David Brooks | Wisdom Isn’t What You Think It Is – The New York Times

” . . . When I think of the wise people in my own life, they are like that. It’s not the life-altering words of wisdom that drop from their lips, it’s the way they receive others. Too often the public depictions of wisdom involve remote, elderly sages who you approach with trepidation — and who give the perfect life-altering advice — Yoda, Dumbledore, Solomon. When a group of influential academics sought to define wisdom, they focused on how much knowledge a wise person had accumulated. Wisdom, they wrote, was “an expert knowledge system concerning the fundamental pragmatics of life.”

But when wisdom has shown up in my life, it’s been less a body of knowledge and more a way of interacting, less the dropping of secret information, more a way of relating that helped me stumble to my own realizations.

Wisdom is different from knowledge. Montaigne pointed out you can be knowledgeable with another person’s knowledge, but you can’t be wise with another person’s wisdom. Wisdom has an embodied moral element; out of your own moments of suffering comes a compassionate regard for the frailty of others.

Wise people don’t tell us what to do, they start by witnessing our story. They take the anecdotes, rationalizations and episodes we tell, and see us in a noble struggle. They see our narratives both from the inside, as we experience them, and from the outside, as we can’t. They see the ways we’re navigating the dialectics of life — intimacy versus independence, control versus uncertainty — and understand that our current self is just where we are right now, part of a long continuum of growth.

I have a friend, Kate Bowler, who teaches at Duke and learned at age 35 that she had stage IV cancer. In real life, and on her podcast, “Everything Happens,” I have seen her use her story again and again as a platform to let others frame their best story. Her confrontation with early death, and her alternating sad and hilarious responses to it, draws out a kind of candor in others. She models a vulnerability, and a focus on the big issues, and helps people understand where they are now.

People only change after they’ve felt understood. The really good confidants — the people we go to for wisdom — are more like story editors than sages. They take in your story, accept it, but prod you to reconsider it so you can change your relationship to your past and future. They ask you to clarify what it is you really want, or what baggage you left out of your clean tale. They ask you to probe for the deep problem that underlies the convenient surface problem you’ve come to them with.

It is this skillful, patient process of walking people to their own conclusions that feels like wisdom; maybe that’s why Aristotle called ethics a “social practice.”   . . . “

Gail Collins | Our Firearms Problems Just Keep Piling Up – The New York Times

Opinion Columnist

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” “Lock them up. There are things that you can do,” a Houston assistant police chief said last week after a 3-year-old boy fatally shot his 8-month-old baby brother in the family home.

The assistant chief was talking about guns, not the 3-year-old. Obviously. Although in some parts of the country, the idea of putting kids in prison seems to elicit more enthusiasm than the idea of locking away the weapons.

This kind of disaster happens way, way, way too much. Last year at least 371 children stumbled across a loaded gun and fired, causing 143 deaths and 243 injuries. In one case, a 3-year-old shot himself to death with a pistol that had fallen out of the pocket of a member of his family — apparently while the adults were playing cards.

None of this has led to any significant change in the national attitude toward deadly weapons. Many Americans like to arm themselves to the teeth as protection from crime — and bleep over the danger that comes with all that hardware, especially in the hands of people who aren’t really equipped to use it.  . . . . . “

Nicholas Kristof | Lessons for America From a Weird Portland – The New York Times

https://www.nytimes.com/2021/04/14/opinion/portland-politics.html?action=click&module=Opinion&pgtype=Homepage

Opinion Columnist

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“PORTLAND, Ore. — As an Oregonian, I’ve always been proud of this picture-postcard metropolis, so I’ve been pained to see it portrayed as a war zone or dying city, and doubly pained when a local businessman recently recounted to me his effort to recruit an executive from out of state.

The executive came for a visit — and, when she saw today’s Portland, with its homeless camps and boarded-up shops downtown, declined the job.

I think that executive erred: Whatever the scars from big protests that began last summer against racial injustice, this city has strong fundamentals and is resilient. But the travails here are real and offer lessons for the rest of the country about the uses and abuses of progressivism.

