Archive for the ‘MoDo’ Category

Dowd and Friedman

August 20, 2014

We’ve got another screed from MoDo.  In “Alone Again, Naturally” she snarls that the rock-star candidate who got elected on his electrifying promise has become a bored bird in a gilded cage.  It’s more of her typical crap.  The Moustache of Wisdom, in “Will the Ends, Will the Means,” says some important questions have gone unanswered in the Syria blame game.   Here’s MoDo:

Affectations can be dangerous, as Gertrude Stein said.

When Barack Obama first ran for president, he theatrically cast himself as the man alone on the stage. From his address in Berlin to his acceptance speech in Chicago, he eschewed ornaments and other politicians, conveying the sense that he was above the grubby political scene, unearthly and apart.

He began “Dreams From My Father” with a description of his time living on the Upper East Side while he was a student at Columbia, savoring his lone-wolf existence. He was, he wrote, “prone to see other people as unnecessary distractions.” When neighbors began to “cross the border into familiarity, I would soon find reason to excuse myself. I had grown too comfortable in my solitude, the safest place I knew.”

His only “kindred spirit” was a silent old man who lived alone in the apartment next door. Obama carried groceries for him but never asked his name. When the old man died, Obama briefly regretted not knowing his name, then swiftly regretted his regret.

But what started as an affectation has turned into an affliction.

A front-page article in The Times by Carl Hulse, Jeremy Peters and Michael Shear chronicled how the president’s disdain for politics has alienated many of his most stalwart Democratic supporters on Capitol Hill.

His bored-bird-in-a-gilded-cage attitude, the article said, “has left him with few loyalists to effectively manage the issues erupting abroad and at home and could imperil his efforts to leave a legacy in his final stretch in office.”

Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri, an early Obama backer, noted that “for him, eating his spinach is schmoozing with elected officials.”

First the president couldn’t work with Republicans because they were too obdurate. Then he tried to chase down reporters with subpoenas. Now he finds members of his own party an unnecessary distraction.

His circle keeps getting more inner. He golfs with aides and jocks, and he spent his one evening back in Washington from Martha’s Vineyard at a nearly five-hour dinner at the home of a nutritional adviser and former White House assistant chef, Sam Kass.

The president who was elected because he was a hot commodity is now a wet blanket.

The extraordinary candidate turns out to be the most ordinary of men, frittering away precious time on the links. Unlike L.B.J., who devoured problems as though he were being chased by demons, Obama’s main galvanizing impulse was to get himself elected.

Almost everything else — from an all-out push on gun control after the Newtown massacre to going to see firsthand the Hispanic children thronging at the border to using his special status to defuse racial tensions in Ferguson — just seems like too much trouble.

The 2004 speech that vaulted Obama into the White House soon after he breezed into town turned out to be wrong. He misdescribed the country he wanted to lead. There is a liberal America and a conservative America. And the red-blue divide has only gotten worse in the last six years.

The man whose singular qualification was as a uniter turns out to be singularly unequipped to operate in a polarized environment.

His boosters argue that we spurned his gift of healing, so healing is the one thing that must not be expected of him. We ingrates won’t let him be the redeemer he could have been.

As Ezra Klein wrote in Vox: “If Obama’s speeches aren’t as dramatic as they used to be, this is why: the White House believes a presidential speech on a politically charged topic is as likely to make things worse as to make things better.”

He concluded: “There probably won’t be another Race Speech because the White House doesn’t believe there can be another Race Speech. For Obama, the cost of becoming president was sacrificing the unique gift that made him president.”

So The One who got elected as the most exciting politician in American history is The One from whom we must never again expect excitement?

Do White House officials fear that Fox News could somehow get worse to them?

Sure, the president has enemies. Sure, there are racists out there. Sure, he’s going to get criticized for politicizing something. But as F.D.R. said of his moneyed foes, “I welcome their hatred.”

Why should the president neutralize himself? Why doesn’t he do something bold and thrilling? Get his hands dirty? Stop going to Beverly Hills to raise money and go to St. Louis to raise consciousness? Talk to someone besides Valerie Jarrett?

The Constitution was premised on a system full of factions and polarization. If you’re a fastidious pol who deigns to heal and deal only in a holistic, romantic, unified utopia, the Oval Office is the wrong job for you. The sad part is that this is an ugly, confusing and frightening time at home and abroad, and the country needs its president to illuminate and lead, not sink into some petulant expression of his aloofness, where he regards himself as a party of his own and a victim of petty, needy, bickering egomaniacs.

Once Obama thought his isolation was splendid. But it turned out to be unsplendid.

You’d think she’d get tired…  Here’s The Moustache of Wisdom:

Hillary Clinton recently reignited the who-lost-Syria debate when she suggested that President Obama made a mistake in not intervening more forcefully early in the Syrian civil war by arming the pro-democracy rebels. I’ve been skeptical about such an intervention — skeptical that there were enough of these “mainstream insurgents,” skeptical that they could ever defeat President Bashar al-Assad’s army and the Islamists and govern Syria. So if people try to sell you on it, ask them these questions before you decide if you are with Clinton or Obama:

1. Can they name the current leader of the Syrian National Coalition, the secular, moderate opposition, and the first three principles of its political platform? Extra credit if they can name the last year that the leader of the S.N.C. resided in Syria. Hint: It’s several decades ago.

2. Can they explain why Israel — a country next door to Syria that has better intelligence on Syria than anyone and could be as affected by the outcome there as anyone — has chosen not to bet on the secular, moderate Syrian rebels or arm them enough to topple Assad?

3. The United States invaded Iraq with more than 100,000 troops, replaced its government with a new one, suppressed its Islamist extremists and trained a “moderate” Iraqi army, but, the minute we left, Iraq’s “moderate” prime minister turned sectarian. Yet, in Syria, Iraq’s twin, we’re supposed to believe that the moderate insurgents could have toppled Assad and governed Syria without any American boots on the ground, only arming the good rebels. Really?

4. How could the good Syrian rebels have triumphed in Syria when the main funders of so many rebel groups there — Qatar and Saudi Arabia — are Sunni fundamentalist monarchies that oppose the very sort of democratic, pluralistic politics in their own countries that the decent Syrian rebels aspire to build in Syria?

5. Even if we had armed Syrian moderates, how could they have defeated a coalition of the Syrian Alawite army and gangs, backed by Russia, backed by Iran, backed by Hezbollah — all of whom play by “Hama Rules,” which are no rules at all — without the U.S. having to get involved?

6. How is it that some 15,000 Muslim men from across the Muslim world have traveled to Syria to fight for jihadism and none have walked there to fight for pluralism, yet the Syrian moderates would not only have been able to defeat the Assad regime — had we only armed them properly — but also this entire jihadist foreign legion?

The notion that the only reason that the Islamist militias emerged in Syria is because we created a vacuum by not adequately arming the secular rebels is laughable nonsense. Syria has long had its own Sunni fundamentalist underground. In 1982, when then President Hafez al-Assad perpetrated the Hama massacre, it was in an effort to wipe out those Syrian Islamists. So, yes, there are cultural roots for pluralism in Syria — a country with many Christians and secular Muslims — but there’s also the opposite. Do not kid yourself.

That is why on a brief visit to Darkush, Syria, in December 2012, I was told by the local Free Syrian Army commander, Muatasim Bila Abul Fida, that even after Assad’s regime is toppled there would be another war in Syria: “It will take five or six years,” he added, because the Islamist parties “want Shariah, and we want democracy.” There were always going to be two civil wars there: The liberals and jihadists against Assad and the liberals and jihadists against each other.

Don’t get me wrong. My heart is with the brave Syrian liberals who dared to take to the streets and demand regime change — unarmed. These are decent, good people, the kind you would like to see running Syria. But it would take a lot more than better arms for them to defeat Assad and the jihadists.

Here Iraq is instructive. You need to go back to the 2010 elections there when Ayad Allawi, a secular Shiite, who ran with Sunnis, Shiites and Christians on a moderate, pluralistic platform — like Syria’s moderates — actually won more seats than his main competitor, Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki.

What enabled that? I’ll tell you: The U.S. decapitated Saddam’s regime, then helped to midwife an Iraqi Constitution and elections, while U.S. (and Iraqi) special forces either arrested or killed the worst Sunni and Shiite extremists. We took out both extremes without reading them their Miranda rights. That is what gave Iraq’s moderate center the space, confidence and ability to back multisectarian parties, which is what many Iraqis wanted. When our troops left, though, that center couldn’t hold.

I don’t want U.S. troops in Syria any more than anyone else, but I have no respect for the argument that just arming some pro-democracy rebels would have gotten the job done. Yes, there has been a price for Obama’s inaction. But there is a price for effective action as well, which the critics have to be honest about. It’s called an international force. We are dealing not only with states that have disintegrated, but whole societies — and rebuilding them is the mother of all nation-building projects. Will the ends, will the means. Otherwise, you’re not being serious.

And why, pray tell, is it OUR job to rebuild their societies?

Dowd, just Dowd

August 13, 2014

The Moustache of Wisdom is off today.  In “It’s the Loyalty, Stupid” MoDo tells us about how the Clintons will kick you when you’re down, and other unofficial slogans in politics.  Here she is:

I talked to Robin Williams once, about breasts.

In 1993, when he played a prim British nanny in “Mrs. Doubtfire,” I went to interview him at his Pacific Heights house.

“It’s great to be this blue-mouthed old lady hitting on somebody,” he said, in his character’s soft Scottish burr, “opening your blouse and saying, ‘What about these? Behold my dirty pillows, my fun bags. Come nurse at the fountain of bliss.’ ”

He was 42 then, wearing his Popeye outfit, a blue-striped T-shirt and black baggy jeans. Surrounded by kids, a rabbit and an iguana, we talked about everything from John Belushi to his father, a stern Ford Motor Company executive.

As our interview ended, I was telling him about my friend Michael Kelly’s idea for a 1-900 number, not one to call Asian beauties or Swedish babes, but where you’d have an amorous chat with a repressed Irish woman. Williams delightedly riffed on the caricature, playing the role of an older Irish woman answering the sex line in a brusque brogue, ordering a horny caller to go to the devil with his impure thoughts and disgusting desire.

I couldn’t wait to play the tape for Kelly, who doubled over in laughter.

So when I think of Williams, I think of Kelly. And when I think of Kelly, I think of Hillary, because Michael was the first American reporter to die in the Iraq invasion, and Hillary Clinton was one of the 29 Democratic senators who voted to authorize that baloney war.

The woman who always does her homework, the woman who resigned as president of Wellesley College’s Young Republicans over the Vietnam War, made that vote without even bothering to read the National Intelligence Estimate with its skimpy evidence.

It was obvious in real time that the Bush crew was arbitrarily switching countries, blaming 9/11 on Saddam so they’d get more vivid vengeance targets and a chance to shake up the Middle East chessboard, and that officials were shamelessly making up the threat as they went along. For me to believe that Hillary would be a good president, I would need to feel that she had learned something from that deadly, globe-shattering vote — a calculated attempt to be tough and show that, as a Democratic woman, she was not afraid to use power.

Yet, she’s still at it.

With the diplomatic finesse of a wrecking ball, the former diplomat gave an interview to The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg, a hawk, in a calculated attempt to be tough and show that, as a Democratic woman, she’s not afraid to use power.

Channeling her pal John McCain, she took a cheap shot at President Obama when his approval rating on foreign policy had dropped to 36 percent, calling him a wimp just as he was preparing to order airstrikes against ISIS.

As one Democrat noted, citing the callous Clintonian principle that unpopular things make foolish investments: “If Obama was at 63 instead of 36, she’d be happy to be Robin to his Batman.”

It’s not that she’s too old, despite nasty cracks on conservative websites like the Washington Free Beacon. It’s that she’s too old-think, thrusting herself forward as a hawk at a time when hawks — in the season of Elizabeth Warren and Rand Paul — aren’t so cool. Americans are sick of the idea that we should plunge in and plant our flag in the ground and work out the details later. It’s a complicated world, where you cross the border from Syria to Iraq and your allies are the enemy.

Hillary booed the president, who has been boosting her at the expense of his own vice president, and said that, as secretary of state, she had wanted to do more to help the Syrian rebels. She said that Obama’s “failure” in Syria led to the rise of ISIS and sniped about Obama’s slogan: “Great nations need organizing principles, and ‘Don’t do stupid stuff’ is not an organizing principle.”

Saying you can’t live by slogans is rich, coming from someone whose husband’s presidency was built on “It’s the economy, stupid.”

