The New York Times op-ed page Saturday was a thing of beauty and wonderment.
Beauty because in separate pieces, columnists examined three of the biggest problems America faces: Lack of integrity on Wall Street; the political right’s fixation with Barack Obama’s place of birth and religious affiliation; and many states’ hell-bent determination to bar the doors against reasonable handgun controls.
Wonderment because some of the facts and information contained in the articles were absolutely jaw dropping.
1) Op-ed columnist Gail Collins, who has one of the wickedest wits in the writing business, sarcastically lit into two states — Utah and Arizona — whose legislatures recently spent valuable time naming “official” state weapons. For its part, Utah went with the Browning pistol as its official state firearm. Arizona, meanwhile, bestowed the same honor on the Colt Single-Action Army pistol.
Fighting an uphill battle, on the other hand, was U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg’s push for a bill that would make it more difficult to sell guns to people on the terror watch. Lautenberg’s bill has gone nowhere, Collins reported, stating: “Opponents point out that the terror watch list is not always reliable, and the bill might therefore force innocent Americans to go through an entire additional step while purchasing armaments and explosives.”
Collins went on to note that so far this year no state has passed a law prohibiting colleges from banning guns on campus.
“This is pretty notable,” Collins wrote, bitingly, “since failure to require that institutions of higher learning be gun-friendly is the only thing that stands between some states and a perfect 100 percent rating from the National Rifle Association.”
2) Charles M. Blow compiled key statistics from four recent surveys about Obama’s birthplace and religion. At least 900 people responded to each survey. Blow focused on the answers that people who identified themselves as Republicans provided.
— A New York Times/CBS poll asked respondents if they thought Obama was born in the U.S. or another country. The result: 45 percent of Republican respondents said they believed he was born in another country; 22 percent said they were unsure.
— A Fox News poll asked respondents if they thought Obama was born in the U.S. or not. The result: 37 percent of Republicans said they did not think he was; 16 percent were unsure.
— The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life asked respondents if they thought Obama was Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, atheist, agnostic or something else. The result: 31 percent of Republicans said they thought he was Muslim; 39 percent said they didn’t know.
— A Time magazine poll asked respondents if they believed that Obama was a Muslim or a Christian. The result: 46 percent of Republican respondents said they thought he was Muslim; 24 percent didn’t answer or said they didn’t know.
Blow concluded that the effort by some Republicans, such as Donald Trump, to mine the birthplace and religious affiliation issues is intended to “distract and deceive” voters. Why?
“Because the right’s flimsy fiscal argument — that if we allow fat cats to gorge, crumbs will surely fall — is losing traction” among almost all groups, Blow said, including families strapped by $4-a-gallon gas.
3) In a column titled “The Party’s Over For Buffett,” Joe Nocera derided Warren Buffett’s self-proclaimed commitment to ethical dealings by saying: “For someone who has said repeatedly that he would rather lose money than even a shred of reputation, his actions have been inexplicable.”
He was referring, of course, to the case of Buffett’s trusted aide, David Sokol, who bought $10 million worth of stock in a company (Lubrizol) days before convincing Buffett to buy the company. Buffett disclosed the impropriety but he allowed Sokol to resign — and praised his overall record at Buffett’s firm, Berkshire Hathaway — rather than fire him.
Nocera wrote that what Sokol deserved was “a kick in the rear” instead of “a pat on the back.”
“What moved him,” Nocera wrote of Buffett, “to pre-emptively clear Sokol, who had so clearly violated Berkshire’s code of conduct, of wrongdoing? What does that tell us of possible flaws in Buffett’s character?
Nocera closed by saying that if they’re smart, “Buffett and his shareholders will view this fiasco as a wake-up call.”
Thank you, Gail, Charles and Joe for putting a penetrating spotlight on some facets of contemporary American life that should concern most of us.