony and now Eliot. “Here We Ho Again!” trumpeted The New York Post. If this doesn’t save the tabloids, nothing will. But before we go too far in lumping the men together or draw too many conclusions about priapism and punishment, let’s get our bearings. Eliot Spitzer doesn’t have a quarter of the gall that Anthony Weiner does. He doesn’t have an eighth of it. Out of office for more than five years, he isn’t asking for a restoration of his prior glory. He isn’t even asking for a particularly sexy job. Comptroller of New York City? Most voters don’t know what that is or even if it’s spelled correctly. It doesn’t come with a mansion. It’s not a ticket to parades. It’s drudgery and decimal points. Audit till you drop. Weiner, meantime, hadn’t been gone from Congress for even two years when he announced his candidacy for mayor of the city, a job exponentially more influential than

Marcus continued from page 12 mansion for a luncheon, attended by the governor, to promote the supplement. -- The $6,500 Rolex, complete with engraved inscription, “71st Governor of Virginia,” that Williams bought for the governor at Maureen McDonnell’s behest. She allegedly requested the bauble moments before a meeting she had arranged for Williams to pitch a top state health official on the supplement. -Maureen McDonnell’s reported $15,000 spree at Bergdorf Goodman, again on Williams’ tab -- this a year after a staffer foiled McDonnell’s bid for a Williamsunderwritten Oscar de la Renta inaugural gown. Now comes reporting that raises the story to a new level of outrage: that Williams last year gave $70,000 -- supposedly a loan -- to a corporation owned by McDonnell and his sister; plus $50,000 to Maureen McDonnell

the one he’d never done especially well in the first place. He’s angling for a gigantic promotion. In the narrative he’s constructed, his mortification has made him a new man, so we’re supposed to give him an extra measure of our trust and hand him the reins of the most important and most complicated city in the country. I know we like our mayors brash, but we needn’t

in 2011, and $10,000 as a wedding present this year to another McDonnell daughter. As astonishing is the governor’s technocratic defense: that he is complying with the letter of Virginia disclosure rules, which do not require reporting of gifts to family members. “To, after the fact, impose some new requirements on an official,” McDonnell told a Norfolk radio show, “obviously wouldn’t be fair.” But gifts and entanglements like these are simply wrong, a violation of the governor’s duty to citizens, whatever the rules. That McDonnell doesn’t get this basic point makes him unfit for office. Obviously. Ruth Marcus’ email address is (c) 2013, Washington Post Writers Group 13-7-11

accept delusional in the bargain. In one recent poll he emerged as the front-runner for the Democratic nomination, and that, coupled with Mark Sanford’s return to Congress from South Carolina, has prompted much commentary about the possibility that voters today are willing to look beyond sexual indiscretions. But voters have long done so. A sex scandal didn’t topple Barney Frank back in the 1980s, Bill Clinton in the 1990s or David Vitter, the senator from Louisiana, who had his own prostitute problems in 2007. And Sanford, a Republican in a vividly red state, had a significant builtin advantage over his Democratic opponent. He benefited less from forgiveness than from partisanship. As for Weiner, he has nonpareil name recognition in an overcrowded field of unconvincing rivals and in an era when the line between famous and infamous is blurrier than ever. All that he may be in the process of proving is that celebrity, not virtue, is its own reward. It’s being said that he and Spitzer are seeking “redemption.” For the purposes of this duo and this election, let’s be careful with that noun. While Spitzer is indeed considering an assignment inferior to his last office, his years in political exile weren’t dedicated to the “public service” whose clarion call he says he cannot resist. They were warm baths in his own voice: a show on CNN, followed by one on Current TV. Those gigs are over; he’s adrift.

What he’s seeking is relevance. Ditto for Weiner, who also didn’t use his timeout in any way that showed a greater devotion to the public good than to his own. He sought to convert his political connections into quick profits. He plotted his audaciously hasty return. And here he is in his colorful, look-atme trousers, with his colorful, lookat-me debate antics, weathering the jokes, enduring us naysayers. Better to be ridiculed than to be ignored. Already there’s chatter about whose infidelities are more forgivable: Spitzer’s, which were arguably a crime, or Weiner’s, which were creepier? This misses a crucial point. Both men fell as spectacularly as they did not because they got caught with their pants down but because none of their colleagues liked them much even with their pants up. They didn’t have Clinton’s reservoirs of charm or good will to tap. Spitzer, though an effective attorney general, was shaping up to be a self-righteous, self-defeating disaster of a governor, and Weiner was a sound bite and makeup kit in search of the nearest camera. Few people had a huge stake or interest in propping up either of them, in doing damage control. That’s the part of their pasts - their particular brands of abrasiveness, the peculiar contours of their egos - more relevant to the present than their libidos. That’s what we should focus on, especially when it comes to Weiner. Spitzer’s at least overqualified for the post he wants, and his wanting it amounts to an appropriate pantomime of humility. Weiner can’t manage that much. At a high school in Queens recently, he spoke of how setbacks make the man: polio for FDR, imprisonment for Mandela. “Would they have been so great had they not had those obstacles?” he asked. It’s hard to shake the surreal sense that he was putting himself in that company. Sexting, apartheid: just different speed bumps on the road to power. c.2013 New York Times News Service 13-7-8


Liberal Opinion Week

July 24, 2013

John young

Abortion: one moment, five words As with a lot of people across the country, Wendy Davis is my new hero — she who for 11 hours stared down an armored column of oppression on the Texas Senate fl oor. I know Sen. Davis won’t be offended, however, to hear me say that she’s not my foremost prochoice hero. That person is an individual I never met, one who made me rub my eyes and see the abortion debate anew in fi ve words. He was a college student who many years ago saw fi t to sit alone in silence outside a surging, swaying, hymn-singing anti-abortion rally in Waco, Texas. He held a simple handwritten sign carrying these fi ve words: “Abortion is a medical necessity.” Five undeniable words. Five words that should start every discussion about this. Sen. Davis used a lot more words, each necessary, in her fi libuster against proposals to craft the nation’s most oppressive anti-abortion policy. More importantly, she brought thousands to the Texas Capitol to put a collective human face on the matter at hand, which is the wrongheadedness of inserting government into the most private of medical matters. Yes, medical; and this should need no explanation. The protest back in Waco was about the Planned Parenthood affi liate’s offering abortion services, “a fi rst” at the time. But the fact is and was that every hospital that delivers babies performs abortions out of medical necessity. No, this was no “fi rst.” Ah, but these were “abortions of convenience.” The community had never had any of those before, except for the rare daughter who could afford a plane ticket and hotel room. She got one. But that was different. It fascinates me, and should amaze anyone, that people for whom “government is the problem” is a guiding tenet believe that government is the solution here. And is it? And how so? If an abortion is medically necessary, with whom does a doctor consult — which agency? — when deciding to “murder” a fetus? If every zygote is a human being, when is an (allegedly) spontaneous abortion — a miscarriage — not a calculated one? Trust in government to ascertain this. Curiously, because they hold the birth control pill to be abortive (as it occasionally causes a fertilized egg to not reach kindergarten), true “pro-lifers” oppose that, too. However, I saw a study that shows the woman’s body to be a far greater killer of fertilized eggs. Eighteen percent of all fertilized eggs are expelled naturally. God’s plan? Government’s job to investigate? Menstruation or homicide? Rape or incest: In no other context does state-

mandated gestation seem so oppressive. So rare, too, right? Then again statutory rape is less rare — the 21-year-old with the car and the semen, the 16-year-old with the glassy eyes and the womb. Rape? Prove it, little girl. And how long will the trial last? And how large will the little girl’s belly be before a state with a rape or incest exception would grant it? Sorry, too late. Let’s give Texas Republicans credit here for saying that rape and incest are simply “get over yourself” matters when ordering a victim to grin and bear it. So much simpler, right, guys? Against this, Sen. Davis stood for 11 hours, making stomachs grumble, making the red-state armored column stand idle as the clock moved.

Up above, supporters of reproductive justice chanted and cheered. Outside, legions gathered. Each of those people now surely had realized he or she had been quiet too long. It’s time to start talking about how government can’t do what otherwise devout “less government” types say it ought. If you are among those who haven’t been talking about it, start that long-needed conversation with fi ve words. Then talk some more. Longtime Texas newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email: jyoungcolumn@gmail. com. 13-7-12

Liberal Opinion Week

July 24, 2013


Thom Hartmann

Thom Hartmann Blog No Justice for Trayvon Martin Sixteen months after he shot and killed Trayvon Martin, George Zimmerman was found not guilty on all charges. Late Saturday evening, a jury of six women gave their verdict in the case, which sparked national conversations about race relations in our nation. The shooting of the seventeen-year old prompted rallies and protests about racial profiling, and set off a wave of citizens, celebrities, lawmakers, and civil leaders who wore hoodies and repeated the now-famous words, “I am Trayvon.” After the verdict, some activists blamed a weak prosecution for failing to convince the jury of Zimmerman’s guilt, some pointed to a racially biased justice system, and others cited Florida’s progun laws for the trial outcome. When the news broke Saturday night, many people gathered in neighborhoods around our country, to express frustration over the verdict. While the vast majority of demonstrations were peaceful, there were a few acts of vandalism in Oakland, California – a city that has witnessed many killers of young, African-American men walking free. On Sunday, marches and rallies took place in major cities throughout our nation, including New York City, Los Angeles, and Chicago, and no further violence was reported. Activists marched wearing hoodies, and carrying signs that read, “Justice for Trayvon Martin,” and called on the Justice Department to file criminal civil rights charges against George Zimmerman. The DOJ released a statement saying they are looking into the shooting death of Trayvon, and said, “experienced federal prosecutors will determine whether the evidence reveals a prosecutable violation.” Despite the not guilty verdict, Trayvon Martin’s family asked supporters not to resort to violence. The Martin family attorney, Ben Crump, spoke on behalf of the family, and said, “For Trayvon to rest in peace, we must all be peaceful. All of America has to dig deep in their hearts to learn from this tragedy, and make sure it’s not repeated.” Should Obamacare provision be delayed? Yesterday, the Obama Administration announced that one of the major provisions in the Affordable Care Act will be delayed for one year. Under the law, starting in 2014, businesses with over 50 employees would have been required to provide healthcare to workers or pay a fine. That provision will now not take effect until 2015, after next year’s midterm elections. Assistant

