Armwood Editorial And Opinion Blog
A collection of opinionated commentaries on culture, politics and religion compiled predominantly from an American viewpoint but tempered by a global vision. My Armwood Opinion Youtube Channel @ YouTube I have a Jazz Blog @ Jazz and a Technology Blog @ Technology. I have a Human Rights Blog @ Law
Monday, March 27, 2023
Kamala Harris Looks to Deepen Relations With Africa Amid China’s Influence - The New York Times
In Africa, Kamala Harris Looks to Deepen Relations Amid China’s Influence
"In a weeklong trip to Ghana, Tanzania and Zambia, the vice president will face a balancing act as she tries to foster a collaborative U.S. relationship.
Vice President Kamala Harris has begun a weeklong tour of Ghana and two other African nations as the Biden administration hopes to set a new path for U.S.-Africa ties that focuses on collaboration rather than crises, a trip seen as a significant step toward revitalizing a relationship with Africa that was widely thought to be lagging in recent years.
Ms. Harris, the highest-ranking Biden administration official to visit the continent, will hold an official meeting and news briefing with President Nana Akufo-Addo of Ghana on Monday before traveling to Tanzania and Zambia, where she had visited more than 50 years ago to learn about public service from her grandfather.
Ms. Harris aims to reassure the United States’ African allies that Washington is focused on fostering innovation and economic growth in the region rather than having a singular focus on addressing corruption and violence on the continent, according to senior U.S. officials.
“I’m very excited about the future of Africa,” Ms. Harris said on Sunday, moments after she stepped off Air Force II in Accra, the capital of Ghana, noting that the median age of the continent was 19. She added, “That tells us about the growth of opportunity, of innovation, of possibility — I see in all of that a great opportunity not only for the people of this continent, but the people of the world.”
Ms. Harris will face the challenge of presenting the United States as an ally while fulfilling President Biden’s commitment to take action against foreign governments that advance anti-L.G.B.T.Q. laws and restrict human rights, even as there are fears about attempts to limit similar rights within the United States.
Such restrictions have been on the rise in several African nations, including Ghana, Tanzania and Zambia, and the White House said last week that it would consider economic penalties against Uganda after lawmakers there passed legislation that calls for life in prison for those who engage in gay sex.
“It’s an unenviable dilemma,” Murithi Mutiga, the Africa director for International Crisis Group, said of Ms. Harris’s task. “It’s a tough juggling act.”
Some African leaders have consistently reiterated in recent years that they do not just want lectures on democracy from Western leaders, but also more economic partnership, preferential trade agreements and access to finance at fair rates.
Those voices have only been amplified as the United States has called for greater African support for condemning Russia’s war in Ukraine and reducing the effects of climate change, and has sought access to earth minerals in Africa that are critical to its competition with China.
Historically, the United States has largely engaged with the African continent through “anchor states”: often large or financially powerful nations that play a vital role in regional stability. In contrast, nations like China have had a more expanded engagement with the continent, experts say, establishing consistent, strategic diplomatic and economic partnerships.
The fact that the first trip each year by a Chinese foreign minister is always to Africa and that Beijing pays assiduous diplomatic attention to even small African nations have helped to make China a key partner, said Cobus van Staden, managing editor of the China Global South Project, a research organization.
“That connection was built up over years and would be difficult to replicate in the short term,” he said. “It would take ongoing engagement across several U.S. administrations, which can be challenging.”
For U.S. officials, he added, deepening ties would entail meeting African partners where they are and working with them on key priorities.
Some African leaders are already celebrating Ms. Harris’s trip and, in particular, her personal ties to Zambia.
“You know she has certain roots in our beloved country,” Mulambo Haimbe, justice minister in Zambia, said in a video posted online on Saturday. “It shows,” he said, that “they are sister countries that want to shake hands on an economic level.”
Mr. Haimbe was referring to Ms. Harris’s trip to Zambia as a child, when she visited her grandfather P.V. Gopalan. Ms. Harris’s grandfather was deputized by the Zambian government to help manage an influx of refugees from Rhodesia, the former name of Zimbabwe. He also served as an adviser to the first Zambian president, Kenneth Kaunda, according to the U.S. Embassy in Lusaka, the Zambian capital.
“My grandfather would talk to me about the importance of doing the right thing, the just thing,” Ms. Harris wrote in her book “Smart on Crime.”
Ms. Harris has a delicate balancing act in the continent during a consequential period of her vice presidency amid expectations that Mr. Biden will announce his re-election campaign in the coming months. With Republicans expecting to increase scrutiny over the Biden-Harris ticket, Democrats have emphasized the need for Ms. Harris to assert herself as someone prepared to lead the party. Many allies have said she has made the greatest strides on the global stage.
On Monday, after meeting with Mr. Akufo-Addo, she will visit a skate park and recording studio to meet with local artists and entertainers. The next day, she will speak about democratic leadership and her vision for Africa’s future to an audience of young people in Accra before visiting the Cape Coast Castle, the headquarters of Britain’s 18th-century slave trade on Africa’s Gold Coast.
