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

The Pasty Little Putz is stamping his little foot.  In “The Liberal Gloat” he whines that yes, the Democrats had a winning coalition, but the future is not so rosy for its members.  He’s an insufferable little shit.  MoDo has a question:  “Is Rice Cooked?”  She also asks why can’t women named Rice, yearning to be secretary of state, stop spinning?  It’s interesting.  The Times doesn’t seem to have allowed comments on this…  The Moustache of Wisdom says “If You’ve Got the Skills She’s Got the Job,” and that good-paying jobs are out there for those with the right kinds of training and education. Just listen to this businesswoman in Minnesota.  Typical MofW.  He picks a tiny individual case and extrapolates.  Mr. Kristof says “Inside Syria a Grandma Faces Down War,” and that talking to Syrians in rebel-held territory, you get a real sense of frightened moms and dads just trying to keep their kids alive. Or, in some cases, their grandchildren.  Mr. Bruni seems stunned that there’s no privacy any more.  In “Our Hard Drives, Ourselves” he reminds us that the Petraeus scandal, like so many before it, reminds us that cyberspace takes us down, even as it eggs us on.  Frankie, dear, you did realize at the time, didn’t you, what the implications of the Patriot Act were?  To say nothing of how you seem to have just realized how Teh Intertoobz work…  Here’s The Putz:

Winning an election doesn’t just offer the chance to govern the country. It offers a chance to feel morally and intellectually superior to the party you’ve just beaten. This is an inescapable aspect of democratic culture: no matter what reason tells us about the vagaries of politics, something in the American subconscious assumes that the voice of the people really is the voice of God, and that being part of a winning coalition must be a sign that you’re His chosen one as well.

This means the losing coalition must be doomed to wander east of Eden, and liberals have been having a good time with this idea of late. “Those poor, benighted Republicans!” runs the subtext of their postelection commentary. “They can’t read polls! They can’t reach Hispanics! They don’t understand women! They don’t have a team of Silicon Valley sorcerers running their turnout operations!”

Back in 2011, the Obama White House earned some mild mockery for its “win the future” slogan. But now that the president has been re-elected, the liberal conventional wisdom is that the Democrats have done just that — that Republicans are now Radio Shack to their Apple store, “The Waltons” to their “Modern Family,” a mediocre Norman Rockwell to their digital-age mosaic.

Maybe it’s too soon to pierce this cloud of postelection smugness. But in the spirit of friendly correction — or, O.K., maybe curmudgeonly annoyance — let me point out some slightly more unpleasant truths about the future that liberalism seems to be winning.

Liberals look at the Obama majority and see a coalition bound together by enlightened values — reason rather than superstition, tolerance rather than bigotry, equality rather than hierarchy. But it’s just as easy to see a coalition created by social disintegration and unified by economic fear.

Consider the Hispanic vote. Are Democrats winning Hispanics because they put forward a more welcoming face than Republicans do — one more in keeping with America’s tradition of assimilating migrants yearning to breathe free? Yes, up to a point. But they’re also winning recent immigrants because those immigrants often aren’t assimilating successfully — or worse, are assimilating downward, thanks to rising out-of-wedlock birthrates and high dropout rates. The Democratic edge among Hispanics depends heavily on these darker trends: the weaker that families and communities are, the more necessary government support inevitably seems.

Likewise with the growing number of unmarried Americans, especially unmarried women. Yes, social issues like abortion help explain why these voters lean Democratic. But the more important explanation is that single life is generally more insecure and chaotic than married life, and single life with children — which is now commonplace for women under 30 — is almost impossible to navigate without the support the welfare state provides.

Or consider the secular vote, which has been growing swiftly and tilts heavily toward Democrats. The liberal image of a non-churchgoing American is probably the “spiritual but not religious” seeker, or the bright young atheist reading Richard Dawkins. But the typical unchurched American is just as often an underemployed working-class man, whose secularism is less an intellectual choice than a symptom of his disconnection from community in general.

What unites all of these stories is the growing failure of America’s local associations — civic, familial, religious — to foster stability, encourage solidarity and make mobility possible.

