Archive for the ‘Friedman’ Category

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.

Friedman, solo

May 28, 2014

MoDo is off today, and The Moustache of Wisdom has the place to himself.  In “Putin Blinked” he’s decided to tell us how Russia got just about everything wrong in Ukraine.  Here he is:

There was a moment at the height of the Cuban missile crisis in October 1962 when Soviet ships approached to within just a few miles of a U.S. naval blockade and then, at the last minute, turned back — prompting then-Secretary of State Dean Rusk to utter one of the most famous lines from the Cold War:  “We’re eyeball to eyeball, and I think the other fellow just blinked.”

The crisis in Ukraine never threatened a Cold War-like nuclear Armageddon, but it may be the first case of post-post-Cold War brinkmanship, pitting the 21st century versus the 19th. It pits a Chinese/Russian worldview that says we can take advantage of 21st-century globalization whenever we want to enrich ourselves, and we can behave like 19th-century powers whenever we want to take a bite out of a neighbor — versus a view that says, no, sorry, the world of the 21st century is not just interconnected but interdependent and either you play by those rules or you pay a huge price.

In the end, it was Putinism versus Obamaism, and I’d like to be the first on my block to declare that the “other fellow” — Putin — “just blinked.”

In fact, I’d like to say more: Putin got pretty much everything wrong in Ukraine. He thought the world was still shaped by “spheres of influence” dictated from the top down, when Ukraine was all about the emergence of “people of influence” — The Square People, organized from the bottom up and eager to join their own sphere: the world of liberty and free markets represented by the European Union.

Putin underestimated Ukrainian patriotism; even many Russian speakers in eastern Ukraine did not like pro-Putin thugs trying to force them to join Russia. “Ukrainians have said in opinion polls that they want open borders and visa-free access to Russia,” noted the pollster Craig Charney.  “But they also said in those polls — and confirmed with their majority vote for a pro-European candidate in Sunday’s election — that while they think Russia is a nice place to visit, they wouldn’t want to live there.”

And, most of all, Putin underestimated the impact of Western economic sanctions. The world turned out to be more interdependent, and Russia more exposed to that interdependence, than Putin thought.

So he blinked. The first flutter was pulling back his troops from Ukraine’s border and letting the election proceed. Interestingly, he chose to blink this out most directly at last week’s St. Petersburg International Economic Forum, Russia’s annual conference to attract global investors. “We want peace and calm in Ukraine,” Mr. Putin told the business executives. “We are interested that on our western borders we have peace and calm in Ukraine. … We will work with the newly elected structure.”

After Putin spoke, the ruble rose 1 percent against the dollar, demonstrating just how much global markets will continue to reward his conciliation and punish his aggression. It has not been pretty. Putin has had to spend billions propping up the ruble and making up for lost foreign investment. Reuters reported that Russia’s First Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov told some attendees in St. Petersburg that the sanctions are “causing serious consequences for our economy,” which could soon be in recession.

And, because Putin’s aggression in Crimea has spurred Europe to reduce its dependence on Russian gas, Putin rushed to Beijing to conclude a natural gas supply deal with China. The price China extracted is secret and experts “suspect Putin dropped the price of gas significantly for China in a desperate maneuver to ensure a steady cash flow for Gazprom in the face of sinking revenue and Western sanctions,” The Washington Post reported. “ ‘There’s something fishy in the contract,’ ” said Mikhail Krutikhin, an energy analyst at RusEnergy, suggesting that Russia got a bad bargain. Putin blinked.

Let’s add it up: Putin’s seizure of Crimea has weakened the Russian economy, led to China getting a bargain gas deal, revived NATO, spurred Europe to start ending its addiction to Russian gas and begun a debate across Europe about increasing defense spending. Nice work, Vladimir. That’s why I say the country Putin threatens most today is Russia.

The Russian people will have to sort that out. I wish them well. I don’t want Russia to become a failed state. But I want to see Ukraine get where its majority wants to go — toward closer ties with the E.U., but without a break in ties to Russia. That will require not only a new Ukrainian president, but a new Parliament, a new constitution and an engaged network of civil society groups able to hold Kiev’s all-too-often corrupt leaders to the rule of law and to the standards of governance being demanded by both the E.U. and the I.M.F., in return for aid.

With Ukraine’s economy closely tied to Russia’s — Kiev owes Russia $3.5 billion in gas bills — Putin still has enormous power to squeeze Ukraine. The goal of the West should not be to prevent Putin from having any influence in Ukraine. Given all the links, that is not possible or healthy. It is to keep Putin backed off and blinking enough so that Ukraine can be Russia’s neighbor — charting its own balance between the E.U. and Moscow — but not Russia’s vassal.

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

May 25, 2014

The Pasty Little Putz has decided to tell us all about “The Tea Party Legacy.”  He babbles that the movement’s final chapter hasn’t been written yet.  In the comments “gemli” from Boston had this to say:  “A mind is a terrible thing to waste, but it’s more terrible when it’s put to use apologizing for ignorance. Douthat is fully aware of the embarrassment the Tea Party has caused this country.  That’s why his column is a litany of false equivalences that tries to balance the justifiable outrage of liberals against the Bush/Cheney wars with the awakening of entitlement-hating, homophobic race-baiting zealots.”  MoDo has written a beautiful reminiscence.  In “Some Like It Hot” she remembers tales of an Arthurian legend who made newspapers crackle.  The Moustache of Wisdom has a question in “Memorial Day 2050:”  How do we motivate people to do something about climate change?  In “Graduate of the Year” Mr. Kristof says send a girl to school and educate a village. Seriously, Tay Thi Nguyen, who went hungry and defied her mother to get a degree, plans to return to her village in Vietnam to teach others.  In “Read These Lips” Mr. Bruni says one gesture above others makes and measures history, bringing us all face to face.  Here’s The Putz:

The Tea Party is finished: smashed, at last, by the power and dollars of the Republican establishment, whose candidates — including Mitch McConnell, the most establishment Republican of all — easily turned back right-wing primary challengers last week.

No, the Tea Party has won: There simply isn’t that much difference between an establishment Republican and a Tea Party Republican anymore, and if grass-roots challengers are losing more races it’s because they’ve succeeded in yanking the party far enough to the right that there isn’t any space for them to fill.

These are the two narratives that swirled around the G.O.P. after last Tuesday’s primaries, and both contain a measure of truth. But there’s a third way to look at the State of the Tea Party, circa 2014, which is that the movement’s political legacy still has a big To Be Determined sticker on it.

To understand why, think about another recent grass-roots movement that reshaped our politics: the netroots/Deaniac/antiwar insurgency, which roiled the Democratic Party between 2003 and the ascendance of Barack Obama.

In a 2008 article for The Nation, the future MSNBC host Chris Hayes profiled some of that insurgency’s activists. He found that while they were (as you would expect) liberal or left-leaning, they were also people who had been mostly apolitical until the Bush era, and who had been prodded into activism by the Iraq-era sense that Something Had Gone Wrong, that an America they took for granted was suddenly imperiled.

This is a useful way to think about Tea Party activism as well. The movement was always essentially right-wing, which is why it was embraced (and, at times, exploited) by the right’s pre-existing network of professionals and pressure groups. But it changed Republican politics precisely because it mobilized Americans who were new to political activism and agitation, and who behaved like people awakened from a slumber to a situation they no longer recognized. Wait, we bailed out Wall Street … ? Our deficits are … how big? And this Barack Hussein Obama, where did he come from?

This mix of passion and paranoia, commitment and confusion, explains why the Tea Party’s precise ideological lineaments were so hard for many observers to discern, why its leaders were so varied — libertarians and evangelicals, entitlement reformers and ex-witches — and why all the attempts to essentialize the movement (as libertarian or authoritarian, anti-Wall Street or pro-Wall Street, pro-military or pro-defense cuts, pro-Medicare or anti-New Deal) didn’t capture its complexity.

Thus Paul Ryan’s green-eyeshaded Medicare blueprints and Herman Cain’s fanciful 9-9-9 plan were both “Tea Party” phenomena. Likewise Glenn Beck’s conspiracy-scrawled blackboards and his teary, apolitical Washington Mall consciousness-raising. Likewise Ron Paul’s and Rick Santorum’s presidential campaigns, in which two ideologically dissimilar Republican politicians both claimed a “Tea Party” mantle.

Likewise Mitt Romney … well, no, actually, the one thing about Republican politics that pretty clearly wasn’t “Tea Party” was the man the G.O.P. ultimately nominated in 2012.

And therein lies a crucial difference between the left-wing insurgency of the Bush era and the right-wing insurgency of the last five years. It isn’t just that the Bush-era Democratic Party didn’t end up as imprisoned by its insurgents’ self-destructive tendencies. (The antiwar movement did not produce a government shutdown, for instance.) It’s also that the Democrats found, in Barack Obama, a liberal politician who could transmute the anger of the Michael Moore/Cindy Sheehan era into a more uplifting message, and transform a left-vs.-center civil war into a new center-left majority.

For Republicans, no such transformative conservative politician has emerged. But — and this is why the Tea Party’s legacy is unfinished — there are several politicians, all elected as insurgents and all potential presidential candidates in 2016, who still aspire to be the Tea Party’s version of Obama: Marco Rubio, Rand Paul and Ted Cruz. And because each embodies different facets of the Tea Party phenomenon, each would write a very different conclusion to its story.

A Rubio victory would probably make the Tea Party seem a little less ideological in hindsight, a little more Middle American and populist, and more like a course correction after George W. Bush’s “compassionate conservatism” than a transformative event.

A Cruz triumph would lend itself to a more ideological reading of the Tea Party’s impact, but one that fit readily into existing categories: It would suggest that Tea Party-ism was essentially the old Reagan catechism in a tricorn hat, movement conservatism under a “don’t tread on me” banner.

A Paul victory would write a starkly libertarian conclusion to the Tea Party’s story, making it seem much more revolutionary — a true break with both Reaganism and Bushism, with an uncertain future waiting beyond.

And what about a Jeb Bush victory, you say? Well, then maybe it will be time to talk, not about the Tea Party’s unsettled legacy, but about its actual defeat.

Here’s MoDo’s reminiscence:

Some people have such a radical vitality, such an electric consciousness, such a lifelong love affair with the world that when they stop breathing, it’s like a wind dying, like the waning and disappearing of a light.

And the world feels duller and dumber and more lackluster without them.

Arthur Gelb, the New York Times editor known as “The Arthurian Legend,” had that constant, overflowing, generous engagement. The world was always putting its hooks in him, and he was always putting his hooks in the world.

Immersed in an “All About Eve” milieu of theater and criticism animated by schadenfreude, Arthur didn’t have any. During my job interview, he told me that he enjoyed being an editor because as a reporter he could think of 17 stories but work on only one at a time, while as an editor he could assign all 17 at once.

He was 17 stories all by himself, the most cultivated ink-stained wretch ever.

Arthur was 90 when he died on Tuesday, and he had written a zesty reminiscence, “City Room,” about the raffish “Front Page” era in journalism. Yet there was nothing fusty about him.

Even in the exuberant age of Abe and Arthur, the tall, kinetic member of the team had a Twitter metabolism and Big Data appetite.

I always associated him with “V” words — Vesuvian, voracious, voltaic. In his imagination, almost any random remark you dropped could be spun into a potential story, causing his eyes to flash and arms to flap.

Once when he invited some reporters to dinner at Sardi’s he spied Helen Hayes and Lillian Gish at a nearby table. “Go interview them!” he whispered to Michi Kakutani, even though there was no news peg and it would run only in the second edition. While she was gone, he had her untouched dinner put in a doggie bag.

The third Eugene O’Neill biography that he wrote with his wife, Barbara, will be published next year. It focuses on the three wives who influenced the playwright and is titled “By Women Possessed.”

That could also work as the title of an Arthur bio. “I like women,” he would say with a shrug.

He especially liked talented, neurotic, operatic women — funny, since his son Peter grew up to be the visionary head of the Met.

Arthur loved getting to the heart of women’s hearts. Once, dining with Mia Farrow and Woody Allen, he asked Farrow how on earth she could be attracted to both Woody and Frank Sinatra.

And there was the time he sent the Times music critic Harold Schonberg over to ask the irascible Wanda Horowitz what it was like to have two demanding musical geniuses in her life — her father, Arturo Toscanini, and her husband, Vladimir Horowitz.

“They ruined my life and they should roast in hell!” she shrieked.

Arthur never tired of telling how he discovered Barbra Streisand in the Village and fell in love with 19-year-old Barbara Stone the day the comely redhead started working with him on the Times copy desk.

As a young theater reporter, he was always getting bewitched by beautiful actresses.

One morning in 1951, he went to a small midtown hotel to interview “a new personality” handpicked by Colette to star in “Gigi” on Broadway.

