Apparently The Putz thinks he’s qualified to tell us all about “Russia Without Illusions.” He says after Crimea, what’s needed is a more realistic assessment about Russian intentions and Western leverage. MoDo allegedly is writing about Gov. Jerry Brown, but of course the first sentence brings up Hillary. It takes her until the second sentence to use the phrase “Slick Willie.” She must be slipping, however, since the first jab at Obama doesn’t come until the 12th sentence. The thing is called “Palmy Days for Jerry, and she gurgles about Moonbeam through a new prism: A more mellow Jerry Brown gets ready to make California history. Mr. Kristof, in “He Was Supposed to Take a Photo,” says after being forced into child pornography by her parents at age 4, Raven Kaliana is now fighting against child abusers. Ms. Collins says “This is What 80 Looks Like,” and that Gloria Steinem occupies a singular place in American culture as the very face of feminism. Here’s The Putz:
Since the end of the Cold War, America’s policy toward Russia has been shaped by two dangerous illusions.
The first was the conceit that with the right incentives, eyes-to-soul presidential connections and diplomatic reset buttons, Russia could become what we think of, in our cheerfully solipsistic way, as a “normal country” — at peace with the basic architecture of an American-led world order, invested in international norms and institutions, content with its borders and focused primarily on its G.D.P. Not the old Russian bear, and not an “Upper Volta with rockets” basket case, but a stable, solid-enough global citizen — Poland with an Asian hinterland, Italy with nukes.
The second illusion was the idea that with the Cold War over, we could treat Russia’s near abroad as a Western sphere of influence in the making — with NATO expanding ever eastward, traditional Russian satellites swinging into our orbit, and Moscow isolated or acquiescent. As went the Baltic States, in this theory, so eventually would go Ukraine and Georgia, until everything west and south of Russia was one military alliance, and its western neighbors were all folded into the European Union as well.
On the surface, these ideas were in tension: One was internationalist and the other neoconservative; one sought partnership with Russia and the other to effectively encircle it. But there was also a deep congruity, insofar as both assumed that limitations on Western influence had fallen away, and a post-Cold War program could advance smoothly whether the Russians decided to get with it or not.
Now both ideas should be abandoned. After Crimea, as Anne Applebaum wrote last week, it’s clear that Putin’s Russia “is not a flawed Western power,” but “an anti-Western power with a different, darker vision of global politics.” It may not be America’s No. 1 geopolitical problem, as a certain former candidate for president suggested. (Don’t sleep on the Chinese.) But it is a geopolitical threat — a revisionist, norm-violating power — to a greater extent than any recent administration has been eager to accept.
But at the same time, after Crimea there should also be fewer illusions about the West’s ability to dictate outcomes in Russia’s near abroad. Twice in this era — in Georgia in 2008 and now in Ukraine — Russian troops have crossed alleged red lines in conflicts with countries that felt they had some sort of Western protection: Ukraine through the 1994 Budapest Memorandum, which supposedly guaranteed its territorial integrity, and Georgia because of our support for its potential entry into NATO. And in both cases the limits of Western power have been laid bare — the disorganization and disunity of “European” foreign policy, and the fact that even the most bellicose U.S. politicians aren’t ready to say that South Ossetia or Simferopol is worth the bones of a single American Marine.
What’s needed, after these illusions, is a more realistic assessment of both Russian intentions (which are plainly more malign than the Obama administration wanted to believe) and Western leverage (which is more limited than Obama’s hawkish critics would like to think).
Such an assessment should yield a strategy intended to punish Putin, in the short and longer run, without creating new flash points in which the West ends up overstretched.
So yes, for today, to sanctions on Putin’s cronies and economic assistance for Ukraine. Yes, as well, to stepped-up cooperation with those former Soviet satellites — the Baltic States, the “Visegrad battle group” quartet of the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia — with which we actually have binding commitments and mostly stable partners. Yes, in the long run, to a shift in U.S. energy policy that would use our exports to undercut Russia’s petro-power.
But no to sudden overcommitments that would give Putin exactly what his domestic propaganda effort needs — evidence of encirclement, justifications for aggression. Unless we expect an immediate Russian invasion of Estonia, for instance, we probably don’t need a sweeping NATO redeployment from Germany to the Baltics. Unless we’re prepared to escalate significantly over the fate of eastern Ukraine, we shouldn’t contemplate sending arms and military advisers to the unsteady government in Kiev. Unless we’re prepared to go to war for Abkhazia and South Ossetia, we shouldn’t fast-track Georgia’s NATO membership.