This is a crisis that the Republican Party often badly misunderstands, casting Democratic-leaning voters as lazy moochers or spoiled children seeking “gifts” (as a certain former Republican presidential nominee would have it) rather than recognizing the reality of their economic struggles.

But if conservatives don’t acknowledge the crisis’s economic component, liberalism often seems indifferent to its deeper social roots. The progressive bias toward the capital-F Future, the old left-wing suspicion of faith and domesticity, the fact that Democrats have benefited politically from these trends — all of this makes it easy for liberals to just celebrate the emerging America, to minimize the costs of disrupted families and hollowed-out communities, and to treat the places where Americans have traditionally found solidarity outside the state (like the churches threatened by the Obama White House’s contraceptive mandate) as irritants or threats.

This is a great flaw in the liberal vision, because whatever role government plays in prosperity, transfer payments are not a sufficient foundation for middle-class success. It’s not a coincidence that the economic era that many liberals pine for — the great, egalitarian post-World War II boom — was an era that social conservatives remember fondly as well: a time of leaping church attendance, rising marriage rates and birthrates, and widespread civic renewal and engagement.

No such renewal seems to be on the horizon. That isn’t a judgment on the Obama White House, necessarily. But it is a judgment on a certain kind of blithe liberal optimism, and the confidence with which many Democrats assume their newly emerged majority is a sign of progress rather than decline.

He’s really unbearable, and got flayed alive in the comments.  Next up is MoDo:

Our Rice is better than your Rice.

That’s the argument Democrats are aggressively making against Republicans.

And it’s true. Condi Rice sold her soul. Susan Rice merely rented hers on the talk shows one Sunday in September.

Ambitious to be secretary of state, Condi jilted her mentor, Brent Scowcroft, who publicly opposed the Iraq invasion. In 2002, she bolted to the winning, warmongering side with W., Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, helping them twist intelligence and getting Foggy Bottom in return.

Ambitious to be secretary of state, Susan Rice wanted to prove she had the gravitas for the job and help out the White House. So the ambassador to the United Nations agreed to a National Security Council request to go on all five Sunday shows to talk about the attack on the American consulate in Libya.

“She saw this as a great opportunity to go out and close the stature gap,” said one administration official. “She was focused on the performance, not the content. People said, ‘It’s sad because it was one of her best performances.’ But it’s not a movie, it’s the news. Everyone in politics thinks, you just get your good talking points and learn them and reiterate them on camera. But what if they’re not good talking points? What if what you’re saying isn’t true, even if you’re saying it well?”

Testifying on Capitol Hill on Friday, the beheaded Head Spook David Petraeus said the C.I.A. knew quickly that the Benghazi raid was a terrorist attack.

“It was such a no-brainer,” one intelligence official told me.

Intelligence officials suspected affiliates of Al Qaeda and named them in their original talking points for Rice, but that information was deemed classified and was softened to “extremists” as the talking points were cycled past Justice, State, the National Security Council and other intelligence analysts.

As The Times’s Eric Schmitt wrote, some analysts worried that identifying the groups “could reveal that American spy services were eavesdropping on the militants — a fact most insurgents are already aware of.”

Rice was given the toned-down talking points, but she has access to classified information. Though she told Bob Schieffer on CBS’s “Face the Nation” that the extremist elements could have included Qaeda affiliates or Al Qaeda itself, she mostly used her appearances to emphasize the story line of the spontaneous demonstration over an anti-Muslim video. She disputed the contention of the president of Libya’s General National Congress, who called the attack “preplanned” when he talked to Schieffer just before Rice.

Some have wondered if Rice, who has a bull-in-a-china-shop reputation, is diplomatic enough for the top diplomatic job. But she would have been wise to be more bull-in-a-china-shop and vet her talking points, given that members of the intelligence and diplomatic communities and sources in news accounts considered it a terrorist attack days before Rice went on the shows. (The president and his spokesman also clung to the video story for too long.)

Rice should have been wary of a White House staff with a tendency to gild the lily, with her pal Valerie Jarrett and other staffers zealous about casting the president in a more flattering light, like national security officials filigreeing the story of the raid on Osama to say Bin Laden fought back. Did administration officials foolishly assume that if affiliates of Al Qaeda were to blame, it would dilute the credit the president got for decimating Al Qaeda? Were aides overeager to keep Mitt Romney, who had stumbled after the Benghazi attack by accusing the president of appeasing Islamic extremists, on the defensive?