“She opened the door and she was in her bathrobe,” he told me, “and she looked a little disheveled, and that was very exciting, and I found my heart pounding a little bit because she was so pretty close up. And she was so intelligent and she had humor and a kind of come-hither way when she talked to a man.”

He peppered her with so many questions, she told him they should finish up over dinner at the Plaza.

When he called Barbara to tell her he had to work late interviewing Audrey Hepburn, his irritated bride replied, “You call that work?”

My favorite story, which I made Arthur retell on a BBC radio show a couple years ago, was his “drunken prank” on Marilyn Monroe.

One night in the early 1950s when he was about 30 and was working on night rewrite, he and his fellow rewrite guys took their 10 o’clock dinner break at Sardi’s. Monroe came in with a group and was seated at the next table.

Her dress had a low-cut back, and Arthur said he and his pals were “mesmerized by her back” and her “absolutely flawless skin, very white, very pure.”

“One of us said, ‘You know, wouldn’t it be wonderful to be able to just touch that back?’ And before we knew it, we were talking about who would have the guts, the nerve, the bravery to touch her. We all put up a couple of dollars and said the first person who leans over and touches her will collect the money. And I, with bravado — I was kind of a wise-guy young man — leaned over quickly and just touched her with my forefinger.

“I thought I’d touch her and maybe she wouldn’t even feel the touch. But she swung around and said in the loudest voice imaginable: ‘Who did that?’ And we just went into our clothes to hide. It was just the most horrible moment you could possibly imagine. And her friends said, ‘Come on, Marilyn,’ and they calmed her down and turned her around. I collected the 10 bucks and we got out of there.”

Some like it hot. Arthur liked it crackling.

Next up we have The Moustache of Wisdom:

Of the many things being said about climate change lately, none was more eloquent than the point made by Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington State in the Showtime series “Years of Living Dangerously,” when he observed: “We’re the first generation to feel the impact of climate change and the last generation that can do something about it.”

The question is how do we motivate people to do something about it at the scale required, when many remain skeptical or preoccupied with the demands of daily life — and when climate scientists themselves caution that it is impossible to attribute any single weather event to climate change, even if recent weather extremes fit their models of exactly how things will play out as the planet warms.

Andrew Sullivan’s Dish blog last week linked to a very novel approach offered by Thomas Wells, a Dutch philosopher: Since climate change and environmental degradation pit the present against the future, our generation versus those unborn, we should start by giving the future a voice in our present politics.

“Even if we can’t know what future citizens will actually value and believe in, we can still consider their interests, on the reasonable assumption that they will somewhat resemble our own (everybody needs breathable air, for example),” wrote Wells in Aeon Magazine. Since “our ethical values point one way, towards intergenerational responsibility, but our political system points another, towards the short-term horizon of the next election,” we  “should consider introducing agents who can vote in a far-seeing and impartial way.”

Wells suggests creating a public “trusteeship” of nongovernmental civic and charitable foundations, environmental groups and nonpartisan think tanks “and give them each equal shares of a block of votes adding up to, say, 10 percent of the electorate,” so they can represent issues like “de-carbonizing the economy” and “guaranteeing pension entitlements” for the unborn generation that will be deeply impacted but has no vote.

Unrealistic, I know, but the need to incorporate longer time scales into our societal choices is very real — and right in the lap of our generation. Andy Revkin, who blogs at Dot Earth for The Times’s Opinion section, put it well: “We are coming of age on a finite planet and only just now recognizing that it is finite. So how we manage infinite aspirations of a species that’s been on this explosive trajectory, not just of population growth but of consumptive appetite — how can we make a transition to a stabilized and still prosperous relationship with the Earth and each other — is the story of our time.”

One way to get us to act with an intergenerational perspective is to enlarge the problem beyond climate — to make people understand that this is our generation’s freedom struggle. The abiding strategy of our parents’ generation was “containment” of communism in order to be free. The abiding strategy of our generation has to be “resilience.” We will only be free to live the lives we want if we make our cities, country and planet more resilient.

Even if we can’t attribute any particular storm to climate change, by continually pumping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere we are “loading the dice” in ways that climate scientists are convinced will continue to raise average temperatures, melt more ice, raise sea levels, warm oceans and make “normal” droughts drier, heat waves hotter, rainstorms more violent and the most disruptive storms even more disruptive. It is crazy to keep loading those dice and making ourselves more vulnerable to disruptions that will make us less free to live the lives we want. How free will we be when paying the exorbitant cleanup costs of endless weather extremes?

Moreover, acting today as if climate change requires an urgent response — like replacing income and corporate taxes with a carbon tax, introducing a national renewable portfolio standard to constantly stimulate more renewable energy and raising the efficiency standards for every home, building and vehicle — actually makes us healthier, more prosperous and more resilient, even if climate change turns out to be overblown. We would end up with cleaner air and a tax structure that rewards more of what we want (work and investment) and disincentivizes what we don’t want (carbon pollution). We would be taking money away from the worst enemies of freedom on the planet, the world’s petro-dictators; and we would be incentivizing our industries to take the lead in manufacturing clean air, water and power systems, which will be in huge demand on a planet going from 7 billion to 9 billion people by 2050.

In short, by taking the climate threat seriously now, we’d make ourselves so much more economically, physically, environmentally and geopolitically resilient — and, therefore, more free.

What containment was for our parents’ generation — their strategy to fight for freedom against the biggest threat of their day — resiliency will be for our generation against the multiple threats of our day: climate change, petro-dictatorship and destruction of our environment and biodiversity. Let’s act so the next generation will want to honor us with a Memorial Day, the way we honor the sacrifice of previous generations.

And now we get to Mr. Kristof, writing from Long An, Vietnam:

Tay Thi Nguyen is one of the mightiest people I’ve met, at 94 pounds. She has a towering presence, at a bit more than 5 feet tall. She is so strong that she probably could bench press 25 pounds.

Three times Tay Thi has fainted while here at college, training to become an English teacher, because she starved herself to afford tuition. But she had the strength to persist and soon will become the first person in her village to graduate from college, and she embodies such grit and selflessness that, to me, she’s the world’s college graduate of the year.

Tay Thi, 20, also underscores the principle — especially important in the aftermath of the kidnapping of the Nigerian schoolgirls — that the best leverage we have to achieve social change is to educate girls.

The eighth of nine children to an impoverished farming family in the Mekong Delta, Tay Thi shone in school, but her mother demanded — unsuccessfully — that she drop out after primary school and earn money as a live-in housemaid in distant Ho Chi Minh City.

“She got very angry with me,” Tay Thi recalled. In eighth grade, her mom burned her school books to try to force her to drop out, but Tay Thi borrowed books and continued to excel.

Staying in school was possible because of the help she received from Room to Read, an aid group that sponsored Tay Thi and covered her school fees, uniform, books, bicycle to get to school and other expenses.

Tay Thi persevered, even when her parents again burned her books in 12th grade, and, as she graduated from high school, she prepared secretly for the college entrance examination. Her mother found out about this when Tay Thi left to take the exam and lashed out, saying “I hope you fail the exams.”

Other students arrived at the exam location escorted by cheering, doting parents; Tay Thi arrived alone, sobbing. Still, she aced the exam.

With no parental subsidy, college seemed unaffordable, but Tay Thi saved every penny she could. She had long worked every vacation — sometimes in a factory job by day and in a duck soup restaurant by night until 2 a.m. Even during Vietnamese New Year celebrations, she worked in the fields by herself to catch crabs for money — watching the fireworks in the distance.

At college, Tay Thi confined herself to a food budget of $3.50 — per week. Malnourished, she sometimes toppled over in the middle of class in a dead faint.

Professors and students discovered that she was starved and basically penniless — leaving Tay Thi feeling humiliated. “I was so upset about that,” she said, but, in retrospect, it was a turning point because her teachers and classmates responded with kindness, sympathy and help.

Room to Read arranged a corporate scholarship, which gave her a bit more spending money, and Tay Thi managed to eat enough to keep from fainting in public.

Tay Thi shares a small room with two other young women, all sleeping on the floor next to each other. She set up a small reading light that won’t keep the others awake. She studies until midnight, and then sets her alarm for 4 a.m. to resume studying.

She is just as passionate about education for others. First, she encouraged her older brother to return to school, after years of working as a laborer, so he could become a mechanic. When he resisted, Tay Thi went out and registered him as a student, picking his courses and browbeating him until he gave in.

Then she coaxed her younger brother to follow her to college, where he is now a freshman. Even her parents have come around, partly because they see that Tay Thi will soon be an English teacher — and the best-paid member of the extended family.

Tay Thi is trying to arrange to teach in her own remote village school, where she wants to advocate for education. “I would like to change people’s thinking,” she says. “It’s a way of helping children in my community,” she said.

The kidnappings in Nigeria have put a spotlight on girls’ education, and Tay Thi is an example of why the issue is critical. It’s sometimes said that if you send a boy to school, you educate a man; if you send a girl to school, you educate a village. That’s not always true, but empowering girls remains one of the best ways to empower a community. Girls’ education also strongly correlates to reduced family size. When I asked Tay Thi if she planned to have nine children like her mom, she roared with laughter and gave a firm “NO!”

So let’s celebrate the mightiest college graduate of this commencement season, a young woman of incomparable strength who now is thrilled at the prospect of returning to an impoverished farming village to teach children and change the world.

Last but not least we get to Mr. Bruni:

A kiss is nothing. On the sidewalks, in the park, I see one every few minutes, a real kiss, lip to lip. It barely registers. It’s as unremarkable as a car horn in traffic, as an umbrella in rain.

And yet a kiss is everything. A kiss can stop the world.

The football player Michael Sam recently demonstrated as much. So did my experience last Sunday, in a Broadway theater, of all places.

I say “of all places” because a theater is a progressive environment, and this theater, on this night, was especially so. In the audience were many people who’d participated hours earlier in the city’s annual AIDS Walk, to which the performance was linked. And the performance was of “Mothers and Sons,” a Tony-nominated play about gay shame, gay pride and our steady march toward a less censorious society.

So it wasn’t surprising, or shouldn’t have been, when the woman in the seat beside mine stood to greet the woman who was belatedly joining her with a kiss, on the mouth, that lasted long enough to be unmistakably romantic.

“Did you catch that?” said my own companion.

I most definitely had. And while neither of us was scandalized, we were jolted nonetheless. We marveled — even in the middle of 2014, even on the cusp of a week in which Oregon and Pennsylvania joined the rapidly growing list of states to legalize same-sex marriage — that the couple could do this and would do this in front of so many witnesses, in a setting so public. Others around us had also taken note, their eyes lingering on the two women for a while.

Maybe marriage isn’t the dividing line between equality and inequality, between getting full, reflexive acceptance from the world and getting a piecemeal, willed respect. Maybe that border is traced with kisses: with what Sam did and how those women said hello and the kind of reaction it elicits and whether it elicits any reaction at all.

There’s a rich history of the kiss as frontier. I was reminded of this a few days after the show, as I delved deeper into an excellent book that I happened to be reading, “Pictures at a Revolution.” Written by the journalist Mark Harris, it examines the changes convulsing Hollywood in the 1960s. Chunks of it focus on the trailblazing career of Sidney Poitier, and there were kisses on that trail, beginning with one in “A Patch of Blue,” a 1965 movie about a black man’s friendship, blooming into love, with a young white woman.

The woman is blind, and it’s a measure of Hollywood’s heavy-handedness at the time that she can’t see the object of her affection: Racism is expunged only when skin color is literally erased. What’s more, Poitier’s character isn’t the agent of the kiss, which Harris identifies as the first of its kind in a big mainstream movie. The white woman initiates it, and it stuns him.

Even so, these fleeting seconds of “A Patch of Blue” were cut from the prints of the movie distributed in the South, Harris writes. This was two years before Loving v. Virginia, the Supreme Court decision that struck down the laws in many Southern states that banned interracial marriage.

In “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner,” released six months after Loving v. Virginia, Poitier again kisses a white woman. And it’s again presented in a manner that suggests its audacity — as a shadowy clutch in the rearview mirror of a taxicab whose driver isn’t prepared for it.

In a famous episode of the television sitcom “All in the Family” in 1972, the black entertainer Sammy Davis Jr., playing himself, defiantly plants a kiss on the cheek of the white bigot Archie Bunker, who is visibly aghast. The kiss is the great equalizer, collapsing the distance between two people, leveling their altitudes. It makes them one and it makes them the same.

A kiss speaks volumes, even when it doesn’t say precisely that. As Maureen Dowd noted in a 1984 story in The Times about Geraldine Ferraro’s historic selection as Walter Mondale’s running mate, Mondale was strenuously advised not to kiss her, lest he seem to treat her with less dignity and ceremony than he would a man. Sixteen years later, at the Democratic National Convention in 2000, it was a kiss — an exuberant, extravagant, somebody-please-get-them-a-room kiss — with which Al Gore communicated his passion for Tipper and his passion, period, to an electorate that needed to see it.

