Archive for the ‘Bruni’ Category

Friedman and Bruni

November 25, 2015

Tommy has been given a tour and chatted with someone in Riyadh.  This led to him producing his “Letter From Saudi Arabia,” in which he breathlessly tells us that a stirring for change was evident during a visit to the kingdom and an evening with the 30-year-old deputy crown prince.  Right…  In the comments, a NYT picked comment no less, “wenzel dehn” from Ohio had this to say:  “Women segregated at a public talk? Wearing all black? Yeah, they are all about change.  Still flogging people for ideas? Yeah, they are all about change.  Still blaming the behavior of Shia Muslims as the reason Sunni Muslims have taken the Wahabi extremist position they do, and not one hint that the money and guidance and soldiers are coming from with the Saudi kingdom? Yeah, they are all about change.  They have every right to have a 12th century barbaric justice system, every right to treat women and others as less than themselves, just as we have the right to turn off the tap to cheap weapons which will only end up being used against us when they end up in the hands of Daesh.”  I’ve got my fingers crossed that Charlie Pierce at Esquire addresses this, or Matt Taibbi…  Mr. Bruni, in “The Gift of Reading,” says books are fundamental engines of advancement, illumination, wonder. Let’s get them in more children’s hands.  Here’s TMOW:

Saudi Arabia is a country that is easier to write about from afar, where you can just tee off on the place as a source of the most austere, antipluralistic version of Islam — the most extreme versions of which have been embraced by the Islamic State, or ISIS. What messes me up is when I go there and meet people I really like and I see intriguing countertrends.

Last week I came here looking for clues about the roots of ISIS, which has drawn some 1,000 Saudi youth to its ranks. I won’t pretend to have penetrated the mosques of bearded young men, steeped in Salafist/Wahhabi Islam, who don’t speak English and whence ISIS draws recruits. I know, though, that the conservative clergy is still part of the ruling bargain here — some of the most popular Twitter voices are religious firebrands — and those religious leaders still run the justice system and sentence liberal bloggers to flogging, and they’re still in denial about how frustrated the world is with the ideology they’ve exported.

But I also ran into something I didn’t know: Something is stirring in this society. This is not your grandfather’s Saudi Arabia. “Actually, it’s not even my father’s Saudi Arabia anymore — it is not even my generation’s Saudi Arabia anymore,” the country’s 52-year-old foreign minister, Adel al-Jubeir, said to me.

For instance, I was hosted by the King Salman Youth Center, an impressive education foundation that, among other things, has been translating Khan Academy videos into Arabic. It invited me to give a lecture on how big technological forces are affecting the workplace. I didn’t know what to expect, but more than 500 people showed up, filling the hall, roughly half of them women who sat in their own sections garbed in traditional black robes. There was blowback on Twitter as to why a columnist who’s been critical of Saudi Arabia’s export of Salafist ideology should be given any platform. But the reception to my talk (I was not paid) was warm, and the questions from the audience were probing and insightful about how to prepare their kids for the 21st century.

It appears that conservatives here have a lot more competition now for the future identity of this country, thanks to several converging trends. First, most of Saudi Arabia is younger than 30. Second, a decade ago, King Abdullah said he’d pay the cost for any Saudi who wanted to study abroad. That’s resulted in 200,000 Saudis studying overseas today (including 100,000 in America), and now 30,000 a year are coming back with Western degrees and joining the labor force. You now see women in offices everywhere, and several senior officials whispered to me how often the same conservatives who decry women in the workplace quietly lobby them to get their daughters into good schools or jobs.

Finally, just as this youth bulge exploded here, so did Twitter and YouTube — a godsend for a closed society. Young Saudis are using Twitter to talk back to the government and to converse with one another on the issues of the day, producing more than 50 million tweets per month.

What’s been missing was a leadership ready to channel this energy into reform. Enter the new King Salman’s son, Mohammed bin Salman, the 30-year-old deputy crown prince, who, along with the moderate crown prince, Mohammed bin Nayef, has embarked on a mission to transform how Saudi Arabia is governed.

I spent an evening with Mohammed bin Salman at his office, and he wore me out. With staccato energy bursts, he laid out in detail his plans. His main projects are an online government dashboard that will transparently display the goals of each ministry, with monthly K.P.I.s — key performance indicators — for which each minister will be held accountable. His idea is to get the whole country engaged in government performance. Ministers tell you: Since Mohammed arrived, big decisions that took two years to make now happen in two weeks.

“The key challenges are our overdependence on oil and the way we prepare and spend our budgets,” Mohammed explained. His plan is to reduce subsidies to wealthy Saudis, who won’t get cheap gas, electricity or water anymore, possibly establish a value-added tax and sin taxes on cigarettes and sugary drinks, and both privatize and tax mines and undeveloped lands in ways that can unlock billions — so even if oil falls to $30 a barrel, Riyadh will have enough revenues to keep building the country without exhausting its savings. He’s also creating incentives for Saudis to leave government and join the private sector.

“Seventy percent of Saudis are under age 30, and their perspective is different from the other 30 percent,” said Mohammed. “I am working to create for them the country they want to be living in in the future.”

Is this a mirage or the oasis? I don’t know. Will it produce a more open Saudi Arabia or a more efficient conservative Saudi Arabia? I don’t know. It definitely bears watching, though. “ “I’ve never been more optimistic,” Mohammed Abdullah Aljadaan, chairman of the Saudi Capital Market Authority, told me. “We have a pulse that we’ve never seen before, and we have a [role] model in government we thought we’d never see.”

Bottom line: There are still dark corners here exporting intolerant ideas. But they seem to now have real competition from both the grass roots and a leadership looking to build its legitimacy around performance, not just piety or family name. As one Saudi educator said to me, “There is still resistance to change,” but there is now much more “resistance to the resistance.”

Mohammed has had the important backing of his father, King Salman, who has replaced both the key health and housing ministers with nonroyal business executives as part of a broader shift to professionalize the government and stimulate the private sector to take a bigger role in the economy. The new health minister was the most important C.E.O. in the country, Khalid al-Falih, who was running the national oil company, Aramco.

Streamlining government, Mohammed said, is vital to “help us fight corruption,” which “is one of our main challenges.” Moreover, only by phasing out subsidies and raising domestic energy prices, he added, can Saudi Arabia one day install “nuclear power generation or solar power generation” and make them competitive in the local market. That is badly needed so that more Saudi oil can be exported rather than consumed at home, he said.

But this will all be tricky. Saudi workers pay no income tax. “Our society does not accept taxes; [citizens] are not used to them,” said Mohammed. So the fact that the government may be increasing taxes in some way, shape or form could have political ramifications: Will the leaders hear declarations of “no taxation without representation”?

How far things will go in that direction — Saudi Arabia already has municipal elections where women can run and vote — is unclear. But the new government does seem to intuit that to the extent that its welfare state has to be shrunk, because of the falling price of oil, its performance and responsiveness have to rise.

“A government that is not a part of the society and not representing them, it is impossible that it will remain,” said Mohammed. “We saw that in the Arab Spring. The governments that survived are only those that are connected to their people. People misunderstand our monarchy. It is not like Europe. It is a tribal form of monarchy, with many tribes and subtribes and regions connecting to the top.” Their wishes and interests have to be taken into account. “The king cannot just wake up and decide to do something.”

There were other little things that caught my eye on this visit — like the Western symphony orchestra playing on Saudi state-run television one afternoon and the collection of contemporary paintings by Saudi artists, including one of a Saudi woman by a Saudi woman, on display in the Ministry of Information.

As for ISIS, Mohammed disputed that it is a product of Saudi religious thinking, arguing that it was in fact a counterreaction to the brutalization of Iraqi Sunnis by the Iranian-directed Shiite-led government in Baghdad of Nouri al-Maliki and to the crushing of Syrian Sunnis by the Iranian-backed government in Damascus. “There was no [ISIS] before America departed from Iraq. And then America leaves and Iran enters, and then ISIS appears,” he said.

He complained that at a time when ISIS is blowing up mosques in Saudi Arabia in an effort to destabilize the regime, the world is accusing Saudi Arabia of inspiring ISIS: “The [ISIS] terrorists are telling me that I am not a Muslim. And the world is telling me I am a terrorist.”

This is the legacy, though, of decades of one part of the Saudi government and society promoting Salafist Islam and the other part working with the West to curb jihadists. As I said, the world has been frustrated with that dichotomy.

Mohammed argued that the ISIS narrative is beamed directly to Saudi youth via Twitter, and that the message is: “The West is trying to enforce its agenda on you — and the Saudi government is helping them — and Iran is trying to colonize the Arab world. So we — ISIS — are defending Islam.”

He added: “We don’t blame the West for misreading us. It is partly our fault. We don’t explain our situation. The world is changing rapidly, and we need to reprioritize to be with the world. Today the world is different. You cannot be isolated from the world. The world must know what is going on in your neighborhood, and we must know what is going on in the world — [it’s] a global village.

In Yemen, a Saudi-led Gulf coalition has been fighting a coalition of Houthi militants and rebels loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who are backed by Iran. The rebels pushed the official Yemeni government out of the capital, Sana, in March and the Saudi coalition is trying to restore it to power. So far, the U.N. reports, some 5,700 people have been killed, many of them civilians. Saudi officials made clear to me that they are ready for a negotiated solution, and don’t want to be stuck in a quagmire there, but that the Houthis will get serious only if they keep losing ground, as they have been.

“The other side has trouble reaching a political consensus,” said Mohammed, who is also defense minister. “But whenever they sustain loses on the ground and international pressure, they get serious [about negotiating]. We are trying to bring this to an end.”

Like just about every official I spoke with on this trip to the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, Mohammed voiced a desire for America not to abandon the region. “There are times when there is a leader and not a leader [in the world], and when there are no leaders, chaos will ensue.”

Sure, he didn’t meet anyone from a radical mosque, sure the women are segregated (in their black robes), sure radical clerics control the legal system and impose 12th Century punishments, and Tommy’s sure the winds of change are blowing…  Cripes.  Here’s Mr. Bruni:

The list of what a child needs in order to flourish is short but nonnegotiable.

Food. Shelter. Play. Love.

Something else, too, and it’s meted out in even less equal measure.

Words. A child needs a forest of words to wander through, a sea of words to splash in. A child needs to be read to, and a child needs to read.

Reading fuels the fires of intelligence and imagination, and if they don’t blaze well before elementary school, a child’s education — a child’s life —may be an endless game of catch-up.

That’s a truth at the core of the indispensable organization Reading Is Fundamental, a nonprofit group that provides hundreds of thousands of free books annually to children age 8 or younger, in particular those from economically disadvantaged homes, where books are a greater luxury and in shorter supply.