Writing in a 2002 book about President Clinton’s failure to intervene in the genocide in Rwanda, Samantha Power, now a National Security Council official, suggested that Rice was swayed by domestic politics when, as a rising star at the N.S.C. who would soon become Clinton’s director for African affairs, she mused about the ’94 midterms, “If we use the word ‘genocide’ and are seen as doing nothing, what will be the effect on the November election?”

An Africa expert, Rice should have realized that when a gang showed up with R.P.G.’s and mortars in a place known as a hotbed of Qaeda sympathizers and Islamic extremist training camps, it was not anger over a movie. She should have been savvy enough to wonder why the wily Hillary was avoiding the talk shows.

The president’s fierce defense of Rice had virile flare. But he might have been better off leaving it to aides, so he did not end up going mano a mano with his nemesis John McCain on an appointment he hasn’t even made (though now Obama might feel compelled to, just to prove that he can’t be pushed around), and so he could focus on fiscal cliff bipartisanship.

His argument that Rice “had nothing to do with Benghazi,” raises the question: Then why was she the point person?

The president’s protecting a diplomatic damsel in distress made Rice look more vulnerable, when her reason for doing those shows in the first place was to look more venerable.

Someone please tell me why this harpy is still employed.  Here’s The Moustache of Wisdom:

Traci Tapani is not your usual C.E.O. For the last 19 years, she and her sister have been co-presidents of Wyoming Machine, a sheet metal company they inherited from their father in Stacy, Minn. I met Tapani at a meeting convened by the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development to discuss one of its biggest challenges today: finding the skilled workers that employers need to run local businesses. I’ll let Tapani take it from here:

“About 2009,” she explained, “when the economy was collapsing and there was a lot of unemployment, we were working with a company that got a contract to armor Humvees,” so her 55-person company “had to hire a lot of people. I was in the market looking for 10 welders. I had lots and lots of applicants, but they did not have enough skill to meet the standard for armoring Humvees. Many years ago, people learned to weld in a high school shop class or in a family business or farm, and they came up through the ranks and capped out at a certain skill level. They did not know the science behind welding,” so could not meet the new standards of the U.S. military and aerospace industry.

“They could make beautiful welds,” she said, “but they did not understand metallurgy, modern cleaning and brushing techniques” and how different metals and gases, pressures and temperatures had to be combined. Moreover, in small manufacturing businesses like hers, explained Tapani, “unlike a Chinese firm that does high-volume, low-tech jobs, we do a lot of low-volume, high-tech jobs, and each one has its own design drawings. So a welder has to be able to read and understand five different design drawings in a single day.”

Tapani eventually found a welder from another firm who had passed the American Welding Society Certified Welding Inspector exam, the industry’s gold standard, and he trained her welders — some of whom took several tries to pass the exam — so she could finish the job. Since then, Tapani trained a woman from Stacy, who had originally learned welding to make ends meet as a single mom. She took on the challenge of becoming a certified welding inspector, passed the exam and Tapani made her the company’s own in-house instructor, no longer relying on the local schools.

“She knows how to read a weld code. She can write work instructions and make sure that the people on the floor can weld to that instruction,” so “we solved the problem by training our own people,” said Tapani, adding that while schools are trying hard, training your own workers is often the only way for many employers to adapt to “the quick response time” demanded for “changing skills.” But even getting the right raw recruits is not easy. Welding “is a $20-an-hour job with health care, paid vacations and full benefits,” said Tapani, but “you have to have science and math. I can’t think of any job in my sheet metal fabrication company where math is not important. If you work in a manufacturing facility, you use math every day; you need to compute angles and understand what happens to a piece of metal when it’s bent to a certain angle.”

Who knew? Welding is now a STEM job — that is, a job that requires knowledge of science, technology, engineering and math.