Treasury Secretary Mark Mazur said, “We have heard concerns about the complexity of the requirements and the need for more time to implement them effectively.” The change will not effect people who buy insurance individually, or small businesses planning to purchase healthcare through new insurance exchanges. It will also spare large employers a $3,000 per-worker fine for failing to provide workers with coverage. However, during the 2014 transition period, the Treasury Department will encourage employers to maintain or expand insurance coverage, and ensure businesses follow all other requirements under the law. The majority of Obamacare will go into effect as planned, and is scheduled to start on January 1st of next year. Americans without healthcare coverage will be able to access affordable care, and small businesses will gain access to lower cost plans in states that have established insurance exchanges. Valerie Jarrett, a White House Senior Adviser, said healthcare exchanges will be in place on October 1st, and “small businesses and ordinary Americans will be able to go to one place to learn about their coverage options and make sideby-side comparisons of each plan’s price and benefits before they make their decisions.” However, even those who support Obamacare question whether the exchanges are on schedule as a direct result of Republican obstruction in GOP-led states. The Koch brothers are spreading lies about Obamacare As Obamacare goes into effect, some states are getting creative with ads telling residents about the healthcare law’s benefits. However, those ads will be running alongside a multi-million dollar misinformation campaign orchestrated by the Koch brothers. According to the Think Progress Blog, the conservative group Americans for Prosperity is spending a fortune on television ads aimed at turning Americans against the new healthcare law. The group’s first ad is called “Questions,” and it features a mother of two who tells viewers that she “has some questions about Obamacare.” Her so-called questions imply that under the Affordable Healthcare Act, she will be paying higher premiums and won’t be able to select her family’s doctor. The ad perpetuates myths that have been clearly debunked. As Think Progress points out, there is nothing in Obamacare that stops patients from choosing their own doctors, and people who get their insurance through their

employer likely won’t see any changes at all. And, while the Americans For Prosperity ad refers to higher healthcare premiums, we’ve seen insurance rates go down in states implementing the law – like California – and millions of Americans will qualify for subsidies to purchase healthcare through insurance exchanges. In fact, it’s Republican policies – like refusing to implement the law’s Medicaid expansion – not Obamacare – that will leave some people uninsured. The constant misinformation from the Right is exactly why states like Oregon and New Jersey are working so hard to inform the public about the law’s new benefits with their new television ads. However, thanks to the Koch brothers, Americans will have a difficult time sorting through the lies, and figuring out the real ways Obamacare will improve their lives. Edward Snowden helps clear legal hurdles for the EFF! Thanks to Edward Snowden, a federal court may finally hear the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s case defending our Fourth Amendment rights. Long before the whistle-blower exposed top secret NSA documents, the EFF was fighting to protect our privacy. The organization has filed multiple lawsuits against the NSA for spying on Americans, but until now the government has been able to convince the courts to block the EFF cases using legal technicalities like “standing” and “state secrets”. But, those technical hurdles have been cleared since our nation found out about the NSA’s massive surveillance programs. On Monday, U.S. District Judge Jeffrey White rejected the government’s attempt to block the lawsuit using the so-called “state secrets” defense. Judge White dismissed other parts of the lawsuit, but allowed the Fourth Amendment claims to go forward. He ordered both parties to present more evidence on the constitutionality of government surveillance, and requested a briefing from officials explaining exactly how leaked NSA documents affected national security. The ruling was not a clear win for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, but it removed one of the huge barriers the organization faced in its legal challenge. Cindy Cohen, the EFF’s legal director, said, “That is huge. That was the centerpiece of the government’s defense.” When Edward Snowden revealed that Americans were, in fact, being spied on, the EFF and other privacy organizations cleared the first major hurdle, as they can now prove they

have a right to challenge government surveillance in court. And, this recent ruling removed the NSA’s second line of defense to a legal challenge. The only barrier now to a constitutional challenge is so-called “sovereign immunity” - which means these organizations can’t sue the government unless the government allows them to do so. It is still a major hurdle, but the EFF isn’t giving up without a fight. Stay tuned. North Carolina Republicans tried to pull a fast one... North Carolina citizens are protesting Republicans that they say are out of control. Over the last two months, activists and civil leaders have been protesting extreme Right-wing policies in weekly “Moral Monday” rallies. This week, more than 2,000 people gathered at the state capitol in Raleigh, to oppose anti-abortion legislation being considered by state lawmakers. The public outcry over that bill’s extreme provisions led Republican Governor Pat McCrory to threaten a veto if the bill made it to his desk. So - the measure stalled. However, GOP state lawmakers came up with a sneaky new way to put the abortion restrictions into law. Yesterday, Republicans in the North Carolina House of Representatives attached anti-choice measures to a motorcycle safety bill, without notifying the public or fellow legislators. Democratic State Representative Joe Sam Queen tweeted, “New abortion bill being heard in the committee I am on. The public didn’t know. I didn’t even know.” He then added, “I wish I had more time to look at this new bill before I had to ask questions about it or debate it.” Apparently, GOP legislators removed some of the most extreme anti-abortion provisions, in an effort to avoid another veto threat. However, Governor McCrory wasn’t fooled by the Republican’s ploy. He condemned the deceptive way the legislation was brought forward, and called the bill a “sham.” Upon learning of the Republicans’ devious tactics, North Carolina residents and activists were outraged. Melissa Reid, of Planned Parenthood, said, “It is a disgrace to North Carolina that legislators have again resorted to sneak attacks to move their antiwomen’s health agenda forward. This is outrageous and [it’s] not how the people’s business should be conducted.” After this latest Republican attempt to push extreme policies in North Carolina, it’s likely that there will be an even larger crowd at the next “Moral Monday” protest.


July 24, 2013


Liberal Opinion Week

Liberal Opinion Week

July 24, 2013



Liberal Opinion Week

July 24, 2013

Robert Scheer

A gift from the United States to Mideast zealots The U.S. government has long been a hypocritical champion of democratic governance, claiming to honor free elections but historically attempting to subvert their outcomes when the result is not to our liking. But the rank betrayals of our commitment to the principles of representative democracy, from Guatemala to Iran to South Vietnam, among the scores of nations where we undermined duly elected leaders, reached a nadir with the coup by a U.S.financed military in Egypt against that country’s first democratically elected government. Embarrassingly, our law professor president refuses to label the arrest of Egypt’s freely elected president by the military a coup because that would trigger an end to the $1.5 billion in U.S. aid as a matter of law. It remained for Sen. John McCain to set the president straight. “Reluctantly, I believe that we have to suspend aid until such time as there is a new constitution and a free and fair election,” McCain said Sunday on CBS’ “Face the Nation.” Stating the obvious, he noted that “It was a coup and it was the second time in two-and-a-half years that we have seen the military step in. It is a strong indicator of a lack of American leadership and influence.” The Egyptian military would not have acted without at least the tacit approval of the U.S. government, and evidence is mounting that Secretary of State John Kerry and National Security Adviser Susan E. Rice were in on the plotting before President Mohamed Morsi was arrested. The bloodshed that has followed is on their hands, and lots of luck ever convincing Islamists anywhere of the value of free elections as opposed to violence as an enabler of change. The coup restored the corrupt military/ bureaucratic class that has denied Egypt a modern government for half a century. It was accompanied by the spectacle of Morsi’s failed rivals in the last election rushing to offer their services as “democratic” replacements. They included the leaders of the Al Nour party, the one Islamic group that sided with the coup and that makes the Muslim Brotherhood seem quite moderate in comparison. As for Nobel Peace Prize winner Mohamed ElBaradei and the others who claim to be human rights advocates, they stand condemned by their silence in the face of the president’s arrest, the shutting down of an elected parliament and the banning of media that might be the slightest bit critical of the military’s seizure of power. After the bloody Monday morning massacre of civilians at prayer by the heavily armed Egyptian military, interim Prime Minister ElBaradei disgraced himself by equating the violence of the armed with the resistance of the unarmed: “Violence begets violence and should be strongly condemned,” he tweeted. “Independent investigation is a must.” Not a word from this

celebrated liberal concerning the military’s stifling control over any avenue of investigation by the media or government. The same charade of objectivity was on display in the response of U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki, who, like ElBaradei, blithely equated the military’s deadly excessive force with the rocks that soldiers claimed some of the demonstrators were throwing. “This is a situation where it’s very volatile on the ground,” she told reporters at a briefing Monday. “There are lots of parties contributing to that volatility.” The true victors of the coup are Mideast zealots who shun the ballot box as a rigged Western secular game, along with their sponsors in the bizarre theocracy of Saudi Arabia, the first country to welcome the downfall of Egypt’s only serious attempt at representative governance. For all of the fanatical blather concerning Islam that has emanated from the oil floated theocracy of Saudi Arabia, the spawning ground for Osama bin Laden and 15 of the 19 Sept. 11 hijackers, it is the peaceful electoral campaigns of the populistbased Muslim Brotherhood that the Saudi royalty

finds most threatening. Now it is the turn of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, both of which denied aid to Morsi’s government, to reassert their influence over Egypt by rallying around the country’s military. As The Wall Street Journal reported Monday, “Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E. are signaling they are prepared to start showering Egypt’s new government with significant funding as it transitions away from Morsi and his Islamist movement.” So much for the promise of the Arab Spring; it will now be marketed as a franchise of the Saudi government. In the end, the argument was not secular versus religious, but rather whether power would reside in the ballot box or the barrel of the gun. The United States, and too many of Egypt’s self-proclaimed secular democrats, ended up on the wrong side of that choice. Robert Scheer is editor of, where this column originally appeared. Email him at Copyright 2013 13-7-9

Eugene Robinson

Egypt’s dark future

What’s happening in Egypt is not a second revolution or a “correction” to the first. It is a coup d’etat that puts the military as firmly in command as it was during the autocratic reign of Hosni Mubarak. So much for the Arab Spring in the region’s most populous country. And, judging by the reaction in Washington and other capitals, so much for Winston Churchill’s observation that “democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried.” Instead, the prevailing sentiment about Egypt seems to be that some people just can’t be allowed to govern themselves. One does not have to be an admirer of ousted President Mohamed Morsi or the Muslim Brotherhood to see clearly what the Egyptian military has done. When vast throngs of selfproclaimed “moderates” took to the streets to protest the way Morsi was governing, the generals could have made clear their support for Egypt’s new democratic order, however flawed. Instead, they protected their own interests. Morsi had tried to assert civilian control over the military. How silly of him to think the generals would surrender so easily. To be sure, Morsi staged a power grab of his own last November when he issued a decree granting himself broad executive powers and eliminating judicial scrutiny of his actions. But swelling protests forced him to back down -an illustration, I would argue, of democracy in action.

Morsi then forged ahead by putting a new constitution, drafted mostly by the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamists, before the electorate. In December, the document was approved by 64 percent of those who voted -- a landslide. Turnout was low, and opponents cited “irregularities” at polling places. But I have seen no credible claim that this vote was stolen, rather than won. It is clear that Morsi wanted to make Egypt a more religious, less pluralistic society than it was during the Mubarak years. The rights of Coptic Christians and other minorities were under assault. To Egyptians who are young, secular and middle class -- those who poured back into Tahrir Square, cellphones in hand, tweeting their rage to the world -- Morsi’s government must have been a nightmare. The notion that a military coup will make everything better, however, is a fantasy. For a glimpse at Egypt’s likely future, look at what happened early Monday outside the Republican Guard headquarters in Cairo, where Morsi is believed to be held. The new regime is widely expected to charge the ex-president with as-yet unspecified crimes and put him on trial. (I wouldn’t bet on an acquittal.) Supporters of Morsi gathered at the compound to protest. Soldiers fired into the crowd, killing at least 51 people and wounding many others. To

Robinson continued on page 19

Liberal Opinion Week

July 24, 2013


Thomas Friedman

Egypt at the edge In every civil war there is a moment before all hell breaks loose when there is still a chance to prevent a total descent into the abyss. Egypt is at that moment. The Muslim holy month of Ramadan starts this week, and it can’t come too soon. One can only hope that the traditional time for getting family and friends together will provide a moment for all the actors in Egypt to reflect on how badly they’ve behaved - all sides - and opt for the only sensible pathway forward: national reconciliation. I was a student at the American University in Cairo in the early 1970s and have been a regular visitor since. I’ve never witnessed the depth of hatred that has infected Egypt in recent months: Muslim Brotherhood activists throwing a young opponent off a roof; antiIslamist activists on Twitter praising the Egyptian army for mercilessly gunning down supporters of the Brotherhood in prayer. In the wake of all this violent turmoil, it is no longer who rules Egypt that it is at stake. It is Egypt that is at stake. This is an existential crisis. Can Egypt hold together and move

Robinson continued from page 18 state the obvious, this is not the way to promote national reconciliation. It’s the way to create martyrs. Like it or not, the Muslim Brotherhood is the best-organized political force in the country. Under Mubarak, the group was banned. Egypt’s new military-backed rulers claim to want to include Islamist parties in the government, but as a practical matter they’re going to have to repress the Brotherhood in some way to keep the group from winning again at the polls. The Brotherhood might choose to fight with bullets rather than ballots. Or it might just bide its time. Either way, a huge chunk of the Egyptian population will be unreconciled to the new government -- and bitterly resentful of the way it came to power. Meanwhile, I’m betting that the military will now resume the lucrative role it played in the Egyptian economy under Mubarak, with top generals reaping the lavish financial rewards they consider their due. But a real question is whether the military’s assumption of power

forward as a unified country or will it be torn asunder by its own people, like Syria? Nothing is more important in the Middle East today, because when the stability of modern Egypt is at stake - sitting as it does astride the Suez Canal, the linchpin of any Arab peace with Israel and knitting together North Africa, Africa and the Middle

will make the region a bit safer. I doubt it. Under Morsi, an elected Islamist-led government honored the terms of a peace treaty with the state of Israel. It was an extraordinary example for the rest of the Muslim world. Now, alas, we have an example of what happens when an elected Islamist-led government gets too big for its britches. Those who cheer the coup apparently believe that the military shares their values -- and their vision of a democratic future. But plenty of historical evidence suggests that the military’s values likely derive from self-interest and that its vision of the future closely resembles the autocratic past. The multitudes of Tahrir Square should try ousting the generals next time. Then we’ll see who’s right. Eugene Robinson’s email address is eugenerobinson@ (c) 2013, Washington Post Writers Group 13-7-9