I shine a light on Reading Is Fundamental, or R.I.F., for several reasons.

We’re in the midst of giving thanks, and this group deserves plenty. It has distributed more than 410 million books to more than 40 million American children.

We’re on the cusp of the year-end holiday season, during which many people turn their attention to charity, making the most generous of their yearly donations. I urge everyone to think about literacy, books, early childhood education and organizations, like R.I.F., that support them.

And we’re a texting, tweeting, distracted country in which too many children don’t read at grade level, too many forces conspire against any improvement in that and too heavy a price is paid.

R.I.F. just began its 50th year of work — it was born in November 1966 — and is marking that milestone with some new approaches and a fresh determination to spread its message despite budget challenges. With the clampdown on federal spending over recent years, it lost about $24 million in annual funding that it had come to rely on. That represented more than two-thirds of its budget, which now leans harder on private contributions.

Consequently, R.I.F. gives away fewer books in a given year than it once did. It was down to 1.8 million last year from a high of about 17 million more than a decade ago.

But R.I.F. has signed on as a partner with ustyme — a digital platform that enables multiple users to read or play video games together — to make sure that underprivileged children in particular take advantage of ustyme’s Billion e-Book Gift, which will provide access to a digital library of 50 previously selected children’s titles, many in Spanish as well as English. Those titles can be downloaded by visiting, starting Dec. 1.

The ebook reflects R.I.F.’s determination to get kids to read in whatever manner best accomplishes that. The goal is to develop a muscle, nurture a habit, maybe even spark a passion. You never know where a little reading might lead.

Ellen Halliday, the R.I.F. coordinator for the Brooklyn Public Library, recalled a mother who worried that her 8-year-old son was wasting his time with easy, breezy, frivolous books.

“Then one day,” Halliday told me, “when he was about 9 or 10, he said to me, ‘You know, I got this book, and this author — I can really see what he’s talking about when he talks about the shire or the hobbit. I think this Tolkien guy is an excellent author.’”

R.I.F. was the brainchild of Margaret McNamara, whose experience as a teacher convinced her that for many poor kids, one of the main barriers to proficient reading was simply access to books.

The group became known for its Bookmobiles, trucks that pulled up to schoolhouses to dispense books the way a Good Humor or Mister Softee truck dispenses ice cream — only for free.

It’s vital nourishment. Research suggests that during their earliest years, kids from disadvantaged homes don’t hear as robust a variety of words as kids from privileged ones, and that’s the prelude to a series of other gaps with bearing on their success in school and beyond.

Early reading is one of the remedies.

“Reading follows an upward spiral,” said Daniel Willingham, a professor of psychology at the University of Virginia and the author of “Raising Kids Who Read,” which was published earlier this year.

“Kids who read more get better at reading, and because they are better at reading, it’s easier and more pleasurable so they read still more,” he said. “And kids who read well don’t just do better in English class — it helps them in math, science and every other class, too.”

I’d go even further. Reading tugs them outside of themselves, connecting them to a wider world and filling it with wonder. It’s more than fundamental. It’s transformative.


Friedman and Bruni

November 11, 2015

The Moustache of Wisdom says “Voters, You Can Have Everything!” and that there’s no end to the promises of the presidential candidates.  Mr. Bruni watched “A Troubled G.O.P. Debate for Donald Trump and Jeb Bush” and tells us that the billionaire is wearing thin, the scion is fading away and the youngsters have the thunder.  Here’s TMOW:

I confess, as much as I am troubled by Donald Trump’s anti-immigrant, anti-free-trade tirades, I do find The Donald’s campaign strategy truly interesting. He’s not, as people say, an “anti-politician.” He’s actually caricaturing politicians. And like any great caricaturist, Trump identifies his subject’s most salient features and then exaggerates them.

In Trump’s case the feature he’s identifying is the ease with which career politicians look right into a camera and lie or embellish. Since so many politicians had come to Trump’s office seeking his money or endorsement when he was just a businessman, and told him whatever they thought he wanted to hear, he’s obviously an expert in their shtick. And so Trump has just taken the joke to the next level.

Indeed, if I were writing a book about this campaign, it would open with Trump’s Sept. 27 CBS “60 Minutes” interview. Trump touts his plan for universal health care, telling Scott Pelley, “I am going to take care of everybody.” And when Pelley asks how, Trump gives the greatest quote so far of the 2015 campaign:

“The government’s gonna pay for it. But we’re going to save so much money on the other side. But for the most [part] it’s going to be a private plan and people are going to be able to go out and negotiate great plans with lots of different competition with lots of competitors, with great companies — and they can have their doctors, they can have plans, they can have everything.”

I just love that last line: “They can have their doctors, they can have plans, they can have everything!

And the best part is that it was not said on “Saturday Night Live.” It was on “60 Minutes.” Poor Jeb Bush, he just can’t go that far. He’s just a standard-issue political exaggerator. (See his economic plan.) Trump is the caricature, the industrial version. That’s why you can’t tell the difference when he’s on “S.N.L.” or on “60 Minutes.”

Mario Cuomo famously said: “‘You campaign in poetry. You govern in prose.’” Trump says, in effect: That’s for normal hack politicians. I will campaign in fantasy and govern in prose. Why not?”

Given how ludicrous some of the G.O.P. presidential tax plans are, Trump seems to have started a you-can-have-everything arms race. Even Bernie Sanders is promising free tuition at public colleges, more Social Security benefits and free child care to be paid mostly by taxing the top 1 percent — no trade-offs necessary for the middle class.

And the new House speaker, Paul Ryan, who isn’t even running, has joined in. Ryan described Obama’s decision to kill the Keystone XL pipeline project as “sickening,” adding: “If the president wants to spend the rest of his time in office catering to special interests, that’s his choice to make. But it’s just wrong.”

That is truly Orwellian: At a time when the G.O.P. has become a wholly owned subsidiary of the oil and gas industry, Ryan accuses Obama of catering to special interests; he calls the president’s decision to block a pipeline to transport tar sands oil, one of the dirtiest fuels in the world, “sickening” and labels combating climate change a “special interest.” This guy belongs in the Republican debates.

Alas, though, the next president will not be governing in fantasy — but with some cruel math. So the gap between this campaign and the morning after is likely to make for one really cold shower.

Start with geopolitics. The size of the governance hole that would have to be filled to simultaneously destroy the Islamic State, or ISIS, defeat Syria’s dictator, Bashar al-Assad, and rebuild Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Libya into self-sustaining governments is staggering. And yet the cost of doing too little — endlessly bleeding refugees into our allies Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon and the European Union — is also astronomical. When the cost of action and the cost of inaction both feel unaffordable, you have a wicked problem.

Not only do the tax-cutting plans offered by the leading Republican candidates create eye-popping deficits, but some Democratic tax hike proposals don’t quite add up, either. As the Washington Post economics columnist Robert Samuelson reported last week, a Brookings Institution study found that even if the top income tax rate were increased to 50 percent from 39.6 percent, it would cover less than a quarter of the deficit for the 2015 fiscal year, let alone generate funds for increased investment.

If we want to invest now in more infrastructure — as we should do — and make sure we don’t overburden the next generation to pay for all the retiring baby boomers, something will have to give, or as Samuelson put it: “If middle-class Americans need or want bigger government, they will have to pay for it. Sooner or later, a tax increase is coming their way. There is no tooth fairy.”

And finally, with carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere having just reached heights not seen in millennium, if we want to “manage the unavoidable” effects of climate change and “avoid the unmanageable” ones, it will surely require a price on carbon — soon.

So enjoy the fun of this campaign while it lasts, because the next president will not be governing in poetry or prose or fantasy — but with excruciating trade-offs. The joke is on us.

And now here’s Mr. Bruni:

Going into the latest debate, the trending question about Jeb Bush on Google was whether he was “still running for president.”

The answer is yes, and on Tuesday night, he tried, yet again, to put an exclamation point on it.

After a week of fresh attention to the rococo psychology of the Bush dynasty, after huddles with new media advisers, after countless requiems for his campaign, Bush gave his troubled, increasingly quixotic quest one more shot, maybe his last.

But he couldn’t quite run. The best that Bush has in him, in the end, is a vigorous limp.

He started the night well, staring down Donald Trump on the question of illegal immigration and sarcastically thanking Trump for giving him some speaking time.

“What a generous man you are,” he told Trump before going on to attack his supposed plan to deport millions of immigrants as wrong and mean.

“It’s not embracing American values and it would tear communities apart,” Bush said emphatically.

But during a subsequent argument over federal spending, one in which the insertion of Bush’s voice would have made complete sense, he stood mute, unable to find a way into the discussion even as John Kasich successfully butted in and took up residence there.

And in the second half of the debate, when Bush said that Trump’s statements about Vladimir Putin, Syria and the Islamic State made the world sound like “a board game,” he had his thunder stolen by Carly Fiorina.

She went bolder, louder and snarkier, noting that when she met Putin it was “not in a green room.” She thus dismissed Trump as nothing more than a frivolous TV presence, a talking head with a tepee of hair.

And she really got under his skin.

“Why does she keep interrupting everybody?” Trump said, seemingly forgetting that he’d been trying to make nice with her ever since that sexist, ugly comment about her face. He was booed.

And it wasn’t the first time.

Earlier, when he spat out some nastiness at Kasich, there were also boos.

Trump’s bullying is getting as old as his bellicosity is wearing thin, and this debate, the fourth meeting of Republican candidates, made that abundantly clear.

Here’s what else came into focus:

Kasich and Bush have each made a firm, last-ditch decision to play the seasoned, reasonable veteran among interlopers spouting nonsense and hard-core conservatives who could never beat Hillary Clinton. Sadly for Bush, Kasich played the part with more passion.

“On-the-job training for president of the United States doesn’t work,” Kasich said, alluding to President Obama and taking a dig at Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz without mentioning their names.

Rubio is not just smooth but clever and disciplined. Eager to live up to the buzz that he’s really the front-runner, and even more eager to put to rest the chatter that he’s too young and callow, he stood tallest and spoke most forcefully when talking about issues of global leadership. It was as if he’d come dressed in a T-shirt that said “Commander in Chief.”

But he was scary, charting a course of unrestrained interventionism, and when he fielded a final question about how he’d stack up to Clinton, he reverted to talking points.

Cruz then grabbed the ball, skewering Clinton more sharply and showing that he could out-eloquent Rubio and out-nasty anyone. Has a young politician ever managed to be so impressive and so repulsive all at once?

That’s the fascination of Cruz, and the most fun Tuesday night was his stumble on the very ground that tripped up Rick Perry four years ago. During a debate back then, Perry said he wanted to eliminate three federal departments or agencies and could name only two. Cruz said he wanted to eliminate five and named the Commerce Department twice.