Employers across America will tell you similar stories. It’s one reason we have three million open jobs around the country but 8 percent unemployment. We’re in the midst of a perfect storm: a Great Recession that has caused a sharp increase in unemployment and a Great Inflection — a merger of the information technology revolution and globalization that is simultaneously wiping out many decent-wage, middle-skilled jobs, which were the foundation of our middle class, and replacing them with decent-wage, high-skilled jobs. Every decent-paying job today takes more skill and more education, but too many Americans aren’t ready. This problem awaits us after the “fiscal cliff.”

“We need to be honest; there is a big case for Keynesian-style stimulus today, but that is not going to solve all our problems,” said the Harvard University labor economist Lawrence Katz. “The main reason the unemployment rate is higher today than it was in 2007, before the Great Recession, is because we have an ongoing cyclical unemployment problem — a lack of aggregate demand for labor — initiated by the financial crisis and persisting with continued housing market problems, consumers still deleveraging, the early cessation of fiscal stimulus compounded by cutbacks by state and local governments.” This is the main reason we went from around 5 percent to 8 percent unemployment.

But what is also true, says Katz, was that even before the Great Recession we had a mounting skills problem as a result of 25 years of U.S. education failing to keep up with rising skills demands, and it’s getting worse. There was almost a doubling of the college wage premium from 1980 to 2007 — that is, the extra income you earn from getting a two- or four-year degree. This was because there was a surge in demand for higher skills, as globalization and the I.T. revolution intensified, combined with a slowdown in the growth of supply of higher skills.

Many community colleges and universities simply can’t keep pace and teach to the new skill requirements, especially with their budgets being cut. We need a new “Race to the Top” that will hugely incentivize businesses to embed workers in universities to teach — and universities to embed professors inside businesses to learn — so we get a much better match between schooling and the job markets.

“The world no longer cares about what you know; the world only cares about what you can do with what you know,” explains Tony Wagner of Harvard, the author of “Creating Innovators: The Making of Young People Who Will Change the World.”

Eduardo Padrón, the president of Miami Dade College, the acclaimed pioneer in education-for-work, put it this way: “The skill shortage is real. Years ago, we started working with over 100 companies to meet their needs. Every program that we offer has an industry advisory committee that helps us with curriculum, mentorship, internships and scholarships. … Spanish-speaking immigrants used to be able to come here and get a decent job doing repetitive tasks in an office or factory and earn enough to buy a home and car and put their kids through school and enjoy middle-class status. That is no longer possible. … The big issue in America is not the fiscal deficit, but the deficit in understanding about education and the role it plays in the knowledge economy.”

The time when education — particularly the right kind of education — “could be a luxury for the few is long gone,” Padrón added.

The MofW seems amazed and upset that Ms. Trapani couldn’t find highly skilled welders in her town with a population of  1,457.  Tommy, it may have escaped your notice but sometimes if you run a business you sometimes have to TRAIN people.  Here’s Mr. Kristof, who is still in Bab Al-Salam, Syria:

A stout woman named Warda al-Haji was struggling to construct a mud dike in hopes of stopping rainwater from seeping into the tent that is her family’s fifth home this year. It was futile, but Ms. Haji kept busy to stave off the paralyzing question: Who in my family will be next to die?

Ms. Haji, 54, a strong and outspoken bundle of energy in a black hijab, has already lost her husband, son and daughter-in-law to the Syrian regime of President Bashar al-Assad.

When you cross from Turkey into rebel-held Syrian territory, the geopolitical construct of “Syria” disappears. Instead, Syrians come into focus: aching, frightened moms and dads just trying to keep their kids alive.

Or, in Ms. Haji’s case, her grandchildren. Several months ago, one of her sons, Abbas, a barber, was riding his motorcycle with his wife, Leila, as she held their 10-day-old daughter in her arms. A government plane dropped a bomb nearby. Miraculously, Abbas and the baby were unhurt, but Leila was hit by shrapnel in the leg and bled to death.

Abbas gave the baby, renamed Leila in honor of her mother, to Ms. Haji to care for, and he crossed into Turkey with his four older children. A few weeks later, another of Ms. Haji’s sons, Muhammad, a fighter with the Free Syrian Army, was killed in an airstrike. Muhammad’s wife was emotionally shattered, and Ms. Haji inherited their seven children, the youngest just 4 months old.

