PAKET UMROH BULAN FEBRUARI MARET APRIL MEI 2018





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saco-indonesia.com, Komisi Pemberantasan Korupsi (KPK) telah memutuskan pemberian ucapan terima kasih berupa uang atau barang dan biaya transport kepada penghulu nikah termasuk gratifikasi. Hal itu telah diputuskan oleh KPK setelah mengadakan rapat koordinasi dengan Kemenag, Kemenkokesra, Kemenkeu, Bappenas, yang telah membahas soal praktik pelaksanaan nikah oleh KUA di berbagai tempat.

"Dari rapat hari ini telah disepakati; praktik penerimaan honor, tanda terima kasih, pengganti uang transport dalam pencatatan nikah adalah gratifikasi sebagaimana yang tertera  dalam pasal 12B UU Tipikor," ujar Direktur Gratifikasi Giri Suprapdiono di KPK, Rabu (18/12).

Giri juga mengatakan anggaran operasional di KUA akan dinaikkan guna untuk mencegah para penghulu menerima ucapan imbalan dari pasangan yang dinikahkan. Sebab, menurutnya, uang operasional sebesar Rp 2 juta per bulan dianggap tidak dapat mencukupi biaya transport.

"Anggaran operasional cuma Rp 2 juta perbulan, tahun depan Rp 3 juta perbulan itu pun juga digunakan untuk operasional kantor. Maka dipandang biaya tersebut tidak dapat memenuhi transport pengulu," ujar Giri.

Pihaknya telah memahami banyak penghulu yang tidak memiliki transport untuk bisa datang ke tempat pernikahan. Hal itu yang dapat menjadi celah untuk penerimaan gratifikasi.

"Hanya sedikit yang punya alat transport, pada dasarnya gak ada sarana dan prasarana penghulu untuk bisa mendatangani pengantin, inilah yang jadi celah untuk penerimaan gratifikasi," ujar Giri.

Giri juga menambahkan jika nanti ada penghulu yang menerima honor, tanda terimakasih, atau uang transport, dari pengantin, harus segera dilaporkan kepada KPK.

"Setiap penerimaan gratifikasi harus dilaporkan kepada KPK dan untuk bisa memudahkan akan diatur mekanisme kemudian," tambahnya.

Selain itu, biaya operasional pencatatan di luar jam kantor, akan dibebankan ke APBN. Untuk itu, pemerintah juga perlu mengubah PP Nomor 7 Tahun 2004.

"1. Biaya operasional pencatatan di luar kantor, luar jam kantor dibebankan ke APBN. 2. Perlu ubah PP No 7/2004 paling lambat 2014. 3. Menunggu peraturan yang baru, Kemenag akan keluarkan peraturan menteri," pungkasnya.


Editor : Dian Sukmawati

AMPLOP KE PENGHULU MASUK GRATIFIKASI

Tabrakan yang melibatkan dua truk bernomor polisi B 9253 dan E 9475 PA di KM 5 Tol Pondok Gede menyebabkan satu korban meninggal dan satu lagi luka-luka. Akibat kejadian ini kemacetan memanjang di tol itu.

Namun petugas Jasa Marga, Leni, mengaku belum mendapat info lengkap soal kecelakaan itu. Menurut dia, data belum sampai ke Jasa Marga. "Tapi di sana memang ada kecelakaan, tapi data lengkapnya belum sampai ke kami," kata dia, Jumat (31/5).

Namun menurut informasi dari Traffic Manajemen Centre (TMC) Polda Metro Jaya, setidaknya kecelakaan terjadi pagi tadi, Pukul 07.00 WIB. Kecelakaan itu menyebabkan satu orang meninggal dan satu laki luka berat.

Hingga berita ini diturunkan, belum ada informasi lengkap soal kronologi. Unit Kecelakaan Lalu Lintas Polres Bekasi belum bisa dihubungi.

 

 

 

 

Akibat kecelakaan truk di Tol Pondok Gede, 1 orang tewas
Membaca judul diatas, tentu banyak orang yang akan mengernyitkan dahi, sebagai tanda ketidakpercayaannya. Bahkan, mungkin demikian pula dengan Anda. Sebab, Nabi Sulaiman AS adalah seorang utusan Allah yang diberikan keistimewaan dengan kemampuannya menaklukkan seluruh makhluk ciptaan Allah, termasuk angin yang tunduk di bawah kekuasaannya atas izin Allah. Bahkan, burung dan jin selalu mematuhi perintah Sulaiman.
 

BACA SELENGKAPNYA DI : CANDI BOROBUDUR PENINGGALAN NABI SULAIMAN ?

 

Dalam bukunya, Matematika Islam 3 (Republika, 2009), KH Fahmi Basya menyebutkan beberapa ciri-ciri Candi Borobudur yang menjadi bukti sebagai peninggalan putra Nabi Daud tersebut. Di antaranya, hutan atau negeri Saba, makna Saba, nama Sulaiman, buah maja yang pahit, dipindahkannya istana Ratu Saba ke wilayah kekuasaan Nabi Sulaiman, bangunan yang tidak terselesaikan oleh para jin, tempat berkumpulnya Ratu Saba, dan lainnya.
 
Dalam Alquran, kisah Nabi Sulaiman dan Ratu Saba disebutkan dalam surah An-Naml [27]: 15-44, Saba [34]: 12-16, al-Anbiya [21]: 78-81, dan lainnya. Tentu saja, banyak yang tidak percaya bila Borobudur merupakan peninggalan Sulaiman ?
Pengantar
Masa lalu memang penuh misteri. Banyak orang meyakini bahwa Candi Borobudur sebagai peninggalan Dinasti Syailendra pada abad 8 masehi. Namun hal itu dibantah oleh KH. Fahmi Basya. Ahli matematika Islam ini meyakini bahwa Borobudur sangat terkait erat dengan sejarah Nabi Sulaiman. Borobudur adalah peninggalan Ratu Saba’ seperti yang diceritakan dalam Al-Quran. Buku ini bukan karya sehari dua hari disusun. Tulisan ini sudah ditulis dengan sangat serius selama puluhan tahun; sejak tahun 1979 hingga 2012. Dalam buku ini penulis menjelaskan dengan sangat detail dan ilmiah bukti-bukti bahwa Borobudur adalah peninggalan Ratu Saba’. Ada 40 bukti eksak yang dijelaskan. Salah satu bukti paling kuat dan belum bisa dibantah adalah ditemukannya surat dari Nabi Sulaiman bertuliskan “Bismilllahirrahmanirrahim” di atas sebuah plat emas di dalam kolam pemandian Ratu Saba’ (Ratu Boko) di daerah Sleman, Jawa Tengah.
Borobudur Peninggalan Islam ?
Menurut literatur yang ada, candi Borobudur adalah sebuah candi Budha. tapi lain halnya menurut pak Fahmi Basya, Candi Borobudur adalah sebuah peninggalan Islam, tepatnya peninggalan Nabi Sulaiman ribuan tahun yang lalu. Tidak main-main, pak Fahmi Basya melakukan penelitian selama 35 tahun dan bukti yang didapat sangat kuat dan juga hasil penelitian tersebut didukung dalil didalam ayat-ayat Al-Quran. Dalam membaca Sejarah Candi Borobudur Versi Islam, Ada baiknya anda juga membaca : Kisah Nabi Sulaiman di Tanah Jawa.
Menurut cerita yang dipaparkan, Candi Borobudur terletak di daerah kekuasaannya Nabi Sulaiman. Nabi Sulaiman adalah nabi yang diberi mukjizat bisa berbicara dengan hewan, juga dapat memerintah jin dengan ijin Allah. Ada seekor burung yang menghilang ketika dicari oleh Sulaiman, burung itu adalah burung Hud-Hud. Sewaktu Sulaiman bertemu dengan burung tersebut, maka burung Hud-Hud melaporkan sebuah alasan yang kuat kenapa ia menghilang dari Sulaiman. Alasan tersebut sekaligus meredam kemarahan Sulaiman atasnya. Sewaktu menghilang Burung Hud-Hud melintasi sebuah negeri, yaitu negeri Saba’ dan para penduduknya menyembah selain Allah, yaitu menyembah Matahari. Juga ada seorang ratu yang menjadi pemimpinnya.
Nabi Sulaiman pun memaklumi alasan tersebut kemudian menyuruh burung Hud-Hud untuk menyampaikan sebuah surat yang ditujukan kepada ratu Saba’, ratu yang menjadi pemimpin negeri Saba’. Surat itu tak lain adalah surat agar Ratu dan penduduk negeri Saba’ bertaubat dan berserah diri kepada Allah. Ratu Saba’ pun kemudian bertabat dan berserah diri. Nabi Sulaiman pun memerintahkan jin untuk memindahkan singgasana ratu Saba ke istananya Sulaiman dalam waktu sekejap sebelum ratu Saba’ datang ke Sulaiman. Singgasana ratu Saba’ adalah singgasana ratu Boko yang ada di Sleman, Yogyakarta, dan dipindahkan ke atas Borobudur di Magelang. terbukti di Istana Ratu Boko ada singgasana yang hilang serta sisa-sisa bangunan tempat berkumpul untuk menyembah matahari. jadi Borobudur itu adalah sebuah bangunan buatan jin atas perintah Nabi Sulaiman. Dari segi relief pun banyak yang menggambarkan cerita Nabi Sula
Sungguh tidak banyak yang mengetahui bahwa simbul-simbul Islam banyak ditemukan di Borobudur. Karena sudah sejak lama, borobudur menjadi klaim hindu/budha. Ekspedisi Melintas Dua Shubuh bersama KH Fahmi Basya sungguh menakjubkan. Hasil penelitian beliau telah menemukan adanya indikator-indikator bahwa kisah Nabi Sulaiman dan ratu Saba ada di Borobudur dan Ratu Boko. Sleman berasal dari Sulaiman. Wonosobo berasal dari Hutan (ratu) Shaba. Lihat pula relief-relief di sekitarBorobudur, disana sarat dengan cerita-cerita Nabi Sulaiman seperti burung Hud-hud, Tabut dan lain-lain. ImanCandi Borobudur
Adanya phenomena angka 19 di Candi Borobudur. Adapun mengenai phenomena angka 19 itu terdapat di dalam Alqur’an berasal dari kalimat Bismillaahirrahmaanirrahiim yang terdiri dari 19 huruf. Kalimat Bismillaahirrahmaanirrahiim ini yang memperkenalkannya kepada kita adalah nabi Sulaiman As. ketika beliau berkirim surat kepada Ratu Saba’
Kop Surat dari Surat nabi Sulaiman As itu adalah kalimat Bismillaahirrahmaanirrahiim .
Isi suratnya adalah: ” Alla ta’luu ‘alaiyya, wa’tuunni muslimiin ” ( Jangan menyombong kepadaku dan datanglah kepadaku dengan berserah diri ). Dan perlu diketahui surat itu sampai sekarang masih ada yaitu di Musium Nasional berupa lempengan emas bertuliskan Bismillah, surat itu awalnya ditemukan dikolam dekat Candi borobudur.Lempengan emas bertuliskan kalimat ‘Bismillah”
Jadi, dapat dikatakan bahwa phenomena 19 itu sudah diketahui oleh Nabi Sulaiman As. Oleh sebab itu di Candi borobudur ada phenomena 19.
Tuntutlah Ilmu ke Negeri  Cina atau Syain ?
 Mari kita bangkit dari tidur panjang, kitalah pewaris negri hebat itu. Tuntutlah ilmu walaupun sampai ke negri Syain, adalah rekomendasi yang disampaikan Nabi Muhammad SAW untuk seluruh umatnya.
Negri hebat itu adalah negri kita, Indonesia.
Sayang …, hanya karena candi Borobudur adalah candi Budha, kita menjadi BUTA, bahwa candi Borobudur adalah hasil karya bangsa kita yang kebetulan beragama Budha (?) (masih perlu pembuktian lagi untuk menyebut para pembangun candi Borobudur beragama Budha).
Saat ini Negri Syain oleh kebanyakan orang termasuk Ulama diartikan sebagai Negri Cina. Benarkah demikian ?.
Berikut argumen yang membantah bahwa negri Syain adalah Negri Cina. Yang lebih tepat negri Syain adalah negri Syailendra di Pulau Jawa, INDONESIA .
 
