The Moustache of Wisdom is still off, so maybe he’s having trouble catching a cab in Damascus. The Pasty Little Putz has decided to take a fantasy romp and invent a speech by President Obama. In “War, What Is It Good For?” he imagines President Obama’s first draft of a speech. He also manages to co-opt the title of an anti-war song written 10 years before he was born. Disgraceful. MoDo has actually written something that didn’t make me want to tear my hair out. In “The Adventure of Blondie and the Bloodhound” she tells us about Cathy Lanier. From teen mom to top cop: The tough and tender Cathy Lanier watches over the nation’s capital. Mr. Kristof, in “Beauty and the Beasts,” says America’s public lands are spectacular, free and horrendously neglected. Maybe members of Congress should hike the Pacific Crest Trail to see for themselves. Mr. Bruni is in Beijing. He tells us about “The Dog That (Almost) Roared” and says a whole lot is made in China. A whole lot is fabricated, too. Here’s The Putz:
The following is a not-entirely-verified draft of remarks President Obama planned to deliver this weekend announcing a strike in Syria. It was found in a rubbish bin outside the White House shortly after he changed course and decided to seek Congressional approval first:
My fellow Americans, I’m speaking to you tonight because, at my orders, the United States has begun punitive strikes against the forces of President Bashar al-Assad of Syria.
There’s a formula to this kind of address: some references to the humanitarian catastrophe unfolding inside Syria’s borders, some nods to the international community’s support, some claims about the threat the Assad regime poses to American interests, and finally a stirring peroration about freedom, democracy and human rights.
But it’s my second term, and I’m awfully tired of talking in clichés.
So let’s be frank: Striking Syria isn’t going to put an end to the killing there or plant democracy in Damascus, so it’s hard to make the case that our values are really on the line.
Nor are our immediate interests: Assad’s regime doesn’t pose a direct threat to the United States or our allies, and given the kind of people leading the Syrian rebellion these days, we may be better off if the civil war drags out as long as possible without a winner.
Nor do we have much in the way of official international support — no Security Council, no Arab League, not even the British. We’re down to the same “coalition of the willing” we started with in the 1770s: It’s just us and the French.
Even at home, I don’t have many cheerleaders. My base is naturally antiwar, half the Republican Party has turned anti-interventionist, and the hawks of the right and left see this kind of strike as too limited to be worthwhile.
No, this one’s on me. And I owe you an explanation of what I’m thinking.
Basically, it comes down to America’s role on the international stage, and how we can use our extraordinary military preponderance for our own good and the world’s.
One answer, embraced by my predecessor, is that we should be in the business of spreading democracy by force of arms. American military power should be deployed to challenge authoritarian powers whenever possible, to protect democratic governments and movements whenever necessary, and to topple dictators outright when the opportunity presents itself.
The experience of Iraq and Afghanistan exposed the limits of this expansive approach. Which is why I promised to chart a different course. After neoconservatism, I pledged a mix of realism and liberal internationalism, in which military force would be used much more sparingly, and American power would be placed in the service of a stable, rule-based, multilateral world order.
I still believe in the “stable” and “rule-based” part. But what the view from this office has taught me is that real stability still depends almost exclusively on the United States military’s monopoly on global force. Multilateralism is a nice idea, but right now it’s the Pax Americana or nothing. There’s nobody else prepared to act to limit the ambitions of bad actors and keep them successfully boxed in.
And that’s really all this intervention is about. There is an acknowledged line around the use of chemical weapons, Assad’s government flagrantly crossed it, and we’re the only ones who can make him pay a price.
Of course there’s something arbitrary about telling a dictator he can kill his subjects with bullets but not gas. But there’s something arbitrary about any constraint we impose on lesser powers. The point is to sustain an environment of constraint, period — in which troublemakers are constantly aware they can only push so far before American military power pushes back.
True, pushing back won’t necessarily make the underlying political and humanitarian situation better. But that isn’t why we do it. It’s not really about fixing problems or transforming regions or winning final victories. (That was the mistake that George W. Bush and Lyndon Johnson made, and that Ronald Reagan and Dwight Eisenhower avoided.) It’s about demonstrating that there are limits to what other governments can choose to do without repercussions, and maintaining our credibility when we threaten to rain those repercussions down.
