Maureen Dowd delivers an interesting piece on a graduation speaker who won't be speaking after all... The New York Times bemoans the House follies on defense spending... Nicholas Confessore looks at the time the Koch brothers actually ran for office... Dana Milbank thinks we need a change in leadership at the VA... but first...
Leonard Pitts peers into one of the ugliest depths of the political abyss.
Your little boy lies in a hospital bed, stricken by a mysterious, potentially fatal disease. You are frightened and in despair.
But your community rallies around you. Soon, the whole town is talking about your ordeal. Neighbors you've never spoken to send cards. Co-workers you've never socialized with send encouraging text messages.
None of it changes the objective fact of your son’s condition, doesn't kill a virus, lessen a fever or ease his pain. All it does is tell you that you and your child are being thought of, that you are not alone.
So: So is that “pathetic?”
Rush Limbaugh would say it was. The National Review would find it “simple-minded.” George F. Will would regard it as “an exercise in self-esteem.”
Or at least, that is what they have said about a roughly analogous situation.
You probably know the story. A terrorist group in Nigeria kidnaps nearly 300 school girls. The reason is found in the abhorrent ideology from which it derives its name: Boko Haram — Western Education Is Forbidden. The families of the girls turn to their government for help and it shrugs. The story is likewise ignored in America by “news” media too busy handicapping the chances of Hillary Clinton’s grandchild in the 2054 midterms to bother with anything so picayune as a mass kidnapping.
So supporters take to Twitter with a hashtag: #BringBackOurGirls. It spreads like fire. Michelle Obama, Ellen DeGeneres, Malala Yousafzai, Jesse Jackson, Amy Poehler and millions of lesser-known names all join the campaign.
...It’s hard to see how anyone — anyone — could regard that as a bad thing. But at least some political conservatives do. As noted, Limbaugh, Will and the National Review have all pronounced themselves unimpressed. Donald Trump, Ann Coulter and Fox’s Steve Doocy have also made attempts at ridicule.
There is something more than usually saddening about that.
For a long time, "they're against it just because we're for it" seemed like a bit of an overstatement. But when they're against reaching out to help kidnapped children just because liberals went there first... yeah, saddening is one term that might apply. Sick is another.
Slide past the curlicue for more punditry.
Dana Milbank is not alone in making this call.
Eric Shinseki has served his country honorably as a twice-wounded officer in Vietnam, as Army chief of staff and finally as President Obama’s secretary of veterans affairs.
But his maddeningly passive response to the scandal roiling his agency suggests that the best way Shinseki can serve now is to step aside.
Reports have documented the deaths of about 40 veterans in Phoenix who were waiting for VA appointments — the latest evidence of widespread bookkeeping tricks used at the agency to make it appear as though veterans were not waiting as long for care as they really were. The abuses have been documented over several years by whistleblowers and leaked memorandums, and confirmed by a host of government investigators.
That’s bad enough. Worse was Shinseki’s response when he finally appeared before a congressional committee Thursday to answer questions about the scandal. He refused to acknowledge any systemic problem and declined to commit to do much of anything, insisting on waiting for the results of yet another investigation.
I'm an old-school liberal. I believe that there is a definitive need for a strong government with a broad mandate for action in the lives of citizens. Providing quality healthcare to the nation's veterans is definitely part of that mandate. I'm also dead set against the "someone must pay" mentality that all too often pervades politics; the idea that because something went wrong, someone has to take the blame and pack their bags. That's often an idiotic, counterproductive response.
However, I don't think that anyone can pretend that the VA has performed with excellence, or even competence, under Shinseki, or that the general has acted to solve problems in an aggressive, timely manner. He may be the nicest guy on the planet. He may care deeply for the men who served under him. That doesn't matter. He clearly does not have the strategy or the temperament to solve the issues facing the office he now holds. That doesn't make Shinseki evil, and it doesn't make the VA a bad idea. It just means we need to get someone else in there and fix it.
The New York Times editorial board calls out those "fiscal conservatives" in the House for avoiding making cuts that really need to happen.
The Pentagon has for too long been in denial about the changes it will have to make in a world of declining resources, skyrocketing personnel costs and changing global threats. This year, however, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel presented a more realistic, though still insufficient, cost-saving budget. Yet Congress seems firmly stuck in the past, loyal to campaign donors and frightened, as always, about local political fallout from closing excess military bases, modifying military compensation, reducing troop levels and cutting nonessential or older weapons.
The first big test of the Hagel approach came last week in the House Armed Services Committee... Mr. Hagel proposed to eliminate the fleet of Air Force A-10 attack aircraft, retire the U-2 spy plane in favor of the remotely piloted Global Hawk and cut maintenance for an aircraft carrier that would be slated for retirement in 2016. The committee, pressed by lobbyists and members in districts where the weapons are built, voted to keep all three.
In addition, the committee approved billions of dollars in funding for the F-35 jet fighter, despite serious capability and development issues.
