Archive for the ‘Dowd’ Category

The Pasty Little Putz, Dowd, Friedman and Kristof

July 20, 2014

Mr. Bruni is off today.  In “The Parent Trap” The Putz tells us that you must over your children or the neighborhood busybodies and the police may step in.  MoDo, in “A Popular President,” sniffs that Bill — not Barry or Hillary — has the heat.  Standard MoDo crap, but as “Debra” formerly from NYC points out in her comment “… quoting Bill O’Reilly answering Geraldo Rivera to make your point is really….well, I don’t know how to describe that one.”  It’s called grasping for straws, Debra.  The Moustache of Wisdom is banging on his “sharing economy” tin drum again.  In “And Now For a Bit of Good News …” he babbles that from taxi rides to overnight stays, the sharing economy is growing rapidly, and creating a village where your reputation is everything.  “Claus Gehner” from Seattle and Munich had this to say in the comments:  “This column again shows Mr. Friedman’s somewhat simplistic cheerleading for the “hyper-connected world” and the wonders of social media. After being shown wrong with his predictions of all the wonderful things social media would do for the “Arab Spring”, he is still on a roll.”  Mr. Kristof asks “Who’s Right and Wrong in the Middle East?”  He says with Israeli troops in Gaza again, there’s a symmetry in the rhetoric by partisans on both sides of the conflict.  Here’s The Putz:

When I was about 9 years old, I graduated to a Little League whose diamonds were a few miles from our house, in a neighborhood that got rougher after dark. After one practice finished early, I ended up as the last kid left with the coach, waiting in the gloaming while he grumbled, looked at his watch and finally left me — to wait or walk home, I’m not sure which.

I started walking. Halfway there, along a busy road, my father picked me up. He called my coach, as furious as you would expect a protective parent to be; the coach, who probably grew up having fistfights in that neighborhood, gave as good as he got; I finished the season in a different league.

Here are two things that didn’t happen. My (lawyer) father did not call the police and have the coach arrested for reckless endangerment of a minor. And nobody who saw me picking my way home alone thought to call the police on my parents, or to charge them with neglect for letting their child slip free of perfect safety for an hour.

Today they might not have been so lucky. For instance, they might have ended up like the Connecticut mother who earned a misdemeanor for letting her 11-year-old stay in the car while she ran into a store. Or the mother charged with “contributing to the delinquency of a minor” after a bystander snapped a photo of her leaving her 4-year-old in a locked, windows-cracked car for five minutes on a 50 degree day. Or the Ohio father arrested in front of his family for “child endangerment” because — unbeknown to him — his 8-year-old had slipped away from a church service and ended up in a nearby Family Dollar.

Or (I’m just getting warmed up) like the mother of four, recently widowed, who left her children — the oldest 10, the youngest 5 — at home together while she went to a community-college class; her neighbor called the police, protective services took the kids, and it took a two-year legal fight to pry them back from foster care. Or like the parents from two families who were arrested after their girls, two friends who were 5 and 7, cut through a parking lot near their houses — again without the parents’ knowledge — and were spotted by a stranger who immediately called the police.

Or — arriving at this week’s high-profile story — like Debra Harrell, an African-American single mother in Georgia, who let her 9-year-old daughter play in a nearby park while she worked a shift at McDonald’s, and who ended up shamed on local news and jailed.

Some of these cases have been reported, but some are first-person accounts, and in some the conduct of neighbors and the police and social workers may be more defensible than the anecdote suggests.

But the pattern — a “criminalization of parenthood,” in the words of The Washington Post’s Radley Balko — still looks slightly nightmarish, and there are forces at work here that we should recognize, name and resist.

First is the upper-class, competition-driven vision of childhood as a rigorously supervised period in which unattended play is abnormal, risky, weird. This perspective hasn’t just led to “the erosion of child culture,” to borrow a quote from Hanna Rosin’s depressing Atlantic essay on “The Overprotected Kid”; it has encouraged bystanders and public servants to regard a deviation from constant supervision as a sign of parental neglect.

Second is the disproportionate anxiety over child safety, fed by media coverage of every abduction, every murdered child, every tragic “hot car” death. Such horrors are real, of course, but the danger is wildly overstated: Crime rates are down, abductions and car deaths are both rare, and most of the parents leaving children (especially non-infants) in cars briefly or letting them roam a little are behaving perfectly responsibly.

Third is an erosion of community and social trust, which has made ordinary neighborliness seem somehow unnatural or archaic, and given us instead what Gracy Olmstead’s article in The American Conservative dubs the “bad Samaritan” phenomenon — the passer-by who passes the buck to law enforcement as expeditiously as possible. (Technology accentuates this problem: Why speak to a parent when you can just snap a smartphone picture for the cops?)

And then finally there’s a policy element — the way these trends interact not only with the rise of single parenthood, but also with a welfare system whose work requirements can put a single mother behind a fast-food counter while her kid is out of school.

This last issue presents a distinctive challenge to conservatives like me, who believe such work requirements are essential. If we want women like Debra Harrell to take jobs instead of welfare, we have to also find a way to defend their liberty as parents, instead of expecting them to hover like helicopters and then literally arresting them if they don’t.

Otherwise we’ll be throwing up defenses against big government, while ignoring a police state growing in our midst.

Next up we have MoDo:

The thing about him is, he just keeps going.

At 67, he continues to be, as Anna Quindlen once wrote, like one of those inflatable toys with sand weighting the bottom — you knock him over and he pops back up.

As Hillary stumbles and President Obama slumps, Bill Clinton keeps getting more popular.

The women, the cheesy behavior, the fund-raising excesses, the self-pity, the adolescent narcissism, the impeachment, the charges of racially tinged insults against Obama in 2008, the foundation dishabille — all that percussive drama has faded to a mellow saxophone riff for many Americans.

A recent Wall Street Journal/NBC News/Annenberg center poll showed that Clinton was, by a long shot, the most admired president of the last quarter-century. A new YouGov poll finds that among the last eight elected presidents, Clinton is regarded as the most intelligent and W. the least.

(Clinton and W. both should have been more aggressive in catching Osama. But certainly, if Clinton had been president post-9/11, there would have been no phony invasion of Iraq, and Katrina would have elicited more empathy.)

A Washington Post/ABC News poll in May found Bill’s approval ratings rebounding to the highest they had been since early in his presidency.

Even some who used to mock his lip-biting have decided that warmth, even if it’s fake at times, beats real chilliness.

Speaking at the 92nd Street Y last month, Bill O’Reilly was asked by Geraldo Rivera whether the country would have been better off electing Hillary instead of Barack Obama.

“With Hillary you get Bill,” O’Reilly replied. “And Bill knows what’s going on. You may not like him but he knows what’s going on. Hillary doesn’t understand how the world works.”

Except for L.B.J. and Nixon, ex-presidents tend to grow more popular. Yet Bill Clinton, wandering the global stage as a former president who may return to the White House as the husband of a president, plays a unique role in American history. (Newly released Clinton library documents revealed that Bill, believing it punchier, preferred to use “America” and “Americans” in speeches rather than “the United States” and “people of the United States.”)

But why is he burning brighter now, when the spotlight should be on his successor and his wife?

Do we miss the days when the National Debt Clock was retired? Are we more accepting that politicians have feet of clay? Are we tired of leaders who act as burdened as Sisyphus? Do we miss having a showman and a show?

“Maybe they admire his vegan body,” said David Axelrod impishly, before replying seriously: “He’s the most seductive character that we’ve seen in American politics in our lifetime. He just has this unbelievably resilient and seductive personality.”

James Carville noted dryly: “People are confused. They don’t know which one they like more, the peace or the prosperity.” He calls Clinton the “anti-Putin,” someone who did not exercise power to harm people but to help them.

42 had greater strengths and greater weaknesses than the average pol.

Rand Paul accused Clinton of “predatory” behavior. Liz Cheney told Politico’s Mike Allen that she trusts Hillary more than she trusts Bill, implying that was because of Monica Lewinsky. And Todd “legitimate rape” Akin defended himself on Fox News this past week by hitting Clinton’s “long history of sexual abuse and indecency.”

But G.O.P. pollster Kellyanne Conway said the words “Monica” and “liberal” rarely come up when she polls about Bill Clinton. The words “global” and “philanthropic” come up. She said that after Clinton, people “shrugged their shoulders at what had once made them raise their eyebrows.”

“He was a good ambassador for the baby boomer generation,” she said. “Who hasn’t screwed up? Who hasn’t had a third and fourth chance?”

Perhaps, given the tribal wars in Washington and dark tides loose in the world, there’s a longing for Bill’s better angels: the Happy Warrior desire to get up every day and go at it, no matter how difficult; the unfailing belief that in the future things will be better; the zest in the hand-to-hand combat of politics and policy, the reaching out to Newt Gingrich and other Republicans — even through government shutdowns and impeachment — and later teaming up with Bush Senior. “There’s a suspicion among a lot of people that Obama doesn’t much care for politics,” Carville said. “It’s amazing that a man can be so successful at something he really doesn’t like. It’s like if you found out that Peyton Manning didn’t like to play football.”

Mike Murphy, the Republican strategist, said that Obama’s fade has been “the best Clinton rehab.”

Murphy noted the irony that first, Bill had to use his extroverted personality, his talent as Explainer in Chief and his “empathy ray gun” to help Obama get re-elected, and now he will need to use those skills to push another clinical, cerebral candidate — his wife — up the hill.

“The one guy he can’t help elect is himself because of that pesky Constitution,” Murphy said. “But of course, that’s what he’d love to do.”

Next up we have The Moustache of Wisdom:

From Ukraine to the Middle East, some bad actors — Hamas, Vladimir Putin and Israeli settlers to name but a few — are trying to bury the future with the past and divide people. Instead of focusing on them even more, I prefer to write about a company that is burying the past with the future, and actually bringing strangers together.

Last year, I interviewed Brian Chesky, one of the co-founders of Airbnb.com, about the emerging sharing economy, led by companies like the on-demand taxi app Uber and Airbnb, which provides a platform for people to rent their spare rooms, homes, castles and yurts to strangers with the same ease you can book a room at Marriott. We just got together again, and Chesky laid out the growth spurt his company has experienced in the last 12 months — a spurt so fast that it’s telling you this new sharing economy is the real deal and will increasingly be a source of income for more and more people.

Chesky offered this sample of Airbnb’s latest metrics:

• “We have over 3,000 castles, 2,000 treehouses, 900 islands and 400 lighthouses available to book on the site. On a recent night, over 100 people were staying in yurts.”

• “Fifty-six percent of guests staying on Airbnb on a recent weekend were doing so for their first time. Last week, guests left reviews for hosts in 42 different languages. Over 17 million total guests have stayed on Airbnb. It took Airbnb nearly four years to get its first million guests. Now one million guests stay on Airbnb every month.”

• “Roughly 120,000 people stayed in Brazil in Airbnb-rented rooms for the World Cup, including travelers from over 150 different countries. Airbnb hosts in Brazil earned roughly $38 million from reservations during the World Cup. The average host in Rio earned roughly $4,000 during the monthlong tournament — about four times the average monthly salary in Rio. And 189 German guests stayed with Brazilians on the night of the Brazil/Germany World Cup semifinal match.”

• July 5, 2014, was Airbnb’s biggest night ever. “Its platform hosted over 330,000 total guests staying around the world — in thousands of cities and over 160 different countries,” said Chesky. In Paris, nearly 20,000 people were staying in Airbnb rooms on July 5. In 2012, that number was under 4,000.

What’s the secret? Who knew so many people would rent out rooms in their homes to strangers and that so many strangers would want to stay in other people’s spare bedrooms?

The short answer is that Airbnb understood that the world was becoming hyperconnected — meaning the technology was there to connect any renter to any tourist or businessperson anywhere on the planet. And if someone created the trust platform to bring them together, huge value could be created for both parties. That was Airbnb’s real innovation — a platform of “trust” — where everyone could not only see everyone else’s identity but also rate them as good, bad or indifferent hosts or guests. This meant everyone using the system would pretty quickly develop a relevant “reputation” visible to everyone else in the system.

Take trusted identities and relevant reputations and put them together with the Internet and suddenly you have 120,000 people staying in Brazilians’ homes instead of hotels at the World Cup. Obviously, there are exceptions and bad apples, and Airbnb provides $1 million in damage coverage for such cases, but the numbers say the system is working for a lot of people.

“I think we’re going to move back to a place where the world is a village again — a place where a lot of people know each other and trust each other … and where everyone has a reputation that everyone else knows,” said Chesky, 32. “On Airbnb, everyone has an identity.”

You can’t rent a room from someone or to someone unless you create a profile. And the more information you put into your profile — license, passport, Facebook page and reviews of people who have stayed with you — the more customers are likely to come. And the better reputation you earn from reviews, “the more other people want to work with you,” Chesky added. “All the social friction because of a lack of trust gets removed.” In the process, “you unlock all this value and the world starts to feel like a community again.”

But what happens to “ownership?”

“There used to be a romanticism about ownership, because it meant you were free, you were empowered,” Chesky answered. “I think now, for the younger generation, ownership is viewed as a burden. Young people will only want to own what they want responsibility for. And a lot of people my age don’t want responsibility for a car and a house and to have a lot of stuff everywhere. What I want to own is my reputation, because in this hyperconnected world, reputation will give you access to all kinds of things now. … Your reputation now is like having a giant key that will allow you to open more and more doors. [Young people] today don’t want to own those doors, but they will want the key that unlocks them” — in order to rent a spare room, teach a skill, drive people or be driven.

But what will this mean for traditional jobs?

Today, said Chesky, “you may have many jobs and many different kinds of income, and you will accumulate different reputations, based on peer reviews, across multiple platforms of people. … You may start by delivering food, but as an aspiring chef you may start cooking your own food and delivering that and eventually you do home-cooked meals and offer a dining experience in your own home.” Just as Airbnb was “able to find use for that space you never found use for, it will be the same for people. That skill, that hobby that you knew was there but never used it,” the sharing economy will be able to monetize it.

How fast that happens will depend, in part, on regulators and tax collectors in different cities — not all of whom like people turning their spare bedrooms into hotels or their kitchens into pop-up restaurants. The sharing economy can complement the existing one, and make the pie bigger. But the bigger the Ubers and Airbnbs get, the more incumbents will resist them. This will be a struggle between the 20th-century economy and the 21st’s.

The 20th-century economy was powered by big corporations that standardized everything because they never really knew their customers, argued Chesky. “The 21st-century economy will be powered by people” — where the buyers all have identities and the producers all have personal reputations — “so I will be able to sell something directly to you and delight you and surprise you, and the selection you’ll be able to choose from won’t be 4 but 4,000,000.”

I don’t know if that’s how it will play out, but given Airbnb’s rapid growth, Chesky’s argument definitely has my attention.

And don’t forget that you’re supposed to take your gently used designer duds to the consignment shop…  Here’s Mr. Kristof:

With Israeli troops again invading Gaza and the death toll rising, some of the rhetoric from partisans on each side is oddly parallel. Maybe it’s time to correct a few common misconceptions among the salvos flying back and forth.

This is a struggle between good and evil, right and wrong. We can’t relax, can’t compromise, and we had no choice but to act.

On the contrary, this is a war in which both peoples have a considerable amount of right on their sides. The failure to acknowledge the humanity and legitimate interests of people on the other side has led to cross-demonization. That results in a series of military escalations that leave both peoples worse off.

Israelis are absolutely correct that they have a right not to be hit with rockets by Hamas, not to be kidnapped, not to be subjected to terrorist bombings. And Palestinians are absolutely right that they have a right to a state, a right to run businesses and import goods, a right to live in freedom rather than relegated to second-class citizenship in their own land.

Both sides have plenty of good people who just want the best for their children and their communities, and also plenty of myopic zealots who preach hatred. A starting point is to put away the good vs. evil narrative and recognize this as the aching story of two peoples — each with legitimate grievances — colliding with each other.

Just because the underlying conflict is between two peoples who each have plenty of right, that’s not to say that there are no villains. Hamas is violent, not only toward Israel, but toward its own people, and, in contrast to Israel, it doesn’t seem to try to minimize civilian casualties — its own or Israel’s. Hamas is not as corrupt as the Palestinian Authority, but it is far more repressive, and my impression from my visits to Gaza is that it’s also unpopular at home. Hamas sometimes seems to have more support on certain college campuses in America or Europe than within Gaza.

Meanwhile, the Israeli right undermines the best partner for peace Israel has had, President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority, and Israel’s settlements are a gift to Palestinian extremism. These days, in both Gaza and Jerusalem, hawks are in charge, and they empower each other.

The other side understands only force. What else can we do but fight back when we are attacked?

Israeli leaders, starting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, think that the way to protect their citizens is to invade Gaza and blow up tunnels — and, if Gazan civilians and children die, that’s sad but inevitable. And some Gazans think that they’re already in an open-air prison, suffocating under the Israeli embargo, and the only way to achieve change is fire rockets — and if some Israeli children die, that’s too bad, but 100 times as many Palestinian children are dying already.

In fact, we’ve seen this movie before: Israel responded to aggression by invading Lebanon in 1982 and 2006, and Gaza in 2008; each time, hawks cheered. Yet each invasion in retrospect accomplished at best temporary military gains while killing large numbers of innocents; they didn’t solve any problems.

Likewise, Palestinian militancy has accomplished nothing but increasing the misery of the Palestinian people. If Palestinians instead turned more to huge Gandhi-style nonviolence resistance campaigns, the resulting videos would reverberate around the world and Palestine would achieve statehood and freedom.

Some Palestinians understand this and are trying this strategy, but too many define nonviolence to include rock-throwing. No, that doesn’t cut it.

What would you do if your family were in Gaza/Israel, at risk of being killed. You wouldn’t just sit back and sing ‘Kumbaya,’ would you?

If any of us were in southern Israel, frightened sick by rockets being fired by Hamas, we, too, might cheer an invasion of Gaza. And if any of us were in Gaza, strangled by the embargo and losing relatives to Israeli airstrikes, we, too, might cheer the launch of rockets on Tel Aviv. That’s human nature.

That’s why we need to de-escalate, starting with a cease-fire that includes an end to Hamas rocket attacks and a withdrawal from Gaza by Israel. For Israel, this is a chance to use diplomacy to achieve what gunpowder won’t: the marginalization of Hamas. Israel might suggest an internationally supervised election in Gaza with the promise that the return of control to the Palestinian Authority would mean an end to the economic embargo.

Here we have a conflict between right and right that has been hijacked by hard-liners on each side who feed each other. It’s not that they are the same, and what I see isn’t equivalence. Yet there is, in some ways, a painful symmetry — and one element is that each side vigorously denies that there is any symmetry at all.

Dowd and Friedman

July 16, 2014

In “Where’s the Oval Avatar?” Ms. Dowd babbles that the day may come when a candidate’s hologram could appear in your kitchen and talk about education issues.  The Moustache of Wisdom, in “Order vs. Disorder, Part 2,” says the Israeli-Arab conflict has become a miniature of the most relevant divide in the world today.  Here’s MoDo:

The White House likes to use a phrase of tingling adventure to describe the president’s recent penchant for wandering the country talking to people: “The bear is loose.”

There are three problems with this unbearable metaphor: Barack Obama is not in captivity, he’s not a bear, and he’s not loose. As Voltaire said of the Holy Roman Empire, it was “neither Holy, nor Roman, nor an empire.”

When our whippetlike president travels on Air Force One from staged photo-op to staged photo-op and then to coinciding fund-raiser to coinciding fund-raiser, encased by the White House travel behemoth and press centipede, that’s kind of the opposite of breaking loose.

Somehow, I thought that the tech revolution in campaigns would usher in fresh ways for presidents to communicate. In the age of Snapchat, I didn’t think presidents would still be crisscrossing the country to do hokey snaps of chats.

As David Plouffe wrote in The Wall Street Journal last week, “With advancements in artificial intelligence, you could soon have holograms of presidential candidates at your door, interacting with you and asking and answering questions.” He noted that Narendra Modi used holograms to extend his reach during his successful campaign to become the Indian prime minister.

So where’s the Oval Office holodeck?

Besides the fact that the posed pictures end up on Twitter as well as in the paper, prescreened and sanitized political tableaus seem stuck in the 20th century. 44 does rallies and round tables and has Kabuki sit-downs with people in coffee joints just the same way 41 did.

In the sixth year of his presidency, the White House is still trying to cast Barack Obama as a regular guy, playing pool and drinking beer (even though he only took a few sips) in Denver with Gov. John Hickenlooper of Colorado. This, when the one thing we know, and that Obama wants us to know, is that he’s no regular guy.

As Julie Hirschfeld Davis wrote in The Times on Tuesday, the president has been seeking out the intellectual, artistic and tech elite at private dinners around the globe.

“Sometimes stretching into the small hours of the morning, the dinners reflect a restless president weary of the obligations of the White House and less concerned about the appearance of partying with the rich and celebrated,” Davis wrote.