Neither Cruz nor Rubio did anything to destroy the momentum they carried out of the last debate. Fiorina may get another brief bounce. AndBen Carson? He was again so low-key he almost seemed sleepy. He sounded utterly out of his depth on foreign policy. But he wasn’t rattled at all by a question (too brief, with no follow-up) about his exaggerated autobiography. He meanders on.

The stage was strangely denuded, like a forest after overzealous logging. There were eight contenders where there had once been 11 — back in the glory days of Scott Walker.

Even so, Bush couldn’t and didn’t stand out the way he, more than anyone else, really needed to.

He can take some solace though, in the No. 1 questions about two rivals that were trending on Google.

“Who is Rand Paul?” was one.

And the other, my favorite: “Why do Republicans hate Ted Cruz?”

Bruni, solo

November 4, 2015

The Moustache of Wisdom is off today, so Mr. Bruni has the place to himself.  In “The Catholic Church’s Sins Are Ours” he says that by coddling religion and bowing before the godly we sometimes let wrongdoing fester, as a superb new movie shows.  Here he is:

It’s fashionable among some conservatives to rail that there’s insufficient respect for religion in America and that religious people are marginalized, even vilified.

That’s bunk. In more places and instances than not, they get special accommodation and the benefit of the doubt. Because they talk of God, they’re assumed to be good. There’s a reluctance to besmirch them, an unwillingness to cross them.

The new movie “Spotlight,” based on real events, illuminates this brilliantly.

“Spotlight” — which opens in New York, Los Angeles and Boston on Friday and nationwide later this month — chronicles the painstaking manner in which editors and writers at The Boston Globe documented a pattern of child sexual abuse by Roman Catholic priests and the concealment of these crimes by Catholic leaders.

Because of the movie’s focus on the digging and dot-connecting that go into investigative reporting, it has invited comparisons to “All the President’s Men.”

But it isn’t about journalism. Or, for that matter, Catholicism.

It’s about the damage done when we genuflect too readily before society’s temples, be they religious or governmental. It’s about the danger of faith that’s truly blind.

It takes place in 2001 and 2002, and that time frame itself is a remarkable reflection of how steadfastly most Americans resist any intrusion into religious groups, any indictment of religious officials.

Eight years earlier, James Porter was convicted of sexually abusing 28 children in the 1960s, when he was in the Catholic priesthood. He was believed to have abused about 100 boys and girls in all, most of them in Massachusetts.

Major newspapers and television networks covered the Porter story, noting a growing number of cases of abuse by priests. Porter’s sentencing in December 1993 was preceded by two books that traced the staggering dimensions of such behavior. The first was “Lead Us Not Into Temptation,” by Jason Berry. The second was “A Gospel of Shame,” with which I’m even more familiar. I’m one of its two authors.

But despite all of that attention, Americans kept being shocked whenever a fresh tally of abusive priests was done or new predators were exposed. They clung to disbelief.

“Spotlight” is admirably blunt on this point, suggesting that the Globe staff — which, in the end, did the definitive reporting on church leaders’ complicity in the abuse — long ignored an epidemic right before their eyes.

Why? For some of the same reasons that others did. Many journalists, parents, police officers and lawyers didn’t want to think ill of men of the cloth, or they weren’t eager to get on the bad side of the church, with its fearsome authority and supposed pipeline to God. (After the coverage of the Porter case, Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston announced, “We call down God’s power on the media, particularly the Globe.”)

“Spotlight” lays out the many ways in which deference to religion protected abusers and their abettors. At one point in the movie, a man who was molested as a boy tells a Globe reporter about a visit his mother got from the bishop, who was asking her not to press charges.

“What did your mother do?” the reporter asks.

“She put out freakin’ cookies,” the man says.

When the cookies finally went away, many Catholic leaders insisted that the church was being persecuted, and the crimes of priests exaggerated, by spiteful secularists.

But if anything, the church had been coddled, benefiting from the American way of giving religion a free pass and excusing religious institutions not just from taxes but from rules that apply to other organizations.

A 2006 series in The Times, “In God’s Name,” noted that since 1989, “more than 200 special arrangements, protections or exemptions for religious groups or their adherents were tucked into congressional legislation, covering topics ranging from pensions to immigration to land use.” That was before the Supreme Court, in its Hobby Lobby decision, allowed some employers to claim religion as grounds to disobey certain heath insurance mandates.

A story in The Times this week described how various religions are permitted to use internal arbitration procedures to settle disputes that belong in civil court. It cited a federal judge’s ruling that a former Scientologist had to take his claim that Scientology had defrauded him of tens of thousands of dollars before a panel of current Scientologists.

To cloak sexual abuse and shield abusive priests, Catholic leaders and their lawyers routinely leaned on the church’s privileged status, invoking freedom of religion, the separation of church and state, and the secrecy of the confessional. They thus delayed a reckoning.

“If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to abuse one,” says a character in “Spotlight.” Indeed it does: a village too cowed, and a village too credulous.

Kristof, Bruni and Collins

October 29, 2015

In “Sentenced to be Crucified” Mr. Kristof says  Western governments bite their tongues as Saudi Arabia legitimizes fundamentalism and intolerance in the Islamic world.  No shit…  Mr. Bruni says “Ben Carson and Donald Trump Lack Electricity in a Charged Debate,” and that it’s Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz with the biggest moments in the third meeting of Republican contenders.  Which was still a comedy show.  Ms. Collins, in “Oh, Those Debating Republicans,” says one of these candidates is going to be the nominee for president. Really.  I know, Gail — it’s terrifying.  Here’s Mr. Kristof:

Any day now, our Saudi Arabian allies may behead and crucify a young man named Ali al-Nimr.

His appeals following his court sentence for this grisly execution have been exhausted, so guards may lead Nimr to a public square and hack off his head with a sword as onlookers jeer. Then, following Saudi protocol for crucifixion, they would hang his body as a warning to others.

Nimr’s offense? He was arrested at age 17 for participating in anti-government protests. The government has said he attacked police officers and rioted, but the only known evidence is a confession apparently extracted under torture that left him a bloody mess.

“When I visited my son for the first time I didn’t recognize him,” his mother, Nusra al-Ahmed,told The Guardian. “I didn’t know whether this really was my son Ali or not.”

Nimr was recently moved to solitary confinement in preparation for execution. In Britain, where the sentence has received attention, the foreign secretary says he does “not expect” it to be carried out. But Nimr’s family fears execution could come any day.

Saudi Arabia’s medieval criminal justice system also executes “witches,” and flogs and imprisons gay people.

It’s time for a frank discussion about our ally Saudi Arabia and its role legitimizing fundamentalism and intolerance in the Islamic world. Western governments have tended to bite their tongues because they see Saudi Arabia as a pillar of stability in a turbulent region — but I’m not sure that’s right.

Saudi Arabia has supported Wahhabi madrasas in poor countries in Africa and Asia, exporting extremism and intolerance. Saudi Arabia also exports instability with its brutal war in Yemen, intended to check what it sees as Iranian influence. Saudi airstrikes have killed thousands, and theblockading of ports has been even more devastating. Some Yemeni children are starving, and 80 percent of Yemenis now need assistance.

There’s also an underlying hypocrisy in Saudi behavior. This is a country that sentenced a 74-year-old British man to 350 lashes for possessing alcohol (some British reports say he may be allowed to leave Saudi Arabia following international outrage), yet I’ve rarely seen as much hard liquor as at Riyadh parties attended by government officials.

A Saudi prince, Majed Abdulaziz al-Saud, was just arrested in Los Angeles in a $37 million mansion he had rented, after allegedly drinking heavily, hiring escorts, using cocaine, terrorizing women and threatening to kill people.

“I am a prince,” he declared, according to an account in The Los Angeles Times. “And I do what I want.”

Saudi Arabia isn’t the enemy, but it is a problem. It could make so much positive difference in the Islamic world if it used its status to soothe Sunni-Shiite tensions and encourage tolerance. For a time, under King Abdullah, it seemed that the country was trying to reform, but now under King Salman it has stalled.

In effect, Saudi Arabia legitimizes fundamentalism, religious discrimination, intolerance and the oppression of women. Saudi women not only can’t drive, but are also told by some clerics that they mustn’t wear seatbelts for fear of showing the outlines of their bodies. Saudi Arabia inflames the Sunni-Shiite divide and sets a pernicious example of intolerance by banning churches.

Even Iran lately has mocked Saudi Arabia for mistreating women — and when misogynistic Iranian hard-liners can claim the high ground on women’s rights, you’ve got a problem.

I’ve defended Islam from critics like Bill Maher who, as I see it, demonize a diverse faith of 1.6 billion Muslims because a small percentage are violent extremists. But it’s incumbent on those of us who object to this demonization to speak up against genuine extremism. Sadly, Saudi Arabia is a gift to Islamophobes; it does far more damage to the reputation of Islam than any blaspheming cartoonists.

Granted, many Saudis are pushing for reform. One bright young writer,Raif Badawi, 31, called eloquently for women’s rights, education reform and freedom of thought, and Saudi Arabia has sentenced him to 10 years in prison, a $267,000 fine and a flogging of 1,000 lashes (50 at a time, with one session administered so far). His wife, Ensaf Haidar, tells me that his flogging is to resume soon after a long suspension, and that she fears he will not survive the entire lashing.

The United States government has largely averted its eyes from all this, at least in public, merely expressing deep concern about the crucifixion sentence even as it provides weaponry to enable the Saudi assault on Yemen.

That’s realpolitik. Saudi Arabia has oil and influence, and the Obama administration needed to cuddle with Saudi Arabia to win the Iranian nuclear deal. But now that that deal has been achieved, should we still be silent?

We do neither ourselves nor the Saudi people any favors when we wink at an ally that crucifies its people.

Well, we’ve decided that it’s just fine and dandy to torture people, so…  Here’s Mr. Bruni:

What a curious, fascinating spectacle: The two men in the lead got lost in the pack.

Coming into Wednesday night, much of the talk about the third Republican debate focused on Donald Trump and Ben Carson, who were trading places at the top of the polls, two outsiders with no business running for president and significantly more support from Republican voters than any of the conventional candidates could muster.

Which of the two would stand out?


Would either of the two seal the deal?


For the first hour of the debate, which was staged by CNBC, Trump largely disappeared. His rivals and the moderators demonstrated less interest in him than they had in the past, and a Trump without attention is like a petunia without water and light. It fades. It droops.

And while that presented a window of opportunity for Carson, he lacked the pep to get through a window or, for that matter, an extremely wide set of sliding doors. His eyelids sometimes went to half-mast as he swayed through an answer, making a sluggish voyage to an uncertain destination.

