Archive for the ‘WTF?’ Category

Brooks, Cohen and Nocera

October 28, 2014

Oh, cripes.  In a spectacular, flaming pile of turds called “Why Partyism Is Wrong” Bobo actually says that political discrimination is more prevalent than you would imagine, and its harmful effects haven’t been fully considered.  The hypocrisy is mind-boggling…  Mr. Cohen, in “A Climate of Fear,” says we have the remorse of Pandora, and that the technological spirit we have let slip from the box has turned into a monster.  Mr. Nocera asks a question:  “Are Our Courts For Sale?”  (Joe, everything in this nation is now officially for sale…) He says in the post-Citizens United political system, ads are affecting judges and becoming corrosive to the rule of law.  No shit, really?  Who’da thunk it?  Here’s Bobo’s flaming bag of dog poop:

A college student came to me recently with a quandary. He’d spent the summer interning at a conservative think tank. Now he was applying to schools and companies where most people were liberal. Should he remove the internship from his résumé?

I advised him not to. Even if people disagreed with his politics, I argued, they’d still appreciate his public spiritedness. But now I’m thinking that advice was wrong. There’s a lot more political discrimination than I thought. In fact, the best recent research suggests that there’s more political discrimination than there is racial discrimination.

For example, political scientists Shanto Iyengar and Sean Westwood gave 1,000 people student résumés and asked them which students should get scholarships. The résumés had some racial cues (membership in African-American Students Association) and some political cues (member of Young Republicans).

Race influenced decisions. Blacks favored black students 73 percent to 27 percent, and whites favored black students slightly. But political cues were more powerful. Both Democrats and Republicans favored students who agreed with them 80 percent of the time. They favored students from their party even when other students had better credentials.

Iyengar and Westwood conducted other experiments to measure what Cass Sunstein of Harvard Law School calls “partyism.” They gave subjects implicit association tests, which measure whether people associate different qualities with positive or negative emotions. They had people play the trust game, which measures how much people are willing to trust different kinds of people.

In those situations, they found pervasive prejudice. And political biases were stronger than their racial biases.

In a Bloomberg View column last month, Sunstein pointed to polling data that captured the same phenomenon. In 1960, roughly 5 percent of Republicans and Democrats said they’d be “displeased” if their child married someone from the other party. By 2010, 49 percent of Republicans and 33 percent of Democrats said they would mind.

Politics is obviously a passionate activity, in which moral values clash. Debates over Obamacare, charter schools or whether the United States should intervene in Syria stir serious disagreement. But these studies are measuring something different. People’s essential worth is being measured by a political label: whether they should be hired, married, trusted or discriminated against.

The broad social phenomenon is that as personal life is being de-moralized, political life is being hyper-moralized. People are less judgmental about different lifestyles, but they are more judgmental about policy labels.

The features of the hyper-moralized mind-set are all around. More people are building their communal and social identities around political labels. Your political label becomes the prerequisite for membership in your social set.

Politics becomes a marker for basic decency. Those who are not members of the right party are deemed to lack basic compassion, or basic loyalty to country.

Finally, political issues are no longer just about themselves; they are symbols of worth and dignity. When many rural people defend gun rights, they’re defending the dignity and respect of rural values against urban snobbery.

There are several reasons politics has become hyper-moralized in this way. First, straight moral discussion has atrophied. There used to be public theologians and philosophers who discussed moral issues directly. That kind of public intellectual is no longer prominent, so moral discussion is now done under the guise of policy disagreement, often by political talk-show hosts.

Second, highly educated people are more likely to define themselves by what they believe than by their family religion, ethnic identity or region.

Third, political campaigns and media provocateurs build loyalty by spreading the message that electoral disputes are not about whether the top tax rate will be 36 percent or 39 percent, but are about the existential fabric of life itself.

The problem is that hyper-moralization destroys politics. Most of the time, politics is a battle between competing interests or an attempt to balance partial truths. But in this fervent state, it turns into a Manichaean struggle of light and darkness. To compromise is to betray your very identity. When schools, community groups and workplaces get defined by political membership, when speakers get disinvited from campus because they are beyond the pale, then every community gets dumber because they can’t reap the benefits of diverging viewpoints and competing thought.

This mentality also ruins human interaction. There is a tremendous variety of human beings within each political party. To judge human beings on political labels is to deny and ignore what is most important about them. It is to profoundly devalue them. That is the core sin of prejudice, whether it is racism or partyism.

The personal is not political. If you’re judging a potential daughter-in-law on political grounds, your values are out of whack.

Well, if she supports the teatards it probably means she’s a narrow minded little bigot, which are not values I support…  Next up we have Mr. Cohen:

I don’t know about you, but I find dinner conversations often veer in strange directions these days, like the friend telling me the other evening that the terrorists calling themselves Islamic State could easily dispatch one of their own to West Africa, make sure he contracts Ebola, then get him onto the London Underground or the Paris Metro or the New York subway, squeezed up against plenty of other folk at rush hour, and bingo!

“I mean,” he said, “I can’t possibly be the first to have thought of this. It’s easy. They want to commit suicide anyway, right?”

Right: We are vulnerable, less safe than we thought.

A mouthful of pasta and on he went about how the time has come to blow up the entire Middle East, it’s done for, finished; and how crazy the energy market is right now with the Saudis trying to drive down prices in order to make costly American shale oil production less viable, which in turn should ensure the United States continues to buy Saudi crude even now that it has become the world’s largest oil producer.

But of course the Russians are not happy about cheap oil, nor are the Iranians, and the bottom line is it’s chaos out there, sharks devouring one another. Nothing happens by chance, certainly not a 25 percent drop in oil prices. Somebody would pay for this plot.

Not so long ago, I struggled to remind myself, this guy was brimming over with idealism, throwing in a big investment-banking job to go to the Middle East and invest his energies in democratic change, a free press, a new order, bending my ear about how the time had come for the region and his country in particular to join the modern world. Nothing in the Arab genome condemned the region to backwardness, violence and paranoia. His belief was fervid. It was married to deeds. He walked the walk for change. I was full of admiration.

Then a shadow fell over the world: annexations, beheadings, pestilence, Syria, Gaza and the return of the Middle Eastern strongmen. Hope gave way to fever. When Canada is no longer reassuring, it’s all over.

We are vulnerable and we are fearful. That is the new zeitgeist, at least in the West. Fanaticism feeds on frustration; and frustration is widespread because life for many is not getting better. People fret.

Come to think of it, our conversation was not encrypted. How foolish, anybody could be listening in, vacuuming my friend’s dark imaginings into some data-storage depot in the American desert, to be sifted through by a bunch of spooks who could likely hack into his phone or drum up some charge of plotting against the West by having ideas about the propagation of Ebola. Even the healers are being humiliated and quarantined, punished for their generous humanity, while the humanoid big-data geeks get soda, steak and a condo in Nevada.

There were cameras and listening devices everywhere. Just look up, look around. It was a mistake to say anything within range of your phone. Lots of people were vulnerable. Anyone could hack into the software in your car, or the drip at your hospital bed, and make a mess of you.

What has happened? Why this shadow over the dinner table and such strange fears? It seems we have the remorse of Pandora. The empowering, all-opening, all-devouring technological spirit we have let slip from the box has turned into a monster, giving the killers-for-a-caliphate new powers to recruit, the dictators new means to repress, the spies new means to listen in, the fear mongers new means to spread alarm, the rich new means to get richer at the expense of the middle class, the marketers new means to numb, the tax evaders new means to evade, viruses new means to spread, devices new means to obsess, the rising powers new means to block the war-weary risen, and anxiety new means to inhabit the psyche.

Hyper-connection equals isolation after all. What a strange trick, almost funny. The crisis, Antonio Gramsci noted in the long-ago 20th century, “consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born.” Many people I talk to, and not only over dinner, have never previously felt so uneasy about the state of the world. There is something in the air, fin-de-siècle Vienna with Twitter.

Hope, of course, was the one spirit left behind in Pandora’s Box. One of the things in the air of late was a Google executive dropping to earth from the stratosphere, a fall of 135,890 feet, plummeting at speeds of up to 822 miles per hour, and all smiles after his 25-mile tumble. Technology is also liberation. It just doesn’t feel that way right now. The search is on for someone to dispel foreboding and embody, again, the hope of the world.

And now we get to Mr. Nocera:

One of the most shocking ads aired this political season was aimed at a woman named Robin Hudson.

Hudson, 62, is not a congressional or Senate candidate. Rather, she is a State Supreme Court justice in North Carolina, seeking her second eight-year term. It wasn’t all that long ago when, in North Carolina, judicial races were publicly financed. If a candidate spent more than $100,000, it was unusual. Ads mainly consisted of judicial candidates promising to be fair. Any money the candidates raised was almost entirely local.

This ad in North Carolina, however, which aired during the primary season, was a startling departure. First, the money came from an organization called Justice for All NC — which, in turn, was funded primarily by the Republican State Leadership Committee. That is to say, it was the kind of post-Citizens United money that has flooded the political system and polluted our politics.

And then there was its substance. “We want judges to protect us,” the ad began. The voice-over went on to say that when child molesters sued to stop electronic monitoring, Judge Hudson had “sided with the predators.” It was a classic attack ad.

Not surprisingly, the truth was a bit different. In 2010, the State Supreme Court was asked to rule on whether an electronic-monitoring law could apply to those who had been convicted before it passed. Hudson, in a dissent, wrote that the law could not be applied retroactively.