In Dallas last week, Obama did a short round table with Gov. Rick Perry of Texas on the border imbroglio followed by a barbecue D.C.C.C. fund-raiser with five round tables of fat cats. Explaining why he was staying away from the heart-wrenching scene on the border, the president said, “This isn’t theater. This is a problem,” adding, “I’m not interested in photo-ops. I’m interested in solving a problem.”

Yet, even as the world is roiling, the president’s desk is clean. As he flees gridlock and a Boehner lawsuit in Washington, the best news for Democrats is that Republicans are talking impeachment. The Democrats can actually make money on that. Obama seems fixated on both the photo-ops he’s doing and the ones he’s not doing.

He didn’t go to the L.B.J. play on Broadway and meet its Tony-winning star, Bryan Cranston, after Cranston suggested that if he went, he might learn some methods for getting his way with Congress. And the president doesn’t want to be pictured on the border in shots that look as if he’s welcoming children, many fleeing violence in Central America, who are illegally entering the country, even though Pope Francis has advised that “the humanitarian emergency requires, as a first urgent measure, these children be welcomed and protected.”

By now, Americans are so habituated to stagy things, it’s hard to imagine that many people don’t see the president’s roving photo-ops as posed and theatrical.

But Plouffe, who helped devise Obama’s technologically groundbreaking campaign, contends that such events are more important than ever because for younger people, if you don’t have the visual with the words, it’s almost as though it doesn’t exist.

“People like to see their president or their governor or their mayor out mixing it up in the community and not behind the ivory gates,” he told me, adding that he could see a day when a campaign could have a candidate’s hologram materialize in the kitchen of a swing voter in Lorain, Ohio, to talk education.

“It’s not going to be a 2016 thing,” he said. “But it could be a 2020 or a 2024 thing.”

(Microsoft’s Jaron Lanier waggishly suggests that political avatars be saved for fund-raising, where their algorithms could be fine-tuned to deliver individual, if hypocritical, pitches that would get the maximum donations.)

“My suspicion,” Plouffe said, “is that unless the Republicans shed some of their intolerance, Hillary Clinton will get all the great tech talent.”

The president’s odysseys are meant to illustrate that he’s still relevant. But do they actually underscore irrelevance by conveying his view that if Republicans in Congress are going to keep blocking him, he may as well go fishin’?

What a waste of oxygen that broad is…  Here’s The Moustache of Wisdom:

I’ve argued for a while now that it is always useful to study the Israeli-Arab conflict because it is to the wider war of civilizations what Off Broadway is to Broadway. A lot of stuff starts there and then goes to Broadway. So what’s playing Off Broadway these days? The Israeli-Arab conflict has become a miniature of the most relevant divide in the world today: the divide between the “world of order” and the “world of disorder.”

Israel faces nonstate actors in civilian clothes, armed with homemade rockets and drones, nested among civilians on four of its five borders: Sinai, Gaza, Lebanon and Syria. And what is most striking about this play is that the traditional means of bringing order seem ineffective. Israel, a mini-superpower, keeps pummeling the ragtag Islamist militias in Gaza with its modern air force, but the superempowered Palestinian militants, leveraging cheap high-tech tools, keep coming back with homemade rockets and even a homemade drone. You used to need a contract with Boeing to get a drone. Now you can make one in Gaza.

What to do? For starters, it would be great if the big powers of the world of order — the United States, Russia, China, Japan, India and the European Union — were able to collaborate more in stemming the spread of the world of disorder. That is certainly necessary. But the prospects for that are limited. No power these days wants to lay hands on the world of disorder because all you win is a bill. And even if they did, it would not be sufficient.

In my view, the only way Israel can truly curtail the Hamas rocket threat is if the Palestinians of Gaza demand that the rockets stop. Sure, Israel can inflict enough pain on all of Gaza to get a cease-fire, but it never lasts. The only sustainable way to do it is by Israel partnering with moderate Palestinians in the West Bank to build a thriving state there, so Gaza Palestinians wake up every day and say to the nihilistic Hamas: “We want what our West Bank cousins have.” The only sustainable controls are those that come from within.

That is how the U.S. military defeated the earlier version of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, when the jihadists largely took over Iraq’s Anbar Province in 2006-7. The U.S. partnered with the Sunni Muslim tribal leaders who didn’t want puritanical Islam, or their daughters to be forced to marry fundamentalists, or to give up their whiskey. But we did not just arm them. We brokered an agreement of shared guns, shared power and shared values — about the future of Iraq — between those Sunni tribesmen and Iraq’s ruling Shiite president, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki. That is what ended the jihadist disorder there in 2007.

And then what did Maliki do as soon as we left Iraq? He stopped paying the Sunni tribal militias and tried to arrest moderate Sunni politicians. Rather than building on the foundation we laid of power-sharing, Maliki uprooted it. That is why ISIS found it so easy to move in. Iraqi Sunnis weren’t going to fight for Maliki’s government. No trust, no power-sharing — no order.

Jewish settlers in Israel have done all they could to build more settlements and undermine Palestinian trust that Israel will ever share sufficient power for a West Bank Palestinian state to emerge. And the moderate, secular Palestinian leadership in the West Bank all too often has shown too little courage to compromise at crunchtime. So no compelling West Bank alternative to Hamas’s nihilism exists. Israel, the moderate Palestinians and Maliki all wasted the quiet of the last few years. And Maliki and Israel’s leaders now insist on wiping out the military threats they face from radicals — before rebuilding or reconsidering any of the political alternatives that they themselves helped to scuttle. That won’t work.

Patrick Doherty, author of “A New U.S. Grand Strategy” in Foreign Policy magazine, argues that if you look at the traditional responses to the world of disorder by both American and other leaders, you notice that there are a lot of  “controllers and disrupters but no builders. Our leaders were trained in the control tactics of the Cold War — a.k.a. ‘crisis management.’ So it’s no surprise that we are using our power only to hedge risk and preserve a failing status quo. But now we need our leaders to be builders with enough foresight to shape a sustainable international order — and to support regional leaders committed to the same.” Control, notes Doherty, is surely better than chaos. But as we have seen with the controllers America has tended to adopt in Egypt, Iraq and Israel, their brand of control “tends toward stagnation and excesses, as power is concentrated to counter the forces of chaos.”

When all the old means of top-down control are decreasingly available or increasingly expensive (in a world of strong people and strong technologies, being a strongman isn’t what it used to be), leaders and their people are going to eventually have to embrace a new, more sustainable source of order that emerges from the bottom up and is built on shared power, values and trust. Leadership will be about how to cultivate that kind of order. Yes, yes. I know that sounds impossibly hard. But when isolated Gazans can make their own drones, order doesn’t come easy anymore.

The Pasty Little Putz, Dowd, Friedman and Kristof

July 13, 2014

In “Look Homeward, LeBron” The Pasty Little Putz says the quest for community leads a superstar back to Ohio.  MoDo is back to banging away on one of her favorite little tin drums.  In “Isn’t It Rich?” she hisses that for the Clinton clan, it’s like father, like mother, like daughter.  Oddly enough, in this diatribe about a political dynasty, the name “Bush” appears nowhere…  The Moustache of Wisdom has decided to tell us all about “The World of Maxwell Smart, Part 1.”  He says “Get Smart” was ahead of its time. The world today is cleaving into “Control” and “Kaos.”  In “Those Girls Haven’t Been Brought Back” Mr. Kristof says leaders love to talk a good game on promoting education, but they don’t deliver.  Here’s The Putz:

One of the more significant migrations in recent American history doesn’t involve pioneers heading West, refugees seeking sanctuary, or Joad-like families rambling in search of work. It involves the trajectory of our nation’s most talented citizens, who since the 1970s have been clustering ever more densely in certain favored cities, and gradually abandoning the places in between.

In a mid-2000s piece for The Atlantic, Richard Florida, long a booster of “creative class” conurbations, noted that in 1970 college graduates were distributed pretty evenly around the country, but that three decades later they were much more concentrated. A few regions (the BosWash Northeast, the Bay Area, etc.) were destinations of choice for the well educated, and large swaths of the country emphatically were not. In Washington, D.C., and San Francisco, he noted, half the population had college degrees; for Detroit and Cleveland, the figures were 11 percent and 14 percent.

This migration has happened for understandable personal and professional reasons (said the pundit writing from a coffee shop in northeastern Washington, D.C.), and the dense professional networks it has created have arguably been good for certain kinds of economic dynamism.

But elite self-segregation, and what Charles Murray has dubbed the “coming apart” of the professional and working classes,  has also contributed to America’s growing social problems — hardening lines of class and culture, adding layers of misunderstanding and mistrust to an already polarized polity, and leaching brains and social capital from communities that need them most.

Which brings us to the fascinating story of LeBron James.

The basketball superstar’s trajectory up until Friday looked like the entire migration of the talented in miniature (well, a 6-foot-8 miniature). A child of depressed northeastern Ohio, with its struggling cities and declining population, James grew up to be drafted by the Cleveland Cavaliers, played for his home-state team for seven brilliant but championship-free seasons, and then famously bolted for a richer, more glamorous locale.

And why? Not just for the money and amenities, but for the professional network. Like superstars in less-athletic fields, James felt that his productivity would be magnified by the right partnerships — in his case, by sharing a court with fellow stars Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade. And four N.B.A. finals appearances and two rings later, it’s clear he judged correctly.

But now he’s making the migration in reverse, returning to the battered Midwestern city he famously betrayed. And strikingly, his statement announcing the move doubled as a kind of communitarian manifesto, implicitly critiquing the values underlying elite self-segregation in America:

My presence can make a difference in Miami, but I think it can mean more where I’m from. I want kids in Northeast Ohio … to realize that there’s no better place to grow up. Maybe some of them will come home after college and start a family or open a business… Our community, which has struggled so much, needs all the talent it can get.

In Northeast Ohio, nothing is given. Everything is earned. You work for what you have.

I’m ready to accept the challenge. I’m coming home.

Now I don’t want to make too much of an exhortation that is, of course, partially just a rich athlete’s brand-managing P.R. Especially since homecomings are fraught, complicated undertakings — for superstars even more than ordinary mortals, perhaps — and this one is as likely to end with LeBron feuding with ownership or forcing a trade as with a championship.

Moreover, even if everything goes smoothly on the court, LeBron’s “hard work” will be rather more richly rewarded than the typical Ohioan’s, and he’ll be “coming home” while still living, really, in the secure and gilded bubble of the rich and famous. So for a future college graduate deciding between staying on the Acela Corridor or coming back to Akron or Youngstown to raise a family, LeBron’s example is symbolically inspiring without being terribly relevant to the hazards of real life.

But with all those caveats, there will be a spillover effect of some sort from his decision. Even if it only happens on the margins, LeBron really did just make a down-at-the-heels part of America a slightly better place to live and work and settle.

And the return of the King is also a reminder that social trends, like careers, aren’t arrows that fly in one direction only. As real estate prices rise insanely on the coasts, as telecommuting becomes more plausible for more people, as once-storied cities hit bottom and rebound … well, there could be more incentives for less-extraordinary professionals to imitate this heartland native’s unexpected return.

At the very least there’s nothing written that says we have to come apart forever. Or that some Americans with less extraordinary but still substantial gifts can’t find a way, like LeBron, to take those talents home again.

Next up we have MoDo’s screed:

Chelsea Clinton never acted out during the eight years she came of age as America’s first daughter.

No ditching of her Secret Service detail. No fake IDs for underage tippling. No drug scandal. No court appearance in tank top and toe ring. Not even any dirty dancing.

Despite a tough role as the go-between in the highly public and embarrassing marital contretemps of her parents, Chelsea stayed classy.

So it’s strange to see her acting out in a sense now, joining her parents in cashing in to help feed the rapacious, gaping maw of Clinton Inc.

With her 1 percenter mother under fire for disingenuously calling herself “dead broke” when she left the White House, why would Chelsea want to open herself up to criticism that she is gobbling whopping paychecks not commensurate with her skills, experience or role in life?

As the 34-year-old tries to wean some of the cronies from the Clinton Foundation — which is, like the Clintons themselves, well-intended, wasteful and disorganized — Chelsea is making speeches that go into foundation coffers. She is commanding, as The Times’s Amy Chozick reported, up to $75,000 per appearance.

Chozick wrote: “Ms. Clinton’s speeches focus on causes like eradicating waterborne diseases. (‘I’m obsessed with diarrhea’ is a favorite line.)”

There’s something unseemly about it, making one wonder: Why on earth is she worth that much money? Why, given her dabbling in management consulting, hedge-funding and coattail-riding, is an hour of her time valued at an amount that most Americans her age don’t make in a year? (Median household income in the United States is $53,046.)

If she really wants to be altruistic, let her contribute the money to some independent charity not designed to burnish the Clinton name as her mother ramps up to return to the White House and as she herself drops a handkerchief about getting into politics.

Or let her speak for free. After all, she is in effect going to candidate school. No need to get paid for it, too.

There was disgust over Politico’s revelation that before she switched to a month-to-month contract, Chelsea was getting wildly overpaid at $600,000 annually — or over $25,000 per minute on air — for a nepotistic job as a soft-focus correspondent for NBC News.

Chelsea is still learning the answer to a question she asked when she interviewed the Geico gecko: “Is there a downside to all this fame?”

The Clintons keep acting as though all they care about is selfless public service. So why does it keep coming back to gross money grabs? It’s gone from two-for-the-price-of-one to three-for-the-price-of-20.

Hillary’s book — which feels like something she got at Ikea and had someone put together — is drooping because it was more about the estimated $13 million advance and the campaign ramp-up than the sort of intriguing self-examination and political excavations found in the memoirs of Timothy Geithner and Bob Gates. If she had had something to say, the book might have been shorter.

Hillary doesn’t see the disconnect between expressing grave concern about mounting student loan debt while scarfing six-figure sums from at least eight colleges, and counting. She says now that she’s passing the university money to the foundation but, never Ms. Transparency, has refused to provide documentation of that. (She’s still pocketing other huge fees for speeches like her April talk in Las Vegas to the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries.)

Chozick estimated that the lucrative family speechmaking business has generated more than $100 million for the former president and first lady, whose fees range from $200,000 to $700,000 per appearance. Bill alone earned $17 million last year doing what he likes to do best — talking.

“The issue is that the philanthropic beneficiary of the speeches is a foundation, structured as a public foundation but clearly synonymous with and controlled by the Clinton family,” Rick Cohen writes in The National Philanthropy Quarterly, adding: “Donors and institutions that are paying them and their daughter huge sums for their speeches may very well be buying recognition and face time with powerful political leaders who they hope will be able to deliver political favors in the future.

“It is troubling when corporate donors give to political charities with a more or less obvious expectation that softer and gentler treatment will ensue in the future. It is also troubling when some of the payers are public or nonprofit entities themselves such as colleges and universities, converting taxpayer funds and tax-exempt donations into signals that could end up in positive treatment when these institutions are themselves seeking access and favors, even if it is only a good word put in by one of the Clintons to a federal agency providing funding or to a regulator who might be taking a critical look at university tuitions and endowment payouts.”

The Clintons were fiercely protective of Chelsea when she was a teenager, insisting on respect from the media and getting it. They need to protect their daughter again, this time from their wanton acquisitiveness.

And now we come to The Moustache of Wisdom:

In the 1960s, there was a popular sitcom  — “Get Smart” — about a hapless secret agent named Maxwell Smart, played by Don Adams. Smart went by the code name “Agent 86.” “Get Smart” famously introduced the shoe phone to American audiences, but the show also introduced something else: its own version of the bipolar world. Do you remember the name of the intelligence agency Maxwell Smart worked for? It was called “Control.” And do you remember the name of Control’s global opponent? It was called “Kaos” — “an international organization of evil.”

 The creators of “Get Smart” were ahead of their time. Because it increasingly appears that the post-post-Cold War world is cleaving into the world of “order” and the world of “disorder” — or into the world of “Control” and the world of “Kaos.”

How so? First, we said goodbye to imperialism and colonialism and all their methods of controlling territory. Then we said goodbye to the Cold War alliance system, which propped up many weak and newly independent states with money to build infrastructure and to buy weapons to control their borders and people — because the stability of every square in the global chessboard mattered to Washington and Moscow.

And, lately, we’ve been saying goodbye to top-down, iron-fisted monarchies and autocracies, which have been challenged by massively urbanized, technologically empowered citizens.

So, today, you have three basic systems: order provided by democratic, inclusive governments; order imposed by autocratic exclusivist governments; and ungoverned, or chaotically governed, spaces, where rickety failed states, militias, tribes, pirates and gangs contest one another for control, but there is no single power center to answer the phone — or, if they do, it falls off the wall.

Look around: Boko Haram in Nigeria kidnaps 250 schoolgirls and then disappears into a dark corner of that country. The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, a ragtag jihadist militia, carves out a caliphate inside Syria and Iraq and boasts on Twitter of beheading opponents. NATO decapitates Libya’s regime and sets loose a tribal-militia war of all against all, which, when combined with the crackup of Chad, spills arms and refugees across African borders, threatening Tunisia and Morocco. Israel has been flooded with more than 50,000 Eritreans and Sudanese refugees, who crossed the Sinai Desert by foot, bus or car looking for work and security in Israel’s “island of order.”

And, just since October, the U.S. has been flooded with more than 50,000 unaccompanied children from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. “They’re fleeing from threats and violence in their home countries,” noted Vox.com, “where things have gotten so bad that many families believe that they have no choice but to send their children on the long, dangerous journey north.”

Why is this happening now? Well, just as I’ve argued that “average is overfor workers, now “average is over for states,” too. Without the Cold War system to prop them up, it is not so easy anymore for weak states to provide the minimums of security, jobs, health and welfare. And thanks to rapid advances in the market (globalization), Mother Nature (climate change plus ecological destruction) and Moore’s Law (computing power), some states are just blowing up under the pressure.

Yes, we blew up Iraq, but you can’t understand the uprising in Syria unless you understand how a horrendous four-year drought there, coupled with a demographic explosion, undermined its economy.

You can’t understand Egypt’s uprising without linking it to the 2010 global wheat crisis and soaring bread prices, which inspired the anti-Hosni Mubarak chant: “Bread, Freedom, Dignity.” You also can’t understand Egypt’s stress without understanding the challenge that China’s huge labor pool poses in a globalized world to every other low-wage country. Go into a souvenir shop in Cairo, buy a Pyramids ashtray and turn it over. I’ll bet it says, “Made in China.” Today’s globalization system rewards countries that make their workers and markets efficient enough to take part in global supply chains of goods and services faster than ever — and punishes those who don’t more harshly than ever.

You can’t understand the spread of ISIS or the Arab Spring without the relentless advance in computing and telecom — Moore’s Law — creating so many cheap command-and-control Internet tools that superempower small groups to recruit adherents, challenge existing states and erase borders. In a flat world, people can see faster than ever how far behind they are and organize faster than ever to protest. When technology penetrates more quickly than wealth and opportunity, watch out.

The combined pressures of the market, Mother Nature and Moore’s Law are creating the geopolitical equivalent of climate change, argues Michael Mandelbaum, author of “The Road to Global Prosperity,” and “some familiar species of government can’t survive the stress.”

So, please spare me the “it’s all Obama’s fault.” There are plenty of reasons to criticize Obama, but everything is not about what we do. There are huge forces acting on these countries, and it will take extraordinary collaboration by the whole world of order to contain them. I’ll address this on Wednesday.

Oh, goody…  Last but not least we have Mr. Kristof:

It has been almost three months since Islamic militants in northern Nigeria attacked a school that was giving exams and kidnapped more than 250 girls — some of the brightest and most ambitious teenagers in the region.

Their captors have called them slaves and threatened to “sell them in the market.” The girls were last seen, looking terrified, in a video two months ago.

“We are asking for help,” pleaded Lawan Zanah, father of one missing girl, Ayesha, who is 18 and appeared in that video. “America, France, China, they say they are helping, but on the ground we don’t see anything.”

He told me that he and the other parents don’t even know if their daughters are alive. The parents spend their time praying that God will intervene, since the Nigerian government and others don’t seem to be. “We hope God will feel our pain,” he said.

The principal of the school, Asabe Kwambura, told me that 219 girls are still missing and lamented that the international campaign to help — #BringBackOurGirls — is faltering as the world moves on.

“Continue this campaign,” she urged. “Our students are still living in the woods. We want the international community to talk to the government of Nigeria to do something, because they are doing nothing.”

The Nigerian government’s most obvious response has been to hire an American public relations firm for a reported $1.2 million. That money could be better used to pay for security at schools.

Global leaders talk a good game about education, but they don’t deliver. Sad to say, that includes President Obama. When he was running for president in 2008, he announced a plan for a $2 billion global fund for education — and if you’ve forgotten about that, don’t worry, because he seems to have as well. Indeed, Obama is requesting 43 percent less in international aid for basic education in 2015 than the peak that Congress provided in 2010.

Aid to education worldwide from all donor countries has fallen 10 percent since 2010, according to Unesco.

If President Obama wants to support a global fund for education, there is one. It’s called the Global Partnership for Education, and it has offices in Washington. It is strongly supported by other donor countries, but its chairwoman, Julia Gillard, the former prime minister of Australia, notes that the United States has, so far, provided about only 1 percent of the budget for it.