1. Tinjauan menurut Waktu
Lahirnya Agama Islam semasa dengan berdirinya candi Borobudur, abad 6 akhir atau abad 7 awal. Ketika Nabi Muhammad merekomendasikan Negri Syain bagi umatnya untuk menuntut ilmu pasti didasari pengetahuan yang seumur dengan beliau. Suatu hal yang mustahil bila beliau menyarankan untuk belajar kepada seseorang yang lahir di negri Syain 1500 tahun lagi. Juga mustahil beliau menyarankan untuk belajar kepada seseorang yang lahir di negri Syain 1500 tahun yang lalu. Hal ini menguatkan dugaan bahwa Negri Syain yang dimaksud nabi Muhammad adalah Syailendra di Pulau Jawa, bukanya negri Cina.
 
2. Tinjauan menurut Hubungan Relegius
Borobudur merupakan miniatur Al-Quran, Borobudur berceritera tentang hal yang bersesuaian dengan Al-Quran dengan cara yang berbeda. Al-Quran berceritera tentang suatu hal dengan bahasa syair, sedang Borobudur bercerita tentang hal yang sama dengan bahasa teater dalam bentuk Relief.
 
· Puncak Borobudur dengan satu Stupa besar, disekelilingnya terdapat relief yang menggambarkan ceritera yang bersesuaian dengan Surat ke 1 (satu) di Al-quran.
· Lantai dua dari atas terdapat 8 (delapan) Stupa, disekelilingnya terdapat relief yang menceriterakan suatu hal yang bersesuaian dengan Surat ke 8 (delapan) di Al-Quran
· Lantai tiga dari atas terdapat 16 (enam belas) Stupa, disekelilingnya terdapat relief yang menceriterakan suatu hal yang bersesuaian dengan Surat ke 16 (enam belas) di Al-Quran
· Lantai empat dari atas terdapat 32 (tiga puluh dua) Stupa, disekelilingnya terdapat relief yang menceriterakan suatu hal yang bersesuaian dengan Surat ke 32 (tiga puluh dua) di Al-Quran
· Lantai lima dari atas terdapat 64 (enam puluh empat) Stupa, disekelilingnya terdapat relief yang menceriterakan suatu hal yang bersesuaian dengan Surat ke 64 (enam puh empat) di Al-Quran
· Lantai enam dari atas (lantai dasar) terdapat 72 (tujuh puluh dua) Stupa, disekelilingnya terdapat relief yang menceriterakan suatu hal yang bersesuaian dengan Surat ke 72 (tujuh puluh dua) di Al-Quran
 
Dari kesesuain relief Borobudur dengan Al-Quran diatas, rasanya lebih masuk akal bahwa negri Syain yang dimaksud nabi Muhammad SAW adalah negri Syailendra
 
3. Tinjauan menurut Kondisi Sosial
Kondisi Sosial Negeri Cina saat awal lahirnya Agama Islam sedang dalam keadaan kacau karena perang saudara. Mustahil Nabi Muhammad menyarankan untuk belajar ke negri yang sedang kacau balau oleh perang saudara. Kalau saat ini tahun 2007, ada orang yang menyarankan untuk belajar ke: Irak, Afganistan atau Lebanon, pasti orang itu akan ditertawakan orang sedunia. Pada saat itu Negri Syailendra berada dalam keadaan makmur sejahtera. Tidak salah kalau nabi Muhammad merekomendasikan sebagai negri rujukan menuntut ilmu.
 
4. Tinjauan menurut Kemajuan Budaya
Dari catatan sejarah negri Syailendra memiliki keunggulan budaya dibandingkan dengan negri Cina. Syailendra memiliki peninggalan yang menunjukkan seberapa tinggi “budaya” nya saat itu.
Pembangunan Borobudur memakan waktu lebih dari seratus tahun, diketahui dari umur batu di dasar candi berbeda 104 tahun lebih tua dari batu yang terdapat di puncak candi. Hal ini menunjukkan bahwa negri Syailendra punya tenaga-tenaga ahli yang mengorganisir proyek raksasa baik besarnya bangunan, banyaknya orang yang terlibat pembangunannya dan lama pengerjaannya. Tanpa perencanaan yang luar biasa rapinya, mustahil Borobudur berdiri. Struktur bangunan candi yang demikian besar membutuhkan pengetahuan teknik bangunan yang sangat rumit, bahkan ketelitian lingkaran yang ada di borobudur lebih kecil toleransi ukurnya dibandingkan dengan Theodolit modern.
Belum lagi pengetahuan metalurgi pembuatan keris, pada abad ke 7 negri Syailendra sudah menguasai teknik peleburan Titanium bahan pamor keris. Dan masih banyak bukti ketinggian budaya negri Syailendra yang lain
 
5. Tinjauan menurut Letak Geografis
Negeri Cina dan Jazirah Arab terhubung lewat darat, hanya dengan berkendaraan onta atau kuda saja sudah bisa sampai. Tidak meng- gambarkan kesulitan yang harus ditempuh untuk menuntut ilmu. Negri Syailendra terdapat di Pulau Jawa. Harus mengarung lautan yang luas dan ganas, tanpa kemauan dan perjuangan yang luar biasa berat tidak mungkin sampai. Wallah ‘Alam Bishawab
 

- See more at: http://pbsstainmetro.blogspot.com/2014/02/candi-borobudur-peninggalan-nabi.html

 

Editor by : Oshimura

CANDI BOROBUDUR PENINGGALAN NABI SULAIMAN ?

saco-indonesia.com,

Sudah bukan zamannya lagi jika absensi harus dilakukan dengan cara manual atau ketok cap pada kartu absen. Cara ini juga sangat mudah dimanifulasi oleh para karyawan dan terkadang dapat menyulitkan pencatatan absensi untuk pada bagian administrasi atau kepegawaian. Untuk itu, anda juga dapat menggunakan ID Card sebagai alat untuk absensi.

Fungsi ganda selain sebagai kartu tanda pengenal karyawan di perusahaan anda, ini akan sangat mempermudah berbagai hal yang telah berkaitan dengan absensi, mulai dari reward dan punishment karena keterlambatan, izin, atau untuk proses penggajian dan bonus karyawan secara berkala.

Saat ini juga sudah banyak ID Card yang telah mempergunakan system magnetic dan barcode yang tidak hanya dapat difungsikan sebagai kartu identitas saja, melainkan juga untuk absensi. Selain itu, kartu ini jga bisa dijadikan untuk kunci ruangan ruangan tertentu yang hanya bisa diakses oleh divisi divisi tertentu saja. Ini tentunya telah membuat perusahaan anda lebih aman dalam penyimpanan data data perusahaan.

Magnetic   Barcode

Keamanan juga bisa menjadi sebuah keunggulan yang dapat anda tawarkan dalam menjual barang atau jasa yang dihasilkan oleh perusahaan anda. Semakin banyak klien yang percaya pada perusahaan anda, maka semakin banyak pula keuntungan yang akan didapatkan oleh perusahaan anda. Semakin banyak keuntungan yang didapat, makan karyawan karyawan anda dapat tersejahterakan.


Editor : Dian Sukmawati

ID CARD UNTUK ABSENSI DAN KEAMANAN

saco-indonesia.com, Sejumlah kasus pembunuhan sadis telah mewarnai tindak kriminalitas di wilayah hukum Polda Metro Jaya. Telah tercatat ada 74 orang telah dibunuh dengan beragam modus dan motif. Angka tersebut telah meningkat jika dibanding dengan tahun sebelumnya yang telah mencapai 72 orang.

“Secara kualitas kasus pembunuhan juga meningkat. Seperti kasus mutilasi yang telah dilakukan oleh sopir Metro Mini, Benget Situmorang di Jaktim dan pembunuhan wanita penghuni apartemen di Kalibata, Jaksel,” ujar Kapolda Metro Jaya Irjen Putut Eko Bayuseno dalam jumpa pers akhir tahun di Polda Metro Jaya.

Cara sadis tak terlepas dari motif tersangka yang sebagian besar berlatar dendam dan sakit hati. Selain sebagai bentuk pelampiasan atas rasa saki hatinya, modus sadis telah dilakukan pelaku untuk dapat memastikan korbannya benar-benar sudah tewas.

Seperti yang telah menimpa seorang wanita lanjut usia, Henny Dewi Manapode yang berusia 77 tahun , yang dibunuh oleh kekasihnya, Suherman alias Tomy, 31, pada Oktober 2013 lalu di kamar kos korban di Cilandak, Jaksel. Korban telah dibunuh dengan cara ditikam berkali-kali dan jasadnya telah dikemas dalam koper lalu dibuang di sungai di daerah Bogor. Koper yang berisi mayat korban itu telah ditemukan pada awal November 2013 lalu.

Dalam pemeriksaan tersebut , tersangka Tomy juga mengaku telah membunuh korban lantaran kesal dengan perilaku sang kekasih yang kerap mengatur dan memaksa dirinya agar mau menuruti setiap kemauan korban.


Editor : Dian Sukmawati

ADA 74 ORANG DIBUNUH DI TAHUN 2013

Ms. Crough played the youngest daughter on the hit ’70s sitcom starring David Cassidy and Shirley Jones.

Suzanne Crough, Actress in ‘The Partridge Family,’ Dies at 52

Public perceptions of race relations in America have grown substantially more negative in the aftermath of the death of a young black man who was injured while in police custody in Baltimore and the subsequent unrest, far eclipsing the sentiment recorded in the wake of turmoil in Ferguson, Mo., last summer.