East - the stability of the whole region is at stake. I appreciate the anger of nonIslamist, secular and liberal Egyptians with President Mohammed Morsi. He never would have become president without their votes, but, once in office, instead of being inclusive, at every turn he grabbed for more power. With Egypt’s economy in a tailspin, I also appreciate the impatience of many Egyptians with Morsi’s rule. But in the Arab world’s long transition to democracy, something valuable was lost when the military ousted Morsi’s government and did not wait for the Egyptian people to do it in October’s parliamentary elections or the presidential elections three years down the road. It gives the Muslim Brothers a perfect excuse not to reflect on their mistakes and change, which is an essential ingredient for Egypt to build a stable political center. But Egypt’s non-Islamists, secular and liberal groups need to get their act together, too. The Egyptian opposition has been great at mobilizing protests but incapable of coalescing around a single leader’s agenda, while the Brotherhood has been great at winning elections but incapable of governing. So now there is only one way for Egypt to avoid the abyss: the military, the only authority in Egypt today, has to make clear that it ousted the Muslim Brotherhood for the purpose of a “reset,” not for the purposes of “revenge” - for the purpose of starting over and getting the transition to democracy right this time, not for the purpose of eliminating the Brotherhood from politics. (It is not clear that the “interim constitution” issued Tuesday by Egypt’s transitional

government will give the Brotherhood a fair shot at contesting power. It bans parties based on religion, but that ban was in place under Hosni Mubarak, and the Brotherhood got around it by running as independents.) Egypt will not be stable if the Brotherhood is excluded. Dalia Mogahed, the CEO of Mogahed Consulting and a longtime pollster in the Middle East, remarked to me that the original 2011 revolution that overthrew Mubarak was mounted by “young people, leftists, liberals, Islamists, united for a better future. The division was between those revolutionaries and the status quo. The revolution wasn’t owned by the secularists or the liberals or the Islamists. That’s why it worked.” Democracy in Egypt “only has a chance when revolutionaries again see the status quo as their enemy, not each other.” She is right: Muslim Brothers can kill more secularists; the military can kill more Muslim Brothers; but another decade of the status quo in Egypt will kill them all. The country will be a human development disaster. With the absence of a true party of reform that blends respect for religion with a strategy of modernization as the great 19th-century Egyptian reformers did - Egyptians today are being forced to choose not a better way, but between bad ideas. The Brotherhood posits that “Islam is the answer.” The military favors a return to the deep state of old. But more religion alone is not the answer for Egypt today and while the military-dominated deep state may provide law and order and keep Islamists down, it can’t provide the kind of fresh thinking and educational, entrepreneurial, social and legal reforms needed to empower and unleash Egypt’s considerable human talent and brainpower. In truth, the 2002 U.N. Arab Human Development Report is the answer, which, by the way, was mostly written by Egyptian scholars. It called on Egyptians to focus on building a politics that can overcome their debilitating deficits of freedom, education and women’s empowerment. That is the pathway Egypt needs to pursue - not Mubarakism, Morsi-ism or military rule - and the job of Egypt’s friends now is not to cut off aid and censure, but to help it gradually but steadily find that moderate path. c.2013 New York Times News Service 13-7-9


Liberal Opinion Week

July 24, 2013

Jules Witcover

The presidential mouthpiece In the wake of the ouster of elected Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi by the country’s military leaders, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney has given assembled reporters the benefit of his position on the matter. Regarding talk of cutting off U.S. aid to Egypt, Carney said this in his Monday briefing: “I think it would not be in the best interest of the United States to immediately change our assistance programs to Egypt.” Who cares what the presidential mouthpiece thinks about this or any other matter of national interest? To be charitable, one can assume he was speaking for, or about, President Obama’s position. But the White House podium and its occupant from whatever administration has become so inflated that the press secretary sometimes seems to adopt authority sanctioned only in his own self-important rhetoric. There was a time when the White House press secretary was no more than the vehicle for conveying the president’s positions or views to the news media, and was clearly presented as such. Some have had a particularly close relationship to the Oval Office occupant, enhancing their own credibility. Some even have been intimate political advisers to the president, going back to Steve Early, an old Associated Press reporter who became an FDR advance man and later his press guy. Another was Jim Hagerty, a former New York Times political reporter who counseled Dwight Eisenhower daily on press relations and reactions to news developments. Lyndon Johnson had echo chambers in George Christian, George Reedy and Bill Moyers, all of whom recognized their boss’s political astuteness as well as his demands that they color within the lines. Reedy, memorably, when asked what the relationship was between LBJ and his Senate aide Bobby Baker, who was under investigation of corruption, straightfacedly replied: “Frankly, they hardly knew each other.” Jimmy Carter’s press secretary, Jody Powell, was one of his closest political advisers, and reporters knew that when he spoke, it was as close to coming from the horse’s mouth as likely. Others, however, have been conspicuous lapdogs, most notably Richard Nixon’s Ron Zeigler, who somehow missed the Watergate purge. The opposite was Jerry terHorst, who, though a personal friend of Gerald Ford as an old Michigan reporter, soon resigned in principled protest of Ford’s pardon on Nixon in the wake of the Watergate crimes. Another defector, after long toeing the administration line as a presidential puppet, was Scott McClellan, who eventually went out the door trashing his boss, George W. Bush, in a supposedly tell-all book. Some other press secretaries without close and

longtime connections with the president came to win both Oval Office and press room respect as self-effacing straight shooters, such as Dee Dee Myers and Mike McCurry under Bill Clinton. All seemed very careful not to venture into speaking on their own, or even leaving the impression of doing so. But as the office of presidential press secretary has been elevated in the public eye by the power of television and the Internet, occupants have themselves become, or appear to regard themselves, not only as celebrities but fountains of political and policy wisdom. They dispense both with aplomb as if they themselves are there not merely conveyor belts of the president’s views and dictates but as active collaborators in the decision-making process and the selling of it. Jay Carney emerged after service as a Time magazine reporter and foreign correspondent who segued into the job of communications director --

a press secretary with oak-leaf cluster -- for Vice President Joe Biden. As such, he functioned as a loyal gatekeeper until chosen to replace Obama 2008 campaign insider Robert Gibbs in early 2011. As the current presidential press secretary, Carney has sparred repeatedly with the White House press corps without the insider credibility of a Steve Early, a Jim Hagerty or a Jody Powell, but as a functionary who was not there at the creation of the Obama saga. So what he thinks is or is not “in the best interest of the United States” probably will not be of much interest to the rest of us. Jules Witcover’s latest book is “Joe Biden: A Life of Trial and Redemption” (William Morrow). You can respond to this column at (c) 2013 Tribune Media Services, Inc. 13-7-10

Froma Harrop

U.S. Right to ‘Lead from Behind’ on Egypt “Leading from behind” would seem the right place for America to be in the complex crisis engulfing Egypt. But critics want President Obama up front, telling the Egyptians what’s what. Sen. John McCain complains on a Sunday talk show that Egypt’s second coup in 2 1/2 years is “a strong indicator of the lack of American leadership, and influence, since we urged the military not to do that.” The Arizona Republican goes on to insist that the leadership deficit is wrecking the whole Mideast. Citing the troubles in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Afghanistan, McCain says, “When American doesn’t lead, bad things happen.” Now, can we seriously believe that a call from the president, even a stern call, would stop the whirlwind of conflict in Egypt? Sure we could threaten the $1.5 billion we give them in annual aid, but the new people in charge say they intend to reset the democracy and are friendlier to the United States. That’s not going to happen. In Egypt we saw a democratically elected president deposed for undemocratic behavior (and incompetent governing). A tough call for us, but must the United States publicly pick sides in a struggle that (a) we cannot control and (b) U.S. participation only complicates? Naturally, both sides blame America, insisting that U.S. Ambassador Anne Patterson is plotting with their foes. The following quotes from The New York Times show our dilemma: Mona Mohammed, a bank clerk supporting the overthrow of President Mohammed Morsi: “The ambassador is part of a conspiracy against Egypt and its people.”

Mohammed Amr-All, a professor at a proMorsi demonstration: “The ambassador meets with the opposition and supports them.” Back in the United States, Patterson’s to blame, as well. Conservative David Brooks writes: “She tried to build relationships with whoever is in power. This created the appearance that she is subservient to the Brotherhood. It alienated the Egyptian masses.” Of course, building relationships with whoever is in power is an ambassador’s job, and Morsi was elected. And what about the pro-Muslim Brotherhood masses now protesting the Morsi ouster? Clearly, there are masses for every viewpoint. Writing in The New Republic, Marc Tracy offers an “appropriate liberal response.” That would be “making clear that we value democracy,” while using the tools of diplomacy “to put ourselves and our allies in more certain positions when democracy, as it inevitably does, winds up giving us unwelcome surprises.” You wonder what “more certain positions” would be in the case of Egypt’s unfolding chaos. Perhaps they don’t exist -- or put another way, the position we should have taken will be revealed by history, long after the dust settles on the tragic convulsions in Egypt. The European Union is quietly talking to all sides, as is the Obama administration. But Obama’s cautionary approach is not the American way, says a punditry frustrated that we aren’t using our power to do whatever. Perhaps it should be in certain disordered situations, which

Harrop continued on page 21

Liberal Opinion Week

July 24, 2013


Emily Schwartz Greco and William A. Collins

Syrian Dead End

We’re at it again. After months of commendable restraint, President Barack Obama has decided to send weapons to the besieged Syrian rebels. This is either a bid to overthrow a friend of Iran or a ploy to capture Syria’s oil. Or both. Sound familiar? It should. Back in the 1980s, Uncle Sam armed Osama bin Laden and other besieged rebels in Afghanistan. Apparently, our leaders think that bid to drive out the Russians in a region with key energy interests was a big success. And, they want to try it again. The tipping point this time involves poison gas — Obama says he’s got evidence that Syrian leader Bashar alAssad used it on his own people. Perhaps. Regardless of the rationale, we must first reckon with the horrific results of our other wars in the Middle East. Consider the fate of Fallujah, a former target of U.S. military attention in Iraq. After the city was leveled, its birth-defect and miscarriage rates skyrocketed, the Environmental Contamination and Toxicology Bulletin found. Experts estimate that some 1 million Iraqis died from combat, malnutrition, and pollution during the course of the Gulf and Iraq wars. Many millions more were driven from their homes. And an alarming percentage of the people who remain there are getting cancer. The cause of this huge toll on Iraqi lives and well-being is no great mystery. War is a dirty business. Those millions of exploded munitions we detonated in Iraq contained lead and mercury. Hundreds of thousands more (the

Pentagon won’t say how many) released depleted uranium, a toxin now dispersed in fine dust all over Iraq and Afghanistan. Others featured white phosphorus. President George W. Bush’s Iraq War didn’t begin the U.S. assault on Iraq’s public health. His father, President George H. W. Bush, oversaw the bombing of Iraq’s water purification plants during the 1991 Gulf War. This brutal tactic has caused countless deaths over the past two decades. The Iraqi people weren’t the only ones poisoned. Our men and women in uniform have suffered too. Around 200,000 Gulf War veterans suffer from medically unexplained but chronic symptoms known as Gulf War syndrome. They include fatigue, headaches, joint pain, indigestion, insomnia, dizziness, respiratory disorders, and memory problems. A new wave of illness is gripping Afghanistan and Iraq War vets. In