Look: I know Thomas Aquinas wouldn’t endorse a war for American credibility, and I know the Barack Obama of 2007 probably wouldn’t either. But most of my post-cold-war predecessors would, and did. And they’ve bequeathed me a world that — no matter what the headlines suggest — is more at peace than at any point in human history.
It’s not a world free of tyranny, like my predecessor foolishly promised to pursue. But it’s a world with fewer invasions, fewer war crimes, fewer massacres than in the past. And if we want to keep it that way, there has to be a price for crossing lines.
So that’s the why of it. Thank you for your attention, and may God bless — and, if necessary, forgive — the United States of America.
Can you even BEGIN to imagine what Putzy and the rest of the rabid Reichwingers would say about Obama if he suggested that God needed to forgive America? The mind boggles… Here’s MoDo:
Cathy Lanier’s early life plays like a season of MTV’s “Teen Mom.”
Skipping school at 13. Pregnant at 14. Married at 15. Separated at 17, on food stamps and back with her mother on a working-class block by a railroad in suburban Maryland; her mother had also relied on welfare and donated food to feed Cathy and her brothers after her husband split when Lanier was a toddler.
“I didn’t even know how to write a check much less pay the bills,” said the attractive and nearly 6-foot-tall blonde, now 46.
Her mother and grandmother cared for the baby while Lanier sold awnings and hair products, worked as a waitress at a barbecue joint at night and a secretary for a real estate developer by day.
“When I took that job, I was 16,” she recalled. “Typing classes come in the 10th grade, and I didn’t make it to the 10th grade. I got my G.E.D. So when they offered me the secretary job, they said ‘Can you type?’ I said, ‘No, but I’ll learn if you let me take the typewriter home.’ So my mother taught me how to type at the kitchen table.”
Eventually, Lanier traded the typewriter for a gun. She joined the D.C. police force at 23, attracted by a program that offered to cover her tuition to go to college by day while she worked the late shift as a beat officer; she went on to get two master’s degrees.
Now, remarkably, she is the very popular police chief of the nation’s capital, a white woman in charge of law enforcement in a city with a black majority; a watchdog for a city — with its monuments, mandarins and diplomats — that is a maze of different security forces and a target for terrorists, hackers and retaliatory strikes.
As tensions over aggressive stop-and-frisk tactics shake up the New York mayor’s race, Lanier has reviewed the D.C. version. Over the years, she has shifted her force from mirroring New York’s “zero tolerance” and “hot spot” policing, the “broken windows” theory that ignoring minor offenses leads to major ones.
She’s tough on crime — she shared an award for most arrests soon after becoming a cop — but also wanted her officers to be compassionate, to interact with D.C. residents, develop sources, use new media to connect with the community, consider arrest a failure. She issued a directive on how to talk to transgender people, ignoring those who complained she was too touchy-feely. She started an anonymous text tip line and got in-car computers and BlackBerrys for officers.
She made it clear, she told Governing magazine, that she expected officers to “give their cellphone number to the old lady sitting on her porch drinking her beer at 9 o’clock in the morning instead of making her dump her beer.”
She hugs the down-and-out and gives out her cellphone number. “If they call me in the middle of the night,” she said, in her offhanded manner, “they’ve got something I want to hear.”
She says she tells graduates of the police academy: “Look, this uniform does not automatically give you respect. People will either view that uniform as a symbol of hope and honesty or they will view it with fear.”
As Lanier travels around gritty neighborhoods in D.C., swaths invisible to many of the high and mighty here, residents call out to greet her.
“Some people will yell ‘Cathy,’ some will yell ‘Chief’ and some will yell ‘Blondie,’ ” she said, sitting in her office, dressed in a police uniform, a 9 millimeter Glock on her hip. Two teddy bears are incongruously perched on the couch with her. The chief, who has a goldendoodle named Po-Po and an affinity for disabled dogs, toys with pieces of a chess set where firefighters and arson dogs face off against police officers and their canines.
She is excited about the department’s newest rookie: a bloodhound named Sam who has already tracked two missing persons.