The vice president plans to discuss regional security, debt relief, the war in Ukraine and American concerns over China’s investment in the continent with the leaders of Ghana, Tanzania and Zambia, her aides said.
In Tanzania, she will visit workers from the technology sector, and in Zambia she will focus on climate resilience and food insecurity.
Ms. Harris is also expected to make several announcements on American public- and private-sector commitments to invest in Africa, a continent that is rich in the resources needed to address climate change and the rare earth minerals used to power electric vehicles.
While Ms. Harris would emphasize that the United States’ relationship with Africa cannot be defined by Washington’s competition with China, her aides said, they also acknowledged concern over ceding more ground to Beijing, which has greatly expanded its influence on the continent even as Russia, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates have also jockeyed for influence.
The countries the vice president is visiting count China among their top or second-top trading partner, far ahead of the United States.
In 2019, Ghana’s government agreed to allow China to dig for bauxite ore in exchange for multibillion-dollar infrastructural investments that included building highways. In a sign of China’s presence in the country, as Ms. Harris’s motorcade passed a traffic circle in Accra on Sunday where officials had placed posters showing her and Mr. Akufo-Addo, a People’s Republic of China placard signaling Beijing’s funding of the rotary’s construction was visible directly behind one poster.
In November, President Samia Suluhu of Tanzania met with China’s top leader, Xi Jinping, in Beijing, where they signed multiple economic and infrastructural agreements including one giving Chinese markets more access to Tanzanian agricultural products. Tanzania also signed a $2.2 billion railway deal with China in December.
In Zambia, China has faced growing criticism for being the country’s biggest creditor and saddling the country with more debt than it can repay — an allegation that Beijing has pushed back against. And President Hakainde Hichilema of Zambia has promised to build on “a special relationship” with China.
Since Mr. Biden hosted a summit for African nations in Washington in December, various officials have flocked to the continent, including Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken; the first lady, Jill Biden; the United Nations ambassador, Linda Thomas-Greenfield; and Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen, who said from Zambia that China was a “barrier” to ending the southern African nation’s debt crisis.
But for Ms. Harris, the first woman of color to serve as U.S. vice president, the trip provides an opportunity to deliver a unique message, said Elizabeth Shackelford, a former U.S. diplomat to Africa who is now a senior fellow at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, a research organization.
“She comes out there as a strong woman who has worked her way up through the system, who is a minority who has risen to the highest echelons of power,” Ms. Shackelford said. “It will be inspiring to many women and girls who see her out there in that role.”
Zolan Kanno-Youngs reported from Accra, Ghana, and Abdi Latif Dahir from Nairobi, Kenya. Collins Sampa contributed reporting from Lusaka, Zambia."
How Big Law and Black Brooklyn Fueled Hakeem Jeffries’s Rise - The New York Times
The Dual Education of Hakeem Jeffries
"Shaped by Black Brooklyn and trained by Manhattan’s legal elite, the House Democrats’ new leader is not easily pigeonholed.
The campus at Binghamton University was in uproar. Whispers of outside agitators swirled among the mostly white student body. Security was heightened.
The source of the friction was the planned appearance of a polarizing Black studies professor who had referred to white people as “ice people” and accused “rich Jews” of financing the slave trade. Outraged Jewish students demanded the event be canceled; their Black peers were incensed over the potential censorship.
And wedged hard in the middle was Hakeem Jeffries.
As the political representative for the Black student group that invited the professor to the upstate New York campus, Mr. Jeffries, a 21-year-old college senior with a flattop and a dashiki, had the delicate task of cooling tensions while holding firm on the invitation. There was also another complication: The speaker, Dr. Leonard Jeffries, was his uncle.
The episode, in February 1992, was an early precursor of both the culture-war disputes now flashing across the country and the battles that Mr. Jeffries faces as the new leader of House Democrats. Republicans have begun resurfacing it to try to tie their new foil to his uncle’s more incendiary views, which he says he does not share.
But the Binghamton events also show that even at a young age, Mr. Jeffries had a flair for oratory, a taste for a good argument and an unusual knack for navigating conflict without inflaming it.
“The proper way to debate scholarship is with scholarship,” Mr. Jeffries told reporters at the time. “Not with high-tech lynchings, media assassinations, character desecrations and venomous attacks.”
The speech went ahead. It was still full of invective but was delivered and received peacefully.
Three decades later, accounts of Mr. Jeffries’s history-making ascent have largely focused on his relative youth and his time as a House impeachment manager. But to fully understand how he claimed power and might wield it as the first person of color to lead a party in Congress, it is instructive to retrace the divergent experiences that fueled his rise from Brooklyn to Washington, as described in dozens of interviews with friends, allies and adversaries.
Call it the dual education of Hakeem Jeffries, a charismatic and enigmatic son of both Brooklyn and Big Law, who was shaped as much by hip-hop and the Black Baptist church as by the offices of corporate America where he handled high-stakes litigation.