As it turns out, the ad probably backfired. “It clearly exceeded all bounds of propriety and accuracy,” said Robert Orr, a former North Carolina Supreme Court justice. Hudson won her primary and has a good chance of retaining her seat in the election next week.

But her experience is being replicated in many of the 38 states that hold some form of judicial elections. “We are seeing money records broken all over the country,” said Bert Brandenburg, the executive director of Justice at Stake, which tracks money in judicial elections. “Right now, we are watching big money being spent in Michigan. We are seeing the same thing in Montana and Ohio. There is even money going into a district court race in Missouri.” He added, “This is the new normal.”

To be sure, the definition of big money in a judicial election is a lot different than big money in a hotly contested Senate race. According to Alicia Bannon at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law, a total of $38.7 million was spent on judicial elections in 2009-10. During the next election cycle, the total rose to $56.4 million.

But that is partly the point. “With a relatively small investment, interest groups have opportunities to shape state courts,” said Bannon. Sure enough, that is exactly what seems to be going on. Americans for Prosperity, financed by the Koch brothers, has been involved in races in Tennessee and Montana, according to Brandenburg. And the Republican State Leadership Committee started something this year called the Judicial Fairness Initiative, which supports conservative candidates.

In that district court race in Missouri, for instance, Judge Pat Joyce, a 20-year judicial veteran, has been accused in attack ads bought by the Republican State Leadership Committee as being a liberal. (“Radical environmentalists think Joyce is so groovy,” says one ad.) Republicans are spending $100,000 on attack ads and have given another $100,000 to her opponent, a man whose campaign was nearly $13,000 in debt before the Republican money showed up.

It should be obvious why this is a problem. Judges need to be impartial, and that is harder when they have to raise a lot of money from people who are likely to appear before them in court — in order to compete with independent campaign expenditures. An influx of independent campaign money aimed at one judge can also serve as a warning shot to other judges that they’ll face the same opposition if their rulings aren’t conservative enough. Most of all, it is terribly corrosive to the rule of law if people don’t believe in the essential fairness of judges.

Yet there seems to be little doubt that the need to raise money does, in fact, affect judges. Joanna Shepherd, a professor at Emory Law, conducted an empirical study that tried to determine whether television attack ads were causing judges to rule against criminal defendants more often. (Most attack ads revolve around criminal cases.) She found, as she wrote in a report entitled “Skewed Justice,” that “the more TV ads aired during state supreme court judicial elections in a state, the less likely justices are to vote in favor of criminal defendants.”

“There are two hypotheses,” she told me when I called to ask her about the study. “Either judges are fearful of making rulings that provide fodder for the ads. Or the TV ads are working and helping get certain judges elected.”

“Either way,” she concluded, “outcomes are changing.”

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.

The Pasty Little Putz, Dowd, Kristof and Bruni

July 6, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next up we have MoDo’s whinging:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next up we have Mr. Kristof:

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

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

What about Chris, Morton’s wife?

“Chris is dead,” the sheriff answered.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Last up we have Mr. Bruni:

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

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

“Brownish-blond, I guess?” he said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brooks and Krugman

June 13, 2014

Bobo has outdone himself.  In “The Big Burn” he raves that after neglect from the United States, the Sunni-Shiite conflict explodes in Iraq.  “Matthew Carnicelli” from Brooklyn, NY had this to say in the comments:  “David, I have my issues with the President, but I stand shoulder-to-shoulder with him on his decision to leave Iraq.  That said, should you or any of your brothers in the neocon movement feel so motivated, please know that we will respect your decision to enlist in the Iraqi military.”  Or even our military for that matter — they’re members of the 101st Fighting Keyboarders now.  Prof. Krugman, in “The Fix Isn’t In,” says the surprise primary defeat of Eric Cantor is the unraveling of an ideological movement.  Here’s Bobo:

When the United States invaded Iraq in 2003, it effectively destroyed the Iraqi government. Slowly learning from that mistake, the U.S. spent the next eight years in a costly round of state-building. As Dexter Filkins, who covered the war for The Times, wrote in a blog post this week for The New Yorker, “By 2011, by any reasonable measure, the Americans had made a lot of headway but were not finished with the job.”

The Iraqi Army was performing more professionally. American diplomats rode herd on Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki to restrain his sectarian impulses. American generals would threaten to physically block Iraq troop movements if Maliki ordered any action that seemed likely to polarize the nation.

We’ll never know if all this effort and progress could have led to a self-sustaining, stable Iraq. Before the country was close to ready, the Obama administration took off the training wheels by not seriously negotiating the NATO status of forces agreement that would have maintained some smaller American presence.

The administration didn’t begin negotiations on the treaty until a few months before American troops would have to start their withdrawal. The administration increased the demands. As Filkins writes, “The negotiations between Obama and Maliki fell apart, in no small measure because of lack of engagement by the White House.”

American troops left in 2011. President Obama said the Iraq war was over. Administration officials foresaw nothing worse than a low-boil insurgency in the region.

Almost immediately things began to deteriorate. There were no advisers left to restrain Maliki’s sectarian tendencies. The American efforts to professionalize the Iraqi Army came undone.

This slide toward civil war was predicted, not only by Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham and writers like Max Boot, but also within the military. The resurgent sectarian violence gave fuel to fears that the entire region might be engaged in one big war, a sprawling Sunni-Shiite conflict that would cross borders and engulf tens of millions.

This slide toward chaos was exacerbated by the civil war in Syria, which worsened at about the same time. Two nations, both sitting astride the Sunni-Shiite fault line, were growing consumed by sectarian violence, while the rest of the region looked on, hatreds rising.

The same voices that warned about the hasty Iraq withdrawal urged President Obama to strengthen the moderates in Syria. They were joined in this fight by a contingent in the State Department.

But little was done. The moderate opposition floundered. The death toll surged. The radical terror force ISIS, for the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, enjoyed a safe haven from which to operate, organize and recruit.

President Obama adopted a cautious posture, arguing that the biggest harm to the nation comes when the U.S. overreaches. American power retrenched. The American people, on both left and right, decided they could hide from the world.

And now the fears of one really big war seem to be coming true. The ISIS serves as a de facto government in growing areas of Syria and Iraq. Extremist armies are routing the official Iraqi Army, even though they are outmanned by as many as 15 to 1. Iraq is in danger of becoming a non-nation.

Andrew White is a Christian aid worker in Iraq, working on reconciliation. On his blog, he reports that the nation “is now in its worst crisis since the 2003 war.” ISIS, a group that does not even see Al Qaeda as extreme enough, has moved into Mosul, he says, adding, “It has totally taken control, destroyed all government departments. Allowed all prisoners out of prisons. Killed countless numbers of people. There are bodies over the streets.”

Meanwhile, autocrats around the region are preparing to manipulate a wider conflagration. The Pakistani Taliban is lighting up their corner of the world. Yemen and Libya are anarchic. Radical jihadis have the momentum as thousands of potential recruits must recognize.

We now have two administrations in a row that committed their worst foreign policy blunders in Iraq. By withdrawing too quickly from Iraq, by failing to build on the surge, the Obama administration has made some similar mistakes made during the early administration of George W. Bush, except in reverse. The dangers of American underreach have been lavishly and horrifically displayed.

It is not too late to help Syrian moderates. In Iraq, the answer is not to send troops back in. It is to provide Maliki help in exchange for concrete measures to reduce sectarian tensions. The Iraqi government could empower regional governments, acknowledging the nation’s diversity. Maliki could re-professionalize the Army. The Constitution could impose term limits on prime ministers.

But these provisions would require a more forward-leaning American posture around the world, an awareness that sometimes a U.S.-created vacuum can be ruinous. The president says his doctrine is don’t do stupid stuff. Sometimes withdrawal is the stupidest thing of all.

Loathsome creature…  Here’s Prof. Krugman:

How big a deal is the surprise primary defeat of Representative Eric Cantor, the House majority leader? Very. Movement conservatism, which dominated American politics from the election of Ronald Reagan to the election of Barack Obama — and which many pundits thought could make a comeback this year — is unraveling before our eyes.

I don’t mean that conservatism in general is dying. But what I and others mean by “movement conservatism,” a term I think I learned from the historian Rick Perlstein, is something more specific: an interlocking set of institutions and alliances that won elections by stoking cultural and racial anxiety but used these victories mainly to push an elitist economic agenda, meanwhile providing a support network for political and ideological loyalists.

By rejecting Mr. Cantor, the Republican base showed that it has gotten wise to the electoral bait and switch, and, by his fall, Mr. Cantor showed that the support network can no longer guarantee job security. For around three decades, the conservative fix was in; but no more.

To see what I mean by bait and switch, think about what happened in 2004. George W. Bush won re-election by posing as a champion of national security and traditional values — as I like to say, he ran as America’s defender against gay married terrorists — then turned immediately to his real priority: privatizing Social Security. It was the perfect illustration of the strategy famously described in Thomas Frank’s book “What’s the Matter With Kansas?” in which Republicans would mobilize voters with social issues, but invariably turn postelection to serving the interests of corporations and the 1 percent.

In return for this service, businesses and the wealthy provided both lavish financial support for right-minded (in both senses) politicians and a safety net — “wing-nut welfare” — for loyalists. In particular, there were always comfortable berths waiting for those who left office, voluntarily or otherwise. There were lobbying jobs; there were commentator spots at Fox News and elsewhere (two former Bush speechwriters are now Washington Post columnists); there were “research” positions (after losing his Senate seat, Rick Santorum became director of the “America’s Enemies” program at a think tank supported by the Koch brothers, among others).