Last summer President Donald Trump inflamed the crisis in Portland by sending in unneeded federal troops to deal with mostly peaceful protests. That aggravated the upheaval, provoked months of rioting and empowered fringe groups, and perhaps it also obscured the need to stand resolutely against violence by local troublemakers on both left and right. There was too much deference to people sowing chaos under the banner of social justice, perhaps for fear of seeming unprogressive, and after the feds left, the city never tried hard enough to pivot to re-establish order.

Just this week, there was new rioting in Portland after a white police officer in Minnesota shot and killed a Black man, Daunte Wright. Portlanders have reason to protest peacefully — the police arrest African-Americans in the city at four times the rate of whites, one study found — but violence doesn’t serve any cause other than the election of Republicans.

The local slogan is “Keep Portland Weird,” but businesses boarded up to protect against rioters suggest not weirdness but melancholy. A beautiful elk statue that had presided in a park for 120 years had to be removed after its base was vandalized by protesters. Activists have defied the law and taken over a building known as the Red House, frightening neighbors.

Underscoring the concern for law and order, this year Portland is on track to reach 100 homicides, far exceeding the record of 70 set in 1987.  . . . “

David Lindsay Jr.

David Lindsay Jr.Hamden, CT |NYT Comment:

Thank you Nicholas Kristof. Empty headed young progressive radicals are attempting to dismantle town government right here in Hamden CT. These idealistic idiots on the left are doing damage in many parts of the country. Their behaviour is so insidious, it is hard to describe or counter. Your op-ed is a great description of the damage done by well meaning liberals, who are essentally intellectually lazy.

Charles M. Blow | Rage Is the Only Language I Have Left – The New York Times

Opinion Columnist

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“One of the first times I wrote about the police killing of an unarmed Black man was when Michael Brown was gunned down in the summer of 2014 in Ferguson, Mo. Brown was a Black teenager accused of an infraction in a convenience store just before his life was taken. Last summer, six years on, I wrote about George Floyd, a large Black man accused of an infraction in a convenience store, this time in Minneapolis.

Both men were killed in the street in broad daylight. Brown was shot. An officer knelt on Floyd’s neck. In both cases there were multiple community witnesses to the killings. In both cases there was a massive outcry. In both cases the men were accused of contributing to, or causing, their own deaths, in part because they had illegal drugs in their systems.

Between those two killings there has been a depressing number of others. In January of 2015, The Washington Post began maintaining a database of all known fatal shootings by the police in America. Every year, the police shot and killed roughly 1,000 people. But, as The Post points out, Black Americans are killed at a much higher rate than white Americans, and the data revealed that unarmed Black people account for about 40 percent of the unarmed Americans killed by the police, despite making up only about 13 percent of the American population.

Something is horrifyingly wrong. And yet, the killings keep happening. Brown and Floyd are not even the bookends. There were many before them, and there will be many after.   . . . “

Thomas L. Friedman | We Need a High Wall With a Big Gate on the Southern Border – The New York Times

Opinion Columnist

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“After reading as much as I can about the latest surge in illegal immigration along our southern border, I’m still not clear how much is seasonal, how much is triggered by President Biden’s announcement that he was halting construction of Donald Trump’s border wall and reviewing Trump’s asylum policies, and how much is just the lure of jobs in a rapidly vaccinating United States.

But this latest flood of illegal immigrants and asylum-seekers — more than 170,000 apprehended in March alone, including thousands of children, mostly fleeing chaos in Central America — only reinforces my view that the right border policy is a high wall with a big gate.

I wish we could take in everyone suffering in the world and give each a shot at the American dream, but we can’t while maintaining our own social cohesion, which is already fraying badly enough. So, making immigration policy today requires a tough-minded balance between hardheartedness and compassion.

If we just emphasize the high wall, and wear cruelty as a badge of honor, as Trump did, we lose out on the huge benefits of immigration. But if all we do is focus, as many on the left do, on the evils of a wall and ignore the principles of a big gate — that would-be immigrants and asylum-seekers need to get in line, ring our doorbell and enter legally, and those who don’t should be quickly evicted — we will also lose out on the huge benefits of immigration.