He struggled to break into politics as an insurgent in one of the country’s most diverse political arenas. But once in the State Legislature, he quickly showed mastery of Albany, pushing through landmark criminal justice bills while holding down a lucrative part-time role at a personal injury law firm.
Asked in an interview in his spacious new Capitol office to describe his political brand, Mr. Jeffries, 52, replied, “Reasonable, common-sense, tough, get-stuff-done Democrat.” He said his upbringing and career choices formed the foundation for his center-left political identity, heightened sensitivity to racial and pocketbook issues and exceedingly deliberative approach.
“The Brooklyn identity is you’ve got to make uneven, unequal pieces fit in the puzzle: the Latino, the Orthodox Jewish, the Black, the Caribbean,” said the Rev. Al Sharpton. “Very few cities have that kind of makeup. No one has mastered it better than Hakeem.”
His critics, particularly on his party’s left flank, take a harsher view: They argue that Mr. Jeffries’s consensus-building style and long ties to Wall Street donors have made him too deferential to a power structure stacked against confronting climate change and the widening wealth gap.
“Hakeem Jeffries represents an old style of politics rooted in back-room deals and corporate donors,” said Jabari Brisport, a democratic socialist who was elected in 2020 to represent Mr. Jeffries’s longtime Brooklyn political base in the State Senate. “He has to choose who he is going to side with.”
Republicans say just the opposite, that Mr. Jeffries is too radical and so inexperienced he needs “training wheels.”
For now, he has managed to win plaudits within his own party and the grudging respect of some Republicans. But the real tests lie ahead as he tries to fend off Republican attempts to undo his party’s policies and unite his fractious caucus to win back the House.
A child of Black Brooklyn
Mr. Jeffries came of age in the 1970s and ’80s, when central Brooklyn was becoming one of the most important Black urban centers in the country. This was the area that sent the first Black woman, Shirley Chisholm, to Congress just before Mr. Jeffries was born: a dense hotbed for experiments in Black empowerment and education; a cradle for hip-hop culture and political power; and eventually a center of the drug trade.
“Some of the neighborhoods that people now can’t afford to live in were the same places where on occasion you might step over a crack vial,” said Lenny Singletary, a friend since childhood. “It was a time when family was important, and the old adage was true: It took a village to raise a child.”
The Jeffries family stood out. His parents each had union jobs that helped pay the mortgage on a modest brownstone in the borough’s Crown Heights section.
Mr. Jeffries’s mother, Laneda Jeffries, a social worker, traced her roots to Cape Verde, the islands off the west coast of Africa colonized by the Portuguese. His paternal grandparents moved north during the Great Migration, carrying stories of slavery and lynchings.
His father, Marland Jeffries, was a substance abuse counselor who once ran an unsuccessful campaign for State Assembly on a civil rights slate. He and his wife named their elder son Hakeem Sekou, which connotes wisdom in Arabic and West African traditions. “Whatever you’re going to be, you’re going to be beyond a master’s degree,” Marland Jeffries once said. (Hasan Jeffries, Hakeem’s only sibling, is a historian at Ohio State University.)
Marland Jeffries shared that emphasis with his brother, Leonard, who led the Black Studies Department at City College of New York. Professor Jeffries’s scholarship pushed the history of Africa and its diaspora toward the center of European-dominated narratives.
But in the early 1990s, his work began to attract intense backlash among white academics and political figures. They denounced a 1991 speech that said, “Russian Jewry had a particular control over the movies, and their financial partners, the Mafia, put together a system for the destruction of Black people.” Dr. Jeffries, who could not be reached for comment, lost his position as department chair, and the subsequent legal fight over free speech was covered closely in city newspapers.
Mr. Jeffries, who has long had support in Brooklyn Orthodox Jewish communities, has distanced himself from his uncle’s views and, at times, sought to minimizewhat he knew about the controversy in the 1990s — despite his role defending Dr. Jeffries at Binghamton. Still, his family clearly influenced his worldview.
“Black progressives do tend to tackle issues first and foremost with an understanding that systemic racism has been in the soil of America for over 400 years,” the congressman told The Atlantic in 2021. “Hard-left progressives tend to view the defining problem in America as one that is anchored in class. That is not my experience.”
By the mid-1980s, with the drug trade metastasizing, school and church became a refuge for young Hakeem Jeffries. In 1984, a porch two doors down from his home was peppered with gunshots during a block party. Childhood friends started selling drugs; some went to prison.
At Brooklyn’s diverse Midwood High School, he excelled in the honors program, obsessed over music, played baseball and wrote in the yearbook that he hoped to be a lawyer.
Wilkie Cornelius, another friend, remembered that Mr. Jeffries raised his hand in class “like a machine.” He also recalled Mr. Jeffries pouring himself into a one-on-one rap battle outside of school. “His style was laid back and complex for the time,” he said.