Harrop continued from page 20 describes almost every Mideast crisis. To do otherwise means choosing from equally unattractive options and taking the inevitable blowback from the side we don’t seem to be supporting -- which, as we see in Egypt, tends to be both sides. More McCain: “Morsi was a terrible president. Their economy is in terrible shape thanks to their policies. But the fact is, the United States should not be supporting this coup.” The fact is, we are not supporting

the coup. As Obama told a National Security Council meeting over the weekend, “The United States is not aligned with, and does not support, any particular Egyptian political party or group.” Lack of leadership? No, the only sensible response at this time. Follow Froma Harrop on Twitter @fromaharrop. Copyright 2013 The Providence Journal Co. 13-7-9

many cases, these ailments are tied to the military’s environmentally irresponsible “burn pits.” The Veterans Administration notes that those pits routinely torched “chemicals, paint, medical and human waste, metal/aluminum cans, munitions and other unexploded ordnance, petroleum and lubricant products, plastics and Styrofoam, rubber, wood, and discarded food.” Plus some other stuff you can’t legally incinerate in your fireplace. Getting to the bottom of the burn pit problem will take time and money. Representative Tim Bishop, a New York Democrat, recently introduced the Helping Veterans Exposed to Toxic Chemicals Act. His bill would get the much-needed research done to find out whether burn pits harmed the health of our men and women in uniform. Until the research is done, vets

can file disability claims the VA will decide “on a case-by-case basis.” There are many costs of war. In monetary terms, Americans are likely to pay more than $1 trillion just on caring for the many veterans of the Afghanistan War, according to NobelPrize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz and Harvard University professor Linda Bilmes. Before Washington really ramps up the U.S. role in Syria, let’s contemplate the price tag for the quagmires in Iraq and Afghanistan. It could reach $6 trillion, according to Bilmes — who served as the Commerce Department’s CFO during the Clinton administration. Just as it’s now impossible to make a rational argument that our armed forces can bring peace to Middle East conflicts, it’s mind-boggling to argue that we can afford to try this again. Back to that aid Obama pledged weeks ago. Apparently, it hasn’t shown up in Syria yet. Reuters reports that those funds have “been temporarily frozen” after the House and Senate intelligence committees expressed doubts about how this all-too-familiar plan would keep weapons away from militants aligned with al-Qaeda. Sometimes our do-nothing Congress does something right by doing what it does best. Emily Schwartz Greco is the managing editor of OtherWords, a non-profit national editorial service run by the Institute for Policy Studies. OtherWords columnist William A. Collins is a former state representative and a former mayor of Norwalk, Connecticut. 13-7-10


Liberal Opinion Week

July 24, 2013

Petula Dvorak

Death by hot car is preventable The worst part of summer is here, when children die slowly in searing-hot cars. There were two last week, an 8-month-old in Virginia and a 16-month-old in Maryland. Both deaths could have been prevented, if only we had the humility to accept a little help. Technology exists to make it impossible for anyone to forget the baby in the back seat. We just don’t use it. Why? Because many people reject the notion that they could ever forget a kid. But it can happen to anyone in this age of distraction. It has happened 19 times so far this year - and almost always, the script is the same. There’s an otherwise solid, responsible parent who gets distracted on the way to work and forgets about the quiet, sleeping child strapped in the rearfacing, out-of-sight safety seat. Scientists have tried to explain the way our memory lets this happen. Our short-term memory can hold only a small number of line items, about seven. When that little brain basket is full - drop kid off, pick up birthday cake, e-mail boss about the project, call doctor, deliver report to Larry, pay car insurance, complete online training module, change water filter - one or two items fall out. When the human brain clears out the less important things and realizes the most important task was the one that fell off the list, it’s usually too late. The Alexandria, Va., mother, Zoraida Magali Conde Hernandez, 32, went about her morning routine - day care, work, day care - only she forgot the first trip to day care and went straight to work, leaving the child inside a car for six hours while it was 90 degrees outside. Horrible. And she was immediately taken from Inova Alexandria Hospital, where she drove the child after she realized her fatal mistake, to the Arlington County Detention Center and charged with felony neglect. She is the mother of five children. Of course she’s got a ton of stuff floating around in her head on the way to work. What happened to her could happen to any working parent. Read Gene Weingarten’s Pulitzer-winning Washington Post magazine story on car-seat deaths in 2009, and you’ll see what I mean. Take a look at the statistics and see when this started happening - right after laws were passed that require kids to be in car seats in the back. In 2010, 49 kids died in overheated cars nationwide, then 33 in 2011 and 32 last year, according to statistics kept by meteorologistJan Null and the advocacy group KidsandCars.Org. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration held a roundtable with Null and other experts to try to come up with ways to curb these deaths. Last year, NHTSA Administrator David

Strickland announced a safety campaign to address this. It’s a “Look Before You Lock” kind of thing. Well, yeah. But it’s not enough. We have technology to address this, yet no one is pushing car or car-seat manufacturers to add left-child alerts to conveniences such as drink warmers, headlight shut-off and self-parking. “You don’t need devices to babysit your kids,” the naysayers will say. But why wouldn’t we use technology to make our kids safer? We have cars that beep when you’re getting to close to the semi in the next lane. We buy irons that automatically shut off before they burn down the house after you’ve left in your nicely pressed shirt. Our elevators reopen rather than eat your arm when you try to

enter or exit. I made this point when a child died in a car seat two years ago, and I’ll make it again. Scientists at NASA developed a Child Presence Sensor in 2002. It attaches to your key ring and beeps if there’s something or someone in the car seat and you walk away. It went nowhere. But this year, the First Years company came up with a car seat that has a sensor. It’s new, and it should be the standard for every car seat. It may go the way of some other aftermarket devices that failed to sell because no parent could imagine ever forgetting that little ball of life that means everything to him or her in the back seat. That’s exactly what the parents of 19 other kids thought this year, too. (c) 2013, The Washington Post 13-7-8

Nicholas Kristof

A Free Food Miracle! Can you name a miracle food that is universally available, free and can save children’s lives and maybe even make them smarter? That’s not a trick question. There really is such a substance, now routinely squandered, that global health experts believe could save more than 800,000 lives annually. While you’re puzzling over the answer, let me tell you how I just saw it save a life here in West Africa. I’m on my annual win-a-trip journey, in which I take a university student along with me so we can report on global poverty. The winner, Erin Luhmann of the University of Wisconsin, and I randomly stopped in a village near the Malian town of Mopti to ask about food shortages. Then we spotted a baby boy who was starving to death. The infant, only 3 weeks old, was wizened from severe malnutrition and had the empty, unresponsive face of a child shutting down everything else to keep his organs functioning. The teenage mother, Seyda Allaye, said that she didn’t have much milk and that the baby wasn’t nursing well. She saw that he was dying and that morning had invested in cow’s milk in hopes of saving him. Erin and I had a vehicle, so we offered to take her and her son to a hospital to see if doctors could save his life. At the hospital, a doctor examined the baby, asked his mother to try to nurse him and immediately diagnosed the problem. “The mother doesn’t know how to breast-feed properly,” said the doctor, Amidou Traoré. “We see lots of cases of child mortality like this.” Traoré repositioned Seyda Allaye’s arm, helped the infant latch on to her breast, and the baby came alive. And there’s the answer to my opening question. The miracle food that could save so many lives is: breast milk. The latest nutritional survey from The Lancet

estimates that suboptimal breast-feeding claims the lives of 804,000 children annually. That’s more than the World Health Organization’s estimate of malaria deaths each year. Look, I realize that there’s something patronizing about a man griping about poor breast-feeding practices, and, in the West, the issue is linked to maternity leaves and other work practices. But, if we want to save hundreds of thousands of lives, maybe a step forward is to offer more support to moms in poor counties trying to nurse their babies. Nursing a baby might seem instinctive, but plenty goes wrong. In some parts of the world, a problem has been predatory marketing by formula manufacturers, but, in the poorest countries, the main concern is that moms delay breast-feeding for a day or two after birth and then give babies water or food in the first six months. The World Health Organization strongly recommends a diet of exclusively breast milk for that first half year. In a village in Mali, Erin and I watched a woman wash a baby - and then pour handfuls of bath water down his mouth. “It makes the baby strong,” a midwife explained. On hot days, African moms routinely give babies water to drink. In fact, breast milk is all infants need, and the water is sometimes drawn from unsanitary puddles. Here in Mali, fewer than one-quarter of women breast-feed exclusively for six months. In Niger, where Erin and I are also traveling on this wina-trip journey, it’s 8 percent. In our third country, Chad, it’s only 2 percent. This isn’t just an issue in poor countries. In the United States, 16 percent of children are exclusively breast-fed for six months. Then

Kristof continued on page 23

Liberal Opinion Week

July 24, 2013


Frank Bruni

Tweeting toward Sacrilege I wasn’t sure which to bring up first with Joyce Carol Oates: the Muslims or the llamas. She had tweeted about both in the days before I dropped by to see her last week. This said something about the breadth of her interests. Or about Twitter’s way of playing midwife to mischief. I veered in the safer direction. “So where are they?” I asked, looking out the back window of her house here, across a yard as empty as it was green. Nothing grazing. Nothing woolly. Certainly not the “53 llamas” that she had suggested, in a tweet, that she was purchasing to satisfy “a metaphysical yearning.” She explained that she’d been riffing facetiously off a story in The New York Times about rampant llama love. “There’s really not room here,” she said. “We only have 3 acres.” Plenty for Oates and her husband. Not for an Andean offshoot of the clan. That subject dispensed with, we proceeded to the missives that had really lit up cyberspace and had really prompted my visit. In the first days of July, Oates, one of America’s most celebrated writers, was monitoring news from Egypt and was struck by something that I’m sure many other people noticed as well. It certainly caught my eye. Amid accounts of street protests were reports of sexual violence, an odd expression and ugly byproduct of the rage. On her Twitter feed she saw a statistic that chilled her. And she tweeted, “Where 99.3% of women

Kristof continued from page 22

again, in the United States, the child’s life does not normally hang in the balance. Several studies highlight other advantages of breast-feeding, including increases of several points in a child’s IQ and improved development of areas of the brain associated with language and planning. While many moms think they don’t produce enough milk, nutritionists say that that’s rare. Even when moms are malnourished, the baby’s frantic suckling will stimulate more milk. Erin and I traveled partway

report having been sexually harassed & rape is epidemic - Egypt - natural to inquire: what’s the predominant religion?” This wasn’t an isolated query. It belonged to a stream of musings that day, all 140 characters or fewer, on Egypt, Islam and women. She wrote, “If 99.3% of women reported being treated equitably, fairly, generously - it would be natural to ask: what’s the predominant religion?” She also wrote, “’Rape culture’ has no relationship to any ‘religious culture’ - how can this be? Religion has no effect on behavior at all?” Fellow writers and intellectuals freaked. On various byways of the Internet, she was blasted for antiMuslim bigotry. A “furor,” The Wall Street Journal called it, and in a headline no less. I wondered if she wanted to take it all back. “Well, I’m not a confrontational person, so I wouldn’t do it again,” she told me, at least not with the exact language she used. She said that she might instead have written, “If all these women are being harassed and raped and so forth, it’s natural to ask what are the social conditions.” You tweet and you learn. That she tweets at all is astonishing. Where does she find the time? She teaches a full load at Princeton. She also writes long, deeply researched literary reviews. And then there’s her principal vocation and claim to prolific fame: churning out at least a book a year - the novel “The Accursed,” all 670

on this trip with Shawn Baker, a public health expert with Helen Keller International. One day we asked him where he would invest a billion dollars if he had it. “To me, the next big win in saving kids’ lives is breastfeeding promotion,” he said. “It’s absolutely unacceptable that more than 800,000 kids are dying annually of suboptimal breastfeeding.” Ghana is a model of a country that has successfully used public health campaigns to raise rates of exclusive breast-feeding very significantly.

