Opinion | Amy Coney Barrett on the Supreme Court Could Take Us Backward – By Nicholas Kristof – The New York Times

By 

Opinion Columnist

Credit…Erin Schaff/The New York Times

“Amy Coney Barrett has been following recent precedent in her confirmation hearing before the Senate, pretending that she has never had an interesting thought in her life.

Is it illegal to intimidate voters at the polls? She didn’t want to weigh in. A president postponing an election? Hmm. She’d have to think about that.

What about climate change? “I have read things about climate change,” she acknowledged, warily emphasizing that she is not a scientist. “I would not say I have firm views on it.”

If she had been asked about astronomy, she might have explained: “I have read things about the Earth being round. I would not say I have firm views on it.”

But for all the obfuscation, which nominees of Democratic presidents have engaged in as well, there is no hiding the essential truths that Barrett: A) is very bright; and B) would solidify a conservative Supreme Court majority whose judicial philosophy has been on the wrong side of many of the great issues of my lifetime.

We sometimes distinguish between “liberal judges” and “conservative judges.” Perhaps the divide instead is between forward-thinking judges and backward-thinking judges.

Partly because of paralysis by legislators, partly because of racist political systems, forward-thinking judges sometimes had to step up over the last 70 years to tug the United States ahead. Those judges chipped away at Jim Crow and overturned laws against interracial marriage, against contraception, and fought racial and sexual discrimination.

Just this week, Bernard Cohen, the lawyer who won the interracial marriage case in the Supreme Court in 1967, died — a reminder of how recent such progress is. In that case, Richard and Mildred Loving, a white man and Black woman who married in Washington, D.C., had moved to Virginia, where the police barged into their home at 2 a.m. and arrested them in bed for violating an anti-miscegenation law. Forward-thinking justices struck down such laws — and that wasn’t about “activist judges” but about decency, humanity and the 14th Amendment.

It was as recent as 2003 that enlightened Supreme Court judges struck down state sodomy laws that could be used to prosecute same-sex lovers. Three backward-thinking justices, including Antonin Scalia, Barrett’s mentor, would have allowed Taliban-style prosecutions of gay people for intimacy in the bedroom. (Barrett refused in the hearing Wednesday to say whether the case was rightly decided.)

It is true, as some conservatives argue, that this path toward social progress would ideally have been blazed by legislators, not judges. But it is difficult for people who are denied voting rights to protect their voting rights, and judicial passivism in these cases would have buttressed discrimination, racism, sexism and bigotry.

That brings us to another historical area where conservatives, Barrett included, have also been on the wrong side of history — access to health care.

Over the last hundred years, advanced countries have, one by one, adopted universal health care systems, with one notable exception: the United States. That’s one reason next month’s election is such a milestone, for one political party in America is trying to join the rest of the civilized world and provide universal health care, and the other is doing its best to take away what we have.

The G.O.P. is succeeding. Census data show that even before the Covid-19 pandemic the number of uninsured Americans had risen by 2.3 million under Trump — and another 2.9 million have lost insurance since the pandemic hit. Most troubling of all, about one million children have lost insurance under Trump over all, according to a new Georgetown study.

I’m not trying to scare readers about Barrett joining a conservative majority to overturn the Affordable Care Act. My take is that Democrats are exaggerating that risk; the Republican argument in the case, to be heard next month, is such a legal stretch that it’s unlikely to succeed fully, even if Barrett is on the court.

But it is possible, and that would be such a cataclysm — perhaps 20 million Americans losing insurance during a pandemic — that it’s worth a shudder. It should also remind us of the importance of renewing the imperfect, on-again-off-again march of civilization in America, away from bigotry and toward empowerment of all citizens.

Barrett is not a horrible person; on the contrary, she seems to be a smart lawyer with an admirable personal story. Yet she’s working with a gang of Republican senators to steal a seat on the Supreme Court. This grand larceny may well succeed. But for voters, this hearing should underscore the larger battle over the direction of the country.

Voters can’t weigh in on the Barrett nomination, but they can correct this country’s course.

Here’s the fundamental question: Will voters reward the party that is working to provide more health care, or the party that has painstakingly robbed one million children of insurance? Will voters help tug the United States forward, or will they support the backward thinkers who have been on the side of discrimination, racism, bigotry and voter suppression?

At the polls, which side of history will you stand on?”

Opinion | Trump’s Diagnosis Is a Wake-Up Call for Americans – by Nicholas Kristof – The New York Times

“. . .  A second point is also straightforward: Let’s learn from the president’s infection. Let’s make this a wake-up call that leads to mask-wearing and social distancing, saving lives.