In 1993, as a commentary on longstanding tensions between Jews and African-Americans in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn, The New Yorker ran a cover illustration by Art Spiegelman of a white Hasidic man enfolding a black woman in a kiss. Many people were shocked.

Now it’s the gay kisses we’re all aflutter about. They’ve been a long time coming. Sandra Bernhard, who played a lesbian on the sitcom “Roseanne” in the 1990s, remembers hearing a director yell “Cut!” as she and the actress Morgan Fairchild stood facing each other under mistletoe and leaned in. “The censors would not let us finish that kiss,” Bernhard told me.

In a subsequent episode, there was indeed a woman-to-woman kiss, though not involving her. But across eight seasons of “Will & Grace,” there were just three man-to-man kisses, according to Max Mutchnick, one of the show’s creators, and the paucity of kisses in “Modern Family” has been a sustained curiosity.

Gay characters who trade sass and sexual innuendo are safe. Public expressions of gay intimacy aren’t.

And they’re still rare enough that the initial, internal reaction that I and many other gay people had to the way Sam clutched and kissed his boyfriend on national TV wasn’t exultation. It was alarm. Had he gone too far? Asked too much?

“We reflexively feel in our core that someone’s going to get punched, and that’s why we wince,” said Mutchnick, 48, noting that he and I and so many gay people spent our youths and maybe portions of our adult lives walking on eggshells, speaking in whispers.

Those eggshells cling. I still sometimes feel panic when my partner, meeting me in a restaurant, gives me a perfunctory kiss on the lips. And yet I feel robbed — wronged — if I sense that an awareness of other people’s gazes and a fear of their judgment are preventing him from doing that.

We shouldn’t be bound that way, and on the day of the pro football draft, in front of the cameras, Sam rightly declared that he wasn’t. He did so with a gesture at once humdrum and heroic, a gesture that connects everyone who has been in love and affirms what every love shares: physical tenderness, eye-to-eye togetherness. It was something to behold. It was something to hold on to.

Dowd and Friedman

May 21, 2014

MoDo has a question in “Remember to Forget:”  Do you have to live with that goofy Instagram forever?  Yes, you do MoDo.  And all your stupid Twitter-Twats too.  You’ll also have to live with all the crappy columns you’ve written.  The Moustache of Wisdom tells us all about “Four Words Going Bye-Bye:”  He says privacy is over. Local is over. Average is over. Later is over.  Here’s MoDo:

The Right to Be Forgotten.

It sounds like the title of a classic novel about desire and memory, perhaps Marcel Proust’s sequel to “Remembrance of Things Past.”

It is, in fact, based on a French legal phrase, le droit à l’oubli, the “right of oblivion,” which allows criminals who have paid their debt to society to object to the publication of information about their conviction and jail time.

That French concept was the underpinning of the European Court of Justice’s jolting ruling last week that Google and other search engines can be forced to remove search results about ordinary citizens linking to news articles, websites, court records and other documents if the information is deemed “inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant” — even if it is truthful.

There goes the Internet.

At a time when American society is obsessed with memory and how it slips away, the Europeans are focused on forgetting and how it slips away.

As James Gleick wrote in “The Information,” “Forgetting used to be a failing, a waste, a sign of senility. Now it takes effort. It may be as important as remembering.”

Still stung by the overreaches of the N.S.A., collaborating with American tech companies, the Europeans are challenging what is far more accepted here: the right of Big Data to have All Data, the right of knowing to trump the right of privacy.

They are implicitly rebuking America, the land of Gatsbyesque reinvention, by defending the right to reinvention.

The suit against Google was brought by Mario Costeja González, a self-proclaimed Google fan and graphologist who is a consultant on nonverbal communication. He resented a Google link to a 1998 Barcelona newspaper article that said the government had forced him to sell a house to settle unpaid debts.

About the Internet, he told The Financial Times, “There is data that is not relevant and that affects your dignity and your private life.”

A New York Times editorial warned that the ruling could lead to a purge that “would leave Europeans less well informed and make it harder for journalists and dissidents to have their voices heard.”

Laura Handman, a First Amendment lawyer and partner at Davis Wright Tremaine, notes that “the right to be forgotten” is an effort to restore the legal concept of “practical obscurity,” which meant, in the old days, people would have to go to a library and look up stories on microfiche to delve into someone’s past.

“There’s no more practical obscurity with search engines,” Handman said. She worries that information from the past that is relevant to the present — be it about criminals, predators, aspiring politicians or even Spanish deadbeats — could be taken down. It could be hard for search engines to make nuanced responses to claims so they might yank chunks of information off, she said, and then, “What gets lost?”

There’s already a measure to help the most innocently reckless, topless, tippling and selfie-obsessed among us. California lawmakers passed a law last year that, in 2015, will give minors the legal right to delete their online indiscretions.

Gleick is dismayed to find himself defending Google. “Forgetting is a skill we have to relearn because it’s a balm, a safety valve, a blessing,” he said. “But lobotomizing the Internet is not the answer.

“We need to be aware that this kind of perfect, prosthetic memory that the Internet has created for us is a burden as much as it is a useful tool. But that doesn’t mean that people suddenly have the right to burnish their reputations by distorting the record in the infosphere.”

Meg Ambrose, an assistant professor at Georgetown University who is writing a book on the subject, praises the European skepticism.

“People are sick of walking on eggshells and censoring themselves,” she said. “They would like a bit of leniency in our personal data and how it’s used.”

Jaron Lanier, the author of “Who Owns the Future?” and a man known as “the father of virtual reality,” vehemently agrees, comparing Gonzáles to “the guy in Tiananmen Square who stood up to a row of tanks.”

He notes that the rich and powerful tech elites — like Google’s Eric Schmidt, who lamented the ruling — seek the ability to control and restrict information about themselves.

He thinks the ruling rebuts Big Data’s “infantile desire for immediate gratification where you get to know everyone else’s secrets even as you seek to keep your own. In order for others to be free, that means you don’t get to stuff your nose into all their orifices all the time. It’s this horrible fusion of nerd supremacy with hyper-libertarianism that has taken over in Silicon Valley.

“We have to give each other some space and trust and room and faith and privacy,” he said. “There should be a right to self-definition, self-invention and how you present yourself.”

Or else we’re digitally doomed to be like Gatsby, “borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

Now here’s The Moustache of Wisdom:

The more I read the news, the more it looks to me that four words are becoming obsolete and destined to be dropped from our vocabulary. And those words are “privacy,” “local,” “average” and “later.” A lot of what drives today’s news derives from the fact that privacy is over, local is over, average is over and later is over.

Lord knows I have no sympathy for the Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling, but the public disclosure of a private recording of his racist rants underscored the fact that in a world where everyone with a cellphone camera is paparazzi, everyone with access to Twitter and a cellphone voice recorder is a reporter and everyone who can upload video on YouTube is a filmmaker, everyone else is a public figure — and fair game.

It is now so easy for anyone to record, film or photograph anyone else anywhere and share it with the world (without an editor or libel lawyer) that we are all now on Candid Camera. You cannot assume anything is private anymore. Which is why it is not surprising that I now often hear regular people — not high government officials — saying to me in conversation: “This is off-the-record.” Huh? What are you secretary of state? I start to imagine third-graders on play dates talking about their teacher and asking each other, “Are we on the record or off the record? Is your cellphone or Google glasses recording this?”

The Associated Press reported that Sterling’s racist remarks were part of a conversation taped by his lady friend (by mutual agreement) on her cellphone, some of which she then sent digitally to a friend of hers for “safekeeping,” who then leaked it to TMZ, a gossip website.

The always smart Bill Maher on his “Real Time” show of May 9 rightly noted, “Now that Americans are getting wise to the dangers of being spied on by the government, they have to start getting more alarmed about spying on each other. Because if the Donald Sterling mess proved anything it’s that there’s a force out there just as powerful as Big Brother: Big Girlfriend. … In an op-ed in The Washington Post, Kathleen Parker offered one way with dealing the modern world’s ubiquitous invasions of privacy: give up. She wrote: ‘If you don’t want your words broadcast in the public square, don’t say them.’ Really? Even at home? We have to talk like a White House press spokesman?” It may be so.

Local is over for the same reason. Everything and anything controversial you say or do anywhere in today’s hyperconnected world can immediately go global. Beyoncé’s sister Solange starts kicking and swinging at Jay-Z inside a hotel elevator and the attack is captured on surveillance video — bam, global. And you don’t have to be Solange for your slap to be heard round the world. On Monday, Google News carried the following story: “SANTA ROSA, Calif. (KGO) — A Santa Rosa mother is accused of assaulting a boy she believed was bullying her daughter.” It doesn’t get more local than that, but it went global thanks to Google. Anyone who tells you that what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas is pulling your leg.

I’ve been arguing for a while now that “average is over.” It has to be when every boss has cheaper, easier, faster access to software, automation, robots, cheap foreign labor and cheap foreign genius that can produce above-average so easily. Everyone needs to find their unique value-add, their “extra,” and be constantly re-engineering themselves if they want to obtain, or advance in, a decent job that can’t be digitized.

Consider this article published in The New York Times on April 23: “EASTON, N.Y. — Something strange is happening at farms in upstate New York. The cows are milking themselves. Desperate for reliable labor and buoyed by soaring prices, dairy operations across the state are charging into a brave new world of udder care: robotic milkers, which feed and milk cow after cow without the help of a single farmhand.”

Overnight, an average farmhand went from knowing how to milk a cow to having to learn how to program and operate the robotic cow-milker — to keep a job. That takes above-average skills.

Finally, comes the news, reported in this paper on May 13, that scientists have concluded that “a large section of the mighty West Antarctica ice sheet has begun falling apart and its continued melting now appears to be unstoppable. … Today we present observational evidence that a large sector of the West Antarctic ice sheet has gone into irreversible retreat,” said Eric Rignot, a glaciologist at the University of California, Irvine. … “It has passed the point of no return.”

As I’ve noted before, when we were growing up “later” meant that you could paint the same landscape, see the same animals, climb the same trees, fish the same rivers, visit the same Antarctica, enjoy the same weather or rescue the same endangered species that you did when you were a kid — but just later, whenever you got around to it. Not anymore. Later is now when you won’t be able to do any of them ever again. So whatever you’re planning to save, please save it now. Because later is when they’ll be gone. Later will be too late.

Later — like private, local and average — is over.

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

May 18, 2014

The Putz has decided that he’s competent enough to be “Grading Obama’s Foreign Policy.”  He sniffs that the president’s record only looks good if the Iraq war is your standard.  Let’s let “gemli” from Boston take it away in the comments:  “It takes more than a bit of gall for a conservative to criticize the current president’s foreign policy. I suspect that inheriting two unfunded, misguided, ineptly prosecuted and morally sapping wars might have put the Obama administration in a pretty deep hole right from the start, and one could argue that the effects of the Bush/Cheney fiasco reverberate to this day. Bush turned over a smoking hole where the economy used to be, and then went back to Texas to paint pictures.”  In “Condi’s Lesson” MoDo ponders what Rice could have taught the Rutgers students.  The Moustache of Wisdom gives us “The Square People, Part 2″ and has a question:  From the town square to the virtual square the globe over, what happens after the protest march?  Nothing, Tommy, nothing.  The MOTU keep on keeping on.  Mr. Kristof remembers the “Tears of a Rickshaw Driver” and says the haunting lesson from the bravest people at the student massacre in China 25 years ago still resonates.  Mr. Bruni considers “Class, Cost and College” and says a new movie’s troubling questions include whether the best schools encourage social mobility or perpetuate privilege.  Here’s the Putz:

Second terms are often a time when presidents, balked by domestic opposition, turn to the world stage to secure their legacy — opening doors to China, closing out the Cold War, chasing Middle Eastern peace.

But the global stage hasn’t been a second-term refuge for President Obama; it’s been an arena of setbacks, crises and defeats. His foreign policy looked modestly successful when he was running for re-election. Now it stinks of failure.

Failure is a relative term, to be sure. His predecessor’s invasion of Iraq still looms as the largest American blunder of the post-Vietnam era. None of Obama’s difficulties have rivaled that debacle. And many of the sweeping conservative critiques of his foreign policy — that Obama has weakened America’s position in the world, that he’s too chary about using military force — lack perspective on how much damage the Iraq war did to American interests, and how many current problems can be traced back to errors made in 2003.

But the absence of an Iraq-scale fiasco is not identical to success, and history shouldn’t grade this president on a curve set by Donald Rumsfeld. Obama is responsible for the initiatives he’s pursued, the strategies he’s blessed and the priorities he’s set. And almost nothing on that list is working out.

Start with Libya, the site of Obama’s own war of choice. The consuming Republican focus on Benghazi has tended to obscure the fact that post-Qaddafi Libya is generally a disaster area — its government nonfunctional, its territory a safe harbor for jihadists, its former ruler’s weaponry and fighters destabilizing sub-Saharan Africa. (Some of those weapons, for instance, appear to be in the hands of Nigeria’s most-wanted kidnappers, Boko Haram.)