Americans are also increasingly likely to say that the police are more apt to use deadly force against a black person, the latest New York Times/CBS News poll finds.

The poll findings highlight the challenges for local leaders and police officials in trying to maintain order while sustaining faith in the criminal justice system in a racially polarized nation.

Sixty-one percent of Americans now say race relations in this country are generally bad. That figure is up sharply from 44 percent after the fatal police shooting of Michael Brown and the unrest that followed in Ferguson in August, and 43 percent in December. In a CBS News poll just two months ago, 38 percent said race relations were generally bad. Current views are by far the worst of Barack Obama’s presidency.

The negative sentiment is echoed by broad majorities of blacks and whites alike, a stark change from earlier this year, when 58 percent of blacks thought race relations were bad, but just 35 percent of whites agreed. In August, 48 percent of blacks and 41 percent of whites said they felt that way.

Looking ahead, 44 percent of Americans think race relations are worsening, up from 36 percent in December. Forty-one percent of blacks and 46 percent of whites think so. Pessimism among whites has increased 10 points since December.

Continue reading the main story
Do you think race relations in the United States are generally good or generally bad?
60
40
20
0
White
Black
May '14
May '15
Generally bad
Continue reading the main story
Do you think race relations in the United States are getting better, getting worse or staying about the same?
Getting worse
Staying the same
Getting better
Don't know/No answer
All adults
Whites
Blacks
44%
37
17
46
36
16
41
42
15

The poll finds that profound racial divisions in views of how the police use deadly force remain. Blacks are more than twice as likely to say police in most communities are more apt to use deadly force against a black person — 79 percent of blacks say so compared with 37 percent of whites. A slim majority of whites say race is not a factor in a police officer’s decision to use deadly force.

Overall, 44 percent of Americans say deadly force is more likely to be used against a black person, up from 37 percent in August and 40 percent in December.

Blacks also remain far more likely than whites to say they feel mostly anxious about the police in their community. Forty-two percent say so, while 51 percent feel mostly safe. Among whites, 8 in 10 feel mostly safe.

One proposal to address the matter — having on-duty police officers wear body cameras — receives overwhelming support. More than 9 in 10 whites and blacks alike favor it.

Continue reading the main story
How would you describe your feelings about the police in your community? Would you say they make you feel mostly safe or mostly anxious?
Mostly safe
Mostly anxious
Don't know/No answer
All adults
Whites
Blacks
75%
21
3
81
16
3
51
42
7
Continue reading the main story
In general, do you think the police in most communities are more likely to use deadly force against a black person, or more likely to use it against a white person, or don’t you think race affects police use of deadly force?
Police more likely to use deadly force against a black person
Police more likely to use deadly force against a white person
Race DOES NOT affect police use of deadly force
Don't know/No answer
All adults
Whites
Blacks
44%
37%
79%
2%
2%
1%
46%
53%
16%
9%
8%
4%
Continue reading the main story
Do you favor or oppose on-duty police officers wearing video cameras that would record events and actions as they occur?
Favor
Oppose
Don't know/No answer
All adults
Whites
Blacks
92%
93%
93%
6%
5%
5%
2%
2%
2%

Asked specifically about the situation in Baltimore, most Americans expressed at least some confidence that the investigation by local authorities would be conducted fairly. But while nearly two-thirds of whites think so, fewer than half of blacks agree. Still, more blacks are confident now than were in August regarding the investigation in Ferguson. On Friday, six members of the police force involved in the arrest of Mr. Gray were charged with serious offenses, including manslaughter. The poll was conducted Thursday through Sunday; results from before charges were announced are similar to those from after.

Reaction to the recent turmoil in Baltimore, however, is similar among blacks and whites. Most Americans, 61 percent, say the unrest after Mr. Gray’s death was not justified. That includes 64 percent of whites and 57 percent of blacks.

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As you may know, a Baltimore man, Freddie Gray, recently died after being in the custody of the Baltimore police. How much confidence do you have that the investigation by local authorities into this matter will be conducted fairly?
A lot
Some
Not much
None at all
Don't know/No answer
All adults
Whites
Blacks
29%
31
22
14
5
31
33
20
11
5
20
26
30
22
In general, do you think the unrest in Baltimore after the death of Freddie Gray was justified, or do you think the unrest was not justified?
Justified
Not justified
Don't know/No answer
All adults
Whites
Blacks
28%
61
11
26
64
11
37
57
6

Negative View of U.S. Race Relations Grows, Poll Finds

HOBART, Tasmania — Few places seem out of reach for China’s leader, Xi Jinping, who has traveled from European capitals to obscure Pacific and Caribbean islands in pursuit of his nation’s strategic interests.

So perhaps it was not surprising when he turned up last fall in this city on the edge of the Southern Ocean to put down a long-distance marker in another faraway region, Antarctica, 2,000 miles south of this Australian port.

Standing on the deck of an icebreaker that ferries Chinese scientists from this last stop before the frozen continent, Mr. Xi pledged that China would continue to expand in one of the few places on earth that remain unexploited by humans.

He signed a five-year accord with the Australian government that allows Chinese vessels and, in the future, aircraft to resupply for fuel and food before heading south. That will help secure easier access to a region that is believed to have vast oil and mineral resources; huge quantities of high-protein sea life; and for times of possible future dire need, fresh water contained in icebergs.

It was not until 1985, about seven decades after Robert Scott and Roald Amundsen raced to the South Pole, that a team representing Beijing hoisted the Chinese flag over the nation’s first Antarctic research base, the Great Wall Station on King George Island.

But now China seems determined to catch up. As it has bolstered spending on Antarctic research, and as the early explorers, especially the United States and Australia, confront stagnant budgets, there is growing concern about its intentions.

China’s operations on the continent — it opened its fourth research station last year, chose a site for a fifth, and is investing in a second icebreaker and new ice-capable planes and helicopters — are already the fastest growing of the 52 signatories to the Antarctic Treaty. That gentlemen’s agreement reached in 1959 bans military activity on the continent and aims to preserve it as one of the world’s last wildernesses; a related pact prohibits mining.

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But Mr. Xi’s visit was another sign that China is positioning itself to take advantage of the continent’s resource potential when the treaty expires in 2048 — or in the event that it is ripped up before, Chinese and Australian experts say.

“So far, our research is natural-science based, but we know there is more and more concern about resource security,” said Yang Huigen, director general of the Polar Research Institute of China, who accompanied Mr. Xi last November on his visit to Hobart and stood with him on the icebreaker, Xue Long, or Snow Dragon.

With that in mind, the polar institute recently opened a new division devoted to the study of resources, law, geopolitics and governance in Antarctica and the Arctic, Mr. Yang said.

Australia, a strategic ally of the United States that has strong economic relations with China, is watching China’s buildup in the Antarctic with a mix of gratitude — China’s presence offers support for Australia’s Antarctic science program, which is short of cash — and wariness.

“We should have no illusions about the deeper agenda — one that has not even been agreed to by Chinese scientists but is driven by Xi, and most likely his successors,” said Peter Jennings, executive director of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute and a former senior official in the Australian Department of Defense.

“This is part of a broader pattern of a mercantilist approach all around the world,” Mr. Jennings added. “A big driver of Chinese policy is to secure long-term energy supply and food supply.”

That approach was evident last month when a large Chinese agriculture enterprise announced an expansion of its fishing operations around Antarctica to catch more krill — small, protein-rich crustaceans that are abundant in Antarctic waters.

“The Antarctic is a treasure house for all human beings, and China should go there and share,” Liu Shenli, the chairman of the China National Agricultural Development Group, told China Daily, a state-owned newspaper. China would aim to fish up to two million tons of krill a year, he said, a substantial increase from what it currently harvests.

Because sovereignty over Antarctica is unclear, nations have sought to strengthen their claims over the ice-covered land by building research bases and naming geographic features. China’s fifth station will put it within reach of the six American facilities, and ahead of Australia’s three.

Chinese mappers have also given Chinese names to more than 300 sites, compared with the thousands of locations on the continent with English names.

In the unspoken competition for Antarctica’s future, scientific achievement can also translate into influence. Chinese scientists are driving to be the first to drill and recover an ice core containing tiny air bubbles that provide a record of climate change stretching as far back as 1.5 million years. It is an expensive and delicate effort at which others, including the European Union and Australia, have failed.

In a breakthrough a decade ago, European scientists extracted an ice core nearly two miles long that revealed 800,000 years of climate history. But finding an ice core going back further would allow scientists to examine a change in the earth’s climate cycles believed to have occurred 900,000 to 1.2 million years ago.

China is betting it has found the best location to drill, at an area called Dome A, or Dome Argus, the highest point on the East Antarctic Ice Sheet. Though it is considered one of the coldest places on the planet, with temperatures of 130 degrees below zero Fahrenheit, a Chinese expedition explored the area in 2005 and established a research station in 2009.

“The international community has drilled in lots of places, but no luck so far,” said Xiao Cunde, a member of the first party to reach the site and the deputy director of the Institute for Climate Change at the Chinese Academy of Meteorological Sciences. “We think at Dome A we will have a straight shot at the one-million-year ice core.”

Mr. Xiao said China had already begun drilling and hoped to find what scientists are looking for in four to five years.

To support its Antarctic aspirations, China is building a sophisticated $300 million icebreaker that is expected to be ready in a few years, said Xia Limin, deputy director of the Chinese Arctic and Antarctic Administration in Beijing. It has also bought a high-tech fixed-wing aircraft, outfitted in the United States, for taking sensitive scientific soundings from the ice.

China has chosen the site for its fifth research station at Inexpressible Island, named by a group of British explorers who were stranded at the desolate site in 1912 and survived the winter by excavating a small ice cave.

Mr. Xia said the inhospitable spot was ideal because China did not have a presence in that part of Antarctica, and because the rocky site did not have much snow, making it relatively cheap to build there.

Anne-Marie Brady, a professor of political science at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand and the author of a soon-to-be-released book, “China as a Polar Great Power,” said Chinese scientists also believed they had a good chance of finding mineral and energy resources near the site.

“China is playing a long game in Antarctica and keeping other states guessing about its true intentions and interests are part of its poker hand,” she said. But she noted that China’s interest in finding minerals was presented “loud and clear to domestic audiences” as the main reason it was investing in Antarctica.

Because commercial drilling is banned, estimates of energy and mineral resources in Antarctica rely on remote sensing data and comparisons with similar geological environments elsewhere, said Millard F. Coffin, executive director of the Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies in Hobart.

But the difficulty of extraction in such severe conditions and uncertainty about future commodity prices make it unlikely that China or any country would defy the ban on mining anytime soon.

Tourism, however, is already booming. Travelers from China are still a relatively small contingent in the Antarctic compared with the more than 13,000 Americans who visited in 2013, and as yet there are no licensed Chinese tour operators.