The combination of a successful electoral strategy and the safety net made being a conservative loyalist a seemingly low-risk professional path. The cause was radical, but the people it recruited tended increasingly to be apparatchiks, motivated more by careerism than by conviction.

That’s certainly the impression Mr. Cantor conveyed. I’ve never heard him described as inspiring. His political rhetoric was nasty but low-energy, and often amazingly tone-deaf. You may recall, for example, that in 2012 he chose to celebrate Labor Day with a Twitter post honoring business owners. But he was evidently very good at playing the inside game.

It turns out, however, that this is no longer enough. We don’t know exactly why he lost his primary, but it seems clear that Republican base voters didn’t trust him to serve their priorities as opposed to those of corporate interests (and they were probably right). And the specific issue that loomed largest, immigration, also happens to be one on which the divergence between the base and the party elite is wide. It’s not just that the elite believes that it must find a way to reach Hispanics, whom the base loathes. There’s also an inherent conflict between the base’s nativism and the corporate desire for abundant, cheap labor.

And while Mr. Cantor won’t go hungry — he’ll surely find a comfortable niche on K Street — the humiliation of his fall is a warning that becoming a conservative apparatchik isn’t the safe career choice it once seemed.

So whither movement conservatism? Before the Virginia upset, there was a widespread media narrative to the effect that the Republican establishment was regaining control from the Tea Party, which was really a claim that good old-fashioned movement conservatism was on its way back. In reality, however, establishment figures who won primaries did so only by reinventing themselves as extremists. And Mr. Cantor’s defeat shows that lip service to extremism isn’t enough; the base needs to believe that you really mean it.

In the long run — which probably begins in 2016 — this will be bad news for the G.O.P., because the party is moving right on social issues at a time when the country at large is moving left. (Think about how quickly the ground has shifted on gay marriage.) Meanwhile, however, what we’re looking at is a party that will be even more extreme, even less interested in participating in normal governance, than it has been since 2008. An ugly political scene is about to get even uglier.

The wingnut welfare system isn’t going to go away any time soon…

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

May 11, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And now here’s MoDo:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maybe a frown is more honest.

Now here’s The Moustache of Wisdom:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next up we have Mr. Kristof:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Last but not least we have Mr. Bruni:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brooks, Cohen and Krugman

April 4, 2014

Bobo seems to have lost what passed for his mind.  In “Party All the Time” he actually tells us that the Supreme Court’s McCutcheon decision strengthens democracy by enabling the parties to take back power from major donors.  “Eric Flatpick” of Ohio sums the thing up succinctly:  “What pigheaded sophistry.”  Mr. Flatpick had more to say about it, but the summation says it all.  Mr. Cohen has a question in “In Search of Home:”  If you had a few weeks to live, where would you go?  In “Rube Goldberg Survives” Prof. Krugman tells us why those seven million enrollments in Obamacare matter.  Here’s Bobo’s delayed April Fools Day POS:

Over the last several decades, the United States has adopted a series of campaign finance reform laws. If these laws were designed to reduce the power of money in politics, they have failed. Spending on political campaigns has exploded. Washington booms with masses of lobbyists and consultants.

But campaign finance laws weren’t merely designed to take money out of politics; they were designed to protect incumbents from political defeat. In this regard, the laws have been fantastically successful.

The laws rigged the system to make it harder for challengers to raise money. In 1972, at about the time the Federal Election Campaign Act was first passed, incumbents had a campaign spending advantage over challengers of about 3 to 2. These days, incumbents have a spending advantage of at least 4 to 1. In some election years, 98 percent of the incumbents are swept back into office.

One of the ways incumbents secured this advantage is by weakening the power of the parties. They imposed caps on how much donors can give to parties and how much parties can give directly to candidates. By 2008, direct party contributions to Senate candidates accounted for only 0.18 percent of total spending.

The members of Congress did this because an unregulated party can direct large amounts of money to knock off an incumbent of the opposing party. By restricting parties, incumbents defanged a potent foe.

These laws pushed us from a party-centric campaign system to a candidate-centric system. This change has made life less pleasant for lawmakers but it has made their jobs more secure, and they have been willing to accept this trade-off.

Life is less pleasant because with the parties weakened, lawmakers have to do many campaign tasks on their own. They have to do their own fund-raising and their own kissing up to special interests. They have to hire consultants to do the messaging tasks that parties used to do.

But incumbents accept this because the candidate-centric system makes life miserable for challengers. With direct contributions severely limited and parties defanged, challengers find it hard to quickly build the vast network of donors they need to raise serious cash. High-quality challengers choose not to run because they don’t want to spend their lives begging for dough.

The shift to a candidate-centric system was horrifically antidemocratic. It pushed money from transparent, tightly regulated parties to the shadowy world of PACs and 527s. It weakened party leaders, who have to think about building broad national coalitions, and gave power to special interests.

Then came the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, which managed to make everything even worse. It moved us from a candidate-centric system to a donor-centric system. Donors were unleashed to create their own opaque yet torrential money flows outside both parties and candidates. This created an explosion in the number of groups with veto power over legislation and reform. It polarized politics further because donors tend to be more extreme than politicians or voters. The candidate-centric system empowered special interests; the donor-centric system makes them practically invincible.

Then along came the Supreme Court’s McCutcheon decision this week. It has been greeted with cries of horror because it may increase the amount of money in politics. But this is the wrong metric. There will always be money in politics; it’s a pipe dream to think otherwise. The crucial question is where is the money flowing.

The McCutcheon decision is a rare win for the parties. It enables party establishments to claw back some of the power that has flowed to donors and “super PACs.” It effectively raises the limits on what party establishments can solicit. It gives party leaders the chance to form joint fund-raising committees they can use to marshal large pools of cash and influence. McCutcheon is a small step back toward a party-centric system.

In their book “Better Parties, Better Government,” Peter J. Wallison and Joel M. Gora propose the best way to reform campaign finance: eliminate the restrictions on political parties to finance the campaigns of their candidates; loosen the limitations on giving to parties; keep the limits on giving to PACs.

Parties are not perfect, Lord knows. But they have broad national outlooks. They foster coalition thinking. They are relatively transparent. They are accountable to voters. They ally with special interests, but they transcend the influence of any one. Strengthened parties will make races more competitive and democracy more legitimate. Strong parties mobilize volunteers and activists and broaden political participation. Unlike super PACs, parties welcome large numbers of people into the political process.

Since the progressive era, campaign reformers have intuitively distrusted parties. These reformers seem driven by a naïve hope that they can avoid any visible concentration of power. But their approach to reform has manifestly failed. By restricting parties, they just concentrated power in ways that are much worse.

Sweet baby Jesus on a tricycle…  I guess Bobo missed the spectacle of pretty much all the Republican “front runners” prostrating themselves before the loathsome Sheldon Adelson.  Here’s Mr. Cohen:

In a fascinating recent essay in The London Review of Books, called “On Not Going Home,” James Wood relates how he “asked Christopher Hitchens, long before he was terminally ill, where he would go if he had only a few weeks to live. Would he stay in America? ‘No, I’d go to Dartmoor, without a doubt,’ he told me. It was the landscape of his childhood.”

It was the landscape, in other words, of unfiltered experience, of things felt rather than thought through, of the world in its beauty absorbed before it is understood, of patterns and sounds that lodge themselves in some indelible place in the psyche and call out across the years.

That question is worth repeating: If I had only a few weeks to live, where would I go? It is a good way of getting rid of the clutter that distracts or blinds. I will get to that in a moment.

In the essay, Wood, who grew up in England but has lived in the United States for 18 years, explores a certain form of contemporary homelessness — lives lived without the finality of exile, but also without the familiarity of home.

He speaks of existences “marked by a certain provisionality, a structure of departure and return that may not end.”

This is a widespread modern condition; perhaps it is the modern condition. Out of it, often, comes anxiety. Wood does not focus on the psychological effects of what he calls “a certain outsider-dom,” but if you dig into people who are depressed you often find that their distress at some level is linked to a sense of not fitting in, an anxiety about belonging: displacement anguish.

Wood describes looking at the familiar life of his Boston street, “the heavy maple trees, the unkempt willow down at the end, an old white Cadillac with the bumper sticker ‘Ted Kennedy has killed more people than my gun,’ and I feel … nothing: some recognition, but no comprehension, no real connection, no past, despite all the years I have lived there — just a tugging distance from it all. A panic suddenly overtakes me, and I wonder: How did I get here?”

Having spent my infancy in South Africa, grown up and been educated in England, and then, after a peripatetic life as a foreign correspondent, found my home in New York, I understand that how-did-I-get-here panic. But Wood and I differ. He has no desire to become an American citizen.

He quotes an immigration officer telling him, “‘A Green Card is usually considered a path to citizenship,’ and continues: “He was generously saying, ‘Would you like to be an American citizen?’ along with the less generous: ‘Why don’t you want to be an American citizen?’ Can we imagine either sentiment being expressed at Heathrow airport?”

No, we can’t. And it’s that essential openness of America, as well as the (linked) greater ease of living as a Jew in the United States compared with life in the land of Lewis Namier’s “trembling Israelites,” that made me become an American citizen and elect New York as my home. It’s the place that takes me in.