history-packed pages of it, is her most recent - along with poems, essays and more. Now 75, she cannot off the top of her head even quantify her oeuvre, which makes anyone else’s look like a lazy internship. More than 100 titles. That’s for certain. The 99.3 percent figure that she cites for Egyptian women who report having been harassed is questionable, from a U.N. survey that defines harassment broadly. And she hasn’t researched the “epidemic” nature of rape in Egypt. She’s never been there, or anywhere in the Middle East. But in a world in which sexual violence remains as unconscionably prevalent as in ours, shouldn’t anyone who cares about women about human rights - be asking all sorts of questions, including delicate ones? And why are questions that stray beyond the secular considered so particularly delicate? Look critically at someone’s god and gird for the lightning. Oates calls herself a humanist, rejects the conventional notion of divinity and told me, “I don’t have a sense that there are sacred institutions. To me, all religions and all churches are created by human beings.” In that regard, she added, “They’re not that different from, say, the whole legal culture or the medical culture or the scientific culture.” About which you can say or ask almost anything at all. She finds certain barriers and etiquette curious. “If you thought that women were being mistreated

There are many ways to save lives, some involving dazzling technologies. But maybe in our sophistication we’ve overlooked a way to ease childhood malnutrition that is sustainable, scalable, free - and so straightforward that all hungry newborns cry for it. Contact Kristof at Facebook. com/Kristof, NickKristof or by mail at The New York Times, 620 Eighth Ave., New York, NY 10018. c.2013 New York Times News Service 13-7-10

50 miles from where you are, you might want to go help them,” she said. “But if you were told it was a religious commune or something, you’d think, ‘Uh-oh, that’s their religion, maybe I shouldn’t help them.’ It’s like religion is under a dome. It gives an imprimatur to behavior that shouldn’t be tolerated.” Is she saying that Islam oppresses women? Although she expressed concern about Shariah law, she didn’t go that far, and she noted that most religions were patriarchies. Islam stands out for her in terms of the extra-special sensitivity surrounding discussion of it. She said that while religion in general is still coddled in the United States, where churches get tax exemptions and God is on money and in inaugural speeches, we’ve indeed become less reluctant over time to poke fun or hurl barbs at Christianity or Judaism. She pointed to the unapologetic examination of child sexual abuse by Catholic priests. “We can have cartoons about the pope,” she said. “Making fun of the pope just seems to be something that a Catholic might do.” She added, “But if you have a cartoon, or make a film, about radical Islam, then you’re in danger of your life.” She did neither. She just tweeted, and isn’t sure why a format seemingly designed for uncensored, spontaneous, imprecise musings, not nuanced manifestoes, should become grist for such outrage. “Once I said that the doorway to Hades was in our basement - I discovered it!” she told me, referring to a past tweet. That’s the degree of literalism she brings to the arena. Yet readers parse the words they want to and cling to those of their choice. After all, I arrived at her doorstep expecting, on the basis of a single tweet, to meet a herd of exotic pets. She shook her head, looked toward her llama-less yard and said, “It’s a little surprising to me that social media have turned out to be kind of prissy and prim and politically correct.” c.2013 New York Times News Service 13-7-13


Liberal Opinion Week

July 24, 2013

Neal Peirce

Fleeing factories, superstores: Time to demand performance bonds For a half-century and more, there’s been an ugly abandonment scene across America -- factories, malls, gas stations and superstores abruptly closing down, fleeing towns and cities. They leave it to mayors and councils to either suffer the scourge of abandoned territory or pay heavy demolition and cleanup costs. Translation: Local taxpayers are obliged to pay for private industry’s irresponsibility. It’s a crime against civic America. It ought to be stopped in its tracks. Some 17 years ago I wrote a column suggesting that performance bonds, covering all reasonable property recovery costs, be required of all commercial owners whose properties might constitute a future blight. Now there’s backup for that idea in a fresh report from Michigan State University that proposes not just bonds but an alternative of long-term mandatory insurance policies for cleanup of properties. The need is as compelling as ever. My “worst” examples are the wrecks of yesteryear’s industries to be seen from the train window on Amtrak’s Northeast corridor. Worst of all are seven miles through north Philadelphia -- a succession of long-abandoned, decaying factories strung along the right-of-way, their carcasses slowly falling to pieces, rotten roofs caved in on tops of crumbling red brick walls. What an embarrassment for the United States, as foreign visitors number among passengers witnessing the carnage from train windows! There are thousands of other dereliction sites across urban and suburban America. Hundreds of shopping malls, as a website names deadmalls. com has amply documented, have become vacant and indebted hulks. And the trend is accelerating. Analysts are suggesting that 15 percent of U.S. regional malls will fail in the next five years. Malls are just part of the problem. Thousands of abandoned facilities -- once-active steel and auto plants, gas stations, supermarkets, convenience store blocks, Wal-Marts, Kmarts and other failed retailers’ big boxes -- litter the landscape from sea to shining sea. And not just the buildings -- it’s the parking lots. Contaminated with brake and hydraulic fluid, along with gas and crankcase oil -- everything that drips out of cars -- the acres of parking space generate runoff that needs to be treated and hauled off in an environmentally responsible way. Can good use be made of some abandoned big boxes? Yes. In the book “Big Box Reuse” (MIT Press, 2008), author Julia Christensen documents how some imaginative communities had been able to reclaim vacated Wal-Marts and KMarts for such varied uses as a church, a library, a school, a Head Start center, a medical center, a courthouse, a recreation center and a museum. But those are relatively isolated cases. And the basic big-box form -- a single-use structure

surrounded by a sea of parking spaces, isolated from town and community centers, almost never connected to public transit -- is emblematic of the sprawl and waste that still plague urban development in America. Not to mention the way big-lot superstores often abuse localities. Tangling the possibility of jobs and commerce before the eyes of local officials, they sometimes demand and get cut-rate land or outright public subsidies for coming to town. Then, by virtue of their presence (and cutrate prices), they force locally owned stores out of business and decimate historical downtowns. All this may have seemed inevitable during the big-box era of recent decades -- and in fact remains a serious threat. But what’s most inexcusable is the practice of big landowners (retail or industrial) literally “walking away” from their privately held parcels, forcing local government (and taxpayers) to pick up the cost of removing the blight. State governments could do a lot to correct this situation by passing laws that require bonding or removal insurance for stores -- just as parallel requirements are routinely demanded of cell towers, oil rigs and mining sites. Of course, industry front groups such as

ALEC (the American Legislative Exchange Council) would quickly mount campaigns to stop legislative action. Another hurdle is that reform laws would be a red flag to site locators -- raising the specter, as Emily Badger notes on the Atlantic Cities website, that “states might wind up competing for jobs based on who allows industry to walk away from the biggest mess.” Let’s hope there’s sufficient common sense in state capitals to avert such a dog-eat-dog approach. It’s tough to discern equity in an America in which both local governments and lower- to middle-income families struggle to make ends meet -- even while corporate profits rise and the stock market recovers to pre-recession levels. Mandatory bonding or insurance to make corporations pay for the full environmental restoration of their abandoned store and plant sites would hardly be a panacea for the inequities in today’s economy. But in good and bad times alike, it should be the least that the public demands. Neal Peirce’s email address is nrp@citistates. com. (c) 2013, The Washington Post Writers Group 13-7-8

Sam Pizzigati

Predistribute the Wealth Sometimes we need new words to grasp new ideas. Frances O’Grady, Britain’s highest-ranking labor leader, has coined one of these handy new words: predistribution. Why does O’Grady, the general secretary of the UK’s Trades Union Congress, want us talking “predistribution”? In our staggeringly unequal modern times, her union federation argues in a just-released research paper, redistribution has run its course. The rich — on both sides of the Atlantic — have seen to that. Over recent years, they’ve systematically dismantled progressive tax systems, the traditional route to redistributing top-heavy concentrations of income and wealth. Even worse, the rich and their cheerleaders have turned redistribution into a political fourletter word. They’ve branded anything that smacks of redistribution a dangerous assault on the “natural” wisdom of the market economy. We must let the market, their argument goes, reward the enterprising and punish the lazy. Or else risk eternal economic damnation. In reality, of course, markets don’t just reward the enterprising. They reward price-fixers and union-busters, monopolists and folks who are just plain lucky. And if you inherit a grand fortune, the market will merrily heap rewards your way

year after year, no matter how lazy you may be. Markets, in short, don’t follow “natural” laws. They reflect existing power relationships. Those who hold power bend the rules, formal and informal, that determine how markets operate — and who profits the most from them. Back in the mid-20th century, in both Britain and the United States, average citizens wielded enough power through trade unions and at the ballot box to impact those rules. But that power has ebbed. The rich have rewritten the rules — and lined their pockets. How profoundly are the new rules — on everything from minimum wages to collective bargaining — depressing wages in Britain and the United States? In the UK today, 20.6 percent of employees work in jobs that rate as “low wage,” that is, pay less than two-thirds the nation’s median paycheck. Only one other major developed nation in the world — the United States — has a higher share of workers in low-wage work. That U.S. share: 24.8 percent. Other nations are doing far better at making work pay. In France, only 11.1 percent of workers labor in low-wage jobs. In Norway,

PIzzigati continued on page 25

Liberal Opinion Week

July 24, 2013


Susan Estrich

What Flight Attendants Do Back in the old days, it was “coffee, tea or me.” Flight attendants were stewardesses. They wore sometimes stylish and sometimes just plain bizarre suits or dresses. They were all young and thin and single and definitely not pregnant. That’s what male travelers (and most of the travelers were male) preferred. And that was the argument the airlines made when they got sued for discrimination. They claimed that being young and thin and female was “job related,” a business “necessity” even, and they produced all kinds of studies showing that passengers really did feel more comfortable with stewardesses they could flirt with. The reason the airlines ultimately lost, the reason you see flight attendants who are old and male and

feel no need to flirt, is because the courts ruled that making passengers feel comfortable is not the primary job of a flight attendant. And, by the way, it’s also not making sure you get a good dinner or a stiff drink the minute you sit down. Flight attendants are there for safety. They are trained for the moment no one ever wants to experience, the moment passengers on Asiana Airlines experienced last week at San Francisco International Airport, the moment when safety is all that matters. In the days since, there has been much talk about the actions of the “flight crew” -- including the revelation that the pilot was “training” on the flight. But there has been nothing but praise for the flight attendants -- in

Pizzigati continued from page 24 only 8 percent. More progressive taxes by themselves, British labor analysts argue, won’t be enough to undo the stark inequality the rule changes of recent years have created. We can’t, in other words, just redistribute. We need to predistribute — end those marketplace practices that steer the wealth our economy creates away from the people who actually create it. The British Trades Union Congress is now advancing a game plan for forging “a more equal distribution of wages before taxes and benefits.” The labor group’s new paper, How to Boost the Wage Share, explores a package of proposals that target “the root causes of rising inequality rather than concentrating on tackling the symptoms through redistribution.” At the nuts-and-bolts level, these proposals range from hiking the minimum wage to placing worker representatives on the corporate boards that set executive pay. Overall, many of these ideas mirror notions that also appear in Prosperity Economics, a paper by Yale University’s Jacob Hacker and Nathaniel Loewentheil,

that American unions have enthusiastically embraced. Both these American and British analyses stress the importance of “rebalancing the economy away from low-paid work.” And what if we don’t? What if we let the worker wage share continue to decrease? What if we continue to let the powerful and privileged grab with such unfettered abandon? Without measures aimed at “raising the earnings floor” and “capping excessive rewards at the top,” the British Trades Union Congress argues, the “recovery” from the global economic collapse that began in 2007 will remain a nonstarter. “Ultimately,” the British labor group concludes, “creating a lower gap will depend on a fundamental shift in the balance of economic and social power.” In a word: predistribution. OtherWords columnist Sam Pizzigati is an Institute for Policy Studies associate fellow. His latest book is The Rich Don’t Always Win: The Forgotten Triumph over Plutocracy that Created the American Middle Class. 13-7-10

the case of Asiana, high heels and pencil skirts and all -- who carried people off of the plane, dealt with a chute that had wrongly inflated inside the plane and, in short, did what they were trained to do: save lives, not make drinks. I fly a lot and have for many years. And over the years, I’ve seen life get harder and harder for the women, and now the men, too, who “serve” the passengers. They have more of us to deal with and fewer goodies to give us; we are tired and overbooked and cranky. The food is terrible, and there isn’t enough of it (to quote Woody Allen), and you have to pay for it, to boot. It takes forever to get a drink. There’s no blanket. There’s no outlet. The WiFi doesn’t work. The seat won’t go back. There’s a line for the bathroom. When I was a kid, I thought airports were incredibly glamorous places. I thought flying was exciting. I would get all dressed up to “travel.” It would never occur to me to complain. These days, it occurs to me all the time. Traveling brings out the worst in many of us. I’m guilty, too. Ask

my kids. It shouldn’t take a tragedy like the Asiana crash to remind us that airplanes are not hotels and restaurants that happen to have wings, and flight attendants are not traveling waiters and waitresses or front desk clerks at the hotel in the sky. When lives are on the line, their job is to put us first. That’s what the flight attendants on the Asiana flight did, and that’s what that overworked man or woman greeting you at the front of the plane or serving you your soda will do if, God forbid, they need to. They will put your life first. Their instincts, honed by training, will be to save you. They are ready to do it every time they get on a plane, and for that every one of us who travels for work or play owes them a debt of gratitude. So if you happen to be on a plane this week, maybe it’s a good time to sit back and thank the flight attendant -- not for the orange juice or the pillow, but for being ready. Copyright 2013 13-7-10