Besides, a Times article by Tim Arango and Eric Schmitt demonstrated that “at every turn” the rise of ISIS’s self-styled caliph, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, had been shaped by the United States’ involvement in Iraq — putting the ball of blame back in Hillary’s court.

The neocon Weekly Standard gleefully printed her remarks with her byline under the headline: “Special Guest Editorial: Obama’s Foreign Policy Failures.”

David Axelrod tartly tweeted: “Just to clarify: ‘Don’t do stupid stuff’ means stuff like occupying Iraq in the first place, which was a tragically bad decision.”

Hillary may know that she seemed unseemly. She called Obama to assert that she wasn’t attacking him, trying to avoid an awkward encounter when they both attend a Vernon Jordan party Wednesday night at the Martha’s Vineyard golf course where the president has been relaxing while the world explodes.

After buoying Hillary, Obama is learning the truth of another unofficial slogan in politics: “The Clintons will be there when they need you.”

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

August 10, 2014

In “The Right War” The Putz babbles that America can’t fix Iraq, but we can make a difference.  Well, we’ve sure as hell made a difference there over the past 10 years…  MoDo, in “Back to Iraq,” says once again, we are ensnared in our mess in Mesopotamia.  Mr. Cohen has a question:  “Will the Voices of Conscience Be Heard?”  He says Israelis and Palestinians struggle to defeat fear.  Mr. Kristof also has a question:  “Is a Hard Life Inherited?”  He wants us to meet Rick Goff of Yamhill, Ore. His life story is a study in the national crisis facing working-class men.  In “Grief, Smoke and Salvation” Mr. Bruni says a trailblazing ambassador for Israeli food acknowledges his secrets, his struggle and how the violence of his homeland factored into it all.  Here’s The Putz:

Three times before last week’s decision to launch airstrikes against the self-styled caliphate, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, President Obama was urged to intervene in Middle Eastern conflicts: in Libya in the spring of 2011, in Syria from 2011 onward and in Iraq two short months ago, when Baghdad was threatened by the swift advance of ISIS.

In each case, there were good reasons to hesitate. In Libya, we had little to gain strategically from Muammar el-Qaddafi’s fall, and more to fear from the vacuum that might follow. Syria was a more significant theater, and Bashar al-Assad’s downfall a consummation more devoutly to be wished — but there as in Libya, there was little clarity about what forces (liberals? warlords? jihadis?) we would be empowering and what would follow Assad’s rule.

A similar problem existed for the recent battles outside Baghdad. There was no question that America had an interest in seeing the southward advance of ISIS rolled back. But dropping bombs on behalf of Nuri Kamal al-Maliki’s thuggish, failing government was a possible fool’s errand: We would have been essentially serving as “the air force for Shia militias” (to quote David Petraeus, no dove) and by extension for the Islamic Republic of Iran.

All three situations were hard calls, and the fact that intervention in Libya and inaction in Syria produced similar outcomes — rippling chaos and jihadi gains — has allowed both hawks and doves to claim vindication.

But in all three debates, the noninterventionist position ultimately had the better of the argument. We were better off sending advisers but not warplanes when ISIS threatened Baghdad; we were wise not to funnel arms (or at least not that many, depending on what the C.I.A.’s been doing) into Syria’s chaos; and Obama would have been wise to heed the cautious Robert Gates on Libya, rather than Samantha Power and Bernard-Henri Lévy.

The latest crisis, however, is different. This time, the case for war is much stronger, and the decision to intervene is almost certainly the right call.

In the earlier debates, the humanitarian case for action was in clear tension with strategic issues on the ground. In northern Iraq right now, the two are much more closely aligned. Alongside a stronger moral obligation to act than we had in Syria or Libya, we have a clear enough military objective, a more tested ally in the Kurds and a plausible long-term strategy that could follow from intervening now.

The stronger moral obligation flows from two realities. First, this humanitarian crisis is one our actions directly helped create: The cleansing of Christians, Yezidis and other religious minorities began in the chaos following our invasion of Iraq, and it has taken a more ruthless turn because ISIS profited from the fallout from our too-swift 2011 withdrawal. (Indeed, it’s often using American-made weapons to harry, persecute and kill.)

Second, ISIS represents a more distinctive form of evil even than a butcher like Assad. As the blogger Razib Khan argued last week, the would-be caliphate is “utopian in its fundamentals,” and so its ruthless religious cleansing isn’t just a tyrant’s “tool to instill terror” and consolidate power; it’s the point of gaining power, an end unto itself.

These arguments — a distinctive obligation, a distinctive (and thus potentially more expansive) evil — still do not compel action absent a clear strategic plan, which is why the president was right to hesitate to take the fight to ISIS around Baghdad.

But in this case, such a plan is visible. We do not need to re-invade or restabilize Iraq to deal ISIS a blow and help its victims, because Kurdistan is already relatively stable, and the line of conflict is relatively clear. And the Kurds themselves, crucially, are a known quantity with a longstanding relationship to the United States — something that wasn’t on offer in Libya or Syria.

So our intervention in northern Iraq has a limited, attainable objective: Push ISIS back toward the Sunni heartland, allow its victims to seek refuge in Kurdish territory and increase the Kurds’ capacity to go on offense against the caliphate.

But if this president is thinking strategically, instead of just conducting a humanitarian drive-by, this intervention could also set the stage for a broader policy shift. Swiftly or gradually, depending on political developments in Baghdad, an independent, secure, well-armed Kurdistan could replace an unstable, perpetually fragmenting Iraq as the intended locus of American influence in the region.

That influence will be necessarily limited: We are not going to stamp out ISIS on our own, or prevent the Middle East’s rival coalitions — Sunni vs. Shiite, oligarchic vs. populist — from continuing their brutal proxy wars. There is not going to be a major American-aligned model nation in the Arab world anytime soon, of the sort the Iraq invasion’s architects naïvely hoped to build.

But by protecting a Kurdistan that can extend protection to groups made homeless by the fighting, we can still help save something from the wreckage.

Not a model, but a refuge.

Next up we have MoDo:

It was exhilarating to drop a bunch of 500-pound bombs on whatstheirname.

Just when Americans thought they could stop trying to figure out the difference between Sunnis and Shiites, we’re in a new war in Iraq with some bad “folks,” as the president might say, whose name we’re still fuzzy on.

We never know what we’re getting into over there, and this time we can’t even agree what to call the enemy. All we know is that a barbaric force is pillaging so swiftly and brutally across the Middle East that it seems like some mutated virus from a sci-fi film.

Most news organizations call the sulfurous spawn of Al Qaeda leading the rampage through Iraq “ISIS,” short for “Islamic State in Iraq and Syria” or “Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham.” (Isis is also the name of an Egyptian goddess and the Earl of Grantham’s yellow lab on “Downton Abbey.”) Yet the White House, State Department and United Nations refer to the group as “ISIL,” short for “Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant.”

The BBC reported that some people have also started referring to the jihadis as “Da’ish” or “Daesh,” a designation that the extremists object to because it is “a seemingly pejorative term that is based on an acronym formed from the letters of the name in Arabic, ‘al-Dawla al-Islamiya fi Iraq wa al-Sham.’ ” Al-Sham, the BBC noted, can be translated as “the Levant,” “Greater Syria,” “Syria” or “Damascus.”

Adding to the confusion, ISIS a.k.a. ISIL engaged in a slick “Mad Men” rebranding in June, announcing that, in tribute to its ambition to establish a caliphate, it was renaming itself “the Islamic State.” So then Agence France-Presse began referring to the militants as “IS” or “the group formerly known as ISIS,” and The Wall Street Journal switched to “IS.” The Times, however, still calls our murderous new enemy “ISIS” while quoting administration officials and military officers using the acronym “ISIL.”

It’s a bit odd that the administration is using “the Levant,” given that it conjures up a colonial association from the early 20th century, when Britain and France drew their maps, carving up Mesopotamia guided by economic gain rather than tribal allegiances. Unless it’s a nostalgic nod to a time when puppets were more malleable and grateful to their imperial overlords.

If all that is not confusing enough, we also have to fathom a new entry in the vicious religious wars in Iraq: the Yazidis, a small and secretive sect belonging to one of the oldest surviving religions in the world. Their faith has origins in Islam and Zoroastrianism, a religion founded by the Iranian prophet Zoroaster in the 6th century B.C. As Time pointed out, though the name “Izidis” translates to “worshipers of God,” ISIS considers them “devil-worshipers” who must convert to Islam or be killed.

ISIS mistakenly torments the sect that has survived 72 genocides, The Telegraph explained, because the Yazidis worship a fallen angel called the Malek Tawwus, or Peacock Angel. But unlike Lucifer, their angel sought forgiveness and went back to heaven.

Fifty thousand Yazidis were driven by the jihadis to take refuge on Mount Sinjar in Kurdish-controlled Erbil, where they were trapped and dying of dehydration and exposure, which spurred President Obama to order Navy planes to drop food and water for them.

Although it felt momentarily bracing to see American pilots trying to save innocents in a country we messed up so badly that it’s not even a country any more, some critics warned that the pinprick bombings were a political gesture, not a military strategy, and “almost worse than nothing,” as John McCain put it.

The latest turn of the screw in Iraq also underscored how we keep getting pulled back, “Godfather”-style, without ever understanding the culture. Our boneheaded meddling just creates ever-more-virulent monsters. The United States has taken military action in Iraq during at least 17 of the last 24 years, the ultimate mission creep in a country smaller than Texas on the other side of the world.

What better symbol of the Middle East quicksand than the fact that Navy planes took off for their rescue mission — two years after Obama declared the war in Iraq over — from the George H.W. Bush aircraft carrier in the Arabian Sea?

Bush Senior’s war to expel Saddam from Kuwait — a gas station of a country chockablock with spoiled rich Arabs — would not have been necessary if Saddam, a tyrant first enabled by J.F.K.’s C.I.A., had not been given the wrong signals by our side. W.’s war with Saddam, the prodigal son’s effort at outdoing his father, ended up undoing Iraq and the neglected Afghanistan.

Caught in the Sunni backlash and the back draft of his predecessor’s misguided attempt to impose democracy, Obama is leery and proceeding cautiously. But what can he do? He has dispatched a few hundred advisers to Iraq to fix something that couldn’t be fixed with the hundreds of thousands of troops over a decade.

Some fellow Democrats are fretting that the pull of Iraq will be too strong, after Obama spokesman Josh Earnest said, “The president has not laid out a specific end date.” Iraq, after all, is a country that seems to have a malignant magnetism for our leaders.

We now get to Mr. Cohen:

There are good people and bad leaders the world over, but perhaps nowhere more so than in the Middle East. Plenty of Israelis and Palestinians work to build bridges, but their voices are lost in the stampede of zealots schooled in hatred and cynics adept in the manipulation of fear for the consolidation of power.

I was reminded of this in recent weeks. An email from an Israeli woman, Ruth Harari, told me of how her parents arrived in what would become Israel from Ukraine and Poland in the 1920s, how they built a kibbutz, how she was educated there in “the values and principles of freedom, honoring human beings whoever they were.” Her forebears stayed in Europe, where they vanished in the Holocaust. Hardship in the Holy Land never diluted her parents’ commitment to Israel and justice, ideas indivisible to them.

“We still have values,” she wrote during the third and most deadly Gaza eruption in six years, with its almost 2,000 dead, most of them Palestinian civilians. “For that reason, I argue, it is more painful for me as an Israeli to hear and see the footage of the innocents, children especially, in Gaza, and to read about the suffering inflicted upon them not only by Israeli attacks, but by the ferocity of their leadership. We have to sit and talk. We have to live with one another.”

What do such words amount to? No more than confetti in a gale, perhaps, scattered by the force of Hamas, and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, and the unblushing Jewish advocates of forcible removal of Palestinians from Gaza, the West Bank and even Israel itself.

The center, it seems, cannot hold. This little war has had about it something of the Salem witch trials, bookended by murky incidents of murder or disappearance generating mass hysteria. With each war, each tweet, even, vitriol grows.

Hannah Arendt warned of the dangers of nationalism in a Jewish state; she thought it might be redoubled by dependence on the United States. I find another thought of hers more important: “Under conditions of terror, most people will comply but some people will not. Humanly speaking, no more is required, and no more can reasonably be asked, for this planet to remain a place fit for human habitation.”

Conscience and individual courage do count, even if they appear powerless, especially if they appear powerless.