I know this is hard to keep straight, but funding improvements to infrastructure, like high speed rail or just fixing our $%!# bridges, is socialism. Building planes that don't work and no one wants, that's the American way.
Ross Douthat does foreign policy.
... the global stage hasn't been a second-term refuge for President Obama; it’s been an arena of setbacks, crises and defeats. His foreign policy looked modestly successful when he was running for re-election. Now it stinks of failure.
Failure is a relative term, to be sure. His predecessor’s invasion of Iraq still looms as the largest American blunder of the post-Vietnam era. None of Obama’s difficulties have rivaled that debacle. And many of the sweeping conservative critiques of his foreign policy — that Obama has weakened America’s position in the world, that he’s too chary about using military force — lack perspective on how much damage the Iraq war did to American interests, and how many current problems can be traced back to errors made in 2003.
Okay, Douthat is being semi-reasonable here. Let's just skip down to where it's a secular humanist plot against Catholic schools...Skipping... Skipping... weak punch at Jimmy Carter... skipping... lots of treatment of foreign policy like it's a soccer match ... skipping... skipping. Nope. Sorry. Douthat had no point at all. Read the first sentence, and you've read the whole thing.
Maureen Dowd is sorry that Condi Rice backed out of giving a graduation address.
After all, there was always a chance, a small one, admittedly, but a chance, that Condi Rice would have looked into her soul and told the story of what happens when you succumb to the temptation to sell it.
And that, dear graduates, family and friends, faculty and honored guests, would have been the most amazing and instructive commencement speech of all time.
Rice always seemed to me a particularly sad part of the tragedies of Iraq and Afghanistan, and the lovely linchpin of the moral corrosion of W.’s presidency.
“What a falling off was there,” as the ghost of Hamlet’s father said of his compromised queen.
Condi had all the qualities required to dazzle. Smart, attractive, hard-working, personable, chic. She grew up in Birmingham, Ala., in the 1960s, when segregationists bombed so much that the city became known as “Bombingham.”
Yet she sailed to success at a young age. She could stand toe-to-heel on substance with world leaders. She could speak Russian competently and talk sports expertly and play the piano and ice skate beautifully. She could authoritatively survey the troops in Wiesbaden in black leather knee-high stiletto boots and fashionably dominate a Washington banquet in a long, scarlet Oscar de la Renta gown.
Women everywhere, including my mom, were blown away by her, believing that she could be the first woman and the first black person to be president.
So how could someone named by her mother after the Italian musical notation con dolcezza, meaning “with sweetness,” end up having such a sour effect on American history? Rice was a star, but unfortunately, she cast herself in yet another production of “Faust” on the Potomac, uttering one of the most over-the-top lines of war spin ever: “We don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud.”
She excelled at failing better. As national security adviser for W., she ignored the intelligence report warning that Osama bin Laden was determined to strike inside the U.S. And she only learned about Hamas’s shocking win in the Palestinian elections in 2006 when she was on her elliptical trainer watching the TV news crawl. After verifying it with State, she returned to exercising.
Reading back through Condi's life does read something like a Shakespearean tragedy of wasted talent. Only with fewer sword fights. Kind of like Hamlet
if the Dane had said "Too bad about pop, but my best political movie is working for my uncle."
And Maureen, it's good to see you putting thought and effort into a column rather than channeling Cady Heron and blathering about "Barry." Please do it often.
Frank Bruni on the state of higher education.
The word “crisis” pops up frequently in “Ivory Tower,” a compelling new documentary about the state of higher education in America.
It pops up in regard to the mountains of student debt. It pops up in regard to the steep drop in government funding for public universities, which have been forced to charge higher and higher tuition in response. That price increase is also a “crisis” in the estimation of one of many alarmed educators and experts on camera.
And “crisis” isn’t even their direst appellation. Andrew Delbanco, a Columbia University professor of American studies who functions as the movie’s conscience, notes an “apocalyptic dimension” to today’s discussion of college’s failings. The movie is set on verdant campuses. It’s rife with lecterns, books and graduation gowns. And yet it’s a kind of horror story.
... as I watched it, one theme in particular kept capturing my attention. One set of questions kept coming to mind. How does our current system of higher education square with our concerns about social mobility?
Spoiler alert: it doesn't.
Kathleen Parker looks at Gender War 2016.
With the New York Times’ sudden dismissal of Executive Editor Jill Abramson and Karl Rove’s suggestion that Hillary Clinton might have brain damage, the curtain opened on a new theater in an old war.
The targeting of these two powerful, accomplished women, albeit under different circumstances, may prove more predictive of the presidential election (assuming Clinton runs) than any other single factor. This is because women, who vote in greater numbers than men, have been reminded of how their sex is treated in a world that still favors men.
This is rare currency for me. I wrote a book called “Save the Males,” after all.
In other words, Rove's assholery was so obvious, that it even ticked off an apologist like Parker. Maybe Hillary should run Rove's remarks in her campaign commercials. I suspect he's already given her a bump -- not that she needed it.