Being called “Blondie” doesn’t offend her?
“No, that’s an affectionate nickname,” she smiles, leaning back and putting arms that rival Michelle Obama’s behind her head.
When she started in 1990, she was an upright rookie on an undisciplined force. She had to endure sexual harassment from a lieutenant supervising her; she sued the city and won a $75,000 settlement. Back then, D.C. was nicknamed “the murder capital of America.” Once, as a sergeant, Lanier waved at an elderly African-American woman sitting on her porch “and she flips me the bird, and I’m like ‘What?’ I was shocked, but people really didn’t think a whole lot of the police back then and that was during the height of violence in the city.”
She says that, personally, “in 24 years here, I’ve never had an issue with race — ever. I think people in general don’t really care what your race or gender is if they feel like you are legitimate.”
Last year, D.C. had the lowest number of homicides on record since 1961; juvenile victims of homicides decreased by 85 percent in the last four years, according to the chief’s office. She presides over about 4,000 officers and 450 civilians.
“She’s done a phenomenal job,” said Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum.
Lanier has never shot a person, just a rampaging pit bull. She says she “can take a punch,” and did so once from someone she was busting for drugs. She affectionately recalls being taught how to by her two older brothers, who she says were “bullies” and “still are.” One is a Maryland police officer, the other a retired firefighter, like her dad.
“I think that the physical demands of firefighting are much greater than the physical demands of policing,” she said. “A lot of police work does not require brute strength. In fact, I’d say, really good communications skills are probably every bit, if not more, important as brute strength.”
While “some women can meet the physical challenge” for superior upper-body strength, she is skeptical about having one carry her down a ladder out of a burning building, given that “I’m 6-foot tall and I’m not petite.”
The chief is a workaholic who rarely vacations, works out twice a day and sleeps “in short bursts.” Her friends have urged her to use concealer on the dark circles under her eyes and, she says, “my mother and grandmother both used to say when they saw me on TV, ‘Can you just put some lipstick on?’ ”
Asked what she does to relax, she replies, “the chores” and yardwork. She doesn’t watch cop shows and hasn’t seen the two recent movies about terrorists taking over the White House. She prefers animated films like “The Croods” and “Despicable Me” to blow-’em-ups.
The Washington Post’s Allison Klein checked out the chief’s closet in her townhouse and found 30 police uniforms.
“That can be an issue sometimes,” the single Lanier told me, grimacing, “when I want to go out and I don’t have anything to wear.”
Where does she wear her gun when she gets dressed up for a dinner date with her boyfriend?
“I find ways,” she says, smiling mischievously.
And now here’s Mr. Kristof:
During an August vacation with my family, I enjoyed lodgings so spectacular that not even Bill Gates or Warren Buffett could ever buy or rent them.
The scenery was some of America’s finest: snowcapped mountains, alpine lakes, babbling brooks. The cost? It was free.
We were enjoying some of America’s public lands, backpacking through our national patrimony. No billionaire can acquire these lands because they remain — even in a nation where economic disparities have soared — a rare democratic space. The only one who could pull rank on you at a camping spot is a grizzly bear.
“This is the most beautiful place in the world,” my 15-year-old daughter mused beside a turquoise lake framed by towering fir trees. She and I were hiking 200-plus miles on the Pacific Crest Trail, joined for shorter bits by my wife and sons.
We imbibed from glacier-fed creeks, startled elk, and dallied beside alpine meadows so dazzling that they constitute an argument for the existence of God. At night, if rain didn’t threaten, we spread our sleeping bags under the open sky — miles from any other human — and fell asleep counting shooting stars.
You want to understand the concept of a “public good”? It’s exemplified by our nation’s wilderness trails.
In some ways, this wilderness is thriving. Cheryl Strayed’s best-selling book “Wild,” about her long backpack on the Pacific Crest Trail, has inspired hordes of young women to try the trails. Reese Witherspoon is starring in a movie of “Wild,” made by her production company, and that will undoubtedly send even more out to feed the mosquitoes.