The United States has lost 208,000 people to the pandemic in part because we as a country didn’t take the virus seriously. We’re seeing a rise in new infections, which now exceed 40,000 a day, roughly twice the level of early June, and many epidemiologists warn that it will most likely get worse. One reason for the uptick in numbers is increased testing, but another is simply that people in the United States and all over the world are suffering pandemic fatigue.

We’re sick of isolation. We crave human contact. We want hugs. We are social animals, and the virus exploits that instinct.

I’m now in Oregon, and I sense that we are all becoming more lax, particularly in parts of the country where the virus never hit hard and people didn’t lose friends or see refrigerator trucks parked outside hospitals. That laxity is lethal.

The Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation predicts that 363,000 Americans will have died of Covid-19 by Jan. 1. That would amount to more Americans dying in nine months from the virus than the total number of combat deaths over four years in World War II.

Yet the institute’s model also suggests that if 95 percent of Americans just wore masks (the level in Singapore), then nearly 100,000 lives could be saved between now and the end of the year.

Think about that. As a country, we’re still seared by the nearly 3,000 deaths in the 9/11 attacks. But the institute’s model warns that by the end of December, we’ll be losing that many each day.

Larry Brilliant, an epidemiologist who early in his career helped eradicate smallpox, argues that we can crush this virus as well. We’ve seen the toolbox that other countries employed to do so: universal mask use, social distancing, testing, contact tracing and so on.”

Opinion | Trump Calls on Extremists to ‘Stand By’ – By Nicholas Kristof – The New York Times

By 

Opinion Columnist

President Trump didn’t hurt Joe Biden in Tuesday’s debate, but he badly damaged our country.

“Trump harmed the United States in three ways, reminding us that the biggest threat to America comes not from desperate migrants, not from “socialists” seeking universal health care and not from “anarchists” in the streets — but from the White House itself.

The first way in which Trump damaged the country was in his salute to violent extremists.

“Are you willing tonight to condemn white supremacists?” Chris Wallace, the Fox News anchor who moderated the debate, asked Trump. Trump initially dodged the question but finally asked petulantly, “Who do you want me to condemn?”

Biden suggested the Proud Boys, a militant group that is fervently pro-Trump.

“Proud Boys, stand back and stand by,” Trump declared.

Stand by?

The Proud Boys, founded in 2016, are part of what the Southern Poverty Law Center calls “a fascistic right-wing political bloc.” The Anti-Defamation League compares it to a gang. The Proud Boys’ founder once said, “I cannot recommend violence enough,” and its members have brandished guns, committed criminal assaults and engaged in rioting. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram have banned Proud Boys.”

Opinion | A Cataclysm of Hunger, Disease and Illiteracy – by Nicholas Kristof – The New York Times

“We think of Covid-19 as killing primarily the elderly around the world, but in poor countries it is more cataclysmic than that.

It is killing children through malnutrition. It is leading more people to die from tuberculosis, malaria and AIDS. It is forcing girls out of school and into child marriages. It is causing women to die in childbirth. It is setting back efforts to eradicate polio, fight malaria and reduce female genital mutilation. It is leading to lapses in vitamin A distribution that will cause more children to suffer blindness and die.

The U.N. Population Fund warns that Covid-19 may lead to an additional 13 million child marriages around the world and to some 47 million women being unable to get access to modern contraception.

In short, a pandemic of disease, illiteracy and extreme poverty is following on the heels of this coronavirus pandemic — and it is hitting children hardest.”

David Lindsay:   This column makes me uncomfortable in several dimensions. The following comment in the NYT covers the elephant in the room:

USA

11m ago
Times Pick

Rampant overpopulation sets the stage for poverty, malnutrition, disease spread, and societal breakdown. Mr. Kristof needs to do more than mention population control in passing. He needs to address the cultural and religious factors that prevent women and the fathers of their children from limiting the number of children they bring into the world, often with no means of providing them with food or shelter. The pandemic will eventually be brought under control. Overpopulation is a far more widespread, destructive, long-term catastrophe.

6 Replies129 Recommended

Opinion | How Did the ‘Best-Prepared Country’ Become a Horror Story? – By Nicholas Kristof – The New York Times

By 

Opinion Columnist

“What would America be like today if President Trump had acted decisively in January to tackle the coronavirus, as soon as he was briefed on the danger?

One opportunity for decisive action came Jan. 28, when his national security adviser, Robert C. O’Brien, told Trump that the coronavirus “will be the biggest national security threat you face in your presidency.” Trump absorbed the warning, telling Bob Woodward days later how deadly and contagious the virus could be, according to Woodward’s new book, “Rage.”