Then swing northeast to Syria, where this administration’s stated policy is that Bashar al-Assad has to go, and that there is a “red line” — backed by force, if necessary — around the use of chemical weapons. Well, Assad isn’t going; he’s winning. And the White House’s claims of progress on the chemical weapons front were undermined by Secretary of State John Kerry’s acknowledgment last week that “raw data” suggested a “number of instances” in which Assad’s government recently used chlorine gas.

The picture doesn’t look better when you turn south or east. In the Holy Land, Kerry’s recent push for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations ended in predictable failure, and in Iraq the caldron is boiling and Iranian influence is growing — in part, The New Yorker’s Dexter Filkins suggested last month, because the White House’s indecision undercut negotiations that might have left a small but stabilizing U.S. force in place.

Similar status-of-forces negotiations are ongoing in Afghanistan, and the backdrop is even grimmer: The surge of forces ordered by Obama (also amid much indecision) failed to replicate the success of Gen. David Petraeus’s salvage operation in Iraq, and even with an American presence the Taliban are barely being held at bay.

As for the White House’s major diplomatic projects, one — the “reset” with Russia — has ended in the shambles of the Ukraine crisis. A second, the opening to Iran, is still being pursued, with deadlines looming, and it’s the administration’s best remaining hope for a paradigm-altering achievement. But that hope is still a thin one (complicated, for instance, by Iran’s continuing pursuit of ballistic missiles), and it’s just as likely that Obama will have unsettled America’s existing alliances in the region to very little gain.

As for the promised “pivot to Asia,” let me know when it actually happens, and maybe I’ll have something to say about it.

The point of this litany is not to suggest that all of Obama’s decisions have been misguided (I sympathized with the decision to slip free of Iraq entirely, and I’m glad we don’t have 50,000 troops occupying Syria), or that there’s some strategic reboot that would clear all these problems up. In a world that’s necessarily beyond an American president’s control, even the wisest choices can lead to disappointing results.

But most presidents do win some clear victories. Not everyone gets to end the Cold War, but there’s usually some diplomatic initiative that leaves a positive legacy (even Jimmy Carter had the Camp David accords), some military or humanitarian intervention (even George W. Bush had his AIDS-in-Africa initiative) that looks like a success.

Yet except for the killing of Osama bin Laden — an “except” that has to be qualified by Islamist terrorism’s resurgence — if Obama’s presidency ended today I have no idea what major foreign policy achievements his defenders could reasonably cite.

There is still time for it to be otherwise — for the administration to brilliantly exploit Vladimir Putin’s possible overreach, or seal a lasting nuclear deal with Iran, or craft a strategy to soothe the nationalisms gathering on the Indian subcontinent and the Pacific Rim.

But recent events do not inspire much confidence. Instead, future defenses of Obama’s foreign policy may boil down to just six words: “At least he didn’t invade Iraq.”

What a waste of pixels and print he is…  Here’s MoDo:

There has been much mockery of political correctness run amok on college campuses this spring, with knots of know-it-all students and teachers knifing their commencement speakers.

The Times’s Timothy Egan dubbed the protesters “commencement bigots,” and The Wall Street Journal’s Daniel Henninger christened the trend the “Bonfire of the Humanities” — a “ritualistic burning of college-commencement heretics.”

The disinvitation list has been burgeoning. Brandeis canceled human rights activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali, saying she’d made remarks critical of Islam. After protests about imperialism, Condoleezza Rice pulled out of her speech at Rutgers and Christine Lagarde, chief of the International Monetary Fund, said au revoir to Smith College.

This past week, liberal Haverford College shooed away Robert J. Birgeneau, the former chancellor of the University of California, Berkeley, “the big bang of political correctness,” as Henninger dryly noted, because Berkeley police had used “force” against Occupy protesters.

For a militaristic imperialist, Rice caved awfully easily. She should have invaded Rutgers, occupied the podium and said her piece about her failures on peace. And the students shouldn’t have jumped the gun. After all, there was always a chance, a small one, admittedly, but a chance, that Condi Rice would have looked into her soul and told the story of what happens when you succumb to the temptation to sell it.

And that, dear graduates, family and friends, faculty and honored guests, would have been the most amazing and instructive commencement speech of all time.

Rice always seemed to me a particularly sad part of the tragedies of Iraq and Afghanistan, and the lovely linchpin of the moral corrosion of W.’s presidency.

“What a falling off was there,” as the ghost of Hamlet’s father said of his compromised queen.

Condi had all the qualities required to dazzle. Smart, attractive, hard-working, personable, chic. She grew up in Birmingham, Ala., in the 1960s, when segregationists bombed so much that the city became known as “Bombingham.”

Yet she sailed to success at a young age. She could stand toe-to-heel on substance with world leaders. She could speak Russian competently and talk sports expertly and play the piano and ice skate beautifully. She could authoritatively survey the troops in Wiesbaden in black leather knee-high stiletto boots and fashionably dominate a Washington banquet in a long, scarlet Oscar de la Renta gown.

Women everywhere, including my mom, were blown away by her, believing that she could be the first woman and the first black person to be president.

So how could someone named by her mother after the Italian musical notation con dolcezza, meaning “with sweetness,” end up having such a sour effect on American history? Rice was a star, but unfortunately, she cast herself in yet another production of “Faust” on the Potomac, uttering one of the most over-the-top lines of war spin ever: “We don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud.”

She excelled at failing better. As national security adviser for W., she ignored the intelligence report warning that Osama bin Laden was determined to strike inside the U.S. And she only learned about Hamas’s shocking win in the Palestinian elections in 2006 when she was on her elliptical trainer watching the TV news crawl. After verifying it with State, she returned to exercising.

As Elisabeth Bumiller wrote in her trenchant biography of Rice, “Condoleezza Rice: An American Life”: “It was obvious from Rice’s many metamorphoses that her real ideology was not idealism or realism or defending the citadels of freedom, although she displayed elements of all of them. Her real ideology was succeeding.”

And so, in order to succeed, she rejected her old mentors, Brent Scowcroft and Colin Powell, and went along with the preposterous pre-emption plan of the old hawks who had far less respect for her: Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld.

She knew that W. — eager to show he was not a wimp, the word Newsweek had once hung around his father’s neck — was leaning toward kicking some Arabs around. So she ignored the red flags raised publicly by Scowcroft and privately by Powell and made her Faustian deal to sell a fake war.

We’ll never know if she could have stopped W. from ruining his presidency and destroying so many lives when there was no national security stake.

We only know that when you sell your soul, it’s not like a pawnshop. Condi thought she could reclaim it after she was secretary of state and bring W. back to the light of diplomacy and common sense. But, as Russell Baker once noted, she was trying to put the toothpaste back in the tube, spinning her wheels in the second term trying to undo the disasters of the first.

What a wonderful lesson she could have taught those graduates about the perils of succeeding at any cost, about how moral shortcuts never lead to the right place.

She should have said she was sorry about everything — except becoming one of the first two women permitted to join Augusta National.

That will happen when pigs fly and I’m the Czarina of all the Russias.  Here’s The Moustache of Wisdom:

In a famous 1995 interview about her dysfunctional marriage and the infidelity of Prince Charles, Princess Diana noted that “there were three of us in this marriage, so it was a bit crowded.” I find myself thinking of that quote lately to describe the new politics and geopolitics that have been produced by “The Square People” — all those newly connected and aspiring middle classes who have gathered in the squares from Cairo to Kiev, Istanbul to Tehran, and Tunis to Moscow to demand a greater voice in their future and better governance. A lot of leaders are discovering that these Square People are like a spontaneous third party that has emerged between themselves and their tame traditional opposition and, as a result, their politics is getting a bit crowded — and a lot more interesting.

 Indeed, “The Square” — as the place for these newly networked political forces to gather, collaborate and pressure for change — is truly disrupting both traditional politics and geopolitics. But the big thing to watch going forward is which Square People can go from disruption to construction — can take the energy and inchoate aspirations of their Square followers and turn them into parties, elections and better governance. Surely, the most interesting of these dramas today involves The Square People of Ukraine versus Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin.

Putin was minding his own corrupt business, living in a two-party relationship with his neighbor Ukraine, which was being led by the even more corrupt, pro-Moscow President Viktor Yanukovych. Suddenly, spontaneously from below, an emergent, connected, aspiring middle class of Ukrainians — fed up both with regime corruption and how far they’d fallen behind their neighbors in the European Union — demanded that Yanukovych forge closer cooperation and trade ties with the European Union. They also demanded something now common to every square: the right to be treated as “citizens” with rights and responsibilities, not as the playthings of oligarchs or outside powers.

Yanukovych opted instead for a closer economic relationship with Russia, so The Square People in Kiev toppled him, challenging every aspect of Putin’s K.G.B.-shaped worldview. Putin does not believe any political protest can ever be spontaneous. If a large body of Ukrainians gathered in the square of Kiev to demand an end to corruption and closer ties with the E.U., it could only be because the C.I.A., NATO or the E.U. inspired or paid them to do so. Putin’s whole mind-set is top-down, and the notion that the combination of globalization and the I.T. revolution might have given the “people” both the ability to see things they could never see before — and the tools to collaborate and act on them from the bottom up — is totally alien to him.

Putin is looking backward, trying to restore Russia’s czarist empire, using its natural resources, while the Kiev Square People are looking forward, trying to associate with the E.U., so they can develop their human resources. They believe that integrating their economy with Europe would produce from beyond the judicial reform, transparency and regulations that they could not generate from below and that their leaders would never enact from above. For the Square People of Kiev, an E.U.-Ukraine association is a vital lever for domestic renewal, but for Putin it is a direct threat to his “sphere of influence.”

Ditto in Turkey. A spontaneous movement emerged to resist Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s attempt to install a mall in the only green space near Istanbul’s central Taksim Square, but it quickly mushroomed into protests against his autocratic rule. Erdogan went berserk. He had created a two-party universe that included only himself and the official Turkish opposition parties and TV stations, which he had totally cowed, tamed and neutered. So Turkey’s Square People created a new opposition, and, through Twitter and YouTube, their own TV network.

But Erdogan has managed to outmaneuver his Square People with repeated election victories. How? A report from Turkey in Forbes.com Friday gives one answer. Most of Erdogan’s largely rural voting base is not on YouTube or Twitter. They “are tech-illiterate; they get their news from television,” which he controls. “Television news channels show only the damage and virulence of protest, a selection of images that ultimately give the impression of anarchy loosed upon the country by rabid troublemakers.” Putin has used the same propaganda in Moscow and Ukraine.

This failure to translate their aspirations into parties that could contest elections and then govern is the Achilles’ heel of The Square People — from Tahrir Square to Occupy Wall Street.

Or as Moises Naim, the author of a very smart book on this subject, “The End of Power,” recently observed in The Atlantic: Today “an appeal to protest via Twitter, Facebook, or text message is sure to attract a crowd, especially if it is to demonstrate against something — anything, really — that outrages us. The problem is what happens after the march. … Behind massive street demonstrations there is rarely a well-oiled and more-permanent organization capable of following up on protesters’ demands and undertaking the complex, face-to-face, and dull political work that produces real change in government. This is the important point made by Zeynep Tufekci, a fellow at the Center for Information Technology Policy at Princeton University, who writes that ‘Before the Internet, the tedious work of organizing that was required to circumvent censorship or to organize a protest also helped build infrastructure for decision making and strategies for sustaining momentum. Now movements can rush past that step, often to their own detriment.’”

Daniel Brumberg, a democracy expert at Georgetown University and the United States Institute of Peace, points out that the most successful Square People in the Arab world, who forged a whole new constitution, are in Tunisia, which is the Arab country that had “the most robust civil society institutions — especially a powerful labor union federation, as well as business, human rights and lawyers associations — that could arbitrate between the secular and religious factions,” who had come together in the square to oust Tunisia’s dictator. Tunisia also benefited from an army that stayed out of politics and the fact that the secular and Islamist forces had a balance of power, requiring them to be inclusive of one another.

I’m encouraged by the many government-monitoring civil society groups that have emerged in Ukraine to make sure that the will of its Square People will not be stolen. Whether Ukraine’s Square People can also develop the inclusive politics — to respect the views of the more pro-Russia population in the East — remains to be seen. Without Square People, no change is possible in these countries, but without civil society institutions and inclusive politics, no change is sustainable.

And now here’s Mr. Kristof:

As long as I live, I’ll never forget the rickshaw driver, tears streaming down his cheeks, rushing a gravely injured student to hospital — and away from the soldiers who had just gunned him down.

That rickshaw driver was a brave man, a better man than I, and he taught me an indelible lesson.

We were on the Avenue of Eternal Peace in Beijing, beside Tiananmen Square, on the night of June 3, 1989, and the Chinese army was crushing the student democracy movement that convulsed China that spring 25 years ago.

