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The Chief Problem With 'Lean In'

Anne Applebaum reviews Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In and assesses it as a pile of poorly considered, self-contradictory huckster cliches.

[I]t’s absolutely true, only twenty-one Fortune 500 CEOs are females. But is this really a major social problem? Is this an issue that “transcends all of us”? Does the solution require “reigniting the revolution,” and does it mean men and women alike must rethink their lives and priorities? To put it differently, would the world be very different for women—or for men—if two hundred and fifty Fortune 500 CEOs were female?

To the last question, the answer—purely on the evidence of Sandberg’s book—is no.

I am not the first person to notice that Lean In does not propose any concrete changes to corporate or public policy in order to accommodate women in top jobs, with a single exception. When she was at Google, Sandberg had trouble finding a parking place at the company headquarters one day. Heavily pregnant, nauseous, she barely made it to her meeting. The next day “I marched in—or more like waddled in—to see Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin in their office.” Finding Sergey “in a yoga position in the corner,” she announced that the company needed pregnancy parking, “preferably sooner rather than later.” He agreed immediately.

Public Unions

Law Enforcement Against the Immigration Bill


Scott Olson/Getty Images

Two major unions of law enforcement personel who handle immigration, numbering roughly 20,000 people, have united against the proposed immigration reform. The New York Times reports on the announcement:

The labor alliance also raises the influence of the federal officer who leads the union that represents most deportation agents, the National Immigration and Customs Enforcement Council. The officer, Chris Crane, has emerged as a star witness for the opposition to the overhaul and a troublesome adversary for Obama administration officials working to promote it.

Mr. Crane first wrote to Congress on May 9, saying the Senate bill was tailored to meet the demands of “special interests,” and calling it “a dramatic step in the wrong direction” on public safety and interior enforcement. He said the proposal would give administration officials too much discretion in choosing which immigration laws to enforce. Mr. Sessions helped circulate Mr. Crane’s letter.

I get the concerns, but to be frank, it's a little rich to see a public sector union cheered by conservatives for seeking to protect its own status quo.


Andreas (Flickr)

The European Union is sponsoring research by Nikola Kezic, a Croatian researcher, into using bees to detect landmines, and that's pretty cool.

His team has been working in a net tent filled with the insects and several feeding posts containing a sugar solution -- some of which contain traces of TNT. The bees -- which have already been trained to associate food with the smell of TNT -- gather mainly at those feeding posts containing TNT. The movements of the bees are tracked from afar using thermal cameras. Bees have the advantage of being extremely small and so don't run the risk of setting off the explosives in the same way that trained mammals such as dogs or rats do.


A man rides his motorbike past a local village in the drought-hit region of Hasaka in northeastern Syria on June 17, 2010. The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) has started distributions of emergency food assistance to almost 200,000 drought-affected people in Syria. (AFP/Getty Images)

Behold, a Tom Friedman post on Syria that makes a ton of sense. Syria's drought is being woefully undercovered, especially when it comes to its part in sparking the revolution.

[B]etween 2006 and 2011, some 60 percent of Syria’s land mass was ravaged by the drought and, with the water table already too low and river irrigation shrunken, it wiped out the livelihoods of 800,000 Syrian farmers and herders, the United Nations reported. “Half the population in Syria between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers left the land” for urban areas during the last decade, said Aita. And with Assad doing nothing to help the drought refugees, a lot of very simple farmers and their kids got politicized. “State and government was invented in this part of the world, in ancient Mesopotamia, precisely to manage irrigation and crop growing,” said Aita, “and Assad failed in that basic task.”

Young people and farmers starved for jobs — and land starved for water — were a prescription for revolution.

In his final columns, Peter Worthington recalls the Eritrean war of independence in the 1980s, and ends with a characteristic Worthington flourish:

One battle in 1988 — the largest on the continent since the Second World War — was the turning point for victory: The Battle of Afabet (also known as Nadew).

It was one of the rare decisive battles that change the course of history. It is often compared with Dien Bien Phu that defeated the French in Indochina, and Kursk, the largest tank battle of WWII where the Russians beat the Germans.