So Ms. Haji now has eight children, two of them sickly infants, to look after in a leaking tent.

“There’s no food and the children get sick,” she said. “We just want to sleep without hearing bombs.”

I accompanied her as she took a sick granddaughter, 10-year-old Rokia, to a clinic. The doctor, Mustafa Hassano, is a reminder that Syrians are distinguished these days not just by their suffering, but also by their heroism.

Syrian doctors routinely treat the war injured, knowing that if they are caught doing this they may be tortured to death by the Assad regime’s security services. Dr. Hassano is wearied by a parade of children like Rokia who are sick as a consequence of war. Rokia has hepatitis A — along with 60 percent of the children in the camp for displaced people here — because of a lack of clean water and sanitation.

Ms. Haji’s life captures the torment of modern Syria. Her husband, Mahmood, an Army officer, was arrested in 1982 on suspicion of sympathizing with a legendary uprising in the city of Hama. He was tortured for months and finally executed, leaving Ms. Haji to raise their five children.

This time, she says, it’s worse, because — like 2.5 million Syrians — she’s homeless as well. People like her feel abandoned by the world.

“We see people in Gaza and cry for them; well, we need people to cry about us,” she said. “We ask for God’s help in ending this, and for Obama’s.”

Look, I know that the world has its own problems and isn’t much interested in Syria’s. There’s compassion fatigue, even when victims are 12-year-old kids like Muhammad al-Hares. He left his village one day to check on his aunt in the city of Aleppo, but found that her home had been destroyed. He tried to return to his own house, but fighting made that impossible.

Muhammad hid in a park in Aleppo as his parents fled their home and had no way to contact him. It took six weeks for him to find his family again. “I was afraid,” Muhammad said. “There were snipers and shelling.”

Syrians are exceptionally warm and welcoming to Western visitors these days. When I say I’m American, Syrians beam and sometimes even try to serve me tea. Yet there’s also a shadow of disappointment that the United States has been so passive as the humanitarian crisis has worsened.

“The U.S. is a great nation, and we hear Americans talking,” said Hussam Shamo, a Syrian relief official looking after 6,000 homeless people here. “But they’re not here.”

Mr. Shamo said that aside from a Turkish aid group, international aid organizations are providing no help in the camp he runs here in Bab al-Salam. “It’s a scandal,” he said, adding that as winter comes people desperately need blankets and mattresses — and also a no-fly zone so that those who still have homes can return to them without fear of bombings.

Some Syrians are starting to grumble, he said, that the United States must secretly want Mr. Assad to stay in power, because it isn’t doing anything significant to oust him.

The problem with Western dithering is not only that it allows the humanitarian crisis to grow, but that it’s also contrary to our own interests. I’m generally a fan of President Obama’s foreign policy, but, on Syria, he has been behind the curve from the beginning. It’s true that there are no good options here, but that’s a poor excuse for paralysis.

NATO should create a no-fly zone in northern Syria and provide weapons (short of antiaircraft missiles) and intelligence and training for the rebels, to break the stalemate. Otherwise, as the war drags on endlessly, more people are killed and injured, neighboring countries are destabilized, and Muslim extremists gain credibility because they do confront the regime. Worst of all, sectarian tensions are growing and could turn Syria into a Somalia.

Most of the displaced here are Sunni Muslims, and leaders of the Assad regime are members of the minority Alawite sect. That conflict is internalized even among children.

A 14-year-old boy, Muhammad Abbas, showed me scars on his stomach where a bomb had gravely injured him (and killed his best friend). He now must use a colostomy bag to collect his wastes.

“I blame the Alawites,” he said venomously. “They should all be killed.”

Last but not least here’s Mr. Bruni who seems to have just discovered that cyberspace isn’t private:

Ask yourself: if Anthony Weiner had been sitting on a bar stool when his libido flared, would he have reached out and flashed someone? Taken off his shirt, then taken off even more?

Highly doubtful. And it’s just as doubtful that if he’d been flirting with a groupie across a restaurant table, rather than on Facebook, he would have talked as dirty as he did. Too many potential eavesdroppers.