Millions of protesters filled the streets in hundreds of cities around China from mid-April through early June that year, demanding free speech, democracy and an end to corruption. I was living in China then as the Beijing bureau chief for The Times, and it was an unforgettable — and, initially, inspiring — tapestry of valor and yearning.

Protesters acknowledged that their lives were improving dramatically, but they said that it was not enough. They insisted that they wanted not just rice, but also rights.

To this day, it is the most polite protest movement I’ve ever covered. After shoving their way through police lines, student marchers would pause, turn around, and chant, “Thank you, police!” Some students were assigned to pick up any shoes lost in the commotion and return them to the students or police officers who had lost them.

The student protesters took over central Beijing for weeks. Then, on the night of June 3, the army invaded Beijing from several directions as if it were a foreign army, shooting at everything that moved. Miles from Tiananmen Square, the teenage brother of a friend was shot dead by soldiers as he simply bicycled to work.

As the invasion began, I jumped on my bike and raced to Tiananmen Square, where throngs of citizens had come out on the streets to try to protect the student protesters. They were shot.

The most heroic people on that terrible night and into the morning of June 4 were the rickshaw drivers, driving three-wheel bicycle carts used to haul goods around the city. With each pause in the shooting, these rickshaw drivers would pedal out toward the troops and pick up the bodies of the students who had been killed or injured.

The soldiers were unforgiving, shooting even at ambulances trying to pick up bodies. But those rickshaw men were undeterred.

Their bravery particularly resonated because I had heard so often that spring, from foreigners and Chinese officials alike, that China was unready for democracy, that its people weren’t sufficiently educated or sophisticated. And it’s true that democracy tends to find firmer root in educated, middle-class societies.

Yet I vividly remember that one rickshaw driver, a burly man in a T-shirt who perhaps had never graduated from high school. Yet what courage! I found myself holding my breath, wondering if he would be shot, as he drove out to pick up a body. He placed the young man on his cart and pedaled for his life back toward us. Tears were streaming down his cheeks.

He saw me, the foreigner, and swerved to drive slowly by me so that I could bear witness to what the government had done. It was a terrifying night, and I can’t remember just what his words were, but it was something to the effect that I should tell the world what was happening.

Sure, he couldn’t have offered a robust definition of democracy. But he was risking his life for it.

A quarter-century has passed. The bullet holes in the buildings along the Avenue of Eternal Peace have been patched, and history similarly sanitized. I was staggered when a Chinese university student looked puzzled when I mentioned the June 4 Massacre; it turned out that she had never heard of it.

It’s also true that China has progressed enormously. Incomes have soared, housing has improved and the latest figures (which should be taken with a grain of salt) suggest that the rate of death from pregnancy and childbirth is lower in China than in the United States.

That rickshaw driver may not have the vote, but his children may well attend university. The progress is unarguable. Yet human dignity demands not just rice, but also rights.

The great Chinese writer Lu Xun once wrote, about an earlier massacre: “Lies written in ink cannot disguise facts written in blood.”

As China prospers and builds an educated middle class, demands for participation will grow. I’ve covered democracy movements around the world, from Poland to South Korea, and I’m confident that someday, at Tiananmen Square, I’ll be able to pay my respects at a memorial to those men and women killed that night. I’m hoping the memorial will take the form of a statue of a rickshaw driver.

Last but not least, here’s Mr. Bruni:

The word “crisis” pops up frequently in “Ivory Tower,” a compelling new documentary about the state of higher education in America.

It pops up in regard to the mountains of student debt. It pops up in regard to the steep drop in government funding for public universities, which have been forced to charge higher and higher tuition in response. That price increase is also a “crisis” in the estimation of one of many alarmed educators and experts on camera.

And “crisis” isn’t even their direst appellation. Andrew Delbanco, a Columbia University professor of American studies who functions as the movie’s conscience, notes an “apocalyptic dimension” to today’s discussion of college’s failings. The movie is set on verdant campuses. It’s rife with lecterns, books and graduation gowns. And yet it’s a kind of horror story.

Scheduled for theatrical release next month, “Ivory Tower” does an astonishingly thorough tour of the university landscape in a brisk 90 minutes, touching on the major changes and challenges, each of which could sustain its own documentary.

But as I watched it, one theme in particular kept capturing my attention. One set of questions kept coming to mind. How does our current system of higher education square with our concerns about social mobility? What place do the nation’s universities have in our intensifying debate about income inequality? What promise do they hold for lessening it?

The answers in “Ivory Tower” and beyond it aren’t reassuring. Indeed, the greatest crisis may be that while college supposedly represents one of the surest ladders to, and up through, the middle class, it’s not functioning that way, at least not very well.

I followed up with a few of the people in the movie, including Delbanco, who is the author of a 2012 book titled “College: What It Was, Is, and Should Be.” I asked him how well colleges were abetting social mobility.

“They are falling down,” he said, adding that in the days of the G.I. Bill, they did a much better job of it.

Anthony Carnevale, another contributor to “Ivory Tower,” gave me a similar assessment.

“The good news is that more and more kids are going to college,” said Carnevale, the director of Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce. “The bad news is that higher education is becoming more and more stratified.”

In 2011, the most recent year for which figures are available, roughly 75 percent of the students at the 200 most highly rated colleges came from families in the top quartile of income, he said. Only 5 percent came from families in the bottom quartile, and while that’s up from 3 percent in 1994, it’s no huge advance or cause to rejoice.

Carnevale told me that since 1994, 80 percent of the white young men and women in this country who have headed off to college have gone to schools ranked in the top 500 by Barron’s. But 75 percent of the black and Latino young men and women who have entered college over the same period have gone to two-year or open-admissions schools outside the top 500.

“We’re sorting students by class,” he said. The most prestigious colleges are crowded with the richest kids.

There are poor kids around, too. “Ivory Tower” showcases one, David Boone, a young black man from Cleveland who is attending Harvard with the kind of robust financial aid that it and similarly well-endowed universities — Columbia, Stanford, Yale — can use to diversify their student bodies.

But those student bodies aren’t all that diverse. Harvard’s main student newspaper did a survey of the freshman class this academic year and found that 29 percent of respondents reported family incomes of at least $250,000, while only 20 percent reported family incomes of under $65,000.

It’s wealthier kids who more easily stud their résumés with the extracurricular baubles that catch an admissions officer’s eye. It’s wealthier kids who are more likely to get extensive test preparation. Delbanco noted that superior SAT results correlate closely with high family incomes, so when colleges decide to care and crow about the altitude of their student body’s median SAT score, they’re privileging economically advantaged young people over disadvantaged ones.

And more than half of the poor kids who score in the top 10 percent on the SAT or the ACT don’t apply to the most selective colleges, said David Coleman, the president of the College Board, which administers the SAT. He and the College Board have joined a growing push to make sure those students have the necessary information and encouragement to do so. “We as a country must do everything we can to make sure these hard-working, high-achieving students claim their futures,” he said.

Harvard and its ilk are just a small part of the story, though. Many more young people turn to public universities, where tuitions have gone up much faster than Americans’ incomes have.

Those schools have simultaneously become more invested in admitting students from affluent families. In a 2011 survey of college admissions officers, more than half of those at public research universities said that they had recently ratcheted up their efforts to recruit students who could pay full freight.

A story by Paul Tough in The Times Magazine this Sunday illuminates another troubling way in which college favors the rich. “Whether a student graduates or not seems to depend today almost entirely on just one factor — how much money his or her parents make,” Tough writes, adding, “About a quarter of college freshmen born into the bottom half of the income distribution will manage to collect a bachelor’s degree by age 24, while almost 90 percent of freshmen born into families in the top income quartile will go on to finish their degree.”

We need to address that disparity. Andrew Rossi, the producer and director of “Ivory Tower,” says we also need to pump more public money back into higher education to keep tuition down and college affordable. He additionally advocates caps on tuition at public schools.

Watching “Ivory Tower,” which visits Harvard and Columbia and Wesleyan, I was reminded anew of the greatness of America’s universities, which remain the envy of the world.

But as the movie looked at the climbing walls and other gleaming perks that today’s hypercompetitive schools make sure to have, and as it mentioned the stratospheric salaries of university presidents who keep the donations rolling in, I was also reminded of a luxury product. The top colleges, shinier than ever, are Porsches. They can take you far and fast, but it’s a lucky few who get behind the wheel.

Dowd and Friedman

May 14, 2014

In “The Speaker’s Sand Trap” MoDo gurgles that with a more amiable Tee Party, John Boehner reveals his plan for victory in November.  “Debra” formerly from NYC, stated the obvious in the comments:  “By calling Boehner “The Speaker,” she gives him more respect than she’s ever given the President, whom she names ‘Barry.’ ”  The Moustache of Wisdom is still in Hanoi.  In “The Square People, Part 1,” he says a new global force is rising from Kiev to Hanoi to push for a higher standard of living and more liberty.  In the comments “mancuroc” from Rochester, NY had a question:  “Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t recall you showing such enthusiasm when people turned out in city squares all over the US and other western nations as part of the Occupy movement. Could it be because they were not as sold as you are on the current terms of the global economy?”  Here’s MoDo:

The Speaker is hitting the links.

“This is a Tee Party I can live with,” he grins, as he puts a tee emblazoned with “Speaker Boehner” into the turf.

The G.O.P.’s Dean Martin is on the road, making a ring-a-ding and ka-ching tour to rake in the moolah to ensure that Republicans keep the House in November and he keeps his job.

“That was a real humdinger this week when I told those folks in San Antonio that I’m living on borrowed time,” he tells the other members of his foursome, who have ponied up big bucks to play 18 with the Speaker.

“The way I enjoy my Camels and cocktails, I guess I should have been happy to make it to 50, much less 65,” he chuckles. “But I didn’t expect such a big hubbub. Now that I’ve cheated death by Tea Party, I was taking a moment to ponder my mortality.”

He gives his playing partners a sly look.

“As you know, I’ve taken steps to guarantee my position and the party’s by teeing up that Benghazi committee, just like I teed up that Titleist. Talk about a sand trap.

“Every time I hear the word Benghazi, I think of Ben Gazzara, that great actor back in the ’60s with the nice tan. He could play me in the movie. Is he still around?”

“And what kinda name is Trey Gowdy? Is he any relation to Curt Gowdy, that old sports announcer? He must be because he hasn’t been off TV since I made him chairman of the House Select Committee to Keep Republicans in Power and Harass Hillary Clinton. The guy won’t shut up about how we’re not going to raise money off the four dead Americans, even while we’re busy raising money off the four dead Americans.

“By the way, I’m no Hillary fan. But if Karl Rove thinks pushing the notion that Hillary’s concussion made her cuckoo is a good idea, then he’s the one with brain damage. How did he survive wasting all that donor money and not winning anything in the last election anyhow?”

As Boehner savors a 210-yard shot, his voice drops into a confidential growl.

“I was reluctant to set up this committee because I know how our wackos can cause a backlash, but I was starting to worry that health care wasn’t gonna be enough to get us over the top in November,” he confides.

“And I don’t mind sticking it to Obama when he continues to be so insensitive about my skin color. His stupid joke at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner about me, ‘Orange is the new black.’ Well, he’s gonna be black and blue after we grill him and his team on what he was really doing in the White House that night during the attacks on the compound.

“If he was watching SportsCenter instead of sitting in the Command Center, that’s not gonna look good. If he was buttering up Bibi to help him with the Jewish vote, that’s not gonna look good. If he was catching some zzz’s during Benghazzzi, that’s bad. Of course, he already seems asleep at the switch most of the time. All he does is blame us because he can’t get anything done.

“Does he think we’re just gonna cuddle with him?”

After he and his group head down the fairway, Boehner takes a swig of merlot from his monogrammed silver “JAB” flask and climbs out of his cart.

Eyeing his approach, he muses: “I wouldn’t mind working with the president on one thing — this damn immigration mess. If we don’t do something to appeal to Hispanics, we are going to be nowheresville as a party in a decade. But there’s nothing I can say to make my guys do it.

“Maybe throwing a bone to the kooks on Benghazi will buy me some room to maneuver on immigration. Some of these goofballs will be so focused on Benghazi, we can just throw a bill on the floor and pass it before they even know what’s happening. We faked them out that way on the Doc Fix Medicare legislation. Har, har. The ayes have it.”

Hitting his second shot into a deep sand trap in front of the green, Boehner gives the same exaggerated grimace he did ridiculing his own members recently on immigration reform.

“Damn sand traps,” he mutters. “At least if all these alarmist reports on climate change turn out to be true, the sand traps will just be water hazards. If Marco Rubio’s wrong pooh-poohing climate change, he’s gonna be playing a lot of Marco Polo when Miami’s underwater.”

The Speaker hits out of the trap and lands his ball about 20 feet from the cup.