Why? Because so many Americans will think that the border is open and out of control that they will elect leaders who will choke off all immigration, which is the lifeblood of our country. Have no doubt, a seemingly out-of-control border would be a godsend for the Trump G.O.P. — an emotional club even more evocative than the mantra “Defund the police” with which to beat Democratic candidates in the midterms.

Already, a recent ABC News/Ipsos poll found that 57 percent of Americans disapprove of Biden’s handling of the border.”   . . .

David Lindsay Jr.
Hamden, CT | NYT Comment:
Bravo and thank you Thomas Friedman. I strongly second this opinion piece. Joe Biden is doing a great job on many fronts. Since I think climate change is an existential threat, Joe Biden gets my support for taking this giant threat seriously. But I, like most Americans, want to end illegal immigration, and see a regulated immigration system that serves the needs and desires of the country. Biden will be handing the government back to the Republican party of Trump, and the anti-science modern versions of the know nothings and white supremacists set back by Abraham Lincoln. I expect Friedman understands that his high wall, is really a hardened wall, which isn’t always a physical wall at all. There are plenty of technologies and policy choices to harden the border, without the environmental degredation of a physical wall. I would add to his list of ideas, that we amend the 14th amendment to do away with automatic citizenship for even illegals and tourists born here. We need to expand our guest worker program, so that guest workers are not exploited by rapacious employers. We need to clean up this poitical hot potato of illegal immigration, so we can focus on the host of other problems that threaten the United States and the world.

Paul Krugman | America Needs to Empower Workers Again – The New York Times

Opinion Columnist

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“Labor activists hoped that the unionization vote at Amazon’s Bessemer, Ala., warehouse would be a turning point, a reversal in the decades-long trend of union decline. What the vote showed, instead, was the continuing effectiveness of the tactics employers have repeatedly used to defeat organizing efforts.

But union advocates shouldn’t give up. The political environment that gave anti-union employers a free hand may be changing — the decline of unionization was, above all, political, not a necessary consequence of a changing economy. And America needs a union revival if we’re to have any hope of reversing spiraling inequality.

Let’s start by talking about why union membership declined in the first place, and why it’s still possible to hope for a revival.

America used to have a powerful labor movement. Union membership soared between 1934 and the end of World War II. During the 1950s roughly a third of nonagricultural workers were union members. As late as 1980 unions still represented around a quarter of the work force. And strong unions had a big impact even on nonunion workers, setting pay norms and putting nonunion employers on notice that they had to treat their workers relatively well lest they face an organizing drive.” . . .

David Lindsay Jr.
Hamden, CT | NYT Comment:
My teacher Paul Krugman leaves me unimpressed today. Some unions are desparately needed, but others, especially police unions, and some fire unions, are too strong, and almost criminal in their overreach and protection of bad cops, etc. I remember when Reagan broke up the air traffic controllers strike, and I agreed with Reagan on that call. They had the power to blackmail the public for as much as they could image, and it didn’t seem right. What was to stop them from asking for more every year? The bad unions have given the movement a bad reputation. Ignoring that history, and the ongoing crisis with over powerful police unions, doesn’t help fix the public’s distast for unions. I am with FDR, who apparently said the police and civil service should not be allowed to join unions, because they would grow to strong, and were already on the public’s tab.

 

Margaret Renkl | It’s Thanksgiving. Come On Home. – The New York Times

Credit…Ellen Surrey

“NASHVILLE — I thought I had escaped the beautiful, benighted South for good when I left Alabama for graduate school in Philadelphia in 1984, though now I can’t imagine how that delusion ever took root. At the age of 22, I had never set foot any farther north than Chattanooga, Tenn. I was so poorly traveled — and so geographically illiterate — I could not pick out the state of Pennsylvania on an unlabeled weather map on the evening news.