In a different context, the words of the father of Muhammad Abu Khdeir, the Palestinian boy killed in the buildup to the war, count: “Whether Jew or Arab, who would accept that his son or daughter would be kidnapped and killed?”

I talked to Andy Bachman, an American rabbi and friend. He is just back from two weeks in Israel. “I hear vile stuff,” he said. “My job is hope.” Never, he believes, has it been more critical for moderate Israelis and Palestinians to raise their voices in common cause. If Hamas is to be disarmed, as it must be, the only way in the end is to win the hearts and minds of other Palestinians through economic progress and justice.

Bachman, reflecting on the war’s moral dilemmas, cited the biblical story of Samuel. As Samuel ages, people see that his bribe-taking sons are not leadership material. They ask him to find them a king. Samuel consults God, who laments that “they have rejected Me, that I should not be King over them.” If the people only followed God’s law, they would not need a ruler. Samuel warns the people of the future predations of any king, but they will not be swayed. They insist “that we also may be like all the nations; and that our king may judge us, and go out before us, and fight our battles.” In the end, God acquiesces.

For Bachman, the tension between living in a divine world of perfect justice and the violent human realm of imperfect choices is captured here. Zionism was just that: the desire to be “like all the nations,” a normal people with a leader — but that also means, in Bachman’s words, “making pained and sometimes horrible choices.” He said, “As a parent, I mourn so greatly the loss of innocent life. And equal to that feeling is one of horror and shame that Hamas ran a campaign knowing that would happen, making it part of their strategy.”

In Israel, Bachman works with Rebecca Bardach on a project called Hand in Hand: Center for Jewish-Arab Education in Israel. It now runs five bilingual schools with 1,100 students, children learning Hebrew and Arabic and, above all, how coexistence works. The aim is to grow to as many as 15 integrated bilingual schools over the next decade.

Like individual voices of conscience, such undertakings seem flimsy beside walls, blockades, bullets, bombs, rockets and the relentless process of separation and division that pulls Jews and Palestinians apart. They are flimsy but no less important for that. They make the stranger human. They are interceptors of fear. The most useful commodity for the merchants of war and hatred is fear.

It will take immense courage now for Israelis who wrestle with their consciences to raise their voices for a two-state peace — and just as much for Palestinians to engage in open self-criticism of disastrous choices. The next time hundreds of thousands of Israelis take to the streets for cheap housing, they should draw a connection between that demand and the billions spent on the occupation. An Israeli zealot killed Yitzhak Rabin. He cannot be allowed to kill Rabin’s last endeavor.

And now we get to Mr. Kristof:

One delusion common among America’s successful people is that they triumphed just because of hard work and intelligence.

In fact, their big break came when they were conceived in middle-class American families who loved them, read them stories, and nurtured them with Little League sports, library cards and music lessons. They were programmed for success by the time they were zygotes.

Yet many are oblivious of their own advantages, and of other people’s disadvantages. The result is a meanspiritedness in the political world or, at best, a lack of empathy toward those struggling — partly explaining the hostility to state expansion of Medicaid, to long-term unemployment benefits, or to raising the minimum wage to keep up with inflation.

This has been on my mind because I’ve been visiting my hometown of Yamhill, Ore., a farming community that’s a window into the national crisis facing working-class men.

I love this little town, but the news is somber — and so different from the world I now inhabit in a middle-class suburb. A neighbor here just died of a heroin overdose; a friend was beaten up last night by her boyfriend; another friend got into a fistfight with his dad; a few more young men have disappeared into the maw of prison.

One of my friends here, Rick Goff, 64, lean with a lined and weathered face and a short pigtail (maybe looking a bit like Willie Nelson), is representative of the travails of working-class America. Rick is immensely bright, and I suspect he could have been a lawyer, artist or university professor if his life had gotten off to a different start. But he grew up in a ramshackle home in a mire of disadvantage, and when he was 5 years old, his mom choked on a piece of bacon, staggered out to the yard and dropped dead.

“My dad just started walking down the driveway and kept walking,” Rick remembers.

His three siblings and he were raised by a grandmother, but money was tight. The children held jobs, churned the family cow’s milk into butter, and survived on what they could hunt and fish, without much regard for laws against poaching.

Despite having a first-class mind, Rick was fidgety and bored in school. “They said I was an overactive child,” he recalls. “Now they have name for it, A.D.H.D.”

A teacher or mentor could have made a positive difference with the right effort. Instead, when Rick was in the eighth grade, the principal decided to teach him that truancy was unacceptable — by suspending him from school for six months.

“I was thinking I get to go fishing, hang out in the woods,” he says. “That’s when I kind of figured out the system didn’t work.”

In the 10th grade, Rick dropped out of school and began working in lumber mills and auto shops to make ends meet. He said his girlfriend skipped town and left him with a 2-year-old daughter and a 4-year-old son to raise on his own.

Rick acknowledges his vices and accepts responsibility for plenty of mistakes: He smoked, drank too much for a time and abused drugs. He sometimes hung out with shady people, and he says he has been arrested about 30 times but never convicted of a felony. Some of his arrests were for trying to help other people, especially to protect women, by using his fists against bullies.

In that respect, Rick can actually be quite endearing. For instance, he vows that if anyone messes with my mother, he’ll kill that person.

A generation or two ago, Rick might have ended up with a stable family and in a well-paid union job, creating incentives for prudent behavior. Those jobs have evaporated, sometimes creating a vortex of hopelessness that leads to poor choices and becomes self-fulfilling.

There has been considerable progress in material standards over the decades. When I was a kid, there were still occasional neighbors living in shacks without electricity or plumbing, and that’s no longer the case. But the drug, incarceration, job and family instability problems seem worse.

Rick survives on disability (his hand was mashed in an accident) and odd jobs (some for my family). His health is frail, for he has had heart problems and kidney cancer that almost killed him two years ago.

Millions of poorly educated working-class men like him are today facing educational failure, difficulty finding good jobs, self-medication with meth or heroin, prison records that make employment more difficult, hurdles forming stable families and, finally, early death.

Obviously, some people born into poverty manage to escape, and bravo to them. That tends to be easier when the constraint is just a low income, as opposed to other pathologies such as alcoholic, drug-addicted or indifferent parents or a neighborhood dominated by gangs (I would argue that the better index of disadvantage for a child is not family income, but how often the child is read to).

Too often wealthy people born on third base blithely criticize the poor for failing to hit home runs. The advantaged sometimes perceive empathy as a sign of muddle-headed weakness, rather than as a marker of civilization.

In effect, we have a class divide on top of a racial divide, creating a vastly uneven playing field, and one of its metrics is educational failure. High school dropouts are five times as likely as college graduates to earn the minimum wage or less, and 16.5 million workers would benefit directly from a raise in the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour.

Yes, these men sometimes make bad choices. But just as wealthy Americans inherit opportunity, working-class men inherit adversity. As a result, they often miss out on three pillars of middle-class life: a job, marriage and a stable family, and seeing their children succeed.

One of Rick’s biggest regrets is that his son is in prison on drug-related offenses, while a daughter is in a halfway house recovering from heroin addiction.

The son just had a daughter who was born to a woman who has three other children, fathered by three other men. The odds are already stacked against that baby girl, just as they were against Rick himself.

This crisis in working-class America doesn’t get the attention it deserves, perhaps because most of us in the chattering class aren’t a part of it.

There are steps that could help, including a higher minimum wage, early childhood programs, and a focus on education as an escalator to opportunity. But the essential starting point is empathy.

And last but not least here’s Mr. Bruni:

People who don’t know the full truth about Mike Solomonov judge him by his fried chicken at Federal Donuts, a cult favorite in this city, and by his hummus at Zahav, an Israeli restaurant here of national renown. They’re the signposts in a career that has burned bright in recent years and seems destined to burn brighter still.

But they’re not his real success. They’re not what his wife and best friends look at with so much gratitude — and so much relief. Those closest to Mike realize that his crucial achievement is staying clean. And it’s measured in the number of days in a row that he’s drug-free.

When he opened Zahav in May 2008, he was sleeping just an hour or two many nights, and the reason wasn’t work. It was crack cocaine. He smoked it compulsively. Sometimes he mixed things up and smoked — or snorted — heroin instead. There was also booze: Scotch, vodka, triple sec, whatever was within reach. His reputation was on the rise. He was on the skids.

“I was living a double life,” Mike, 35, told me. “I look back and I’m horrified.”

Until now he hasn’t gone into detail about this publicly. But with two new restaurants about to open and a PBS documentary about his culinary love affair with Israel in the works, he found himself haunted by the sense that he wasn’t being wholly honest, wasn’t owning up to how easily all of this might have slipped away, wasn’t sounding the warning and sharing the lessons that he could.

“Nobody expects somebody like me to be a recovering crackhead,” he said. “I felt I was holding back.”

So last week he told me his story, all of it. It has an added pathos right now, because the violence in Israel echoes a personal heartbreak that fed his addiction, the worst of which followed the death of his younger brother, David, in 2003, at the age of 21. He was killed by sniper fire on the border with Lebanon while he served in the Israeli army. He was just three days shy of the end of his military commitment.

The two brothers grew up partly in the United States and partly in Israel, although David spent more time there. Mike did the opposite, and went to college at the University of Vermont, although he lasted just three semesters. He partied more than he studied. To pay for all the pot he was smoking, he became a dealer.

“I was the guy who always did a little too much,” he said. And he was fine with that, at least until the night when he took a fistful of Xanax to counterbalance an excess of cocaine. He passed out and woke up in a hospital bed some 12 hours later, his stomach pumped.

For a while he straightened up. Buckled down. Learned to cook, graduating from a bakery near Tel Aviv to culinary school in Florida to work in Philadelphia. He had a job at the venerated Italian restaurant Vetri when he got the news about David. The call came as he drove a family car, a green Hyundai Accent, from Pittsburgh back to Philadelphia so that David, who was about to move to the United States, could claim it.

David hadn’t even been scheduled for duty on the day he died, but it was Yom Kippur and he’d swapped places with a soldier who wanted to go to synagogue. Mike couldn’t stop thinking about that or about his recklessness with his own life and how little sense any of this made.

“This is a horrible thing to say, but of the two of us, if one should have ended up dead at a young age, he didn’t deserve it,” he said, shaking his head.

He turned to drugs to blot out his grief, which also became the perfect excuse, the perfect cover. He was stealthy enough that his business partner, Steve Cook, didn’t catch on. Nor did his wife, Mary, whom he married in 2006.

Sometimes when he fetched supplies in the middle of a workday, he’d take a detour to buy crack and smoke it in the car: the green Hyundai meant for David.

And sometimes after Mary went to sleep at night, he’d quietly drive off to find more, and he’d cruise around the city high and drunk, returning at daybreak, he said, to “slither back into bed” before she woke up. The chirping of birds in the dawn stillness grew familiar. It was as if they were shaming and mocking him.

He grew thinner and thinner. Mary saw it, but not really. What opened her eyes was his sudden, strange illness during a vacation in Bermuda in July 2008. He was in withdrawal, because he’d gone too quickly through some heroin that he’d secretly carried with him. Back home, she consulted Steve and they confronted Mike one morning, telling him that they were taking him to rehab right then. He pleaded for a few minutes and walked into the yard.

He remembers thinking, “I could just jump the fence. I wouldn’t be the first junkie running around South Philly in my bathrobe.”

He went back inside. He did the program. Then he attended 12-step meetings, as often as every day. Steve and his wife handled the transportation, because they didn’t want him alone in that Hyundai.

“I was scared,” Steve said, noting that the restaurant Zahav had been up and running for only a few months. “We had almost $1 million that we’d signed for personally — investors, loans.” He needed Mike to be healthy.

Mary was angry. But, she said, “He needed help and support. And I remember my sister saying, ‘You don’t leave people at their darkest hour.’ ” She monitored Mike’s recovery by making him take random drug tests. After a lapse or two at the start, he passed each one, and she could see how hard he was trying.

The impulse to get high doesn’t completely vanish. It flickers back. Mike remembers that in the hours around midnight on July 23, 2011, he had the fleeting notion that he could easily sneak off and find drugs. It was a reflexive reaction to being all alone, with his wife out of the house, and the thought wasn’t squelched by the reason she was gone. She was in the hospital. She’d just given birth to the first of their two sons.

He doesn’t want to lie about these things. He wants to hold himself to full account.