“Marco is not even the best candidate from Florida,” Boehner says. “I’ve been talking to my man Jeb about getting in. Enough with all these rabid fruitloops. Jeb’s my kind of Republican — normal.”

Boehner putts and misses his 20-footer for par.

“Did you notice that broke way too much to the right?” he sighs. “That’s our problem.”

Well, I guess she’s made it very clear.  She’ll kiss Boehner’s ass, but she’ll vilify the President.  Here’s The Moustache of Wisdom:

I think I’ll plan to go from Kiev to Hanoi more often. It’s only when you go to two seemingly disconnected places that you see the big trends, and one of the big ones I’ve noticed is the emergence of “The Square People.”

In 2004, the Harvard political scientist Samuel Huntington wrote about an emerging global “superclass” of “Davos Men” — alluding to attendees of the Davos World Economic Forum — a transnational, cosmopolitan elite drawn from high-tech, finance, multinationals, academics and NGOs. The Davos Men had “little need for national loyalty” and more in common with each other than their fellow citizens, Huntington argued. They also had the skills to disproportionately benefit from the new globalization of markets and information technologies.

Well, a decade later, as the I.T. revolution and globalization have been democratized and diffused — as we’ve gone from laptops for elites to smartphones for everyone, from networking for the lucky few at Davos to Facebook for all and from only the rich heard in the halls of power to everyone being able to talk back to their leaders on Twitter — a new global political force is aborning, bigger and more important than Davos Men. I call them The Square People.

They are mostly young, aspiring to a higher standard of living and more liberty, seeking either reform or revolution (depending on their existing government), connected to one another either by massing in squares or through virtual squares or both, and united less by a common program and more by a shared direction they want their societies to go. We’ve seen them now in the squares of Tunis, Cairo, Istanbul, New Delhi, Damascus, Tripoli, Beirut, Sana, Tehran, Moscow, Rio, Tel Aviv and Kiev, as well as in the virtual squares of Saudi Arabia, China and Vietnam.

The latter three countries all have unusually large numbers of Facebook, Twitter or YouTube users, or their Chinese equivalents, which together constitute a virtual square where they connect, promote change and challenge authority. The most popular Vietnamese blogger, Nguyen Quang Lap, has more followers than any government newspaper here. In Saudi Arabia, one of the most popular Twitter hash tags is “#If I met the King I would tell him.”

And The Square People are only getting more numerous and empowered. “Our goal is that, in three years, every Vietnamese will own a smartphone,” Nguyen Manh Hung, who leads the Viettel Group, a Vietnamese telecom, told me. “We are now manufacturing a smartphone for less than $40 and our goal is $35. We charge $2 a month for Internet connection for a P.C. and $2.50 for voice from a smartphone.” Because the Vietnamese media is tightly censored, it is no accident that 22 million of Vietnam’s 90 million people are on Facebook. Just two years ago there were only 8 million. Vietnam has about 100,000 students studying abroad; a decade ago it was a tenth of that. All future Square People.

To be sure, The Square People represent a diverse politics, including the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and ultranationalists in Kiev. But the dominant trend running through them all is this: “We now have the tools to see how everyone is living, including opportunities abroad and corrupt leaders at home, and we will not tolerate indefinitely living in a context where we can’t realize our full potential. And also we now have the tools to collaborate to do something about it.”

As a Vietnamese foreign policy expert put it, the Square People one way or another “are demanding a new social contract” with the old guards who’ve dominated politics. “The people want their voice to be heard in every major debate,” not to mention better schools, roads and rule of law. And they are quick to compare with others: “ ‘Why do those Thai get to go demonstrate and we can’t?’ ”

Ukraine’s Square People want to associate with the European Union — not only because they think that’s the key to prosperity, but because they think European rules, judicial norms, standards and transparency requirements will force the changes they want at home but cannot generate from above or below. Vietnamese reformers want to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership for the same reasons. Unlike Davos Men, The Square People want to use the global economy to reform their countries, not rise above them.

I gave a talk on globalization at the National University in Hanoi. Afterward I chatted with a young woman, Anh Nguyen, 19, a student who had asked several good questions. Her conversation was peppered with Square talk: “I feel empowered. … I think Vietnam can change. … Please tell the world about the big embezzlement case [at a state-owned shipping company] that was uncovered here. Before people would have been silent, but the verdict came out and they sentenced the [bosses] to death. … It really surprised people. … Now not every big boss is protected by the government. … We get many different sources of information from the world. It opens eyes.” She has a much greater chance to achieve her potential than her parents, she added, “but not as much as I want.”

Move over Davos Man, the Square People are coming.

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

May 11, 2014

The Pasty Little Putz has decided to weigh in on “Rape and the College Brand.”  He says that the corporate university doesn’t want to hear about sexual assault.  In the comments “gemli” from Boston has this to say:  “Douthat is on a one-man crusade to end sex between consenting adults, and he’s not going to let a bunch of (here he spits on the ground) “left-wing” and “feminist” groups mischaracterize what really underlies campus sexual abuse. The problem with the lax response to sexual aggression isn’t just that campus administrators are not taking such accusations seriously, but, according to Mr. Douthat, that they aren’t enforcing an overall policy of moral rectitude. Opus Dei wouldn’t put up with that, and neither should Harvard.”  At this juncture I can’t resist reminding people about Chunky Reese Witherspoon.  MoDo has found a new target.  In “With Malice Toward Nuns” she snarls that the cool pope begins to lose his cool.  The Moustache of Wisdom is in Hanoi.  In “More Chopsticks, Please” he tells us that traveling from Kiev to Hanoi within a matter of days was extremely revealing.  He doesn’t mention a cab driver…  Mr. Kristof has a question:  “What’s So Scary About Smart Girls?”  He says the greatest threat to extremism isn’t an army. It’s girls reading books. Want to stick it to Boko Haram? Help educate a girl.  In “Lessons in Catholic Judgment” Mr. Bruni says despite the pope’s gentle words, parochial school teachers confront a harsh litany of “thou shalt not.”  Here’s The Putz:

In last week’s column, I wrote about the connection between college social life and socioeconomic stratification, and the way the party scene at many universities, oriented toward heavy drinking and hooking up, creates distinctive challenges for working-class students, whether they’re attracted to its thrills or alienated by its excesses.

What I didn’t discuss was the ongoing ideological war over a more specific and toxic issue in college social life: the prevalence on campuses, often in alcohol-infused situations, of rape and sexual assault, and the question of what college administrations should be obliged to do about it.

The conflict pits an array of campus activists — students who have been raped or assaulted, supported by left-wing and feminist groups — against their own deans and administrators and disciplinary committees. The activists, lately with the support of the Obama White House, have leveraged Title IX’s rules against sex discrimination to pressure colleges to expand counseling for victims, to cooperate more fully with police departments and — most important — to take a much harder disciplinary line against sexual misconduct.

The colleges, for various reasons, are disinclined to push back too hard publicly against their critics. So conservative and libertarian observers — a mostly female group, it should be said, including Reason’s Cathy Young, Bloomberg View’s Megan McArdle, the American Enterprise Institute’s Caroline Kitchens and others — have stepped into the breach.

These writers have cast doubt on some of the statistics invoked by campus activists (particularly the White House’s claim that one in five collegiate women will be sexually assaulted), questioned whether college disciplinary committees are really equipped to adjudicate guilt and innocence in such cases (“if a college wouldn’t conduct a murder trial, it shouldn’t be conducting rape trials,” writes McArdle) and cited instances — which might be multiplied if the activists had their way — in which accused male rapists were denied a fair hearing and railroaded instead.

Such arguments add up to a plausible case against some of the activists’ prescriptions. But they don’t inspire much sympathy for the colleges’ position in this controversy. The protesting students may be overzealous and unduly ideological, but when you’re running an essentially corrupt institution, sometimes that’s the kind of opposition you deserve.

Corruption is a strong word, but not, I think, unmerited. Over the last few generations, America’s most prominent universities — both public and private — have pursued a strategy of corporate expansion, furious status competition, and moral and pedagogical retreat. But the moral retreat has in certain ways been disguised: elite schools have abandoned any explicit role in policing the choices and shaping the character of their students, but they have masked that abdication in the nostrums of contemporary P.C. piety — promising diversity, tolerance, safe spaces, etc., with what can feel like a preacher’s sincerity and self-righteousness.

This has allowed them, notionally, to be many things to many people: students are promised adult liberty and a community that will protect them if anything goes wrong; parents get a fuzzy rather than a corporate vibe from deans, R.A.’s and other authority figures; admissions departments get to pitch a fun, even bacchanalian lifestyle while faculty-lounge liberals get to feel as if they’re part of a worthy ideological project.

But the modern university’s primary loyalty is not really to liberalism or political correctness or any kind of ideological design: It’s to the school’s brand, status and bottom line. And when something goes badly wrong, or predators run loose — as tends to happen in a world where teens and early-twentysomethings are barely supervised and held to no standard higher than consent — the mask of kindness and community slips, and the face revealed beneath is often bloodless, corporate and intent on self-protection.

I glimpsed this face, and saw it reflected in my friends’ eyes, at various moments of crisis during my own four years in higher education; I doubt that anything has changed for the better in the 12 years since. This seems to be what the anti-rape activists — victims, friends, sympathizers — are reacting against so strongly: the realization that an institution that seemed to make one set of promises had other priorities all along.

That the activists’ moral outrage is justified does not mean, again, that their prescriptions are correct. Their fatal conceit in many cases is the idea that by sweeping away misogyny they can resolve the internal contradictions of social liberalism, and usher in a world where everyone can be libertines together, and a hard-drinking, sexually permissive culture can be experienced identically by male and female, rich and middle class and poor.

This is a utopian, ahistorical vision, and its pursuit is fraught with peril: like many revolutionaries, today’s campus activists might well end up toppling a corrupt order only to install a kind of police state in its stead.

But the regime they’re rebelling against still deserves — richly — to eventually be overthrown.

And now here’s MoDo:

So much for all the cozy hugs and soothing cold calls and fun selfies and humble gestures and talk of mercy, love, inclusion, equality and justice.

Pope Francis appears guilty of condoning that most base Vatican sport: bullying nuns.

The cool pope suddenly doesn’t seem so cool, allowing Rome’s grand inquisitors to torque up the derogation this Mother’s Day of the American sisters who have mothered so many — even as an endless parade of ghoulish priests were shielded as they defiled vulnerable kids in their care.

Pope Benedict’s Vatican was determined to rein in American nuns inspired by Vatican II, accusing them of pushing “radical feminist themes” and caring for the sick instead of parroting church teaching opposing contraception, gay relationships and the ordination of women.

Although some conservative American bishops have politicized the abortion issue, punishing liberal pols who were pro-choice, they were furious that some uppity nuns supported the president’s health care plan, including his compromise on contraception for religious hospitals.

On Monday, we learned that German Cardinal Gerhard Müller, the Vatican orthodoxy watchdog, upbraided the officers of the largest group of American nuns, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, which has already been investigated and reprimanded by Rome. He objected to their plan to honor Sister Elizabeth Johnson, a Fordham theology professor who has written that women are uncomfortable with “the dominant images of God as father, lord, and king” and would prefer “non-authoritarian” female language for God.

Last year Pope Francis said he would let the Vatican’s coercive reform of the nuns’ group continue. And this past week, he was silent following Müller’s mauling of the nuns.

The odd thing, as his biographer Paul Vallely told me, is, “He basically agrees with the nuns.”

The new pope’s focus on the poor and social justice, his “Who am I to judge?” cri de coeur on gays, his critique that the church has become too “obsessed” with abortion, gay marriage and contraception — all these shocking and refreshing moves echo the gospel-infused spirit for which the nuns are being punished.

“This latest slapdown raises a big question about Pope Francis’s character,” said Kenneth Briggs, the author of “Double Crossed: Uncovering the Catholic Church’s Betrayal of American Nuns.” “Is he content projecting a Mr. Nice Guy image while giving the green light to the Vatican big boys to pursue a hard line? Is he the butterfly who delights everybody, or is he also the strong arm?”

Although the 77-year-old pope has said that women could gain greater power in the church, other comments have been typically atavistic. While praising women for their “sensitivity,” “intuition” and mothering skills, he said flatly that women’s ordination to the priesthood “is not a question open to discussion.”

The pope has admitted that as Jorge Mario Bergoglio, head of the Jesuits in Argentina, he did not do enough to fight the Dirty War. Bergoglio helped some people privately but did not come to grips publicly with the murderous junta.

“It was a sin of omission,” Briggs said. “He apparently didn’t have the gumption to go to that next step. It parallels what has happened with the nuns.”

Two of his priests, vocal advocates of the poor who worked in the slums, were captured and viciously tortured by the junta. One wrote a book claiming that Bergoglio had informed on them to the military, a claim the pope denies.