When I tell people, if it ever comes up, that I once spent a semester in Philadelphia, a knot instantly forms in the back of my throat, an echo of the panic and despair I felt with every step I took on those unfamiliar sidewalks, with every breath of that heavy, exhaust-burdened air. In August I moved into a walk-up on a main artery of West Philly, and I lay awake that first sweltering night with the windows open to catch what passed for a breeze, waiting for the unfamiliar sounds of traffic to die down. They never did. All night long, the gears of delivery trucks ground at the traffic light on the corner; four floors down, strangers muttered and swore in the darkness.

All around me were metaphors for my own dislocation: a homeless woman squatting in the grocery-store parking lot, indifferent to the puddle spreading below her; the sparrows and pigeons, all sepia and brown, that replaced the scolding blue jays and scarlet cardinals I’d left behind; even the first deep snow, which all my life I had longed to see, was flecked with soot when it finally arrived. I was so homesick for the natural world that I tamed a mouse who lived in my wall, placing stale Cheetos on the floor beyond me, just to feel the creature’s delicate feet skittering across my own bare toes.

Winter break came so early in December that it made no sense to go home for Thanksgiving, no matter how homesick I was. But as the dark nights grew longer and the cold winds blew colder, I wavered. Was it too late? Could I still change my mind?

It was definitely too late. Of course. It was far, far too late. And I had papers to write. I had papers to grade. Also, I had no car, and forget booking a plane ticket so close to the holiday, even if I’d had money to spare for it, which on my graduate student’s stipend I most certainly did not. Amtrak was sold out, and the long, long bus ride seemed too daunting. I would be spending Thanksgiving in Philadelphia, a thousand miles from home.

“I don’t think I can stand it here,” I said during the weekly call to my parents that Sunday. “I don’t know if I can do this.”

“Just come home,” my father said. I was crying by then. “It’s too late,” I said. “It’s way too late.”

“You can always come home, Sweet,” he said. “Even if you marry a bastard, you can always come on home.”

David Brooks | The Heart and Soul of the Biden Project – The New York Times

Opinion Columnist

Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

“What is the quintessential American act? It is the leap of faith. The first European settlers left the comfort of their old countries and migrated to brutal conditions, convinced the future would be better on this continent. Immigrants all crossed oceans or wilderness to someplace they didn’t know, hoping that their children would someday breathe the atmosphere of prosperity and freedom.

Here we are again, one of those moments when we take a leap, a gamble, beckoned by the vision of new possibility. The early days of the Biden administration are nothing if not a daring leap.

I asked Anita Dunn, one of President Biden’s senior advisers, to reflect on the three giant proposals: Covid relief, infrastructure and the coming “family” plan. What vision binds them together? What is this thing, Bidenomics? Interestingly, she mentioned China.

This could be the Chinese century, with their dynamism and our decay. The unexpected combination of raw capitalism, authoritarianism and state direction of the economy could make China the dominant model around the globe. President Biden, Dunn said, believes that democracy needs to remind the world that it, too, can solve big problems. Democracy needs to stand up and show that we are still the future.

I asked Cecilia Rouse, the chair of Biden’s Council of Economic Advisers, where our vulnerabilities lie. It is in our public goods, she said, the degradation of our common life.

“The model of the past 40 years has been to rely on the private sector to carry the load, but that sector is not best suited to deliver certain public goods like work force training and infrastructure investment,” she told me. “These are places where there is market failure, which creates a role for government.”

Brian Deese, the director of Biden’s National Economic Council, said that Bidenomics has three key prongs: an effort to distribute money to those on the lower end of the income scale, an effort to use climate change as an opportunity to reinvent our energy and transportation systems, and an effort to replicate the daring of the moon shot by investing big-time in research and development.

Some people say this is like the New Deal. I’d say this is an updated, monster-size version of “the American System,” the 19th-century education and infrastructure investments inspired by Alexander Hamilton, championed by Henry Clay and then advanced by the early Republicans, like Abraham Lincoln. That was an unabashedly nationalist project, made by a youthful country, using an energetic government to secure two great goals: economic dynamism and national unity.

Bidenomics is a massive bid to promote economic dynamism. It’s not only the R&D spending and the green energy stuff; it’s also the massive investment in kids and human capital.”  . . .