And unless the European Union wants to make its current problems that much worse, its economic accord with Ukraine shouldn’t be a prelude to any kind of further integration.
The key here is balance — recognizing that Russia is weak and dangerous at once, that the West has been both too naïve about Putin’s intentions and too incautious in its own commitments, and that a new containment need not require a new Cold War.
When illusions are shattered, it’s easy to become reckless, easy to hand-wring and retrench. What we need instead is realism: to use the powers we have, without pretending to powers that we lack.
And now we get to MoDo’s unrelenting crusade against Hillary, thinly disguised as a piece about Jerry Brown:
I ask Jerry if he’s ready for Hillary.
Back in 1992, when he ran for president against Bill Clinton, Jerry Brown was remorseless in taking on “Slick Willie,” as he called him, and his wife, pelting them with accusations of corruption and conflicts-of-interest in Arkansas. In one seething exchange on the debate stage, Clinton snapped: “You ought to be ashamed of yourself for jumping on my wife. You’re not worth being on the same platform as my wife.”
In the governor’s office over coffee, I ask a more mellow Brown how he would feel about a Hillary coronation. “The polls say that she’s in an extremely strong position,” he says. “So prominent in her husband’s administration, then a senator, then secretary of state. Those are powerful milestones. I don’t see anyone challenging her at this point.”
So how does he reconcile what he said in 1992 and now? Have the Clintons changed, or has Brown changed?
He crosses his arms and gives me a flinty look, finally observing: “In retrospect, after we see all the other presidents that came afterwards, certainly, Clinton handled his job with a level of skill that hasn’t been met since.”
Take that, President Obama.
And could he see his old nemesis Bill, who endorsed Gavin Newsom for governor instead of Brown in 2009, as First Lad? “Wherever he is, he will fill up the room, that’s for sure,” he replies. “He has a lot of political energy.”
It’s an astonishing thing, but the prickly Jerry Brown has, at long last, become something of a diplomat. He’s 75, balding and gray. But he’s still slender and fit, and remains an eclectic party of one.
Two weeks ago Brown ended up on the opposite side of two key planks in the California Democrats’ platform — banning fracking and legalizing pot.
Like Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper and California Senator Dianne Feinstein, Brown is wary about legalized pot and wants to chart the evolution of the revolution. As he said on “Meet the Press,” “How many people can get stoned and still have a great state or a great nation?”
I ask the man formerly known as Governor Moonbeam if he ever smoked pot. “We’re dealing with the seventh largest economy in the world and I’m not going to deal with these marginal issues,” he said primly. Actually, it’s the eighth, but maybe he is anticipating a move up.
His lieutenant, Gavin Newsom, told Ronan Farrow on MSNBC that Brown was wrong on the pot issue and should not use words like “potheads,” “stoners” and “hippies.” But Brown says that his remarks to David Gregory were “more of a wry comment” than “a policy pronouncement.”
I asked the governor if he had read Linda Ronstadt’s memoir, in which she praised her former beau as “smart and funny, not interested in drinking or drugs.” She made note of his famous frugality, recalling that once, when they were going to dinner at Rosemary Clooney’s, Jerry wanted to take a box of roses that had been sent to Ronstadt, remove the card and give it to Clooney.
At first Brown clams up, but then he relents. “I visit her at Christmastime” sometimes, he said. “She’s thoughtful and has a lot to say.”
As he raises a ton of money to run for an unprecedented fourth term, which he first announced in a casual tweet, the famous rebel seems strangely content.
He’s never seen “Chinatown,” but he’s trying to deal with the drought by fixing the state’s unsustainable water transport system, which his dad helped put in place and he himself tried to fix 30 years ago. And he’s still fighting for his dream of a high-speed train from Sacramento to San Diego, a project bogged down in lawsuits. He takes a white model of the train from the window and lovingly places it in the middle of a big picnic table, noting that he has liked trains since he was a kid.
He said he wasn’t upset when Newsom joined the opposition last month. “I don’t think he has repeated the comment, do you?” he asked an aide.