The New York Times writes up a second one this week to look at kids and tobacco, but maybe not like you think.
A new report from Human Rights Watch paints a grim picture of child labor in the United States, something that most Americans probably believe was banned years ago. Children as young as 7 are working on tobacco farms in North Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia, and many are said to suffer from the symptoms of acute nicotine poisoning.
...There is little doubt that the work is backbreaking and dangerous. Some of the children interviewed by Human Rights Watch say they often vomit, lose their appetites, have nausea and suffer from headaches — symptoms associated with nicotine poisoning. The children absorb nicotine through their skin when they handle tobacco leaves in the process of cutting, weeding and harvesting plants. One 13-year-old in North Carolina, Elena G., told Human Rights Watch: “I felt like I was going to faint. I would stop and just hold myself up with the tobacco plant.”
Several times when I was a teenager in Kentucky, I worked during the summer in tobacco fields, cutting and bringing tobacco to the barns where it was cured. I can't say for sure if I was soaked in nicotine, but I can say that I was definitely soaked in sweat. Tobacco fields always seemed to be 10 degrees hotter and 100% more humid that everything around them.
David Ludwig and Mark Friedman look at why we're always hungry, and nearly always fat.
For most of the last century, our understanding of the cause of obesity has been based on immutable physical law. Specifically, it’s the first law of thermodynamics, which dictates that energy can neither be created nor destroyed. When it comes to body weight, this means that calorie intake minus calorie expenditure equals calories stored. Surrounded by tempting foods, we overeat, consuming more calories than we can burn off, and the excess is deposited as fat. The simple solution is to exert willpower and eat less.
The problem is that this advice doesn’t work, at least not for most people over the long term. In other words, your New Year’s resolution to lose weight probably won’t last through the spring, let alone affect how you look in a swimsuit in July. More of us than ever are obese, despite an incessant focus on calorie balance by the government, nutrition organizations and the food industry.
But what if we’ve confused cause and effect? What if it’s not overeating that causes us to get fat, but the process of getting fatter that causes us to overeat?
The more calories we lock away in fat tissue, the fewer there are circulating in the bloodstream to satisfy the body’s requirements. If we look at it this way, it’s a distribution problem: We have an abundance of calories, but they’re in the wrong place. As a result, the body needs to increase its intake. We get hungrier because we’re getting fatter.
That is one ugly feedback loop.
We discuss this hypothesis in an article just published in JAMA, The Journal of the American Medical Association. According to this alternative view, factors in the environment have triggered fat cells in our bodies to take in and store excessive amounts of glucose and other calorie-rich compounds. Since fewer calories are available to fuel metabolism, the brain tells the body to increase calorie intake (we feel hungry) and save energy (our metabolism slows down). Eating more solves this problem temporarily but also accelerates weight gain. Cutting calories reverses the weight gain for a short while, making us think we have control over our body weight, but predictably increases hunger and slows metabolism even more.
on the surprising political history of the Koch brothers.
He backed the full legalization of abortion and the repeal of laws that criminalized drug use, prostitution and homosexuality. He attacked campaign donation limits and assailed the Republican star Ronald Reagan as a hypocrite who represented “no change whatsoever from Jimmy Carter and the Democrats.”
It was 1980, and the candidate was David H. Koch, a 40-year-old bachelor living in a rent-stabilized apartment in New York City. Mr. Koch, the vice-presidential nominee for the Libertarian Party, and his older brother Charles, one of the party’s leading funders, were mounting a long-shot assault on the fracturing American political establishment.
The Kochs had invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in the burgeoning libertarian movement. In the waning days of the 1970s, in the wake of Watergate, Vietnam and a counterculture challenging traditional social mores, they set out to test just how many Americans would embrace what was then a radical brand of politics.
It was the first and only bid for high office by a Koch family member. But much of what occurred in that quixotic campaign shaped what the Kochs have become today — a formidable political and ideological force determined to remake American politics, driven by opposition to government power and hostility to restrictions on money in campaigns.
It may be tempting to go after the Koch for some of their positions, but really, do all the Republicans embracing the Kochs today know that he said the gipper and Jimmy Carter were interchangeable?
John Timmer on using one old killer to take out another.
This week, clinical researchers at the Mayo Clinic announced some promising early results from a clinical trial that turned a killer into a therapy: their work harnessed a modified measles virus to attack a specific type of cancer. A larger clinical trial is still ongoing, but the people running this trial decided to describe two of the patients who received the virus, one of whom ended up in remission.
It's important to note that a short-term remission in one of the two patients who are described here doesn't come anywhere close to being a general cure for this type of cancer. Equally important is the fact that attempts to turn viruses into cancer killers go back decades, and a lot of the early trials also looked very promising. But to date, none of the viruses have been turned into treatments.
...This idea has been tried a number of times over the past few decades, with many of the viruses causing some significant damage to tumors in preliminary clinical trials. Many further trials are ongoing but, so far at least, none of these viruses have cleared the necessary clinical trials and received FDA approval.
Be we can still be hopeful.