But that is about to change, said Anthony Bergin, deputy director of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute. “I understand very soon there will be Chinese tourists on Chinese vessels with all-Chinese crew in the Antarctic,” he said.

 

Top News China’s Intents Are Questioned as It Builds in Antarctica

WASHINGTON — A decade after emergency trailers meant to shelter Hurricane Katrina victims instead caused burning eyes, sore throats and other more serious ailments, the Environmental Protection Agency is on the verge of regulating the culprit: formaldehyde, a chemical that can be found in commonplace things like clothes and furniture.

But an unusual assortment of players, including furniture makers, the Chinese government, Republicans from states with a large base of furniture manufacturing and even some Democrats who championed early regulatory efforts, have questioned the E.P.A. proposal. The sustained opposition has held sway, as the agency is now preparing to ease key testing requirements before it releases the landmark federal health standard.

The E.P.A.’s five-year effort to adopt this rule offers another example of how industry opposition can delay and hamper attempts by the federal government to issue regulations, even to control substances known to be harmful to human health.

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Document: The Formaldehyde Fight

Formaldehyde is a known carcinogen that can also cause respiratory ailments like asthma, but the potential of long-term exposure to cause cancers like myeloid leukemia is less well understood.

The E.P.A.’s decision would be the first time that the federal government has regulated formaldehyde inside most American homes.

“The stakes are high for public health,” said Tom Neltner, senior adviser for regulatory affairs at the National Center for Healthy Housing, who has closely monitored the debate over the rules. “What we can’t have here is an outcome that fails to confront the health threat we all know exists.”

The proposal would not ban formaldehyde — commonly used as an ingredient in wood glue in furniture and flooring — but it would impose rules that prevent dangerous levels of the chemical’s vapors from those products, and would set testing standards to ensure that products sold in the United States comply with those limits. The debate has sharpened in the face of growing concern about the safety of formaldehyde-treated flooring imported from Asia, especially China.

What is certain is that a lot of money is at stake: American companies sell billions of dollars’ worth of wood products each year that contain formaldehyde, and some argue that the proposed regulation would impose unfair costs and restrictions.

Determined to block the agency’s rule as proposed, these industry players have turned to the White House, members of Congress and top E.P.A. officials, pressing them to roll back the testing requirements in particular, calling them redundant and too expensive.

“There are potentially over a million manufacturing jobs that will be impacted if the proposed rule is finalized without changes,” wrote Bill Perdue, the chief lobbyist at the American Home Furnishings Alliance, a leading critic of the testing requirements in the proposed regulation, in one letter to the E.P.A.

Industry opposition helped create an odd alignment of forces working to thwart the rule. The White House moved to strike out key aspects of the proposal. Subsequent appeals for more changes were voiced by players as varied as Senator Barbara Boxer, Democrat of California, and Senator Roger Wicker, Republican of Mississippi, as well as furniture industry lobbyists.

Hurricane Katrina in 2005 helped ignite the public debate over formaldehyde, after the deadly storm destroyed or damaged hundreds of thousands of homes along the Gulf of Mexico, forcing families into temporary trailers provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

The displaced storm victims quickly began reporting respiratory problems, burning eyes and other issues, and tests then confirmed high levels of formaldehyde fumes leaking into the air inside the trailers, which in many cases had been hastily constructed.

Public health advocates petitioned the E.P.A. to issue limits on formaldehyde in building materials and furniture used in homes, given that limits already existed for exposure in workplaces. But three years after the storm, only California had issued such limits.

Industry groups like the American Chemistry Council have repeatedly challenged the science linking formaldehyde to cancer, a position championed by David Vitter, the Republican senator from Louisiana, who is a major recipient of chemical industry campaign contributions, and whom environmental groups have mockingly nicknamed “Senator Formaldehyde.”

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Formaldehyde in Laminate Flooring

In laminate flooring, formaldehyde is used as a bonding agent in the fiberboard (or other composite wood) core layer and may also be used in glues that bind layers together. Concerns were raised in March when certain laminate flooring imported from China was reported to contain levels of formaldehyde far exceeding the limit permitted by California.

Typical

laminate

flooring

CLEAR FINISH LAYER

Often made of melamine resin

PATTERN LAYER

Paper printed to resemble wood,

or a thin wood veneer

GLUE

Layers may be bound using

formaldehyde-based glues

CORE LAYER

Fiberboard or other

composite, formed using

formaldehyde-based adhesives

BASE LAYER

Moisture-resistant vapor barrier

What is formaldehyde?

Formaldehyde is a common chemical used in many industrial and household products as an adhesive, bonding agent or preservative. It is classified as a volatile organic compound. The term volatile means that, at room temperature, formaldehyde will vaporize, or become a gas. Products made with formaldehyde tend to release this gas into the air. If breathed in large quantities, it may cause health problems.

WHERE IT IS COMMONLY FOUND

POTENTIAL HEALTH RISKS

Pressed-wood and composite wood products

Wallpaper and paints

Spray foam insulation used in construction

Commercial wood floor finishes

Crease-resistant fabrics

In cigarette smoke, or in the fumes from combustion of other materials, including wood, oil and gasoline.

Exposure to formaldehyde in sufficient amounts may cause eye, throat or skin irritation, allergic reactions, and respiratory problems like coughing, wheezing or asthma.

Long-term exposure to high levels has been associated with cancer in humans and laboratory animals.

Exposure to formaldehyde may affect some people more severely than others.

By 2010, public health advocates and some industry groups secured bipartisan support in Congress for legislation that ordered the E.P.A. to issue federal rules that largely mirrored California’s restrictions. At the time, concerns were rising over the growing number of lower-priced furniture imports from Asia that might include contaminated products, while also hurting sales of American-made products.

Maneuvering began almost immediately after the E.P.A. prepared draft rules to formally enact the new standards.

White House records show at least five meetings in mid-2012 with industry executives — kitchen cabinet makers, chemical manufacturers, furniture trade associations and their lobbyists, like Brock R. Landry, of the Venable law firm. These parties, along with Senator Vitter’s office, appealed to top administration officials, asking them to intervene to roll back the E.P.A. proposal.

The White House Office of Management and Budget, which reviews major federal regulations before they are adopted, apparently agreed. After the White House review, the E.P.A. “redlined” many of the estimates of the monetary benefits that would be gained by reductions in related health ailments, like asthma and fertility issues, documents reviewed by The New York Times show.

As a result, the estimated benefit of the proposed rule dropped to $48 million a year, from as much as $278 million a year. The much-reduced amount deeply weakened the agency’s justification for the sometimes costly new testing that would be required under the new rules, a federal official involved in the effort said.

“It’s a redlining blood bath,” said Lisa Heinzerling, a Georgetown University Law School professor and a former E.P.A. official, using the Washington phrase to describe when language is stricken from a proposed rule. “Almost the entire discussion of these potential benefits was excised.”

Senator Vitter’s staff was pleased.

“That’s a huge difference,” said Luke Bolar, a spokesman for Mr. Vitter, of the reduced estimated financial benefits, saying the change was “clearly highlighting more mismanagement” at the E.P.A.

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The review’s outcome galvanized opponents in the furniture industry. They then targeted a provision that mandated new testing of laminated wood, a cheaper alternative to hardwood. (The California standard on which the law was based did not require such testing.)

But E.P.A. scientists had concluded that these laminate products — millions of which are sold annually in the United States — posed a particular risk. They said that when thin layers of wood, also known as laminate or veneer, are added to furniture or flooring in the final stages of manufacturing, the resulting product can generate dangerous levels of fumes from often-used formaldehyde-based glues.

Industry executives, outraged by what they considered an unnecessary and financially burdensome level of testing, turned every lever within reach to get the requirement removed. It would be particularly onerous, they argued, for small manufacturers that would have to repeatedly interrupt their work to do expensive new testing. The E.P.A. estimated that the expanded requirements for laminate products would cost the furniture industry tens of millions of dollars annually, while the industry said that the proposed rule over all would cost its 7,000 American manufacturing facilities over $200 million each year.

“A lot of people don’t seem to appreciate what a lot of these requirements do to a small operation,” said Dick Titus, executive vice president of the Kitchen Cabinet Manufacturers Association, whose members are predominantly small businesses. “A 10-person shop, for example, just really isn’t equipped to handle that type of thing.”

Photo
 
Becky Gillette wants strong regulation of formaldehyde. Credit Beth Hall for The New York Times

Big industry players also weighed in. Executives from companies including La-Z-Boy, Hooker Furniture and Ashley Furniture all flew to Washington for a series of meetings with the offices of lawmakers including House Speaker John Boehner, Republican of Ohio, and about a dozen other lawmakers, asking several of them to sign a letter prepared by the industry to press the E.P.A. to back down, according to an industry report describing the lobbying visit.

Within a matter of weeks, two letters — using nearly identical language — were sent by House and Senate lawmakers to the E.P.A. — with the industry group forwarding copies of the letters to the agency as well, and then posting them on its website.

The industry lobbyists also held their own meeting at E.P.A. headquarters, and they urged Jim Jones, who oversaw the rule-making process as the assistant administrator for the agency’s Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention, to visit a North Carolina furniture manufacturing plant. According to the trade group, Mr. Jones told them that the visit had “helped the agency shift its thinking” about the rules and how laminated products should be treated.

The resistance was particularly intense from lawmakers like Mr. Wicker of Mississippi, whose state is home to major manufacturing plants owned by Ashley Furniture Industries, the world’s largest furniture maker, and who is one of the biggest recipients in Congress of donations from the industry’s trade association. Asked if the political support played a role, a spokesman for Mr. Wicker replied: “Thousands of Mississippians depend on the furniture manufacturing industry for their livelihoods. Senator Wicker is committed to defending all Mississippians from government overreach.”

Individual companies like Ikea also intervened, as did the Chinese government, which claimed that the new rule would create a “great barrier” to the import of Chinese products because of higher costs.

Perhaps the most surprising objection came from Senator Boxer, of California, a longtime environmental advocate, whose office questioned why the E.P.A.’s rule went further than her home state’s in seeking testing on laminated products. “We did not advocate an outcome, other than safety,” her office said in a statement about why the senator raised concerns. “We said ‘Take a look to see if you have it right.’ ”

Safety advocates say that tighter restrictions — like the ones Ms. Boxer and Mr. Wicker, along with Representative Doris Matsui, a California Democrat, have questioned — are necessary, particularly for products coming from China, where items as varied as toys and Christmas lights have been found to violate American safety standards.

While Mr. Neltner, the environmental advocate who has been most involved in the review process, has been open to compromise, he has pressed the E.P.A. not to back down entirely, and to maintain a requirement that laminators verify that their products are safe.