Paul Krugman | Biden, Yellen and the War on Leprechauns – The New York Times

Opinion Columnist

Credit…Illustration by The New York Times; photograph by Thinkstock, via Getty Images

“In the summer of 2016, Ireland’s Central Statistical Office reported something astonishing: The small nation’s gross domestic product had risen 26 percent in the previous year (a number that would later be revised upward). It would have been an amazing achievement if the growth had actually happened.

But it hadn’t, as government officials acknowledged from the beginning. It was, instead, an illusion created by corporate tax games. At the time, I dubbed it “leprechaun economics,” a coinage that has stuck; luckily, the Irish have a sense of humor about themselves.

What really happened? Ireland is a tax haven, with a very low tax rate on corporate profits. This gives multinational corporations an incentive to create Irish subsidiaries, then use creative accounting to ensure that a large share of their reported global profits accrue to those subsidiaries.

In 2015 a few big companies appear to have gotten even more aggressive about their profit-shifting, which led to a surge in the value of production they reported doing in Ireland — a surge that didn’t correspond to anything real.

To understand the big corporate tax reform proposed by the Biden administration, what you need to know is that it’s all about the leprechauns.

One way to think about the huge corporate tax cut Republicans rammed through in 2017 is that its underlying premise was that the leprechauns were real. That is, the tax cut’s architects insisted that corporations had been moving operations abroad to avoid U.S. taxes, and that slashing those taxes would bring millions of jobs back home.

It didn’t happen. In fact, the tax cut had no visible effect on business investment, probably because it was addressing a fake problem. U.S. corporations hadn’t been moving jobs overseas to avoid taxes; they had just been avoiding taxes.

The true impact — or actually lack of impact — of profit taxes on business decisions becomes obvious if you look at where corporations report big overseas earnings.

If they were truly responding to taxes by making large foreign investments that eliminated American jobs, we’d expect to see a lot of their profits coming from major production centers like Germany or China. Instead, more than half of the profits U.S. corporations report from overseas investments come from tiny tax havens, including places like Bermuda and the Cayman Islands where they have no real business at all.

By the way, this isn’t just an American problem. The International Monetary Fund estimates that about 40 percent of the world’s foreign direct investment — basically corporate cross-border investment, as opposed to “portfolio” purchases of stocks and bonds — is “phantom” investment, accounting fictions set up to avoid taxes. That’s why on paper Luxembourg, with just 600,000 people, hosts more foreign investment than the United States does.

So the real problem with U.S. corporate tax policy isn’t loss of jobs, it’s loss of revenue — and the Trump tax cut made that problem worse.

For the most part the Biden administration’s Made in America Tax Plan is an effort to reclaim the revenue lost both as a result of profit-shifting and as a result of the Trump tax cut, in order to help pay for large-scale public investment.”   . . .

Charles M. Blow | ‘Awful but Lawful’ – The New York Times

Opinion Columnist

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“Along with many others, I have long argued that the reason so few police officers are ever charged in their killings of unarmed Black people (and few of those charged are ever convicted) is that our legal system has effectively rendered those killings legal. This is the case regardless of how horrendous the killings are or how much evidence, including video, makes clear what took place.

The defense in the trial of Derek Chauvin in the death of George Floyd raised this very concept Wednesday when questioning Sgt. Jody Stiger, a Los Angeles Police Department use-of-force expert who was a witness for the prosecution.

Eric Nelson, an attorney for Chauvin, asked if Sergeant Stiger had ever had anything to do with a training called “awful but lawful, or lawful but awful.” He said that he had. Nelson continued his questioning: “The general concept is that sometimes the use of force, it looks really bad, right, and sometimes it may be so, it may be caught on video, right, and it looks bad, right?”

Sergeant Stiger responds, “yes.”

Nelson then says, “But, it is still lawful.”

The officer concludes, “Yes, based on that department’s policies or based on that state’s law.” “

David Lindsay Jr.

David Lindsay Jr.Hamden, CT | NYT Comment:

Thank you Charles Blow. It seems that awful should not be lawful. You stop someone for the equivalent of jay walking, and then, if they try to run, you execute them with your gun. How do we make awful unlawful?