But cyberspace unleashed him, goading him to boldly go where no would-be New York City mayor should. And cyberspace undid him, creating an indelible record of where he’d traveled, and in what manner of undress. In lieu of eavesdroppers whom he could have disputed, he had digital footprints that he couldn’t deny, and they traced a path not to Gracie Mansion but to political ruin.

Like Tiger Woods and so many others before and after him, Weiner met up with what may go down as the greatest contradiction of contemporary life: how safe we feel at our touch pads and keyboards; how exposed and imperiled we really are.

That’s the contradiction that David Petraeus and Paula Broadwell are now coming to terms with, and the oxymoron brought to mind by the imprudent escapades of these two — along with the Tampa socialite with diplomatic “inviolability,” the other general with too much time for e-mail and the F.B.I. agent who made a mannequin sandwich of himself — isn’t “military intelligence.” It’s “electronic privacy.”

There’s no true, dependable privacy when we’re tapping or typing. And on one level we’re conscious of this. Major scandals, minor news stories and the plots of police procedurals remind us, time and again, that the seemingly evanescent communications through our smartphones, tablets, laptops (how presciently named!) and personal computers aren’t evanescent at all. They live on, float around and can be reeled in by a lawyer with a subpoena, a hacker with an agenda or a run-of-the-mill technician just letting his curiosity get the better of him.

But this awareness is more a faint beep at the edges of our thoughts than the screeching siren it should be. It doesn’t fully sink in, because it’s so dissonant with how protected and anonymous a cocoon we seem to inhabit when we’re texting, e-mailing or surfing the Web. A neighbor has no eyes or ears on what we’re up to. Neither does the co-worker in the adjacent cubicle, the pregnant woman nursing a decaffeinated latte at the next table or, for that matter, the significant other snoozing just a few inches away.

There’s a thrilling sense of isolation and permission, and the dim threat of eventual discovery is apparently no match for it. If it were, the example of the disgraced Congressman Mark Foley would have stopped Weiner, and the trials of the displaced Gov. Mark Sanford would have given Petraeus pause.

THE Petraeus drama reflects the enticements and betrayals of our new, disembodied modes of discourse. The come-ons, the flirtations, the stalking, the alleged harassment: all were abetted by the deceptive cloak of cyberspace, and all were immortalized there. It’s a story of people not just behaving badly but e-mailing badly as well. Has that now become a distinction without a difference? Have the lines entirely blurred?

Cyberspace gives people more than an illusion of protection. It gives them nerve, freeing them to engage in a kind of explicit and assertive dialogue that two people sitting across from each other, or even talking on the phone, would in most cases be too shy to broach. It allows for false fronts, a false bravado and, with both, a false, reckless velocity.

Back in the era of a Jane Austen novel, a suitor put pen to paper, his pace slow, his pauses frequent and the reply — itself written in longhand — probably weeks away. Romance had a rhythm that accommodated reconsideration. It had a built-in cooling-off period.

The sexting, cyber-assisted hookups and online affairs of today have nothing of the sort. They unfold at the speed of impulse, in part because they have such a hypothetical, provisional aspect, negotiated as they are in a cloud of sorts, no contact required. But their weightlessness is paired with their durable record.

That contradiction covers more than romantic overtures and erotic play, and anyone who sees nothing of himself or herself in the digital heedlessness of Petraeus or Weiner is focusing too narrowly on the sex.

Be honest: when’s the last time you tossed off a snide aside about a colleague or a secret about a friend in an e-mail whose retrieval would cause you not just embarrassment but actual trouble? A week ago? An hour ago?

You did it despite all the instances when you or someone you knew had mistyped the address at the top of an e-mail — such an easy error, given the way our precocious devices assume our thoughts and finish them for us — and the message had landed where it wasn’t supposed to.

You did it despite the knowledge that an employer with no compunction about intrusion could be spying.

And you did it because that glowing and treacherous screen in front of you is somehow the greenest light of all, persuading you that you’re alone with your malice, your mischief, your game of pretend. After all, how could a communion so faceless prompt a brutal unmasking?

Christ, that was moronic.  I have a vision of Mr. Bruni frantically scrubbing tweets…  What a schmuck.


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