Until reminded of Eritrean celebrations, I’d more or less forgotten that I was there for the battle of Afabet — walking among dead bodies, witnessing the pillaged Ethiopian army headquarters where Canadian food aid for refuges had been diverted to army kitchens for soldiers.

The Great Migration

David's Bookclub: The Warmth of Other Suns

The achievement of Isabel Wilkerson's amazing The Warmth of Other Suns is to transmute sociology into memoir.


The migration of 6 million black Americans from South to North over the half century from 1915 to 1970 is a fact so large that it is hard to hold all its aspects in mind: the effect on the region left behind, on the destination cities, on the migrants themselves, on their descendants, and finally upon the character of the American nation as a whole. In a beautifully written work that steps beyond the social science analysis that has predominated to date, Wilkerson helps us to understand the life behind the statistics. The story she tells is her own story too, for she is a daughter of the Migration herself.

It's a telling tic that we often use "urban" as a synonym for "black." Yet until somewhere close to the halfway mark of the 20th century, black Americans were overwhelmingly a rural people: a brutally exploited agricultural labor force, held first as slaves, then as peons. Then, abruptly, they self-reinvented, a process nicely symbolized for Wilkerson by the first election a black mayor of a northern city: Cleveland's Carl Stokes in 1967. Soon followed Newark (1970), Detroit (1972), Atlanta and Los Angeles (1973), Chicago (1983), Philadelphia (1984), and New York City (1989). In every case, these first black mayors were children of the Great Migration: next-generation immigrants whose parents offered them a new life.


Water levels have fallen substantially since this image was created in 1997, particularly in the southern states

A sad story in the New York Times, which reports on the shocking decline of the High Plains Aquifer, the lifeblood of farmers from the South Dakota and Wyoming all the way down to west Texas. (I frequently refer to the Ogallala Aquifer, which is the largest in the High Plains system.) Two years of severe drought, coupled with the massive water demands for growing irrigated corn, have taken their toll on the source of the plains' Garden of Eden.

Vast stretches of Texas farmland lying over the aquifer no longer support irrigation. In west-central Kansas, up to a fifth of the irrigated farmland along a 100-mile swath of the aquifer has already gone dry. In many other places, there no longer is enough water to supply farmers’ peak needs during Kansas’ scorching summers.

And when the groundwater runs out, it is gone for good. Refilling the aquifer would require hundreds, if not thousands, of years of rains.

This is in many ways a slow-motion crisis — decades in the making, imminent for some, years or decades away for others, hitting one farm but leaving an adjacent one untouched. But across the rolling plains and tarmac-flat farmland near the Kansas-Colorado border, the effects of depletion are evident everywhere. Highway bridges span arid stream beds. Most of the creeks and rivers that once veined the land have dried up as 60 years of pumping have pulled groundwater levels down by scores and even hundreds of feet.


The Folly of Impeachment


Sara D. Davis/Getty Images

So now it's Brit Hume who is joining the editors of National Review in warning against impeachment - at least for now.

National Review warns against "talking loosely" of impeachment and adds "the overwhelming likelihood at this point is that Barack Obama will leave office on January 20, 2017." (My italics.)

Hume's phrase was that talk of impeachment is "way premature."

The warnings are prudent and right. Yet the more I hear these warnings, the less reassured I feel. What is being heard by Hume and the editors of National Review that makes their warnings necessary in the first place?

The Huffington Post reports of a lively religious debate on whether the government should take charge in feeding the poor. I for one am heartened the discussion even took place.

The Washington Post's Greg Sargent has a major scoop that Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid is seriously thinking about ending the filibuster on executive and judicial branch nominations. Given Reid's history of crying wolf, I'll believe it when I see it, but the idea isn't all that bad.


Alex Wong/Getty Images

First, the details. Republicans have been successfully using the threat of filibuster to make it incredibly difficult for the Obama White House to appoint judges to circuit courts, political staffer positions at executive agencies, and - to an extent - chill the administration's decisions for cabinet picks.

There are three big appointments coming up this summer: heads for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Environmental Protection Agency, and the Department of Labor. Republicans are likely to go to the mat to stall these picks, and Reid has now laid out a red line of his own. If these picks are filibustered, he'll revisit the nuclear option that allows him to proceed to a vote with a simple majority.