“The United States is not 1 percent of the world’s population,” she said dryly.

To his credit, Obama is upping the sums, offering $40 million this year and more in the future. Representatives Nita Lowey, a New York Democrat, and Dave Reichert, a Washington Republican, are also co-sponsoring an Education for All Act that would promote aid for schooling some of the 58 million kids worldwide who aren’t attending primary school.

One group has been responsive: Times readers. After I wrote about the Nigerian girls in May and mentioned a group called Camfed that sends girls to school in Africa, Times readers donated nearly $900,000 to Camfed. Thank you, readers!

Camfed says the money will help 3,000 girls continue in high school across Africa — girls like Katongo, a 16-year-old math whiz in Zambia. Katongo is an orphan who had to drop out of school for lack of money for fees, but she is now on track to become the first person in her family to finish school. She plans to become a nurse.

But while private donations help, they won’t solve the education gap. Neither will aid dollars, although they, too, will help. Ultimately, governments in poor countries need to step up and make education a priority — for what is needed is not just money but also a kick in the pants.

In Mali, 92 percent of children at the end of second grade were unable to read a single word, according to Unesco. In Zambia, 78 percent of third-graders couldn’t read a single word. In Iraq, 61 percent of second-graders couldn’t answer a single subtraction question correctly.

Conditions are often deplorable. Teachers in Africa and Asia often don’t show up at school because they are paid by a government bureaucracy even if they are perennially absent. Of low-income children in Malawi, only 3 percent manage to complete primary school and learn the basics of education — perhaps partly because the average class size in first grade in Malawi is 130 students. In Cameroon, there is only one math book for every 13 second-graders. How can kids possibly learn that way?

Yet we’ve also learned that done right, education changes almost everything. Evidence suggests that educating girls increases productivity, raises health standards, reduces birthrates and undermines extremism.

Drones and missiles can fight terrorism, but an even more transformative weapon is a girl with a book, and it’s one that is remarkably cost-effective. For the price of a single Tomahawk cruise missile, it’s possible to build about 20 schools.

Many of the world’s poor understand the power of education. I’ve seen children in Liberia who lack lights at home do their homework at night under street lamps. I’ve been moved by parents in India and Pakistan going hungry to pay school fees for their children.

A fierce ambition to study explains why those 219 girls in northern Nigeria showed up to take their final exams even though they knew the risks of terrorism. Some of those girls dreamed of becoming teachers, doctors, lawyers — and now they may be enslaved in a forest and perhaps married off to Islamic militants.

I hope we’re doing everything possible to locate and recover those girls: This is a rare case where, if the Nigerian government asked for our help, the world would applaud us for assisting in a raid. So let’s #BringBackOurGirls. But let’s not stop there.

For almost all of history, the great majority of humanity has been illiterate, and now that is changing with stunning rapidity. Lant Pritchett, an education expert at Harvard, notes that schooling has increased much more in the last 60 years than it did in all the centuries from Plato’s Academy until 1950. Education is an escalator that can change the world, and we are now on the cusp of wiping out global illiteracy for good — if we sustain the effort.

Boko Haram is assassinating teachers, attacking schools and kidnapping students because it knows that literacy is the enemy of extremism. Terrorists understand the power of education. Do we?

Dowd and Cohen

July 9, 2014

The Moustache of Wisdom is off today.  MoDo has a question in “Silicon Valley Sharknado:”  How close are Google & Co. to inventing computers that overtake the human brain?  Well, MoDo, I guess it depends on the brain.  Are you worried?  In “France Decapitated” Mr. Cohen says the French dislike modernity. They mistrust it. That is the nub of the problem.  Here’s MoDo:

Mostly, this July, I’m worrying about the jumping sharks jumping the shark.

But Syfy’s “Sharknado 2” trailer, this one about a shark storm hitting Manhattan, just went up and features chain saws buzzing, the Statue of Liberty’s severed head whizzing, Tara Reid kvetching, and Robert Klein barking “This is the Big Apple! Something bites us; we bite back!”

So things look pretty promising.

That leaves me free to worry about rampaging robots.

And I’m not the only one.

In a recent interview with CNBC, Elon Musk, the C.E.O. of Tesla Motors and Space X, which hopes to rocket us to other planets, said he invests in artificial intelligence companies not to make money but to “keep an eye” on them in case of “scary outcomes,” like a “Terminator” scenario of psychopathic robots that could chase us off the Earth and up to Mars.

(Interpolation: How has Elon Musk not invented his own fragrance?)

In “Terminator,” Musk said, the humans who created the replicants did not expect the machines to turn evil. “It is sort of like that Monty Python thing: ‘Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition,’ ” the 43-year-old inventor and mogul said, warning: “But you’ve got to be careful.”

Silicon Valley brains have been predicting that robots will usher in a radically superior world.

Ray Kurzweil, Google’s 66-year-old director of engineering, is running a Manhattan project to push A.I. to match human intelligence by 2029 and achieve his vision of “the singularity” — the moment when computers overtake human brains — by 2045. The robots will even be able to flirt, he says, and, unlike Siri and Scarlett Johansson in “Her,” they can easily have a curvy virtual form and be “lovable.”

Computers will be able to read every word on the web and every book ever written and offer up matching patterns.

I.B.M.’s Watson has read 200 million Wikipedia pages, Kurzweil told The Observer of London, but “it doesn’t understand that if John sold his red Volvo to Mary that involves a transaction or possession and ownership being transferred.” So Kurzweil and Google will try to encode that information to “really try to teach it to understand the meaning of what these documents are saying.”

Since I come from a family of Irish maids, I’m not looking forward to servitude under my iPhone.

And Kurzweil should be more worried that he’ll suffer the fate of genetic designer J.F. Sebastian in “Blade Runner,” who is killed by his replicants after telling them, “There’s a part of me in you.”

Vinod Khosla, the Sun Microsystems co-founder, has predicted that algorithms and machines will replace 80 percent of doctors in years to come, making medicine more data driven and less like “witchcraft.”

In a rare joint interview last week with Khosla at his Silicon Valley summit, Google founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page talked about their A.I. hopes.

“You should presume that someday,” Brin said, “we will be able to make machines that can reason, think and do things better than we can.”

They have always been interested in robots — they named their operating system Android — and are running “the brain project,” described by Brin as “really machine-learning focused.” In January, they acquired the British A.I. developer DeepMind, founded by Demis Hassabis, a game designer, neuroscientist and former child chess prodigy.

They know people could be thrown out of work. As Page said, “90 percent of people used to be farmers,” so “it’s not surprising.”

Page predicted a “time of abundance,” when human needs could be more easily met and people would “have more time with their family or to pursue their own interests.”

Of course, when we get more free time, we’ll simply spend it staring at our iPads, so all roads lead back to Big Brother.

Jaron Lanier, the computer genius and author of “Who Owns the Future?,” dryly notes that our looming overlords may not be robots but the Google founders.

“The only person with a secure job will be Larry Page,” he laughingly told me. “He owns the damn Cloud computer.”

He said that, despite a fantasy that dates from the mid-20th century, nobody has yet figured out how to make a robot that can think for itself.

“In a way, it’s not being honest,” he said. “We’re still pretending that we’re inventing a brain when all we’ve come up with is a giant mash-up of real brains. We don’t yet understand how brains work, so we can’t build one.”

When machines translate from one language to another, they are leeching from live translators, taking matching phrases from aggregated data. If tech companies could gather similar data on doctors, that information could theoretically be matched up to make a simulated doctor.

“People are unwittingly feeding information into the Cloud for automated services, which they’re not being paid for,” Lanier said. “I don’t like pretending that humans are becoming buggy whips. You have this fantasy that it’s machines doing it without people helping. We are throwing people out of work based on a fantasy.”

In a digital update of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” Silicon Valley is siphoning and pilfering human intelligence to feed Mr. Roboto to replace us. That’s the scary bravado of real sharks.

Yep, the Silly Season is here…  Here’s Mr. Cohen:

The Tour de France bicycle race kicked off in England this year, in Yorkshire to be precise, and ended its third stage on the Mall outside Buckingham Palace. Next pigs will fly.

In fact they’ve already flown, given that this quintessentially French event has started in Britain once before, but still it must be asked if anything is sacred anymore. Perhaps the horse racing at Ascot will soon move to Toulouse.

I was in Paris last week. It was beautiful. Tourists lolled on the bridges enjoying picnics of cheese, baguettes and bad red wine. They were happy. The weather was perfect. The French were grumpy, of course. I did not notice any grumbling about the weird displacement of the Tour across the Channel, but encountered complaints over just about everything else.

A former conservative president, Nicolas Sarkozy, had been hauled into police custody for 15 hours for questioning over alleged corruption. The current Socialist president, François Hollande, had plumbed new depths of unpopularity. The presidency of the Fifth Republic, once the apex of ceremonial glory and near-monarchical power, had all the luster of a damp rag.

That the French are unhappy has become a commonplace. A nation that loves ideas is living in an ideological void. If that void is filled by anyone it is the rightist leader Marine Le Pen with her cleverly dosed venom about Europe, immigrants, crime, globalization and the other supposed culprits behind French national decline.

Unemployment in France is at about double the German level. Growth is at zero. Investment is at new lows. If the European economy is stirring, the French has shown an exceptional capacity to resist signs of life.

Manuel Valls, the centrist prime minister hated by many in his own Socialist Party, is trying to cut public-sector spending, loosen labor-market laws, slash payroll taxes, and generally spur job creation and growth by liberalizing a state-heavy economy. Many have tried before him. Many have failed. Such reform in France is a Sisyphean task.

France is a modern country as well as a beautiful one. Its attributes, from its health system to its rail system (when not on strike), are well known. But the French dislike modernity. They mistrust modernity. That is the nub of the problem. They dislike and mistrust it for two reasons. Modernity has redefined space and relegated the state. This is intolerable.

The redefinition of space has involved the technology-driven elimination of distance. As Michel Serres, a prominent French philosopher, put it in a lecture last year at the Sorbonne on the digital world, “Boeing shortens distances; new technologies annul them.”

This is troubling in France because nowhere else is the particularity of place and the singularity of a person’s attachment to it more important. That bond is expressed in the word “terroir,” at once the land, its special characteristics, the nature of its soil, its climate, and the unique human relationship to it. A great Burgundy and an indifferent one may come from properties a hundred yards apart. The soil is not the same, nor the slope of the land. Distance matters. Yet modernity has contempt for it. It even places the Tour de France in England. As Serres put it, “We live in a new space.”

Humanity has also changed its relationship to the state. The French place deep faith in the state. It is the righter of wrongs, the mediator of human affairs, the source of social justice, the object of duty, and the repository of power. The very word deregulation is odious to the French.

But technology has shifted power from the state to stateless individuals living in a borderless cyberworld. An e-mail address is now more important and more relevant to the conduct of existence than a physical address. A revolution in communication is underway, not seen since the invention of the printing press, but it is not a French revolution. It is in fact an anti-French revolution. It challenges fundamental French values, the French sense of self, and the French attachment to the state.

Valls, the prime minister, appears to be confronting French labor unions in his efforts at reform. What he is really facing is a fundamental objection to modernity.

Serres, in his lecture, tells the story of Saint Denis, the Christian martyr decapitated around 250 A.D. Denis is said to have picked up his head and walked several kilometers preaching a sermon. Serres objected as a child, when his mother told him the story, that Denis could not possibly have found his head without his eyes. She rebuked him for failing to understand miracles.

Today, Serres says, everyone’s head is on the table in the form of their computers. “You have been decapitated!” he tells his French audience.

That is often how the French feel. I fear there is not much to be done about it, short of miracles.

The Pasty Little Putz, Dowd, Kristof and Bruni

July 6, 2014

The Moustache of Wisdom is off today.  The Pasty Little Putz has a question in “A Company Liberals Could Love.”  He babbles that Hobby Lobby and religious organizations serve the common good. So why not encourage, rather than obstruct, them?  Cripes, where to begin…  In the comments “LES” from Southgate, KY also has a question:  “This is a ridiculous argument. Religion is being used as a way around a government mandate. Period. Where is the separation of church and state?”  MoDo is in the dumps.  In “Who Do We Think We Are?” she whines that as Americans celebrate the Fourth of July in blazing red, white and blue, the emphasis this year is on the blue.  Mr. Kristof writes about “When They Imprison the Wrong Guy” and says this legal thriller isn’t a John Grisham tale. It’s a Texas man’s life story. And his perspective on the criminal justice system was unjustly earned.  Mr. Bruni asks “Is Joe Riley of Charleston the Most Loved Politician in America?”  He says in an era of cynicism and stasis, Charleston’s indefatigable mayor talks about how government can and should function.   Here’s the Putz:

For a generation now, liberals have bemoaned the disappearance of the socially conscious corporation, the boardroom devoted to the common good. Once, the story goes, America’s C.E.O.s recognized that they shared interests with workers and customers; once wages and working hours reflected more than just a zeal for profits. But then came Reagan, deregulation, hostile takeovers, and an era of solidarity gave way to the age of Gordon Gekko, from which there’s been no subsequent escape.

There are, however, exceptions: companies that still have a sense of business as a moral calling, which can be held up as examples to shame the bottom-liners.

One such company was hailed last year by the left-wing policy website Demos “for thumbing its nose at the conventional wisdom that success in the retail industry” requires paying “bargain-basement wages.” A retail chain with nearly 600 stores and 13,000 workers, this business sets its lowest full-time wage at $15 an hour, and raised wages steadily through the stagnant postrecession years. (Its do-gooder policies also include donating 10 percent of its profits to charity and giving all employees Sunday off.) And the chain is thriving commercially — offering, as Demos put it, a clear example of how “doing good for workers can also mean doing good for business.”

Of course I’m talking about Hobby Lobby, the Christian-owned craft store that’s currently playing the role of liberalism’s public enemy No. 1, for its successful suit against the Obama administration’s mandate requiring coverage for contraceptives, sterilization and potential abortifacients.

But this isn’t just a point about the company’s particular virtues. The entire conflict between religious liberty and cultural liberalism has created an interesting situation in our politics: The political left is expending a remarkable amount of energy trying to fine, vilify and bring to heel organizations — charities, hospitals, schools and mission-infused businesses — whose commitments they might under other circumstances extol.

So the recent Supreme Court ruling offers a chance, after the hysteria cools and the Taliban hypotheticals grow stale, for liberals to pause and consider the long-term implications of this culture-war campaign.

Historically, support for religious liberty in the United States has rested on pragmatic as well as philosophical foundations. From de Tocqueville’s America to Eisenhower’s, there has been a sense — not universal but widespread — that religious pluralism has broad social benefits, and that the wider society has a practical interest, within reason, in allowing religious communities to pursue moral ends as they see fit.

But in the past, tensions over pluralism’s proper scope usually occurred when a specific faith — Catholicism and Mormonism, notably — unsettled or challenged the mostly Protestant majority. Today, the potential tensions are much broader, because the goals of postsexual revolution liberalism are at odds with the official beliefs of almost every traditional religious body, be it Mormon or Muslim, Eastern Orthodox or Orthodox Jewish, Calvinist or Catholic.

If liberals so desire, this division could lead to constant conflict, in which just about every project conservative believers undertake is gradually threatened with regulation enforcing liberal norms. The health coverage offered by religious employers; the activity of religious groups on college campuses; the treatments offered by religious hospitals; the subject matter taught in religious schools … the battlegrounds are legion.

And liberals seem to be preparing the ground for this kind of expansive conflict — by making sharp distinctions (as the White House’s mandate exemptions did) between the liberties of congregations and the liberties of other religious organizations, by implying that religion’s “free exercise” is confined to liturgy and prayer, and by suggesting (as Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg did in her Hobby Lobby dissent) that religious groups serve only their co-believers, not the common good.

That last idea, bizarre to anyone who’s visited a soup kitchen, could easily be a self-fulfilling prophecy. Insist that for legal purposes there’s no such thing as a religiously motivated business, and you will get fewer religiously motivated business owners — and more chain stores that happily cover Plan B but pay significantly lower wages. Pressure religious hospitals to perform abortions or sex-reassignment surgery (or some eugenic breakthrough, down the road), and you’ll eventually get fewer religious hospitals — and probably less charity care and a more zealous focus on the bottom line. Tell religious charities they have legal rights only insofar as they serve their co-religionists, and you’ll see the scope of their endeavors contract.

But this is not a path liberals need to choose — not least because the more authentically American alternative does not require them to abandon their policy goals. (Obamacare’s expansion of contraceptive coverage, for instance, will be almost as sweeping if some religious nonprofits and businesses opt out.)

Rather, it just requires a rediscovery of pluralism’s virtues, and the benefits of allowing different understandings of social justice to be pursued simultaneously, rather than pitted against each other in a battle to the death.

Next up we have MoDo’s whinging:

America’s infatuation with the World Cup came at the perfect moment, illuminating the principle that you can lose and still advance.

Once our nation saw itself as the undefeatable cowboy John Wayne. Now we bask in the prowess of the unstoppable goalie Tim Howard, a biracial kid from New Jersey with Tourette’s syndrome.

With our swaggering and sanguine image deflated by epic unforced errors, Americans are playing defense, struggling to come to grips with a world where we can no longer dictate all the terms, win all the wars and lead all the charges.

“The Fourth of July was always a celebration of American exceptionalism,” said G.O.P. pollster Frank Luntz. “Now it’s a commiseration of American disappointment.”

From Katrina to Fallujah, we’re less the Shining City Upon a Hill than the House of Broken Toys.

For the first time perhaps, hope is not as much a characteristic of American feelings.

Are we winners who have been through a rough patch? Or losers who have soured our sturdy and spiritual DNA with too much food, too much greed, too much narcissism, too many lies, too many spies, too many fat-cat bonuses, too many cat videos on the evening news, too many Buzzfeed listicles like “33 Photos Of Corgi Butts,” and too much mindless and malevolent online chatter?

Are we still the biggest and baddest? Or are we forever smaller, stingier, dumber, less ambitious and more cynical? Have we lost control of our not-so-manifest destiny?

Once we had Howard Baker, who went against self-interest for the common good. Now we have Ted Cruz. Once we had Louis Zamperini, an Olympic runner whose fortitude in a Japanese P.O.W. camp was chronicled in Laura Hillenbrand’s book “Unbroken.” Now we’ve broken Iraq, liberating it to be a draconian state run on Sharia law, full of America-hating jihadists who were too brutal even for Al Qaeda.

We’re a little bit scared of our own shadow. And, sadly, we see ourselves as a people who can never understand one another. We’ve given up on the notion that we can cohere, even though the founders forged America by holding together people with deep differences.

A nation of immigrants watched over by the Statue of Liberty — with a government unable to pass immigration reform despite majority support — sees protesters take to the streets to keep Hispanic children trying to cross the border from being housed in their communities.

Andrew Kohut, who has polled for Gallup and the Pew Research Center for over four decades, calls the mood “chronic disillusionment.” He said that in this century we have had only three brief moments when a majority of Americans said they were satisfied with the way things were going: the month W. took office, right after the 9/11 attacks and the month we invaded Iraq.

The old verities seem quaint. If you work hard and play by the rules, you’ll lose out to those guys who can wire computers to make bets on Wall Street faster than the next guy to become instant multimillionaires. Our quiet traditional virtues bow to our noisy visceral divisions, while churning technology is swiftly remolding the national character in ways that are still a blur. Boldness is often chased away by distraction, confusion, hesitation and fragmentation.

Barack Obama vowed to make government cool again, but young people, put off by the dysfunction in our political, financial, military and social institutions, are eschewing government jobs. Idealism is swamped by special interests. The middle class is learning to do more with less. The president, sort of the opposite.

“The world sees us as having gone from a president who did too much to a president who does too little,” said Richard Haass, the president of the Council on Foreign Relations.

David Axelrod, the president’s Pygmalion, mused: “Reagan significantly changed the trajectory of the country for better and worse. But he restored a sense of clarity. Bush and Cheney were black and white, and after them, Americans wanted someone smart enough to get the nuances and deal with complexities. Now I think people are tired of complexity and they’re hungering for clarity, a simpler time. But that’s going to be hard to restore in the world today.”

Young people are more optimistic than their rueful elders, especially those in the technology world. They are the anti-Cheneys, competitive but not triumphalist. They think of themselves as global citizens, not interested in exalting America above all other countries.

“The 23-year-olds I work with are a little over the conversation about how we were the superpower brought low,” said Ben Smith, the editor in chief of Buzzfeed. “They think that’s an ‘older person conversation.’ They’re more interested in this moment of crazy opportunity, with the massive economic and cultural transformation driven by Silicon Valley. And kids feel capable of seizing it. Technology isn’t a section in the newspaper any more. It’s the culture.”