In so many regards he’s lucky, he said, and one is that he’s found a better way to respond to losing his brother: through his cooking, which pays tribute to the country and the people his brother died for. The restaurant Dizengoff, officially opening on Monday, is a classic Israeli hummusiya, focusing on quick meals of hummus and small salads. Abe Fisher, which is scheduled to open early next month, will serve dishes of the Jewish diaspora, and its name is a mash-up of Jewish ancestors of his and Steve’s.

Last October Mike led a group of American chefs on a tour of Israel. They paused to cook a special meal on the 10th anniversary of David’s death. Mike made brief remarks, describing a painting by David that hung above his firstborn son’s changing table, a prompt for telling the boy about the missing man in whose memory he’d been named. Mike would remind his son, before they left the room: “Say goodbye to Uncle David.”

Dowd and Friedman

August 6, 2014

MoDo thinks she has “A Modest Proposal.”  She snarls that impeachment is the obvious elixir to all our problems in our absurdist capital.  In the comments “Query” from the West has this to say:  “I did not expect a new low from Dowd given her remarkable and low record of turning most everything but her uncomfortably obvious bitterness over aging into a knowing sneer at the Clintons or Obama. I was wrong.”  In “Dear Guests” The Moustache of Wisdom says some new and significant things were revealed in the Gaza war.  Here’s MoDo:

Enough with all the phony impeachment talk.

Onward to a real impeachment!

In the absurdist capital we live in, it would be good for all sides — in ways you may not have considered.

President Obama’s threat to bypass obstinate Republican lawmakers and pass legislation with executive actions — “I’ve got a pen and I’ve got a phone” — may have seemed a bit of a wimpy cop-out in January. But now he has a chance to turn it into a historic battle cry.

He gives a passionate address to the nation, channeling 2004 Obama, and asks, as the son of a foreigner who came to America to go to school, how our mosaic of immigrants soured into such a cruel place toward displaced children.

He defies the Republicans and shoots the moon on an executive order, giving backdoor amnesty to millions of undocumented Hispanic immigrants as well as all those suffering kids on the border who are afraid to live in their own violent countries.

The Republicans go absolutely nuts and realize that their lawsuit, the mini-me of impeachment, will not suffice. They hesitate to go as far as a Swiftian solution, selling the children to rich people as food. So they race back into session and try the president for the high crime and misdemeanor of abusing his power.

It gives the party, which is ripping itself apart trying to figure out what it stands for, a clear identity: You can count on Republicans to always impeach Democratic presidents in their second terms. G.O.P. will become short for Gratuitously Ousting Presidents.

They won’t be able to win the White House ever again after alienating every Hispanic in the country, but they can bask in presidentus interruptus.

Republicans could finally take on Obama to a degree that would make their crazed base happy — or as happy as this begrudging, seething crowd and their mindless, malcontent queen, Sarah Palin, are capable of being.

Presidential candidates who support impeachment would thrive in the primaries because the rabid anti-Obama base would reward them. A recent CNN poll reported that 57 percent of Republicans support impeaching Obama — and that is before any bold executive action on immigration or preventing corporations from fleeing America to dodge taxes.

Democratic candidates, struggling in this election season, wouldn’t have to think of silly excuses not to appear on the trail with the president while Republican candidates jockey to get a blessing from Mitt Romney.

And if Democrats are having so much success raising millions by hyping a fake impeachment threat, think of what they could do with a real one.

The biggest beneficiary, of course, would be President Obama.

If Congress makes him the first-ever president removed by impeachment, his popularity will soar from its current nadir, maybe even approaching Bill Clinton heights. It would validate the president’s whinging that he could never work with the Republicans and cement their reputation as world-class thwarters.

It would endear him to Democrats for years to come because he lost the highest office in the land going to bat for them. They would finally forgive Obama for running for president — twice — when he scorned politics.

Fed-up Americans would decide to actually go vote this year for Democrats and save them from the losses they seem headed for.

Best of all, President Obama could take an extra-early slide out of the job he doesn’t seem to enjoy.

He and an ecstatic Michelle could move back to Chicago or up to New York, leaving the despised Washington in the dust. He could indulge in the speechifying, edifying and modulating that he loves so much.

As a master of narrative, the president knows that he lost control of his own. An impeachment would allow him to recast his story in a vivid new light.

Right now, his story is the boring — and bored — president who can’t get Congress to do anything and is just coasting into irrelevance. After taking big risks early in his presidency, with health care and the bin Laden raid, he seemed to sink into disgust at the gnarled system, slacking off and playing golf.

But if he got thrown out of office for taking an audacious risk, showing he was willing to fight for something and stand up to the nihilists, racists and Tea Party loonies, his narrative would leap into “High Noon” drama.

Oh, and there’s a final person it would be really good for — and he’s owed one.

Joe Biden would get to be president — the shot that Obama and his strategists have been reluctant to give the loyal vice president, preferring to boost former rival Hillary Clinton.

Unlike Obama, Biden enjoys schmoozing, jawboning, logrolling, arm-twisting and deal-making with lawmakers ’til the cows come home.

And, as we learned in the new Ronald Kessler book on the Secret Service, Biden likes to swim in the nude. So he’d certainly be a president who believes in transparency.

And now we get to The Moustache of Wisdom, writing from Kibbutz Ein Hashlosha, Israel:

At 6:02 a.m. on Saturday, the air raid siren sounded over Tel Aviv. I was rousted by the hotel staff from my room and ushered into the windowless service elevator area with two French families, everyone in their pajamas. After 10 minutes, when the Hamas missile threat had passed, we were allowed to go back to our rooms. As I slipped back into bed, the hotel loudspeaker bellowed, “Dear guests, you may return to your routine.”

With Israel and Hamas winding down their latest war, I could only wonder whether the hotel manager was also speaking to them. Is that it? More than 60 Israeli soldiers and some 1,800 Hamas fighters and Gazans — many hundreds of them children and civilians  — killed, and everyone just goes back to their routines? I don’t think so. Some new and significant things were revealed here.

Let’s start with the fight. Since the early 2000s, Iran and its proxies Hezbollah and, until recently, Hamas, have pursued a three-pillar strategy toward Israel. The first is asymmetric warfare, primarily using cheap rockets, to paralyze Israeli towns and cities. For now, Israel’s Iron Dome antimissile system appears to have nullified this weapon; Hamas rockets did virtually no damage.

The second pillar, which debuted in the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah war, is to nest Hamas fighters and rocket launchers among the densely packed Gazan population and force Israel into a war where it can only defeat or deter Hamas if it risks war-crimes charges. No one here will explicitly say so, but one need only study this war to understand that Israel considers it central to its deterrence strategy that neither Hamas nor Hezbollah will “outcrazy us.” I don’t believe Israel was targeting Gaza civilians — I believe it tried to avoid them  — but, at the end of the day, it was not deterred by the prospect of substantial collateral civilian casualties. Hamas used Gaza’s civilians as war-crimes bait. And Israel did whatever was necessary to prove to Hamas, “You will not outcrazy us out of this region.” It was all ugly. This is not Scandinavia.

The third pillar of the Iran/Hezbollah/Hamas strategy is: Israel must forever occupy Palestinians in the West Bank because the perpetuation of that colonial occupation is essential for delegitimizing and isolating Israel on the world stage — especially among young Westerners — and energizing Muslims against Israel. On this, Hamas scored a huge victory. We saw that clearly in the decision by the Federal Aviation Administration to briefly order a ban on U.S. flights to Tel Aviv, after a single Hamas rocket landed just over a mile from the airport. That was exactly the message Hamas wanted delivered: “If we can close your airport, your global lifeline, with one rocket from Gaza, imagine what happens if you leave the West Bank, right next door.” That F.A.A. ban will now be used here as a key argument for why Israel must never cede the West Bank. I can hear the applause in Tehran from here.

And then there were the Hamas tunnels and what they revealed. I toured one just across the Gaza border, near Kibbutz Ein Hashlosha. It was lined for a couple miles with prefab concrete siding and roofing. It had electricity and railroad tracks. What struck me most, though, was the craftsmanship — the way all the prefab concrete pieces were perfectly designed and fit together. This tunnel took years and millions of dollars to build and required diverting massive resources from civilian roads, buildings and schools. It had one purpose, and it was not fruit exports. It was to shuttle fighters into the kibbutz. And there were many of these.

I must say I was awed by the sheer dedication it took to dig this tunnel, but sickened by what fueled that dedication: an apocalyptic jihadist agenda. The religious nationalist-forces have the real energy in this region today. More and more, this is becoming a religious conflict. The Times of Israel reported that, at the start of this war, “in an official dispatch sent to battalion and company commanders on July 9, Givati Brigade commander Colonel Ofer Winter” — one of Israel’s top officers on the Gaza front — “told his subordinates that ‘History has chosen us to spearhead the fighting [against] the terrorist “Gazan” enemy which abuses, blasphemes and curses the God of Israel’s [defense] forces.’ ” Frightening.

Jihadists are now sweeping across Iraq and Syria, wiping out Christians and other minorities. As the Lebanese writer Hanin Ghaddar noted this week: the Lebanese historian Kemal Salibi once observed that “it is Christian Arabs who keep the Arab world ‘Arab’ rather than ‘Muslim’ ” and “have played a vital role in defining a secular Arab cultural identity.” Now, she said, “the region seems to be going back to tribalism, as if a century of intellectual awakening and secular ideas are being erased and our identities are evaporating.”

Here is where Israel does have a choice. Its reckless Jewish settlement project in the West Bank led it into a strategy of trying to keep the moderate Palestinian Authority there weak and Hamas in Gaza even weaker. The only way Israel can hope to stabilize Gaza is if it empowers the Palestinian Authority to take over border control in Gaza, but that will eventually require making territorial concessions in the West Bank to the Palestinian Authority, because it will not act as Israel’s policeman for free. This is crunchtime. Either Arab and Israeli moderates collaborate and fight together, or the zealots really are going to take over this neighborhood. Please do not return to your routines.

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

August 3, 2014

In “Obama’s Impeachment Game” The Putz actually tries to convince us that all the finger-pointing at Republicans may just be cover for a power grab over immigration.  In the comments “David Underwood” of Citrus Heights had this to say:  “The presence of Douthat as a columnist with the Times is an insult to respectable columnists everywhere.  The publication of blatant lies, twisted logic, falsification of facts, has no place in a respectable journal. He should be removed, for incompetence and prejudicial opinions. He is writing an article that can not be justified as even opinion, it is a plain distortion of the known facts, to present his obvious dislike of Mr. Obama, and is not meant to be anything other than that. It is not discourse with some reasonable opinion as to the impeachment talk, it is a plain hateful attempt to impugn Mr. Obama’s integrity. For shame Douthat, have you no shame?”  No, Mr. Underwood, he doesn’t.  MoDo says “Throw the Book at Him,” and that 43’s biography of 41 should be called “Mano a Mano: I Wish I’d Listened to my Dad.”  And no, she couldn’t resist getting in a gratuitous slap at Obama.  The Moustache of Wisdom thinks he knows “How This War Ends.”  He says any resolution won’t be cheap politically for either Hamas or Israel.  Mr. Cohen has decided to explain to us “Why Americans See Israel the Way They Do.”  He claims the Israeli saga echoes in American mythology, but views are different in Europe, where anti-Semitism is rising.  Mr. Kristof says “Go Take a Hike!”  He suggests that if human-made messes are getting you down, try rejuvenating in the cathedral of the wilderness.  Here, FSM help us, is the Putz:

Something rather dangerous is happening in American politics right now, all the more so for being taken for granted by many of the people watching it unfold.

I do not mean the confusion of House Republicans, or the general gridlock in Congress, which are impeding legislative action on the child migrant crisis (among other matters). Incompetence and gridlock are significant problems, indeed severe ones, but they’re happening within the context of a constitutional system that allows for — and can survive — congressional inaction.

What is different — more cynical and more destructive — is the course President Obama is pursuing in response.

Over the last month, the Obama political apparatus — a close aide to the president, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the “independent” voices at MSNBC — has been talking nonstop about an alleged Republican plan to impeach the president. John Boehner’s symbolic lawsuit against the White House has been dubbed “impeachment lite,” Sarah Palin’s pleas for attention have been creatively reinterpreted as G.O.P. marching orders, and an entire apocalyptic fund-raising campaign has been built around the specter of a House impeachment vote.

Anyone paying attention knows that no such impeachment plan is currently afoot. So taken on its own, the impeachment chatter would simply be an unseemly, un-presidential attempt to raise money and get out the 2014 vote.