Jim Hightower

North Carolina rips more holes in its safety net

Something profoundly awful has seeped into the top strata of American society: Our nation’s corporate and political elites have developed immunity to shame. It has become morally acceptable for those in lofty circles to enrich themselves while turning their backs on the rest of us Even more damning, the power elites now feel ethically free to slash America’s tattered safety net, leaving more holes than net for the workaday majority of Americans who’ve been knocked down by the ongoing economic disaster created by these very elites. North Carolina is the latest state to flaunt its shame-resistant political leadership, which now consists of corporate-funded tea party extremists who loathe the very idea

of a safety net. These North Carolina lawmakers and lobbyists have been gutting everything from their public schools to health care. Now, they’ve turned on their own citizens who are out of work. In a state with the fifth-highest jobless rate in the country and with no recovery in sight, the right-wing governor and legislature recently whacked unemployment benefits and cut the number of weeks people can receive this essential aid to 19 weeks. The national standard is 26. That official minginess automatically disqualified the state from getting $700 million a year for long-term jobless payments from the federal government. Yet,

Hightower continued on page 27


Liberal Opinion Week

July 24, 2013

Alexandra Petri

I really mean it. Not. According to the BBC, a French company called Spotter has designed a sarcasm detector. It relies on an algorithm and, if Spotter’s estimates are correct, is capable of picking up on about 80 percent of sarcasm. That’s great! It used to be that you could algorithm your way only to 50 percent. I could do better than that, and I am the person who responds to “Cool story, bro!” with effusive, heartfelt thanks. (Then again, I once spent several hours squinting at a ceiling to try to locate where “gullible” was written on it, so maybe I am a bad sample.) “One of our clients is Air France. If someone has a delayed flight, they will tweet, ‘Thanks Air France for getting us into London two hours late.’ Obviously they are not actually thanking them,” the company’s British sales director, Richard May, told the BBC. I’m glad they are here to tell us these things. Eighty percent, if correct, is higher than some people. For instance, this week President Barack Obama told a crowd of unsuspecting children that his favorite food was broccoli. Possibly he was being sarcastic himself. I am not sure, as I lack access to the technology. I responded to this news as any red-blooded, clogged-arteried American should: by calling for his impeachment. Broccoli, your favorite food? It would be just barely forgivable to call broccoli your favorite vegetable. But calling broccoli your favorite food is like saying that your favorite computer game is Microsoft Excel. Particularly given that the United States has just lost its pride of place as the world’s most obese country and now ranks behind Mexico, crying for his impeachment is the least anyone can do. So, naturally, I got an e-mail from a reader pointing out that this was “completely ignorant and stupid” and, furthermore, that “I find it hard to believe that someone would have the audacity to say something like impeaching President Barack Obama over something as silly as broccoli being his favorite food.” After all, “if any random, basic person said to you, ‘Broccoli is my favorite food,’ you wouldn’t say, ‘What, that’s crazy. You should lose your job.’ “ Good observation, citizen! (Please don’t run that last sentence through Spotter.) I get a fair number of e-mails every week from people who do not realize when I am joking because communicating online through text alone has robbed us of the rich nonverbal cues that would have indicated that, say, Jonathan Swift did not actually want to eat Irish children. (I am not sure what these rich nonverbal cues were in Jonathan Swift’s case. Possibly he wiggled his eyebrows a lot.) People keep making the case that we need a “Sark Mark” or indicator of sarcasm, given the vast volume of our communication that takes place via text, either online or in our phones. And that’s true. Without intonation, as numerous T-shirts remind us, a misplaced comma can be the difference between “Let’s eat, Grandma!” and

“Let’s eat Grandma!” You can get into dangerous territory quickly, long before you reach the other common problem of parents mistaking LOL for Lots of Love. It is the inability to discern tone that forces congenitally earnest people like me to end every sentence in our e-mails with an exclamation

point, lest we be misconstrued. Better to sound a little deranged at all times than to sound like you might not mean it! Really! (c) 2013, The Washington Post 13-7-13

Jill Richardson

A deadly power surge Jacki Schilke was suffering from symptoms ranging from rashes, pain, and lightheadedness to dental problems and urinating blood. The formerly healthy, 53-year-old cattle rancher’s body was under assault from a list of toxic chemicals as long as your arm. But Schilke’s lucky — so far — compared to five of her cows. They died. The rancher’s problems might become worse in time, since the chemicals causing her acute problems are also linked to chronic, deadly diseases like cancer. What’s afflicting Schilke and her cows? The oil and gas drilling craze known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. As The Nation magazine and the Great Plains Examiner reported last year, Oasis Petroleum started fracking on land three miles from her ranch in 2010. Oasis got money, the world got more energy from the gas they drilled, and Schilke got sick. Now, she won’t even eat her own beef. If the results of fracking were virtually unknown a decade ago, before it became a common practice in states like Pennsylvania and Schilke’s home of North Dakota, there’s no mystery remaining now. It shouldn’t be a surprise. After all, when you pump a cocktail of toxic chemicals into the ground to dislodge fossil fuels, there’s a cocktail of toxic chemicals in the ground. And some of those toxins don’t stay put. They make their way into the water, the soil, and the air. And the toxins flow from there into the living things that rely on the water: the soil, the air, plants, animals, and us. We’re fracking our food. Yet President Barack Obama is a big fracking supporter. He called natural gas a form of “clean energy” in the big address on global warming he delivered in June, touting the nation’s production of more natural gas “than any other country on Earth.” Then he said, “We should strengthen our position as the top natural gas producer because, in the medium term at least, it not only can provide safe, cheap power, but it can also help reduce our carbon emissions.” Right. Compared to other forms of dirty energy, natural gas might reduce our carbon emissions. But at what cost? If our only energy options were oil, coal,

and natural gas, we’d be in a rotten Catch-22. Luckily, we have more choices than that. There are growing solar, wind, and geothermal options. Perhaps the most overlooked alternative is increasing efficiency. I visited the University of Utah, in Salt Lake City, two years ago. The school had made a big effort to reduce its energy use. In one building, I saw a hallway that used to have its lights turned on all the time. The builders had never even installed switches to turn them off. Decades ago, energy was “too cheap to meter.” It seemed cheaper to just leave the lights on all the time than to wire them to be turned off. That’s changed. After some retrofitting, the lights can be turned off. How many other buildings and homes have no light switches, insufficient insulation, or old, power-guzzling appliances? How many are still being built without taking advantage of the most up-to-date methods that curb energy use? Obama proudly spoke of doubling America’s use of solar and wind power in the last four years, with plans to double them yet again. He’s right. We increased wind and solar energy from less than 1 percent of our energy in 2007 to less than 2 percent in 2011. (Meanwhile, our reliance on natural gas crept up from 28 percent to 30 percent of total energy consumption, and our total use of energy overall rose in those four years by 9.4 percent — with most of the increase coming from dirty sources.) Fracking might be profitable, but whether it’s good for anything else is doubtful. Emissions during the fracking process outweigh any benefits of reduced emissions when the fuel obtained is burned. Besides, how does fracking American land make sense if it’s poisoning our food and water supply with chemicals that give us cancer? Let’s solve our energy problems by increasing efficiency and by turning to truly clean sources of energy: renewable options like solar, wind, and geothermal power. OtherWords columnist Jill Richardson is the author of Recipe for America: Why Our Food System Is Broken and What We Can Do to Fix It. 13-7-10

Liberal Opinion Week

July 24, 2013


Walter Brasch

“Putting People over Profits”: Fight against fracking

Pennsylvanians want to put a moratorium on fracking. And it’s not just a few thousand, but a majority of the state’s residents. Pennsylvania lies in the heart of the Marcellus Shale, possibly the most productive shale for gas in the country. A joint University of Michigan/ Muhlenberg College study reveals that only 49 percent of Pennsylvanians support shale gas extraction and 58 percent of all Pennsylvanians want the state to order “time out” until the health and environmental effects of fracking can be fully analyzed. That same study revealed that 60 percent of Pennsylvanians believe fracking poses a major risk to ground water resources, only 28 percent disagree; 12 percent have no opinion. Petitions with more than 100,000 signatures requesting a moratorium were delivered to Gov. Tom Corbett in April. As is typical for the man who willingly accepted more than $1.8 million in campaign contributions from the oil and gas industry, it didn’t matter. High-volume hydraulic horizontal fracturing, better known as fracking, requires per well three to nine million gallons of fresh water, about 10,000 tons of silica sand, and about 100,000 gallons of a lubricant mixture that the drilling companies won’t reveal the contents. However, a U.S. House of Representatives study suggests that of about 750 chemicals that could be used in that solution— every well and every company uses a different mixture—about 650 are toxic or known carcinogens. That mixture is forced into the earth, past the aquifers that provide drinking water, and then is brought up and placed into plastic-liner storage bins, where it is eventually loaded into trucks that travel throughout Pennsylvania, occasionally leaking onto the roads, and usually into Ohio, where millions of gallons of the fluids are forced back into the earth. Scientific evidence now links those deep injection wells to earthquakes. Scientists have also shown health and environmental

effects from fracking, and that methane, an explosive greenhouse gas extracted from the earth, has added to the problems of climate change. In June, the Democratic State Central Committee approved a resolution to establish a moratorium. So, if almost three-fifths of all residents want fracking to stop, who’s opposing the moratorium? Just about anyone in a political leadership position. They tend to be the ones who from their own houses can’t see drilling rigs, well pads, frack pits, and frack trucks that block access roads. They tend to be the ones who have deliberately twisted the facts and now squawk about how fracking the earth has helped create jobs and improve the economy, while ignoring the problems already proven that affect their constituents’ health, environment, and food supply. The Democrats’ resolution had begun in February. Sue Lyons, an attorney, had proposed the resolution. However, the Rules Committee of the Democratic Party Central Committee did not allow it to go forward, questioning its legality. To make sure the resolution was not in the best interest of Pennsylvania, the party even contacted the Department of Environmental Protection, the same DEP that has policies that block full transparency, that has a policy to “educate” rather than penalize gas companies that violate state pollution standards, and for two years had been run by a political crony of Gov. Corbett. The DEP agreed with what passes as Democratic leadership—the resolution was out of order. Enter Karen Feridun, Patti Rose, and Berks Gas Truth. With a massive grassroots campaign, in less than two months they convinced the delegates to the Central Committee not only to get the resolution out of committee but also onto the floor for the vote. Before the delegates, Feridun argued that contrary to politician and industry claims, no one can say that fracking is safe because the chemicals are protected from

disclosure under an exception to the Safe Water Drinking Act, the exception having been pushed through during the Bush–Cheney administration. The Michigan/ Muhlenberg poll reveals that 91 percent of all Pennsylvanians believe fracking companies should disclose all chemicals used in the process. Feridun argued that frack waste is so radioactive that landfills won’t accept it, and that fracking has led to massive fish kills. But, most important, fracking has led to health problems, and even the DEP has had to acknowledge there have been at least 160 identified cases of contaminated water wells because of nearby fracking. The Democratic leadership, somewhat parroting the Republicans, didn’t accept that democracy prevailed in the state central committee. Vicechair Penny Gerber, who lives in Montgomery County, which is exempt from fracking, called fracking “a thriving industry.” Gerber is an associate at a PR firm whose clients include large energy companies. Former Gov. Ed Rendell told the Patriot-News of Harrisburg the resolution was “ill-advised,” and then used the same arguments spewed forth by Tom Corbett and the Republican leaders by claiming that fracking improved the economy and “helped create wealth in the poorest areas of Pennsylvania,” avoiding any references to the detrimental effects that Feridun so eloquently brought forth. What Rendell didn’t say, although it isn’t any secret, is that he is a special counsel to one of the nation’s largest law firms that represents Big Energy. Among his chores was to intervene on behalf of Range Resources, one of the nation’s largest drilling companies, to get the Environmental Protection Agency to drop a water contamination suit. Also opposing the will of the delegates are at least two of the three Democratic candidates for governor. One is an unabashed supporter of fracking—he was the DEP head under Rendell, who opened the gates to fracking