Yet the president then misled the public by downplaying the virus, comparing it to the flu and saying that it would “go away.” He resisted masks, sidelined experts, held large rallies, denounced lockdowns and failed to get tests and protective equipment ready — and here we are, with Americans constituting 4 percent of the world’s population and 22 percent of Covid-19 deaths.

There’s plenty of blame to be directed as well at local officials, nursing home managers and ordinary citizens — but Trump set the national agenda.

Suppose Trump in January — or even in February — had warned the public of the dangers, had ensured that accurate tests were widely distributed (Sierra Leone had tests available before the United States) and had built up a robust system of contact tracing (Congo has better contact tracing than the United States).

Suppose he had ramped up production of masks and empowered the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to lead the pandemic response, instead of marginalizing its experts.

Suppose he had tried as relentlessly to battle the virus as he has to build his wall?

If testing and contact tracing had been done right, then we would have known where hot spots were and large-scale lockdowns and layoffs might have been unnecessary.

The United States would still have made mistakes. We focused too much on ventilators and not enough on other things that might have been more useful, like face masks, blood thinners and high-flow nasal cannulas. Because of mask shortages, health messaging about their importance was bungled. Governors and mayors dithered, and nursing homes weren’t adequately protected.

But many of our peer countries did better than we did not because they got everything right but because they got some things right — and then learned from mistakes.

Because of Covid-19, Trump called himself a wartime president, but he didn’t heed his generals and never ordered ammunition. In World War II, a Ford plant was configured to turn out one new B-24 bomber every hour, yet today we display none of that urgency even though Americans are dying from the virus at a faster pace than they fell in World War II.”

Opinion | ‘We’re No. 28! And Dropping!’ – By Nicholas Kristof – The New York Times

By 

Opinion Columnist

Credit…Johnathon Kelso for The New York Times

“This should be a wake-up call: New data suggest that the United States is one of just a few countries worldwide that is slipping backward.

The newest Social Progress Index, shared with me before its official release Thursday morning, finds that out of 163 countries assessed worldwide, the United States, Brazil and Hungary are the only ones in which people are worse off than when the index began in 2011. And the declines in Brazil and Hungary were smaller than America’s.

“The data paint an alarming picture of the state of our nation, and we hope it will be a call to action,” Michael Porter, a Harvard Business School professor and the chair of the advisory panel for the Social Progress Index, told me. “It’s like we’re a developing country.”

The index, inspired by research of Nobel-winning economists, collects 50 metrics of well-being — nutrition, safety, freedom, the environment, health, education and more — to measure quality of life. Norway comes out on top in the 2020 edition, followed by Denmark, Finland and New Zealand. South Sudan is at the bottom, with Chad, Central African Republic and Eritrea just behind.”

Opinion | The Lawbreakers Trump Loves – By Nicholas Kristof – The New York Times

By 

Opinion Columnist

Credit…Illustration by The New York Times; photograph by Doug Mills/The New York Times

“Even as President Trump accepted the Republican presidential nomination on the White House lawn, lawbreakers rampaged through the capital.

Would our law-and-order president leap off the podium and tackle them? He once said he would race unarmed into a building to tackle a school shooter. But sadly he ignored these blatant lawbreakers, presidential aides violating Hatch Act restrictions on political manipulation of government.

It’s one law he doesn’t want to uphold. Asked about the Hatch Act, the White House chief of staff, Mark Meadows, scoffed, “Nobody outside of the beltway really cares.”

Inside the beltway, Trump and other speakers at the Republican National Convention conjure grave national threats from raging anarchists.

“Your vote will decide whether we protect law-abiding Americans, or whether we give free rein to violent anarchists, and agitators, and criminals,” Trump warned in his acceptance speech.

The Republican convention included video glimpses of “Biden’s America,” with a scary scene of fire raging in the streets. But those streets turned out to be in Barcelona, Spain; it wasn’t “Biden’s America” or even America at all, just another in a stream of lies. (By the count of The Washington Post, Trump has uttered more than 20,000 false and misleading statements since taking office.)

Of course, even if it had been filmed in America this year, it wouldn’t have been Biden’s America, but Trump’s America. The real Biden’s America, the period when he was vice president, was a time of comparative calm, growing prosperity and improving health care.”