The talk of the trail this year was of a woman named Heather Anderson who shattered a record by backpacking from Mexico to Canada on the Pacific Crest Trail, without support, in 61 days. That’s nearly 44 miles a day over tough terrain. She says she graduated from high school at 200 pounds and found purpose — and lost 70 pounds — on the trails. On this trek, she had encounters with five rattlesnakes, eight bears and four mountain lions. (For more on Heather Anderson’s extraordinary journey, visit my blog at kristof.blogs.nytimes.com.)
Yet America’s public goods, from our parks to “Sesame Street,” are besieged today by budget-cutters, and it’s painful to hike some trails now. You see lovingly constructed old bridges that have collapsed. Trails disturbed by avalanches have not been rebuilt, and signs are missing.
“Infrastructure is really crumbling,” Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, herself a backpacker, told me. She notes that foreign tourists come to visit America’s “crown jewels” like Yosemite and are staggered by the beauty — and flummoxed by the broken toilets.
It’s even worse at the Forest Service, which is starved of funds partly because firefighting is eating up its budgets. The Forest Service has estimated that only one-quarter of its 158,000 miles of trails meet its own standards.
About once a year, my family hikes the spectacular Timberline Trail, constructed in the Great Depression around Mount Hood in Oregon as a public works project. But one section washed out in 2006, and it still hasn’t officially reopened.
What our ancestors were able to create when we were a poor country, we are unable to sustain even now that we are rich. That’s not because of resources. It’s because they were visionaries, and we are blind.
Wallace Stegner called our national parks America’s “best idea.” The sequester, which I would call “America’s worst idea,” was supposed to save money, but when sloping trails aren’t maintained every year or two, they erode and require major repairs that cost even more.
Republicans praise the idea of citizen volunteers and public-private partnerships. But our agencies are so impoverished that they can’t take full advantage of charity.
Mike Dawson of the Pacific Crest Trail Association says that volunteers could provide about 250,000 hours repairing the trail each year. But the Forest Service doesn’t have the resources to organize and equip all the volunteers available, so it will be able to use only one-third of that free labor this year, he says. That’s crazy.
All this is symptomatic of a deeper disdain in some circles for the very idea of a public good: Who needs a national forest? Just buy your own Wyoming ranch!
This fall will probably see a no-holds-barred battle in Washington over fiscal issues, and especially the debt limit. But, in a larger sense, it’s a dispute over public goods. So, considering how ineffective Congress is, perhaps we should encourage all 535 members to take a sabbatical and backpack the Pacific Crest Trail. I’m not sure we’d miss them for five months. And what an entertaining reality show that would make!
It would also have a serious side. Maybe when dwarfed by giant redwoods, recalcitrant politicians would absorb a lesson of nature: We are all part of something larger than ourselves. Perhaps they would gain perspective and appreciate the grandeur of our public lands of which they are such wretched stewards.
And now here’s Mr. Bruni:
If it quacks like a duck, it’s probably a duck.
And if it barks like a dog? It’s probably not an “African lion.”
That’s how an exhibit at a zoo in the Chinese city of Luohe was labeled, but that’s not what the exhibit held, a discrepancy apparent when a mother who had been teaching her young son about sounds that different animals make heard the one that they were looking at emit something tamer and more familiar than a roar. A fluffy-maned mastiff was standing in for the king of the jungle, and none too persuasively.
At the Luohe zoo, such understudies were reportedly everywhere: in the wolf’s cage, another dog; in the leopard’s lair, a fox. It was Noah’s ersatz ark, not to mention fresh proof that no country does knockoffs with a versatility and an ambition quite like China’s.
The zoo story broke shortly before I got here last week. After, the news was dominated by the “trial of the century” of the disgraced Communist Party bigwig Bo Xilai, accused of a degree of avarice and corruption that mocked his onetime reputation as a champion of the little people. With transcripts released nearly in real time, the legal proceedings were made to seem, at least initially, like a bold new experiment in government transparency.
Except they weren’t. The transparency was partly counterfeit. Many reporters couldn’t get into the courtroom, portions of testimony were clearly redacted, and a few of the official photos looked staged, a possibility noted on social media when Bo, a tall man, was shown wedged between two court officers who were both, against all odds, even taller. Suddenly, miraculously, the strapping hero was a humbled pipsqueak, which was pretty much how the government wanted him seen. And his Chinese audience feasted on a layer cake of fakery: the fraudulently open trial of an allegedly fraudulent populist made to look fraudulently small.