Ben Domenech, the 32-year-old libertarian who writes The Transom newsletter, thinks many millennials are paralyzed by all their choices. He quoted Walker Percy’s “The Last Gentleman”: “Lucky is the man who does not secretly believe that every possibility is open to him.” He also noted that, given their image-conscious online life in the public eye, millennials worry about attaching themselves with a click to the wrong clique or hashtag: “It heightens the level of uncertainty, anxiety and risk aversion, to know that you’re only a bad day and half a dozen tweets from being fired.”

Jaron Lanier, the Microsoft Research scientist and best-selling author, thinks the biggest change in America is that “technology’s never had to shoulder the burden of optimism all by itself.”

And that creates what Haass calls a tension between “dysfunctional America vs. innovative America.”

Walter Isaacson, head of the Aspen Institute and author of the best-selling “Steve Jobs,” agreed that “there’s a striking disconnect between the optimism and swagger of people in the innovative economy — from craft-beer makers to educational reformers to the Uber creators — and the impotence and shrunken stature of our governing institutions.”

Nathaniel Philbrick, the author of “Bunker Hill: A City, a Siege, a Revolution,” which depicts the Patriots, warts and all, warns against gilding the past. “They weren’t better than us back then; they were trying to figure things out and justify their behavior, kind of like we are now,” he said. “From the beginning to the end, the Revolution was a messy work in progress. The people we hold up as paragons did not always act nobly but would then later be portrayed as always acting nobly. It reminds you of the dysfunction we’re in the middle of now.

“The more we can realize that we’re all making it up as we go along and somehow muddling through making ugly mistakes, the better. We’re not destined for greatness. We have to earn that greatness. What George Washington did right was to realize how much of what he thought was right was wrong.”

Next up we have Mr. Kristof:

On the day after his 32nd birthday, Michael Morton returned from work to find his home in Austin, Tex., surrounded by yellow police tape.

Morton jumped out of his car and raced to the door. “Is Eric O.K.?” Morton asked, thinking that something might have happened to his 3-year-old son. The sheriff said Eric was fine.

What about Chris, Morton’s wife?

“Chris is dead,” the sheriff answered.

Morton reeled after learning that Chris had been bludgeoned in their bed, and then the police arrested him for the murder.

Eric had told his grandma that he actually saw a “monster with the big mustache” hit his mother, but police suppressed this and other evidence. The jury deliberated two hours before convicting Morton of murder in 1987, and he received a sentence of life in prison.

“It seemed as if the word guilty was still ringing through the courtroom when I felt the cold steel of the cuffs close on my wrists — a sensation that in the next quarter-century would become as familiar as wearing a wristwatch,” Morton writes in a stunning memoir to be published on Tuesday.

Chris’s family turned on him, assuming him to be the killer. Eric was raised by Chris’s sister and her husband, and Eric eventually changed his name to match theirs. At age 15, he wrote his dad to say he would stop visiting him.

“I crumpled onto the bunk and just lay there,” Morton writes, “clenching and unclenching my fists, feeling hot tears forming and then falling, clutching the letter to my chest as if I were trying to squeeze all the hurt out of it.”

A great deal has been written about the shortcomings of the American criminal justice system, but perhaps nothing more searing than Morton’s book, “Getting Life.” It is a devastating and infuriating book, more astonishing than any legal thriller by John Grisham, a window into a broken criminal justice system.

Indeed, Morton would still be in prison if the police work had been left to the authorities. The day after the killing, Chris’s brother, John, found a bloodied bandanna not far from the Morton home that investigators had missed, and he turned it over to the police.

Morton had advantages. He had no criminal record. He was white, from the middle class, in a respectable job. Miscarriages of justice disproportionately affect black and Hispanic men, but, even so, Morton found himself locked up in prison for decades.

Then DNA testing became available, and the Innocence Project — the lawyers’ organization that fights for people like Morton — called for testing in Morton’s case. Prosecutors resisted, but eventually DNA was found on the bandanna: Chris’s DNA mingled with that of a man named Mark Alan Norwood, who had a long criminal history.

What’s more, Norwood’s DNA was also found at the scene of a murder very similar to Chris’s — that of a young woman with a 3-year-old child, also beaten to death in her bed, just 18 months after Chris’s murder.

“The worst fact about my being convicted of Chris’s murder wasn’t my long sentence,” Morton writes. “It was the fact that the real killer had been free to take another life.”

With the DNA evidence, the courts released Morton, after 25 years in prison, and then soon convicted Norwood of Chris’s murder. Ken Anderson, who had prosecuted Morton and later became a judge, resigned and served a brief jail term for misconduct.

As for Morton, he’s rebuilding his life. He and Eric have come together again, and he is happily married to a woman he met at church.

“Life’s good now, even on my bad days,” Morton told me, laughing. “Perspective is everything.”

Morton has a measured view of lessons learned. Most of the people he met in prison belonged there, he says, but the criminal justice system is also wrongly clogged with people who are mentally ill. As for complete miscarriages of justice like his own, he figures they are rare but still more common than we would like to think.

My take is that our criminal justice system is profoundly flawed. It is the default mental health system, sometimes criminalizing psychiatric disorders. It is arbitrary, and the mass incarceration experiment since the 1970s has been hugely expensive and grossly unfair. Prisons are unnecessarily violent, with some states refusing to take steps to reduce prison rape because they say these would be costly. And the system sometimes seems aimed as much at creating revenue for for-profit prisons as at delivering justice.

Finally, it’s worth noting that Michael Morton is able to deliver this aching and poignant look at the criminal justice system only because he didn’t get a death sentence. When Morton was finally freed from prison, some of his first words were: “Thank God this wasn’t a capital case.”

Last up we have Mr. Bruni:

The custom here is for a mayor’s portrait to be hung in the City Council chamber only after he leaves office. But in 2007, folks got tired of waiting for Joe Riley to make his exit, and he was put on the wall while still on the job. He’d been running Charleston for more than 31 years.

It’s almost 39 at this point: a period long enough that he can’t remember the color of his hair, now white, when he first took office, in December 1975.

“Brownish-blond, I guess?” he said.

It’s equally hard for many people to recall what Charleston looked like back then. Its center wasn’t the beautifully manicured, lovingly gentrified showpiece it is today.

That transformation helps explain why voters have elected Riley 10 times in a row. They adore the man, or at least many of them do, as I witnessed firsthand when I ambled around town with him last week. More than once, someone spotted him — he vaguely resembles Jimmy Stewart, only lankier — and then followed him for a few blocks just to shower him with thanks.

These admirers had to hustle to catch up with him, because even at 71 he moves fast, unflustered by his new hip and unbothered by the South Carolina summer heat.

Politicians around the country speak of him reverently, casting him as the sagacious Obi-Wan Kenobi (or maybe Yoda) of local government and noting that no current mayor of a well-known city has lasted so long.

“To maintain enormous popularity in your city and equal reservoirs of respect professionally among your peers — I don’t think there’s anyone who’s been able to do that like he has,” Stephen Goldsmith, the former mayor of Indianapolis, told me.

I had to visit him. I was exhausted with all the cynicism, including my own, about politics and politicians, and I craved something and someone sunnier. I was curious about the perspective of a leader who had clearly gotten a whole lot right.

What makes for good governance? Riley’s observations warranted attention.

Almost as soon as we sat down together, he talked up the annual Spoleto performing-arts festival, a renowned Charleston event that has bolstered the city’s profile. I wasn’t sure why he was choosing to focus on it or how it factored into any political philosophy.

Then he explained his reasons for pushing for it back before it was first held in 1977. “It forced the city to accept the responsibility of putting on something world-class,” he said.

Yes, he wanted the tourists who would flow into the city and the money they’d spend. Sure, he wanted the luster.

But he was also staging a kind of experiment in civic psychology and doing something that he considered crucial in government. He was raising the bar, and Spoleto was the instrument. It simultaneously brought great talent to Charleston and required great talent of Charleston.

“You need to commit a city to excellence,” he said, “and the arts expose you to that.”

He has fumbled balls and ruffled feathers, drawing censure for the city’s response to a 2007 blaze that killed nine firefighters, and warring with preservationists and environmentalists.

But he has been careful not to pick abstract and unnecessary battles, and he has deliberately concentrated on visible, measurable realities: the safety, beauty and vibrancy of streets; the placement of parks; the construction of public amusements; the availability of housing.

What people want from government, he stressed to me, isn’t lofty words but concrete results. They want problems solved and opportunities created. Mayors — ever accountable, ever answerable — tend to remember that and to wed themselves to a practicality that’s forgotten in Washington, where endless ideological tussles accommodate the preening that too many lawmakers really love best.

“Mayors can’t function as partisans,” he said. And in Charleston they officially don’t. While Riley happens to be a Democrat, candidates for mayor and City Council here aren’t party designees; there are no primaries.

But perhaps nothing, he said, is more vital than making sure that an electorate’s diversity is taken into account — Charleston is about 70 percent white and 25 percent African-American — and that voters feel fully respected by the leaders who represent them. Inclusion is everything, and he has long considered it the South’s mission, and his own, to build bridges between white and black people.

In the Charleston of his youth, schools were segregated, and when he practiced the proper manners that his parents had taught him and once answered a question from an African-American waiter with the words “yes, sir,” they corrected him. You didn’t say “sir” to a black man.

“The rules were phony,” he told me, adding that he and many of his friends realized it even then.

As a member of the South Carolina Legislature in the early 1970s, he advocated unsuccessfully for a state holiday commemorating Martin Luther King Jr. In 1982, as mayor, he hired Charleston’s first African-American police chief, Reuben Greenberg, who held that job for 23 years and was considered a huge success.

One day in 2000, Riley arrived at his office and told a senior adviser, David Agnew, “Maybe I had too much coffee this morning, but I have an idea.” The mayor proposed — and then organized — a five-day, 120-mile march from Charleston to Columbia, the state capital, to urge the removal of the Confederate battle flag that still fluttered over the statehouse.

He was fed up with South Carolina’s image to outsiders as a preserve of stubborn bigotry, Agnew told me, “and he believed that the best instincts of South Carolina were better than what the Legislature was doing.”

Agnew said that Riley received death threats before the march and that Police Chief Greenberg insisted that he wear a bulletproof vest during it.

The walking bloodied and blistered his feet, which he swaddled in bandages so he could get to the finish line. The flag came down later that year, which was also when South Carolina became the last state to sign a King holiday into law.

Now his passion is the establishment of an African-American history museum on Charleston’s harbor. There are similar museums elsewhere, he said, but perhaps none in a setting as fitting. Charleston played a central role in the slave trade: Four of every 10 slaves came on ships that passed through the city. So Charleston, Riley said, should be at the forefront of guaranteeing that people remember what happened.

“It’s a profound opportunity to honor the African-Americans who were brought here against their will and helped build this city and helped build this country,” he told Charleston’s main newspaper, The Post and Courier, last year.

As he showed me the stretch of waterfront where he envisioned the museum rising, he talked about the horrors that slaves endured and “the amazing resilience of the human spirit.”

He is trying to secure the financing, bringing prominent architects on board and hoping that everything will be nailed down by December 2015. That’s when he has vowed to retire, at the end of 40 years. It’s time, he said.

The museum would be completed later, a legacy consistent with a conviction that he has held from the start. You can’t have “a great, successful city,” he said, “unless it’s a just city.”

Wise words. They hold true for a country as well.

Dowd and Friedman

July 2, 2014

In “My Head’s Exploding” MoDo says as Iraq descends into chaos, again, Dick Cheney & Co. dust off the megaphone.  The Moustache of Wisdom considers “People of Influence” and tells us that the future of Ukraine is now in the hands of its own people.  Here’s MoDo:

W. cut off Dick Cheney.

Why can’t we?

Who would have thought that Iraq imploding would give the mountebanks who tricked us into war a chance to rear their heads and seek rehabilitation — somehow grabbing onto the hellish spiral as proof that they were right in their original wrongness?

But, then, they did always create their own reality spun from grandiosity.

They are shamefully showcased on cable TV, which has so much airtime to fill that it doesn’t care if it’s hot air. They are once more pounding on the fear button and warning that America needs to attack or risk being emasculated by Middle Eastern terrorists. Doesn’t Vice know that most Americans, especially the Bushes, cannot stand his demented scaremongering anymore? Even Fox News anchors are now pressing him with skeptical questions about the war.

Asked by Fox’s Elisabeth Hasselbeck if he thought we “could be on track for something worse than 9/11,” Cheney replied, “I think that’s a possibility.”

He’s always busy predicting another 9/11. Too bad he and W. ignored warnings about the first one. Cheney is not only responsible for Iraq melting down and Afghanistan being mucked up. He can also claim credit for so exhausting John Wayne’s America that a skeptic on military intervention, Rand Paul, is a credible candidate for the G.O.P. nomination.

That causes the man without a pulse to pulsate with bile. Shooting Paul in the face, Cheney told Fox: “The Republican Party traditionally has had the reputation as the go-to guys with respect to national security, and we want to reclaim that mantle for the party.”

Darth Vader is campaigning for validation with his cowboy hat and “Sith apprentice,” as Jon Stewart calls Liz Cheney. Liz acted in her failed Wyoming Senate bid as Dick did with the globe: swaggering and pre-emptorally blowing off allies and foes. So she has her own fences to mend if she wants a career in politics.

Their idea of a charm offensive is to growl and spit and create something called The Alliance for a Strong America, a group demanding a more chesty foreign policy in a statement redolent of the manifesto that neocons and other Republicans waved back during the Clinton administration. Speaking to Fox News’s Megyn Kelly and to conservative radio host Chris Salcedo, Liz blamed President Obama for the chaos wrought by her father and W., basely claiming that he was intentionally trying to weaken America.

When Bill Clinton said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that it was “unseemly” for Dick Cheney to attack the Obama administration “for not doing an adequate job of cleaning up the mess that he made,” the venomous Liz tweeted “@billclinton calls Dick Cheney ‘unseemly.’ Well, I guess he would know.” (Not much of a denial by Liz.)

The creepy comeback scenario is playing out with the Cheneys, Paul Wolfowitz (who absurdly rejects the moniker of “architect,”) Bill Kristol, Paul Bremer, Robert Kagan (who prefers the term “liberal interventionist” to “neocon”) and Elliott Abrams (who actually had the chutzpah to write a Politico Magazine piece about Obama titled “The Man Who Broke the Middle East”).

As a cherry on top of our $3 trillion disaster, there on the front page of The Times on Tuesday was Ahmad Chalabi, the neocons’ cagey partner in fakery and initial choice to replace Saddam Hussein.

“He took millions of dollars from the C.I.A., founded and was accused of defrauding the second-biggest bank in Jordan and sold the Bush administration a bill of goods on weapons of mass destruction in Iraq,” Rod Nordland wrote. Yet now Chalabi is a serious candidate for prime minister.

In his book about Chalabi, “Arrows of the Night,” Richard Bonin, a “60 Minutes” producer, wrote this about the secular Shiite who managed to manipulate Washington into getting rid of Saddam, thinking he could return and take his place: “There has never been a foreigner more crucially involved in a decision by the United States to go to war than Chalabi.”

When Bonin asked Chalabi who used whom, in his unholy alliance with the neocons who later scorned him, he answered: “It was a commonality of interest, a convergence of conceptions about the future.”

Just when you thought our wreck in Iraq could not get any more sulfurous, The Times’s James Risen revealed that a State Department inquiry into the out-of-control Blackwater protection brigade was stifled by U.S. diplomats in Baghdad and then abandoned after Blackwater’s top manager threatened “that he could kill” the government’s chief investigator and “no one could or would do anything about it as we were in Iraq.”

Asked on HuffPost Live on Tuesday whether Cheney was immoral or amoral, Lawrence Wilkerson, the regretful former aide to Colin Powell, replied amoral.

“Immorality is something that can be ferreted out, checked and balanced,” he said. “Amorality is an altogether different affair, especially when you’re exploiting the politics of fear in order to carry out state purposes, which is what Dick Cheney’s forte is.”

At least the neocons finally found the W.M.D. — warped mouthy discourse.

Now here’s The Moustache of Wisdom:

You can’t make this up. The Guardian reported on Sunday that Ukrainians have crowdfunded the first “people’s drone” to help their army stem infiltration by Russian-supported rebels in Ukraine’s eastern provinces that border Russia. “Last week, Ukraine’s crowdfunding site ‘The People’s Project’ said that it had received enough donations to fund a drone,” The Guardian reported. “The organizers had originally hoped to buy a state-of-the-art Israeli drone — for $165,000 — or a cheaper American one costing $120,000. In the end, however, they managed to build the drone for just $35,000. A designer and other volunteers built the airframe, with a Ukrainian military institute chipping in technical equipment.”

Good for them. The fate of Ukraine matters — as much, if not more, as Syria and Iraq. We don’t have to search for “moderates” in Ukraine. Millions there have already both fought for and voted to align their country with the free markets and free people of the European Union.

In Brussels, on Friday, the newly elected Ukrainian president, Petro Poroshenko, signed a trade pact with the European Union that will lower tariffs on Ukrainian exports to the 28-nation E.U. market in return for Ukraine implementing anti-corruption, transparency and quality-control reforms designed to bring its economy up to Western standards. It was the same deal that Poroshenko’s predecessor, Viktor Yanukovych, refused to sign last November under pressure from President Vladimir Putin of Russia. That set off the revolution in Kiev’s main square that eventually toppled Yanukovych and ignited a rebellion by Putin-directed separatists in eastern Ukraine. Which is why only hours after the deal was signed, Russia’s deputy foreign minister, Grigory Karasin, was quoted by the Interfax news agency as ominously warning that the E.U.-Ukraine accord would have “serious consequences.”

Really? Think about that. One nation threatening another for signing a trade pact in hopes of elevating the incomes of its people, which have badly lagged those of its neighbors, like Poland, who joined the European Union after the collapse of the Soviet Union. I get that the Russians would not want Ukraine to join NATO, a defense alliance still aimed at containing Russian power. I opposed NATO’s expansion at the end of the Cold War and would not support it now. But a trade deal that doesn’t even lead to automatic E.U. membership? Is this how Russia maintains its power status? By keeping its neighbors poor and energy starved?

I had argued in May that Putin had “blinked” when, in the wake of Western sanctions and the threat of more, he pulled back troops from Ukraine’s border where he had massed them — hoping first to block Poroshenko’s election and then the signing of the E.U. deal. But maybe Putin just winked. While he did not invade, he has shoveled arms and proxies into eastern Ukraine to foment separatism in Russian-speaking areas. Today, Poroshenko — fed up with Putin’s Goebbels-quality lying — moved forces to regain control of eastern Ukraine and his country’s right to choose its future. Putin is clearly afraid of more sanctions. It is time the U.S. and E.U. imposed them.

In denying Ukrainians the right to choose their own economic and political path, Putin shows how dumb and clever he is at the same time. He is dumb in believing that, in this connected world of newly empowered citizens, he can enjoy the same “sphere of influence” that Russia had in Central Europe in the days of the czars. Sorry. If a leader wants to have a sphere of influence today — in this age of “people of influence” — he either has to earn it by how he behaves or take it all by force. In Ukraine, Putin is in incapable of the former and — for now — doesn’t dare do the latter. The czars never had to deal with people of influence who could crowdfund their own drone.

But Putin is also clever. Or as the Russian analyst Vladimir Frolov put it in The Moscow Times: “President Vladimir Putin may fail to secure his goal of derailing Ukraine’s association agreement with the E.U., but at home he has already cashed in on his Ukrainian political strategy by completely resetting Russia’s national conversation. His principal achievement has been to eliminate any meaningful debate on alternative futures for Russia. Less than a year ago, there was still political space to advance democratic alternatives to Putin’s system.”

However, the Russian seizure of Crimea and its proxy war in Ukraine, added Frolov, “transformed the national conversation from a healthy debate on Putin’s presidential performance into a toxic discussion on war and Russia’s enemies. Moscow’s propaganda has successfully painted Ukraine’s popular uprising against state capture by a corrupt clique as a ‘U.S.-sponsored fascist coup.’ ” Therefore, if Putin “is fighting Nazis in Ukraine, then by extension anyone who disagrees with him could be a Nazi collaborator and an enemy of Russia. This closes the political space for all alternative visions for Russia except as a revisionist empire hostile to the West.”

•

Correction: In my June 25 column about Arab governing models, I misinterpreted “takfiris.” They are Muslim extremists who declare others to be apostates.