An episode of CBS’s “60 Minutes” in March brought attention to the issue when it accused Lumber Liquidators, the discount flooring retailer, of selling laminate products with dangerous levels of formaldehyde. The company has disputed the show’s findings and test methods, maintaining that its products are safe.

“People think that just because Congress passed the legislation five years ago, the problem has been fixed,” said Becky Gillette, who then lived in coastal Mississippi, in the area hit by Hurricane Katrina, and was among the first to notice a pattern of complaints from people living in the trailers. “Real people’s faces and names come up in front of me when I think of the thousands of people who could get sick if this rule is not done right.”

An aide to Ms. Matsui rejected any suggestion that she was bending to industry pressure.

“From the beginning the public health has been our No. 1 concern,” said Kyle J. Victor, an aide to Ms. Matsui.

But further changes to the rule are likely, agency officials concede, as they say they are searching for a way to reduce the cost of complying with any final rule while maintaining public health goals. The question is just how radically the agency will revamp the testing requirement for laminated products — if it keeps it at all.

“It’s not a secret to anybody that is the most challenging issue,” said Mr. Jones, the E.P.A. official overseeing the process, adding that the health consequences from formaldehyde are real. “We have to reduce those exposures so that people can live healthy lives and not have to worry about being in their homes.”

The Uphill Battle to Better Regulate Formaldehyde

As he reflected on the festering wounds deepened by race and grievance that have been on painful display in America’s cities lately, President Obama on Monday found himself thinking about a young man he had just met named Malachi.

A few minutes before, in a closed-door round-table discussion at Lehman College in the Bronx, Mr. Obama had asked a group of black and Hispanic students from disadvantaged backgrounds what could be done to help them reach their goals. Several talked about counseling and guidance programs.

“Malachi, he just talked about — we should talk about love,” Mr. Obama told a crowd afterward, drifting away from his prepared remarks. “Because Malachi and I shared the fact that our dad wasn’t around and that sometimes we wondered why he wasn’t around and what had happened. But really, that’s what this comes down to is: Do we love these kids?”

Many presidents have governed during times of racial tension, but Mr. Obama is the first to see in the mirror a face that looks like those on the other side of history’s ledger. While his first term was consumed with the economy, war and health care, his second keeps coming back to the societal divide that was not bridged by his election. A president who eschewed focusing on race now seems to have found his voice again as he thinks about how to use his remaining time in office and beyond.

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Play Video|1:17

Obama Speaks of a ‘Sense of Unfairness’

Obama Speaks of a ‘Sense of Unfairness’

At an event announcing the creation of a nonprofit focusing on young minority men, President Obama talked about the underlying reasons for recent protests in Baltimore and other cities.

By Associated Press on Publish Date May 4, 2015. Photo by Stephen Crowley/The New York Times.

In the aftermath of racially charged unrest in places like Baltimore, Ferguson, Mo., and New York, Mr. Obama came to the Bronx on Monday for the announcement of a new nonprofit organization that is being spun off from his White House initiative called My Brother’s Keeper. Staked by more than $80 million in commitments from corporations and other donors, the new group, My Brother’s Keeper Alliance, will in effect provide the nucleus for Mr. Obama’s post-presidency, which will begin in January 2017.

“This will remain a mission for me and for Michelle not just for the rest of my presidency but for the rest of my life,” Mr. Obama said. “And the reason is simple,” he added. Referring to some of the youths he had just met, he said: “We see ourselves in these young men. I grew up without a dad. I grew up lost sometimes and adrift, not having a sense of a clear path. The only difference between me and a lot of other young men in this neighborhood and all across the country is that I grew up in an environment that was a little more forgiving.”

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Organizers said the new alliance already had financial pledges from companies like American Express, Deloitte, Discovery Communications and News Corporation. The money will be used to help companies address obstacles facing young black and Hispanic men, provide grants to programs for disadvantaged youths, and help communities aid their populations.

Joe Echevarria, a former chief executive of Deloitte, the accounting and consulting firm, will lead the alliance, and among those on its leadership team or advisory group are executives at PepsiCo, News Corporation, Sprint, BET and Prudential Group Insurance; former Secretary of State Colin L. Powell; Senator Cory Booker, Democrat of New Jersey; former Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr.; the music star John Legend; the retired athletes Alonzo Mourning, Jerome Bettis and Shaquille O’Neal; and the mayors of Indianapolis, Sacramento and Philadelphia.

The alliance, while nominally independent of the White House, may face some of the same questions confronting former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton as she begins another presidential campaign. Some of those donating to the alliance may have interests in government action, and skeptics may wonder whether they are trying to curry favor with the president by contributing.

“The Obama administration will have no role in deciding how donations are screened and what criteria they’ll set at the alliance for donor policies, because it’s an entirely separate entity,” Josh Earnest, the White House press secretary, told reporters on Air Force One en route to New York. But he added, “I’m confident that the members of the board are well aware of the president’s commitment to transparency.”

The alliance was in the works before the disturbances last week after the death of Freddie Gray, the black man who suffered fatal injuries while in police custody in Baltimore, but it reflected the evolution of Mr. Obama’s presidency. For him, in a way, it is coming back to issues that animated him as a young community organizer and politician. It was his own struggle with race and identity, captured in his youthful memoir, “Dreams From My Father,” that stood him apart from other presidential aspirants.

But that was a side of him that he kept largely to himself through the first years of his presidency while he focused on other priorities like turning the economy around, expanding government-subsidized health care and avoiding electoral land mines en route to re-election.

After securing a second term, Mr. Obama appeared more emboldened. Just a month after his 2013 inauguration, he talked passionately about opportunity and race with a group of teenage boys in Chicago, a moment aides point to as perhaps the first time he had spoken about these issues in such a personal, powerful way as president. A few months later, he publicly lamented the death of Trayvon Martin, a black Florida teenager, saying that “could have been me 35 years ago.”

Photo
 
President Obama on Monday with Darinel Montero, a student at Bronx International High School who introduced him before remarks at Lehman College in the Bronx. Credit Stephen Crowley/The New York Times

That case, along with public ruptures of anger over police shootings in Ferguson and elsewhere, have pushed the issue of race and law enforcement onto the public agenda. Aides said they imagined that with his presidency in its final stages, Mr. Obama might be thinking more about what comes next and causes he can advance as a private citizen.

That is not to say that his public discussion of these issues has been universally welcomed. Some conservatives said he had made matters worse by seeming in their view to blame police officers in some of the disputed cases.

“President Obama, when he was elected, could have been a unifying leader,” Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, a Republican candidate for president, said at a forum last week. “He has made decisions that I think have inflamed racial tensions.”

On the other side of the ideological spectrum, some liberal African-American activists have complained that Mr. Obama has not done enough to help downtrodden communities. While he is speaking out more, these critics argue, he has hardly used the power of the presidency to make the sort of radical change they say is necessary.

The line Mr. Obama has tried to straddle has been a serrated one. He condemns police brutality as he defends most officers as honorable. He condemns “criminals and thugs” who looted in Baltimore while expressing empathy with those trapped in a cycle of poverty and hopelessness.

In the Bronx on Monday, Mr. Obama bemoaned the death of Brian Moore, a plainclothes New York police officer who had died earlier in the day after being shot in the head Saturday on a Queens street. Most police officers are “good and honest and fair and care deeply about their communities,” even as they put their lives on the line, Mr. Obama said.

“Which is why in addressing the issues in Baltimore or Ferguson or New York, the point I made was that if we’re just looking at policing, we’re looking at it too narrowly,” he added. “If we ask the police to simply contain and control problems that we ourselves have been unwilling to invest and solve, that’s not fair to the communities, it’s not fair to the police.”

Moreover, if society writes off some people, he said, “that’s not the kind of country I want to live in; that’s not what America is about.”

His message to young men like Malachi Hernandez, who attends Boston Latin Academy in Massachusetts, is not to give up.

“I want you to know you matter,” he said. “You matter to us.”

Advertisement Politics Obama Finds a Bolder Voice on Race Issues

Ms. Plisetskaya, renowned for her fluidity of movement, expressive acting and willful personality, danced on the Bolshoi stage well into her 60s, but her life was shadowed by Stalinism.

Maya Plisetskaya, Ballerina Who Embodied Bolshoi, Dies at 89

THE WRITERS ASHLEY AND JAQUAVIS COLEMAN know the value of a good curtain-raiser. The couple have co-authored dozens of novels, and they like to start them with a bang: a headlong action sequence, a blast of violence or sex that rocks readers back on their heels. But the Colemans concede they would be hard-pressed to dream up anything more gripping than their own real-life opening scene.

In the summer of 2001, JaQuavis Coleman was a 16-year-old foster child in Flint, Mich., the former auto-manufacturing mecca that had devolved, in the wake of General Motors’ plant closures, into one of the country’s most dangerous cities, with a decimated economy and a violent crime rate more than three times the national average. When JaQuavis was 8, social services had removed him from his mother’s home. He spent years bouncing between foster families. At 16, JaQuavis was also a businessman: a crack dealer with a network of street-corner peddlers in his employ.

One day that summer, JaQuavis met a fellow dealer in a parking lot on Flint’s west side. He was there to make a bulk sale of a quarter-brick, or “nine-piece” — a nine-ounce parcel of cocaine, with a street value of about $11,000. In the middle of the transaction, JaQuavis heard the telltale chirp of a walkie-talkie. His customer, he now realized, was an undercover policeman. JaQuavis jumped into his car and spun out onto the road, with two unmarked police cars in pursuit. He didn’t want to get into a high-speed chase, so he whipped his car into a church parking lot and made a run for it, darting into an alleyway behind a row of small houses, where he tossed the quarter-brick into some bushes. When JaQuavis reached the small residential street on the other side of the houses, he was greeted by the police, who handcuffed him and went to search behind the houses where, they told him, they were certain he had ditched the drugs. JaQuavis had been dealing since he was 12, had amassed more than $100,000 and had never been arrested. Now, he thought: It’s over.

But when the police looked in the bushes, they couldn’t find any cocaine. They interrogated JaQuavis, who denied having ever possessed or sold drugs. They combed the backyard alley some more. After an hour of fruitless efforts, the police were forced to unlock the handcuffs and release their suspect.

JaQuavis was baffled by the turn of events until the next day, when he received a phone call. The previous afternoon, a 15-year-old girl had been sitting in her home on the west side of Flint when she heard sirens. She looked out of the window of her bedroom, and watched a young man throw a package in the bushes behind her house. She recognized him. He was a high school classmate — a handsome, charismatic boy whom she had admired from afar. The girl crept outside and grabbed the bundle, which she hid in her basement. “I have something that belongs to you,” Ashley Snell told JaQuavis Coleman when she reached him by phone. “You wanna come over here and pick it up?”