What is it that his supporters see in him?

That was John Kasich’s question, or rather his rant, and he started the evening with it, deciding to put all of his few remaining chips on the role of alarmed, truth-telling adult in a sandbox of delusional toddlers.

He made specific references to Trump’s promises to deport millions of immigrants and to Carson’s musings about eviscerating entitlement programs. He lambasted various opponents’ proposals for huge tax cuts.

“This stuff is fantasy,” he said, striving so hard for urgency that he practically yelped. “Folks, we gotta wake up. We cannot elect somebody that doesn’t know how to do the job.”

Trump knew full well that Kasich had him in mind, and noted that Kasich hadn’t talked this way months ago.

“Then his poll numbers tanked,” Trump said, “and he got nasty. So you know what? You can have him.”

Before the debate began, there was some worry—misplaced, as it turns out—that its fiscal focus would create a tame yawner of a night.

It did lead to an inordinate amount of chatter about flat taxes and shrunken tax policies and miniaturized tax returns. Carly Fiorina said that she’d collapse the whole tax code to three pages. Ted Cruz said that he’d enable Americans to file their tax returns on postcards.

I half expected Rand Paul to one-up them both by pledging to present all of his tax ideas in a single haiku. But he was too busy using his minimal speaking time to complain about his minimal speaking time.

Tempers flared. Voices rose. The economy-centered debate on the money-centered network packed ample emotion, in part because it strayed to such issues as gay rights and gun rights and in part because it came at a crucial moment for many of the debaters.

More so than during the first or second meeting of these candidates, participants acted as if this was the pivot point that would determine whether they’d be steaming forward or fading out. It was the time for meticulously plotted fury. It was the vessel for the best jokes, rejoinders and soliloquies they had. It was the cause for attack.

The defining exchange came early, when Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio banished any memory of their mentor-mentee relationship, which has been obliterated by their head-to-head competition to become level-headed Republicans’ answer to Trump and Carson.

Bush slammed Rubio for all the votes he had missed in the Senate as he concentrated on his presidential bid.

“When you signed up for this, this was a six-year term, and you should be showing up to work,” Bush admonished him. “I mean, literally, the Senate—what is it, like a French work week? You get, like, three days where you have to show up?”

He sharpened the dagger by addressing Rubio not as “Senator” but as “Marco.”

Friedman and Bruni

October 21, 2015

In “Are You Sure You Want the Job?” The Moustache of Wisdom says battles between superpowers and superempowered angry men and teams of cybercriminals and cyberterrorists await our next president.  Mr. Bruni ponders “The Scary Specter of Ted Cruz” and says the Texas senator lurks ever larger in the 2016 presidential race, which grows scarier by the week.  Here’s TMOW:

Having watched all the debates and seen all these people running for president, I can’t suppress the thought: Why would anyone want this job now? Do you people realize what’s going on out there? Obama’s hair hasn’t gone early gray for nothing. I mean, Air Force One is great and all, but it now comes with Afghanistan, ISIS and the Republican Freedom Caucus — not to mention a lot of people, places and things all coming unstuck at once.

Consider the scariest news article this year. On Friday, The Washington Post reported that “the Justice Department has charged a hacker in Malaysia with stealing the personal data of U.S. service members and passing it to the Islamic State terrorist group, which urged supporters online to attack them.” The article explained that, in June, Ardit Ferizi, the leader of a group of ethnic Albanian hackers from Kosovo who call themselves Kosova Hackers Security, “hacked into a server used by a U.S. online retail company” and “obtained data on about 100,000 people.”

Ferizi, it said, “is accused of passing the data to Islamic State member Junaid Hussain, a British citizen who in August posted links on Twitter to the names, email addresses, passwords, locations and phone numbers of 1,351 U.S. military and other government personnel. He included a warning that Islamic State ‘soldiers … will strike at your necks in your own lands!’” F.B.I. agents tracked Ferizi “to a computer with an Internet address in Malaysia,” where he was arrested. Meanwhile, Hussain was killed by a U.S. drone in Syria.

Wow: An Albanian hacker in Malaysia collaborating with an ISIS jihadist on Twitter to intimidate U.S. soldiers online — before we killed the jihadist with a drone!

Welcome to the future of warfare: superpowers versus superempowered angry men — and a tag-team of cybercriminals and cyberterrorists. They’re all a byproduct of a profound technology-driven inflection point that will greet the next president and will make the current debates look laughably obsolete in four years.

I was born into the Cold War era. It was a dangerous time with two nuclear-armed superpowers each holding a gun to the other’s head, and the doctrine of “mutually assured destruction” kept both in check. But we now know that the dictators that both America and Russia propped up in the Middle East and Africa suppressed volcanic sectarian conflicts.

The first decades of the post-Cold War era were also a time of relative stability. Dictators in Eastern Europe and Latin America gave way to democratically elected governments and free markets. Boris Yeltsin of Russia never challenged NATO expansion, and the Internet and global supply chains drove profitability up and the cost of labor and goods down. Interest rates were low, and although the income of men without college degrees declined, it was masked by rising home prices, subprime mortgages, easy credit, falling taxes and women joining the work force, so many household incomes continued to rise.

“Up until the year 2000, over 95 percent of the next generation were better off than the previous generation,” said Richard Dobbs, a director of the McKinsey Global Institute. Therefore, even though the rich were getting even richer than those down the income ladder “it did not lead to political unrest because the middle was moving ahead, too” and were sure to be richer than their parents.

But, in the last decade, we entered the post-post-Cold War era. The combination of technological, economic and climate pressures is literally blowing the lid off nation-states in the Middle East and Africa, unleashing sectarian conflicts that no dictator can suppress. Bad guys are getting superempowered and “mutually assured destruction” to ISIS is not a deterrent but an invitation to heaven. Robots are milking cows and IBM’s Watson computer can beat you at “Jeopardy!” and your doctor at radiology, so every decent job requires more technical and social skills — and continuous learning. In the West, a smaller number of young people, with billions in college tuition debts, will have to pay the Medicare and Social Security for the baby boomers now retiring, who will be living longer.

“Suddenly,” argues Dobbs, “the number of people who don’t believe they will be better off than their parents goes from zero to 25 percent or more.”

When you are advancing, you buy the system; you don’t care who’s a billionaire, because your life is improving. But when you stop advancing, added Dobbs, you can “lose faith in the system — whether that be globalization, free trade, offshoring, immigration, traditional Republicans or traditional Democrats. Because in one way or another they can be perceived as not working for you.”

And that is why Donald Trump is resonating in America, Marine Le Pen in France, the ISIS caliph in the Arab world, and Vladimir Putin in Russia. They all promise to bring back the certainties and prosperity of the Cold War or post-Cold War eras — by sacking the traditional elites who got us here and by building walls against change and against the superempowered angry men. They are all false prophets, but the storm they promise to hold back is very real.

And now we have Mr. Bruni:

Since leaving the White House, George W. Bush has taken pains not to insert himself into the events of the day. Not to weigh in. Not to utter statements bound to become headlines.

When he breaks that habit, you perk up and wonder why.

He broke it in regard to Ted Cruz.

According to a report in Politico on Monday, Bush used his unscripted remarks at a fund-raiser for his brother Jeb over the weekend to make clear that among Jeb’s rivals for the Republican nomination, one in particular rubs him the wrong way.

He described Cruz as cynically opportunistic and self-serving. And this assessment was so starkly at odds with Bush’s anodyne, even warm, remarks about other Republican presidential candidates that listeners were stunned, wrote Politico’s Eli Stokols.

Bush reportedly summed up his sentiments about Cruz, who worked as a policy adviser on Bush’s 2000 presidential campaign, with this blunt declaration: “I just don’t like the guy.”

I think a great many Americans — including a majority of Cruz’s colleagues in Congress — know exactly how he feels.

But there’s no solace in his words. Quite the opposite. He wouldn’t have felt compelled to utter them if Cruz wasn’t a possible factor in the race — if he wasn’t a menacing, stalking, relentless force to watch for and run from, like the body-hopping spirit in this year’s most celebrated horror movie, “It Follows.”

In fact Bush’s remarks at the fund-raiser apparently included a heads-up about Cruz’s potency, especially in primaries across the South.

The slow torture of the Republican primary knows no limit. First Donald Trump turns it into a carnival, then Ben Carson comes along with his insanity about the Holocaust and guns. Between them they own nearly 50 percent of the Republican vote, according to recent national surveys.

Examine those polls closely and your stomach clenches tighter. Cruz is “fourth in an average of the last three live-interview polls, at 8 percent,”wrote Harry Enten late last week on the website FiveThirtyEight. In a subsequent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, Cruz was again fourth, a few points behind Rubio and a point ahead of Bush.

It follows.

His campaign has more cash on hand than that of any other Republican in the hunt. If you add “super PAC” money that’s been officially disclosed so far to the tally, he trails only Jeb and Hillary Clinton.

It follows.

In a column earlier this month, I noted that alarmed Republican operatives were paying greater heed to Cruz, who seems to be positioning himself as the ultraconservative fallback — the rabble rouser in the bullpen — if angry voters rethink Trump or Carson and want an establishment-vilifying candidate with at least some government experience. Cruz is in his first term as a senator from Texas.

And what a first term it’s been, beginning with his insinuations that Chuck Hagel was a traitor, continuing through his preening “Green Eggs and Ham” quasi-filibuster, cresting with his public denunciation of the Republican Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, as a liar and culminating with his call for a government shutdown to prevent any federal funding of Planned Parenthood, a replay of his call for a government shutdown to do away with Obamacare.

He’s the patron saint of lost causes, at least if they bring the spotlight his way. In that sense he’s emblematic of the flamboyantly uncompromising comrades in the so-called Freedom Caucus in the House of Representatives, who similarly confuse attention with accomplishment.

All of them, with Cruz as their spiritual leader, have turned petulance into a theory of governing, or rather anti-governing, as they breezily disregard the contradiction of their ravenous lunge to become monarchs of a kingdom that they supposedly want to topple, to gain power over a system that they ostensibly intend to enfeeble.

Cruz doesn’t propose remedies. He performs rants. He’s not interested in collaboration or teamwork. His main use for other politicians, even in his party, is as foils and targets. Paul Ryan got a taste of that over the weekend, when Cruz, on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” was asked if Ryan was a true conservative and dodged the question, withholding his blessing.

He should be careful about genuineness versus phoniness, given the problems with his own prairie-populist pose.

Cruz’s law degree is from Harvard and he did his undergraduate work at Princeton, where the 250-year-old debating club that he belonged to is called the American Whig-Cliosophic Society. Cruz’s wife is on leave from a job with Goldman Sachs.