The Jeffries family attended Cornerstone Baptist Church in Bedford-Stuyvesant, where Mr. Jeffries donned white gloves each Sunday as an usher. As a hub of the Black community, it also provided some of his earliest political education.
Mr. Jeffries listened to sermons by Dr. Sandy F. Ray, a close confidant of Martin Luther King Jr., and heard visiting politicians. The pastor at Cornerstone, the Rev. Harry S. Wright, was the brother of Marian Wright Edelman, founder of the Children’s Defense Fund. Friends say he influenced the future congressman’s speaking style with heavy use of repetition, alliteration and demonstrative hand movement.
“Hakeem’s an interesting study,” said the Rev. Lawrence Aker III, Cornerstone’s current pastor. “He’s well educated and well schooled, but this guy can still spit the lyrics of Biggie Smalls or any urban rapper coming out of the ’80s or ’90s. He understands what I would call a hybrid model.”
Honing his pedigree
Mr. Jeffries’s first deep immersion in the world outside Brooklyn came in 1988, when he made the four-hour drive to Binghamton in New York’s Southern Tier. The culture shock was unavoidable.
“There was racism. You’d walk around in the town and someone could say something to you freely that you didn't ask for,” said Marcia Rowe-Riddick, a friend.
Mr. Jeffries acclimated quickly. He roomed with Victor Williams, an actor later known for his role as Deacon Palmer on “The King of Queens,” and met his future wife, Kennisandra Arciniegas. He was elected president of Kappa Alpha Psi, the historically Black fraternity, and excelled in the highly choreographed dance routines known as step shows.
He was also becoming politically active. His senior year, he was elected the political representative for the Black Student Union, the position that put him in the middle of his uncle’s visit to campus. But while fellow student activists sometimes risked arrest, Mr. Jeffries had a different perspective.
“He basically took the intellectual approach to everything,” said Carlos A. Pimentel, the president of the Black Student Union.
Years later, as a lawyer and lawmaker, Mr. Jeffries adopted the same approach when privately counseling activists like Mr. Sharpton on cases involving police violence.
“‘I’m not the guy who’s going to go to jail with you,’” Mr. Sharpton recalled his saying. “‘I’m the guy who’s going to get you out of jail.’”
By the time he reached law school, Mr. Jeffries was speaking openly of his own ambitions. He had earned a public policy degree at Georgetown and was developing a network of like-minded young Black men, including Adrian Fenty, the future mayor of Washington, and Patrick Gaspard, later the White House political director. When he was selected as the only student speaker on graduation day, even the dean predicted he would end up in Congress one day.
“You just kind of know when someone is operating at a different speed,” Mr. Fenty said.
After a clerkship for Judge Harold Baer Jr. in the Southern District of New York, he chose not to go directly into politics or public service, but to take a job at Paul, Weiss, the sort of law firm that could confer legal and business prestige.
Mr. Jeffries helped settle an intellectual property case involving Lauryn Hill and her acclaimed album, “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.” He later served as litigation counsel for Viacom and CBS, where he defended the company after Justin Timberlake briefly exposed Janet Jackson’s breast during the 2004 Super Bowl halftime show.
His legal career had another important benefit: forging a political alliance with Theodore V. Wells Jr., a nationally known and politically connected defense lawyer. While Mr. Wells said he “spent a lot of time begging” Mr. Jeffries to become a partner, he threw himself fully into Mr. Jeffries’s first campaign.
The Barack of Brooklyn
As a party leader, Mr. Jeffries has bristled as the Democrats’ activist left has challenged incumbents, many of them older Black lawmakers. But as a 29-year-old insurgent, that is exactly how he chose to make his entrance.
The 2000 race against Roger L. Green, a long-tenured state assemblyman, was more generational than ideological. It was also contentious, reflecting Mr. Jeffries’s eagerness to propel himself into Brooklyn’s fractious political scene and his early fund-raising skills.
Hustling around subway stops and parks, he cast his opponent as ineffective and calcified. After he made a comment during a televised debate highlighting Mr. Green’s Muslim faith, the incumbent accused him of stoking religious tension and stormed out.
Mr. Green won, but Mr. Jeffries made an impression. Soon, new legislative lines cut Mr. Jeffries out of the district, a political “move that was gangster,” he said in a 2010 documentary about gerrymandering.
A 2002 rematch was even uglier, with Mr. Jeffries accused of sending misleading mailers. He lost again.
But a broader changing of the guard was underway. Across central Brooklyn, a new generation of young Black political leaders with advanced degrees was demanding the baton of power from officials who, in many cases, had been the first African Americans to hold office. Among the newcomers were Letitia James, who is now New York’s attorney general, and Eric Adams, now the mayor.
In 2006, Mr. Jeffries finally found a path to join them when Mr. Green abandoned the seat. Once an outsider, Mr. Jeffries quickly became close with the borough’s Democratic machine and, some believed, too friendly to the interests of developers and charter schools often backed by the city’s wealthy.