His office is full of black-and-white pictures of his father, the former governor of California — two with a stunningly young-looking J.F.K. just before he became president. The onetime Jesuit seminarian is low-key about his role in bringing California back from $27 billion in the red three years ago to a budget surplus of several billion.
“I had a good hand,” he murmurs, “and I played it reasonably well.” He says he thinks his dad would have “enjoyed” seeing his son’s success, achieved partly by belatedly adopting some of Pat Brown’s more social ways with lawmakers.
I ask Brown what he thinks about the young Silicon Valley entrepreneurs who have complained that the homeless are ruining the aesthetic of San Francisco.
“There’s not a lot of people who like homeless on the street,” he said. “I wouldn’t tie that to Silicon Valley.”
We’re meeting the same day that Rand Paul is making a speech at Berkeley warning about the N.S.A.’s “assault” on privacy, and Brown says he also worries about that. “There’s a tendency to totalism, total information, and once you have total information you’re making it easier for total control,” he said.
He also finds Tea Party obstructionism “extremely ominous and dangerous.”
Asked what he has done for fun lately, the looser Governor Brown replies that he helped his wife and adviser, Anne Gust Brown, pick out some clothes, noting: “I like elegance, more classic, not too flamboyant with colors.”
Interesting that she uses scare quotes around “assault.” I guess she’s all in favor of the NSA hoovering up her phone records. And now we get to Mr. Kristof:
One of Raven Kaliana’s first, hazy memories is of her parents taking her to a professional photo studio, telling her to be good, and then leaving her with a child pornographer. In front of a camera, a man raped her.
She thinks she was 4 years old.
Throughout elementary school in the American West, Kaliana’s parents took her to studios during vacations or over three-day weekends. Her parents said that these forays paid the bills, and that she’d get over it.
“Around the time I was 11, my value started going down because I was beginning to look more like an adult,” Kaliana recalls. “So they started putting me in more dangerous films, things involving torture or gang rape or extreme fetishes.”
Yet Kaliana triumphed: She says that in college she escaped her parents’ control, changed her name and began fighting child abuse. She has produced a puppet play and short film, “Hooray for Hollywood,” based on her own traumatic experiences.
Now living in Britain, Kaliana is trying to use the film — which employs puppets and is not at all explicit — to raise awareness about child sexual abuse, and to encourage frank talk about the problem.
“This happens all over the world; it happens in America,” she said during a visit to New York. “It’s not necessarily children being kidnapped and swept away. A lot of times it’s someone the child trusts: family members or a minister or a coach.”
The child pornography industry is a facet of child abuse that has exploded with the rise of the Internet, and it’s widely misunderstood.
A Justice Department study reports that 21 million unique computer I.P. addresses were tracked while sharing child pornography files in 2009, more than 9 million of them in the United States. It’s not clear how many individuals that represented because some people may have used multiple computers.
It’s also not clear how many children are abused to generate child pornography, but, in 2011, law enforcement authorities in the United States turned over 22 million such images and videos to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children to try to identify the victims.
With enormous frustration, police watched one girl they called Vicky being abused year after year; she grew up in wrenching images on their screens. Finally, she was located and her father was arrested for exploiting her.
There’s sometimes a perception that child pornography is about teenage girls pulling off their tops. That’s not remotely what we’re talking about.
“If we were starting over, we wouldn’t call it child pornography,” says Ernie Allen, president of the International Center for Missing and Exploited Children. “This is different. This is not pornography. These are crime scene photos. These are photos of the abuse of a child.”
Of the images the national center has examined, 76 percent involve prepubescent children with no signs of sexual maturation. One in 10 are infants or toddlers.
More than three-quarters of image series involve sexual penetration, and 44 percent involve bondage or sadomasochism.
“People don’t have an understanding of the kind of content and how horrific it is,” said Julie Cordua, executive director of Thorn, an organization that uses digital strategies to fight sex trafficking. “This is the documentation of the worst kinds of abuse against a child.”
Law enforcement has made progress, and child pornography is no longer readily available for sale on the Internet or easy to find in web searches or on public websites. Instead it is typically traded on peer-to-peer networks or inside password-protected chat rooms. To try to keep out investigators, sometimes the only way to get access is to provide a new photo in which the abuser has written his name on the child.