Keep that in mind when he rails against the establishment and the elites. And remember that when someone is as broadly and profoundly disliked as Cruz is, it’s usually not because he’s a principled truth teller.

It’s because he’s frightening.

Well, Frankie, which of the mole people running isn’t?

Bruni, solo

October 14, 2015

Well, Frank’s in the bag for Hillary.  In “Hillary Clinton’s Democratic Debate Magic” he gushes that with a poised, polished performance, she eclipsed Bernie Sanders in their first face-off of the race.  In the comments “Patrick, aka YBNormal” from Long Island, NY had this to say:  “Clinton is not a fighter and with the irrational Republican, we need a fighter which Sanders is. … Sending Hillary to fight Republicans is like taking a knife to a gunfight.”  Here’s Frankie:

I never doubted that Hillary Clinton had many talents.

I just didn’t know that seamstress was among them.

There were moments in the first Democratic presidential debate on Tuesday night when she threaded the needle as delicately and perfectly as a politician could.

The debate’s moderator, Anderson Cooper, noted that she’d told some audiences that she was a progressive but extolled her moderation in front of others. Wasn’t she just a chameleon, flashing whatever colors suited her at a given moment?

“I’m a progressive, but I’m a progressive who likes to get things done,” she said strongly but not stridently. “I know how to find common ground and I know how to stand my ground.” It was a practiced line — so practiced that she used it, somewhat awkwardly, a second time an hour later. But it was also a well-crafted line.

Like her main rival onstage, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, she had complaints about our country. Unlike Sanders, she communicated an unshakable pride in it nonetheless.

Sanders said America should look to Denmark. Clinton countered: “We are not Denmark. I love Denmark. We are the United States of America.”

Even when she was confronted anew by her vote in the Senate long ago to authorize the invasion of Iraq, she was neither defiant nor apologetic, steering a smooth midcourse by recalling that at debates in 2008, Barack Obama had attacked her for that. “After the election,” she pointed out, “he asked me to become secretary of state. He valued my judgment.”

The subject of Iraq caused her less grief than Sanders suffered on gun control, when not only Clinton but also Martin O’Malley, the former Maryland governor, rejected his explanation of votes in the Senate against various bills and his insistence that he was representing rural areas with gun cultures, not a nationwide electorate. It was clumsy because he presents himself as a creature of pure principle, immune to political convenience.

But on Tuesday night an odd sort of role reversal occurred. For much of the debate, Sanders somehow came across as the embattled incumbent, targeted by the other four candidates, while Clinton came across as the energetic upstart.

He seemed bowed, irascible. She seemed buoyant, effervescent. It was as poised a performance as she’s finessed in a long time, and while I’ve just about given up making predictions about this confounding election — I never thought Donald Trump would last so long, and I never saw Ben Carson coming — I think Clinton benefited more from Tuesday’s stage than Sanders did.

She mixed confidence and moments of passion with instances of humor, and her manner was less didactic and robotic than it can often be. From Cooper and from the four men bookending her at the lecterns, she had everything thrown at her: Iraq, Benghazi, her coziness with Wall Street, her personal wealth.

But she was seldom rattled, though the discussion of her use of a home-brewed server for her emails as secretary of state did prompt a visible stiffening of her posture, a conspicuous strain in her smile. Will she ever, ever find language that takes full ownership of her mistake and that puts real flesh on her continued claim that she’s being as transparent as possible?

It was possibly her worst moment.

It was perhaps Sanders’s best. Surprisingly, he called for an end to talk about the emails, saying there were more important issues to focus on. High-mindedness met unusual campaign-trail generosity and gallantry. Clinton laughed and beamed. They shook hands, and I half expected a hug.

The debate isn’t going to change the fortunes of Lincoln Chafee and Jim Webb, who were at the edges of the stage and will remain on the edges of the race. O’Malley might benefit an iota, and grew bolder as the night progressed.

Sanders grew redundant, returning with questionable frequency to a single issue — greed and income inequality — that made him sound like a one-note candidate. He’s 100 percent right to question corporations and trumpet the plight of the middle class. But he does so as more of a firebrand, calling for a “political revolution,” than as someone who can be trusted to make meaningful progress.

Clinton had her own redundancies, saying twice if not thrice as often as was necessary that she’d be the first female president. She’s gone from sidestepping her gender in 2008 to roaring about it now.

Apart from that, she was mum when silence served her best and fiery when that was the right call — for instance, when she vowed to “take the fight to the Republicans.”

And she benefited from the visual contrast when she stood side by side on TV next to Sanders, with his slight hunch, his somewhat garbled style of speech, and a moment when he cupped his hand behind his ear, signaling that he hadn’t heard the question.

He evoked yesterday. Despite many decades in the political trenches, she didn’t. It was a nifty trick. Turns out she’s a bit of a sorceress as well.

Gawd, that’s almost embarrassing.  Puts you in mind of Rich “Sparklepants” Lowry fizzing over the Snowbilly Grifter.

Friedman and Bruni

October 7, 2015

In “Stuff Happens to the Environment, Like Climate Change” Mr. Friedman says we’re wearing down the planet, and the next president, even a Republican, will be faced with that reality.  Mr. Bruni, in “Carly Fiorina’s Shameless Promotion,” says the rising presidential candidate burns with conviction — when the cause is herself.  Here’s TMOW:

With both China and India having just announced major plans to curb their carbon emissions, the sound you hear is a tipping point tipping. Heading into the United Nations climate summit meeting in Paris in December, all the world’s largest industrial economies are now taking climate change more seriously. This includes the United States — except for some of the knuckleheads running to be our next president, which is not a small problem.

When, at CNN’s G.O.P. presidential debate, the moderator Jake Tapper read statements from Ronald Reagan’s secretary of state George Shultz (who drives an electric car powered by solar panels on his home’s roof) about how Reagan urged industry to proactively address ozone depletion, and why Shultz believes we should be just as proactive today in dealing with climate change, he got the usual know-nothing responses.

Senator Marco Rubio said, “We’re not going to destroy our economy the way the left-wing government that we are under now wants to do,” while Gov. Chris Christie opined of Shultz, “Listen, everybody makes a mistake every once in a while.”

They sure do, and it’s not Shultz, who has been wisely and courageously telling Republicans that the conservative thing to do now is to take out some insurance against climate change, because if it really gets rocking the results could be “catastrophic.” Hurricane Sandy — likely amplified by warmer ocean waters — caused over $36 billion in damage to Christie’s own state, New Jersey, in 2012.

But hey, stuff just happens.

There was a time when we could tolerate this kind of dumb-as-we-wanna-be thinking. But it’s over. The next eight years will be critical for the world’s climate and ecosystems, and if you vote for a climate skeptic for president, you’d better talk to your kids first, because you will have to answer to them later.

If you have time to read one book on this subject, I highly recommend the new “Big World, Small Planet,” by Johan Rockstrom, director of the Stockholm Resilience Center, and Mattias Klum, whose stunning photographs of ecosystem disruptions reinforce the urgency of the moment.

Rockstrom begins his argument with a reminder that for most of the earth’s 4.5-billion-year history its climate was not very hospitable to human beings, as it oscillated between “punishing ice ages and lush warm periods” that locked humanity into seminomadic lifestyles.

It’s only been in the last 10,000 years that we have enjoyed the stable climate conditions allowing civilizations to develop based on agriculture that could support towns and cities. This period, known as the Holocene, was an “almost miraculously stable and warm interglacial equilibrium, which is the only state of the planet we know for sure can support the modern world as we know it.” It finally gave us “a stable equilibrium of forests, savannahs, coral reefs, grasslands, fish, mammals, bacteria, air quality, ice cover, temperature, fresh water availability and productive soils.”

It “is our Eden,” Rockstrom added, and now “we are threatening to push earth out of this sweet spot,” starting in the mid-1950s, when the Industrial Revolution reached most of the rest of the globe and populations and middle classes exploded. That triggered “the great acceleration” of industrial and farming growth, which has put all of earth’s ecosystems under stress. The impacts now are obvious: “climate change, chemical pollution, air pollution, land and water degradation … and the massive loss of species and habitats.”

The good news is that in this period many more of the world’s have-nots have escaped from poverty. They’ve joined the party. The bad news, says Rockstrom, is that “the old party” cannot go on as it did. The earth is very good at finding ways to adapt to stress: oceans and forest absorb the extra CO2; ecosystems like the Amazon adapt to deforestation and still provide rain and fresh water; the Arctic ice shrinks but does not disappear. But eventually we can exhaust the planet’s adaptive capacities.

We’re sitting on these planetary boundaries right now, argues Rockstrom, and if these systems flip from one stable state to another — if the Amazon tips into a savannah, if the Arctic loses its ice cover and instead of reflecting the sun’s rays starts absorbing them in water, if the glaciers all melt and cannot feed the rivers — nature will be fine, but we will not be.

“The planet has demonstrated an impressive capacity to maintain its balance, using every trick in its bag to stay in the current state,” explains Rockstrom. But there are more and more signs that we may have reached a saturation point. Forests show the first signs of absorbing less carbon. The oceans are rapidly acidifying as they absorb more CO2, harming fish and coral. Global average temperatures keep rising.

This is what will greet the next president — a resilient planet that could once absorb our excesses at seemingly no cost to us, suddenly tipping into a saturated planet, sending us “daily invoices” that will get bigger each year. When nature goes against you, watch out.

“For the first time, we need to be clever,” says Rockstrom, “and rise to a crisis before it happens,” before we cross nature’s tipping points. Later will be too late. We elect a president who ignores this science at our peril.

Now here’s Mr. Bruni:

Carly Fiorina gives one heck of a speech.

That was my first impression, a positive one, when I caught up with her in Sacramento in 2010 to chronicle her bid for the Senate.

She had focus, urgency and a brimming arsenal of barbs, just as she does now. She liked to mention an incident in which Senator Barbara Boxer, the incumbent Democrat, once upbraided an Army bigwig for calling her “Ma’am” rather than “Senator,” and she told Californians that if they gave her Boxer’s job: “You may call me ‘Ma’am.’ You may call me ‘Senator.’ You may call me ‘Carly.’ You may call me, ‘Hey, you, remember, you work for me.’ ”

She presented herself as a woman of the people, at our service.

But that wasn’t my impression of her after about a week of attending her campaign events, riding around California with her and interviewing her about her drive and her desires.

Even more so than is usually the case, the candidacy seemed to be all about the candidate. She yearned to silence forever all of the naysaying about her stewardship of Hewlett-Packard, to be validated by voters, to have the final say.

She failed, and she failed big, losing to Boxer by 10 points.

Her response? To seek a promotion. She’s running for president.