Seeing as in that column he had defined them as apostates it would appear he’s not quite the huge authority on all things Middle East that he would have us believe…

The Pasty Little Putz, Dowd, Friedman and Bruni

June 15, 2014

The Pasty Little Putz, in “The End of Iraq,” babbles that the facts on the ground are shredding the official maps of Iraq and the region.  In the comments “mancuroc” from Rochester, NY had this to say:  “That’s a mighty strange timeline from Douthat.  Sykes-Picot, 9/11, and a succession of maps, 2006-2013. Wasn’t there an invasion in 2003? Oh, wait, there was that oblique reference to “recklessness”, as if it were the moral equivalent of “neglect” by the current administration.  The proper lesson to be learned is that more neglect and less intervention and recklessness in the middle east on the part of the west would have been to the mutual benefit of both.  The “stability” train left the station the minute shock-and-awe was launched in Baghdad, and it’s no use pretending otherwise.”  MoDo is riding one of her favorite hobby horses.  In “When Will Hillary Let It Go?” she snarls that America is entranced with the frozen kingdoms of two polarizing queens.  The Moustache of Wisdom has seen fit to present “5 Principles for Iraq” in which he tells us there are many questions that need answering before the U.S. considers intervening.  Lest we forget exactly who and what Friedman really is, here’s a reminder.  Mr. Bruni, in “Naked Confessions of the College-Bound,” says the raw and relevatory admissions essay reflects the blinding competition to get into elite schools.  Here’s The Putz:

Every so often, in the post-9/11 era, an enterprising observer circulates a map of what the Middle East might look like, well, after: after America’s wars in the region, after the various revolutions and counterrevolutions, after the Arab Spring and the subsequent springtime for jihadists, after the Sunni-Shiite struggle for mastery. At some point, these cartographers suggest, the wave of post-9/11 conflict will necessarily redraw borders, reshape nation-states, and rub out some of the lines drawn by Sir Mark Sykes and François Georges-Picot in a secret Anglo-French treaty almost 100 years ago.

In 2006, it was Ralph Peters, the retired lieutenant colonel turned columnist, who sketched a map that subdivided Saudi Arabia and Pakistan and envisioned Kurdish, Sunni and Shiite republics emerging from a no-longer-united Iraq. Two years later, The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg imagined similar partings-of-the-ways, with new microstates — an Alawite Republic, an Islamic Emirate of Gaza — taking shape and Afghanistan splitting up as well. Last year, it was Robin Wright’s turn in this newspaper, in a map that (keeping up with events) subdivided Libya as well.

Peters’s map, which ran in Armed Forces Journal, inspired conspiracy theories about how this was America’s real plan for remaking the Middle East. But the reality is entirely different: One reason these maps have remained strictly hypothetical, even amid regional turmoil, is that the United States has a powerful interest in preserving the Sykes-Picot status quo.

This is not because the existing borders are in any way ideal. Indeed, there’s a very good chance that a Middle East that was more politically segregated by ethnicity and faith might become a more stable and harmonious region in the long run.

Such segregation is an underappreciated part of Europe’s 20th-century transformation into a continent at peace. As Jerry Muller argued in Foreign Affairs in 2008, the brutal ethnic cleansing and forced migrations that accompanied and followed the two world wars ensured that “for the most part, each nation in Europe had its own state, and each state was made up almost exclusively of a single ethnic nationality,” which in turn sapped away some of the “ethnonational aspirations and aggression” that had contributed to imperialism, fascism and Hitler’s rise.

But this happened after the brutal ethnic cleansing that accompanied and followed two world wars. There’s no good reason to imagine that a redrawing of Middle Eastern borders could happen much more peacefully. Which is why American policy makers, quite sensibly, have preferred the problematic stability of current arrangements to the long-term promise of a Free Kurdistan or Baluchistan, a Greater Syria or Jordan, a Wahhabistan or Tripolitania.

This was true even of the most ambitious (and foolhardy) architects of the Iraq invasion, who intended to upset a dictator-dominated status quo … but not, they mostly thought, in a way that would redraw national boundaries. Instead, the emphasis was on Iraq’s potential for post-Saddam cohesion, its prospects as a multiethnic model for democratization and development. That emphasis endured through the darkest days of our occupation, when the voices calling for partition — including the current vice president, Joe Biden — were passed over and unity remained America’s strategic goal.

But now that strategy has almost failed. De facto, with the shocking advance of militants toward Baghdad, there are now three states in what we call Iraq: one Kurdish, one Shiite and one Sunni — with the last straddling the Iraq-Syria border and “governed” by jihadists.

This means that Iraq is now part of an arc, extending from Hezbollah’s fiefdom in Lebanon through war-torn Syria, in which official national borders are notional at best. And while full dissolution is not yet upon us, the facts on the ground in Iraq look more and more like Peters’s map than the country that so many Americans died to stabilize and secure.

What’s more, we pretty clearly lack both the will and the capacity to change them. It is possible, as The New Yorker’s Dexter Filkins has argued, that a clearer Obama administration focus on Iraq, and a more effective attempt to negotiate a continued American presence three years ago, could have prevented this unraveling. (Little about this White House’s recent foreign policy record inspires much confidence in its efforts in Iraq.)

But now? Now our leverage relative to the more immediate players is at a modern low point, and the progress of regional war has a momentum that U.S. airstrikes are unlikely to arrest.

Our basic interests have not altered: better stability now, better the Sykes-Picot borders with all their flaws, than the very distant promise of a postconflict Middle Eastern map.

But two successive administrations have compromised those interests: one through recklessness, the other through neglect. Now the map is changing; now, as in early-20th-century Europe, the price of transformation is being paid in blood.

It’s like he’s studying to be Bloody Billy Kristol, whose chair he took over at the Times…  Here’s tiresome old MoDo:

No one wrote about blondes like Raymond Chandler.

“There is the small cute blonde who cheeps and twitters and the big statuesque blonde who straight-arms you with an ice-blue glare,” he wrote in “The Long Goodbye.” “There is the blonde who gives you the up-from-under look and smells lovely and shimmers and hangs on your arm and is always very, very tired when you take her home.”

There’s the pale, anemic, languid blonde with the soft voice. “You can’t lay a finger on her,” Chandler notes, “because in the first place you don’t want to and in the second place she is reading ‘The Waste Land’ or Dante in the original.” And when the New York Philharmonic is playing Hindemith, he writes dryly, “she can tell you which one of the six bass viols came in a quarter of a beat too late. I hear Toscanini can also. That makes two of them.”

None of his descriptions, however, conjures the two regal blondes transfixing America at the moment: Hillary and Elsa.

Those close to them think that the queen of Hillaryland and the Snow Queen from Disney’s “Frozen” have special magical powers, but worry about whether they can control those powers, show their humanity and stir real warmth in the public heart.

Just as Elsa’s coronation suddenly became fraught, so has Hillary’s. Like Arendelle, America is frozen: The war still rages in Iraq, the Clintons still dominate the political scene and Hillary still obsesses about money, a narrative thread that has existed since she was thwarted in her desire to build a pool at the governor’s mansion in poor Arkansas and left the White House with a doggie bag full of sofas, rugs, lamps, TVs and china, some of which the Clintons later had to pay for or return. Even Chelsea was cashing in, getting a ridiculous, $600,000-a-year scion salary from NBC, far greater than that of many of the network’s correspondents.

As a Clinton White House aide once explained to me, “Hillary, though a Methodist, thinks of herself like an Episcopal bishop who deserves to live at the level of her wealthy parishioners, in return for devoting her life to God and good works.”

After feeling stifled at times and misunderstood, after suffering painful setbacks, the powerful and polarizing Elsa and Hillary proclaim from their lofty height that they’re going to “let it go” and go for it. (Although Elsa’s wolves are not as fierce as the Fox predators after Hillary.)

“I don’t care what they’re going to say,” Elsa sings at the climactic moment when she decides to let down her hair, ratchet up her star power and create her glittering ice palace. “Let the storm rage on. The cold never bothered me anyway!”

Hillary had a similar cri de coeur in her interview with Diane Sawyer. When Sawyer asked her about the focus on her appearance that once kept her so “scripted, cautious, safe,” Hillary replied: “When you’re in the spotlight as a woman, you know you’re being judged constantly. I mean, it is just never-ending. And you get a little worried about, O.K., you know, people over on this side are loving what I am wearing, looking like, saying. People over on this side aren’t.

“You know, your natural tendency is how do you bring people together so that you can better communicate? I’m done with that. I mean, I’m just done.” She continued: “I am over it, over it. I think I have changed; not worried so much about what other people are thinking.” She vowed to now “say what I know, what I believe, and let the chips fall.”

It would make a great Idina Menzel anthem, but it’s not believable that Hillary Rodham Clinton will suddenly throw caution and calculation to the wind. Having market-tested the gender-neutral model in 2008, this time Hillary is presenting herself as a woman who has suffered the slings and arrows of sexism.

Her apology for being “wrong” about voting to authorize W. to invade Iraq took 11 years to spit out, and she told the Council on Foreign Relations on Thursday that she “could not have predicted” the success of Al Qaeda-inspired insurgents in seizing control of Iraqi cities. If some bold voices had fought going into a patently unnecessary war against a country that had nothing to do with 9/11 — a war, waged ignorantly for silly, macho reasons, that was never properly debated or planned in the White House — America would not be in a global crouch now, and Iraq would not be a killing field.

Hillary’s new memoir, like her last one, is a testament to caution and calculation. It doesn’t feel written so much as assembled by a “Hillary for President” algorithm. All this excitement is being ginned up, but nothing exciting is happening. There isn’t one surprising or scintillating or provocative word in the whole book. “Hard Choices” is inert, a big yawn.

In her “If they’d listened to me” mode, she is distancing herself from the president on Syria, Russia and the Bergdahl trade because she does not, as Republican strategist Matthew Dowd puts it, want to be defeated by Obama twice.

The opening of her book tour/presidential campaign has featured some stumbles, causing some commentators to wonder if she has grown rusty and tone-deaf, isolated in the ice palace she erected to keep out the loathed press.

No one doubts that Hillary is tough and knowledgeable. But the question of how scarred and defensive she is, given all the fights and rough times she has gone through, and how that affects her judgment now, is a legitimate one.

Has she given up the my-way-or-the-highway imperiousness that doomed her health care efforts? Has she toned down the defensiveness that exacerbated the Whitewater affair? Has she modified the ends-justify-the-means mind-set that allowed her to participate in the vivisection of young women she knew Bill had been involved with? Has she tempered the focus on political viability that led her to vote to allow W. to scamper into a vanity war? Has she learned not to surround herself with high-priced mercenaries like Mark Penn and Dick Morris?

In the last few days, two women interrogators have rattled Hillary’s ice palace gates with questions that were obvious and reasonable.

With Sawyer, Clinton said she hadn’t known enough to know the Benghazi outpost was unprotected, despite what Ambassador Chris Stevens had called “never-ending security threats.”

On NPR’s “Fresh Air,” Clinton grew testy when Terry Gross pressed her on whether the decision to finally publicly embrace gay marriage was a personal evolution or a political “calculus” — now that it’s not as much of a political liability and now that the court has dismantled the dreadful Defense of Marriage Act, which her husband cravenly signed into law in 1996. Clinton said she couldn’t do it as secretary of state. But the vice president was not constrained from saying what was in his heart and pushing the president in the right direction.

What Elsa discovers at the end of “Frozen” is that her powers can actually be used for good, once her heart is filled with love. She escapes from her prison, leaves behind the negative things that held her back, and leads her kingdom to a happy and prosperous future.

Can Hillary?

In the comments “gemli” from Boston had this to say:  “If it’s a choice between any Republican and Hillary, well, there’s really no choice. It won’t matter if Hillary is flawed, manufactured, calculating, tainted by big money and a reformed Bush enabler. But it’s a sad commentary on the Democratic party that the bench is so shallow that Hillary is the only option. There isn’t a passionate, untainted voice out there, with the possible exception of Elizabeth Warren. At least she seems to stand up for her beliefs, and for the middle class, without equivocating, or finessing the message.”  Amen.  Now we get to The Moustache of Wisdom, eponymous creator of the Friedman Unit:”

The disintegration of Iraq and Syria is upending an order that has defined the Middle East for a century. It is a huge event, and we as a country need to think very carefully about how to respond. Having just returned from Iraq two weeks ago, my own thinking is guided by five principles, and the first is that, in Iraq today, my enemy’s enemy is my enemy. Other than the Kurds, we have no friends in this fight. Neither Sunni nor Shiite leaders spearheading the war in Iraq today share our values.

The Sunni jihadists, Baathists and tribal militiamen who have led the takeover of Mosul from the Iraqi government are not supporters of a democratic, pluralistic Iraq, the only Iraq we have any interest in abetting. And Iraq’s Shiite prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, has proved himself not to be a friend of a democratic, pluralistic Iraq either. From Day 1, he has used his office to install Shiites in key security posts, drive out Sunni politicians and generals and direct money to Shiite communities. In a word, Maliki has been a total jerk. Besides being prime minister, he made himself acting minister of defense, minister of the interior and national security adviser, and his cronies also control the Central Bank and the Finance Ministry.

Maliki had a choice — to rule in a sectarian way or in an inclusive way — and he chose sectarianism. We owe him nothing.

The second principle for me derives from the most important question we need to answer from the Arab Spring. Why is it that the two states doing the best are those that America has had the least to do with: Tunisia and the semiautonomous Kurdistan region of Iraq?

Answer: Believe it or not, it’s not all about what we do and the choices we make. Arabs and Kurds have agency, too. And the reason that both Tunisia and Kurdistan have built islands of decency, still frail to be sure, is because the major contending political forces in each place eventually opted for the principle of “no victor, no vanquished.”

The two major rival parties in Kurdistan not only buried the hatchet between them but paved the way for democratic elections that recently brought a fast-rising opposition party, that ran on an anti-corruption platform, into government for the first time. And Tunisia, after much internal struggle and bloodshed, found a way to balance the aspirations of secularists and Islamists and agree on the most progressive Constitution in the history of the Arab world.

Hence my rule: The Middle East only puts a smile on your face when it starts with them — when they take ownership of reconciliation. Please spare me another dose of: It is all about whom we train and arm. Sunnis and Shiites don’t need guns from us. They need the truth. It is the early 21st century, and too many of them are still fighting over who is the rightful heir to the Prophet Muhammad from the 7th century. It has to stop — for them, and for their kids, to have any future.

Principle No. 3: Maybe Iran, and its wily Revolutionary Guards Quds Force commander, Gen. Qassem Suleimani, aren’t so smart after all. It was Iran that armed its Iraqi Shiite allies with the specially shaped bombs that killed and wounded many American soldiers. Iran wanted us out. It was Iran that pressured Maliki into not signing an agreement with the U.S. to give our troops legal cover to stay in Iraq. Iran wanted to be the regional hegemon. Well, Suleimani: “This Bud’s for you.” Now your forces are overextended in Syria, Lebanon and Iraq, and ours are back home. Have a nice day.

We still want to forge a nuclear deal that prevents Iran from developing a bomb, so we have to be careful about how much we aid Iran’s Sunni foes. But with Iran still under sanctions and its forces and Hezbollah’s now fighting in Syria, Lebanon and Iraq, well, let’s just say: advantage America.

Fourth: Leadership matters. While in Iraq, I visited Kirkuk, a city that has long been hotly contested between Kurds, Arabs and Turkmen. When I was there five years ago, it was a hellish war zone. This time I found new paved roads, parks and a flourishing economy and a Kurdish governor, Najimaldin Omar Karim, who was just re-elected in April in a fair election and won more seats thanks to votes from the minority Arabs and Turkmen.

“We focused on [improving] roads, terrible traffic, hospitals, dirty schools,” and increasing electricity from four hours a day to nearly 24 hours, said Dr. Karim, a neurosurgeon who had worked in America for 33 years before returning to Iraq in 2009. “People were tired of politics and maximalism. We [earned] the confidence and good feelings of Arabs and Turkmen toward a Kurdish governor. They feel like we don’t discriminate. This election was the first time Turkmen and Arabs voted for a Kurd.”

In the recent chaos, the Kurds have now taken full military control of Kirkuk, but I can tell you this: Had Maliki governed Iraq like Karim governed Kirkuk, we would not have this mess today. With the right leadership, people there can live together.

Finally, while none of the main actors in Iraq, other than Kurds, are fighting for our values, is anyone there even fighting for our interests: a minimally stable Iraq that doesn’t threaten us? And whom we can realistically help? The answers still aren’t clear to me, and, until they are, I’d be very wary about intervening.

“ScottW” from Chapel Hill, NC has a question for Tommy in the comments:  “Any thoughts of ever admitting you were wrong in cheerleading the U.S. to invade and destroy Iraq back in 2003?”  [crickets]  And now we get to Mr. Bruni:

The Yale applicant had terrific test scores. She had fantastic grades. As one of Yale’s admissions officers, Michael Motto, leafed through her application, he found himself more and more impressed.

Then he got to her essay. As he remembers it, she mentioned a French teacher she greatly admired. She described their one-on-one conversation at the end of a school day. And then, this detail: During their talk, when an urge to go to the bathroom could no longer be denied, she decided not to interrupt the teacher or exit the room. She simply urinated on herself.

“Her point was that she was not going to pull herself away from an intellectually stimulating conversation just to meet a physical need,” said Motto, who later left Yale and founded Apply High, a firm that guides students through the admissions process.

And his point in bringing her story up during a recent interview? The same as mine in passing it along:

When it comes to college admissions, our society has tumbled way, way too far down the rabbit hole, as I’ve observed before. And in the warped wonderland where we’ve landed, too many kids attach such a crazy degree of importance to getting into the most selective schools that they do stagy, desperate, disturbing things to stand out. The essay portion of their applications can be an especially jolting illustration of that.

It’s an illustration of something else, too: a tendency toward runaway candor and uncensored revelation, especially about tribulations endured and hardships overcome, among kids who’ve grown up in the era of the overshare. The essay is where our admissions frenzy and our gratuitously confessional ethos meet, producing autobiographical sketches like another that Motto remembers reading at Yale, this one from a male student.

“He wrote about his genitalia, and how he was under-endowed,” Motto told me. “He was going for something about masculinity and manhood, and how he had to get over certain things.”

Motto, who was an assistant director of admissions at Yale from 2001 to 2003 and evaluated applications part time from 2007 to 2008, said that essays as shocking as those two were a small minority. Other people who have screened college applications or coached applicants through the admissions process echoed that assessment.

But they also noted, as he did, an impulse in many essay writers to tug readers into the most intimate corners of their lives and to use unfiltered frankness as a way to grab attention. In some of the essays that students begin to draft and some of the essays that they actually wind up submitting, there are accounts of eating disorders, sexual abuse, self-mutilation, domestic violence, alcoholism, drug addiction. Sally Rubenstone, one of the authors of the “Panicked Parents’ Guide to College Admissions,” has called this “the Jerry Springer-ization of the college admissions essay,” referring to the host of one of the TV talk shows best known for putting private melodrama on a public stage.

Stephen Friedfeld, one of the founders of AcceptU, an admissions consulting firm, told me that in the essay of a student he and his colleagues worked with this year, he encountered a disorder he’d never heard of before: cyclic vomiting syndrome. And Friedfeld and his colleagues huddled over the wisdom of the student’s account of his struggle with it. Would it seem too gross? Too woe-is-me?

Their solution was to encourage the student to emphasize the medical education that he’d undertaken in trying to understand his ailment. They also recommended that he inch up to the topic and inject some disarming humor. Friedfeld said that the final essay began something like this: “In my Mom’s car? Yep, I’ve done it there. As I’m waiting in line to eat my lunch in school? Yep, I’ve done it there.” The “it” was left vague for a few sentences.

Right now, during the summer months between the junior and senior years of high school, many kids who’ll be putting together their college applications in the fall start to sweat the sorts of essays they’ll write. And as they contemplate potential topics, some of them go to highly emotional places.

“Being a little vulnerable can give great insight into your character,” said Joie Jager-Hyman, a former admissions officer at Dartmouth College and the president of College Prep 360, which helps students assemble their applications. “I’ve had successful essays on topics like ‘my father’s alcoholism’ or ‘my parents got divorced because my dad is gay.’ ”

She’ll shepherd students through four or more drafts. Michele Hernandez, another prominent admissions counselor, runs one or more sessions of an Application Boot Camp every summer in which roughly 25 to 30 kids will be tucked away for four days in a hotel to work with a team of about eight editors on what she told me were as many as 10 drafts of each of three to five different essays. The camp costs $14,000 per student. That doesn’t include travel to it, the hotel bill, breakfast or dinners, but it does include lunch and a range of guidance, both before and during the four days, on how students should fill out college applications and best showcase themselves.

Hernandez, Jager-Hyman and others in the booming admissions-counseling business try to steer students away from excessively and awkwardly naked testimonials, which can raise red flags about students’ emotional stability and about their judgment.

“Admissions officers pay as much attention to students’ choice of essay topic as they do to the details in their essays,” Motto told me.

He added that admissions officers can sniff out an essay that a student got too much help on, and he told me a funny story about one student he counseled. He said that the boy’s parents “came up with what they thought was the perfect college essay,” which described the boy as the product of “an exceptionally difficult pregnancy, with many ups and downs, trips to the hospital, various doctor visits.”

“The parents drafted a sketch of the essay and thought it was terrific,” Motto said. Then they showed it to their son, “and he pointed out that everything mentioned happened before he was born.” He ended up choosing a topic that spoke to his post-utero life as a math lover who found a way to use those skills to help patients at a physical rehabilitation center.

THE blind spots and miscalculations that enter into the essay-writing process reflect the ferocious determination of parents and children to impress the gatekeepers at elite schools, which accept an ever smaller percentage of applicants. Students are convinced that they have to package themselves and communicate in entirely distinctive fashions.