Just a few days ago, authorities made 14 arrests in connection with a password-protected child pornography website that had 27,000 members. More than 250 children, the youngest 3 years old, were identified in 39 states as having been abused in photos on the site.
I’m also sympathetic to the anonymous hacker who recently took over an entry site to the “dark web” — used for all kinds of illicit purposes — and scrubbed it of child pornography links.
While it’s important to punish perpetrators, it’s also critical to offer help to pedophiles who want it, so as to prevent abuse. Germany has public service announcements advertising a phone number for pedophiles to call to get counseling, and that’s worth trying here.
As for Kaliana, she is no longer in touch with her parents, for whom she has complex feelings that include fear.
“When I was a child, I loved them very much even though they did awful things to me,” she said. “They were in denial. I feel compassion for them.”
And now we get to Ms. Collins:
On Tuesday, Gloria Steinem turns 80.
Do not bother to call. She’s planning to celebrate in Botswana. “I thought: ‘What do I really want to do on my birthday?’ First, get out of Dodge. Second, ride elephants.”
Very few people have aged as publicly. It’s been four decades since she told a reporter, “This is what 40 looks like.” Back then many women, including Steinem herself, fudged their age when they left their 20s, so it was a pretty revolutionary announcement. A decade later she had a “This is what 50 looks like” party at the Waldorf for the benefit of Ms. Magazine. Steinem, who has frequently said that she expects her funeral to be a fund-raiser, has been using her birthdays to make money for worthy causes ever since. Before heading off to Botswana, she, along with Rabbi Arthur Waskow, was feted at a “This is what 80 looks like” benefit for the Shalom Center in Philadelphia.
Ever the positive thinker, Steinem composed a list of the good things about starting her ninth decade. A dwindling libido, she theorized, can be a terrific advantage: “The brain cells that used to be obsessed are now free for all kinds of great things.”
“I try to tell younger women that, but they don’t believe me,” she said in a pre-Botswana interview. “When I was young I wouldn’t have believed it either.”
Her famous hair is colored, but otherwise, there’s been no outside intervention. She likes to recall a friend who proudly reported having rebutted the feminist-got-a-face-lift rumors by announcing: “I saw Gloria the other day and she looked terrible.”
Actually, she doesn’t look terrible at all. She looks great. She looks exactly the way you would want to imagine Gloria Steinem looking at 80.
Steinem occupies a singular place in American culture. In the 1960s and 1970s, the whole concept of women’s place was transformed — discrimination was outlawed, hearts and minds were opened. In the history of our gender, this might have been the grandest moment. There were all kinds of reasons that the change happened at that particular time, and a raft of female leaders who pushed the movement along. But when people think about it, Gloria Steinem is generally the first name that pops up. She’s the face of feminism.
“It’s a big gift to be recognizable as part of something that matters to people, but that’s not the same as being responsible for something,” she said mildly.
There are two reasons that Steinem turned out to be the image of the women’s liberation movement. One did indeed have to do with her spectacular physical appearance. For young women who were hoping to stand up for their rights without being called man-haters, she was evidence that it was possible to be true to your sisters while also being really, really attractive to the opposite sex. (An older generation tended to be less enthusiastic. The Washington Post columnist Maxine Cheshire once called her “the miniskirted pinup girl of the intelligentsia.”)
“I think for her as an individual, in one sense aging has been a relief,” says her friend Robin Morgan. “Because she was so glamorized by the male world and treated for her exterior more than her interior.”
But the interior always mattered. The other thing that made Steinem unique was her gift for empathy. Women who read about her or saw her on TV felt that if they ran into her on the street, they would really get along with her. And women who actually did run into her on the street felt the same way. More than a half-century into her life as an international celebrity, she remains stupendously approachable, patient with questions, interested in revelations. When she goes to events, young women flock around her. All celebrities draw crowds, of course. The difference is that when Steinem is at the center, she’s almost always listening.
Ruchira Gupta, a journalist and activist, recently toured India with Steinem to publicize “As if Women Matter,” a collection of Steinem’s writings repurposed for an Indian audience. The lines of people wanting to take pictures, ask questions and share stories overwhelmed Gupta, who is 30 years younger. “I would say: ‘I can’t do it, Gloria. This is too much. Why are you giving so much time?’ ” Gupta recalled. Steinem, she said, told her: “This is the only opportunity you might have for human contact with this person. So how can you not engage?”