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Three of the nearly 50 works of urban fiction published by the Colemans over the last decade, often featuring drug deals, violence, sex and a brash kind of feminism.Credit Marko Metzinger

In the Colemans’ first novel, “Dirty Money” (2005), they told a version of this story. The outline was the same: the drug deal gone bad, the dope chucked in the bushes, the fateful phone call. To the extent that the authors took poetic license, it was to tone down the meet-cute improbability of the true-life events. In “Dirty Money,” the girl, Anari, and the crack dealer, Maurice, circle each other warily for a year or so before coupling up. But the facts of Ashley and JaQuavis’s romance outstripped pulp fiction. They fell in love more or less at first sight, moved into their own apartment while still in high school and were married in 2008. “We were together from the day we met,” Ashley says. “I don’t think we’ve spent more than a week apart in total over the past 14 years.”

That partnership turned out to be creative and entrepreneurial as well as romantic. Over the past decade, the Colemans have published nearly 50 books, sometimes as solo writers, sometimes under pseudonyms, but usually as collaborators with a byline that has become a trusted brand: “Ashley & JaQuavis.” They are marquee stars of urban fiction, or street lit, a genre whose inner-city settings and lurid mix of crime, sex and sensationalism have earned it comparisons to gangsta rap. The emergence of street lit is one of the big stories in recent American publishing, a juggernaut that has generated huge sales by catering to a readership — young, black and, for the most part, female — that historically has been ill-served by the book business. But the genre is also widely maligned. Street lit is subject to a kind of triple snobbery: scorned by literati who look down on genre fiction generally, ignored by a white publishing establishment that remains largely indifferent to black books and disparaged by African-American intellectuals for poor writing, coarse values and trafficking in racial stereotypes.

But if a certain kind of cultural prestige is shut off to the Colemans, they have reaped other rewards. They’ve built a large and loyal fan base, which gobbles up the new Ashley & JaQuavis titles that arrive every few months. Many of those books are sold at street-corner stands and other off-the-grid venues in African-American neighborhoods, a literary gray market that doesn’t register a blip on best-seller tallies. Yet the Colemans’ most popular series now regularly crack the trade fiction best-seller lists of The New York Times and Publishers Weekly. For years, the pair had no literary agent; they sold hundreds of thousands of books without banking a penny in royalties. Still, they have earned millions of dollars, almost exclusively from cash-for-manuscript deals negotiated directly with independent publishing houses. In short, though little known outside of the world of urban fiction, the Colemans are one of America’s most successful literary couples, a distinction they’ve achieved, they insist, because of their work’s gritty authenticity and their devotion to a primal literary virtue: the power of the ripping yarn.

“When you read our books, you’re gonna realize: ‘Ashley & JaQuavis are storytellers,’ ” says Ashley. “Our tales will get your heart pounding.”

THE COLEMANS’ HOME BASE — the cottage from which they operate their cottage industry — is a spacious four-bedroom house in a genteel suburb about 35 miles north of downtown Detroit. The house is plush, but when I visited this past winter, it was sparsely appointed. The couple had just recently moved in, and had only had time to fully furnish the bedroom of their 4-year-old son, Quaye.

In conversation, Ashley and JaQuavis exude both modesty and bravado: gratitude for their good fortune and bootstrappers’ pride in having made their own luck. They talk a lot about their time in the trenches, the years they spent as a drug dealer and “ride-or-die girl” tandem. In Flint they learned to “grind hard.” Writing, they say, is merely a more elevated kind of grind.

“Instead of hitting the block like we used to, we hit the laptops,” says Ashley. “I know what every word is worth. So while I’m writing, I’m like: ‘Okay, there’s a hundred dollars. There’s a thousand dollars. There’s five thousand dollars.’ ”

They maintain a rigorous regimen. They each try to write 5,000 words per day, five days a week. The writers stagger their shifts: JaQuavis goes to bed at 7 p.m. and wakes up early, around 3 or 4 in the morning, to work while his wife and child sleep. Ashley writes during the day, often in libraries or at Starbucks.

They divide the labor in other ways. Chapters are divvied up more or less equally, with tasks assigned according to individual strengths. (JaQuavis typically handles character development. Ashley loves writing murder scenes.) The results are stitched together, with no editorial interference from one author in the other’s text. The real work, they contend, is the brainstorming. The Colemans spend weeks mapping out their plot-driven books — long conversations that turn into elaborate diagrams on dry-erase boards. “JaQuavis and I are so close, it makes the process real easy,” says Ashley. “Sometimes when I’m thinking of something, a plot point, he’ll say it out loud, and I’m like: ‘Wait — did I say that?’ ”

Their collaboration developed by accident, and on the fly. Both were bookish teenagers. Ashley read lots of Judy Blume and John Grisham; JaQuavis liked Shakespeare, Richard Wright and “Atlas Shrugged.” (Their first official date was at a Borders bookstore, where Ashley bought “The Coldest Winter Ever,” the Sister Souljah novel often credited with kick-starting the contemporary street-lit movement.) In 2003, Ashley, then 17, was forced to terminate an ectopic pregnancy. She was bedridden for three weeks, and to provide distraction and boost her spirits, JaQuavis challenged his girlfriend to a writing contest. “She just wasn’t talking. She was laying in bed. I said, ‘You know what? I bet you I could write a better book than you.’ My wife is real competitive. So I said, ‘Yo, all right, $500 bet.’ And I saw her eyes spark, like, ‘What?! You can’t write no better book than me!’ So I wrote about three chapters. She wrote about three chapters. Two days later, we switched.”

The result, hammered out in a few days, would become “Dirty Money.” Two years later, when Ashley and JaQuavis were students at Ferris State University in Western Michigan, they sold the manuscript to Urban Books, a street-lit imprint founded by the best-selling author Carl Weber. At the time, JaQuavis was still making his living selling drugs. When Ashley got the phone call informing her that their book had been bought, she assumed they’d hit it big, and flushed more than $10,000 worth of cocaine down the toilet. Their advance was a mere $4,000.

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The roots of street lit, found in the midcentury detective novels of Chester Himes and the ‘60s and ‘70s “ghetto fiction” of Iceberg Slim and Donald Goines.Credit Marko Metzinger

Those advances would soon increase, eventually reaching five and six figures. The Colemans built their career, JaQuavis says, in a manner that made sense to him as a veteran dope peddler: by flooding the street with product. From the start, they were prolific, churning out books at a rate of four or five a year. Their novels made their way into stores; the now-defunct chain Waldenbooks, which had stores in urban areas typically bypassed by booksellers, was a major engine of the street-lit market. But Ashley and JaQuavis took advantage of distribution channels established by pioneering urban fiction authors such as Teri Woods and Vickie Stringer, and a network of street-corner tables, magazine stands, corner shops and bodegas. Like rappers who establish their bona fides with gray-market mixtapes, street-lit authors use this system to circumnavigate industry gatekeepers, bringing their work straight to the genre’s core readership. But urban fiction has other aficionados, in less likely places. “Our books are so popular in the prison system,” JaQuavis says. “We’re banned in certain penitentiaries. Inmates fight over the books — there are incidents, you know? I have loved ones in jail, and they’re like: ‘Yo, your books can’t come in here. It’s against the rules.’ ”

The appeal of the Colemans’ work is not hard to fathom. The books are formulaic and taut; they deliver the expected goods efficiently and exuberantly. The titles telegraph the contents: “Diary of a Street Diva,” “Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang,” “Murderville.” The novels serve up a stream of explicit sex and violence in a slangy, tangy, profane voice. In Ashley & JaQuavis’s books people don’t get killed: they get “popped,” “laid out,” get their “cap twisted back.” The smut is constant, with emphasis on the earthy, sticky, olfactory particulars. Romance novel clichés — shuddering orgasms, heroic carnal feats, superlative sexual skill sets — are rendered in the Colemans’ punchy patois.

Subtlety, in other words, isn’t Ashley & JaQuavis’s forte. But their books do have a grainy specificity. In “The Cartel” (2008), the first novel in the Colemans’ best-selling saga of a Miami drug syndicate, they catch the sights and smells of a crack workshop in a housing project: the nostril-stinging scent of cocaine and baking soda bubbling on stovetops; the teams of women, stripped naked except for hospital masks so they can’t pilfer the merchandise, “cutting up the cooked coke on the round wood table.” The subject matter is dark, but the Colemans’ tone is not quite noir. Even in the grimmest scenes, the mood is high-spirited, with the writers palpably relishing the lewd and gory details: the bodies writhing in boudoirs and crumpling under volleys of bullets, the geysers of blood and other bodily fluids.

The luridness of street lit has made it a flashpoint, inciting controversy reminiscent of the hip-hop culture wars of the 1980s and ’90s. But the street-lit debate touches deeper historical roots, reviving decades-old arguments in black literary circles about the mandate to uplift the race and present wholesome images of African-Americans. In 1928, W. E. B. Du Bois slammed the “licentiousness” of “Home to Harlem,” Claude McKay’s rollicking novel of Harlem nightlife. McKay’s book, Du Bois wrote, “for the most part nauseates me, and after the dirtier parts of its filth I feel distinctly like taking a bath.” Similar sentiments have greeted 21st-century street lit. In a 2006 New York Times Op-Ed essay, the journalist and author Nick Chiles decried “the sexualization and degradation of black fiction.” African-American bookstores, Chiles complained, are “overrun with novels that . . . appeal exclusively to our most prurient natures — as if these nasty books were pairing off back in the stockrooms like little paperback rabbits and churning out even more graphic offspring that make Ralph Ellison books cringe into a dusty corner.”

Copulating paperbacks aside, it’s clear that the street-lit debate is about more than literature, touching on questions of paternalism versus populism, and on middle-class anxieties about the black underclass. “It’s part and parcel of black elites’ efforts to define not only a literary tradition, but a racial politics,” said Kinohi Nishikawa, an assistant professor of English and African-American Studies at Princeton University. “There has always been a sense that because African-Americans’ opportunities to represent themselves are so limited in the first place, any hint of criminality or salaciousness would necessarily be a knock on the entire racial politics. One of the pressing debates about African-American literature today is: If we can’t include writers like Ashley & JaQuavis, to what extent is the foundation of our thinking about black literature faulty? Is it just a literature for elites? Or can it be inclusive, bringing urban fiction under the purview of our umbrella term ‘African-American literature’?”

Defenders of street lit note that the genre has a pedigree: a tradition of black pulp fiction that stretches from Chester Himes, the midcentury author of hardboiled Harlem detective stories, to the 1960s and ’70s “ghetto fiction” of Iceberg Slim and Donald Goines, to the current wave of urban fiction authors. Others argue for street lit as a social good, noting that it attracts a large audience that might otherwise never read at all. Scholars like Nishikawa link street lit to recent studies showing increased reading among African-Americans. A 2014 Pew Research Center report found that a greater percentage of black Americans are book readers than whites or Latinos.