When Forest City Ratner proposed a multibillion-dollar redevelopment in Mr. Jeffries’s backyard — including an arena that is now home to the Brooklyn Nets — some of his neighbors were flummoxed by his position. Ms. James forcefully opposed the project, known as Atlantic Yards; Mr. Green supported it. Mr. Jeffries straddled the divide, saying he was against the use of eminent domain to seize land for the development and some design decisions, but not the project as a whole.
“I spent six hours at two meetings with him,” Daniel Goldstein, an opponent of the project, told The New York Times in 2006. “After six hours, it was unclear to us where he stood.”
Allies saw early signs of something else, though — an ability to balance competing and sometimes outright hostile interests to forge alliances. Supporters and local newspapers began using a moniker to liken him to another young Black politician born on the same day: the “Barack of Brooklyn.”
Mastering the inside game
In Albany, Mr. Jeffries played a deft inside game. He courted party leaders but was most closely identified with a generation of downstate Black and Latino lawmakers who pushed the Legislature to correct what they saw as grievous inequities in the criminal justice system.
He also continued to work in private practice, taking a lucrative part-time position at a personal injury law firm that ultimately earned him more than $1.6 million in contingency fees.
In a burst of activity in 2009 and 2010, the lawmakers helped repeal the state’s strict 1970s-era drug laws; ended the practice of counting inmates as “residents” of rural counties to increase those counties’ political clout; and barred the Police Department from maintaining an electronic database including personal information of more than a million people it had stopped, frisked and questioned but never charged.
The last of the three “catapulted him into a position as a leader and spokesperson for racial equality and fair policing,” said Donna Lieberman, the executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, which worked closely on the bill. It also foretold his intense focus on criminal justice policy in Congress, where he helped write a Trump-era overhaul of federal sentencing and prison laws.
Teaming up with Mr. Adams, then a state senator, Mr. Jeffries argued that the database infringed on the civil liberties of the mostly Black and brown men it cataloged. But he used the issue to force a larger debate on stop and frisk, a program that had broad political support but that Mr. Jeffries believed had ballooned out of control — putting him at odds with Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg.
“That was probably the most consequential moment for me legislatively — to show that I could show up and not just speak about the problem, but solve the problem,” Mr. Jeffries said.
In 2011, he decided to once again take on a political elder, this time for a seat in Congress. Edolphus Towns was a powerful 30-year incumbent, but he was aging and increasingly out of step.
This time there would be no heavyweight race. Mr. Towns bowed out before the primary, reinforcing lessons Mr. Jeffries had learned years earlier. In the primary, he defeated Charles Barron, a New York City councilman and former Black Panther who has argued for years that Mr. Jeffries is too averse to butting heads with the powerful.
“He plays it safe,” he said.
Mr. Jeffries’s profile rose after he arrived in Washington. Black leaders tried to draft him to run for mayor; others tried for state attorney general. But he had little trouble saying no.
“Lawmaking,” Mr. Jeffries said in the interview, “was always more interesting to me.”
Alain Delaquérière contributed research."
Sunday, March 26, 2023
The Candidate and the Spy: James Bamford on Israel’s Secret Collusion with Trump to Win 2016 Race | Democracy Now!
Why DeSantis is struggling against Trump in the 2024 election
The simple reason DeSantis is struggling so badly against Trump
"The Florida governor's honeymoon is over -- partly because he and the Republican establishment killed their best argument against Trump.
Ron DeSantis’ honeymoon is over.
After his re-election in November, Florida’s Republican governor cemented himself as the Republican establishment’s great non-Trump hope. But even before he formally enters the presidential race, DeSantis’ momentum has disappeared. Monmouth University’s Republican primary poll shows a 15 point gain for former President Donald Trump since December, while DeSantis has dropped 12 points. Other surveys tell a similar story. NBC News reports that "a number of the Florida governor’s donors and allies are worried his recent stumbles suggest he may not be ready."
How has DeSantis tripped up so spectacularly? As usual when it comes to Republican politics, the answer involves Trump. And DeSantis and the GOP establishment have once again played themselves.
Like many other Trump foes, he can’t even settle on how to respond to Trump’s attacks.
When DeSantis’ poll numbers started rising, Trump wasted no time hurling attacks at his rival. He road-tested numerous nicknames, settling on “Ron DeSanctimonious.” He claimed — without proof, of course — that DeSantis had groomed high school students. And he even made, by Trump standards, an almost substantive case against DeSantis’ actual record:
“It’s poorly written and has Trump’s usual weird capitalization issues,” as MSNBC columnist Michael A. Cohen tweeted, “but it is also a pretty compelling argument against a DeSantis presidential bid.” It also has Trump’s typical spin — of course a president running for re-election got more votes in Florida than a governor running in a nonpresidential election year. But the inaccuracies and distortions only slightly weaken the attacks, because their thrust — that DeSantis’ views and actions are “a mirage” — is accurate.