I think this column, written last summer by Peter Worthington, summarizes so much of my late father-in-law's approach to life.

One of the rarest and most useful assets for a "leader" is the ability to think "outside the box," as they say.

I interpret this to mean the ability to stretch beyond conventional thinking, and break new ground that isn't necessarily involved in a person's training. "Outside the box" thinking is useful in various aspects of life, but especially in war, in the military, in politics, perhaps in business and certainly in professional sports.

My father revered "outside the box" thinking, and as someone who stayed in the army after the First World War, one of his preferred rants was that "high rank in the military tends to turn brain into bone."


Ammar Awad - Pool/Getty Images

This is a little surprising. President Jimmy Carter is on record opposing the legalization of marijuana. Full details below, courtesy of Smart Approaches to Marijuana:

(Atlanta, GA) - President Jimmy Carter, at a meeting that included state legislators and regulators from Colorado and Washington, as well as most of the states targeted for legalization in 2016, and attended by the nation's premier public health scientists like former White House Deputy Drug Czar Thomas McLellan, announced that despite mischaracterizations, he "opposed the legalization of marijuana" and predicted the experiments in Washington and Colorado would go badly. He also said that he didn't believe in imprisoning users of marijuana, but favored SAM's approach of arrests with treatment referral and health assessments.

President Carter has been falsely characterized as supporting legalization by pro-marijuana lobbyists nationwide. Today, he set the record straight:

"I do not favor legalization. We must do everything we can to discourage marijuana use, as we do now with tobacco and excessive drinking," President Carter told the crowd. "We have to prevent making marijuana smoking from becoming attractive to young people, which is, I'm sure, what the producers of marijuana....are going to try and do."


Ya, that's George Washington. I'm going to leave that photo up because you should always highlight your laughably embarrassing mismatches.

Can't help but be amused by Kentucky Republican Mitch McConnell, the Senate Minority leader, being peeved by the latest Farm Bill not including a provision legalizing the production of industrial hemp.

Hurting the Least Well Off

Maybe Let's Not Cut Food Stamps?

I too would love to one day drown government in a bathtub, but while unemployment is still over seven percent, let's hold off on cutting aid to society's most vulnerable.

As The American Prospect's Monica Potts reports, cutting the budget for food stamps puts already at risk families in a terrible position:

I spoke with Christie Irizarry, 22-year-old mother in Camden, New Jersey, who volunteers for Witnesses to Hunger, an advocacy organization affiliated with the Center for Hunger Free Communities. Christie works at Popeye’s Chicken part-time, and her manager won’t increase her hours. In fact, no one at the restaurant is getting the hours they want, but the manager keeps hiring part-time workers. Like most part-time workers, her hours are unpredictable, which makes childcare a challenge for her four-year old daughter.

I'd Prefer Insurers

Someone's Got to Stop Medical Price Gouging

For a long time I've propounded the theory that the main thing wrong with the economics of American health care is that insurers are too weak. Somebody has to discipline providers. They have amply proven they will not discipline themselves. It's unrealistic to expect patients to apply the discipline. I'd prefer not to have government do it. That leaves the insurers.


David McNew/Getty Images

That's an unpopular view, because insurers themselves are unpopular. It's the insurers who deny people coverage for pre-existing conditions or apply lifetime coverage limits. But why do they do it? They do it because they confront costs they have no power to control. Lacking sufficient market power to discipline providers, they instead turn their power against their members - patients.

Think of healthcare economics as a three-party negotiation: patients-insurers-providers. (Providers here means not doctors and nurses, but the larger hospital corporations that increasingly employ those doctors and nurses.) Right now, the market empowers them in roughly this order: providers are strongest, patients are weakest, insurers are in between - and so generally prefer squeezing their patients to tussling with the providers.

About the Author

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David Frum

David Frum is a contributing editor at The Daily Beast and a CNN contributor. He is the author of eight books, including most recently the e-book WHY ROMNEY LOST and his first novel Patriots, published in April 2012.

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