In his book “Pope Francis: Untying the Knots,” Vallely writes that Bergoglio later realized he “should have seen the danger in which he was placing his two priests” and “has been trying to atone for his behavior ever since.”

In Rolling Stone, Mark Binelli said that Pope Francis’s charm masks “authoritarian steel.”

Vallely told me that the pope is “intent on sending ambiguous signals in certain areas.”

He did not contradict Cardinal Müller “because that would be sending out a liberal message rather than an inclusive message,” the biographer said. But in June, the pope reportedly told a group of nuns and priests from Latin America not to worry if they heard from the orthodoxy enforcers because “this will pass!”

Vallely said that the pope was allowing the liberal German Cardinal Walter Kasper to make speeches on changing the rules to allow divorced Catholics to take Communion at the same time he’s allowing conservatives to oppose the same thing. He chose a liberal pope for sainthood to balance the conservative, pedophile-shielding pope.

“The thing he really hates is the way the papacy used to work like a medieval monarchy,” Vallely said. “He wants the church to reach decisions slowly, by conversations within the church. He wants to hear all the different voices. He’s letting a thousand flowers bloom.”

Or not. Women, gays and dissident Catholics who had fresh hope are going to have to face the reality that while this pope is a huge improvement on the last, the intolerance is still there.

We are still going to be discriminated against, but with a smile instead of a frown.

Maybe a frown is more honest.

Now here’s The Moustache of Wisdom:

By an accident of scheduling, I’ve visited Kiev and Hanoi in the last couple weeks, and it’s been accidentally extremely revealing. Ukraine is a middle power living next to a giant bear, and Vietnam is a middle power living next to a giant tiger. Ukraine is struggling with how to deal with a declining Russia that is looking for dignity in all the wrong places — like in Crimea — and Vietnam is struggling with how to deal with a rising China that is looking for oil in all the wrong places — like in Vietnam’s territorial waters. Russia’s attitude toward Ukraine has been: “Marry me, or I’ll kill you.” And China’s toward Vietnam has been a variation of that line from “There Will Be Blood”: “I have a long straw, so I think I’ll drink my milkshake and yours.”

Meanwhile, America is trying to figure out how to buttress both Vietnam and Ukraine in their struggles with their giant neighbors without getting entangled in either dispute. And in my jet-lagged torpor, all I’ve been trying to do is make sure I don’t order Chicken Kiev in Hanoi and Chicken Spring Rolls in Kiev.

Both conflicts tell us a lot about the post-post-Cold War world. Neither Russia’s intervention in Ukraine nor China’s in Vietnam’s territorial waters is based on grand ideology or global aspiration. Both are about regional control, spurred by nationalism and resource competition.

Another similarity is that both Russia and China have not engaged in traditional crossborder aggression with their neighbors, choosing instead to operate behind cutouts. Russia used “little green men” in Ukraine — camouflaged pro-Russia gunmen whose identities are unclear — and China deployed a flotilla of 70 civilian vessels and just a few navy ships to the South China Sea. They towed a giant deep-sea drilling rig 130 nautical miles off the coast of Vietnam — well within Vietnam’s continental shelf but also in range of the disputed Paracel Islands that China claims are its own and therefore entitle Beijing to control a wide arc of surrounding waters.

Vietnamese TV has been airing an animated re-enactment of the confrontation: When a Vietnamese navy patrol boat challenged a larger Chinese vessel, it rammed the Vietnamese ship, wounding six sailors. Then another Chinese ship used a giant water cannon to shoo away the Vietnamese boats. It’s a huge story here in Hanoi.

In both cases, Russia and China used tactics firm enough to get their way but calibrated not to galvanize the international community to react much. China’s timing, though, right after President Obama’s visit to the region — when he criticized China’s expansive maritime claims — seemed to be a squirt gun in his face.

“It has been a real shock for the whole region,” Ha Huy Thong, the vice chairman of the foreign affairs committee of the Vietnamese Parliament told me. “They use civilian vessels, and then if you attack them they say, ‘Why did you attack our civilians?’ ”

But Vietnam has limited options. China “is a rising power. The question is how can we deal with it?” said Thong. “It is not only a violation of our territory but of international law.”

The only way to deter such regional powers when they bully one neighbor is with a coalition of all the neighbors. But such coalitions are hard to build when the threat is to just one country, is relatively low level and when the threatening country (China or Russia) controls so much trade to the rest of Asia in the case of China and so much gas to Ukraine and Europe in the case of Russia.

“We have a saying in Vietnamese,” added Thong: “It’s easy to break two chopsticks, but it’s very hard to break a bundle of them.” Until such a coalition gets built, Vietnam — in an irony of history — finds itself now looking to America for more protection from its historical predator, China.

Le Duy Anh, 24, a lecturer at Hanoi’s FPT School of Business (FSB), remarked to me when I visited his campus that whenever China does something to Vietnam these days people go to the American Embassy in Hanoi and demonstrate. For so many years, Vietnamese fought a war with Americans “trying to get you out,” he said, “and now we are demonstrating to get you to intervene. We don’t want bloodshed, so we need someone to tell someone else to calm down.”

So Americans may think we’ve lost influence in the world, but, the truth is, many people out here want our “presence” more than ever. This is especially true of those living on the borders of Russia and China, who are each sort of half in and half out of today’s globalization system — beneficiaries of its trading and investment regimes but revisionists when it comes to playing by all the rules in their own neighborhoods. We may not be so interested in the world, but a lot of the world is still interested in us — and saying: “Yankee come hither” more than “Yankee go home.”

We’re not going to go to war on either front. And Russia and China also have claims and interests that bear consideration. But if we are to persuade Moscow and Beijing to resolve these border disputes peacefully, not unilaterally, we’ll clearly need a few more chopsticks in our bundle. Which is why America’s ability to build coalitions is as vital today as the exercise of its own power.

Next up we have Mr. Kristof:

When terrorists in Nigeria organized a secret attack last month, they didn’t target an army barracks, a police department or a drone base. No, Boko Haram militants attacked what is even scarier to a fanatic: a girls’ school.

That’s what extremists do. They target educated girls, their worst nightmare.

That’s why the Pakistani Taliban shot Malala Yousafzai in the head at age 15. That’s why the Afghan Taliban throws acid on the faces of girls who dare to seek an education.

Why are fanatics so terrified of girls’ education? Because there’s no force more powerful to transform a society. The greatest threat to extremism isn’t drones firing missiles, but girls reading books.

In that sense, Boko Haram was behaving perfectly rationally — albeit barbarically — when it kidnapped some of the brightest, most ambitious girls in the region and announced plans to sell them as slaves. If you want to mire a nation in backwardness, manacle your daughters.

What saddens me is that we in the West aren’t acting as rationally. To fight militancy, we invest overwhelmingly in the military toolbox but not so much in the education toolbox that has a far better record at defeating militancy.

President Obama gives the green light to blow up terrorists with drones, but he neglects his 2008 campaign promise to establish a $2 billion global fund for education. I wish Republicans, instead of investigating him for chimerical scandals in Benghazi, Libya, would shine a light on his failure to follow through on that great idea.

So why does girls’ education matter so much? First, because it changes demography.

One of the factors that correlates most strongly to instability is a youth bulge in a population. The more unemployed young men ages 15 to 24, the more upheaval.

One study found that for every 1 percentage point increase in the share of the population aged 15 to 24, the risk of civil war increases by 4 percent.

That means that curbing birthrates tends to lead to stability, and that’s where educating girls comes in. You educate a boy, and he’ll have fewer children, but it’s a small effect. You educate a girl, and, on average, she will have a significantly smaller family. One robust Nigeria study managed to tease out correlation from causation and found that for each additional year of primary school, a girl has 0.26 fewer children. So if we want to reduce the youth bulge a decade from now, educate girls today.

More broadly, girls’ education can, in effect, almost double the formal labor force. It boosts the economy, raising living standards and promoting a virtuous cycle of development. Asia’s economic boom was built by educating girls and moving them from the villages to far more productive work in the cities.

One example of the power of girls’ education is Bangladesh, which until 1971 was (the seemingly hopeless) part of Pakistan. After Bangladesh gained independence, it emphasized education, including of girls; today, it actually has more girls in high school than boys. Those educated women became the backbone of Grameen Bank, development organizations like BRAC and the garment industry.

Likewise, Oman in the 1960s was one of the most backward countries in the world, with no television, no diplomats and radios banned. Not a single girl attended school in Oman. Then there was a coup, and the new government educated boys and girls alike.

Today, Oman is stable and incomparably better off than its neighbor, Yemen, where girls are still married off young and often denied an education. America is fighting Al Qaeda affiliates in Yemen and Pakistan with drones; maybe we should invest in girls’ schools as Bangladesh and Oman did.

Girls’ education is no silver bullet. Iran and Saudi Arabia have both educated girls but refused to empower them, so both remain mired in the past. But when a country educates and unleashes women, those educated women often become force multipliers for good.

Angeline Mugwendere was an impoverished Zimbabwean girl who was mocked by classmates because she traipsed to school barefoot in a torn dress with nothing underneath. She couldn’t afford school supplies, so she would wash dishes for her teachers in hopes of being given a pen or paper in thanks.

Yet Angeline was brilliant. In the nationwide sixth-grade graduation examinations, she had the highest score in her entire district — indeed, one of the highest scores in the country. Yet she had no hope of attending seventh grade because she couldn’t afford the fees.

That’s when a nonprofit called the Campaign for Female Education, or Camfed, came along and helped pay for Angeline to stay in school. She did brilliantly in high school and is now the regional director for Camfed, in charge of helping impoverished girls get to school in four African countries. She’s paying it forward.

Educating girls and empowering women are also tasks that are, by global standards, relatively doable. We spend billions of dollars on intelligence collection, counterterrorism and military interventions, even though they have a quite mixed record. By comparison, educating girls is an underfunded cause even though it’s more straightforward.

Readers often feel helpless, unable to make a difference. But it was a grass-roots movement starting in Nigeria that grabbed attention and held leaders accountable to address it. Nigeria’s leaders perhaps now realize that they must protect not only oil wells but an even greater treasure: the nation’s students.

Likewise, any of us can stick it to Boko Haram by helping to educate a girl. A $40 gift at Camfed.org buys a uniform so that a girl can go to school.

We can also call on members of Congress to pass the International Violence Against Women Act, which would elevate the issue of sexual violence on the global agenda.

Boko Haram has a stronghold in northeastern Nigeria because it’s an area where education is weak and women are marginalized. Some two-thirds of women in the region have had no formal education. Only 1 in 20 has completed high school. Half are married by age 15.

Obviously, the situation in the United States is incomparably better. But we have our own problems. It’s estimated that 100,000 girls under 18 years old in the United States are trafficked into commercial sex each year. So let’s fight to #BringBackOurGirls in Nigeria but also here in the United States and around the world.

Last but not least we have Mr. Bruni:

“Would Pope Francis Sign the New Catholic Teacher Contract?” That’s the question spelled out on a dozen billboards that have gone up around Cincinnati over the last week or so.

And it’s an excellent one, because it flags the tension between what’s been said in Rome and what’s happening in Ohio, between a message of greater tolerance and the practice of the same old intolerance, between the direction in which the Catholic church needs to move and the matters of sexual morality on which it keeps getting stuck.

Those matters take center stage in an expanded employment contract that the Archdiocese of Cincinnati is forcing on more than 2,000 teachers, some of whom are refusing to sign it. In what the document does and doesn’t spell out, it sends the tired message that virtue resides in whom you share your bed with and how you do or don’t procreate.

The more things change, the more they remain mired in libido and loins.

The billboards are sponsored by Cincinnati Voice of the Faithful, which is part of a quickly welling protest of the newly detailed terms of employment.

Teachers in Catholic schools have long been forced to accept a vague morals clause telling them that they shouldn’t contradict Catholic doctrine. But teachers in Catholic schools in the Cincinnati archdiocese are being given a longer, more explicit litany of words and deeds that could get them fired.

The new contract expressly forbids a “homosexual lifestyle” and any “public support” of one. But it says nothing about public support of the death penalty, something else that the church opposes.

The new contract specifically rules out any use or advocacy of abortion rights, surrogacy, even in vitro fertilization. But it doesn’t address possible advocacy of the sorts of bloody military engagements that the church often condemns.

The new contract forbids “living together outside marriage,” “sexual activity out of wedlock” and any public endorsement of either. But there’s no reference to concern for the downtrodden, to the spirit of giving, to charity. And while those are surely more difficult to monitor, aren’t they as essential to Catholic principles, and closer to the core of the faith?

The Cincinnati document could be a harbinger of similar ones around the country. Already, Catholic officials in Hawaii and in Oakland, Calif., have introduced new teacher contracts that reflect the same concerns or delve into the same specifics.

And these specifics contradict what Pope Francis said last year about the church’s undue attention to a handful of divisive social issues.