Like Derek Zoolander, DeSantis has only one look. If he has a Democrat or media straw man to light on fire, then he plays the angry fighter. But take that away, and he twists in the wind, waiting for Republican voters to tell him what they want. “DeSantis looks like a Bush Republican as much as or more than he does a Trump one,” writes The New York Times’ Jamelle Bouie — a diagnosis that reveals less about DeSantis’ establishment lean than it does his ideological rootlessness. His recent twisting on the war in Ukraine echoes similar shifts on pandemic restrictions, entitlements and vaccines, to name just a few.
Such vacillating is largely a problem for the general election — Mitt Romney in 2012 and John Kerry in 2004 are just two recent nominees who struggled to overcome past flip-flops. But for the GOP primary, DeSantis’ indecision creates a different problem: Like many other Trump foes, he can’t even settle on how to respond to Trump’s attacks. For months, he tried to ignore Trump. Then he briefly tried to needle the president over his hush money case. Only in the last couple of days has DeSantis returned to citing his re-election, as he did late last year when his poll numbers were at their best.
The only way to beat Trump is to choose attacks early, dial them up to 11 and stick with them. In 2020, Joe Biden didn’t hold back on the former president’s racism, incompetence and corruption. The no-holds-barred approach doesn’t always work — ask Hillary Clinton — but it fares far better than the approach his Republican foes used in 2016. But because DeSantis depends so heavily on the GOP base telling him what it wants, he’s put himself at a disadvantage in trying to take on a candidate whom they still like.
An all-out attack on a primary rival is easier when you believe the candidate’s nomination will be a grave mistake for the party.
This isn’t only DeSantis’ fault, though. It’s the fault of the whole Republican establishment, and it goes back to the 2020 election. Trump may have insisted that he won the 2020 election primarily to assuage his own ego. But he also recognized that if Republican voters accepted that he was a “loser,” his brand was done.
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Remember, DeSantis’ post-midterm polling bump stemmed precisely from his re-election, in contrast to the serial losses of Trump’s favorites — defeats that went by and large unchallenged. Had Republican leaders rejected the conspiracy theories two years earlier and admitted (even tacitly) that Trump was a political loser, it could have permanently damaged his standing. Instead, they pre-emptively neutered their future champion’s most compelling argument to the base: DeSantis won, and Trump didn’t.
Why throw away this golden opportunity? Why flinch every time Trump swipes? Why refuse to win the only way you can against Trump — by throwing the kitchen sink back at him? It’s certainly not as if presidential primaries are conducted with a lighter touch — ask anyone who witnessed the vicious contest between George W. Bush and John McCain.
An all-out attack on a primary rival is easier, though, when you believe the candidate’s nomination will be a grave mistake for the party. And neither DeSantis nor the rest of the Republican establishment believes the man who instigated the attack on the Capitol is a threat to their party, let alone democracy. Some Republican politicians will privately bewail Trump anonymously to reporters. Some even tut-tutted him publicly once or twice after voting for most or all of his legislative agenda. Some will assure us in their future memoirs that they never liked him. But publicly, they’ll sit on their hands and condemn their party to stay in Trump’s hands.
Maybe DeSantis recovers between now and next February, when Iowa Republicans make their choices. But for now, he and the Republican establishment would rather doom their own chances than truly take on Trump. One can hope their strategy doesn’t doom the country too."
Saturday, March 25, 2023
Opinion | The Lifelong Benefits of English Class - The New York Times
The Lifelong Benefits of English Class
"Readers respond to a column by Pamela Paul about the value of English courses and majors.
To the Editor:
Re “How to Get Kids to Hate English,” by Pamela Paul (column, March 12):
Brava, Ms. Paul, for pointing out the disastrous effects of Common Core’s “English Language Arts.” As a longtime professor of English at a liberal arts college, I’ve had a ringside seat to the decline of reading, and discovered its roots in the Core’s reduction of reading and writing to drill, kill, bubble fill, which crushes students’ desire to read. But that curiosity can be rekindled if you show students the way literature relates to their lives.
And, yes, an English major is excellent preparation for a future that requires adaptability, versatility, flexibility — competencies that employers seek. When I interviewed alums for my book “Immeasurable Outcomes,” about the long-term benefits of studying literature, the words “communicate” and “connect” kept coming up.
“As long as you can read and write, synthesize information, communicate — all those things we did in our courses — you’ll find someone who wants to hire you,” one former student said.
The writer is an emeritus professor at Scripps College.
To the Editor:
Pamela Paul argues that the path toward dreading literature begins in middle school. I would say that it begins much earlier.
All classrooms need to be a place where high-quality literature — and yes, it exists even at the picture book level — is enjoyed and meaningful discussions take place, way before the deep dive into literary analysis.
I agree with Ms. Paul’s idea that a love of literature must be cultivated and nurtured. When teachers only ask for “facts” or one-word answers about a book (e.g., “Who is the main character?” “What color shirt is she wearing?”) instead of asking open-ended questions (e.g., “Why do you think she acted that way?” “Do you agree with her choices?”), that is the beginning of the dread.