“. . . . “Right-wing attacks and plots account for the majority of all terrorist incidents in the United States since 1994, and the total number of right-wing attacks and plots has grown significantly during the past six years,” the Center for Strategic & International Studies concluded after examining terror plots in the United States from 1994 to May of this year. “Right-wing extremists perpetrated two-thirds of the attacks and plots in the United States in 2019 and over 90 percent between January 1 and May 8, 2020.” ”

“. . . . Even as Trump exaggerates threats from “anarchists,” there are plenty of legitimate threats to the public that he ignores. Climate change raises the risk of forest fires, drought, intense hurricanes and flooding. And the coronavirus is claiming American lives at the rate of more than one every 90 seconds — yet Trump simply pretends to have defeated the virus, defying the need for masks and social distancing.”

David Lindsay: One of the big improvements this summer, is that Nicolas Kristof woke up to the threat of climate change, and became in the last month, for the first time, a climate hawk. He is such a powerful writer.

Opinion | Fleeing the Trolls for the Grizzly Bears – By Nicholas Kristof – The New York Times

By 

Opinion Columnist

Credit…Adam Ellis Harper

“PACIFIC NORTHWEST TRAIL, Mont. — What’s a person to do in a crazy summer when our president endorses a candidate who claims the world is controlled by a “global cabal of Satan-worshiping pedophiles,” when federal agents club a Navy veteran protesting peacefully, when the government delays postal services to impede voting (and thereby kills chicks sent in the mail)?

Take a hike.

For wilderness therapy, I came here to Montana to escape the hubbub and embrace the mountains, to sip from creeks, to sleep under the stars, to negotiate with honest interlocutors, like grizzly bears.

Over seven years, my daughter, Caroline, and I hiked the entire 2,650-mile Pacific Crest Trail, running from Mexico to Canada on the West coast. So with that trail behind us, we’ve started another adventure — hiking the newest of America’s grand trails.

In 2009, President Obama signed legislation creating the Pacific Northwest National Scenic Trail — known informally as the Pacific Northwest Trail. It runs from the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific, hugging the Canadian border, but it sometimes exists more on paper than on the ground.

Some 1,200 miles long, the Pacific Northwest Trail was cobbled together from existing trails and forest roads, so every now and then you get to the end of a trail and the guidebook tells you: Bushwhack seven miles until you get to the next trail.

That’s what happened to us on a Montana mountain called Northwest Peak. We forged our own trail and cowboy camped that night on a high (and freezing) ridge above timberline — soothed at night by a spectacular sunset to our west, and awoken by an even more vivid palette of reds to the east.

We then hiked and crawled over boulders along a knife edge of a ridge, thousand-foot drops on each side. It was terrifying and exhilarating to see a pebble skitter from your feet and plunge down — forever. It was some of the toughest hiking I’ve ever done on any trail (partly because there wasn’t a trail), and also some of the most glorious. This is why the Pacific Northwest Trail is often called “America’s wildest trail.”

I backpack every summer because it’s wonderful family time, when none of us can be distracted by phones, emails or screens, when we share the camaraderie of blisters and bugs — and awe. My wife, Sheryl WuDunn, and Caroline’s boyfriend, Adam Ellis Harper, joined the journey this year.”

Opinion | Help Me Find Trump’s ‘Anarchists’ in Portland – By Nicholas Kristof – The New York Times

By 

Opinion Columnist

“PORTLAND, Ore. — I’ve been on the front lines of the protests here, searching for the “radical-left anarchists” who President Trump says are on Portland streets each evening.

I thought I’d found one: a man who for weeks leapt into the fray and has been shot four times with impact munitions yet keeps coming back. I figured he must be a crazed anarchist.

But no, he turned out to be Dr. Bryan Wolf, a radiologist who wears his white doctor’s jacket and carries a sign with a red cross and the words “humanitarian aid.” He pleads with federal forces not to shoot or gas protesters.

“Put your gun barrels down!” he cries out. “Why are you loading your grenade launchers? We’re just standing ——” “

David Lindsay Jr.
Hamden, CT | NYT Comment:
Kristof wrote: “I’m against all violent attacks on officers, and I worry that Trump’s provocations are succeeding in seeding violence — as we’ve already seen in Seattle, Oakland and elsewhere. Every time angry progressives burn a building down, they win votes for Trump.’ I agree with this.
The protestors lose when this happens, and Trump wins. The mayor should announce a curfew, and enforce it, so after a few hours of evening protest, all the law abiding citizens leave the scene peacefully, It is time to stop giving Trump the civil war he needs for re-election.

Opinion | In Portland’s So-Called War Zone, It’s the Troops Who Provide the Menace – By Nicholas Kristof – The New York Times

By 

Opinion Columnist

Credit…Mason Trinca for The New York Times

“PORTLAND, Ore. — To watch Fox News is to learn from Sean Hannity that the “Rose City” of Portland is “like a war zone” that has been, in Tucker Carlson’s words, “destroyed by the mob.”