“We argue that one of the ways to help your case is to show that you have a voice,” said André Phillips, the senior associate director of recruitment and outreach at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “But in that effort, sometimes students cross the line. In trying to be provocative, sometimes students miss the point.”

Motto said that one Yale applicant “actually described himself as one of the world’s great Casanovas” and said that his amazing looks inspired envy in other boys and competition among girls vying for his affection.

In response to several essays about emotional trauma, Motto contacted the students’ secondary schools to make sure that the applicants were O.K. He said he called the guidance counselor at the school of the girl who had urinated on herself, expressing concern about the essay and about whether she might be sabotaging her own application. He said that the counselor was aware of the essay and as baffled by it as Motto was.

The girl didn’t get into Yale, Motto said. Neither did the boy who mulled his genitalia. And neither did Casanova. There were apparently limits to the reach of his legendary sexual magnetism, and the Gothic spires and ivy-covered walls of a certain campus in New Haven lay beyond them.

The Pasty Little Putz, Dowd, Friedman, Kristof and Bruni

June 8, 2014

In “There is No Alternative” Putzy tells us that only Hillary Clinton can hold together the Democrats’ political coalition.  In the comments “gemli” from Boston has this to say:  “Another dispatch from the outer rim of conservative fantasy-land, a magical place where Republicans make worthwhile policy innovations, and where the Republican Big Tent welcomes all races, colors, creeds and genders. Douthat actually believes that the benefits of conservatism are self-evident, and that those who are blind to its charms have something wrong with them. Only this would explain the little sneer as he lists the members of the Hillary coalition: minority voters in general and African-Americans in particular, waitress-moms, middle-class whites, Bill Clinton nostalgics, and people who actually recognize real political service. He can’t understand why middle America wouldn’t prefer some social-safety-net destroying austerity scold with an anti-gay, anti-woman, anti-minority coalition of Tea Party zealots and Christian conservative climate-change deniers.”  MoDo has decided to tell us more about pot…  In “Pot Rules” she howls that as it moves past the old “Reefer Madness” caricature, the reefer crowd in Colorado gets mad at the prospect of almost any regulations.  The Moustache of Wisdom, in “Obama on Obama on Climate,” says the president explains in an interview why the new E.P.A. rules on carbon are so pivotal.  Mr. Kristof poses a question in “Madam Secretary Made a Difference:”  Did Hillary Clinton accomplish much as secretary of state? Yes! She helped change the diplomatic agenda for the better.  Mr. Bruni says “Dear Millennials, We’re Sorry.”  He asks how dare we malign kids or pretend to care about them when our habits and spending endanger their future.  Here’s The Putz:

If the excerpts currently circulating in the press are any indication, Hillary Clinton’s latest memoir will resemble pretty much every recent political memoir from a potential presidential candidate: That is, it will be chloroform in print.

Which no doubt troubles its “author” not at all. Clinton has every incentive to bore us, sedate us, lull us to sleep — to hit the snooze button, in effect, for as long as our politics makes possible. She is the rare presidential hopeful who has nothing whatsoever to gain from making news. Leading the Democratic presidential field by a Secretariat-esque margin; leading every potential Republican candidate by around 10 points; running far ahead of President Obama’s job approval numbers … if she had her way, all the months from here till 2016 would be consumed by devouring time without anything altering her current image.

And her desire converges almost perfectly with the interests of her party, even if not every liberal quite realizes it yet. That’s because Clinton’s iconic status is, increasingly, the only clear advantage the Democratic Party has. If her position is weakened, diminished or challenged, the entire coalition risks collapse.

Liberals don’t see this clearly yet because they tend to regard the Obama coalition as a left-of-center mirror-image of Nixon’s and Reagan’s conservative majority — a natural, settled and, thanks to demographic trends, growing presidential majority (if not a congressional one) that should deliver the White House to their party reliably for cycles to come.

Because of this confidence, many Democratic partisans assume that 2016 will inevitably be better for their party than the looming midterms, and many analysts assume that the Republican Party is a long, long way from mounting a substantive challenge to liberalism. My friends on the left have an extensive list of things that the right simply “must” do before the G.O.P. can be relevant at the presidential level again (crush the Tea Party, then move left on immigration, then move left on everything else …), and they express a certain condescension toward the recent stirrings of conservative policy innovation: Nice effort, but you’ll have to move a lot further in our direction if you expect to win the White House back.

But there’s a big flaw in their historical analogy. Political skill builds majorities, but popular policy successes cement them — and that is what has consistently eluded Obama. He resembles Reagan when it comes to electoral-majority building, but he’s a Reagan without the economic boom, without the foreign policy achievements and without the high approval ratings.

As Ramesh Ponnuru writes in the latest issue of National Review, while “the Democrats of the 1980s had to respond to a country that was largely happy with Republican governance and to specific conservative policy successes,” today’s electorate “is persistently unhappy” with the direction of the country, and “liberal policy successes are too hard to detect to be the basis for concessions” by the right. And liberalism’s current forward-looking agenda, such as it is — immigration reform, climate-change regulations, some jaw-jaw about inequality — doesn’t really align with those unhappy voters’ immediate priorities.

Which means that Obama’s coalition, while real enough, may not be durable — and that a Republican comeback at the presidential level might be more likely than many Democrats currently assume.

Especially since the liberal coalition’s extraordinary diversity also offers many potential lines of fracture. To invoke an example from this year’s grim centennial, the post-Obama Democratic Party could well be the Austro-Hungarian empire of presidential majorities: a sprawling, ramshackle and heterogeneous arrangement, one major crisis away from dissolution.

But this is where Hillary Clinton comes in. If her party is Austria-Hungary, she might be its Franz Josef — the beloved emperor whose imperial persona (“coffered up,” the novelist Joseph Roth wrote, “in an icy and everlasting old age, like armour made of an awe-inspiring crystal”), as much as any specific political strategy, helped keep dissolution from the empire’s door.

I really have no idea what proposals Clinton will run on, what arguments she’ll make. But as with Franz Josef, it’s not her policies that make her formidable; it’s the multitudes that “Hillary” the brand and icon now contains. Academic liberalism and waitress-mom populism and Davos/Wall Street/Bloomberg centrism. Female empowerment and stand-by-your-man martyrdom. The old Clintonian bond with minority voters and her own 2008 primary-trail identification with Scots-Irish whites. And then the great trifecta: continuity with the Obama present, a restoration of the more prosperous Clintonian past and (as the first … female … president) a new “yes we can” progressive future.

Like the penultimate Hapsburg emperor with his motley empire, then, she has the potential to embody a political coalition — its identities and self-conceptions, its nostalgias and aspirations — in ways that might just keep the whole thing hanging together.

But without her, the deluge.

Next up we have MoDo:

In the last chapter, I covered how not to get high. In this one, I will cover how to get high.

After my admission that I did a foolish thing in Denver — failing to realize that consuming a single square, about a quarter, of a pot candy bar was dicey for an edibles virgin — many in the pot industry upbraided me for doing a foolish thing.

But some in Mary Jane world have contacted me to say that my dysphoria (i.e., bummer) is happening more and more in Colorado.

Justin Hartfield is the California founder of Marijuana.com and Weedmaps.com (a sort of Yelp for pot), and an entrepreneur involved in some of the nation’s top marijuana-technology companies. As The Wall Street Journal noted in a profile last March, the 30-year-old former high school pot dealer wants to be “the Philip Morris of pot.”

“Your experience points out a significant need for standardized dosing, testing and labeling,” he told me, recalling a similar vertiginous paranoia spiral when he and his wife split a pot brownie in Amsterdam in 2008.

On Friday, Marijuana.com launched an ongoing guide to “the best practices towards both consumption and sale of edibles.” It urged every dispensary in Colorado and throughout America to follow Amsterdam’s lead and put up signs warning about the dangers of oversampling psychotropic treats. (Other websites, from Vice to Vox, also weighed in with helpful safety tips on edibles.)

Hartfield said Weedmaps is providing pamphlets, posters and video to dispensaries and users, including an “Edibles Education” pamphlet with headings like “Start Small,” “Wait” because edibles take two hours or longer to take effect, “Don’t Mix” with alcohol or other substances, and keep “Out of Reach” of children.

“Edibles are not the best delivery device in general for marijuana because it’s notoriously hard to control the titration in your stomach,” Hartfield said. “When you smoke it’s so easy. You have a hit, it affects you immediately. Then you can decide to take another if you want to get higher. With edibles, it hits your stomach all at once, and holy Nelly!”

Some Colorado pols are nervous about stories like that of the Longmont mother who found her 2-year-old daughter eating a pot cookie in front of their apartment building and the two 10-year-olds in Greeley who were caught selling and swapping pot purloined from relatives. (Not to mention the new British study suggesting there may be a correlation between smoking cannabis and a temporary change in the size and shape of sperm.)

“It’s kind of shocking in a way that the states that approved it have not had more oversight and consumer information,” said Dr. Jerome Groopman of Harvard Medical School, who favors legalization. “The horse is out of the barn, so to speak, and there’s a responsibility to consumers and particularly young people. THC is a serious substance. It has increased by 5 to 15 times in today’s plants compared to the 1960s. It’s a long time since Upton Sinclair. Now consumers have to know: Is it pure? What is the concentration? What are the hazards?”

On Wednesday, the state task force met to forge a rule denoting 10 milligrams as a serving, so that the dosage is clearly demarcated. And on Friday, Gov. John Hickenlooper signed legislation proposing a banking solution for the mainly cash pot business, but the Federal Reserve will need to sign off on it.

Because the Colorado law was approved by referendum, it’s like a Wild West statute, where things are getting filled in underneath, with a haphazard application of the regulatory process.

“One major reason I got involved in the movement was so that consumers could have basic access to information about the products they’re consuming, which was totally impossible under the prohibition that created the black market,” said Tom Angell, the founder and chairman of Marijuana Majority. “So it’s particularly disappointing to see that some companies in the legal marijuana industry — which our years of advocacy allowed to exist — are falling short of those principles. It seems basic labeling and consumer information hasn’t been a chief priority, but hopefully now it’s starting to change.”

He wants budtenders behind the counter to be trained so they can give customized guidance to customers of varying tolerance levels.

As the black market comes into the light, the hang-loose community can be uptight about any moves to regulate or put contours around the sale of pot to better protect neophytes, teenagers and children. Perhaps because they have spent so much time fighting to move past the old “Reefer Madness” caricature, the reefer crowd gets mad at the suggestion of any regulation, no matter how small or helpful. The clubby community that long existed in the shadows can have a countercultural reaction to rules.

Also, as one Colorado political aide pointed out: “There’s so much money involved. This is a group of people who probably never thought about money, and now a lot of people just have dollar signs in their eyes.”

Laughing, he noted, “The weirdest thing in the world is to hear from an angry pothead who finishes a tirade about rules with ‘dude.’ ”

Now we come to The Moustache of Wisdom:

When it comes to dealing with the world’s climate and energy challenges I have a simple rule: change America, change the world.

If America raises its clean energy standards, not only will others follow — others who have hid behind our inaction — we’ll also stimulate our industry to invent more of the clean air, clean power and energy efficiency systems, and move them down the cost curve faster, so U.S. companies will be leaders in this next great global industry and American consumers will be the first to benefit. That is why the new Environmental Protection Agency rules President Obama proposed last week to curb carbon emissions from power plants are so pivotal. You can’t make power systems greener without making them smarter — smarter materials, software or design. One new ruling will not change the world — and we have to be careful that this one doesn’t replace our addiction to coal with an addiction to natural gas alone. But coming at a time when clean energy technologies are becoming more competitive, and when awareness of climate change is becoming more pervasive, this E.P.A. ruling should give a real boost to clean power and efficiency innovation and make our country more resilient, healthy, secure — and respected.

Several weeks ago, as he was drawing up these new emission rules, I interviewed President Obama in the White House library about climate and energy. Following are highlights. (The interview is also featured in the final episode of Showtime’s climate series, “Years of Living Dangerously” airing on Monday.)

For starters, Obama is aware that we can’t just keep burning oil, coal and gas until they run out. As the International Energy Agency warned, “no more than one-third of proven reserves of fossil fuels can be consumed prior to 2050” — unless carbon capture and storage technology is widely deployed — otherwise we’ll bust through the limit of a 2 degree Celsius rise in average temperature that climate scientists believe will unleash truly disruptive ice melt, sea level rise and weather extremes. The rest has to stay in the ground, and we need to steadily find cleaner alternatives and more energy efficiency. I asked Obama if he agreed with that analysis.

“Science is science,” he said. “And there is no doubt that if we burned all the fossil fuel that’s in the ground right now that the planet’s going to get too hot and the consequences could be dire.”

So we can’t burn it all?

“We’re not going to be able to burn it all. Over the course of the next several decades, we’re going to have to build a ramp from how we currently use energy to where we need to use energy. And we’re not going to suddenly turn off a switch and suddenly we’re no longer using fossil fuels, but we have to use this time wisely, so that you have a tapering off of fossil fuels replaced by clean energy sources that are not releasing carbon. … But I very much believe in keeping that 2 [degree] Celsius target as a goal.”

If that is so, your environmental supporters wonder why you keep touting how much we’re still exploring for oil, coal and natural gas?

“We have got to meet folks where they are,” said Obama. “We’ve gone through, obviously, in the last five years, a tough economic crisis. … I don’t always lead with the climate change issue because if you right now are worried about whether you’ve got a job or if you can pay the bills, the first thing you want to hear is how do I meet the immediate problem? One of the hardest things in politics is getting a democracy to deal with something now where the payoff is long term or the price of inaction is decades away. What we’ve tried to do is continually find ways in which we can make progress, recognizing that we’re not immediately going to get people to abandon the old gas-guzzler” [because] “they can’t afford an electric car.”

Every morning you get a security briefing from the intelligence community on global threats; do you now also get the same on environmental threats?

“I do,” said Obama. Science adviser “John Holdren typically makes presentations when there are new findings,” and his reports show that environmental stresses are now impacting both foreign and domestic policy. For instance, wildfires are now “consuming a larger and larger portion of the Department of Interior budget. And if we continue to fund fighting fires the same way we’ve done in the past, all the money for everything else — for conservation, for maintenance of forests — all that money gets used up.”

But the area he’s just as worried about, said Obama, “is how climate change could end up having profound national security implications in poorer countries. We’re obviously concerned about drought in California or hurricanes and floods along our coastlines and the possibility of more powerful storms or more severe droughts. All of those things are bread-and-butter issues that touch on American families. But when you start seeing how these shifts can displace people — entire countries can be finding themselves unable to feed themselves and the potential incidence of conflict that arises out of that — that gets your attention. There’s a reason why the quadrennial defense review — [which] the secretary of defense and the Joints Chiefs of Staff work on — identified climate change as one of our most significant national security problems. It’s not just the actual disasters that might arise, it is the accumulating stresses that are placed on a lot of different countries and the possibility of war, conflict, refugees, displacement that arise from a changing climate.”

Syria couldn’t manage a four-year drought when it had a government, and that drought helped fuel the uprising there, because the government did nothing for the people. Imagine what will happen if they have another prolonged drought and they’ve destroyed half their country?

“Which gives you a sense of what happens in a lot of these countries that are just barely hanging on,” said Obama. “They don’t have a lot of margin for error, and that has national security implications. When people are hungry, when people are displaced, when there are a lot of young people, particularly young men, who are drifting without prospects for the future, the fertility of the soil for terrorism ends up being significant. And it can have an impact on us.”

What is the one thing you would still like to see us do to address climate change? Said Obama: put a price on carbon.

The way we’ve solved previous problems, like acid rain, he noted, “was that we said: ‘We’re going to charge you if you’re releasing this stuff into the atmosphere, but we’re going to let you figure out — with the marketplace and with the technology’ ” how best to mitigate it. But “you can’t keep dumping it out in the atmosphere and making everybody else pay for it. So if there’s one thing I would like to see, it’d be for us to be able to price the cost of carbon emissions. … We’ve obviously seen resistance from the Republican side of the aisle on that. And out of fairness, there’s some Democrats who’ve been concerned about it as well, because regionally they’re very reliant on heavy industry and old-power plants. … I still believe, though, that the more we can show the price of inaction — that billions and potentially trillions of dollars are going to be lost because we do not do something about it — ultimately leads us to be able to say, ‘Let’s go ahead and help the marketplace discourage this kind of activity.’ ”

Where does natural gas fit in?

After all, it can be a blessing and a curse. Natural gas emits only half the carbon dioxide of coal when burned, but if methane leaks when oil companies extract it from the ground in a sloppy manner — methane is far more potent a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide — it can wipe out all the advantages of natural gas over coal.

Natural gas, the president said, “is a useful bridge” to span “where we are right now and where we hope to be — where we’ve got entirely clean energy economies based around the world.” Environmentalists, he added, “are right, though, to be concerned if it’s done badly, then you end up having methane gas emitted. And we know how to do it properly. But right now what we’ve got to do is make sure that there are industry standards that everybody is observing.” That doesn’t “necessarily mean that it has to be a national law,” he said. “You could have a series of states working together — and, hopefully, industry working together — to make sure that the extraction of natural gas is done safely.”

Do you ever want to just go off on the climate deniers in Congress?

“Yeah, absolutely,” the president said with a laugh. “Look, it’s frustrating when the science is in front of us. … We can argue about how. But let’s not argue about what’s going on. The science is compelling. … The baseline fact of climate change is not something we can afford to deny. And if you profess leadership in this country at this moment in our history, then you’ve got to recognize this is going to be one of the most significant long-term challenges, if not the most significant long-term challenge, that this country faces and that the planet faces. The good news is that the public may get out ahead of some of their politicians” — as people start to see the cost of cleaning up for hurricanes like Sandy or the drought in California — and when “those start multiplying, then people start thinking, ‘You know what? We’re going to reward politicians who talk to us honestly and seriously about this problem.’ ”

The president added: “The person who I consider to be the greatest president of all time, Abraham Lincoln, was pretty consistent in saying, ‘With public opinion there’s nothing I cannot do, and without public opinion there’s nothing I can get done,’ and so part of my job over these next two and a half years and beyond is trying to shift public opinion. And the way to shift public opinion is to really focus in on the fact that if we do nothing our kids are going to be worse off.”

The trick, I argued, is to find that fine line between making people feel the problem is urgent, but not insoluble so they just say: If the end is nigh, let’s party.

“The most important thing is to guard against cynicism,” responded the president. “I want to make sure that everybody who’s been watching this program or listening to this interview doesn’t start concluding that, well, we’re all doomed, there’s nothing we can do about it. There’s a lot we can do about it. It’s not going to happen as fast or as smoothly or as elegantly as we like, but, if we are persistent, we will make progress.”

Well, that was lengthy…  Here’s Mr. Kristof:

When politicians have trouble spinning their own glories, that’s a problem.

So it was bizarre that Hillary Rodham Clinton, asked at a forum in April about her legacy at the State Department, had trouble articulating it. That feeds into a narrative — awaiting her memoir on Tuesday — that she may have been glamorous as secretary of state but didn’t actually accomplish much.

In fact, that’s dead wrong, for Clinton achieved a great deal and left a hefty legacy — just not the traditional kind. She didn’t craft a coalition of allies, like James Baker, one of the most admired secretaries of state. She didn’t seal a landmark peace agreement, nor is there a recognizable “Hillary Clinton doctrine.”

No, her legacy is different.

For starters, Clinton recognized that our future will be more about Asia than Europe, and she pushed hard to rebalance our relations. She didn’t fully deliver on this “pivot” — generally she was more successful at shaping agendas than delivering on them — but the basic instinct to turn our ship of state to face our Pacific future was sound and overdue.

More fundamentally, Clinton vastly expanded the diplomatic agenda. Diplomats historically focused on “hard” issues, like trade or blowing up stuff, and so it may seem weird and “soft” to fret about women’s rights or economic development.

Yet Clinton understood that impact and leverage in 21st-century diplomacy often come by addressing poverty, the environment, education and family planning.

It’s not that Clinton was a softie. She was often more hawkish than the White House, favoring the surge in Afghanistan (a mistake, I believe) and the arming of moderate Syrian rebel groups (a good call, but one vetoed by President Obama).

Yet she grew truly animated when discussing the new diplomatic agenda. A couple of times I moderated panels during the United Nations General Assembly in which she talked passionately — and bewilderingly, for some of the audience — about civil society, women leaders and agricultural investments.

Pinstriped foreign and prime ministers looked on, happy to be considered important enough to be invited. They listened with increasingly furrowed brows, as if absorbing an alien language, as Clinton brightly spoke about topics such as “the business case for focusing on gender in agricultural development.”

Clinton was relentless about using the spotlight that accompanied her to highlight those who needed it more. At one global forum, she went out of her way to praise Muhammad Yunus, the Nobel Peace Prize-winning entrepreneur of microfinance, who was being persecuted by the Bangladesh prime minister. On trips, she found time to visit shelters for victims of human trafficking or aid groups doing groundbreaking work.