On long car drives, my husband and I always listened to audiobooks of the classics — “Frankenstein,” “The Portrait of Dorian Gray,” “To Kill a Mockingbird” — with our middle-school-age boys. Before they had much formal English education, we enjoyed these books as great stories.
The writer is a former English teacher.
To the Editor:
In an otherwise excellent piece lamenting the decline of the English major, Pamela Paul repeats an all too common claim: that humanities degrees “don’t exactly lead to gainful employment.”
Although students with humanities, arts and soft social science degrees do earn less on average than those with STEM or business degrees, these generalizations obscure significant differences in outcomes. Political science majors, for example, earn more on average than math majors or civil engineers, and English majors more than majors in environmental science.
More important, as Ms. Paul implies at the end of her column, most students with bachelor’s degrees in the humanities earn more than enough to live well. About 90 percent of them report being satisfied with their lives, roughly the same percentage as STEM and business majors.
As Ms. Paul recognizes, well-taught courses in the humanities cultivate intellectual curiosity, critical thinking, aesthetic appreciation, civic literacy and a host of other attributes that money can’t buy — and, we would add, that are eminently useful in virtually every profession.
Mr. Wippman is the president of Hamilton College. Dr. Altschuler is a professor of American studies at Cornell University.
To the Editor:
I teach seventh- and eighth-grade English as well as eighth-grade civics. I have been using a Common Core approach in my classroom since it was introduced. Yes, it requires more nonfiction material, but classics and full-length novels are alive and well in my school district.
Students read one Shakespeare play per year starting in seventh grade. My eighth graders are reading “1984” and “Animal Farm,” by George Orwell. Yes, they also read “The Outsiders,” which you disparage as pop fiction. Well, the theme in this book is so meaningful that Shakespeare copped it from a medieval Italian love story, and Leonard Bernstein, Arthur Laurents and Jerome Robbins copped it from him for “West Side Story.”
We sit in group configurations so we can discuss and reflect. We use information literacy approaches to learn to comprehend, analyze, evaluate and synthesize what we read. My students acquire analytical skills that they can apply to any subject.
You claim in your article that the Common Core asks “little of students.” My seventh and eighth graders would beg to differ!
To the Editor:
Pamela Paul lauds the classic literature she read in school and writes that, when teachers assign commercial young adult novels, they “lowball student competence.”
But there is literary merit in everything. While yes, I would agree that James Joyce has more literary merit than say, J.K. Rowling, I would ask that my fellow readers remember that reading is about examination. Of a time, an author, a character, a theme — to read is to explore.
Any distaste for contemporary literature, especially young adult literature, highlights an unwillingness to explore, to chart the seas of pages, to find things you love and things you don’t. There are modern authors I don’t care for, who I think are indicative of the commercialization of literature that is becoming more and more concerning, but I would still love to read their work in a classroom setting. From an exploratory lens.
Are classics important? Of course! Is the present just as important? Yes.
The writer is an 11th grader.
To the Editor:
Pamela Paul is surely correct that English majors are exactly the kind of employees businesses need today. Some years ago, I taught legal writing in an undergraduate legal studies program at the University of Illinois. Most of the students majored in the subject and had taken several law courses.
One student was an English major. She already had her B.A., and was taking this one law course to see if she might want to attend law school. Not only was she the best writer in the class, but, despite having taken no other law courses, the best legal analyst — that is, the best thinker.
Literature teaches students to read, to write and to reason. Our educational system’s narrow focus on job-related subjects harms not only our students and our civic culture, but our employers as well."
How to Get Kids to Hate English
"Imagine a world without English majors. In the last decade, the study of English and history in college has fallen by a third. At Columbia University, the share of English majors fell from 10 percent to 5 percent between 2002 and 2020. According to a recent story in The New Yorker, “The End of the English Major,” this decline is largely a result of economic factors — which departments get funded, what students earn after graduation, etc. Fields once wide open to English majors — teaching, academia, publishing, the arts, nonprofits, the media — have collapsed or become less desirable. Facing astronomical debt and an uncertain job market, students may find majors like communication arts and digital storytelling more pragmatic.
That’s definitely a big part of the story. Yet many would-be humanities majors have turned toward, not more pragmatic degrees, but more esoteric, interdisciplinary majors, filled with courses that encourage use of words like “hegemony,” “intersectional” and “paradigm.” These educational tracks don’t exactly lead to gainful employment, either.
Another part of the story is how demanding English literature is, full of daunting passages through Middle English. Chaucer. The multivolume “Norton Anthology,” its thousands of wafery pages promising long hours of dense verse, verse, verse, but also, stories that have endured for over a thousand years. (I still cherish my copy.)