Pennsylvania; the other is a member of Congress, but who represents a district in the affluent Southeast Pennsylvania that has already received the state’s official blessings to be part of a six-year moratorium on shale drilling. The day the petitions were delivered to Tom Corbett in April, State Sen. Jim Ferlo (Pittsburgh) proposed legislation to call for a moratorium. Co-sponsors are Sens. Lisa Boscola (Lehigh/ Northampton), Andrew Dinniman (West Chester), Shirley Kitchen (Philadelphia), Daylin Leach (Montgomery/Delaware counties), Judy Schwank (D-Berks), and Christine Tartaglione (Philadelphia) Let’s hope they can convince the Republican-controlled legislature to—as Karen Feridun says—“put people over profits.” Walter Brasch is an awardwinning journalist and author. His latest book is Fracking Pennsylvania, a look at the health, environmental, and agricultural effects of high-volume horizontal fracturing. The book is available at, your local bookstore, or 13-7-14

Hightower continued from pg 25 Governor Pat McCrory issued a cockamamie, Kafkaesque claim that the gut job ensures that “our citizens’ unemployment safety net is secure,” while providing “an economic climate that allows job creators to start hiring again.” Yeah, we’ll all hold our breath until those “job creators” get going. If ignorance is bliss, McCrory must be ecstatic. Meanwhile, his shameless immorality has unleashed a growing storm of weekly demonstrations at the capital. The North Carolina Justice Center has more information about this war on the jobless. OtherWords columnist Jim Hightower is a radio commentator, writer, and public speaker. He’s also editor of the populist newsletter, The Hightower Lowdown.


Liberal Opinion Week

July 24, 2013

Clarence Page

How basketball love beat racial hate Brace yourself for a lot of looking-back stories. Fifty years have passed since 1963, a time of transition that makes today’s social and political firestorms look like a cool breeze. It was the year that the Beatles released their first album. The Rolling Stones toured the United Kingdom as a warm-up act for Bo Diddley and the Everly Brothers. Yes, everybody has to start somewhere. But it also was the year that President John F. Kennedy sent the first 15,000 troops as “advisers” to Vietnam, where more than 58,000 would die in combat. The Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., in August delivered his historic “I Have a Dream” speech. The next month four African American girls were killed by a Ku Klux Klan bomb while they were in Sunday school at the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala. Earlier that year, Alabama Gov. George Wallace declared in his inauguration address, “Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.” In Hawaii, a biracial kid called “Barry” Obama was two years old. That backdrop gives a little perspective to President Barack Obama’s Oval Office meeting Thursday with surviving members of the men’s basketball team from Loyola University of Chicago that won the 1963 NCAA championship. Besides their athletic excellence, the Jesuit school’s team is remembered for a decision by their coach George Ireland to do something that was still pretty radical: Start games with his best five players, regardless of their race. Almost a decade after the Supreme Court’s landmark 1954 school desegregation decision, desegregation came slowly. For schools that had black players, an unwritten rule said you started “One at home, two on the road and three if you’re losing badly.” You may remember that from the book and movie “Glory Road,” about Don Haskins, coach at Texas Western (now the University of Texas at El Paso) who in 1966 led the first allblack starting lineup to an NCAA championship. Ireland took Loyola’s Ramblers to the championship with four black starters. They went on to defeat the reigning champs, the University of Cincinnati, 60-58, in overtime and become the only Division I team in Illinois to capture the men’s Division I basketball title. But before that game, there was the regional semifinal that is remembered as “The Game of Change” against an all-white team from Mississippi State University. That game almost didn’t happen. Mississippi is where Gov. Ross Barnett’s unsuccessful

efforts to block the enrollment of black air force veteran James Meredith sparked bloody riots a year earlier. After that, even white Mississippians increasingly were pressuring state leaders to drop their ban against black players -- or playing against black players. As Chicago journalist Michael Lenehan details in his new book “Ramblers: Loyola Chicago 1963 -- The Team That Changed the Color of College Basketball,” Mississippi officials had to take extraordinary measures to dodge a last-minute court order against the game with Loyola. In a clandestine operation that reads like a cold war espionage thriller (including a sheriff’s deputy who may have dragged his heels on purpose in delivering the papers), Mississippi State’s President Dean W. Colvard, basketball coach James H. “Babe” McCarthy and other officials fled the state. They left the team behind, figuring correctly that “not even a Mississippi politician” would try to arrest or serve papers on a group of fine, young three-time conference

champions. Mississippi State’s team made it to the semifinal held at Michigan State University. There they lost to Loyola 61-51 amid far more news coverage than either team ever experienced before. In those racially tense times, many wondered whether the Southern students would be picketed or worse. Instead, they received a standing ovation, helped along by Michigan State students who came -- in the absence of a Mississippi crowd -- to boost their fellow “MSU” students. Did the 1963 team change the color of college basketball, as the book’s subtitle suggests? It’s hard to say just how much the Ramblers helped the civil rights revolution, but they moved the ball down the court. They showed how basketball love can beat racial hate and serve in unexpected ways as an agent of social change. E-mail Clarence Page at cpage@tribune. com. (c) 2013 Clarence Page 13-7-14

Clarence Page

Is the R-word the new N-word? A new poll suggests that Americans, including black Americans, tend to think blacks are more racist than whites or Hispanics. I don’t think we are. We only sound like it sometimes. The poll by the conservative-leaning Rasmussen Reports, finds a larger minority of Americans, 37 percent, think most black Americans are racist compared to the 15 percent of respondents who think most white Americans are racist or the 18 percent who think that about Hispanic Americans. I expected the numbers to fall heavily along racial and partisan lines, and they do. For example, 49 percent of conservatives consider most blacks to be racist compared to only 21 percent of liberals. Considering how many of today’s conservatives tend to hear any racial grievance as “playing the race card,” I’m not surprised. What defies the usual stereotypes is the sizeable minority of blacks, 31 percent, who agreed with the 38 percent of whites in the poll who think that most blacks are racist. That’s higher than the 24 percent of blacks (and 10 percent of whites) who think that most whites are racist. That stereotype-shattering result might suggest that we black folks have some work to do in cleaning up our own prejudices. Understood. But what? The poll offers not a clue. For starters, it doesn’t define “racist,” even

though there is hardly a more abused, misused and overused word in the English language than the R-word. Two major misunderstandings make a mess of today’s race debates. One, our racial attitudes are based on our personal experiences and all of our experiences are very different. Two, everybody carries different definitions in their heads of what racism is. Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary lists two definitions. One is “a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race.” The other is simply “racial prejudice or discrimination.” But there’s at least one other definition, widely believed among black folks, that touched off an uproar after Spike Lee expressed it in a July 1991 Playboy magazine interview: “Black people can’t be racist, he said. “Racism is an institution.” Although “black people can be prejudiced,” Lee allowed, we “don’t have the power” to enforce the sweeping institutional racism that perpetuates social, economic and political inequality. Maybe not, I say, but we’re moving up. Lee’s argument was easier to make before African Americans gained as much institutional

Page continued on page 29

Liberal Opinion Week

July 24, 2013


Charles Blow

The Sadness Lingers One thing still hanging in the air when the lawyers in the George Zimmerman trial finished their closing arguments was sadness heavy and thick, the choking kind, like acrid smoke. Some questions will never be answered. And some facts will never be altered - chief among them, that there is a dead teenager with a hole in his heart sleeping in a Florida grave, a fact that never had to be. Zimmerman told Sean Hannity last year that his shooting of Trayvon Martin was “God’s plan” and that if he could do it all over he would do nothing different. (Later in the interview, Zimmerman equivocated a bit on the topic without identifying what specifically he would change.) I don’t pretend to know the heart of God or the details of his “plans,” but I hasten to hope that he - or she would value life over death, that free will is part of a faithful walk, that our mistakes are not automatically postscripted as part of a divine destiny. I would also hope that Zimmerman, having sat through his

murder trial in the presence of the dead teen’s grieving parents, might answer Hannity differently. Maybe the answer he gave last year was part of a legal defense. Maybe now he would have more empathy. Somewhere, behind the

Page continued from page 28 power and influence as some of us are beginning to achieve, all the way up to the White House. As we aspire to full equality, I believe that we need to hold ourselves as accountable as we hold Paula Deen, Don Imus, Michael “Kramer” Richards and every other racial gaffe maker. But that’s not always easy. What we say can be quite culturally different from what other people want to hear. Remember, for example, the blowback last year after President Barack Obama framed the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin in personal terms by saying, “If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon.” “Disgraceful,” fumed Republican presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich. “We should all be horrified no matter what the ethnic background.” Of course. Obviously the president didn’t mean to say otherwise. But, when even President Obama gets slammed for an innocent tribute after all of his

years of diligently playing by the rules of today’s racial etiquette, it is no wonder that so many people think black folks are racist. Yet, as the poll results hint, it is no secret that the black community has to contend with its own internal racism, too. I recall, for example, how one of my son’s black high school classmates responded when I asked whether he detected any racism in today’s youths. Yes, he said, “The blacks girls get mad when they see you dancing with a white girl.” Ah, yes. Race, like sex, is complicated, children. Considering today’s tragic shortage of marriageable black males, I can’t help but sympathize with those girls. They didn’t create this world. They’re probably just imitating us, their elders. E-mail Clarence Page at (c) 2013 Clarence Page Distributed By Tribune Media Services, Inc. 13-7-10

breastbone, where the conscience can speak freely without fear of legal implications or social condemnation, surely there can be an admission that, if he’d done some things differently - like staying in his vehicle and not following the young man - Martin would still be alive today. That’s why the sadness lingers. Martin will never be free from the grave, and Zimmerman will never be free from his role in assigning Martin that fate. The two are forever linked, across life and death, across bad decisions and by opposite ends of a gun barrel. A life you take latches onto you. For the rest of us, the questions are: What happens when the legal verdict is rendered and the social cause continues? Is this case a springboard to high-level discussions about police procedures and the presumptions of guilt and innocence, or will it be a moment in which cultural constructs of biases and presumptions are calcified? Do we need a clean, binary narrative of good guys and bad guys to draw moral conclusions about right and wrong? Should your past or what you wear or how you look subtract from your humanity and add to the suspicion you draw? Can we think of bias in the sophisticated way in which it

operates - not always conscious and not always constant, but rising and then falling like rancid water at the bottom of a sour well? And this, too, is why the sadness lingers. There is a mother who will never again see her son’s impish smile or feel his warm body collapsing into her open arms. There is a father who won’t be able to straighten his son’s tie or tell him “You missed a spot” after a shave. There is a brother who will never be able to trade jokes and dreams and what-ifs with him well into the night, long after both should be asleep. The death of a child blasts a hole into the fabric of a family, one that can never truly be mended. I refuse to believe that was God’s plan for Martin’s family. The sadness also lingers because so many parents and siblings and friends and sympathizers look on in horror at the prospect of a scary precedent - that some may walk away from this trial believing that they should do nothing different from what Zimmerman did, and that the law may either endorse or allow inadvisable actions that could lead to such an end. Unarmed teenagers should not end up dead. I believe that most people would agree. This case, however, is about whether an unarmed teenager can engage an armed person - one who admits to having pursued him - in such a way that the teenager become responsible for his own death. The jury has to ponder and decide that. Only Zimmerman and Martin truly know the answer; one refused to testify, the other couldn’t. Whatever the verdict in this case is, it must be respected. The lawyers presented the cases they had, presumably to the best of their abilities, and the jurors will presumably do their best to be fair. But no one can ease the sadness. As Mahatma Gandhi once said: “There is a higher court than courts of justice and that is the court of conscience. It supersedes all other courts.” In that court, it is hard to avoid righteous conviction. Maybe that’s part of God’s plan. c.2013 New York Times News Service 13-7-12