Give her credit for dauntlessness.

But look closely and you see its ugly sibling, shamelessness, not just in the way she treats facts but in the way she treats others.

The Washington Post just published a humiliating account of her sluggishness to pay bills from that 2010 campaign. That she stiffed several vendors until January 2015 wasn’t really the damning part: That’s sadly common in politics.

But The Post reported that one of the people stiffed was the widow of the pollster Joe Shumate, who dropped dead of a heart attack, “surrounded by sheets of polling data” for Fiorina, shortly before Election Day in 2010. Fiorina mourned him as “the heart and soul” of her operation, then neglected for years to fork over at least $30,000 that she owed him.

Martin Wilson, who managed that campaign, told The Post that he occasionally implored her to settle up. “She just wouldn’t,” he said.

It’s striking that he’d tattle like that on Fiorina. She apparently doesn’t leave much love in her wake. Reuters interviewed about 30 people who worked for her in 2010, 12 of whom said: Never again. “I’d rather go to Iraq,” one unidentified campaign aide groused.

And The Daily Beast examined Fiorina’s recent campaign-finance filings and noticed that almost no one at Hewlett-Packard had given more than $200 — the minimum amount for which a donor must be identified — to her presidential quest.

She has her loyalists, including some glass-half-full revisionists. Consider this from the Post story: “Her supporters cautioned that little could be gleaned from her California campaign. They maintain that Fiorina’s corporate experience is more akin to managing a presidential campaign than a bid for office in one of the nation’s most liberal states.”

In other words, the Boxer contest was small potatoes — peculiar ones, too — and a leader of Fiorina’s vision and scope is suited only to a giant spud.

For someone so caustic about others’ shortcomings, she’s awfully cavalier about her own.

“It was a mistake,” she said to me in 2010 about her failure to vote in elections in New Jersey, where she’d once lived for 10 years, and in more than half of the 18 elections in California in which she could have participated.

Then she qualified that confession, explaining that she hadn’t been “running my life to seek political office,” as if such a goal were the only reason to show up at the polls.

In the cause of others, she’s not so quick, exuberant or deft. She campaigned as a surrogate for John McCain in the 2008 presidential election but had to be sidelined after saying that neither McCain nor Sarah Palin, his running mate, could run a big corporation. It was a fascinating lapse, in that she was denying them the chops to do precisely what she had done (albeit poorly, by many measures).

In her calculus, the corporate world qualified her for governing, but government experience didn’t qualify others for the corporate world. What self-flattering, self-serving arithmetic.

It has been correctly observed that her ascent in the polls, coupled with Donald Trump’s enduringly strong showing, reflects the currency of political outsiders right now.

But it also reflects the potency of an insatiable hunger for approbation and an unshakable belief in your genius. She and Trump share that, and of course she gives one heck of a speech. She thrills to her own voice.

Friedman and Bruni

September 30, 2015

In “Syria, Obama and Putin” TMOW says it’s better to be wary of getting involved in Syria than rushing to do so.  What a surprise — he’s not immediately banging on his little tin war drum.  Mr. Bruni has written a disgraceful POS called “Hillary Clinton’s Pajama Party” in which he channels MoDo and hisses that with Lena Dunham, the candidate gives us a fresh glimpse of her labored spontaneity.  In the comments “Rosa” from CA had this to say:  “It was your choice to write this silly article about pajamas and penises. Too bad you wasted the space. But I’m getting used to wasted space when it comes to the Times and Clinton. Whether it is Benghazi or emails, I am so beyond caring. I no longer listen to you. No matter what it is, she won’t get a fair shake and I won’t get any information on what she REALLY is doing…. unless I go elsewhere, and I do.  Now, here’s a real news flash for you: It seems that Kevin McCarthy may not be a shoo-in. The Hard Right Crazies are working to get Trey Gowdy to replace Boehner. You know Gowdy: the one who’s run the Benghazi Committee for years. He hates her with a passion. Swears he’ll get her on something. I believe he has a penis, too. You can write about him. You can even write about him in glowing terms like you and the Times do on all those Klowns.  Don’t become as irrelevant as Maureen Dowd, Frank.”  Amen, sister.  Here’s TMOW:

Your Honor, I rise again in defense of President Barack Obama’s policy on Syria.

Obama has been right in his ambivalence about getting deeply involved in Syria. But he’s never had the courage of his own ambivalence to spell out his reasoning to the American people. He keeps letting himself get pummeled into doing and saying things that his gut tells him won’t work, so he gets the worst of all worlds: His rhetoric exceeds the policy, and the policy doesn’t work.

Meanwhile, Obama’s Republican critics totally lack the wisdom of our own experience. They blithely advocate “fire, ready, aim” in Syria without any reason to believe their approach will work there any better than it did for us in Iraq or Libya. People who don’t know how to fix inner-city Baltimore think they know how to rescue downtown Aleppo — from the air!

Personally, I’ll take the leader who lacks the courage of his own ambivalence over the critics who lack the wisdom of their own experience. But ambivalence is not a license to do nothing. We can do things that make a difference, but only if we look at our enemies and allies in Syria with clear eyes.

For instance, today’s reigning cliché is that the wily fox, President Vladimir Putin of Russia, has once again outmaneuvered the flat-footed Americans, by deploying some troops, planes and tanks to Syria to buttress the regime of President Bashar al-Assad and to fight the Islamic State forces threatening him. If only we had a president who was so daring, so tough, so smart.

Really? Well think about this: Let’s say the U.S. did nothing right now, and just let Putin start bombing ISIS and bolstering Assad. How long before every Sunni Muslim in the Middle East, not to mention every jihadist, has Putin’s picture in a bull’s eye on his cellphone?

The Sunni Muslims are the vast majority in Syria. They are the dominant sect in the Arab world. Putin and Russia would be seen as going all-in to protect Assad, a pro-Iranian, Alawite/Shiite genocidal war criminal. Putin would alienate the entire Sunni Muslim world, including Russian Muslims.

Moreover, let’s say by some miracle the Russians defeat ISIS. The only way to keep them defeated is by replacing them with moderate Sunnis. Which moderate Sunnis are going to align with Russia while Putin is seen as the prime defender of the barrel-bombing murderer of more Sunnis than anyone on the planet, Bashar al-Assad?

Putin stupidly went into Syria looking for a cheap sugar high to show his people that Russia is still a world power. Well, now he’s up a tree. Obama and John Kerry should just leave him up there for a month — him and Assad, fighting ISIS alone — and watch him become public enemy No. 1 in the Sunni Muslim world. “Yo, Vladimir, how’s that working for you?”

The only way Putin can get down from that tree is with our help in forging a political solution in Syria. And that only happens if the Russians and the Iranians force Assad — after a transition — to step down and leave the country, in return for the opposition agreeing to protect the basic safety and interests of Assad’s Alawite community, and both sides welcoming an international force on the ground to guarantee the deal.

But to get there we need to size our rhetoric with our interests in Syria as well. Our interests right now are to eliminate or contain the two biggest metastasizing threats: ISIS — whose growth can threaten the islands of decency in the region like Lebanon, the Kurds and Jordan — and the tragedy of Syrian refugees, whose numbers are growing so large they are swamping Lebanon and Jordan and, if they continue, could destabilize the European Union, our vital partner in the world.

If we want something better — multisectarian democracy in Syria soon — we would have to go in and build it ourselves. The notion that it would only take arming more Syrian moderates is insane.

During the weekend The Times reported that “nearly 30,000 foreign fighters have traveled to Iraq and Syria from more than 100 countries since 2011.” So 30,000 people have gone to Syria to join ISIS to promote jihad and a caliphate. How many Arabs and Muslims have walked to Syria to promote multisectarian democracy? Apparently zero.

Why do we have to search for moderates like a man with a dowsing rod looking for water, and then train them, while no one has to train the jihadists, who flock there? It’s because the jihadists are in the grip of ideals, albeit warped ones. There is no critical mass of Syrian moderates in the grip of ideals; they will fight for their own homes and families, but not for an abstract ideal like democracy. We try to make up for that with military “training,” but it never works.

Are there real democrats among the Syrian opposition? You bet, but not enough, not with the organization, motivation and ruthlessness of their opponents.

Everyone wants an immaculate intervention in Syria, one where you look like you’re doing something, but without the political cost of putting troops on the ground or having to make unpleasant compromises with unsavory people. There is no such option.

I think Putin’s rash rush into Syria may in the end make him more in need of a deal, or at least a lasting cease-fire, that stops the refugee flows. If we can do that, for now, we will have done a lot.

And now here’s Mr. Bruni’s disgraceful offering:

She had a law career, an ambitious agenda as first lady, an industrious stint in the Senate, those years and miles as secretary of state.

And it has come to this: In a bid to seem less stuffy and turn the page on a beleaguered (yet again) presidential campaign, Hillary Clinton is chatting with Lena Dunham about the singer Lenny Kravitz’s penis.

You can watch the video yourself. It’s a jokey promotion for an interview of Clinton just published in a new newsletter that Dunham is putting out. You can also see a comedic sketch of Dunham’s arrival at Clinton’s campaign headquarters in Brooklyn and the make-believe refusal of a Clinton gatekeeper to let her in. There’s even a cameo by Amy Schumer.

The interview itself covers Clinton’s biography and some serious terrain, including feminism and the relationship between African-Americans and the police.

But it’s in large part a Dunham-Clinton love-in, a pajama party minus the pajamas, ostensibly in keeping with the Clinton campaign’s recent pledge to roll out a warmer, funnier version of the candidate. I’ve lost count of which version we’re on.

In the promotional video, Clinton kids that because Dunham’s newsletter and the website associated with it are called Lenny, she half expected that the person coming to question her might be Kravitz.

Dunham then mentions some viral footage of a Kravitz wardrobe malfunction: “His stuff fell out of his pants.”

Clinton feigns fascination. “I’ll look for that,” she says.

I blame us in part. For years we’ve demanded that she show us something more raw, that she weep or bleed or chirp or quip, that a policy wonk isn’t enough, that a résumé is only the start.

We’ve reminded her of how nimbly her husband pivoted from noonday speech to late-night saxophone. We’ve insisted that our presidents and would-be presidents not only inspire but also divert us. And we’ve pumped up the scandals, ratcheting up the pressure on her to feed us distractions.

But still I’m baffled. How can her response to charges that she’s too packaged and calculating be this packaged and calculated? And to counter her image as entrenched political royalty, why would she enlist stars whose presence merely emphasizes her pull with, and membership in, the glittery world of celebrity?

“Insane,” said one Democratic operative when I sought his reaction.