But it is not the place of my deepest connections. So, what if I had a few weeks to live? I would go to Cape Town, to my grandfather’s house, Duxbury, looking out over the railway line near Kalk Bay station to the ocean and the Cape of Good Hope. During my childhood, there was the scent of salt and pine and, in certain winds, a pungent waft from the fish processing plant in Fish Hoek. I would dangle a little net in rock pools and find myself hypnotized by the silky water and quivering life in it. The heat, not the dry high-veld heat of Johannesburg but something denser, pounded by the time we came back from the beach at lunchtime. It reverberated off the stone, angled into every recess. The lunch table was set and soon enough fried fish, usually firm-fleshed kingklip, would be served, so fresh it seemed to burst from its batter. At night the lights of Simon’s Town glittered, a lovely necklace strung along a promontory.

This was a happiness whose other name was home.

Wood writes: “Freud has a wonderful word, ‘afterwardness,’ which I need to borrow, even at the cost of kidnapping it from its very different context. To think about home and the departure from home, about not going home and no longer feeling able to go home, is to be filled with a remarkable sense of ‘afterwardness’: It is too late to do anything about it now, and too late to know what should have been done. And that may be all right.”

Yes, being not quite home, acceptance, which may be bountiful, is what is left to us.

And now we get to Prof. Krugman:

Holy seven million, Batman! The Affordable Care Act, a k a Obamacare, has made a stunning comeback from its shambolic start. As the March 31 deadline for 2014 coverage approached, there was a surge in applications at the “exchanges” — the special insurance marketplaces the law set up. And the original target of seven million signups, widely dismissed as unattainable, has been surpassed.

But what does it mean? That depends on whether you ask the law’s opponents or its supporters. You see, the opponents think that it means a lot, while the law’s supporters are being very cautious. And, in this one case, the enemies of health reform are right. This is a very big deal indeed.

Of course, you don’t find many Obamacare opponents admitting outright that 7.1 million and counting signups is a huge victory for reform. But their reaction to the results — It’s a fraud! They’re cooking the books! — tells the tale. Conservative thinking and Republican political strategy were based entirely on the assumption that it would always be October, that Obamacare’s rollout would be an unremitting tale of disaster. They have no idea what to do now that it’s turning into a success story.

So why are many reform supporters being diffident, telling us not to read too much into the figures? Well, at a technical level they’re right: The precise number of signups doesn’t matter much for the functioning of the law, and there may still be many problems despite the March surge. But I’d argue that they’re missing the forest for the trees.

The crucial thing to understand about the Affordable Care Act is that it’s a Rube Goldberg device, a complicated way to do something inherently simple. The biggest risk to reform has always been that the scheme would founder on its complexity. And now we know that this won’t happen.

Remember, giving everyone health insurance doesn’t have to be hard; you can just do it with a government-run program. Not only do many other advanced countries have “single-payer,” government-provided health insurance, but we ourselves have such a program — Medicare — for older Americans. If it had been politically possible, extending Medicare to everyone would have been technically easy.

But it wasn’t politically possible, for a couple of reasons. One was the power of the insurance industry, which couldn’t be cut out of the loop if you wanted health reform this decade. Another was the fact that the 170 million Americans receiving health insurance through employers are generally satisfied with their coverage, and any plan replacing that coverage with something new and unknown was a nonstarter.

So health reform had to be run largely through private insurers, and be an add-on to the existing system rather than a complete replacement. And, as a result, it had to be somewhat complex.

Now, the complexity shouldn’t be exaggerated: The basics of reform only take a few minutes to explain. And it has to be as complicated as it is. There’s a reason Republicans keep defaulting on their promise to propose an alternative to the Affordable Care Act: All the main elements of Obamacare, including the subsidies and the much-attacked individual mandate, are essential if you want to cover the uninsured.

Nonetheless, the Obama administration created a system in which people don’t simply receive a letter from the federal government saying “Congratulations, you are now covered.” Instead, people must go online or make a phone call and choose from a number of options, in which the cost of insurance depends on a calculation that includes varying subsidies, and so on. It’s a system in which many things can go wrong; the nightmare scenario has always been that conservatives would seize on technical problems to discredit health reform as a whole. And last fall that nightmare seemed to be coming true.

But the nightmare is over. It has long been clear, to anyone willing to study the issue, that the overall structure of Obamacare made sense given the political constraints. Now we know that the technical details can be managed, too. This thing is going to work.

And, yes, it’s also a big political victory for Democrats. They can point to a system that is already providing vital aid to millions of Americans, and Republicans — who were planning to run against a debacle — have nothing to offer in response. And I mean nothing. So far, not one of the supposed Obamacare horror stories featured in attack ads has stood up to scrutiny.

So my advice to reform supporters is, go ahead and celebrate. Oh, and feel free to ridicule right-wingers who confidently predicted doom.

Clearly, there’s a lot of work ahead, and we can count on the news media to play up every hitch and glitch as if it were an existential disaster. But Rube Goldberg has survived; health reform has won.

Dowd and Friedman

January 15, 2014

MoDo has her knickers in a twist.  She has a question in “Tines That Try Men’s Souls:”  A cheesy complaint: Why can’t Hizzoner and I eat pizza with a knife and fork?  “pjc” from Cleveland had this to say:  “I am confused. Do articles like these skewer, or perpetuate, the shallowness of American political discourse?”  The answer is perpetuate.  In “The Man on the Wall” The Moustache of Wisdom says that Ariel Sharon was an enduring presence in Israeli political life.  Here’s MoDo:

Far be it from me to defend what Jon Stewart has demolished.

But I would like to speak up on behalf of the fledgling New York mayor’s de Blasphemy, now universally deemed his first mistake and possibly grounds for impeachment: daintily carving up his smoked-mozzarella-and-sausage pizza at Goodfellas in Staten Island with a knife and fork.

I’m not saying it’s right. I know it’s wrong. I’m just saying I do it, too. I eat pizza with a knife and fork because I want only the gooey stuff on top, not the crust.

(When I first started in The Times’s Washington bureau, I soothed my nerves by noshing on pizzas slathered with mashed potatoes, a dish that required a spoon and bigger jeans.)

I almost didn’t become a Times columnist because of a de Blasio-like faux pas. When Arthur Sulzberger Jr. took me to breakfast to discuss the possibility of a column, we were talking when he suddenly looked dismayed. I thought it was my ZERO knowledge about NATO, but it wasn’t.

“Why,” he asked me, “are you eating your muffin with a knife and fork?”

I thought I was being ladylike, which might have been de Blasio’s problem as well. The photos looked way too ladylike for the 6-foot-5 mayor. It seemed more like the prissy move of Warren Wilhelm Jr. of Cambridge — his original name which he changed because of his estrangement from his alcoholic father — than the paesano Bill de Blasio of Brooklyn.

Fearing my future depended on it, I immediately clutched the muffin. But switching to your hands midway, as the mayor also did, simply makes you seem feckless as well as forkless; better to stick to your guns, and tines.

David Letterman’s Top Ten “Odd Habits of Mayor Bill de Blasio” on Monday featured this one: “Refers to himself as ‘Her Majesty.’ ”

Indeed, when F.D.R. served King George VI and his wife, Queen Elizabeth, their first hot dogs on a 1939 visit to America, the confused queen ate hers with a knife and fork, afraid to heed the president’s advice to pick it up and relish it.

Pizza can be hazardous to an administration. We all remember what happened when a Clinton intern delivered a pie to the Oval Office during a government shutdown.

But de Blasio’s offense was so trivial that the most irritating part was the labor-loving mayor’s labored explanation, grandly attributing it to “my ancestral homeland.”

“I have been in Italy a lot, and I picked up the habit for certain types of pizza,” he told reporters. “So when you have a pizza like this, it had a lot on it, I often start with a knife and fork but then I cross over to the American approach and pick it up when I go farther into the pizza. It’s a very complicated approach, but I like it.”

He sounded like a parody of the self-serious New York liberal, convinced he’s right about everything from the Sandinistas to stop-and-frisk to a slice in Staten Island.

De Blasio sounded alarmingly like Zosia Mamet’s mega-rambling character, fellow Brooklynite Shoshanna Shapiro, on a recent “Girls,” when she quizzes a quizzical Adam about his favorite utensil.

When he says, “I guess a fork,” she lectures: “O.K., that is crazy. Like, why would you want a cold metal prong stabbing you in the tongue when instead you could have food delivered into your mouth on, like, a cool, soft, pillowy cloud?”

The new mayor should have just laughed it off. Then he might not have ended up getting reduced to rubble by Jon Stewart, who asked “the champion of the middle class”: “Were you elected the mayor of Italy? No! Look out the window of the pizzeria. … Do you see a Sistine Chapel or a Leaning Tower of Pisa? No, you don’t! You see several junkyards and a tanning salon.”

Unlike de Blasio, some pols use food as a way to seem more populist. The aristocratic Poppy Bush pretended his favorite snack was pork rinds, offsetting his request for “just a splash” more coffee at a New Hampshire truck-stop diner.

As with Christie the Bully, embarrassing incidents hurt politicians when they resonate about a deeper suspicion.

Sargent Shriver calling for a Courvoisier in an Ohio mill town bar. Jerry Ford at the Alamo, biting into a tamale without removing the corn husk. Jimmy Carter’s fishing trip that turned into “Paws,” fending off a Killer Rabbit. Michael Dukakis advising farmers to grow Belgian endive, and Barack Obama talking the price of arugula. When John Kerry ordered Swiss cheese on his Philly cheesesteak in 2003, it buoyed Republican efforts to paint him as a Frenchie, fromage-loving surrender monkey.

