Dowd and Friedman

In “Bottoms Up, Lame Duck” MoDo says that the president wants to build a permission structure for Congress when he needs to build a playpen.  No, you silly cow, he needs to build a lunatic ward.  The Moustache of Wisdom says “It’s a 401(k) World,” and that in today’s hyperconnected world, we all have to learn much more about investing in ourselves in order to succeed.  It turns out that the world is even flatter than when Tommy wrote his book, which Matt Taibbi eviscerated.  Here’s MoDo:

During the 2012 campaign, the president and his top advisers liked to make the argument that if he was re-elected, the “fever” would break. Washington would no longer be the graveyard of progress, the crypt of consensus. Once dystopian Republicans accepted that Obama was not running again, they would start cooperating with him.

But it’s beginning to sink in that the opposite may be true.

The president called a press conference to mark the first 100 days of his second term, and he quickly ended up playing defense, dwelling on how hemmed in he feels.

ABC News’s Jonathan Karl asked Obama if he was already out of “juice” to pass his agenda, citing the president’s inability to get a watered-down gun bill passed in the Senate, Congress swatting away Obama on the sequester cuts, and the recent passage of a cybersecurity bill in the House with 92 Democrats on board, despite a veto threat from the White House.

“Well, if you put it that way, Jonathan, maybe I should just pack up and go home,” President Obama said with a flash of irritation, before tossing off a Mark Twain line: “Rumors of my demise may be a little exaggerated at this point.”

Then he put on his best professorial mien to give his high-minded philosophy of governance: Reason together and do what’s right.

“But, Jonathan,” he lectured Karl, “you seem to suggest that somehow, these folks over there have no responsibilities and that my job is to somehow get them to behave. That’s their job. They are elected, members of Congress are elected in order to do what’s right for their constituencies and for the American people.”

Actually, it is his job to get them to behave. The job of the former community organizer and self-styled uniter is to somehow get this dunderheaded Congress, which is mind-bendingly awful, to do the stuff he wants them to do. It’s called leadership.

He still thinks he’ll do his thing from the balcony and everyone else will follow along below. That’s not how it works.

How can the president star in a White House Correspondents’ Association dinner satirical film pretending to be Daniel Day-Lewis playing Barack Obama in Steven Spielberg’s movie “Obama,” and not have absorbed the lessons of “Lincoln”?

“Some folks still don’t think I spend enough time with Congress,” he said in an alleged joke at the dinner Saturday night. “ ‘Why don’t you get a drink with Mitch McConnell?’ they ask. Really? Why don’t you get a drink with Mitch McConnell.”

He insisted primly on Tuesday: “I cannot force Republicans to embrace those common-sense solutions. I can urge them to. I can put pressure on them. I can, you know, rally the American people around those common-sense solutions, but, ultimately, they themselves are going to have to say ‘We want to do the right thing.’ ”

He said that if lawmakers are worried about primaries and afraid that working with him will be seen as “a betrayal,” he can try to “create a permission structure for them to be able to do what’s going to be best for the country.”

A permission structure?

He might do better to remember what Jeremy Irons’s pope says on “The Borgias,” “Do you not see that even the impression of weakness begets weakness?”

After Syria, Obama discussed another issue where he came across like a frustrated witness to history, rather than shaper of it. After putting the moral quandary aside for political reasons, he finally began urging once more that the prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, be closed. A hundred prisoners there, held for a decade without trial, are on a hunger strike, some being force-fed Ensure through tubes in their noses, despite opprobrium from the American Medical Association.

Dianne Feinstein, who leads the Senate Intelligence Committee, sent a letter to the White House Thursday urging the administration to review the status of 86 low-level detainees who were designated for potential transfer more than three years ago but remain in Cuba.

Asked about the hunger strike, the former constitutional law professor in the White House expressed the proper moral outrage at holding so many men “in no-man’s land in perpetuity.” But it sounded as though he didn’t fully understand his own policy.

Closing Guantánamo doesn’t address the fundamental problem of rights. Obama’s solution, blocked by Congress, is to move the hornet’s nest to a Supermax prison in Illinois — dubbed “Gitmo North” — and keep holding men as POWs in a war that has no end. They’re not hunger-striking for a change in scenery.

It’s true that Congress put restrictions on transfers of individuals to other countries with bad security situations. But, since 2012, Congress has granted authority to the secretary of defense to waive those restrictions on a case-by-case basis. The administration hasn’t made use of that power once. So it’s a little stale to blame Congress at this point.