Steinem still spends most of her life on the move. (The word “still,” she said wryly, now has a tendency to enter into conversations with some regularity.) Today Botswana, tomorrow India, Los Angeles a week from tomorrow. Gupta says there are new invitations for book tours in Bhutan and Bangladesh. Steinem has never taken up sports and gets her exercise, she says, “just running around airports and cities.”
MOST of what she does involves moving the movement forward. Speech to meeting to panel to fund-raiser. She frequently travels alone but it’s not lonely, she says: “On the plane I have my flying girlfriends, who are called flight attendants.” (Flight attendants play a large role in Steinem’s life. Sometimes they get her first-class meals when she’s flying coach. We will now stop to contemplate the fact that Gloria Steinem is 80 and still flying coach.)
She has a network of friends around the world, some of whom she has known from the early days on the barricades. “I’ve noticed that we all of us sort of cling to each other more,” says Robin Morgan. “We say ‘I love you’ at the end of conversations. We call to say, ‘It’s very cold out — did you wear an extra scarf?’ There’s a lot of tenderness.”
Her intimate circle is mainly female. But in her good-things-about-80 list, Steinem wrote about the advantages of turning former boyfriends into friends: “Your old lovers get to be your really old lovers, and you can’t remember who broke up with who, or who got mad at who — just that the two of you remember things that no one else in the world does.” But she’s not planning on adding to their number. Recently, she recalled, she met a young man in her travels and thought, “If I was younger, we’d have had a great passionate affair for two years and been friends the rest of our lives.”
It wasn’t a wistful thought, she says. It was an observation. “I didn’t regret it. That’s the advantage of shifting hormones.”
She has no bucket list of unvisited countries. Asked if there are any people she’s always wanted to meet, she pauses, thinks for a while, and suggests Marleen Gorris, a Dutch film director, and Sven Lindqvist, the author of a book on genocide. Many women, if stumped, would just blurt out something like George Clooney. “That’s funny you mention that,” she said. “I just talked with George Clooney yesterday.”
Age is definitely on her mind. When she was in her 20s, Steinem tried to get publishers interested in a project called “The Death Book,” which she planned as a compendium of “great stories and last words and other anecdotes about dying” that would help readers cheerfully come to grips with their own finale. “Needless to say, I couldn’t sell it.” Now she’s seeing the issue on a more immediate basis.
“Fifty was a shock, because it was the end of the center period of life. But once I got over that, 60 was great. Seventy was great. And I loved, I seriously loved aging. I found myself thinking things like: ‘I don’t want anything I don’t have.’ How great is that?” But, she added, “80 is about mortality, not aging. Or not just aging.”
IT’S a challenge she’s actually wrestled with before. One of the interesting things about being Gloria Steinem is that so many of her casual musings are transcribed by reporters. It turns out that on her 70th birthday she told Time, “This one has the ring of mortality.” Obviously, she got over that and it’s very easy to imagine Gloria Steinem being interviewed at 90 and saying that turning 80 was stupendous, but now it’s time to get seriously serious.
Robin Morgan sees Steinem at 80 as a continually evolving work. “She is a better organizer now than she ever has been. She’s a better persuader. She’s a better writer than she ever has been if she’d give herself the time to sit down and write.”
That last — Steinem’s longstanding battle with writer’s block — weighs on her. She’s been working for more than a decade on a book about life on the road, and it has resisted all her efforts to get it finished, including four stints at a writers’ colony. When asked whether she has any regrets, Steinem says: “Well, actually it’s not so much what I would have done differently. It’s that I would have done it much faster.”
Steinem has always been such a positive cheerleader for the future that we really do expect, on one level, to hear her come up with some strategy for standing up to mortality. She’s always had a victory in mind, a vision of a better tomorrow where there would be no hierarchy of gender or race or income, where life flows as seamlessly as it seems to do in the stories she tells about the early Iroquois or Cherokee.
You do sort of count on her having a plan for the next stage. “We’re so accustomed to narratives, we expect there’s going to be a conclusion, or explanation or answer to the secret,” she said. “And probably the answer is, there isn’t.”
But there’s always an elephant to ride.