“The whiff of a limousine-liberal factor,” G.O.P. strategist Mike Murphy told me, does not hurt de Blasio because he comes off as such “a humble, likable guy. He lacks the firing-squad instinct that makes for a true Commie leader.”

The question lurking beneath the surface with de Blasio is: Has he been promoted out of his league?

The answer can’t be determined when he devours his Staten Island pizza as though he were at the Tower of Pisa.

It figures that she eats pizza with a fork…  Now Here’s The Moustache of Wisdom:

I’ve always thought that the reason Ariel Sharon was such an enduring presence in Israeli political life is that he personally reflected three of the most important states of mind that the state of Israel has gone through since its founding. At key times, for better and for worse, Sharon expressed and embodied the feelings of the Israeli Everyman as much, if not more, than any Israeli leader.

The first was the enduring struggle for survival of the Jewish people in Israel. The founding of a Jewish state in the heart of the Arab-Muslim world would never be a natural act, welcomed by the region. There is a Jewish state today because of hard men, like Ariel Sharon, who were ready to play by the local rules, and successive Israeli prime ministers used him to do just that. Sharon — whom I first met at age 16 when I interviewed him for my high school newspaper after a lecture he gave at the University of Minnesota in 1969 — always had contempt for those in Israel or abroad who he believed did not understand the kill-or-be-killed nature of their neighborhood. He was a warrior without regrets and, at times, without restraints. Not for nothing was a Hebrew biography of him entitled, “He Doesn’t Stop at Red Lights.”

Sharon could have perfectly delivered a Hebrew version of the speech Marine Col. Nathan Jessep, played by Jack Nicholson, delivered in the climactic courtroom scene in “A Few Good Men,” justifying the death of a weak soldier, Santiago, under his command. In Sharon’s case, it would be justifying his no-holds-barred dealing with Arabs who resisted Israel’s existence back in the 1950s and ’60s.

As Jessep told the lawyer trying him: “Son, we live in a world that has walls, and those walls have to be guarded by men with guns. Who’s gonna do it? You? … I have a greater responsibility than you could possibly fathom. … You have the luxury of not knowing what I know. That Santiago’s death, while tragic, probably saved lives. And my existence, while grotesque and incomprehensible to you, saves lives. You don’t want the truth because deep down in places you don’t talk about at parties, you want me on that wall, you need me on that wall.”

Many Israelis wanted Sharon on that wall, which is why he survived so many crises. At the end of the day, they always wanted to know their chief warrior, who played by the local rules, was available.

But, in the 1980s, Sharon also embodied a fantasy that gripped Israel — that with enough power the Israelis could rid themselves of the Palestinian threat, that they could have it all: resettling Jews in their biblical heartland in the West Bank, plus settlements in Gaza, docile Palestinians, peace with the neighbors, and good relations with the world. That fantasy drove Sharon to team up in 1982 with the Christian Phalangist leader Bashir Gemayel on a strategic overreach to both oust Yasir Arafat and the P.L.O. from Lebanon and install Gemayel as a pro-Israeli prime minister in Beirut. Ronald Reagan was in power in America; Sadat had just made peace with Israel and taken Egypt off the battlefield. The little Jewish state, Sharon thought, could rearrange the neighborhood.

That Israeli overreach, which I covered from Beirut, ended badly for everyone. Sharon was deemed by a 1983 Israeli commission of inquiry as “indirectly responsible” for the horrible massacre of Palestinian civilians by Phalangists in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps. The fiasco in Lebanon (which also gave birth to Hezbollah), followed by two Palestinian intifadas, seemed to impress on Sharon the limits of Israeli power.

Indeed, I don’t know what, if any, epitaph the Sharon family will etch on his gravestone one day, but an adaptation of the most memorable line from Clint Eastwood’s classic “Magnum Force” would certainly be appropriate: “A country’s got to know its limitations.”

That was the conclusion that Sharon, the settlements builder, came to late in life — and so, too, did many Israelis. He acted on it by getting elected prime minister and then parting ways with his old Likud/settler allies, moving to the center and orchestrating a unilateral withdrawal from Gaza. He surely would have tried something similar in the West Bank if he had not had a stroke. Sharon remained skeptical that the Palestinians would ever make a true peace with Israel, but he concluded that occupying them forever was harmful to Israel’s future and, therefore, a third way had to be found.

Once again, Sharon was expressing the sentiments of the Israeli Everyman — which is probably why President Obama got such a warm reception from Israeli youths when, on his visit to Israel last March, he justified his own peace diplomacy by quoting a wiser and older Ariel Sharon, as telling Israelis that the dream of a Greater Israel had to be abandoned: “If we insist on fulfilling the dream in its entirety, we are liable to lose it all,” Sharon said.

Few Israelis are neutral about Sharon. I think that’s because some part of him — the hardheaded survivor, the dreamer that hoped Israel could return to its biblical roots and that the Palestinians would eventually acquiesce or disappear or the sober realist trying to figure out how to share the land he loved with a people he’d never trust — touched something in all of them.

Nothing at all…

January 6, 2014

Well, this is a first.  In all the years I’ve been doing this I have nothing for you.  Keller and Kristof are off today (isn’t Monday usually Krugman’s day?) and Prof. Krugman didn’t post to his blog.  Since his last post said he wouldn’t have a column today and the Times said Kristof was off I wonder if changes are afoot, or if it’s just another example of their “fact checking.”

Brooks, Nocera and Bruni

December 17, 2013

Bobo really needs to go back on leave to try to get himself pulled together.  He’s extruded a turd called “The Thought Leader” in which he is trying to examine the life cycle of a new intellectual paragon that has emerged to command our admiration.  Don’t ask me what the eff he’s nattering on about.  “sdavidc9″ ended his comment with this:  “If this cynical essay is not a self-portrait, what is the writer’s relation to the types pictured? Could this be a secret cry of despair?”  Well, we can all rest assured that Bobo’s thoughts lead us nowhere we need to go.  Mr. Nocera, in ” ‘What Is Good Teaching’,” says a documentary shows what goes on in the classroom, and serves as an unwitting primer on how to teach disadvantaged students.  Mr. Bruni (who used to be the food critic for the Times, lest we forget) is in Los Angeles and has written a puff piece so over the top that you’ve got to wonder if he’s related to the owner of the business.  In “Upon This Burger” he squeals that in a food obsessive’s quick riches lies a recipe for modern success.  (I don’t know as I’d want “special powder”  that “smacked intentionally of advanced culinary science” in my burger…)  Here’s Bobo:

Little boys and girls in ancient Athens grew up wanting to be philosophers. In Renaissance Florence they dreamed of becoming Humanists. But now a new phrase and a new intellectual paragon has emerged to command our admiration: The Thought Leader.

The Thought Leader is sort of a highflying, good-doing yacht-to-yacht concept peddler. Each year, he gets to speak at the Clinton Global Initiative, where successful people gather to express compassion for those not invited. Month after month, he gets to be a discussion facilitator at think tank dinners where guests talk about what it’s like to live in poverty while the wait staff glides through the room thinking bitter thoughts.

He doesn’t have students, but he does have clients. He doesn’t have dark nights of the soul, but his eyes blaze at the echo of the words “breakout session.”

Many people wonder how they too can become Thought Leaders and what the life cycle of one looks like.

In fact, the calling usually starts young. As a college student, the future Thought Leader is bathed in attention. His college application essay, “I Went to Panama to Teach the Natives About Math but They Ended Up Teaching Me About Life,” is widely praised by guidance counselors. On campus he finds himself enmeshed in a new social contract: Young people provide their middle-aged professors with optimism and flattery, and the professors provide them with grade inflation. He is widely recognized for his concern for humanity. (He spends spring break unicycling across Thailand while reading to lepers.)

Not armed with fascinating ideas but with the desire to have some, he launches off into the great struggle for attention. At first his prose is upbeat and smarmy, with a peppy faux sincerity associated with professional cheerleading.

Within a few years, though, his mood has shifted from smarm to snark. There is no writer so obscure as a 26-year-old writer. So he is suddenly consumed by ambition anxiety — the desperate need to prove that he is superior in sensibility to people who are superior to him in status. Soon he will be writing blog posts marked by coruscating contempt for extremely anodyne people: “Kelly Clarkson: Satan or Merely His Spawn?”

Of course the writer in this unjustly obscure phase will develop the rabid art of being condescending from below. Of course he will confuse his verbal dexterity for moral superiority. Of course he will seek to establish his edgy in-group identity by trying to prove that he was never really that into Macklemore.

Fortunately, this snarky phase doesn’t last. By his late 20s, he has taken a job he detests in a consulting firm, offering his colleagues strategy memos and sexual tension. By his early 30s, his soul has been so thoroughly crushed he’s incapable of thinking outside of consultantese. It’s not clear our Thought Leader started out believing he would write a book on the productivity gains made possible by improved electronic medical records, but having written such a book he can now travel from medical conference to medical conference making presentations and enjoying the rewards of being T.S.A. Pre.

By now the Thought Leader uses the word “space” a lot — as in, “Earlier in my career I spent a lot of time in the abject sycophancy space, but now I’m devoting more of my energies to the corporate responsibility space.”

The middle-aged Thought Leader’s life has hit equilibrium, composed of work, children and Bikram yoga. The desire to be snarky mysteriously vanishes with the birth of the first child. His prose has never been so lacking in irony and affect, just the clean translucence of selling out.