So I invite Hannity and Carlson to escape their bubbles and visit Portland, stroll along the Willamette River and enjoy a glass of local pinot noir. They’ll be safe — unless they venture at night into the two blocks beside the federal courthouse.

Citizens need to be vigilant there, for armed groups periodically storm the streets to attack peaceful visitors. I’m talking, of course, about the uninvited federal forces.

I’ve watched them fire round after round of tear gas, along with occasional rubber bullets or other projectiles. They even repeatedly tear-gassed Portland’s mayor, Ted Wheeler, who has demanded that they go home, leaving him blinded and coughing on his own streets.

Credit…Nathan Howard/Getty Images

“They knocked the hell out of him,” President Trump boasted on Fox News. “That was the end of him.”

Trump is pretending that he is bringing law and order to chaotic streets, and now he has dispatched similar troops — what else can you call a militarized force like this but “troops”? — to Seattle, where that city’s mayor has also said they are unwanted. Yet if Trump is actually trying to establish order, he is stunningly incompetent. The ruthlessness of the federal forces has inflamed the protests, bringing huge throngs of Portlanders out to protect their city from those they see as jackbooted federal thugs.

“Their presence here escalates,” Kate Brown, Oregon’s governor, told me. “It throws gasoline on the fire.”

Brown noted that the federal troops may also be breaking the law. “We cannot have secret police abducting people into unmarked vehicles,” she said. “This is a democracy and not a dictatorship.”

Credit…Mason Trinca for The New York Times

The paradox is that Oregon is simultaneously begging for federal assistance to address a real threat — the coronavirus pandemic. Brown said she has been pleading for Covid-19 tests and for personal protective equipment, but the federal government has rebuffed the state.

“It’s appalling to me that they are using federal taxpayer dollars for political theater and making no effort to really keep our communities safe,” Brown said.

So let’s be real: Trump isn’t trying to quell violence in Portland. No, he’s provoking it to divert attention from 140,000 Covid-19 deaths in the United States. Once again, he’s tear-gassing peaceful protesters to generate a photo op — and he’s doing this every night in downtown Portland. This is a reckless campaign tactic to bolster his own narrative as a law-and-order candidate, a replay of Richard Nixon’s successful 1968 campaign theme.

It is true that some protesters are violent. Some start small trash fires. Others paint graffiti, including “kill pigs” and “kill cops,” or hurl water bottles or firecrackers at federal agents. Some protesters point lasers at officers and in one case a man allegedly hit an agent with a hammer.

Such violence is wrong and plays into Trump’s narrative. Representative John Lewis, who died earlier this month, showed how much more powerful it is for changemakers to endure violence than to commit it.

But it’s also true that the vast majority of those in the crowds each evening are peaceful. They sing about racial justice, chant “Feds out now” and try to protect their city from violent intruders dispatched by Trump.

Credit…Mason Trinca for The New York Times

The protesters — including a “Wall of Moms” who turn out each night to lock arms and shield protesters — protect themselves with bicycle helmets and umbrellas, while suburbanites bring leaf blowers to dispel tear gas (this works surprisingly well). Medics attend to the injured, and cleanup crews collect litter.

“They have guns; I have an umbrella,” said a protester named Jackie — who added that she was fearful of the government and did not want her last name published. That’s common in dictatorships, but I find it ineffably sad to breathe tear gas in my beloved home state and to interview Americans with such fears of their own leaders.

On the streets, I have no fear of the protesters (except when they pull their face masks down to shout slogans, risking the spread of Covid-19), but it’s prudent to worry about the troops. In a few weeks, they:

  • fired “less lethal” munition at a peaceful protester named Donavan La Bella, fracturing his skull and requiring facial reconstruction surgery. Video shows that the shot was unprovoked.

  • clubbed a Navy veteran, Christopher J. David, as he tried to ask federal agents how they squared their actions with the Constitution.

  • allegedly sexually assaulted a lawyer who had been arrested after taking part in the “Wall of Moms.”

An iconic moment came when a woman known as Naked Athena confronted the troops while wearing only a hat and face mask. Her naked vulnerability as armed troops fired pepper balls at her feet underscored the absurdity of Trump’s narrative that he is “protecting” anything.

Beware. What you’re seeing in Portland may be coming to other cities. After all, Trump’s verdict on the troops: “In Portland, they’ve done a fantastic job.” -30-

Nicholas Kristof supports the after dark protests more than I do. I want the protestors to all go home at sunset each evening, because of the danger that Trump can use these protests to put jack boots in multiple cities. See the piece earlier by Roger Cohen, about how the Germans watch this fascist behavior unfold with horror and deep concern.