She may hide it, but Clinton is a policy nerd. Ask about microfinance, and she’ll talk your ear off. Mention early childhood interventions, and she will gush about obscure details of a home visitation experiment in Elmira, N.Y., that dramatically improved child outcomes.

The kidnapping of the Nigerian schoolgirls in April was the kind of issue Clinton was out front of. She understood that educating girls isn’t a frilly “soft” issue, but a way to transform a country to make it less hospitable to extremists. No one argued more presciently that women’s rights are security issues.

“Those who argue that her championing of outreach to women and girls and her elevation of development was not serious miss a central reality of international politics in this century,” notes Nicholas Burns, who was undersecretary of state in the George W. Bush presidency. “These issues are now mainstream globally.”

“I disagree very strongly with those who charge that Hillary Clinton was not successful,” adds Burns, who is now at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. “A fair-minded view is that she was, in fact, highly effective.”

Clinton was pioneering not only in the way she expanded the diplomatic agenda, but also in the tools she forged to promote it. She pushed government-to-people relations and people-to-people ties.

Some of this was pioneered in the George W. Bush administration, but Clinton greatly escalated public diplomacy with a rush into social media.

“She was very clear about it: This is the 21st century, and we’re fools if we don’t use it,” recalls Michael McFaul, who became ambassador to Russia in this time. McFaul then had no idea what a tweet was, and there was strong resistance from senior diplomats. “I said the boss wants to do this,” McFaul recalls, and he ultimately became a champion tweeter.

Today it’s routine to use social media in multiple languages to communicate American diplomatic messages to the world.

So, sure, critics are right that Hillary Rodham Clinton never achieved the kind of landmark peace agreement that would make the first sentence of her obituary. But give her credit: She expanded the diplomatic agenda and adopted new tools to promote it — a truly important legacy.

And, anyway, she may have grander dreams about how her obituary should begin.

Last but not least we get to Mr. Bruni:

Among Americans age 40 and older, there’s a pastime more popular than football, Candy Crush or HBO.

It’s bashing millennials.

Oh, the hours of fun we have, marveling at their self-fascination and gaping at their sense of entitlement! It’s been an especially spirited romp lately, as a new batch of them graduate from college and gambol toward our cubicles, prompting us to wonder afresh about the havoc they’ll wreak on our world.

We have a hell of a lot of nerve, considering the havoc we’ve wrought on theirs.

For decades they’ll be saddled with our effluvium: a monstrous debt, an epidemic of obesity, Adam Sandler movies. In their lifetimes the Atlantic will possibly swallow Miami Beach (I foresee a “Golden Girls” sequel with dinghies and life preservers) and the footwear for Anchorage in February may be flip-flops. At least everyone will be saving on heating bills.

The Obama administration did unveil a bold climate-change measure last week. Or, rather, it signaled its intent to act: We’ll have to wait and see whether Congress figures out a way to foil the president or the courts gum things up. The plan as it stands would cut carbon pollution from American power plants 30 percent from 2005 levels by 2030.

But that may be too little, too late, according to an assessment last year by John Podesta, now a counselor to President Obama, in an interview with Harper’s Magazine before he joined the White House staff in late 2013.

In the interview, excerpts from which were released only last week, Podesta apparently reviewed what had been proposed and actually done in terms of carbon emissions and the like.

“But 50 years from now, is that going to seem like enough?” he said. “I think the answer to that is going to be no.” And that’s chilling, given the stakes. As the title of a book by Al Gore observed, the earth itself is in the balance.

The country’s slowness to deal with swelling seas and melting glaciers is just one manifestation of our myopia, just one metaphor for our failure to reckon with the future that we’re visiting upon today’s children, who get more lip service than legislation from us.

“If you’re going along with the status quo, it should be a crime to say that you care about our children and grandchildren, because you’re not putting your money where your mouth is,” Bob Kerrey, a Democrat who governed Nebraska for four years and represented that state in the Senate for another 12, told me recently.

This subject haunts him more and more. “If we’re trying to figure out how to advance the next generation’s future, we need to be spending more on the next generation, and we’re spending it on yesterday’s generation,” said Kerrey, 70. “I am not the future. My 12-year-old son is. But if you look at the spending, you’d think I’m the future.”

Kerrey is referring mostly to Social Security and Medicare, which, along with Medicaid, are the so-called entitlements that claim a larger and larger share of the federal budget.

He’s fixated on those sorts of numbers: According to the Congressional Budget Office, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid totaled 6.7 percent of the country’s gross domestic product in 1990. By 2010, they were 10 percent. And by 2038, such spending may represent 14.3 percent. It’s hard to see how that leaves much money for discretionary spending on infrastructure, on education, on research, on a range of investments that safeguard or improve the America that today’s young people will inherit.

And there’s too little money for that even now. Talk to physicians and other scientists who have long depended on research grants from the National Institutes of Health to keep the United States at the forefront of invention and innovation and they’ll tell you how thoroughly that spigot has closed over the last 10 years. They’re defeated, despondent.

The Urban Institute released a report in 2012 that looked at figures from 2008 for the combined local, state and federal spending that directly benefited Americans 65 and older versus spending that went to Americans under 19; the per capita discrepancy was $26,355 versus $11,822. Julia Isaacs, a senior fellow at the institute, told me that while data for subsequent years hadn’t been analyzed yet, it wouldn’t show a significant change in that gap.

Isaacs also drew attention to a follow-up report released by the institute last year. It projected federal spending in 2023 and envisioned that entitlement payments to older Americans would rise to 46 percent of the budget from 40 percent now. Interest payments on the debt would be another 14 percent. That would leave well under 50 percent for everything else, including the military.

She noted that the population was aging. Meanwhile, there’s a resistance to tax increases. “That makes me very worried that children will be squeezed out,” Isaacs said.

“I’m glad that my parents are living longer,” she added. “But it’s creating this budgetary math problem that we’re unwilling to look at.”

That unwillingness includes the predictable pushback from many members of Congress, from voters and from various advocacy groups when proposals are made to limit the growth of Social Security by, say, fiddling with cost-of-living adjustments. Older Americans, who would be instantly affected by such a change, turn out more reliably on Election Day than any other age group. Lawmakers are loath to cross them.

Younger voters need to assert themselves. Perhaps they’re poised to do just that. A recent poll by ABC News and The Washington Post showed a significant rise — to 66 percent now from 53 percent two months ago — of voters between the ages of 18 and 39 who said they definitely planned to vote in November.

In Washington last week, hundreds of concerned young leaders gathered for an inaugural Millennial Week conference, devoted to youth-oriented policy discussions. And I’ve noticed more bulletins and agitating from organizations like Generation Opportunity, which crunched May’s employment figures to confirm a much higher rate of joblessness among Americans ages 18 to 29 than among the whole population.

We millennial bashers of course have our stock responses to that. We quibble with the college majors that millennials choose. We question their willingness to hunt for work outside their comfort zones.

We conveniently overlook how much more they’ve had to pay for college than we did, the loans they’ve racked up and the fact that nothing explains their employment difficulties better than a generally crummy economy, which certainly isn’t their fault.

They get our derision when they deserve our compassion and a political selflessness we’ve been unable to muster. While we’re at it, we might even want to murmur an apology.

“Karen Garcia” from New Paltz, NY had this to say in the comments:  “The zombie lie of generational theft just keeps shuffling along. This column is nothing but warmed-over Bowles/Simpson cat food.  It’s not the Boomers who are stealing from the Millennials, and ruining their future. It’s the super-rich and the polluting corporate welfare queens who are robbing all of us, from the cradle to the grave.”

Dowd and Friedman

June 4, 2014

In “Don’t Harsh Our Mellow, Dude” MoDo says Colorado is finding out that it’s not so easy to unleash pot on hordes of tourists seeking a mellow buzz.  In the comments “Rima Rigas” from Mission Viejo, CA had this to say:  “Oh, goodness!  You went all the way to Colorado to try pot and didn’t do your homework on how to consume your pot-candy?  Wow!”   The comments are exceptionally delicious, so here’s “Janice Badger Nelson” from Park City, UT:  “Next time I get the thought to try edible pot alone in a hotel room without knowing what I am truly ingesting, I will remember this column and just say Mo!”  The Moustache of Wisdom is in Sulaimani, Iraq where he was the commencement speaker at the American University.  In “Iraq’s Best Hope” he ponders democratic ideas in young minds in Kurdistan.  I wonder if anyone in Sulaimani had really, really investigated what he was writing back about 12 or 13 years ago…  Here’s MoDo:

The caramel-chocolate flavored candy bar looked so innocent, like the Sky Bars I used to love as a child.

Sitting in my hotel room in Denver, I nibbled off the end and then, when nothing happened, nibbled some more. I figured if I was reporting on the social revolution rocking Colorado in January, the giddy culmination of pot Prohibition, I should try a taste of legal, edible pot from a local shop.

What could go wrong with a bite or two?

Everything, as it turned out.

Not at first. For an hour, I felt nothing. I figured I’d order dinner from room service and return to my more mundane drugs of choice, chardonnay and mediocre-movies-on-demand.

But then I felt a scary shudder go through my body and brain. I barely made it from the desk to the bed, where I lay curled up in a hallucinatory state for the next eight hours. I was thirsty but couldn’t move to get water. Or even turn off the lights. I was panting and paranoid, sure that when the room-service waiter knocked and I didn’t answer, he’d call the police and have me arrested for being unable to handle my candy.

I strained to remember where I was or even what I was wearing, touching my green corduroy jeans and staring at the exposed-brick wall. As my paranoia deepened, I became convinced that I had died and no one was telling me.

It took all night before it began to wear off, distressingly slowly. The next day, a medical consultant at an edibles plant where I was conducting an interview mentioned that candy bars like that are supposed to be cut into 16 pieces for novices; but that recommendation hadn’t been on the label.

I reckoned that the fact that I was not a regular marijuana smoker made me more vulnerable, and that I should have known better. But it turns out, five months in, that some kinks need to be ironed out with the intoxicating open bar at the Mile High Club.

Colorado raked in about $12.6 million the first three months after pot was legalized for adults 21 and over. Pot party planners are dreaming up classy events: the Colorado Symphony just had its first “Classically Cannabis” fund-raiser with joints and Debussy. But the state is also coming to grips with the darker side of unleashing a drug as potent as marijuana on a horde of tourists of all ages and tolerance levels seeking a mellow buzz.

In March, a 19-year-old Wyoming college student jumped off a Denver hotel balcony after eating a pot cookie with 65 milligrams of THC. In April, a Denver man ate pot-infused Karma Kandy and began talking like it was the end of the world, scaring his wife and three kids. Then he retrieved a handgun from a safe and killed his wife while she was on the phone with an emergency dispatcher.

As Jack Healy reported in The Times on Sunday, Colorado hospital officials “are treating growing numbers of children and adults sickened by potent doses of edible marijuana” and neighboring states are seeing more stoned drivers.

“We realized there was a problem because we’re watching everything with the urgency of the first people to regulate in this area,” said Andrew Freedman, the state’s director of marijuana coordination. “There are way too many stories of people not understanding how much they’re eating. With liquor, people understand what they’re getting themselves into. But that doesn’t exist right now for edibles for new users in the market. It would behoove the industry to create a more pleasant experience for people.

“The whole industry was set up for people who smoked frequently. It needs to learn how to educate new users in the market. We have to create a culture of responsibility around edibles, so people know what to expect to feel.”

Gov. John Hickenlooper and the Legislature recently created a task force to come up with packaging that clearly differentiates pot cookies and candy and gummy bears from normal sweets — with an eye toward protecting children — and directed the Department of Revenue to restrict the amount of edibles that can be sold at one time to one person. The governor also signed legislation mandating that there be a stamp on edibles, possibly a marijuana leaf. (Or maybe a stoned skull and bones?)

The state plans to start testing to make sure the weed is spread evenly throughout the product. The task force is discussing having budtenders give better warnings to customers and moving toward demarcating a single-serving size of 10 milligrams. (Industry representatives objected to the expense of wrapping bites of candy individually.)

“My kids put rocks and batteries in their mouths,” said Bob Eschino, the owner of Incredibles, which makes candy and serves up chocolate and strawberry fountains. “If I put a marijuana leaf on a piece of chocolate, they’ll still put it in their mouths.”

He argues that, since pot goodies leave the dispensary in childproof packages, it is the parents’ responsibility to make sure their kids don’t get hold of it.

“Somebody suggested we just make everything look like a gray square so it doesn’t look appealing. Why should the whole industry suffer just because less than 5 percent of people are having problems with the correct dosing?”

Does he sound a little paranoid?

No, MoDo, he doesn’t.  You, on the other hand…  Here’s The Moustache of Wisdom:

I am a sucker for commencements, but this one filled me with many different emotions.

As Dina Dara took the stage — the student speaker and valedictorian of the 2014 graduating class of the American University of Iraq, Sulaimani, in Kurdistan — the sun was just setting, turning Azmar Mountain in the background into a reddish-brown curtain. The class was about 70 percent Kurds, with the rest coming from every corner, religion and tribe of Iraq. Parents bursting with pride, cellphone cameras in one hand and bouquets in the other, had driven up from Basra and Baghdad, dressed in their finest to see their kids get their American-style college degrees. Three Kurdish TV stations carried the ceremony live.

“It has been quite a journey,” Dara, who’s going on to graduate school at Tufts, told her classmates. (Since the university opened in 2007, all the valedictorians have been Iraqi women.) “We went through a whole different experience living in the dorms. This evening … we are armed with two things: first, the highly valued American education that makes us as competent and qualified as the rest of the students in the world. And, second, the empowerment of a liberal arts education.” As we “exercise critical thinking techniques that have been the core of our education here, and as we try to move beyond the traditional conventions, beyond what others suggest, we may struggle. But isn’t this how nations are built?”

Sitting near Dara (I was the commencement speaker), I thought: This is how the Iraq story was supposed to end, but hasn’t, not yet. Kurdistan remains the unsung success story of the Iraq war, one thing U.S. veterans can take pride in having helped to create — first by protecting the Kurds from Saddam Hussein with a no-fly zone and second by toppling Saddam, who had tried to wipe out the Kurds with poison gas in 1988.

But it was the Kurds who used the window of freedom we opened for them to overcome internal divisions, start to reform their once Sopranos-like politics and create a vibrant economy that is now throwing up skyscrapers and colleges in major towns of Erbil and Sulaimani. Everywhere I’ve gone here, I’ve met “reverse immigrants,” Kurds who’ve come back to their homeland in northeastern Iraq because of all the opportunities.

Kurdistan represents everything that has not happened in Shiite-dominated Baghdad and the Sunni regions of Iraq, where Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki has behaved like a visionless, pro-Shiite sectarian chief and violence remains rife. Maliki was “our guy.” So you could say that we left two big “gifts” behind in Iraq: an American-installed autocrat and an American university that is teaching the values of inclusiveness that Maliki doesn’t practice. In the long run, after Maliki is gone, we can still hope — as partially happened in Vietnam — that our values will triumph where our power failed. It’s still a long shot, but that’s clearly what the American University students are hoping.

Bery Hoshiar, 20, a female engineering student, told me: “People graduating here feel they can make a change. They come here as people bounded by social conventions, and they leave as individuals with values that they implement in their lives. We all believe that we can be future leaders. [Iraq] is not over. We are just getting started. We are building from scratch. It is going to take time.”

Karwan Gaznay, 24, a Kurd, told me he grew up on books about Saddam: “Now we have this American education. I did not know who Thomas Jefferson was. I did not know who James Madison was. So when the government is doing something wrong, now we can say: ‘This is wrong. I have been educated.’ … I ran for student president, and Arab guys voted for me. We are living as a family in the university. I am not pessimistic about Iraq. We can work together if we want to.”

As student president, Gaznay persuaded the Kurdish government to create a special ID card for Sunni and Shiite AUIS students to use to easily pass through checkpoints that protect this region from the rest of Iraq. Isa Mohamed, 22, a Shiite from Baghdad, told me this was why he supported Gaznay: “Any Arab [AUIS] student can now go through all the checkpoints and airports” in Kurdistan without difficulties.

Shayan Hamed, 23, said: “You hear democracy being used by your political leaders, but they are just defining it the way it suits them. But when you really learn what it is about in the real texts, then you realize that this is not the democracy in your country.” I thought Iraq was finished, I said to her. “Germany was not over after Hitler. Russia was not over after Stalin. So why should Iraq be over after Saddam?” she replied.

Mewan Nahro, 23, put it all in perspective: “My dad was in the mountains as a Pesh Merga [Kurdish guerrilla] fighter in the ’80s and ’90s, and now [our family] has gone from him in the mountains to me here at an American University and getting to say what I want.”

Yes, this is an elite school, and Kurdistan is an island of decency in a still-roiling sea. But the power of example is a funny thing. You never know how it can spread. More American universities, please — not just drones.

The Pasty Little Putz, Dowd, Friedman, Kristof and Bruni

June 1, 2014

Oh, gawd…  The Putz is waxing hysterical about unauthorized sexytime again.  In “Prisoners of Sex” he sees, in the Santa Barbara killings, an extreme version of the culture’s all-too-commonplace misogyny.  In the comments “gemli” from Boston had this to say:  “Oh where to begin? There appears to be no event too benign or too terrible that Ross Douthat can’t use it to lobby against lust. Here he exploits a horrific tragedy, born of a psychotic young man and easy access to guns, as another harbinger of the inevitable doom that awaits us for wanting to have s-e-x without consulting him first.  … In reality, Douthat’s agenda is to complain about people remaining single. After all, they’ll want sex, which they can’t have, which will lead to toxic reactions and mass shootings. Besides, virginity is for weirdos, so everyone should marry, in the Church, and remain yoked to each other forever, no matter what, and have lots of babies (Ross Douthat, “More Babies Please,” 12/1/2012).”  MoDo considers “A Past Not Past” and says as Leon Uris wrote in “Trinity,” “In Ireland there is no future, only the past happening over and over.”  The Moustache of Wisdom just wants to help.  In “Obama’s Foreign Policy Book” he offers up a few working titles for the president’s consideration.  I’m sure that Obama will drop everything he’s doing to see what “Mr. FU” has to say.  Mr. Kristof is writing from Mrauk U, Myanmar.  In “Obama Success, or Global Shame?” he says on this year’s “win-a-trip” journey, one man living under an ignored apartheid sends out a message to the world: We are suffering. Will anyone respond?  Mr. Bruni, in “Full Screed Ahead,” says be it the Isla Vista rampage or the transition at The Times, the event is mere prompt for the exegeses.  Here’s The Putz:

In an ideal world, perhaps, the testimony left by the young man who killed six people in Santa Barbara would have perished with its author: the video files somehow wiped off the Internet, his manifesto deleted and any printed copy pulped.

Spree killers seek the immortality of infamy, and their imitators are inspired by how easily they win it. As Ari Schulman argued last year in The Wall Street Journal, there would probably be fewer copycat rampages if the typical killer’s face and name didn’t lead the news coverage, if fewer details of biography and motive circulated, if a mass murderer’s “ability to make his internal psychodrama a shared public reality” were more strictly circumscribed.

But this is not an ideal world, and so instead of media restraint we’ve had a splendid little culture war over the significance of the Santa Barbara killer’s distinctive stew of lust, misogyny and rage. Twitter movements have been created, think pieces written, and all kinds of cultural phenomena — from Judd Apatow movies to “pickup artists” and Rhonda Byrne’s “The Secret” — have been invoked, analyzed and blamed.

And in fairness to the think pieces — I have to be fair, because I’m writing one — in this particular tragedy, the killer’s motives really do seem to have a larger cultural significance.

Often you step into the mental landscape of a mass murderer and find nothing but paranoia, nightmare logic, snakes eating their own tails. But compared with the mysteries of Tucson, Newtown and Aurora, this case has an internal psychodrama that is much more recognizable, a murderous logic that’s a little more familiar.  The Santa Barbara killer’s pulsing antipathy toward women, his shame and fury over sexual inexperience  — these were amplified horribly by mental illness, yes, but visit the angrier corners of the Internet, wander in comment threads and chat rooms, and you’ll recognize them as extreme versions of an all-too-commonplace misogyny.

I’ve written before, in the context of the abuse that female writers take online, about this poisoned stream’s potential origins. The Santa Barbara case hints at one such source — the tension between our culture’s official attitude toward sex on the one hand and our actual patterns of sexual and romantic life on the other.

The culture’s attitude is Hefnerism, basically, if less baldly chauvinistic than the original Playboy philosophy. Sexual fulfillment is treated as the source and summit of a life well lived, the thing without which nobody (from a carefree college student to a Cialis-taking senior) can be truly happy, enviable or free.

Meanwhile, social alternatives to sexual partnerships are disfavored or in decline: Virginity is for weirdos and losers, celibate life is either a form of unhealthy repression or a smoke screen for deviancy, the kind of intense friendships celebrated by past civilizations are associated with closeted homosexuality, and the steady shrinking of extended families has reduced many people’s access to the familial forms of platonic intimacy.