He’s succeeding. Unfortunately, the happy moment when you are getting just the right amount of attention passes, and you don’t realize you were in this moment until after it is gone.

The tragedy of middle-aged fame is that the fullest glare of attention comes just when a person is most acutely aware of his own mediocrity. By his late 50s, the Thought Leader is a lion of his industry, but he is bruised by snarky comments from new versions of his formerly jerkish self. Of course, this is when he utters his cries for civility and good manners, which are really just pleas for mercy to spare his tender spots.

In the end, though, a lifetime of bullet points are replaced by foreboding. Toward the end of his life the Thought Leader is regularly engaging in a phenomenon known as the powerless lunch. He and another formerly prominent person gather to have a portentous conversation of no importance whatsoever. In the fading of the light, he is gravely concerned about the way everything is going to hell.

Still, one rarely finds an octogenarian with status anxiety. He is beyond the battle for attention. Death approaches. Cruelly, it smells like reverence.

The thought of little girls in ancient Greece wanting to grow up to be philosophers made me snort…  Here’s Mr. Nocera:

In 2006, an idealistic New York public schoolteacher named Kevin Greer joined the faculty of an idealistic new high school, Brooklyn Community Arts and Media. Greer had previously taught English to 12th grade honors students at Dewitt Clinton, a huge high school in the Bronx. At B.C.A.M., which hoped to inspire students with an arts-driven curriculum, he would be teaching ninth graders. Most of the students had not chosen B.C.A.M., but had simply been assigned to the school. They weren’t nearly as self-motivated as Greer’s former students. Many if not most of them read below grade level.

Greer’s first approach to teaching these students was to refuse to concede to their obvious difficulties. He taught Plato and lectured about such things as “the rhetorical strategy of repetition of a phrase at the beginning of clauses. We call it anaphora.” He seemed distant from the students, and they reacted in kind, yawning or talking among themselves. Greer knew he was not getting through to them. He was frustrated.

Three years later, when members of this first B.C.A.M. class were seniors, Greer decided to teach a poetry class revolving around William Blake’s “Songs of Innocence and of Experience.” This time, however, his demeanor was completely different. He engaged the students by asking them what their own definition of poetry was — and they responded eagerly. He was more relaxed and more confident. “I had to learn how to really break things down,” he told me recently. “I had to learn to work on several levels at a time.” Because, after all, he had students of various abilities in his classes.

I know these details about Kevin Greer’s classroom performance because I recently saw a documentary about B.C.A.M. that has been passed from teachers’ group to teachers’ group, from reformers to union executives, like samizdat. The film, called “The New Public” and produced and directed by a filmmaker named Jyllian Gunther, tracks that first B.C.A.M. class in both the class’s first and last years at the school.

Once she finished the film, Gunther sent it around the various film festivals. None of them bit. “The New Public” was shown once on PBS, but aside from that, it has not been seen widely. Instead, teachers — as well as those who teach teachers — have slowly found out about it and have embraced it.

Partly this is because it is the rare film that sympathetically conveys how hard it is to be a teacher in an inner-city school. “The New Public” not only shows what goes on in the classroom — which can be rough if the teacher can’t manage the classroom — but she also goes into the homes of the students she has focused on. There, the odds that the students are trying to overcome are made abundantly clear.

But it is also because the movie is an unwitting primer on how to teach disadvantaged students. There are teachers in the movie who know how to connect with their students, and teachers who don’t. Teachers College at Columbia University liked the film so much that it is creating a companion curriculum, so the film can be used to help train teachers. Until Gunther’s movie came along, Teachers College used to show “The Wire” to give prospective teachers a feel for what it’s like to teach in a disadvantaged community.

“What is good teaching?” asked Anand Marri, a professor at Teachers College who has championed the film. “Is teaching different in the Bronx versus the suburbs? How much do you start with where the students are?” For the most part, these elemental questions are ones that schools of education don’t ask nearly enough.

The lack of teacher training in education schools has also been borne out recently by a new report by the National Council on Teacher Quality, entitled “Training Our Future Teachers.” The question the group asked was a simple one: Do education schools teach classroom management? The answer was: not very much.

The group examined 122 teacher-preparation programs and found that while most programs could say they had classroom management as part of their curriculum, classroom management strategies rarely received “the connected and concentrated focus they deserve.” What’s more, “instruction is generally divorced from practice (and vice versa) in most programs, with little evidence that what gets taught gets practiced.”

Education schools, says Kate Walsh, who leads the group, “don’t see their job as training teachers. They see their job as creating professional identity.”

As the country continues to struggle with education reform, it seems obvious that education schools need to change, so that prospective teachers walk into their first classroom knowing how to teach. Maybe “The New Public” can help bring about that change.

In my column on Tuesday, I incorrectly wrote that the University of California, Berkeley, had raised $3 billion in two years. In fact, it has raised $2.9 billion over an eight-year span.

Why don’t these columnists, or the Times’ fact checkers, bother to do their jobs?  I guess they’ve started to rely on commenters to put their facts in order for them…  Now here’s Mr. Bruni’s mash note to a burger joint:

Just five years ago, Adam Fleischman was in a two-bedroom rental with his wife and their year-old son, fumbling around for a career that might stick. Screenwriting hadn’t worked out. Same for finance. He was 38 and, he told me, “It was do or die.”

Today he owns two houses here, one with six bedrooms and a makeshift vineyard out back. He said that he’s toying with the idea of a third in London. He has stakes in multiple businesses and plans for more.

All because of a burger.

In February 2009, with about $40,000, he opened a 30-seat restaurant on La Brea Avenue named Umami Burger. Its signature was a six-ounce patty of coarsely ground, loosely packed, steak-quality beef that had been seasoned just so and was served on a soft, Portuguese-style roll. It cost $8. You ordered it at a table, and could have booze.

Within about a year, there were four Umami Burgers around Los Angeles. Now there are 20 in California and one each in Miami and Manhattan, with many more to come. Fleischman projected that Umami Burger’s revenues for 2013 would be about $50 million. And the burger itself, with a current price tag of $12, has been exhaustively analyzed and justly celebrated.

But what of the enterprise? What secrets does it yield?

Most attention to the inventive stars of the ceaselessly expanding culinary world focuses on what they’ve done in the kitchen, not on their shrewdness as businesspeople. I turned to Fleischman for the lessons beyond the bun.

With Umami Burger, he demonstrated that a seemingly saturated market sometimes harbors unoccupied niches, unmet needs. While you could get venerated burgers in plenty of fast-food joints and in many upscale restaurants that did fancy riffs, it wasn’t as easy to find a carefully made, determinedly original burger at a casual place with prices and a style of service between those poles.

And few casual places devoted themselves as wholeheartedly to burgers as he decided to.

Fleischman specialized, recognizing that there’d be distinction — and a promise of expertise — in that. Let other menus be tempted down unrelated alleyways. His concentrated almost exclusively on a variety of burgers and a variety of accouterments.

He turned constraint into virtue. During his initial expansion, he didn’t have the budget to give the different Umami Burgers a consistent design. So he let each look entirely unlike the others, thus communicating that Umami wasn’t any old chain. It had a more elevated, independent spirit.

This was just one of many ways in which he tapped into the moment and the sensibilities of the customers he was after. Like other food-industry entrepreneurs, he appreciated that young diners of limited means craved distinctive restaurant experiences every bit as much as older, wealthier people did, and that they would eagerly channel that hunger toward the likes of pork buns, tacos, even doughnuts.

But he pulled off an even more precise mind meld with his potential audience, realizing that they also wanted to feel adventurous, erudite. His restaurant’s name and concept indulged their desired sophistication. Umami was familiar principally to food insiders as the “fifth taste,” first defined in Japan, a savory deliciousness apart from salty, bitter, sweet and sour. To incorporate it into patties, Fleischman used a special powder that smacked intentionally of advanced culinary science, and it, along with other splashes and accessories for the burgers, brought a wide world of ingredients into play: shiitake, porcini, Parmesan, miso, soy sauce, fish sauce, kelp.

He even gave each burger a tidy architecture and plenty of color and served it alone on white china, the better to be photographed for Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. “It was conceived as a brand,” he said, “and as a brand that reflected the present day.”

Fleischman clearly understood what most successful purveyors of cars, clothing and cosmetics have also appreciated. He was selling customers more than a product. He was selling them an identity. As surely as he was feeding them, he was flattering them.

But when I asked him for the most important takeaway from his story, he mentioned something else — passion — and the fact the he had finally embraced an endeavor fully reflective of his most profound obsession, which was flavor.

“Do a business that you can’t live without, that you’re not going to be able to sleep at night if you don’t do,” he said.

He meant that as a practical matter. Passion gave him the energy for the 18-hour days that were necessary during that first, whirlwind year.

And without passion in the creation of a business, he said, there’s not likely to be passion in the reception of it. People can sense whether you’re going through the paces or going for something better, something novel. It’s not dollars they want to hand over; it’s devotion. You just have to give them sufficiently juicy cause.