“It’s a transparent and ham-handed attempt to appeal to a niche audience that the campaign has identified as a critical target,” he added, referring to progressive young women. “But if they’re not already getting Lena Dunham and her cohorts, they’re in even bigger trouble than I thought.”

I think that Clinton is actually in less trouble than we sometimes speculate. She remains the overwhelming favorite for the Democratic nomination.

But her campaign so far is an unimpressive dress rehearsal for the general election. It’s devoid of soul and sweep, a series of labored gestures and precisely staked positions. Constituency by constituency, leftward adjustment by leftward adjustment, she and her aides slog and muscle their way forward.

And they contradict the adage that a politician campaigns in poetry and governs in prose. Clinton campaigns in something more like a PowerPoint presentation. Prose would be an upgrade. Poetry is light years away.

That’s what the Democratic strategist David Axelrod was getting at when, about two weeks ago, he tweeted: “It’s still HRC’s to lose, despite new polls. But it’s hard to inspire w/grinding, tactical race. ‘Hillary: Live With It’ is no rallying cry!”

No it isn’t, not even if Dunham and Schumer put funny faces on it.

It’s to Dunham’s shrewd credit that she grabbed a piece of the action. It serves her well.

But for Clinton? It’s a contrivance.

Earlier this month, The Times’s Amy Chozick interviewed her aides and reported that there would be “new efforts to bring spontaneity to a candidacy that sometimes seems wooden and overly cautious.”

An effort at spontaneity: that’s the prompt for sitting down with Dunham — who assures Clinton that she’s a fashion icon and implores her to wear dresses that show her shoulders — and it’s the oxymoronic story of Clinton’s political life.

She is routinely reintroducing herself, forever trumpeting the real Hillary this time, constantly promising the unguarded Hillary at long last.

But the real Hillary has always been there, the thread running through all the changes in costumes and hairstyles and campaign events.

She is fiercely intelligent but, yes, wildly defensive. She does her homework with uncommon diligence and earnestness but can be a dud on the stump. She’s impressively controlled. She’s distressingly controlling.

There’s more than enough good in that mix for voters to make peace with it. But first Clinton has to make peace with it herself.

He should be ashamed of himself.  Actually, he should write an apology and then STFU about politics and go back to being a restaurant reviewer.

Friedman and Bruni

September 23, 2015

In “Politicians Seeing Evil, Hearing Evil, Speaking Evil” TMOW says that a new film about Yitzhak Rabin’s 1995 assassination in Israel could serve as a warning about Donald Trump and Ben Carson’s divisive, bigoted campaigns.  Mr. Bruni considers “Scott Walker’s Cocktail of Ignorance” and says too many Republican candidates are too cavalier about the knowledge and preparation that a president should have.  Here’s TMOW:

There is a movie I’m looking forward to seeing when it comes to Washington. It seems quite relevant to America today. It’s about what can happen in a democratic society when politicians go too far, when they not only stand mute when hateful words that cross civilized redlines suddenly become part of the public discourse, but, worse, start to wink at and dabble in this hate speech for their advantage.

Later, they all say that they never heard the words, never saw the signs, or claim that their own words were misunderstood. But they heard and they saw and they meant. Actually, I don’t need to see the movie, because I lived it. And I know how it ends. Somebody gets hurt.

The movie is called “Rabin: The Last Day.” Agence France-Presse said the movie, by the renowned Israeli director Amos Gitai, is about “the incitement campaign before the 1995 assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin” and “revisits a form of Jewish radicalism that still poses major risks.” This is the 20th anniversary of Rabin’s assassination by Yigal Amir, a right-wing Jewish radical.

“My goal wasn’t to create a personality cult around Rabin,” Gitai told A.F.P. “My focus was on the incitement campaign that led to his murder.” Sure, the official investigating commission focused on the breakdowns in Rabin’s security detail, but, Gitai added, “They didn’t investigate what were the underlying forces that wanted to kill Rabin. His murder came at the end of a hate campaign led by hallucinating rabbis, settlers who were against the withdrawal from territories and the parliamentary right, led by the Likud (party), already then headed by Benjamin Netanyahu, who wanted to destabilize Rabin’s Labor government.”

The film, A.F.P. said, “relied on documents, photos and videos, particularly from the months before Rabin’s assassination, including those showing speeches from politicians such as Netanyahu at rallies against the Oslo accords, where Rabin was depicted in a Nazi uniform.”

I hope a lot of Americans see this film — for the warning it offers to those who ignore or rationalize the divisive, bigoted campaigns of Donald Trump and Ben Carson and how they’re dragging their whole party across civic redlines, with candidates saying, rationalizing or ignoring more and more crazy, ill-informed stuff each week.

Trump actually launched his campaign on June 16 with a message of polarization, saying: “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. … They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”

The Washington Post’s Fact Checker column gave him four Pinocchios, its highest rating for not telling the truth, noting: “Trump’s repeated statements about immigrants and crime underscore a common public perception that crime is correlated with immigration, especially illegal immigration. But that is a misperception; no solid data support it, and the data that do exist negate it.”

And then Trump insulted John McCain, saying he was only a war hero because he got captured, adding, “I like people that weren’t captured, O.K.?” McCain spent five and a half years as a P.O.W. in Vietnam and was repeatedly tortured and had his bones broken. As CNN reported, “Trump, meanwhile, received four student deferments and one medical deferment to avoid serving in the Vietnam War.”

What does it mean to impugn a man who has sacrificed so much for his country? It means you can smear anyone.

Last week another redline was crossed. At a Trump town hall event, the first questioner began: “We got a problem in this country. It’s called Muslims. We know our current president is one. We know he’s not even an American. But anyway. We have training camps brewing where they want to kill us. That’s my question. When can we get rid of them?”

Trump responded: “A lot of people are saying that bad things are happening out there. We’re going to be looking into that and plenty of other things.”

Trump could have let the man ask his question and then correct his racist nonsense, without blocking his free speech, which is exactly what McCain did in a similar situation. Instead, he later said it was not his place to defend Obama. As someone who aspires to be president it is his place to defend the truth, but since Trump himself has been the source of so much birther nonsense about Obama, I guess that would be hard. Instead he tweeted: “Christians need support in our country (and around the world), their religious liberty is at stake! Obama has been horrible, I will be great.”

And then, like clockwork, Ben Carson saw Trump blurring another civic redline and leapfrogged him. Carson stated, “I would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation.”

So a whole faith community gets delegitimized and another opportunity for someone to courageously stand up for what’s decent is squandered. But it will play well with certain voters. And that is all that matters — until something really bad happens. And then, all of it — the words, tweets, signs and boasts — will be footage for another documentary that ends badly.

And now here’s Mr. Bruni:

With the arrival of the pope, our spirits lift.

With the departure of Scott Walker, they plummet.

There’s so much we’ll never know, such as how far he was willing to take his single issue. For Walker it was unions at dawn, unions at dusk, unions in his dreams. Having hobbled them in Wisconsin, he vowed to cripple them nationally, and who’s to say it would have stopped there? I feel certain that he was mere weeks away from a big speech advocating the deployment of ground troops to stamp out collective bargaining among the Sherpas in Nepal.

I feel certain, too, that his best gaffes were still to come, though he gave us several gems. In an era lacking visionary leadership, he envisioned a great wall along our northern border to keep out the tides of Canadians fleeing the tyranny of free health insurance. And we learned that years back, he mangled an intended “mazel tov” in a letter to a Jewish constituent, instead writing: “Thank you again and Molotov.”

I miss him already. And I wonder: Was it his shallowness that undid him? Just how little learning will Republican voters abide in a candidate? Did he test the limit?

One of his former aides, Liz Mair, suggested as much, firing off tweets on Monday about his errors, including “not educating himself fast enough” on national and world affairs.

Walker evaded foreign policy questions, apparently petrified of being tripped up. He bungled domestic policy questions, seemingly unable to cling to a sturdy position.

But whether that doomed him is impossible to say in a Republican primary season with mixed messages about the party’s appetite for ignorance, at once prodigious and inconsistent.

Donald Trump has prospered, and he’s utterly unapologetic about all of the matters that he hasn’t taken the trouble to bone up on and all of the experts whom he hasn’t bothered to consult.

When NBC’s Chuck Todd asked him where he gets his military advice, he said: “I watch the shows.” He presumably meant “Meet the Press” and “Face the Nation,” though I don’t think we can rule out “Survivor” or “Game of Thrones.”

Time and again, Trump pledges to amass the proper information just before he needs it — no point in doing so now, before he finds out if he’s hired — and he predicts that he’ll shame everyone then with his abracadabra erudition. He’s a procrastinating college freshman planning an all-nighter before the final exam.

But here comes Carly Fiorina, and her brand is aced-it-already and know-it-all. I’ve seen this firsthand.

For a magazine story in 2010, I followed her around and interviewed her over several days. Someone would mention a flower; she’d rattle off a factoid about it. I’d ask her about a foreign language that she’d studied; she’d make clear that she’d dabbled in two others as well. Her husband would tell a story; she’d rush to correct him and fill in the details.

Her fresh bounce in the polls reflects a debate performance last week that was all about policy fluency, and Marco Rubio, who flaunted similar chops that night, also seemed to benefit from his show of smarts.

So do Republicans want finesse or fire? A cool intellect or a hothead?

Walker was no doubt as confused about this as he is about so much else, and no wonder. Well beyond the Republican primary and the Republican Party, we’ve exhibited a curious habit in this country of forgiving intellectual blind spots and refashioning a contempt for schooling as an embrace of common sense.

A whole subgenre of nonfiction is devoted to this. Don’t sweat the brain work, because there’s “Emotional Intelligence.” Don’t think, “Blink.” Obtuseness in a leader can be redeemed by “The Wisdom of Crowds.”

I’m being somewhat loose in my description of those books. And I’m not rejecting the importance of instinct.

But I’m weary and wary of politicians whose ambitions precede and eclipse any serious, necessary preparation for the office they seek. Walker is a perfect example.

I kept hearing and reading — after he’d obviously decided to run for president — that he was being briefed by an emergency crew of wonks. Shouldn’t that have happened first? Shouldn’t he have been paying attention all along, out of a genuine interest in this sort of material rather than a pragmatic one?

He wasn’t, and so this candidate — who had begun gaming out his political future all the way back in college, where he gave his classes short shrift — took an international trip during which he refused to discuss international relations, oddly claiming that it wouldn’t be polite.

Etiquette prevailed.

He didn’t.

Molotov, Governor Walker.