And yet another important and dispiriting part of the story is that the study of English itself may have lost its allure, even among kids who enjoy reading. They are learning to hate the subject well before college. Both in terms of what kids are assigned and how they are instructed to read it, English class in middle and high school — now reconceived as language arts, E.L.A. or language and literature — is often a misery. It’s as if once schools teach kids how to read, they devote the remainder of their education to making them dread doing so.
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This began largely with the Common Core, instituted in 2010 during the Obama administration. While glorifying STEM, these nationwide standards, intended to develop a 21st-century work force, also took care to de-emphasize literature. By high school, 70 percent of assigned texts are meant to be nonfiction. Educators can maximize the remaining fiction by emphasizing excerpts, essays and digital material over full-length novels. Immersing children in the full arc of storytelling has largely gone out that window as novels have increasingly been replaced by short stories — or shorter yet, by “texts.”
“The Common Core killed classic literature,” as Diane Ravitch noted in 2018.
So what do kids read instead? To even be considered, a work must first pass through the gantlet of book bans and the excising of those books containing passages that might be deemed antiquated or lie outside the median of student body experiences. Add to that the urge to squelch any content that might be deemed “triggering” or controversial, the current despair over smartphoned attention spans and the desire to “reach students where they are.” Toni Morrison’s short first novel, “The Bluest Eye,” a coming-of-age story, tends to be assigned over her longer, more intricate, more provocative — and to this reader, anyway, richer — novel “Beloved.”
The assumption is that kids aren’t discerning or tough enough to handle complexity or darkness, whether it’s the nastiness of Roald Dahl or the racism and sexism in 19th-century fiction, and that they can’t read within context or grasp the concept of history. But kids adopt the blinkered veil of presentism — the tendency to judge past events according to contemporary standards and attitudes — only when adults show them how.
Citing the need to appeal to fickle tastes with relevant and engaging content, teachers often lowball student competence. Too often, this means commercial middle grade and young adult novels such as “The Lightning Thief” and “The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” or popular fiction like “The Outsiders,” or on the more ambitious end, accessible works of 20th-century fiction like “To Kill a Mockingbird” — all engaging novels that kids might read on their own — in lieu of knottier works that benefit from instruction and classroom discussion. The palpable desperation to just get students to read a book doesn’t come across as the kind of enticement that makes literature soar.
Those books that remain are read in a manner seemingly intended to leach all pleasure from the process. Even apart from the aims of the Common Core, the presiding goal is no longer instilling a love of literature but rather teaching to the test and ensuring students reach certain mandated benchmarks. In recent years in New York State, for example, skills like “information literacy” appear to be given priority over discussions of literature.
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A typical high school assignment now involves painstakingly marking up text with colored pencils in search of “literary devices” — red for imagery and diction, yellow for tone or mood, etc. Students are instructed to read even popular fiction at an excruciatingly slow pace in the service of close reading in unison. They’re warned not to skip ahead. You wouldn’t want anyone to get excited!
When I was in public high school in the olden ’80s, we read “The Red Badge of Courage” and “The Scarlet Letter,” with multiple forays into Shakespeare. We were assigned Faulkner, Joyce, Conrad and Henry James, authors whose work opened my mind and tested my abilities of comprehension and interpretation.
But if anyone had suggested that I be offended by a nearly all-male curriculum, I would have been insulted. Couldn’t girls read books by men just as well as boys could? And if it was true, as we also learned, that much of the world of letters had long been largely closed to women (and minorities), naturally there would be fewer books by them. At the same time, my teacher’s expectation that I could make sense of “A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man,” despite having no knowledge of Irish culture or the Modernist movement, felt like a vote of confidence. Students were encouraged not to avoid or attack these books but to learn from them.
By asking so little of students, schools today show how little they expect of them. In underestimating kids, the curriculum undermines them.
What teenager wouldn’t do well to witness the pain of Hester Prynne’s punishment and see her push through from her guilt and suffering to newfound strength and independence? Or to grapple with the themes of fate, adversity and the human condition explored in Faulkner’s novels? Or to know how 19th-century writers like Twain used satire to galvanize a nation against the injustice of racism and toward freedom for all? To experience how the pleasures, beauty and brilliance of great literature can shine a powerful light.
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Reading these kinds of novels in school was what drove me to register for a yearlong survey in English literature my freshman year of college. I arrived on campus sorely aware, even though I didn’t major in English, that “The Wife of Bath’s Tale” was just the first bit of scenery in a huge and varied landscape — and this drove me to explore the work of other cultures, traditions and populations as well. These days, many students may not even know what they’re missing.
Nobody wants to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on a useless college degree. But let’s return to the question of whether English majors are essentially unemployable. I would argue that English majors could be exactly the kind of employees who are prepared for a challenging and rapidly changing work force: intellectually curious, truth-seeking, undaunted by unfamiliar ideas, able to read complex works and distill their meaning in clear prose.
Outside specialized professions like engineering, medicine and software design, most areas of academic study have little bearing on paid jobs in the real world anyway. Students who’ve read a fair share of English literature might offer some interesting reasons as to why."