The senior senator from Kentucky has been a leader in Keep-Terrorists-Offshore. Maybe, if the president really wants to close Gitmo, he should have a drink with Mitch McConnell. Really.

Now here’s The Moustache of Wisdom:

It’s hard to have a conversation today with any worker, teacher, student or boss who doesn’t tell you some version of this: More things seem to be changing in my world than ever before, but I can’t quite put my finger on it, let alone know how to adapt. So let me try to put my finger on it: We now live in a 401(k) world — a world of defined contributions, not defined benefits — where everyone needs to pass the bar exam and no one can escape the most e-mailed list.

Here is what I mean: Something really big happened in the world’s wiring in the last decade, but it was obscured by the financial crisis and post-9/11. We went from a connected world to a hyperconnected world. I’m always struck that Facebook, Twitter, 4G, iPhones, iPads, high-speech broadband, ubiquitous wireless and Web-enabled cellphones, the cloud, Big Data, cellphone apps and Skype did not exist or were in their infancy a decade ago when I wrote a book called “The World Is Flat.” All of that came since then, and the combination of these tools of connectivity and creativity has created a global education, commercial, communication and innovation platform on which more people can start stuff, collaborate on stuff, learn stuff, make stuff (and destroy stuff) with more other people than ever before.

What’s exciting is that this platform empowers individuals to access learning, retrain, engage in commerce, seek or advertise a job, invent, invest and crowd source — all online. But this huge expansion in an individual’s ability to do all these things comes with one big difference: more now rests on you.

If you are self-motivated, wow, this world is tailored for you. The boundaries are all gone. But if you’re not self-motivated, this world will be a challenge because the walls, ceilings and floors that protected people are also disappearing. That is what I mean when I say “it is a 401(k) world.” Government will do less for you. Companies will do less for you. Unions can do less for you. There will be fewer limits, but also fewer guarantees. Your specific contribution will define your specific benefits much more. Just showing up will not cut it.

The policy implications? “Just as having a 401(k) defined contribution plan requires you to learn more about investing in your retirement, a 401(k) world requires you to learn much more about investing in yourself: how do I build my own competencies to be attractive to employers and flourish in this world,” said Byron Auguste, a director at McKinsey and one of the founders of Hope Street Group, which develops policies to help Americans navigate this changing economy. “As young people rise to that challenge, the value of mentors, social networks and role models will rise.”

Indeed, parenting, teaching or leadership that “inspires” individuals to act on their own will be the most valued of all.

When I say that “everyone has to pass the bar now,” I mean that, as the world got hyperconnected, all these things happened at once: Jobs started changing much faster, requiring more skill with each iteration. Schools could not keep up with the competencies needed for these jobs, so employers got frustrated because, in a hyperconnected world, they did not have the time or money to spend on extensive training. So more employers are demanding that students prove their competencies for a specific job by obtaining not only college degrees but by passing “certification” exams that measure specific skills — the way lawyers have to pass the bar. Last week, The Economist quoted one labor expert, Peter Cappelli of the Wharton business school, as saying that companies now regard filling a job as being “like buying a spare part: you expect it to fit.”

Finally, every major news Web site today has a “most e-mailed list” that tracks what’s popular. Journalists who tell you they don’t check to see if their stories make the list are lying. What makes those lists possible is the use of Big Data and the cloud, which can also measure almost any performance in any profession in real-time and tailor rewards accordingly. More schools can now instantly measure which teachers’ kids are on grade level in math every week, Jamba Juice can see which clerk sells the most between 8 and 10 a.m., and factories in China can find out which assembly lines have the fewest errors. On schoolloop.com, you can track your kid’s homework assignments and daily progress in every K-12 class. A most e-mailed list is coming to a job near you.

I find a lot of this scary. We’re entering a world that increasingly rewards individual aspiration and persistence and can measure precisely who is contributing and who is not. This is not going away, so we better think how we help every citizen benefit from it.

It has to start, argues Ryan Burke, the director of jobs and workforce for Hope Street, with changing our education-to-work system to one that “enables and credits a variety of viable pathways to needed skills.” But “for students and workers to take advantage of the opportunities open to them in a ‘defined contribution’ world, they will need much better information to inform their decisions. Right now it’s much easier to evaluate a choice about buying a car or picking a mutual fund” than to find the competencies employers are looking for and the best cost-effective way to obtain them.

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