For their part, the Colemans place their work in the broader black literary tradition. “You have Maya Angelou, Alice Walker, James Baldwin — all of these traditional black writers, who wrote about the struggles of racism, injustice, inequality,” says Ashley. “We’re writing about the struggle as it happens now. It’s just a different struggle. I’m telling my story. I’m telling the struggle of a black girl from Flint, Michigan, who grew up on welfare.”

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The Colemans in their new four-bedroom house in the northern suburbs of Detroit.Credit Courtesy of Ashley and JaQuavis Coleman

Perhaps there is a high-minded case to be made for street lit. But the virtues of Ashley & JaQuavis’s work are more basic. Their novels do lack literary polish. The writing is not graceful; there are passages of clunky exposition and sex scenes that induce guffaws and eye rolls. But the pleasure quotient is high. The books flaunt a garish brand of feminism, with women characters cast not just as vixens, but also as gangsters — cold-blooded killers, “murder mamas.” The stories are exceptionally well-plotted. “The Cartel” opens by introducing its hero, the crime boss Carter Diamond; on page 9, a gunshot spatters Diamond’s brain across the interior of a police cruiser. The book then flashes back seven years and begins to hurtle forward again — a bullet train, whizzing readers through shifting alliances, romantic entanglements and betrayals, kidnappings, shootouts with Haitian and Dominican gangsters, and a cliffhanger closing scene that leaves the novel’s heroine tied to a chair in a basement, gruesomely tortured to the edge of death. Ashley & JaQuavis’s books are not Ralph Ellison, certainly, but they build up quite a head of steam. They move.

The Colemans are moving themselves these days. They recently signed a deal with St. Martin’s Press, which will bring out the next installment in the “Cartel” series as well as new solo series by both writers. The St. Martin’s deal is both lucrative and legitimizing — a validation of Ashley and JaQuavis’s work by one of publishing’s most venerable houses. The Colemans’ ambitions have grown, as well. A recent trilogy, “Murderville,” tackles human trafficking and the blood-diamond industry in West Africa, with storylines that sweep from Sierra Leone to Mexico to Los Angeles. Increasingly, Ashley & JaQuavis are leaning on research — traveling to far-flung settings and hitting the books in the libraries — and spending less time mining their own rough-and-tumble past.

But Flint remains a source of inspiration. One evening not long ago, JaQuavis led me on a tour of his hometown: a popular roadside bar; the parking lot where he met the undercover cop for the ill-fated drug deal; Ashley’s old house, the site of his almost-arrest. He took me to a ramshackle vehicle repair shop on Flint’s west side, where he worked as a kid, washing cars. He showed me a bathroom at the rear of the garage, where, at age 12, he sneaked away to inspect the first “boulder” of crack that he ever sold. A spray-painted sign on the garage wall, which JaQuavis remembered from his time at the car wash, offered words of warning:

WHAT EVERY YOUNG MAN SHOULD KNOW
ABOUT USING A GUN:
MURDER . . . 30 Years
ARMED ROBBERY . . . 15 Years
ASSAULT . . . 15 Years
RAPE . . . 20 Years
POSSESSION . . . 5 Years
JACKING . . . 20 YEARS

“We still love Flint, Michigan,” JaQuavis says. “It’s so seedy, so treacherous. But there’s some heart in this city. This is where it all started, selling books out the box. In the days when we would get those little $40,000 advances, they’d send us a couple boxes of books for free. We would hit the streets to sell our books, right out of the car trunk. It was a hustle. It still is.”

One old neighborhood asset that the Colemans have not shaken off is swagger. “My wife is the best female writer in the game,” JaQuavis told me. “I believe I’m the best male writer in the game. I’m sleeping next to the best writer in the world. And she’s doing the same.”

 
From T Magazine: Street Lit’s Power Couple

As he reflected on the festering wounds deepened by race and grievance that have been on painful display in America’s cities lately, President Obama on Monday found himself thinking about a young man he had just met named Malachi.

A few minutes before, in a closed-door round-table discussion at Lehman College in the Bronx, Mr. Obama had asked a group of black and Hispanic students from disadvantaged backgrounds what could be done to help them reach their goals. Several talked about counseling and guidance programs.

“Malachi, he just talked about — we should talk about love,” Mr. Obama told a crowd afterward, drifting away from his prepared remarks. “Because Malachi and I shared the fact that our dad wasn’t around and that sometimes we wondered why he wasn’t around and what had happened. But really, that’s what this comes down to is: Do we love these kids?”

Many presidents have governed during times of racial tension, but Mr. Obama is the first to see in the mirror a face that looks like those on the other side of history’s ledger. While his first term was consumed with the economy, war and health care, his second keeps coming back to the societal divide that was not bridged by his election. A president who eschewed focusing on race now seems to have found his voice again as he thinks about how to use his remaining time in office and beyond.

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Obama Speaks of a ‘Sense of Unfairness’

Obama Speaks of a ‘Sense of Unfairness’

At an event announcing the creation of a nonprofit focusing on young minority men, President Obama talked about the underlying reasons for recent protests in Baltimore and other cities.

By Associated Press on Publish Date May 4, 2015. Photo by Stephen Crowley/The New York Times.

In the aftermath of racially charged unrest in places like Baltimore, Ferguson, Mo., and New York, Mr. Obama came to the Bronx on Monday for the announcement of a new nonprofit organization that is being spun off from his White House initiative called My Brother’s Keeper. Staked by more than $80 million in commitments from corporations and other donors, the new group, My Brother’s Keeper Alliance, will in effect provide the nucleus for Mr. Obama’s post-presidency, which will begin in January 2017.

“This will remain a mission for me and for Michelle not just for the rest of my presidency but for the rest of my life,” Mr. Obama said. “And the reason is simple,” he added. Referring to some of the youths he had just met, he said: “We see ourselves in these young men. I grew up without a dad. I grew up lost sometimes and adrift, not having a sense of a clear path. The only difference between me and a lot of other young men in this neighborhood and all across the country is that I grew up in an environment that was a little more forgiving.”

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Organizers said the new alliance already had financial pledges from companies like American Express, Deloitte, Discovery Communications and News Corporation. The money will be used to help companies address obstacles facing young black and Hispanic men, provide grants to programs for disadvantaged youths, and help communities aid their populations.

Joe Echevarria, a former chief executive of Deloitte, the accounting and consulting firm, will lead the alliance, and among those on its leadership team or advisory group are executives at PepsiCo, News Corporation, Sprint, BET and Prudential Group Insurance; former Secretary of State Colin L. Powell; Senator Cory Booker, Democrat of New Jersey; former Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr.; the music star John Legend; the retired athletes Alonzo Mourning, Jerome Bettis and Shaquille O’Neal; and the mayors of Indianapolis, Sacramento and Philadelphia.

The alliance, while nominally independent of the White House, may face some of the same questions confronting former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton as she begins another presidential campaign. Some of those donating to the alliance may have interests in government action, and skeptics may wonder whether they are trying to curry favor with the president by contributing.

“The Obama administration will have no role in deciding how donations are screened and what criteria they’ll set at the alliance for donor policies, because it’s an entirely separate entity,” Josh Earnest, the White House press secretary, told reporters on Air Force One en route to New York. But he added, “I’m confident that the members of the board are well aware of the president’s commitment to transparency.”

The alliance was in the works before the disturbances last week after the death of Freddie Gray, the black man who suffered fatal injuries while in police custody in Baltimore, but it reflected the evolution of Mr. Obama’s presidency. For him, in a way, it is coming back to issues that animated him as a young community organizer and politician. It was his own struggle with race and identity, captured in his youthful memoir, “Dreams From My Father,” that stood him apart from other presidential aspirants.

But that was a side of him that he kept largely to himself through the first years of his presidency while he focused on other priorities like turning the economy around, expanding government-subsidized health care and avoiding electoral land mines en route to re-election.

After securing a second term, Mr. Obama appeared more emboldened. Just a month after his 2013 inauguration, he talked passionately about opportunity and race with a group of teenage boys in Chicago, a moment aides point to as perhaps the first time he had spoken about these issues in such a personal, powerful way as president. A few months later, he publicly lamented the death of Trayvon Martin, a black Florida teenager, saying that “could have been me 35 years ago.”

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President Obama on Monday with Darinel Montero, a student at Bronx International High School who introduced him before remarks at Lehman College in the Bronx. Credit Stephen Crowley/The New York Times

That case, along with public ruptures of anger over police shootings in Ferguson and elsewhere, have pushed the issue of race and law enforcement onto the public agenda. Aides said they imagined that with his presidency in its final stages, Mr. Obama might be thinking more about what comes next and causes he can advance as a private citizen.

That is not to say that his public discussion of these issues has been universally welcomed. Some conservatives said he had made matters worse by seeming in their view to blame police officers in some of the disputed cases.

“President Obama, when he was elected, could have been a unifying leader,” Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, a Republican candidate for president, said at a forum last week. “He has made decisions that I think have inflamed racial tensions.”

On the other side of the ideological spectrum, some liberal African-American activists have complained that Mr. Obama has not done enough to help downtrodden communities. While he is speaking out more, these critics argue, he has hardly used the power of the presidency to make the sort of radical change they say is necessary.

The line Mr. Obama has tried to straddle has been a serrated one. He condemns police brutality as he defends most officers as honorable. He condemns “criminals and thugs” who looted in Baltimore while expressing empathy with those trapped in a cycle of poverty and hopelessness.

In the Bronx on Monday, Mr. Obama bemoaned the death of Brian Moore, a plainclothes New York police officer who had died earlier in the day after being shot in the head Saturday on a Queens street. Most police officers are “good and honest and fair and care deeply about their communities,” even as they put their lives on the line, Mr. Obama said.

“Which is why in addressing the issues in Baltimore or Ferguson or New York, the point I made was that if we’re just looking at policing, we’re looking at it too narrowly,” he added. “If we ask the police to simply contain and control problems that we ourselves have been unwilling to invest and solve, that’s not fair to the communities, it’s not fair to the police.”

Moreover, if society writes off some people, he said, “that’s not the kind of country I want to live in; that’s not what America is about.”

His message to young men like Malachi Hernandez, who attends Boston Latin Academy in Massachusetts, is not to give up.

“I want you to know you matter,” he said. “You matter to us.”

Obama Finds a Bolder Voice on Race Issues

Mr. Pfaff was an international affairs columnist and author who found Washington’s intervention in world affairs often misguided.

William Pfaff, Critic of American Foreign Policy, Dies at 86
Frontline  An installment of this PBS program looks at the effects of Ebola on Liberia and other countries, as well as the origins of the outbreak.
Frontline

Frontline An installment of this PBS program looks at the effects of Ebola on Liberia and other countries, as well as the origins of the outbreak.

The program traces the outbreak to its origin, thought to be a tree full of bats in Guinea.

Review: ‘9-Man’ Is More Than a Game for Chinese-Americans

A variation of volleyball with nine men on each side is profiled Tuesday night on the World Channel in an absorbing documentary called “9-Man.”