Yet as sex looms ever larger as an aspirational good, we also live in a society where more people are single and likely to remain so than in any previous era. And since single people have, on average, a lot less sex than the partnered and wedded, a growing number of Americans are statistically guaranteed to feel that they’re not living up to the culture’s standard of fulfillment, happiness and worth.

This tension between sexual expectations and social reality is a potential problem for both sexes, but for a variety of reasons — social, cultural and biological — it’s more likely to produce toxic reactions in the male of the species. Such toxicity need not lead to murder (as it usually, mercifully, does not) to be a source of widespread misery, both for the men who wallow in it and the women unfortunate enough to be targets for their bile.

Contemporary feminism is very good — better than my fellow conservatives often acknowledge — at critiquing these pathologies. But feminism, too, is often a prisoner of Hefnerism, in the sense that it tends to prescribe more and more “sex positivity,” insisting that the only problem with contemporary sexual culture is that it’s imperfectly egalitarian, insufficiently celebratory of female agency and desire.

This means that the feminist prescription doesn’t supply what men slipping down into the darkness of misogyny most immediately need: not lectures on how they need to respect women as sexual beings, but reasons, despite their lack of sexual experience, to first respect themselves as men.

Such reasons, and the models of intimacy and community that vindicate them, might have done little to prevent the Santa Barbara killer’s deadly spree.

But they might drain some of the swamps that are forming, slowly, because our society has lost sight of a basic human truth: A culture that too tightly binds sex and self-respect is likely, in the long run, to end up with less and less of both.

Next up we have MoDo:

As I walk up to Bobby Van’s Steakhouse to meet Gerry Adams, I’m surprised to see him sitting alone outside. Wearing a dark three-piece tweed suit with a green ribbon on the lapel, the alleged terrorist on the terrace is calmly reading some papers.

As is his practice, he has his back to the wall so he can see what’s coming. Still, given the new death threats sparked by his detention in connection with a gruesome 1972 case — the I.R.A.’s torture and execution of Jean McConville, a widowed mother of 10 suspected of being a British informer — it seems pretty blasé.

“I need some fresh air,” he explains, his Belfast burr turning “air” to “ire,” an inadvertent pun.

Adams believes that he was arrested because his enemies in Britain and within the Northern Ireland police force were trying to stir enough ire against him to hurt the party he leads, Sinn Fein, in the elections just held in Ireland. Some believe there is a secret cadre within the British security apparatus known as “the 12 Apostles” who have pledged to bring down Adams and the peace process — with improved forensics.

Conspiracy or no, the case dramatized Ireland’s struggle to choose between peace and justice. In a nation where the past drags at the future and where neighborhoods and schools are still religiously segregated, bygones are impossible.

McConville’s children, who were scattered to foster homes and orphanages, want vengeance. Adams’s friends, like Niall O’Dowd, an Irish publisher in New York, fear that a politically motivated prosecution would collapse the peace process. “The I.R.A. did terrible things, and so did the other side,” O’Dowd said. “Choosing a hierarchy of hate elevating one crime above all others is not the solution. Adams is not above the law, but he’s equal in the law.”

Despite — or because of — the arrest, Sinn Fein (“Ourselves Alone”) did remarkably well, making unprecedented inroads in the middle-class and leafy suburbs of Dublin, where Sinn Fein sightings used to be as rare as hen’s teeth.

Adams has done something that Michael Collins was murdered trying to do. He has made the “terrible beauty” transition from armed resistance to political power. “He is as close to a Mandela as Ireland has produced — from alleged terrorist to freedom fighter to politician to potentially someday leader of his country,” O’Dowd said.

Some Americans involved with the peace process think that if Adams admitted, at least in general terms, that he was an I.R.A. commander in the “Bloody Sunday” era, as his deputy Martin McGuinness has, that it would gain him more trust with the Protestant side.

Adams came to D.C. to give “a wake-up call,” criticizing the Irish and British prime ministers for a lack of diligence in implementing the peace agreement. He says he was let out of jail after four days because “there’s no evidence,” but there was also a lot of American pressure because of fears that peace would rupture.

He said he wasn’t scared, though two of his “wee” granddaughters were sick over it. The man who survived a gangland-style shooting in 1984 admitted he had been frightened before. “Anybody who’s not scared,” he said with a grim smile, “don’t ever be in their company.”

He slept in a cell on a rubber mattress. “The food was so disgusting, you would have fed it to a dog,” said Adams, who tweeted Friday that he was looking forward to his first post-prison “big, warm soapy suds with yellow ducks & Epsom Salts bath time! Yeeeehaaa!”

Dolours Price was a beautiful I.R.A. guerrilla, once married to the Oscar-nominated Irish actor Stephen Rea. She told Boston College interviewers that Adams was her “Officer Commanding” in the Belfast Brigade called the “Unknowns,” charged with weeding out informers, who became known as the “Disappeared.” She said he ordered her to drive informants from the north to the south. Adams, who thinks the tainted oral history project was a British trap, again denied any involvement in the execution when he talked to me.

Dolours, who had feuded with Adams over disarming the I.R.A., told The Telegraph she was spurred in part by revenge because she objected to Adams’s peacemaking.

“They said I should be shot,” Adams recalled, “that we were traitors.”

During Price’s eight-year prison term for the 1973 bombing of the Old Bailey — which she claimed Adams also ordered up — she was force-fed for 200 days. Adams said that afterward she suffered a “trauma” with drugs and alcohol that led to her 2013 death, implying this colored her recollections.

He said the McConvilles had suffered “a grave injustice” and had the right to know the truth.

Does he know who is responsible?

“No, I don’t, ” he said, adding: “There were dreadful things done. Anyone that thinks the war was glorious or glamorous. …” Trailing off, he shook his head. “It’s about killing people and inflicting horror on people,” he said, adding: “It’s always the poor who suffer most. When you have a nation that is ruptured by partition, that isn’t allowed to govern itself, that can’t shape its own society or aspirations, you’re always going to have this cycle. And we have to break the cycle, so we’re not handcuffed to the past.

“The old thing in Irish Republican resistance was, ‘Well, we did our best and the other generation will carry it on.’ But we don’t want another generation to carry it on. We want this done and dusted. No other kid should have to go to prison, have to kill anyone, be put in an early grave.”

And now here’s The Moustache of Wisdom, writing from Sulaimaniya, Iraq:

When President Obama sits down to write his foreign policy memoir he may be tempted to use as his book title the four words he reportedly uses privately to summarize the Obama doctrine: “Don’t Do Stupid Stuff” (with “stuff” sometimes defined more spicily).

Up to now, that approach has not served the country badly — fight where you must, fix what you can, work with allies wherever possible but never forget that using force is not the sole criteria for seriousness, considering, as Obama noted in a speech last week, that the wars that costs us the most were those we leapt into without proper preparation or allies and “without leveling with the American people about the sacrifice required.”

So “Don’t Do Stupid Stuff” would certainly work as a book title today. But sitting here in Kurdistan — a true island of decency near the epicenter of what is now the biggest civil war on the planet, between Sunnis and Shiites, stretching from Iran across Iraq and Syria into Lebanon — I think Obama may eventually opt for a different book title: “Present at the Disintegration.”

Obama has been on duty when the world has come unstuck in more ways than any recent president. George H.W. Bush dealt deftly with the collapse of the Soviet Union. Bill Clinton was the first president who had to fire cruise missiles at a person — Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan — in the first battle ever between a superpower and a superempowered angry man. When that superempowered angry man struck our homeland on 9/11, George W. Bush responded with two invasions.

Obama has had to confront the culmination of all these trends, and more: the blowback from both invasions; a weak, humiliated but still dangerous Russia; a drone war against many more superempowered angry men from Yemen to Pakistan; the simultaneous disintegration of traditional Arab states and the nuclearization of Iran; plus the decline of “spheres of influence” dictated by traditional powers from above and the rise of “people of influence” emerging from the squares and social networks below. These Square People have challenged everything from Russia’s sphere of influence in Ukraine to the right of the pro-U.S. Egyptian military to keep ruling Egypt.

Dealing with all these at once has been a doctrinal and tactical challenge, especially when combined with an exhausted U.S. public and an economic recession sapping defense spending.

Obviously, Obama would much prefer that his foreign policy memoir be called “Present at the Re-Integration” — at the forging of a new, stable pro-Western order. But that is so much harder today than Obama critics allow. Hey, it was relatively easy to be a hero on foreign policy when the main project was deterrence of another superpower. Just be steadfast and outspend them on defense. Where that is still necessary, with Russia and China, Obama has done O.K.

But when so much foreign policy involves dealing with countries that are falling apart or an entire region engulfed in civil war — and the only real solutions are not deterrence but transforming societies that are completely unlike our own and lack the necessary building blocks and we already spent $2 trillion on such projects in Iraq and Afghanistan with little to show for it — the notion that Obama might be a little wary about getting more deeply involved in Syria and is not waxing eloquent about the opportunity does not strike me as crazy.

I never believed that with just a few more arms early on the Syrian “democrats” would have toppled President Bashar al-Assad and all would have been fine. The Shiite/Alawites in Syria were never leaving quietly, and Iran, Russia and Hezbollah would have made sure of it. And does anyone believe that Saudi Arabia, our main ally in the Syrian fight, is trying to promote the same thing we are there, a pluralistic democracy, which is precisely what the Saudis do not allow in their own country?

Yes, being in Kurdistan, it is clear that the metastasizing of the Syrian conflict has reached a stage where it is becoming a factory for thousands of jihadists from Europe, Central Asia, Russia, the Arab world and even America, who are learning, as one Syrian Kurdish leader told me, “to chop people’s heads off and then go back home.” The conflict is also, as an Iraqi Kurdish security expert added, legitimizing Al Qaeda’s shift “from the caves of Afghanistan into the mainstream of the Arab world” as defenders of Sunni Islam. These are big threats.

But when I ask Kurds what to do, the answer I get is that arming decent Syrians, as Obama has vowed to do more of, might help bring Assad to the table, but “there is no conventional military solution” — neither Shiites nor Sunnis will decisively beat the other, remarked a former deputy prime minister of Iraq, Barham Salih. “But walking away is not possible anymore.” Syria is spinning off too much instability now.

The only solution, they say, is for the U.S. and Russia (how likely is that!) to broker a power-sharing deal in Syria between Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Iran and their proxies. Repeat after me: There is no military solution to Syria — and Iran and Russia have to be part of any diplomatic one. Those are the kind of unpleasant, unromantic, totally long-shot foreign policy choices the real world throws up these days. A little humility, please.

In the comments “stu freeman” from Brooklyn, NY had this to say:  “So what happens when war doesn’t work and diplomacy doesn’t work? There really is a third alternative- at least for those who are lucky enough to not have to live in west Asia and the Middle East. It’s called “packing up and going away,” and it’s way past time that the U.S. did precisely that.”  And now we get to Mr. Kristof:

As we hiked on a bamboo bridge over a river, past a police checkpoint, by water buffalo, over abandoned rice paddies, and past a hamlet where 28 Muslim children had been hacked to death, word raced ahead of us. Farmers poured out to welcome us from two besieged villages that for two years have been mostly cut off from the world.

One man, a teacher who spoke a bit of English, thrust a handwritten letter in my hands. Puzzled, I asked him whom he had written the letter for. He explained that he had drafted it in hopes that a foreigner might visit some day and transmit news of the villagers’ suffering.

“Many people are by violent wound died,” the letter recounted in painstaking English. “Now our Rohingyas many people are homeless. We do not have home, food and living very difficulty. Now we are to the cage prison sent.”

The villagers are Rohingya, a dark-skinned Muslim minority that is deeply resented by the Buddhist majority in Myanmar. For decades, Myanmar persecuted the Rohingya and left them stateless, and in the last few months the authorities have amplified the crimes against humanity — yet the global reaction has been largely indifference.

Since violent clashes in 2012, the Rohingya have been confined to quasi-concentration camps or to their villages, denied ready access to markets, jobs or hospitals. This spring, the authorities expelled the aid group Doctors Without Borders, which had been providing the Rohingya with medical care. Orchestrated violent attacks on the offices of humanitarian organizations drove many aid workers away as well and seemed intended in part to remove foreign witnesses to this ethnic cleansing.

I’m on my annual “win-a-trip” journey, in which I take a university student — this year it’s Nicole Sganga of Notre Dame — on a reporting trip (she’s blogging at nytimes.com/ontheground). We wanted to reach remote villages where Rohingya live, where nobody has much idea what is happening, so we set off by vehicle and then by foot.

What we found is dangerous tension and some malnutrition, but by far the biggest problem is medical care. More than one million Rohingya are getting little if any health care, and some are dying as a result.

In the village of Zeezar, we met a young mother, Saida, 20, whose 10-day-old baby was sickly and losing weight. The baby needed a doctor, but aid workers aren’t allowed in the village, and Rohingya aren’t allowed to leave freely.

In theory, Saida can get a pass to go through checkpoints and visit a clinic. In practice, that sometimes means paying bribes and inevitably means passing the homes of people who have been accused of murdering Rohingya with impunity: For her, it’s terrifying. So she gambled that her baby would recover on her own.

In one Rohingya internment camp, we met Thein Maung, 46, who has AIDS and used to get antiretroviral medicines from Doctors Without Borders to keep him alive. Now he has no source of medication, and he feels his health fading.

Another man, Amir Hussein, had his arm broken two years ago by a Buddhist mob. No doctor was available to set the bone, so his left arm now dangles grotesquely and uselessly at an odd angle.

Rohingya children are also denied an education. In one village we visited, parents had set up a free informal school taught by a 17-year-old village girl whose own education had been stalled.

President Obama, in his address a few days ago at the United States Military Academy at West Point, cited Myanmar as one of the administration’s diplomatic successes. It’s true that Myanmar has made tremendous political gains in recent years — the permission I received to report here is testimony to that — and there is much to admire about the country’s progress toward democracy. But let’s not make excuses for a 21st-century apartheid worse even than the system once enforced in South Africa. As Human Rights Watch has documented, what has unfolded here constitutes ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.

Likewise, another watchdog group, Fortify Rights, cites internal Myanmar documents and argues that a pattern over the years of killings, torture, rape and other repression amounts to crimes against humanity under international law.

Weighed against such abuses, Obama’s criticisms of Myanmar have been pathetically timid. Because he is hugely admired here, Obama has political capital to pressure the government that he has not used. Indeed, the United States and other countries have often even avoided the word Rohingya, effectively joining in the denial of a people’s identity. That’s a failed policy, for this deference has led Myanmar to tighten the screws on the Rohingya this year.

The Rohingya gave us the names of some Buddhists who they said had been leaders in slaughtering Muslims, and we visited one of these men they named. A 53-year-old farmer, he denied any involvement in the violence, but it was an awkward, tense conversation, partly because the Buddhists are angry at aid groups and journalists for (as they see it) siding with Muslims. Their narrative is that Muslim terrorists from Bangladesh are invading the country, overpopulating so as to marginalize the Buddhists, and then being coddled by foreigners.

The extremists back up this absurd narrative with intimidation. My Buddhist driver, who sported a nationalist tattoo, was willing to take me into Rohingya camps and villages and had no fear of assault by Muslims. But he was terrified of going to some hard-line Buddhist areas, for fear that we would be assaulted as Muslim sympathizers.

When the authorities found out that we were wandering in the hills, they sent a team of police officers armed with automatic weapons to find and “protect” us. They need to start protecting the Rohingya as well.

Look, I’ve seen greater malnutrition and disease over the years — in South Sudan, Niger, Congo, Guinea — but what’s odious about what is happening here is that the suffering is deliberately inflicted as government policy. The authorities are stripping members of one ethnic group of citizenship, then interning them in camps or villages, depriving them of education, refusing them medical care — and even expelling humanitarians who seek to save their lives.

That’s not a tragedy for one obscure ethnic group; it’s an affront to civilization. Please, President Obama, find your voice.

And now we get to Mr. Bruni:

We no longer have news. We have springboards for commentary. We have cues for Tweets.

Something happens, and before the facts are even settled, the morals are deduced and the lessons drawn. The story is absorbed into agendas. Everyone has a preferred take on it, a particular use for it. And as one person after another posits its real significance, the discussion travels so far from what set it in motion that the truth — the knowable, verifiable truth — is left in the dust.

The economy of contemporary journalism encourages this. It favors riffing over reportage, and it’s lousy with opinions, including the one expressed here. I sin whereof I speak. I also present this as a confession and a penance.

It’s motivated by Elliot Rodger’s rampage in Southern California, by Jill Abramson’s exit from The Times, even by Cliven Bundy’s antics in the Nevada outback. Utterly different stories, yes. But they share a dynamic: Each event was overtaken by the jeremiads about it; impassioned interpretations eclipsed actual information. Why slow down and wait for clarity when there’s an angle to promote, a grievance to air? Damn the torpedoes and full screed ahead.

This trade and tic were manifest in an essay in The Washington Post last week by its chief film critic, Ann Hornaday. I’m sorry to single her out: She’s an excellent writer merely drawn into the quasi-journalistic sport of the day. She itched to join an all-consuming conversation — and to refract it through her own area of expertise, claiming some of the story’s territory for herself.

So she fashioned Rodger’s violence into an indictment of the movie industry’s domination by men and its prolific output of male fantasies in which the nerdy or schlubby guy gets the sexy girl. Rodger didn’t get the girl, so he got furious and got a gun. Did Hollywood egg him on? That’s what Hornaday more or less asked, and it was a question too far, the tenuous graft of entertainment-industry shortcomings onto a tragedy irreducible to tidy explanations.

But how plentiful such explanations were. Could Rodger’s psychic torment be traced to his biracial heritage? Or was white privilege his problem? Did the killing expose police incompetence, therapists’ blindness, undetected autism, detected autism, the impact of the book “The Secret” on an unsteady mind, or simply common misogyny in uncommon form?

All of this was put out there, and much of it said more about the given theorizer’s existing worldview than about the evidence at hand. Rodger became “the Rosetta Stone that can make all your previous pseudo-intellectual grandstanding fall neatly into place,” in the words of Chez Pazienza on The Daily Banter website, which is in fact one of the many relatively new vessels for such grandstanding.

Grandstanding is booming as traditional news gathering struggles to survive: It’s more easily summoned, more cheaply produced. It doesn’t require opening bureaus around the country or picking up correspondents’ travel expenses or paying them for weeks on end just to dig. So it fills publications, websites and television airtime the way noodles stretch out a casserole, until we’re looking at a media meal that’s almost all Hamburger Helper and no beef.

There wasn’t that much protein in the Cliven Bundy story — apart from his four-legged herd. But on Fox News, Sean Hannity supersized the Nevada rancher into a principled frontiersman taking a last stand against federal overreach: John Wayne with livestock. On the opposite end of the political spectrum, Bundy was repurposed as an example of racism among Republicans, even though most of them undoubtedly found his reflections on the sunny side of slavery as repellent as any Democrat did. He was pulled into the debate about affirmative action; he was yanked into laments about Christian conservatives. And what was he, really, but a nutcase in a big hat trying to cadge free grass?

Shortly after Arthur Sulzberger Jr., the publisher of The Times, announced the departure of Abramson, who was the first woman to serve as the newspaper’s executive editor, Ken Auletta of The New Yorker posted a story on the magazine’s website with this headline: “Why Jill Abramson Was Fired.” The first reason it floated was that she had ruffled feathers by complaining assertively about a salary supposedly inferior to her male predecessor’s.

Two weeks later, Auletta was revising the narrative by musing that the termination of her employment was “one of those running stories in which reporters peel away one layer only to be presented with another” and that “the situation never ceases to have more complexity, more ambiguity.” But there was nothing ambiguous about what his initial dispatch wrought, about the way in which many commentators and other observers decided to describe Abramson and her ouster. She was an icon for gender pay inequity, held up as such by Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader. She was a martyr, felled by sexism.

To write for The Times and to know the principal players was to see this for the oversimplification that it was and to note that we were getting a taste of our own medicine: How often had some of us here emphasized one story line to the exclusion of others in sizing up a candidate or corporation?

But most striking of all was the distance between the chatter and the uncontested facts. That chatter turned a profoundly sad and particular set of circumstances into a parable about female executives’ inability to be both tough and loved, a referendum on all women in the workplace, a report card on the newspaper’s efforts to innovate, a harbinger of its sustained relevance. The event buckled under the weight of the significance piled onto it.

News has always been paired with analysis, and a certain degree of assumption and conjecture rightly enters into the laudable attempt to make sense of things. What has changed over recent years are the platforms and the metabolism of the process. Twitter and other social media coax rapid-fire reactions from a broad audience, whose individual members stand out by readily divining something that nobody else has divined, by fleetly declaring something that nobody else has dared to, by bringing the most strident or sauciest attitude to bear.

And for every journalist peeling away at the layers that Auletta mentioned, there are many more of us pontificating about what’s been revealed so far, no matter how little of it there is, no matter how shakily it’s been established. Americans have seemingly grown accustomed to this. They may even hunger for it. With just a few clicks of the mouse or taps on the remote, they find something to confirm their prejudices, to validate their perspectives. And the gratification is almost instant.


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