But it isn’t happening in a vacuum, because even as his team plays the impeachment card with gusto, the president is contemplating — indeed, all but promising — an extraordinary abuse of office: the granting of temporary legal status, by executive fiat, to up to half the country’s population of illegal immigrants.

Such an action would come equipped with legal justifications, of course. Past presidents have suspended immigration enforcement for select groups, and Obama himself did the same for certain younger immigrants in 2012. A creative White House lawyer — a John Yoo of the left — could rely on those precedents to build a case for the legality of a more sweeping move.

But the precedents would not actually justify the policy, because the scope would be radically different. Beyond a certain point, as the president himself has conceded in the past, selective enforcement of our laws amounts to a de facto repeal of their provisions. And in this case the de facto repeal would aim to effectively settle — not shift, but settle — a major domestic policy controversy on the terms favored by the White House.

This simply does not happen in our politics. Presidents are granted broad powers over foreign policy, and they tend to push the envelope substantially in wartime. But domestic power grabs are usually modest in scope, and executive orders usually work around the margins of hotly contested issues.

In defense of going much, much further, the White House would doubtless cite the need to address the current migrant surge, the House Republicans’ resistance to comprehensive immigration reform and public opinion’s inclination in its favor.

But all three points are spurious. A further amnesty would, if anything, probably incentivize further migration, just as Obama’s previous grant of legal status may well have done. The public’s views on immigration are vaguely pro-legalization — but they’re also malleable, complicated and, amid the border crisis, trending rightward. And in any case we are a republic of laws, in which a House majority that defies public opinion is supposed to be turned out of office, not simply overruled by the executive.

What’s more, given that the Democrats controlled Congress just four years ago and conspicuously failed to pass immigration reform, it’s especially hard to see how Republican intransigence now somehow justifies domestic Caesarism.

But in political terms, there is a sordid sort of genius to the Obama strategy. The threat of a unilateral amnesty contributes to internal G.O.P. chaos on immigration strategy, chaos which can then be invoked (as the president did in a Friday news conference) to justify unilateral action. The impeachment predictions, meanwhile, help box Republicans in: If they howl — justifiably! — at executive overreach, the White House gets to say “look at the crazies — we told you they were out for blood.”

It’s only genius, however, if the nonconservative media — honorable liberals and evenhanded moderates alike — continue to accept the claim that immigration reform by fiat would just be politics as usual, and to analyze the idea strictly in terms of its political effects (on Latino turnout, Democratic fund-raising, G.O.P. internal strife).

This is the tone of the media coverage right now: The president may get the occasional rebuke for impeachment-baiting, but what the White House wants to do on immigration is assumed to be reasonable, legitimate, within normal political bounds.

It is not: It would be lawless, reckless, a leap into the antidemocratic dark.

And an American political class that lets this Rubicon be crossed without demurral will deserve to live with the consequences for the republic, in what remains of this presidency and in presidencies yet to come.

He should be taken out behind the barn and horsewhipped by Clio.  Now here’s MoDo:

I can’t wait to read the book W. won’t write.

Not since Beyoncé dropped a new digital album online overnight with no warning or fanfare has there been such a successful pop-up arts project.

Crown Publishers startled everyone Wednesday by announcing that the 68-year-old W. has written a “personal biography” of his 90-year-old father, due out in November.

I guess he ran out of brush to clear.

“Never before has a President told the story of his father, another President, through his own eyes and in his own words,” the Crown news release crowed, noting that W.’s “Decision Points” was the best-selling presidential memoir ever and promising that 43’s portrait of 41 will be “heartfelt, intimate, and illuminating.”

It is certainly illuminating to learn that W. has belatedly decided to bathe his father in filial appreciation.

Like his whimsical paintings and post-presidency discretion, this sweet book will no doubt help reset his image in a more positive way.

But the intriguing question is: Is he doing it with an eye toward spinning the future or out of guilt for the past?

Just as his nude self-portraits are set in a shower and a bath, this book feels like an exercise in washing away the blunders of Iraq, Afghanistan and Katrina.

Are these efforts at self-expression a way to cleanse himself and exorcise the ghosts of all those who died and suffered for no reason? It’s redolent of Lady Macbeth, guilty over regicide and unable to stop rubbing her hands as though she’s washing them, murmuring “Out, damned spot!”

But some spots don’t come out.

I know that George H.W. Bush and his oldest son love each other. But it has been a complicated and difficult relationship and a foolishly and fatefully compartmentalized one.

Even though both Bushes protested that they didn’t want to be put on the couch, historians will spend the rest of history puzzling over the Oedipal push and pull that led America into disasters of such magnitude.

It would be awesome if the book revealed the truth about the fraught relationship between the gracious father and bristly son, if it were titled “Mano a Mano: I Wish I’d Listened to My Dad.”

Because, after all, never in history has a son diminished, disregarded and humiliated a father to such disastrous effect. But W. won’t write any of the real stuff we all want to hear.

The saga began when W. was 26 and drinking. After a rowdy night, the scamp came to his parents’ home in D.C. and smashed his car into a neighbor’s garbage can. His dad upbraided him.

“You wanna go mano a mano right here?” W. shot back to his shocked father.

It was hard, no doubt, to follow the same path as his father, in school, in sport, in war and in work, but always come up short. He also had to deal with the chilly fact that his parents thought Jeb should be president, rather than the raffish Roman candle, W.

Yet W. summoned inner strength and played it smart and upended his family’s expectations, getting to the governor’s mansion and the Oval Office before his younger brother. But the top job sometimes comes with a tape worm of insecurity. Like Lyndon Johnson with hawkish Kennedy aides, W. surrounded himself with the wrong belligerent advisers and allowed himself to be manipulated through his fear of being called a wimp, as his father had been by “Newsweek.”

When he ran for Texas governor in 1994 and president in 2000, W. basically cut his father adrift, instead casting himself as the son and heir of Ronald Reagan, the man who bested his father. “Don’t underestimate what you can learn from a failed presidency,” he told his Texas media strategist about his father.

His White House aides made a point of telling reporters that Junior was tougher than his father, pointedly noting he was from West Texas and knew how to deal with “the streets of Laredo.”

He was driven to get the second term his father had not had. And he was driven — and pushed by Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld — to do what his dad had shied away from, toppling Saddam Hussein. This, even if it meant drumming up a phony casus belli.

He never consulted his dad, even though H.W. was the only president ever to go to war with Saddam. He treated the former president and foreign affairs junkie like a blankie, telling Fox News’s Brit Hume that, rather than advice on issues, he preferred to get phone calls from his dad saying “I love you, son,” or “Hang in there, son.”

And he began yelling when his father’s confidante and co-author, Brent Scowcroft, wrote a Wall Street Journal op-ed piece cautioning that invading Iraq wouldn’t be “a cakewalk” and could be destabilizing to the region and mean “a large-scale, long-term military occupation.”

He never wanted to hear the warning that his father was ready to give, so allergic to being a wimp that he tried, against all odds, history and evidence, to be a deus ex machina. He dissed his father on Iraq, saying “he cut and run early,” and he naïvely allowed himself to be bullied by his dark father, Cheney, who pressed him on Saddam: “Are you going to take care of this guy, or not?”

As Jon Meacham, the historian who is writing a biography of Bush père, wrote in Time a week ago, H.W. was a man who knew that Woodrow Wilson was wrong in thinking that a big war could end all wars.

“The first Bush was closer to the mark when he spoke, usually privately, of how foreign policy was about ‘working the problem,’ not finding grand, all-encompassing solutions to intrinsically messy questions,” Meacham wrote.

So now, symbolically washing his hands, W.’s putting out this cute little disingenuous book about his father that won’t mention that he bollixed up the globe, his presidency, and marred Jeb’s chances, all because he wasn’t listening to his father or “working the problem.”

W.’s fear of being unmanned led to America actually being unmanned. We’re in a crouch now. His rebellion against and competition with Bush senior led directly to President Obama struggling at a news conference Friday on the subject of torture. After 9/11, Obama noted, people were afraid. “We tortured some folks,” he said. “We did some things that were contrary to our values.”

And yet the president stood by his C.I.A. director, John Brennan, a cheerleader for torture during the Bush years, who continues to do things that are contrary to our values.

Obama defended the C.I.A. director even though Brennan blatantly lied to the Senate when he denied that the C.I.A. had hacked into Senate Intelligence Committee computers while staffers were on agency property investigating torture in the W. era. And now the administration, protecting a favorite of the president, is heavily censoring the torture report under the pretense of national security.

The Bushes did not want to be put on the couch, but the thin-skinned Obama jumped on the couch at his news conference, defensively whining about Republicans, Putin, Israel and Hamas and explaining academically and anemically how he’s trying to do the right thing but it’s all beyond his control.

Class is over, professor. Send in the president.

Next up we have The Moustache of Wisdom, writing from Ramallah, on the West Bank:

I had held off coming to Israel, hoping the situation in Gaza would clarify — not in terms of what’s happening, but how it might end in a stable way. Being here now, it is clear to me that there is a way this cruel little war could not only be stopped, but stopped in a way that the moderates in the region, who have been so much on the run, could gain the initiative. But — and here is where some flight from reality is required to be hopeful — developing something that decent out of this war will demand a level of leadership from the key parties that has simply never been manifested by any of them. This is a generation of Arab, Palestinian and Israeli leaders who are experts at building tunnels and walls. None of them ever took the course on bridges and gates.

I happened to be in the United States Embassy in Tel Aviv late Friday when air raid sirens went off as a result of a Hamas rocket being aimed at the city. Standing in the embassy basement, I had a moment of quiet to think about how much creativity lately has gone into war-making around here and how little into peace-making. Israel has developed a rocket interceptor system, the Iron Dome, that can immediately calculate whether a Hamas rocket launched in Gaza will hit a built-up area in Israel — and needs to be intercepted — or will fall into the sea, farm fields or desert and can be ignored and, therefore, avoids the $50,000 cost of an interceptor. The system is not only smart; it’s frugal. If this Israeli government had applied the same ingenuity to trying to forge a deal with the moderate Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, Hamas would be so much more globally isolated today — not Israel.

Meanwhile, Hamas, using picks, shovels and little drills, developed an underground maze of tunnels in Gaza, under Israel’s nose, with branches into Israel. If Hamas — which has brought only ruin to the people of Gaza, even in times of quiet — had applied that same ingenuity to building above ground, it could have created the biggest contracting company in the Arab world by now, and the most schools.

Every war here ends eventually, though, and, when this one does, I don’t think we’ll be going back to the status quo ante. Even before a stable cease-fire occurs, Israeli and Palestinian Authority officials have been discussing the principles of a lasting deal for Gaza. Given the fact that Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates hate Hamas — because of its ties to the Muslim Brotherhood — as much as Israel, the potential exists for a Gaza deal that would truly align moderate Arabs, Palestinians and Israel. But it won’t come cheap. In fact, it will require Israel, Hamas and the U.S. to throw out all the old rules about who doesn’t talk to whom.

Here’s why: Hamas has been a formidable foe for Israel, and it is unlikely to stop this war without some agreement to end the Israeli-Egyptian blockade of Gaza. Israel is not likely to stop this war without having rooted out most of the Hamas tunnels and put in place a regime that will largely demilitarize Gaza and prevent the import of more rockets.

Since neither Israel nor Egypt wants to govern Gaza, the only chance these goals have of being implemented is if the moderate Palestinian Authority here in Ramallah, led by President Mahmoud Abbas, is invited back into Gaza (from which it was evicted by Hamas in 2007). And, as one of Abbas’s senior advisers, Yasser Abed Rabbo, explained to me, the only way that can happen is if the Palestinians form a national unity government, including Hamas, and if Israel agrees to resume negotiations with this government about ending the West Bank occupation.

The Palestinian Authority has no intention of becoming Israel’s policeman in the West Bank and in Gaza for free. “To hell with that,” said Abed Rabbo. If the Palestinian Authority is going to come back in as the game-changer, it will be as the head of a Palestinian national unity government, with Hamas and Islamic Jihad inside, that would negotiate with Israel, he said. If Hamas and Israel want to end this war with some of their gains intact, they will both have to cede something to the Palestinian Authority.

No one should expect, said Abed Rabbo, that “we, ‘the stupid moderates,’ will sit there and play a game in favor of Hamas or Israel and not get anything out of it, and we will go back to the same old negotiations where” Israel just says “blah blah blah.” If we do that again, “my kids will throw me out of my house.”