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‘Hard Earned’ Documents the Plight of the Working Poor

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With 12 tournament victories in his career, Mr. Peete was the most successful black professional golfer before Tiger Woods.

Calvin Peete, 71, a Racial Pioneer on the PGA Tour, Is Dead

Imagine an elite professional services firm with a high-performing, workaholic culture. Everyone is expected to turn on a dime to serve a client, travel at a moment’s notice, and be available pretty much every evening and weekend. It can make for a grueling work life, but at the highest levels of accounting, law, investment banking and consulting firms, it is just the way things are.

Except for one dirty little secret: Some of the people ostensibly turning in those 80- or 90-hour workweeks, particularly men, may just be faking it.

Many of them were, at least, at one elite consulting firm studied by Erin Reid, a professor at Boston University’s Questrom School of Business. It’s impossible to know if what she learned at that unidentified consulting firm applies across the world of work more broadly. But her research, published in the academic journal Organization Science, offers a way to understand how the professional world differs between men and women, and some of the ways a hard-charging culture that emphasizes long hours above all can make some companies worse off.

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Credit Peter Arkle

Ms. Reid interviewed more than 100 people in the American offices of a global consulting firm and had access to performance reviews and internal human resources documents. At the firm there was a strong culture around long hours and responding to clients promptly.

“When the client needs me to be somewhere, I just have to be there,” said one of the consultants Ms. Reid interviewed. “And if you can’t be there, it’s probably because you’ve got another client meeting at the same time. You know it’s tough to say I can’t be there because my son had a Cub Scout meeting.”

Some people fully embraced this culture and put in the long hours, and they tended to be top performers. Others openly pushed back against it, insisting upon lighter and more flexible work hours, or less travel; they were punished in their performance reviews.

The third group is most interesting. Some 31 percent of the men and 11 percent of the women whose records Ms. Reid examined managed to achieve the benefits of a more moderate work schedule without explicitly asking for it.

They made an effort to line up clients who were local, reducing the need for travel. When they skipped work to spend time with their children or spouse, they didn’t call attention to it. One team on which several members had small children agreed among themselves to cover for one another so that everyone could have more flexible hours.

A male junior manager described working to have repeat consulting engagements with a company near enough to his home that he could take care of it with day trips. “I try to head out by 5, get home at 5:30, have dinner, play with my daughter,” he said, adding that he generally kept weekend work down to two hours of catching up on email.

Despite the limited hours, he said: “I know what clients are expecting. So I deliver above that.” He received a high performance review and a promotion.

What is fascinating about the firm Ms. Reid studied is that these people, who in her terminology were “passing” as workaholics, received performance reviews that were as strong as their hyper-ambitious colleagues. For people who were good at faking it, there was no real damage done by their lighter workloads.

It calls to mind the episode of “Seinfeld” in which George Costanza leaves his car in the parking lot at Yankee Stadium, where he works, and gets a promotion because his boss sees the car and thinks he is getting to work earlier and staying later than anyone else. (The strategy goes awry for him, and is not recommended for any aspiring partners in a consulting firm.)

A second finding is that women, particularly those with young children, were much more likely to request greater flexibility through more formal means, such as returning from maternity leave with an explicitly reduced schedule. Men who requested a paternity leave seemed to be punished come review time, and so may have felt more need to take time to spend with their families through those unofficial methods.

The result of this is easy to see: Those specifically requesting a lighter workload, who were disproportionately women, suffered in their performance reviews; those who took a lighter workload more discreetly didn’t suffer. The maxim of “ask forgiveness, not permission” seemed to apply.

It would be dangerous to extrapolate too much from a study at one firm, but Ms. Reid said in an interview that since publishing a summary of her research in Harvard Business Review she has heard from people in a variety of industries describing the same dynamic.

High-octane professional service firms are that way for a reason, and no one would doubt that insane hours and lots of travel can be necessary if you’re a lawyer on the verge of a big trial, an accountant right before tax day or an investment banker advising on a huge merger.

But the fact that the consultants who quietly lightened their workload did just as well in their performance reviews as those who were truly working 80 or more hours a week suggests that in normal times, heavy workloads may be more about signaling devotion to a firm than really being more productive. The person working 80 hours isn’t necessarily serving clients any better than the person working 50.

In other words, maybe the real problem isn’t men faking greater devotion to their jobs. Maybe it’s that too many companies reward the wrong things, favoring the illusion of extraordinary effort over actual productivity.

How Some Men Fake an 80-Hour Workweek, and Why It Matters

Mr. Haroche was a founder of Liberty Travel, which grew from a two-man operation to the largest leisure travel operation in the United States.

Gilbert Haroche, Builder of an Economy Travel Empire, Dies at 87

Gagne wrestled professionally from the late 1940s until the 1980s and was a transitional figure between the early 20th century barnstormers and the steroidal sideshows of today

Verne Gagne, Wrestler Who Grappled Through Two Eras, Dies at 89

UNITED NATIONS — Wearing pinstripes and a pince-nez, Staffan de Mistura, the United Nations envoy for Syria, arrived at the Security Council one Tuesday afternoon in February and announced that President Bashar al-Assad had agreed to halt airstrikes over Aleppo. Would the rebels, Mr. de Mistura suggested, agree to halt their shelling?

What he did not announce, but everyone knew by then, was that the Assad government had begun a military offensive to encircle opposition-held enclaves in Aleppo and that fierce fighting was underway. It would take only a few days for rebel leaders, having pushed back Syrian government forces, to outright reject Mr. de Mistura’s proposed freeze in the fighting, dooming the latest diplomatic overture on Syria.

Diplomacy is often about appearing to be doing something until the time is ripe for a deal to be done.

 

 

Now, with Mr. Assad’s forces having suffered a string of losses on the battlefield and the United States reaching at least a partial rapprochement with Mr. Assad’s main backer, Iran, Mr. de Mistura is changing course. Starting Monday, he is set to hold a series of closed talks in Geneva with the warring sides and their main supporters. Iran will be among them.

In an interview at United Nations headquarters last week, Mr. de Mistura hinted that the changing circumstances, both military and diplomatic, may have prompted various backers of the war to question how much longer the bloodshed could go on.

“Will that have an impact in accelerating the willingness for a political solution? We need to test it,” he said. “The Geneva consultations may be a good umbrella for testing that. It’s an occasion for asking everyone, including the government, if there is any new way that they are looking at a political solution, as they too claim they want.”

He said he would have a better assessment at the end of June, when he expects to wrap up his consultations. That coincides with the deadline for a final agreement in the Iran nuclear talks.

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Whether a nuclear deal with Iran will pave the way for a new opening on peace talks in Syria remains to be seen. Increasingly, though, world leaders are explicitly linking the two, with the European Union’s top diplomat, Federica Mogherini, suggesting last week that a nuclear agreement could spur Tehran to play “a major but positive role in Syria.”

It could hardly come soon enough. Now in its fifth year, the Syrian war has claimed 220,000 lives, prompted an exodus of more than three million refugees and unleashed jihadist groups across the region. “This conflict is producing a question mark in many — where is it leading and whether this can be sustained,” Mr. de Mistura said.

Part Italian, part Swedish, Mr. de Mistura has worked with the United Nations for more than 40 years, but he is more widely known for his dapper style than for any diplomatic coups. Syria is by far the toughest assignment of his career — indeed, two of the organization’s most seasoned diplomats, Lakhdar Brahimi and Kofi Annan, tried to do the job and gave up — and critics have wondered aloud whether Mr. de Mistura is up to the task.

He served as a United Nations envoy in Afghanistan and Iraq, and before that in Lebanon, where a former minister recalled, with some scorn, that he spent many hours sunbathing at a private club in the hills above Beirut. Those who know him say he has a taste for fine suits and can sometimes speak too soon and too much, just as they point to his diplomatic missteps and hyperbole.

They cite, for instance, a news conference in October, when he raised the specter of Srebrenica, where thousands of Muslims were massacred in 1995 during the Balkans war, in warning that the Syrian border town of Kobani could fall to the Islamic State. In February, he was photographed at a party in Damascus, the Syrian capital, celebrating the anniversary of the Iranian revolution just as Syrian forces, aided by Iran, were pummeling rebel-held suburbs of Damascus; critics seized on that as evidence of his coziness with the government.

Mouin Rabbani, who served briefly as the head of Mr. de Mistura’s political affairs unit and has since emerged as one of his most outspoken critics, said Mr. de Mistura did not have the background necessary for the job. “This isn’t someone well known for his political vision or political imagination, and his closest confidants lack the requisite knowledge and experience,” Mr. Rabbani said.

As a deputy foreign minister in the Italian government, Mr. de Mistura was tasked in 2012 with freeing two Italian marines detained in India for shooting at Indian fishermen. He made 19 trips to India, to little effect. One marine was allowed to return to Italy for medical reasons; the other remains in India.

He said he initially turned down the Syria job when the United Nations secretary general approached him last August, only to change his mind the next day, after a sleepless, guilt-ridden night.

Mr. de Mistura compared his role in Syria to that of a doctor faced with a terminally ill patient. His goal in brokering a freeze in the fighting, he said, was to alleviate suffering. He settled on Aleppo as the location for its “fame,” he said, a decision that some questioned, considering that Aleppo was far trickier than the many other lesser-known towns where activists had negotiated temporary local cease-fires.

“Everybody, at least in Europe, are very familiar with the value of Aleppo,” Mr. de Mistura said. “So I was using that as an icebreaker.”

The cease-fire negotiations, to which he had devoted six months, fell apart quickly because of the government’s military offensive in Aleppo the very day of his announcement at the Security Council. Privately, United Nations diplomats said Mr. de Mistura had been manipulated. To this, Mr. de Mistura said only that he was “disappointed and concerned.”

Tarek Fares, a former rebel fighter, said after a recent visit to Aleppo that no Syrian would admit publicly to supporting Mr. de Mistura’s cease-fire proposal. “If anyone said they went to a de Mistura meeting in Gaziantep, they would be arrested,” is how he put it, referring to the Turkish city where negotiations between the two sides were held.

Secretary General Ban Ki-moon remains staunchly behind Mr. de Mistura’s efforts. His defenders point out that he is at the center of one of the world’s toughest diplomatic problems, charged with mediating a conflict in which two of the world’s most powerful nations — Russia, which supports Mr. Assad, and the United States, which has called for his ouster — remain deadlocked.

R. Nicholas Burns, a former State Department official who now teaches at Harvard, credited Mr. de Mistura for trying to negotiate a cease-fire even when the chances of success were exceedingly small — and the chances of a political deal even smaller. For his efforts to work, Professor Burns argued, the world powers will first have to come to an agreement of their own.

“He needs the help of outside powers,” he said. “It starts with backers of Assad. That’s Russia and Iran. De Mistura is there, waiting.”

With Iran Talks, a Tangled Path to Ending Syria’s War
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