This was my first time in mainland China, and I was struck by paradoxical realities. One, which I fully expected, was just how much is being built and accomplished here, at a velocity that takes your breath away.
The other was how much exaggeration, gilding, deception and misdirection nonetheless occur.
In Beijing I turned to a local resident I’d met and remarked, “This city is greener than people tell you it is.”
“Not really,” she responded, explaining that the trees we happened to be passing by were neither representative nor entirely honest. They’d been planted, along with tens of millions of others, for the 2008 Olympics, as Beijing constructed a Potemkin eco-friendliness for the world. These were the same Olympics, I was later reminded, at which the adorable little girl singing “Ode to the Motherland” at the opening ceremony was lip-syncing to the voice of another little girl who had been deemed insufficiently adorable for the television cameras.
Of course most cities pretty themselves up for guests, the trees are here to stay and even Beyoncé pulled a fast one, using prerecorded vocals for President Obama’s second inauguration. And all great, self-respecting nations have their areas of expert artifice, their specialized spuriousness: Venezuela, its plastic beauty-pageant contestants; Italy, its lowballed tax returns; Britain, its hollow courtesies; America, its Ponzi schemes. To forge is human.
But the Chinese are divine at it. Or at least unabashed. The reported food scams are most infamous: rat masquerading as lamb; bargain-basement liquor in premium-brand bottles; soy sauce made from human hair swept off barbershop floors and processed for optimal deliciousness. There was even a widely disseminated dispatch in 2007 about dumplings filled with cardboard, but in a transcendently poetic twist, the story itself was called into question as a possible fake.
There have been very serious problems with phony pharmaceuticals and less serious ones with make-believe monks, their reverent garb and holy mannerisms a ruse for collecting donations and peddling spiritual trinkets. Earlier this year two temples on one of China’s sacred Buddhist mountains were closed because of such impostors.
In July an entire museum was shuttered after claims that many of its 40,000 artifacts weren’t quite as ancient as they pretended to be. One of the giveaways? The kind of writing on relics that supposedly dated back four millenniums hadn’t come into widespread use until the last 100 or so years.
I’ve read about a bogus Apple store so much like the genuine article that its employees as well as its customers were duped.
Beijingers I met filled me in on other improvisations.
“Fake commenters,” one of them said, explaining that you can’t know whether the assent and the raves that accompany a Web post or video are real or paid for, a practice believed to be especially prevalent here.
“Fake divorces,” another Beijinger said, noting a phenomenon by which couples who were trying to avoid extra taxes on the sale of second homes would dissolve their unions and thus become two individuals with one home each. They would then remarry once their real-estate transaction was complete.
David Barboza of The Times wrote about that in March. Last month he was back with an exposé of the sprawling Chinese industry in fake receipts and invoices, with which employees defraud companies and companies defraud the government. During one government crackdown on that industry in 2009, 1,045 production sites for fictive invoices were closed.
I’ve been asking people who know China a whole lot better than I do what to make of all of this. They say that it’s an example of entrepreneurship on steroids, of an economy moving so fast and furiously that regulations are pointless and real vigilance is almost impossible. They say that it reflects a culture in which the face of things often attracts more fussing than the soul of them and that it’s an offshoot of a political system dependent on impressions, atmospherics, half-truths.
In any case it’s corrosive, eating away at the trust that people on the outside and the inside can have in this mighty country and its manifold wares. And it’s worrisome, at times jeopardizing people’s health, perhaps mental as well as physical.
I felt relentlessly on guard. I was always suspicious.
Riding down the mountainside from a stretch of the Great Wall, I noticed a sign in the cable car that said that President Bill Clinton had used the very same vessel for his own Wall excursion on June 28, 1998. As soon as my car stopped, I sprinted around the landing platform to try to look inside others and see if they made the same claim. Workers foiled me, so I’ll never be sure: was my perch Bill’s perch? Or had I been a sitting duck for yet more Chinese quackery?