“We should have a serious Palestinian reconciliation and then go to the world and say, ‘O.K., Gaza will behave as a peaceful place, under the leadership of a united Palestinian front, but, [Egypt], you open your gates, and, Israel, you open your gates,’ ” Abed Rabbo said. The moderate Arab states would then contribute the rebuilding funds.

Unless Hamas or Israel totally defeats the other — unlikely — it is hard for me to see how either side will get out of this war the lasting gains they want without conceding something politically. Israel will have to negotiate in earnest about a withdrawal from the West Bank, and Hamas will have to serve in a Palestinian unity government and forgo violence. I can tell you 17 reasons that this won’t happen. I just can’t think of one other stable way out.

And now we get to Mr. Cohen:

To cross the Atlantic to America, as I did recently from London, is to move from one moral universe to its opposite in relation to Israel’s war with Hamas in Gaza. Fury over Palestinian civilian casualties has risen to a fever pitch in Europe, moving beyond anti-Zionism into anti-Semitism (often a flimsy distinction). Attacks on Jews and synagogues are the work of a rabid fringe, but anger toward an Israel portrayed as indiscriminate in its brutality is widespread. For a growing number of Europeans, not having a negative opinion of Israel is tantamount to not having a conscience. The deaths of hundreds of children in any war, as one editorial in The Guardian put it, is “a special kind of obscenity.”

In the United States, by contrast, support for Israel remains strong (although less so among the young, who are most exposed to the warring hashtags of social media). That support is overwhelming in political circles. Palestinian suffering remains near taboo in Congress. It is not only among American Jews, better organized and more outspoken than their whispering European counterparts, that the story of a nation of immigrants escaping persecution and rising from nowhere in the Holy Land resonates. The Israeli saga — of courage and will — echoes in American mythology, far beyond religious identification, be it Jewish or evangelical Christian.

America tends toward a preference for unambiguous right and wrong — no European leader would pronounce the phrase “axis of evil” — and this third Gaza eruption in six years fits neatly enough into a Manichaean framework: A democratic Jewish state, hit by rockets, responds to Islamic terrorists. The obscenity, for most Americans, has a name. That name is Hamas.

James Lasdun, a Jewish author and poet who moved to the United States from England, has written that, “There is something uncannily adaptive about anti-Semitism: the way it can hide, unsuspected, in the most progressive minds.” Certainly, European anti-Semitism has adapted. It used to be mainly of the nationalist right. It now finds expression among large Muslim communities. But the war has also suggested how the virulent anti-Israel sentiment now evident among the bien-pensant European left can create a climate that makes violent hatred of Jews permissible once again.

In Germany, of all places, there have been a series of demonstrations since the Gaza conflict broke out with refrains like “Israel: Nazi murderer” and “Jew, Jew, you cowardly pig, come out and fight alone” (it rhymes in German). Three men hurled a Molotov cocktail at a synagogue in Wuppertal. Hitler’s name has been chanted, gassing of Jews invoked. Violent demonstrations have erupted in France. The foreign ministers of France, Italy and Germany were moved to issue a statement saying “anti-Semitic rhetoric and hostility against Jews” have “no place in our societies.” Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the German foreign minister, went further. What Germany had witnessed, he wrote, makes the “blood freeze in anybody’s veins.”

Yes, it does. Germany, Israel’s closest ally apart from the United States, had been constrained since 1945. The moral shackles have loosened. Europe’s malevolent ghosts have not been entirely dispelled. The continent on which Jews went meekly to the slaughter reproaches the descendants of those who survived for absorbing the lesson that military might is inextricable from survival and that no attack must go unanswered, especially one from an organization bent on the annihilation of Israel.

A strange transference sometimes seems to be at work, as if casting Israelis as murderers, shorn of any historical context, somehow expiates the crime. In any case it is certain that for a quasi-pacifist Europe, the Palestinian victim plays well; the regional superpower, Israel, a militarized society through necessity, much less so.

Anger at Israel’s bombardment of Gaza is also “a unifying element among disparate Islamic communities in Europe,” said Jonathan Eyal, a foreign policy analyst in London. Moroccans in the Netherlands, Pakistanis in Britain and Algerians in France find common cause in denouncing Israel. “Their anger is also a low-cost expression of frustration and alienation,” Eyal said.

Views of the war in the United States can feel similarly skewed, resistant to the whole picture, slanted through cultural inclination and political diktat. It is still hard to say that the killing of hundreds of Palestinian children represents a Jewish failure, whatever else it may be. It is not easy to convey the point that the open-air prison of Gaza in which Hamas has thrived exists in part because Israel has shown a strong preference for the status quo, failing to reach out to Palestinian moderates and extending settlements in the West Bank, fatally tempted by the idea of keeping all the land between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River.

Oppressed people will respond. Millions of Palestinians are oppressed. They are routinely humiliated and live under Israeli dominion. When Jon Stewart is lionized (and slammed in some circles) for “revealing” Palestinian suffering to Americans, it suggests how hidden that suffering is. The way members of Congress have been falling over one another to demonstrate more vociferous support for Israel is a measure of a political climate not conducive to nuance. This hardly serves America’s interests, which lie in a now infinitely distant peace between Israelis and Palestinians, and will require balanced American mediation.

Something may be shifting. Powerful images of Palestinian suffering on Facebook and Twitter have hit younger Americans. A recent survey by the Pew Research Center found that among Americans age 65 or older, 53 percent blame Hamas for the violence and 15 percent Israel. For those ages 18 to 29, Israel is blamed by 29 percent of those questioned, Hamas by just 21 percent. My son-in-law, a doctor in Atlanta, said that for his social group, mainly professionals in their 30s with young children, it was “impossible to see infants being killed by what sometimes seems like an extension of the U.S. Army without being affected.”

I find myself dreaming of some island in the middle of the Atlantic where the blinding excesses on either side of the water are overcome and a fundamental truth is absorbed: that neither side is going away, that both have made grievous mistakes, and that the fate of Jewish and Palestinian children — united in their innocence — depends on placing the future above the past. That island will no doubt remain as illusory as peace. Meanwhile, on balance, I am pleased to have become a naturalized American.

And last but not least we have Mr. Krisof, writing from the Pacific Crest Trail in Oregon:

Escaping a grim world of war abroad and inequality at home, I fled with my teenage daughter here to the mountains of Oregon to hike the Pacific Crest Trail and commune with more humane creatures. Like bears and cougars.

The wilderness is healing, a therapy for the soul. We hiked 145 miles, and it was typical backpacking bliss: We were chewed on by mosquitoes, rained on and thundered at, broiled by noonday sun, mocked by a 20-mile stretch of dry trail, and left limping from blisters. The perfect trip!

There are very few things I’ve done just twice in my life, 40 years apart, and one is to backpack on the Pacific Crest Trail across the California/Oregon border. The first time, in 1974, I was a 15-year-old setting off with a pal on a bid to hike across Oregon. We ran into vast snows that covered the trail and gave up. Then I wasn’t quite ripe for the challenge; this year, on the trail with my daughter, I wondered if I might be overripe.

Yet seeing the same mountains, the same creeks, four decades later, was a reminder of how the world changes, and how it doesn’t.

As a teenager, I lugged a huge metal-frame pack, navigated by uncertain maps and almost never encountered another hiker. Now, gear is far lighter, we navigate partly by iPhone, and there are streams of hikers on the Pacific Crest Trail.

Indeed, partly because of Cheryl Strayed’s best seller “Wild,” about how a lost young woman found herself on a long-distance hike on the Pacific Crest Trail, the number of long-distance backpackers has multiplied on the trail. There has been a particular surge in women.

We also saw many retirees, including some men and women in their 60s and 70s undertaking an entire “through-hike” from Mexico all the way to Canada, 2,650 miles in one season.

“There seems to be a more than 30 percent increase in long-distance hiking in 2014 over 2013,” based on the number of hiking permits issued, said Jack Haskel of the Pacific Crest Trail Association.

My hunch is that the trail will grow even more crowded next year, after the movie version of “Wild” hits the big screen with Reese Witherspoon in the starring role.

Unfortunately, America has trouble repairing its magnificent trails, so that collapsed bridges and washed-out sections are sometimes left unrepaired. We were rich enough to construct many of these trails during the Great Depression, yet we’re apparently too poor in the 21st century even to sustain them.

The attraction of wilderness has something to do with continuity. I may now have a GPS device that I couldn’t have imagined when I first hiked, but essential patterns on the trail are unchanging: the exhaustion, the mosquitoes, the blisters, and also the exhilaration at reaching a mountain pass, the lustrous reds and blues of alpine wildflowers, the deliciousness of a snow cone made on a sweltering day from a permanent snowfield and Kool-Aid mix.

The trails are a reminder of our insignificance. We come and go, but nature is forever. It puts us in our place, underscoring that we are not lords of the universe but components of it.

In an age of tremendous inequality, our wild places also offer a rare leveling. There are often no fees to hike or to camp on these trails, and tycoons and taxi drivers alike drink creek water and sleep under the stars on a $5 plastic sheet. On our national lands, any of us can enjoy billion-dollar views that no billionaire may buy.

Humans pull together in an odd way when they’re in the wilderness. It’s astonishing how few people litter, and how much they help one another. Indeed, the smartphone app to navigate the Pacific Crest Trail, Halfmile, is a labor of love by hikers who make it available as a free download. And, in thousands of miles of backpacking over the decades, I don’t know that I’ve ever heard one hiker be rude to another.

We’ve also seen the rise of “trail angels,” who leave bottles of water, chocolate bars or even freshly baked bread for hungry or thirsty hikers to enjoy in remote areas.

On one dry stretch of trail on our latest hike, where it wound near a forest service road, we encountered this “trail magic”: Someone had brought a lawn chair and two coolers of soft drinks to cheer flagging backpackers. Purists object to trail magic, saying that it interferes with the wilderness experience. But when the arguments are about how best to be helpful, my faith in humanity is restored!

So when the world seems to be falling apart, when we humans seem to be creating messes everywhere we turn, maybe it’s time to rejuvenate in the cathedral of the wilderness — and there, away from humanity, rediscover our own humanity.

Dowd and Friedman

July 30, 2014

In “Night at the Opera?” MoDo says as the clock ticks down on union negotiations, the Met plays out its most painful opera.  In “ ‘Maybe in America’ ” The Moustache of Wisdom tells us that Madagascar is an example of a combination of global pressures coming to the fore.  Here’s MoDo:

Peter Gelb still recalls the sting. “In second grade, my report card said I couldn’t take criticism, and I remember being devastated by that,” he said.

So it’s easy to believe the 60-year-old general manager of the Metropolitan Opera when he says that this is the most stressful week of his life, with his career and the Met’s future “at stake.” Hurtling toward a lockout, Gelb sees a fresh vitriolic insult from a union negotiator every time he checks the news on his phone. And with the planned production of John Adams’s “The Death of Klinghoffer,” Gelb is also attracting protesters and even some death threats.

“They come by email — the convenient modern delivery system for death threats,” he said, taking a break from marathon negotiations to have a pork chop dinner at a Lincoln Center restaurant. Gelb refused to cancel the production. But after speaking with Jewish leaders, including Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League, who hasn’t seen the opera but worried it could fuel anti-Semitism abroad, he called off the Live in HD broadcast.

“I had no idea four years ago when I set this up that it would suddenly be juxtaposed with the events in the Middle East,” he said, denying that he unSolomonically split the baby of artistic freedom. “I think what I did was protect the baby.”

I never expected to get any closer to the Met than reading about opera in Edith Wharton’s Belle Epoch, club boxes filled with “these chosen specimens of old New York gentility.”

But Peter Gelb’s late father, Arthur, was my editor and mentor at The Times. And when Peter threw open the doors to the musty, fusty institution — “an isolated island, disconnected from the mainland,” he called it — trying to lure younger patrons and beaming the hugely successful Live in HD productions around the world, I ventured into the Met and was instantly enchanted.

So it makes me sad, seeing the magical Met family tear itself apart.

Gelb, a Yale dropout who worked as a teenage usher at the Met and an office boy for the impresario Sol Hurok, comes across as smooth, tailored and cerebral. But he admits he’s made mistakes and tried to develop a tougher skin. Now, he says, he tries to figure out if he’s hurt and right, or hurt and wrong. “You know, I’m a neurotic Jew,” he said. “I’m constantly thinking did I screw this thing up or what could I have done differently or better.”

Criticized by Met workers for having too many productions, he cut back for the last season and for the next from seven to six. He has also toned down the hype.