The Pasty Little Putz, Dowd, Kristof and Bruni

July 14, 2013

We are spared The Moustache of Wisdom, who is off today.  The Pasty Little Putz decided to bend his attention to “The House’s Immigration Dilemma.”  He pondered deeply, and decided that there are risks wherever Republicans look.  MoDo, gawd help us, has decided to squeal about sex appeal.  She’s still in Paris, and in “The Tortured Mechanics of Eroticism” she gasps that a museum exhibition reveals the secret of centuries of sex appeal: industrial-strength underwear.  Between these two I’ve already lost about 50 IQ points.  Mr. Kristof is in Danja, Niger.  In “Where Young Women Find Healing and Hope” he says the next stop on this year’s win-a-trip journey is a new fistula hospital in Niger that is changing women’s lives with help from Times readers.  In “Tweeting Toward Sacrilege” Mr. Bruni tells us that musing on Egypt and sexual violence, Joyce Carol Oates saw that when you question religion, all hell breaks loose.  Sigh.  Just thinking about twitter-twatting just cost me another 25 IQ points…  Here’s The Putz:

The first thing you need to know about the House Republican view of immigration reform, the fate of which now rests with John Boehner’s restive caucus, is that there is no single House Republican view of immigration reform.

Instead, as the Democrats have come to march in lock step on the issue — dropping the old union-populist skepticism of low-wage immigration in favor of liberal cosmopolitanism and Hispanic interest-group pandering — many of the country’s varying, conflicting opinions have ended up crowded inside the Republican Party’s tent.

So there are Republicans who would happily vote for the Senate bill as is, no questions asked, and Republicans who might never vote for a bill that contains the words “comprehensive” and “reform,” let alone “immigration.”

There are law-and-order Republicans who care only about border security and E-Verify, pro-business Republicans seeking new guest-worker programs and religious-conservative Republicans for whom amnesty is a humanitarian cause.

There are libertarian Republicans who believe “the more, the better” is the only answer on immigration policy and communitarian Republicans who worry about the impact on wages, assimilation and cultural cohesion.

There are calculating, self-interested Republicans who think immigration reform will save their party from extinction, and calculating, self-interested Republicans who worry that it will create millions of new Democratic voters.

This diversity of views makes it difficult to game out exactly how the House might proceed on the issue. But right now, there seem to be two directions that Republicans could ultimately take.

The first is a kind of lowest-common-denominator approach suggested by the majority leader, Eric Cantor. It would advance two ideas that command broad Republican support — more spending on border security and more visas for high-skilled immigrants — alongside an idea many Republican representatives opposed in the past but seem to be warming to right now: a new version of the Dream Act, which would offer citizenship to illegal immigrants who arrived as children.

This combination would probably poll well, minimize intra-Republican divisions and focus on the policy area, high-skilled immigration, where there is the strongest consensus about the benefits to the nation. It would also vindicate the Republican Party’s (often notional) commitment to offering incremental alternatives to bloated liberal bills.

But such incrementalism would punt on the question of how to handle the bulk of the existing illegal-immigrant population, and thus wouldn’t be anything like the game changer sought by many Republican strategists worried about the Hispanic vote. And politically, it would have been much more clever months ago, before the Senate bill raised expectations for how sweeping a reform should be. In the shadow of Rubio-Schumer, a House that passed incremental bills and then refused to negotiate its way to something bigger might well receive the same kind of “do nothing” coverage as a House that did nothing at all.

Hence the (quiet, for now) appeal of the second option, mentioned last week by The Washington Post’s Ezra Klein and The Huffington Post’s Jon Ward, in which the House would find a way to go along with a version of amnesty that either didn’t include the promise of citizenship or made the path so long and arduous that few immigrants would take it.

To its supporters, this combination would deliver illegal immigrants the security and stability that pro-legalization activists are seeking, without running afoul of either the principled Republican desire to avoid rewarding people who have broken America’s laws, or the more cynical Republican desire not to have the newly legalized showing up to vote for Democrats.

But it, too, would come at a cost. We’re living through an era of stratification, a period of mass unemployment, an economic “recovery” in which working-class wages aren’t actually recovering. This is a strange climate in which to create — and then augment, via guest-worker programs — a permanent tier of explicitly second-class, mostly low-skilled residents, deliberately curtail their political leverage and then ask low-wage native workers to compete with them for jobs.

And it’s a particularly strange climate for a Republican Party struggling to shed its “party of the rich” label to identify with such a policy, and give up one of the few issues where it has some credibility with working-class voters.

The party faces risks whatever it does: killing comprehensive reform might further alienate Hispanics, as the conventional wisdom has it, but then again going along with Charles Schumer and a flood of corporate money might exacerbate the kind of “who’s looking out for me?” disaffection that kept many conservative-tilting, economically strapped voters from the polls in 2012.

But a clever-sounding deal that legalizes immigrants as laborers but not as citizens risks disaster on both fronts: rejection by Hispanics as insufficient and ultimately insulting, and rejection by many of America’s tired, poor, huddled workers as another example of the political class’s indifference to their fate.

The party faces its main risks from being run by a gaggle of barking lunatics.  Now gird up your loins — here’s MoDo:

The French may feel shaky about the underpinnings of the economy. But about the underpinnings for the body, they are as rock solid as the Arc de Triomphe.

During a summer when the French are drooping, the best uplift can be found in the Louvre complex at the Museum of Decorative Arts, which has mounted a dazzling exhibition on undergarments and embellishments dating from the 14th century on: corsets and bustles, hoops and push-up bras, crinolines and codpieces. The exhibit, titled “Behind the Seams, the Mechanics of Underwear: An Indiscreet History of the Silhouette,” provides a fascinating contrast between the industrial-seeming tools used to shape the body and the sexiness that results.

Only a French museum would take fine washables so seriously. The word lingerie, after all, derives from the French word linge, meaning “washables.”

Seismic social changes have always been reflected in fashion, and the politics of lingerie can be incendiary. Consider recent reports about Ritu Tawade, a city official in Mumbai who has responded to the horrific rapes in India by crusading to remove lingerie-clad mannequins from store windows, fearing they incite rape.

It was only two years ago that Saudi Arabia, hypocritical home to many racy lingerie stores, compelled them all to employ women instead of men.

In “The Heat,” Melissa McCarthy’s Boston cop warns Sandra Bullock’s F.B.I. agent that her Spanx squish internal organs. It’s the same argument a bloomer brigade of feminist reformers used in the belle époque to denounce corsets — stays that stayed around for 500 years.

Jean Cocteau wrote amusingly in 1913 about the women at Maxim’s: “It was an accumulation of velvet, lace, ribbons, diamonds and what else I couldn’t describe. To undress one of these women is like an outing that calls for three weeks advance notice, it’s like moving house.”

Denis Bruna, the curator of the exhibit, said he has studied the human form in art through the centuries and has read countless ancient texts instructing women to be beautiful and men to be virile. He even tried on the intimate items from the time of the ancien régime.

“It feels good,” the 45-year-old said in French with a droll smile. “It makes you stand up very straight. You feel noble.”

He explained that the hard corsets were mostly worn by aristocratic women who wilted standing at court all day and needed bracing. If you were rich and had servants, you could have stays laced in the back (in the squeezing-the-breath-out-to-get-back-an-18-inch-waist style of Mammy and Scarlett O’Hara). Lower-class women had their stays in the front, so they could lace them on their own.

As though women weren’t trussed up enough, the rigidity was accentuated by a busk, a concave piece of metal, horn or whalebone that was inserted into the front of the corset to hold the torso erect. Sometimes these busks had portraits or love messages engraved on them.

The most wince-worthy displays: iron medical corsets from the 16th century for correcting curved spines; miniature corsets worn by infants and toddlers, because physicians of yore insisted that children’s soft bodies needed support; and corsets for pregnant and nursing women (the latter with little shutters).

The Marie Antoinette “grand habit” silhouette, with the wasp-waist corsets often made from bone at the roof of the whale’s mouth, and 12-foot-wide paniers at the hips were so broad that the side cages had to be retractable by hand so the ladies could get through a door. Was this why French doors came into fashion? Picture them all crashing into one another at court.

The paniers were balanced by pouf hairdos, built on a scaffolding of horsehair and wire, covered with powder and topped with toy sculptures like a little farm or a battleship.

“The lower parts of the woman’s body were less noble, so they were hidden,” Bruna said. “They thought the legs were ugly and sheathed them in pantaloons. The shape represented a pedestal base to make the top prettier.”

Finally, in the World War I era, Coco Chanel began helping women come into their own, unstrapping them from their hourglass constrictions and sheathing them in supple jersey. Maybe that’s why you see Chanel’s image here more often than Joan of Arc’s.

Yesterday’s aristocratic underwear morphs into today’s fetishistic outerwear. The show illustrates the influence of the ancient fashion on modern designers, including a Vivienne Westwood bustle frock and an Alexander McQueen corset dress.

Mirabile dictu, there are even new variations on Renaissance codpieces, or braguettes, a bragging-rights style bound to disappoint. “They’re already being sold in gay shops in France and on the Internet,” Bruna said.

It was commonly thought that the point of lingerie was to incite the lust of men. Yet, as this exhibit shows, women have also used underwear to assert their power and status.

As we celebrate Bastille Day, note this: The mannequins wearing the aristocratic undies have no heads.

I may be driven to putting gin on my corn flakes this morning…  Now here’s Mr. Kristof:

They straggle in by foot, donkey cart or bus: humiliated women and girls with their heads downcast, feeling ashamed and cursed, trailing stink and urine.

Some were married off at 12 or 13 years old and became pregnant before their malnourished bodies were ready. All suffered a devastating childbirth injury called an obstetric fistula that has left them incontinent, leaking urine and sometimes feces through their vaginas. Most have been sent away by their husbands, and many have endured years of mockery and ostracism as well as painful sores on their legs from the steady trickle of urine.

They come to this remote nook of Niger in West Africa because they’ve heard that a new hospital may be able to cure them and end their humiliation. And they are right — thanks, in part, to you as Times readers.