Remember: Faithful Catholicism has never been a condition of employment in most Catholic schools, which have Protestant teachers, Jewish teachers, teachers of no discernible religion. They know to be respectful. They know to be discreet. But they’re there to decipher the mysteries of algebra, to eradicate the evils of dangling prepositions. They’re not priests.

The Archdiocese of Cincinnati is blurring that distinction, labeling the new employment agreement a “teacher-minister contract.” The language is deliberate. Religious organizations can claim exemption from anti-discrimination statutes in the hiring and firing of ministers who are actual caretakers of the faith. Putting teachers in that category — lumping them together with clergy — is an end run around laws that govern other employers.

But if Catholic schools are allowed an exemption from public accountability, shouldn’t they be denied public money? In Ohio they receive a significant amount of it, in the form of school-choice vouchers that families can use for parochial education.

With the “teacher-minister” classification and the long list of forbidden behaviors, Catholic officials in Cincinnati are trying to insure themselves against lawsuits like one filed by an unmarried female teacher who was fired after she became pregnant by artificial insemination. (A jury awarded her $171,000.) They’re also rationalizing decisions like the dismissal last year of Mike Moroski, a dean who indicated support for same-sex marriage on his blog.

Over recent days I spoke with him and other former and current employees of Catholic schools in the Cincinnati area. They wondered why religion gets to trump free speech.

They also wondered about run-of-the-mill political activity: Can a teacher be canned for attending a rally for a candidate who’s pro-choice? The contract suggests so.

Does a Catholic-school teacher relinquish the basic privileges of citizenship? The contract raises the question.

And what constitutes “public support” of a Catholic no-no? If a teacher’s Facebook page includes photographs of her niece’s same-sex wedding, is that cause to be fired?

“THE previous contract was two pages,” Richard Hague, who has taught literature and writing for 45 years at a Catholic high school in Cincinnati, said to me. “It was sort of don’t-ask-don’t-tell.”

The new contract is six pages and offends him in its suggestion that he must, for example, not express support for gay people in his life. Before it was distributed, Hague, 66, planned to teach for another five years. Now he doesn’t, and explained in a letter to the archdiocese: “I simply cannot believe that Jesus would require me to condemn my friends.”

Hague, who described himself as “a recovering Catholic,” said that his objections were distilled by a priest who told him that the archdiocese was turning “matters of the confessional” into “matters of the firing line.”

Mindy Burger, 63, is also declining to sign the contract, which she called “really misogynistic.”

“If I’m a teacher in a Catholic school and I’m a man, who’s going to know if I’m having sex outside of marriage?” she noted. “But if I’m an unmarried woman and get pregnant, I’m fired.”

These next weeks will be the end of her 18 years as an art teacher at her Catholic elementary school. She attended that very school decades ago and reared her own children as Catholics, but she told me: “At this point, I don’t consider myself Catholic anymore.”

There are so many losers here: kids — many from the inner city — who depend on parochial schools that will now be drained of talent; younger teachers who can’t afford to quit and will carry an embittered attitude into their classrooms; Catholics everywhere, forced to wrestle anew with their church’s archaic fixations; church leaders, who have such a sad knack for driving people away. Isn’t that what Pope Francis was urging an end to?

“I don’t see much in the gospel about sexual stuff,” said Timothy Garry, a lawyer in the Cincinnati area who sent all three of his children to Catholic schools and is trying to persuade the Cincinnati archdiocese to adjust the new contract.

Burger told me: “With Francis, everyone feels so hopeful. That’s one of the ironies of this.”

Dowd and Friedman

May 7, 2014

Well, MoDo’s at it again.  In “Burning the Beret” she hisses that with Monica’s help, the Clintons continue to overshadow Barry.  “ClearEye” from Princeton said everything that needs to be said in the comments:  “Ms. Dowd, by your disrespectful name for the President and obsession with gossipy trivia, you shame yourself and your newspaper.  We would all be better off if you found a position more suited to your abilities, such as columnist for a magazine like Us weekly or on camera reporter for one of the hideous celebrity TV shows.  It is truly disappointing that the NYT allows you to get away with this.”  Amen.  The Moustache of Wisdom apparently thinks that Teddy Roosevelt said “Get crazy and swing a big dick.”  In “Go Big, Get Crazy” he gurgles that President Obama has a legacy opportunity in Ukraine if he would only act on it.  He’s also apparently been living under a rock for the last 6 years since he thinks Republicans can be reasoned with.  Here, unfortunately, is MoDo:

Monica Lewinsky says she would meet me for a drink.

I’m game.

In her new meditation in Vanity Fair, Monica mashes Hawthorne and Coleridge, proclaiming that she’s ready to rip off her “scarlet-A albatross,” “reimagine” her identity and reclaim her narrative.

At long last, she says, she wants to “burn the beret and bury the blue dress” and get unstuck from “the horrible image” of an intern who messed around with the president in the pantry off the Oval Office, spilled the details to the wrong girlfriend and sparked a crazy impeachment scandal.

I wish her luck. Though she’s striking yet another come-hither pose in the magazine, there’s something poignant about a 40-year-old frozen like a fly in amber for something reckless she did in her 20s, while the unbreakable Clintons bulldoze ahead. Besides, with the Clinton restoration barreling toward us and stretching as far as the eye can see to President Chelsea, we could all use a drink.

The last time I encountered Monica was at the Bombay Club, a restaurant nestled between my office and the White House. It was at the height of the impeachment madness and she was drinking a Cosmo at a table with her family. After requesting that the piano player play “Send in the Clowns,” she leaned in with me, demanding to know why I wrote such “scathing” pieces about her.

My columns targeted the panting Peeping Tom Ken Starr and the Clintons and their henchmen, for their wicked attempt to protect the First Couple’s political viability by smearing the intern as a nutty and slutty stalker. I did think Monica could skip posing for cheesecake photos in Vanity Fair while in the middle of a plea bargain. But I felt sorry for her. She had propelled herself into that most loathed stereotype (except by Helen Gurley Brown): the overripe office vixen who seduces her married boss. Feminists turned on her to protect a president with progressive policies on women.

Monica bristled with confidence when she talked to me, but then she retreated to the ladies’ room and had a meltdown on her cellphone with Judy Smith. Smith would go on to fame and fortune as a co-executive producer on Shonda Rhimes’s “Scandal,” which focuses on Kerry Washington’s Olivia Pope, a blend of Judy, who was an African-American crisis manager, and her client Monica, who had an affair with the president.

Washington journalists fawned over the stars of “Scandal” last weekend at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner festivities, which served mainly as a promotional vehicle for the ABC show and HBO’s “Veep.”

The plot of “Scandal” is so luridly over-the-top, it makes the saga of the pizza-bearing intern who inspired it seem almost quaint. You’d think that the book “Monica’s Story,” the HBO documentary, Barbara Walters’s interview and the 1998 Vanity Fair spread would be enough about the most covered affair in history. Heck, the seamy Starr report was enough.

But she must feel that her reticence over the last 10 years of “self-searching and therapy” has led the public to hunger for her thoughts on the eve of Hillary’s book rollout in June and at a moment when President Obama is struggling to pull focus back from the Clintons, whose past and future are more dominant than Obama’s present. Monica is in danger of exploiting her own exploitation as she dishes about a couple whose erotic lives are of waning interest to the country.

But, clearly, she was stung and wanted to have her say about the revelation in February that Hillary had told her friend Diane Blair, knowing it would be made public eventually, that Bill was at fault for the affair but deserved props for trying to “manage someone who was clearly a narcissistic loony toon.” Hillary also said she blamed herself for Bill’s dalliance. Monica trenchantly notes about the feminist icon, who is playing the gender card on the trail this time around: “I find her impulse to blame the Woman — not only me, but herself — troubling.”

Lewinsky said that Bill “took advantage” of her — in a consensual way. “Any ‘abuse’ came in the aftermath,” she writes, “when I was made a scapegoat in order to protect his powerful position.”

Disingenuously and pretentiously, Monica said that the tragedy of Tyler Clementi, the Rutgers freshman who committed suicide in 2010 after his roommate secretly streamed his liaison with another man over the Web, had wrought “a Prufrockian moment:” Did she dare disturb the Clinton universe to become a spokeswoman against bullying?

Her bullies were crude strangers in person and online who reduced her to a dirty joke or verb. Monica corrects Beyoncé, who sings, “He Monica Lewinsky’d all on my gown,” saying it should be “He Bill Clinton’d all on my gown.” But her bullies were also the Clintons and their vicious attack dogs who worked so hard to turn “that woman,” as Bill so coldly called her, into the scapegoat.

As Hillary gave a campaign-style speech in Maryland Tuesday, warning that economic inequality could lead to “social collapse,” That Woman started her own campaign, keening about her own social collapse. It was like a Golden Oldie tour of a band you didn’t want to hear in the first place.

Well, MoDo, if you don’t want to hear the band why not just STFU about it?  Here’s The Moustache of Wisdom:

Up to now, Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, has been playing a weak hand in Ukraine very well. I mean, how strong are you when your allies insist on wearing masks? But Putin thinks he knows his adversaries better than they know themselves. He thinks the Americans will never be serious about energy, that the Europeans will never be serious about sanctions, that the Ukrainian reformers will never be serious about governance, and that he can control the separatist forces he’s unleashed in eastern Ukraine and dial them up or down as he pleases.

The outcome of the Ukraine crisis rides primarily on whether he is right about all this. How’s his bet going so far?

There has been much talk about President Obama’s “leadership” of late. All I know is that, if Obama wants it, Ukraine provides him an ideal legacy leadership opportunity. With one initiative he could simultaneously make America stronger, Putin weaker, the planet healthier and our grandchildren safer.

Since we’ve ruled out sending troops, our short-term ability to influence Putin has to rely on targeted sanctions. But the serious way to weaken Putin, whose economy and government budget is hugely dependent on $100-plus-a-barrel-oil, is with an American domestic grand bargain on energy that unleashes forces that, over time, begin to impact the global price and availability of oil and gas.

Obama should summon the congressional leadership to Camp David and put his own plan on the table: Offer the Republicans the Keystone XL pipeline, expanded oil drilling and fracking (but only at the highest environmental standards) and, in return, demand a revenue-neutral carbon tax, a national renewable portfolio standard that would require every utility in America to gradually introduce more renewable power, and a national California-level home building code for energy efficiency. I would also toss in incentives for expanding the share of nuclear power in our energy mix.

I hate Keystone, which brings disgusting tar sands oil from Canada, and I worry about fracking at low environmental standards, but I’d take this deal in a second because, soon enough, a proper carbon tax would make oil from tar sands uneconomical, and fracking that is paired with a renewable portfolio standard would ensure that natural gas replaces coal not solar, wind and other renewables.

The White House just released a study that found the effects of human-induced climate change impacting every corner of our country, not to mention the world. So such a grand bargain could not be a more timely and necessary win-win-win strategy. It would simultaneously increase our leverage against Putin and Mother Nature. And it would drive a suite of technologies down their cost-curves so we can deploy them at scale and ensure that America is the leader in the next great global industry: clean technology. Obama should throw caution to the wind and go big. If Republicans won’t meet him even halfway on this (yes, I know, unlikely) it would expose them as unwilling to do the things that would meaningfully deter Putin, not to mention buy some insurance against climate change with policies that would make us stronger and healthier even if climate change turns out to be milder.

Go big, Mr. President. Get crazy.

But, as I said, Putin thinks he knows us better than we know ourselves, that we are all hat and no cattle. He is not without reason: for decades, both parties in America have failed to develop an energy strategy, and we’ve paid for it — with oil price shocks, wars, pollution and climate change. Are we forever condemned to be takers, not makers, of energy policy?

And Putin thinks he knows the Europeans better, since so many are beneficiaries of his oil and gas. So far, Europe’s response has been more hand-wringing about Putin than neck-wringing of Putin. They talk softly and carry a big baguette.

The Ukrainian reformers, too, have a huge role to play. They must find a way to conduct free and fair elections in as much of Ukraine as possible on May 25 and then quickly move to parliamentary elections and constitutional reform to put in place the basis for decent governance. The last thing Putin wants is a fairly elected reformist government in Kiev that would have the legitimacy to associate Ukraine with the European Union. Therefore, it’s the first thing Ukrainians must do.

But Putin needs to beware. The separatist allies he ginned up with his agents and Goebbels-scale propaganda campaign in eastern Ukraine could spin out of control. The Putin-inspired separatists could persuade western Ukraine that there is no future with the East, and Kiev might just let them all fall into Putin’s lap — and economic responsibility.

Putin may think he’s Superman, but, the fact is, America, Europe and the Ukrainian reformers collectively have the ability to generate the Kryptonite that would render him powerless: European unity, Ukrainian government legitimacy and U.S. energy. Those are the things of which he is most afraid. What they all have in common, though, is that they’re hard, entail serious choices and will require extraordinary leadership to achieve. So watch all these fronts. I can assure you that Putin is.


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