The fortissimo battle between Met management and workers — full of acrimony, jealousy and demonizing — seems like opera. But Gelb says it’s more like “lurid melodrama” or “chaos.”

The unions have personalized the fight, sniping at Gelb and expensive productions that have not panned out, while Gelb is sticking to the bottom line of unsustainable labor costs. His job has been compared to that of a lion tamer, but now he says, with a rueful smile, “I’m the lion tamer who may be eaten. But I have to not flinch. As one union leader told me years ago, the employees only believe the employer’s telling the truth when he goes out of business.”

The workers say he needs to take some of his grandiosity out of grand opera. He says they have “gold leaf syndrome.”

“They’re surrounded by too much gold leaf,” Gelb says of the 15 unions — from wigs and makeup to a union consisting of one house painter. “It’s delusional. Economically, they’ve been calling the shots for decades. And I have to break that up for the Met to survive. We have to go big, but do it in a way that’s economically small. Even in the Met, you can see the gold leaf’s chipping off the ceiling.”

Doubtless, the Met workers have Nibelungen fatigue. The two central symbols of their argument that Gelb is a spendthrift are the 45-ton machine of movable planks in a $19 million “Ring” production (a mil had to be spent simply reinforcing the stage) and the $169,000 poppy field in “Prince Igor.”

“We’re being told that our livelihoods and our lives are not as important as the machine and the poppies,” said Jessica Phillips Rieske, a clarinetist and negotiator for the orchestra union who objects to Gelb presenting himself as the savior of “a dinosaur” art form. “We’re saying, let’s all trim our belts.”

Gelb says he regrets that the “Ring” machine was “creaky” but isn’t sorry about “pushing the envelope,” and he says he was “naïve about understanding the risk of replacing Zeffirelli’s ‘Tosca.’ ”

Anthony Tommasini, The Times’s chief classical music critic, says there have been mistakes on both sides. “The union heads have made Gelb seem so incompetent, even artistically, that if the talks are resolved, then what is the public to think? ‘Great, another season courtesy of that know-nothing,’ ” he said. “Gelb has made some bad calls, especially by giving us Robert Lepage’s ‘Ring,’ which is a show about a set. But he has had some milestone productions as well, most recently the new ‘Falstaff’ and the revelatory ‘Prince Igor.’ The union heads have to stop complaining about silk poppy fields. That’s not the cause of the Met’s budget woes.”

As the clock ticks down, I’m rooting for Valhalla, not Götterdämmerung.

And now here’s The Moustache of Wisdom, writing from Antananarivo, Madagascar:

I’ve been arguing that the big divide in the world these days is between the world of order and a growing world of disorder. If you’re keeping score at home, the world of disorder just added another country: Libya. America quietly folded up its embassy in Libya last week and left, leaving behind a tribal/militia war of all against all. Not good.

There will be more of this. It’s not easy being a country anymore. There is no more Cold War to prop up, arm and finance frail states. More important, the combined pressures of the market (globalization and the speed with which investment can flow into countries doing the right things and out of those doing bad things), Moore’s Law (the steady rise in computing power that makes every good job today require more education) and Mother Nature (climate change, biodiversity loss, erosion and population growth) have all passed certain tipping points. Together, the market, Mother Nature and Moore’s Law are stressing out developed countries and helping to blow up weak ones.

For me, the movie line that perfectly captures this moment was uttered by the leader of the Somali pirates who hijacked a cargo ship in “Captain Phillips,” starring Tom Hanks. The pirate nicknames the Boston-bred Phillips “Irish.” In a critical scene, Hanks tries to reason with the Somali hijacker, saying to him: “There’s got to be something other than being a fisherman or kidnapping people.”

To which the hijacker replies, “Maybe in America, Irish. Maybe in America.”

It has been instructive to see all these pressures up close here in Madagascar, one of the poorest countries in the world. The globalization of illicit trade has left Madagascar exposed to Chinese merchants working with corrupt officials here to illegally import everything from valuable rosewood timber to rare tortoises. Some global textile manufacturers set up factories then quit when the politics turned too unstable. Mandatory education here is only through age 15, and it’s in the local Malagasy language. That makes it hard to compete in a world where some developed countries are teaching computer coding in first grade.

And then there’s Mother Nature: the population of Madagascar is exploding, and the forests and soils are eroding. The soil for agriculture here is iron rich, nutrient poor and often very soft. Since 90 percent of Madagascar’s forests have been chopped down for slash-and-burn agriculture, timber, firewood and charcoal over the last century, most hillsides have no trees to hold the soil when it rains. Flying along the northwest coast, you can’t miss the scale of the problem. You see a giant red plume of eroded red soil bleeding into the Betsiboka River, bleeding into Mahajanga Bay, bleeding into the Indian Ocean. The mess is so big that astronauts take pictures of it from space.

“The more you erode, the more people you have with less soil under their feet to grow things,” said Russ Mittermeier, the president of Conservation International, who’s been working in Madagascar to help preserve its environment since 1984 and has been showing me around. “When I first came here in 1984, the population was nine or 10 million. It is now approaching 23 million.”

When countries have rapidly growing populations and rapidly diminishing natural capital, the leadership required to match the scale of the problems they face is nothing less than herculean. After 50 years of mostly bad leadership, Madagascar has democratically elected a new, post-coup president, Hery Rajaonarimampianina. He seems to want to do the right things. We can only hope he has some Hercules in him.

Nothing he does will be more important than preserving what is left of Madagascar’s pristine beaches, forests and plant and animal species (particularly its lemurs), among the most rare and diverse in the world. Parks and reserves have been set aside by the government — and even with the destruction there’s still a ton to see — but they will only be sustainable if they are supported by ecotourist lodges and guides who are drawn from local communities and incentivized to protect their natural capital. But that takes a government able to expand protected areas, build proper roads (rural roads here have more potholes than pavement), crack down on illegal logging and provide credit to rural communities.

Serge Rajaobelina is the founder of Fanamby, a local nonprofit that supports villagers starting ecotourist sites, like Camp Amoureux, situated in western Madagascar amid spectacular giant baobab trees. We stayed there. Of the 25 locals working there, 22 were women. “Involving communities in ecotourism is the key,” said Rajaobelina. “The people who are always in the field are the communities, and they are the best conservationists and guides.” But, he added, they need help with capacity building: training, access to credit and infrastructure.

There are already too many people walking around the world saying, “Maybe in America, but not here.” We don’t need more. Keeping Madagascar out of the world of disorder has to start by preserving its ecosystems, which are vital for sustaining its people and attracting tourism. But that requires good leadership, and good leaders today — anywhere — are the rarest species of all.

The Pasty Little Putz, Dowd, Friedman and Kristof

July 27, 2014

The Pasty Little Putz has a question in “Up From Greenwich:” Can the G.O.P. stop being the party of the rich? Once my cats stopped laughing they pointed out what “mancuroc” from Rochester, NY had to say in the comments: “ ‘the Republicans could finally — and deservedly — shake their identity as a party that cares only about the rich.’ And the sun could rise in the west.” In “Angell in the Outfield” MoDo tells us that from Babe to Jeter, Roger Angell has taken his readers out to the old ballgame. This is the kind of writing she’s capable of, and I wish she’d do more of it. The Moustache of Wisdom asks “What Is News?” He tells us that Madagascar, one of the world’s greatest ecosystems, is on the edge. Mr. Kristof tells us about “The World’s Coolest Places.” He says if we’re looking for a summer escape here are some suggestions for adventure way beyond a scintillating beach read. Here’s The Putz:

When Barack Obama won the White House in 2008, he did so in an unusual way for a Democrat: As the candidate of the rich. He raised more in large-dollar donations than any of his rivals and raked in more cash from Wall Street than John McCain. In November, he won the upper class’s votes: By 52 percent to 46 percent, according to exit polls, Americans making more than $200,000 cast their ballots for Obama.

There were several reasons for this shift, some specific to 2008 (elite exhaustion with the Bush presidency, the power of Obamamania) and some reflecting deeper trends: The Republican Party’s post-1970s gains among white working-class voters; the Democratic Party’s post-1980s attempts to shed its anti-business reputation; the increasing cultural liberalism of the affluent; and the rise of the so-called “liberal rich.”

In the wake of Obama’s ’08 victory, these trends confronted Republicans with an interesting dilemma: Should they seek to actively win back the Aspen-Greenwich vote, or embrace their increasingly populist coalition and try to rebuild from the middle out?

Across the first Obama term, they mostly tried the first approach. There was an incredibly strong populist mood on the right — hence the Tea Party’s anti-Washington fervor, the rumblings against Wall Street from figures like Glenn Beck. But the populists marched into blind alleys on policy and rallied round never-gonna-happen standard bearers, while the mainstream of the party mostly stuck to a more generic script — job creators good, class warfare bad, you built that and now the 47 percent are living off your hard work …

Sure enough, in 2012, Mitt Romney won back the over-$200,000 vote, mostly by regaining ground in the suburbs around New York City. But what he didn’t win was the actual election, mostly because voters outside Greenwich and New Canaan decided that a G.O.P. obsessed with heroic entrepreneurs didn’t have their interests close to heart.

So haltingly at first, and then with increasing seriousness, Republicans began to look for a different path back to power — one tailored to the party’s growing dependence on working-class votes, and one designed to deliver populist substance as well as style.

Thus far they have circled around two broad approaches. One, dubbed “reform conservatism,” seeks to make the welfare state and tax code more friendly to work and child-rearing and upward mobility — through larger wage subsidies, bigger child tax credits, and a substantial clearing-out of the insider-friendly subsidies and tax breaks and regulations that drive up costs in health care, real estate, energy and higher education.

The other, “libertarian populism,” is even more zealous about attacking rent-seeking and crony capitalism, while also looking for other places — criminal justice reform, notably — where a libertarian approach to public policy might benefit people lower on the economic ladder.

These two approaches substantially overlap (with the main difference being a skepticism among the libertarians about targeting tax cuts and subsidies specifically to parents and the poor). And together, they provide the foundation on which a number of prominent Republicans — Mike Lee, Marco Rubio, Rand Paul — have built policy proposals over the last year.

Now that list includes Paul Ryan, who last week released a blueprint that folds together many of the strongest reformist and libertarian ideas: There’s a larger earned-income tax credit, proposed cuts to corporate welfare, a call for sentencing reform for nonviolent offenses, a critique of “regressive regulations” like licensing requirements, and much more.

This kind of agenda has a long way to go before we can call it the official Republican program. It could face opposition in 2016 from donors who were pretty happy with the Romney approach, and from activists who regard anything save deep austerity as a sellout to the left.

 But if the G.O.P. fully embraces the ideas its younger-generation leaders are pursuing, the Democrats could suddenly find themselves in a difficult spot. Liberals can theoretically outbid a limited-government populism, yes — but given the fiscal picture, they would need to raise taxes significantly to do so, alienating their own donors, the middle class or both. And the immediate liberal critique of Ryan’s new plan — that it’s too paternalistic, too focused on pushing welfare recipients to work — harkened back to debates that the Democratic Party used to lose.

Meanwhile, Obama-era liberalism has grown dangerously comfortable with big business-big government partnerships. It’s a bad sign when even the tribune of left-wing populism, Elizabeth Warren, feels obliged to defend, against libertarian populist attacks, an icon of crony capitalism like the Export-Import Bank.

So there’s a scenario — still unlikely, but much more plausible than a year ago — in which the pattern of 2012 could be reversed: A deepening association with big money and big business could suddenly become an albatross for Democrats, and the Republicans could finally — and deservedly — shake their identity as a party that cares only about the rich.

Oh, don’t you just hope and pray that’ll happen, Putzy…  Here’s MoDo:

 Roger Angell takes off his brown J. Press sports coat and blue cap, yanks out his hearing aids, stashes his cane, and sits down for a shave and haircut at Delta barbershop at 72nd and Lex., the same spot he’s patronized for 40 years. “I don’t see Henry Kissinger doing any interviews in a barbershop,” he says dryly.

The 93-year-old New Yorker writer has come down from his house in Maine to get spruced up for the Baseball Hall of Fame ceremony this weekend. The old man who has lovingly described so many young men playing the game is getting the sport’s highest writing honor, the J. G. Taylor Spink Award, unprecedented recognition for “a drop-in writer,” as he calls himself, whose leisurely deadlines prevented him from becoming a member of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America.