There is nothing more wrenching than to see a teenage girl shamed by a fistula, and I’ve written before about the dreams of a couple of surgeons to build this fistula center here in Danja. Times readers responded by contributing more than $500,000 to the Worldwide Fistula Fund to make the hospital a reality. Last year, the Danja Fistula Center opened.

This is my annual win-a-trip journey, in which I take a university student along on a reporting trip to shine a spotlight on global poverty. So with my student winner, Erin Luhmann of the University of Wisconsin, I dropped in on Danja to see what you as readers have accomplished here. What we found underscored that while helping others is a complicated, uncertain enterprise, there are times when a modest donation can be transformative.

The first patient we met is Hadiza Soulaye; with an impish smile, she still seems a child. Hadiza said she never went to school and doesn’t know her birth date, but she said that her family married her off at about 11 or 12. She knows that it was before she began to menstruate. She was not consulted but became the second wife of her own uncle.

A year later, she was pregnant. Hadiza had no prenatal care, and a traditional birth attendant couldn’t help when she suffered three days of obstructed labor. By the time Hadiza was taken to a hospital for a Caesarean delivery, the baby was dead and she had suffered internal injuries including a hole, or fistula, between her bladder and vagina.

“I didn’t know what had happened,” she remembered. “I just knew that I couldn’t control my pee, and I started crying.”

Hadiza found herself shunned. Her husband ejected her from the house, and other villagers regarded her as unclean so that no one would eat food that she prepared or allow her to fetch water from the well when others were around. Villagers mocked her: “They would laugh at me and point to my dress,” which was constantly wet with urine.

She endured several years of this ostracism. Worldwide, there are some two million fistula sufferers, sitting in their homes feeling ashamed, lonely and hopeless.

A few months ago, Hadiza heard about the Danja Fistula Center and showed up to see if someone could help. Dr. Steve Arrowsmith, a urologist from Michigan who helped plan this center and has repaired more fistulas than any other American, operated on Hadiza and repaired the damage. He warned her not to have sex for six months to give the repair time to heal.

It typically costs $500 to $1,000 to repair a fistula and turn these women’s lives around. There is no one more joyous than a woman who has undergone this surgery successfully, and Hadiza was thrilled to return to her village.

Yet life is complicated. When she returned home — dry and cured — her husband summoned her to his bed.

“I didn’t have a choice,” she says. “I was his wife.”

The husband tore open the fistula, and she began leaking urine once more. He then threw her out of the house again, so now Hadiza is back at the hospital. She vows that this time, if she can be patched up, she will never return to her husband.

As in Hadiza’s case, a fistula is often a result of a child marriage. Here in Niger, about three-quarters of girls are married before the age of 18.

“Some of these ladies here have never had a period,” Dr. Arrowsmith noted. “They became pregnant the first time they ovulated, and then their uterus was destroyed.”

Aside from repairing fistulas, the Danja center also conducts outreach to improve maternal health and encourage women to deliver in clinics. It has set up a system so that taxi drivers are guaranteed payment when they take a woman in labor to a hospital.

The Danja Fistula Center is also conducting research on how best to treat patients. One approach pioneered here may allow fistula hospitals to move patients out of recovery wards in half the time, effectively doubling capacity.

The fistula center was conceived by Dr. Arrowsmith and Dr. Lewis Wall, an obstetrics professor at Washington University in St. Louis, and it partners with Serving in Mission, an American Christian charity with long experience here in Danja. It also gets backing from the Fistula Foundation, based in the United States. But, in line with the original vision, the Danja Fistula Center is run by Africans, with Dr. Arrowsmith training Dr. Itengré Ouedraogo, a surgeon from Burkina Faso, to be medical director.

Fistulas may be a grim topic, but this center you readers have helped to build is a warm and inspiring place. Women who have suffered for years find hope here, and they proudly display skills they are learning, such as knitting or sewing, that they can use to earn a living afterward. As they await surgery, their dormitories echo with giggles and girl talk. They are courageous and indomitable, and now full of hope as well.

This fistula center continues to exist on a shoestring, struggling for operating funds. But the exuberance of the patients is contagious, and I wanted readers to know that your generosity has built a city of joy. These women may arrive miserable and shamed, but they leave proud, heads held high. And in a complicated world of trouble, that’s a reason to celebrate.

And last but not least we have Mr. Bruni:

I wasn’t sure which to bring up first with Joyce Carol Oates: the Muslims or the llamas.

She had tweeted about both in the days before I dropped by to see her last week. This said something about the breadth of her interests. Or about Twitter’s way of playing midwife to mischief.

I veered in the safer direction.

“So where are they?” I asked, looking out the back window of her house here, across a yard as empty as it was green. Nothing grazing. Nothing woolly. Certainly not the “53 llamas” that she had suggested, in a tweet, that she was purchasing to satisfy “a metaphysical yearning.”

She explained that she’d been riffing facetiously off a story in The Times about rampant llama love. “There’s really not room here,” she said. “We only have three acres.” Plenty for Oates and her husband. Not for an Andean offshoot of the clan.

That subject dispensed with, we proceeded to the missives that had really lit up cyberspace and had really prompted my visit.

In the first days of July, Oates, one of America’s most celebrated writers, was monitoring news from Egypt and was struck by something that I’m sure many other people noticed as well. It certainly caught my eye. Amid accounts of street protests were reports of sexual violence, an odd expression and ugly byproduct of the rage.

On her Twitter feed she saw a statistic that chilled her. And she tweeted, “Where 99.3% of women report having been sexually harassed & rape is epidemic — Egypt — natural to inquire: what’s the predominant religion?”

This wasn’t an isolated query. It belonged to a stream of musings that day, all 140 characters or fewer, on Egypt, Islam and women.

She wrote, “If 99.3% of women reported being treated equitably, fairly, generously — it would be natural to ask: what’s the predominant religion?”

She also wrote, “ ‘Rape culture’ has no relationship to any ‘religious culture’ — how can this be? Religion has no effect on behavior at all?”

Fellow writers and intellectuals freaked. On various byways of the Internet, she was blasted for anti-Muslim bigotry. A “furor,” The Wall Street Journal called it, and in a headline no less.

I wondered if she wanted to take it all back.

“Well, I’m not a confrontational person, so I wouldn’t do it again,” she told me, at least not with the exact language she used. She said that she might instead have written, “If all these women are being harassed and raped and so forth, it’s natural to ask what are the social conditions.” You tweet and you learn.

That she tweets at all is astonishing. Where does she find the time? She teaches a full load at Princeton. She also writes long, deeply researched literary reviews. And then there’s her principal vocation and claim to prolific fame: churning out at least a book a year — the novel “The Accursed,” all 670 history-packed pages of it, is her most recent — along with poems, essays and more.

Now 75, she cannot off the top of her head even quantify her oeuvre, which makes anyone else’s look like a lazy internship. More than 100 titles. That’s for certain.

The 99.3 percent figure that she cites for Egyptian women who report having been harassed is questionable, from a United Nations survey that defines harassment broadly. And she hasn’t researched the “epidemic” nature of rape in Egypt. She’s never been there, or anywhere in the Middle East.

But in a world in which sexual violence remains as unconscionably prevalent as in ours, shouldn’t anyone who cares about women — about human rights — be asking all sorts of questions, including delicate ones? And why are questions that stray beyond the secular considered so particularly delicate?

Look critically at someone’s god and gird for the lightning.

Oates calls herself a humanist, rejects the conventional notion of divinity and told me, “I don’t have a sense that there are sacred institutions. To me, all religions and all churches are created by human beings.” In that regard, she added, “They’re not that different from, say, the whole legal culture or the medical culture or the scientific culture.” About which you can say or ask almost anything at all.

SHE finds certain barriers and etiquette curious. “If you thought that women were being mistreated 50 miles from where you are, you might want to go help them,” she said. “But if you were told it was a religious commune or something, you’d think, ‘Uh-oh, that’s their religion, maybe I shouldn’t help them.’ It’s like religion is under a dome. It gives an imprimatur to behavior that shouldn’t be tolerated.”

Is she saying that Islam oppresses women?

Although she expressed concern about Shariah law, she didn’t go that far, and she noted that most religions were patriarchies.

Islam stands out for her in terms of the extra-special sensitivity surrounding discussion of it. She said that while religion in general is still coddled in the United States, where churches get tax exemptions and God is on money and in inaugural speeches, we’ve indeed become less reluctant over time to poke fun or hurl barbs at Christianity or Judaism. She pointed to the unapologetic examination of child sexual abuse by Catholic priests.

“We can have cartoons about the pope,” she said. “Making fun of the pope just seems to be something that a Catholic might do.” She added, “But if you have a cartoon, or make a film, about radical Islam, then you’re in danger of your life.”

She did neither. She just tweeted, and isn’t sure why a format seemingly designed for uncensored, spontaneous, imprecise musings, not nuanced manifestoes, should become grist for such outrage.

“Once I said that the doorway to Hades was in our basement — I discovered it!” she told me, referring to a past tweet. That’s the degree of literalism she brings to the arena.

Yet readers parse the words they want to and cling to those of their choice. After all, I arrived at her doorstep expecting, on the basis of a single tweet, to meet a herd of exotic pets.

She shook her head, looked toward her llama-less yard and said, “It’s a little surprising to me that social media have turned out to be kind of prissy and prim and politically correct.”

I don’t have a whole lot of time for her books either…


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