Liberal Opinion Week

July 24, 2013

Gene Lyons

A Window into the Martin-Zimmerman Trial Twenty years ago, I wrote a book called “Widow’s Web” about two politically charged, media-driven murder cases. The subject was all anybody in Arkansas talked about for a couple of years. The book documented how an audience worked into a frenzy by a histrionic murderer with big blue eyes, a publicity-mad county sheriff and slipshod, sensational media coverage helped to compound a tragedy by ruining a good man’s life. I can still remember my astonishment upon realizing that front-page trial coverage in the state’s leading newspaper depicted not the actual testimony and crime scene photos, but an imaginary scenario calculated to cast suspicion on the victim’s husband. Media accounts also falsely depicted a man who lost everything due to his wife’s death as inheriting a fortune. “It was the popular thing to believe,” one Little Rock detective told me. “You could ask the ladies under every hair dryer in every beauty shop in Arkansas if McArthur was involved, and they’d say yes. They didn’t have to know a thing about the case. They just knew.” And they were completely deluded. Writing the book was a life-changing experience. I’ve never read a newspaper or watched a TV news program the same way since -- particularly not about a homicide trial. For the record, that’s where I’m coming from regarding the George Zimmerman-Trayvon Martin murder trial in Florida -- a lamentable tragedy of errors marketed as a multimedia morality play on the combustible theme of race. It makes me crazy to see what I call the Mighty MSNBC Art Players and other media figures fictionalize, dissemble and play fast and loose with facts. The case is troubling enough without turning the participants into political symbols. For example, I don’t care how many times you hear that Zimmerman defied police orders not to get out of his truck and “stalked” Martin like a rabbit hunter. There’s no evidence that happened. By the time the dispatcher suggested “we don’t need you to do that, OK?” he’d been walking for some time. His story is that he was returning to the vehicle when the kid confronted him. Maybe so, maybe not. But there’s scant evidence to the contrary. Millions invest more emotion in the outcome of highly publicized trials than sports fans place in the Super Bowl. It’s bad enough to see people choosing sides based upon political preference and race, without their being encouraged to do so. That way lies folly. Whether or not George Zimmerman is found guilty -- and I don’t see how the jury gets past reasonable doubt -- the outcome shouldn’t be about his race, Trayvon Martin’s, yours or mine. So anyway, here’s somewhere else I’m coming from: My Irish-Catholic father had a credo he must have repeated to me a million times growing up: “You’re no better than anybody else, and NOBODY’S BETTER THAN YOU.” He mostly

meant that Irish people were as good as everybody, not really an issue when I was growing up. However, I’ve never come up with a better way of thinking about issues of class and identity. It’s bedrock Americanism, and my personal credo. So when I read coverage like Lizette Alvarez’s “Zimmerman Case Has Race as a Backdrop, but You Won’t Hear It in Court,” in The New York Times, my first instinct is to think that’s on balance a good thing. Not so to most of those Alvarez spoke with. “For members of the African-American community, it’s a here-we-goagain moment,” a Florida professor said. “Others,” we’re told, “place Trayvon Martin’s name next to those of Rodney King, Amadou Diallo and other black men who were abused, beaten or killed by police officers.” Again, maybe so, and maybe not. I’d respond that it’s possible to totally get that in an intellectual and emotional way without agreeing that the Zimmerman jury should consider it for a moment. It’s also easy to recall instances like the Tawana Brawley episode and the Duke lacrosse team prosecution where similarly emotional appeals led to manifest injustices. Wisdom rarely resides in calls to ethnic

solidarity. George Zimmerman’s got a right not to be judged on account of his race, too. I like the way Eric Zorn put it in his Chicago Tribune blog: “Martin could have been carrying a stolen TV set and walking away from a house where the burglar alarm was blaring and that wouldn’t have given Zimmerman the right to shoot him. “Zimmerman could have been wearing Klan robes and that wouldn’t have given Martin the right to attack and thrash him.” On the evidence, it’s clear that both Zimmerman and Martin acted badly, with tragic consequences -- Zimmerman by carrying around that accursed gun he was in no way qualified to handle, and Martin through foolhardy teenaged bravado. One life ended, another destroyed. But not necessarily symbols of anything greater than their own confusion and folly. Arkansas Times columnist Gene Lyons is a National Magazine Award winner and coauthor of “The Hunting of the President” (St. Martin’s Press, 2000). You can email Lyons at Copyright 2013, Gene Lyons 13-7-10

Susan Estrich

Self-Defense? First of all, the prosecution is extremely unlikely to convict George Zimmerman of second degree murder, which they charged him with, and which requires in legal terms that there may be “malice” and extreme disregard for human life. This means that the jury has to conclude that he is really evil. I’m watching from 3000 miles away, but that conviction is always tough when you have a “possible” self-defense claim. Because even an “imperfect” self-defense claim means that there was provocation of some sort, or some fear, even if overblown. This is why the prosecution argued to the judge that the jury should be instructed that it could still convict of the lesser-included manslaughter charge, and the defense was eager to go to the jury with just one question: murder or not? The prosecution won that one. The jury will be instructed that should it acquit Zimmerman if he reasonably (even if, as it turns out, wrongly) feared that he would be killed or seriously injured, and that if it is found that his belief wasn’t reasonable, but he wasn’t acting with “malice,” they can convict of manslaughter. Betting, ladies and gentlemen? What has surprised me in the second-hand coverage of the case is how many of the smart commentators are predicting acquittal. I don’t know what happened that night, and in a case like this, the devil really is in the details.

It matters -- as a matter of law and fact -- who “started it” in terms of striking the first blow. It matters, obviously, who was screaming. Of the two people who know what happened, one is dead and the other didn’t testify, no doubt because his attorneys were of the view that the prosecution had failed to nail its case, and they didn’t want to give them a chance to use Zimmerman to make up for what they didn’t have. The law of self-defense used to be one of my absolute favorites in the many years I taught criminal law. It’s such a wonderful mess, intellectually speaking. Because it’s not enough that you -- the defendant -- actually believed that you were being threatened. You didn’t have to be right (hindsight not required) but your belief has to have been reasonable. But what’s reasonable? Here’s the kicker: It has to be reasonable when considered by that hypothetical person who is in the position you are in that moment, with some but not all of your characteristics. Some, but not all. So would it be reasonable, if it was Georgia Zimmerman and not George, to consider the fact that the defendant was a woman -- a petite woman -- a woman who had been the victim of violence in the past? There were wonderful old cases I used to teach, about the blind man who

Collins continued on page 31

Liberal Opinion Week

July 24, 2013


Ruth Marcus

Justice is Imperfect Did the system work? Was justice served? We like to think of those questions as identical. After all, the point of a criminal justice system is to dispense justice. But with the acquittal of George Zimmerman on charges of murdering Trayvon Martin, the system worked yet justice fell short. This outcome is simultaneously sad but healthy -- sad because a 17-yearold boy is dead and his killer walks free; healthy because the verdict seems justified as a matter of law. There is an important place for emotion in criminal proceedings, both for mercy and for outrage. But the system cannot function if it consistently elevates emotion over rules. Both sides, naturally, see the Zimmerman verdict through the lens of their own preconceptions. “This will confirm for many that the only problem with the New South is it occupies the same time and space as the Old South,” said NAACP President Benjamin Jealous, invoking the memory of 14-year-old Emmett Till, killed in 1955 after supposedly flirting with a white woman and his murderers acquitted. “Old South justice,” thundered Jesse Jackson. This comparison is unfair. No

doubt that race played a role in Martin’s death. Zimmerman likely would not have called the police about a white teenager -- even a white teenager wearing a hoodie -walking back from the 7-Eleven. But there is no evidence that race played a role in Zimmerman’s acquittal. If anything, the racial undertones worked against Zimmerman, increasing public pressure on prosecutors to bring the most serious and, in hindsight,

Estrich continued from page 30 gets kicked and the impotent man who gets taunted (blind OK, impotence we don’t consider). But would anyone think for a minute that Zimmerman was reasonable in taking into account that his potential attacker was a young/African-American/ male/in a hoodie? Do you think Zimmerman knew and measured those things? (Be honest.) Would you? (Be honest.) Is it reasonable? Isn’t it blatantly racist? Did the defense want women on the jury who might feel vulnerable to assault, and did the prosecution want women who might identify with this Martin’s mother? Don’t we all make judgments based on where we stand or sit? Self-defense is one of those doctrines, which works, if you can call it that, by providing a framework for the jury to make what are essentially community-

based judgments about what is “reasonable.” The legal beagles in Florida are pointing out, rightly, that because the burden is on the prosecution to prove that Zimmerman did not act in self-defense, doubt -- and how can there not be doubt in this situation -- gets resolved against the prosecution. If jurors really can’t figure out what happened that night, who attacked whom, whether it might have really seemed like a life or death situation to Zimmerman, then they should acquit. If they think Zimmerman went too far, that’s manslaughter. At the end of the day, when the legalese dies down, that’s the question. And the community here, inside and outside the court, just might not agree on the conclusion. Copyright 2013 13-7-12

difficult to support, charges against him. Contrast the Zimmerman trial with that of Till’s murderers. The courtroom was segregated. No hotel would rent rooms to black observers. The local sheriff welcomed black spectators to the courtroom with what was described as a cheerful use of the vilest racial epithet. The New South is not perfect, but it is not the Old. The overreaction from the left is mirrored by the overreaction from the right, and without the excuse of being swept away by emotion over a child’s unnecessary death. Conservative Roger L. Simon lamented on PJ Media that Zimmerman “will never live a normal life” and described the prosecution as “quite literally, the first American Stalinist ‘show trial.’” That is, quite literally, deranged. Of course no decent person responsible for killing an unarmed teenager could “live a normal life.” And the entire point of “show trials” was that the outcome, unlike Zimmerman’s acquittal, was foreordained. Which brings us back to the uncomfortable divide between the criminal justice system and justice itself. One way to understand that gap is to think of the episode as a video. The criminal justice system zooms in, and properly so, on one short segment, a snapshot in the larger narrative.

Whatever preceded the fight between the two men, the central question, as a matter of criminal law, was precisely what occurred in the immediate moments before Zimmerman fired the fatal shot. Zimmerman instigated the tragic chain of events, but legally that was not relevant. To convict Zimmerman of second-degree murder, prosecutors had to prove that he acted not only with intent to kill, but with a “depraved mind, hatred, malice, evil intent or ill will.” Even for the lesser charge of manslaughter, they had to rebut his claim of self-defense, showing that he could not “reasonably believe” shooting Martin was “necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm.” Justice takes the longer time frame. Zimmerman may not be legally responsible for Martin’s death but he remains morally culpable. Another way to understand the divide is through the prism of legal rules, which may serve the broader ends of justice but produce unjust results in the short run. Thus the exclusionary rule for illegally seized evidence, meaning that some criminals go free because the constable has blundered. Likewise, the law’s requirement of proof beyond a reasonable doubt for criminal convictions presumes tolerance for a certain amount of unjust results. We accept the bargain, in Blackstone’s formulation, that it is “better that ten guilty persons escape, than that one innocent suffer.” Zimmerman’s acquittal is not the end of this sad story. Because of the lower burden of proof, a civil lawsuit by Martin’s family would have a better chance of success. A federal prosecution on civil rights charges would be a mistake; the state trial failed to show adequate evidence of racial animus to sustain such a case. In the end, society must accept: There is not always a perfect fit between a criminal justice system and justice. Ruth Marcus’ email address is (c) 2013, Washington Post Writers Group 13-7-14 e-mail:

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