In 1962, he says, he took the advice of New Yorker editor William Shawn to try writing about something exotic, like baseball, describing Shawn’s red-cheeked excitement when Angell explained to him what a double play was.

Baseball writing was a part-time gig for Angell, who served for many years as the magazine’s fiction editor, following in the footsteps of his mother, Katharine Angell White, who left his father to marry her colleague E. B. White. When Angell moved into his mother’s old New Yorker office, he chuckles, his shrink called it the “biggest single act of sublimation in my experience.”

The lover of books and words — who else would use “venery” in a story and write the world’s longest palindrome? — crisply shepherded John Updike, Donald Barthelme and William Trevor, as he himself became so luminous that Sports Illustrated compared him to Willie Mays, the player Angell calls so thrilling he “took your breath away.” It’s refreshing that a sport that has become tarnished by the desire to amp itself up — on steroids, merchandise and video — should honor someone so unamped.

In person, the writer is less “Angellic” — the adjective coined to describe his beguiling writing — than astringent. He has spent most of a century, from Ruth to Jeter, passionately tracking the sport as a fan, but he also proclaims himself a “foe of goo.” He much prefers the sexy “Bull Durham” to the sentimental “Field of Dreams.” He sniffs at being called “the poet laureate of baseball” and winces at a recent reverential Sports Illustrated profile. “It made me sound like the Dalai Lama,” he says. “My God, I’m just a guy who happened to live on for a long time. I’d rather be younger and writing than all this stuff.”

When I ask him if the Jacques Barzun quote “Whoever wants to know the heart and mind of America had better learn baseball” was outmoded, he scoffs: “I didn’t write about baseball because I was looking for the heart and soul of America. I don’t care if baseball is the national pastime or not. The thing about baseball is, it’s probably the hardest game to play. The greatest hitters are only succeeding a third of the time. If you take a great athlete who’s never played baseball and put him in the infield, he’s lost.”

Many in our A.D.D. nation may find baseball soporific now, but not Angell.

“Baseball is linear — it’s like writing,” he says. “In other sports, there’s a lot going on at the same time. You can’t quite take it all in.”

Could soccer ever take over as the national pastime? “I don’t know,” he replied. “I felt I was being waterboarded by The New York Times with the World Cup.”

Do American men focus as much on baseball? “Baseball used to be really attractive for men because the guys that played it were normal size, they had winter jobs as truck drivers or beer salesmen,” he said. “So it was easy to think with a little bit of luck that could have been me. Now the athletes are clearly so much bigger and stronger and vastly more talented.”

Should steroid-tainted players be in the Hall of Fame?

“Barry Bonds belongs in the Hall of Fame,” he said, expressing sympathy for players who get worn down playing every day. “There’s been a lot of cheating, if you want to call it that, particularly about home runs,” he said. “If Ted Williams had had a short right field in Fenway Park, he would have been much better than Babe Ruth, probably.”

We drop by a Ralph Lauren store. He wants to buy a cotton sweater for Cooperstown but doesn’t see anything he likes. “It’s hard to be old and shop,” he says. “The sales staff is probably terrified that I’m changing the age demographic. And I’m no longer sure what I want.”

He said the instructions for Cooperstown were “like D-Day,” but noted mordantly, “Anything I do is O.K. because they’ll say, ‘He’s old. What do you expect? He’s 93. He’s hopeless.’ ”

He wrote a swell New Yorker story about the vicissitudes of old age, talking about how he memorizes poems and writes blogs to stay sharp.

Most surprising, the widower — his beloved wife, Carol, died two years ago — extolled the virtues of sunset sexuality, ratifying Laurence Olivier’s line “Inside, we’re all 17, with red lips.”

He asked me to mention his “fiancée and closest companion, Peggy Moorman,” adding, “Everybody has been so weepy about me and Carol, but Peggy looks after me and is the center of my life.” As he wrote in “This Old Man,” “I believe that everyone in the world wants to be with someone else tonight, together in the dark, with the sweet warmth of a hip or a foot or a bare expanse of shoulder within reach.”

At least somebody around here knows how to play this game.

Next up we’re faced with The Moustache of Wisdom, writing from Fort-Dauphin, Madagascar:

With the world going crazy, I tried running away from the news. It didn’t work.

I’ve been doing an eco-survey of Madagascar, the island nation off the east coast of Africa that contains the highest percentage of plant and animal species found nowhere else on earth — all of them now endangered to one degree or another. My tour guide is Russ Mittermeier, the president of Conservation International and one of the world’s leading primatologists. We saw something the other day that even Mittermeier, who’s been coming here for 30 years, hadn’t seen before. We were trekking through the Berenty Reserve, one of the last remaining slices of Madagascar’s southern spiny desert, an ecosystem characterized by tall, thin, cactus-like plants exclusive to Madagascar. This forest is home to Sifaka lemurs: white, fluffy primates, with very long hind limbs that enable them to bound from tree to tree like forest kangaroos. How these lemurs are able to leap from one sharply spiked vertical tree to another without impaling themselves is a mystery.

After walking through the forest for hours, spotting a lemur here and there, we came upon a particularly dense grove and looked up. There, about 30 feet off the forest floor, were nine Sifaka lemurs huddling together for warmth in two groups — four on one limb, five on another — staring directly down at us. They looked as if they were drawn there by a Disney artist: too cute, too white, too fluffy to be other than the products of a toy factory. “I’ve seen two or three huddled together,” said Mittermeier later that night, “but I’ve never seen a whole group like that. I could have taken a whole chip full of pictures. I didn’t want to leave.”

None of us did. But it wasn’t just because we’d never seen such a thing before. It was because we knew we may never see such a thing again — that no one would, particularly our kids. Why? Just look at the trends: Madagascar has already lost more than 90 percent of its natural vegetation through deforestation, most of it over the last century, particularly the past few decades, said Mittermeier. “What remains is heavily fragmented and insufficiently protected, despite the fact that Madagascar has an essential national network of parks and reserves.”

And that brings me to the question: What is news?

I’ve visited and written a lot about Ukraine and the Middle East lately. The tragic events happening there are real news, worthy of world attention. But where we in the news media fall down is in covering the big trends — trends that on any given day don’t amount to much but over time could be vastly more significant than we can now imagine.

Too bad we’ll never see this news story: “The U.N. Security Council met today in emergency session to discuss the fact that Madagascar, one the world’s most biodiversity-rich nations, lost another percentage of its plant and animal species.” Or this: “Secretary of State John Kerry today broke off his vacation and rushed to Madagascar to try to negotiate a cease-fire between the loggers, poachers, miners and farmers threatening to devour the last fragments of Madagascar’s unique forests and the tiny group of dedicated local environmentalists trying to protect them.”

Because that won’t happen, we have to think about how this one-of-a-kind natural world can be protected with the limited resources here. We know the answer in theory — a well-managed national system of parks and reserves is vital because, given the current trends, anything outside such protected zones would be devoured by development and population growth. For Madagascar, this is particularly vital because, without its forests, neither its amazing plants nor animals will survive — which are a joy unto themselves and also attract critical tourist income for this incredibly poor country — and the people won’t survive either. These forests maintain the clean and sustainable water supplies and soils that Madagascar’s exploding population requires.

“We have to preserve this natural environment,” Hery Rajaonarimampianina, Madagascar’s president, told me in an interview. “One of my major policies is to develop eco-tourism. This can bring a lot of jobs. The problem is the poverty of the people that lead them to destroy the environment. That is very sad.”

Madagascar’s ecological challenge parallel’s the Middle East’s political challenge. The struggle here is all about preserving Madagascar’s natural diversity so its people will have the resilience, tools and options to ensure a decent future. A diverse system in nature is much more resilient and adaptable to change. Monocultures are enormously susceptible to disease. They can be wiped out by a single pest or weather event in a way that a poly-culture cannot.

In the Middle East today, though, the last remnants of poly-cultural nation states and communities are being wiped out. Christians are fleeing the Arab-Muslim world. Islamist jihadists in Syria and Iraq are beheading those who won’t convert to their puritanical Islam. Jews and Palestinians, Shiites and Sunnis keep forcing each other into tighter and tighter ghettos. So a human rain forest once rich with ethnic and religious diversity is becoming a collection of disconnected monocultures, enormously susceptible to disease — diseased ideas.

And now here’s Mr. Kristof:

Travel season is here, when so many Americans decamp to Cape Cod or the Jersey Shore. All of which is wonderful, and some day I plan to do a 10-part series on the world’s best beaches.

But travel can also be an education, a step toward empathy and international understanding. So for those with an adventurous streak who want to get beyond the madding crowd this summer, here are a few little-known travel spots that I recommend.

These just might be the world’s coolest places.

Bikini Atoll, Marshall Islands. This coral island in the Pacific Ocean was the site of American nuclear weapons tests in the 1940s and 1950s, but after decades left to itself it is now dazzlingly beautiful in a way that belies its history. Radiation has dissipated, and the deserted white-sand beaches are lined with coconut palms and scattered with seashells and an occasional giant sea turtle — which will hurriedly call to its friends: Look, there’s a rare sight, a human! The island is a reminder of the redemptive power of time and nature.

Potosí, Bolivia. Perhaps no country in Latin America is more picturesque than Bolivia, and the most memorable Bolivian city may be Potosí. European explorers discovered a huge silver mountain here in the 1540s, and, in the 1600s, this was one of the major cities in the world. Tourists can descend the silver mines, and it is a searing and unforgettable experience. You go down hundreds of feet in tiny, sweltering tunnels thick with dust, talk to some of the miners, and get a glimpse of what life is like for the many Bolivians who work each day in the mines. After a couple of hours deep underground, sometimes struggling to breathe and fretting about cave-ins, you may have new empathy for the laborers responsible for silver bowls and cutlery.

Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe. Maybe our best family trip started at Victoria Falls, which drenches you with spray and is so vast that it makes Niagara Falls seem like a backyard creek. Then we rented a car and made our way to Hwange National Park, which was empty of people but crowded with zebras, giraffes, elephants and more. Zimbabwe has far fewer tourists than South Africa or Kenya, and there’s less crime as well.

Amritsar, India. The Golden Temple, Sikhism’s holiest shrine, is in northwestern India near the Pakistani border, and it is a delightful place to contemplate the draw of faith. A four-century-old temple set in a lake, it attracts Sikhs from around the world. It is much less visited by tourists than the Taj Mahal, yet it is just as serene, grand and unforgettable. You walk the circuit of the lake barefoot, with your head covered, and, for the full experience, you can sleep and eat in temple buildings.

Tanna, Vanuatu. This remote island in the South Pacific is notable for its live volcano that you can climb at night. From the lip, you look down and see the fires and molten lava. It’s a natural fireworks display. The people of Tanna are also likely to invite you to drink kava, the local intoxicant, or perhaps join a village dance. The local faith tradition is a cargo cult. People believe in a god they call John Frum, perhaps based on an American military officer around the time of World War II who gave islanders their first glimpse of industrial products. One theory is that he introduced himself as “John from America,” but only the first two words survived and became his name.

Cu Chi Tunnels, Vietnam. Follow a guide in wriggling on your stomach underground through these tunnels dug by Vietcong soldiers who used them and even lived in them during the Vietnam War. The tunnels are now widened to accommodate portly Americans, and they are still a tight fit. After a couple hundred feet of crawling in the tunnels, you’re desperate to come up again, and you understand that military victory is sometimes not about weaponry but about commitment.

There’s nothing wrong, of course, with a delicious week at the beach with a pile of books. But if you’re hankering to escape the crowds this summer, encounter new worlds and come back with a tale, think about some of these destinations. The tourism infrastructure may not be great, but the people (or elephants) will make up for it.

When I visited the Pacific island country of Kiribati years ago, I made a reservation by phone to make sure I would have a place to stay. The man at the hotel agreed to hold me a spot, but he skipped the details.

“I don’t need the name,” he said. “If there’s an American at the airport, I’ll recognize him.”

The Pasty Little Putz, Dowd, Friedman and Kristof

July 20, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next up we have MoDo:

The thing about him is, he just keeps going.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next up we have The Moustache of Wisdom:

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

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

Chesky offered this sample of Airbnb’s latest metrics:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But what happens to “ownership?”

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

But what will this mean for traditional jobs?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dowd and Friedman

July 16, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

So where’s the Oval Office holodeck?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Pasty Little Putz, Dowd, Friedman and Kristof

July 13, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

Which brings us to the fascinating story of LeBron James.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next up we have MoDo’s screed:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And now we come to The Moustache of Wisdom:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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