Kristof, Bruni and Collins

September 17, 2015

In “When Crime Pays: J&J’s Drug Risperdal” Mr. Kristof says marketing the antipsychotic got Johnson & Johnson a criminal record, big settlement costs and penalties — and bigger profits.  Mr. Bruni had “An Overdose of Donald Trump at the G.O.P. Debate,” and says the second meeting of Republican candidates often revolved around the supposedly entertaining billionaire, and that isn’t amusing.  Ms. Collins watched too.  In “At Debate, Republicans Talk the Talk” she says some of the 15 candidates on stage said things to catch viewers’ attention, but it took five long hours to hear them through.  Here’s Mr. Kristof:

Risperdal is a billion-dollar antipsychotic medicine with real benefits — and a few unfortunate side effects.

It can cause strokes among the elderly. And it can cause boys to grow large, pendulous breasts; one boy developed a 46DD bust.

Yet Johnson & Johnson marketed Risperdal aggressively to the elderly and to boys while allegedly manipulating and hiding the data about breast development. J&J got caught, pleaded guilty to a crime and has paid more than $2 billion in penalties and settlements. But that pales next to some $30 billion in sales of Risperdal around the world.

In short, crime pays, if you’re a major corporation.

Oh, and the person who was in charge of marketing the drug in these ways? He is Alex Gorsky, who was rewarded by being elevated to C.E.O. of J&J. He earned $25 million last year.

This tale is told in a devastating 58,000-word epic by Steven Brill that is being serialized on The Huffington Post. Some has already been covered in The Times and other papers, or in Senate investigations and innumerable court decisions, but it’s still wrenching to read the comprehensive account of how a company put profit above everything and then benefited handsomely for doing so.

The story begins when J&J’s previous antipsychotic medicine ended its patent life, so sales plunged as generics gained market share. In 1994, J&J released Risperdal as a successor, but the Food and Drug Administration said it wasn’t necessarily better than the previous version and in any case was effective primarily for schizophrenia in adults. That’s a small market, and J&J was more ambitious. It wanted a blockbuster with annual revenues of at least $1 billion.

So J&J reinvented Risperdal as a drug for a broad range of problems, targeting everyone from seniors with dementia to children with autism.

The company also turned to corporate welfare: It paid doctors and others consulting fees and successfully lobbied for Texas to adopt Risperdal in place of generics. This meant that the state paid $3,000 a year for each Medicaid patient taking it, rather than $250 a year for each, Brill says.

Building on that, J&J reached out to Omnicare, a company that provided pharmaceutical services in nursing homes. The two companies cut a deal so that Omnicare doctors would prescribe Risperdal, and the profits would be shared with Omnicare. (Yes, that’s called a kickback.)

Even though Risperdal wasn’t approved for the elderly, J&J formed a sales force, called ElderCare, with 136 people to market it to seniors. The F.D.A. protested and noted that there were “an excess number of deaths” among the elderly who took the drug.

J&J seems to have shrugged. It was making vast sums, and the F.D.A. didn’t have teeth.

At the same time, J&J was also expanding into another forbidden market: children. The company began peddling the drug to pediatricians, so that by 2000, more than one-fifth of Risperdal was going to children and adolescents.

In 2003, the company had a “back to school” marketing campaign for Risperdal, and a manager discussed including “lollipops and small toys” in sample packages, Brill says.

All this was great for business, and by 2004 Risperdal was a $3-billion-a-year drug.

One challenge was that a J&J study had found that Risperdal led 5.5 percent of boys to develop large breasts, a condition known as gynecomastia. J&J covered this up, Brill says, quoting internal documents.

I asked J&J and Gorsky for comment. In particular, I wanted to understand why an executive who presided for years over conduct that the company conceded was criminal had been elevated to chief executive.

Gorsky declined to comment, and a company spokesman, Ernie Knewitz, didn’t really want to have that conversation. Knewitz did say the company “vehemently” disagrees with Brill’s take, denies a cover-up and considers Risperdal a useful drug with real benefits.

He’s right: Risperdal is a good drug that helps people. But it was marketed too broadly, and the system failed to protect consumers.

Brill calculates J&J may in the end have to pay a total of $6 billion in settlements for its misconduct. But he estimates the company made $18 billion in profits on Risperdal, just within the United States (on $20 billion in domestic sales, and there was $10 billion more in sales abroad).

Last week the Appeal of Conscience Foundation, an interfaith organization, announced it would honor Gorsky with an award as a “man of integrity” and a “corporate leader with a sense of social responsibility.”

So even though the company was caught, criminality paid off, for the company and for executives.

That’s why we need tougher enforcement of safety regulations, and why white-collar criminals need to be prosecuted (as Attorney General Loretta Lynch has promised will happen).

Risperdal is a cautionary tale: When we allow businesses to profit from crimes, we all lose.

Next up we have Mr. Bruni:

It was a debate that worked almost in spite of itself.

As the hours dragged on, the issues were indeed hashed out: whether a Republican president should immediately tear up the Iran deal or wait and see; whether the federal government should be shut down in the service of defunding Planned Parenthood; whether a wall along the Mexican border is a feasible plan or empty bluster.

But that substance had to muscle its way through the show business, by which I mean Donald Trump’s attempt to turn everything into an adolescent popularity contest and CNN’s willingness to reward that by filtering the entire evening through the prism of the Republican field’s proven ratings magnet: Trump, Trump, Trump.

What did Trump think of something mean that someone else on the stage had said about him? What did someone else think about something nasty that Trump had said about him or her?

Trump had insulted Jeb Bush’s wife: Discuss! Trump had insulted Carly Fiorina’s business career: Respond!

So it went, somewhat tediously and surreally, for many stretches of the debate on Wednesday night and especially for the first half-hour, during which Rand Paul took the precise measure of — and raised the correct question about — the egomaniacal front-runner.

“Do we want someone with that kind of character, that kind of careless language, to be negotiating with Putin?” Paul asked.

“I think really there’s a sophomoric quality that is entertaining about Mr. Trump, but I am worried,” he added, and I nodded so vigorously at the “worried” part that I’m going to need balm and a neck brace tomorrow.

Paul went on to single out Trump’s “visceral response to attack people on their appearance — short, tall, fat, ugly. My goodness, that happened in junior high. Are we not way above that?”

No, we aren’t. Or at least Trump isn’t. And “junior high” is too easy on him, too kind. Trump comes from, and belongs in, the sandbox, as he demonstrated the second that Paul paused and Trump fired back: “I never attacked him on his look, and believe me, there’s plenty of subject matter right there.”

How lovely. And how adult. And less than an hour later, Fiorina had to stand there and try not to squirm as she was asked to react to Trump’s recent comments about her in a Rolling Stone interview: “Look at that face. Would anyone vote for that?”

Fiorina held her head, including her face, high. “I think women all over this country heard very clearly what Mr. Trump said,” she stated tightly, and with more dignity than Trump or the situation deserved.

Trump rushed in: “I think she’s got a beautiful face and I think she’s a beautiful woman.” Watch out, Carly. Next comes an invitation for a private ride in his Trump-i-copter.

I mentioned my nodding, but my real injuries came from shaking my head, over and over, because I couldn’t quite believe the Trump-centric nature of it all. I’m still mystified that he’s done this well in the polls for this long.

I know that Americans have lost faith in institutions — understandably. I know that Americans are turned off by politics as usual — justly.

But have we sunk to a point where we’re prepared to reach for someone so careless with his insinuations, so merrily and irresponsibly ignorant, that he used some of his precious time on Wednesday night to fan irrational, repudiated fears about a link between vaccines and autism?

Are we buoyed by a bully who calls anyone who disagrees with him a “loser,” promises vaguely that his presidency will be “unbelievable” (his favorite adjective, and an unintentionally telling one), and presents little besides his tumescent ego and stagey rage?

The CNN anchor Jake Tapper, who was the debate’s moderator, pressed hard to get Trump to say, with even a scintilla of specificity, why he believes that he’d be more effective in dealing with Vladimir Putin than Obama has been.

And all that Trump could muster was: “I would get along with him.”

How? Why? Not a single detail. But Trump doesn’t do details. He just crows that he will know the most, be the best and win. He’s a broken record of grandiose, self-infatuated music.

The most satisfying, encouraging moments of the debate were those when other candidates tried to point that out directly or indirectly. Chris Christie did so several times. During his opening remarks, he asked the camera to move from him to the audience, saying that the election isn’t really about the candidates, who soak up the spotlight, but the people, who deal with the consequences.

He returned to that idea after Trump and Fiorina wrangled over her past performance as the chief executive of Hewlett-Packard, an exchange that followed much tussling over Trump’s business bona fides.

“While I’m as entertained as anyone by this personal back-and-forth about the history of Donald and Carly’s career, for the 55-year-old construction worker out in that audience tonight who doesn’t have a job, who can’t fund his child’s education, I’ve got to tell you the truth — they could care less about your careers,” Christie said to Trump and Fiorina.

“You’re both successful people,” he continued. “Congratulations.” But then he pleaded that there be more discussion of issues and an end to “this childish back-and-forth between the two of you.”

Mike Huckabee built on that, bemoaning “a lot of back-and-forth about ‘I’m the only one who has done this, the only one who has done that, I’ve done great things.’ We’ve all done great things or we wouldn’t be on this stage.”

During the second half of the debate in particular, the conversation moved far enough away from Trump for all of the candidates to strut their stuff, for whatever that stuff was worth.

But because there were eleven of them, those struts were so brief and sporadic that I don’t think anyone’s fortunes will be significantly changed.

Marco Rubio showed great confidence about foreign affairs. Fiorina’s crispness came through. John Kasich seemed to vanish for long chunks but, when present, managed to be both avuncular and authoritative: an effective, appealing combination.

Cruz predictably won the awards for Most Strident and Most Smarmy, talking directly to the camera rather than whoever had asked him a question. Carson was the anti-Trump, as docile as Trump was domineering, and he brilliantly sought to reeducate Trump on vaccines.

Did Bush find some spine and spark? Yes, but he seemed to fumble for it. He picked a fight with Trump about casinos in Florida. He spoke succinctly about his brother’s administration, no longer pantomiming a deer in headlights. He made a marijuana joke and then another joke, about his energy level, saying that he’d want his Secret Service nickname to be “Eveready.” Like the battery.

But there remains something wan about him: In a season of such garish colors, he always looks a little pale.

He’s not enough of a clown, and Trump has done his best to turn this into a circus, erasing the blurry line between entertainment and politics and beckoning commentators and networks toward uncharted summits of breathlessness.

“It is electric,” Anderson Cooper said to Wolf Blitzer in the hours before the debate began, describing the atmosphere.

“It doesn’t get much bigger than this,” Blitzer said to Cooper, and he repeatedly interrupted the pundits around him to provide updates on whether Trump had been spotted yet at the Reagan library, where the debate was held.

“Donald Trump, we’re told, is arriving!” Blitzer trumpeted at one point, minutes later adding: “Hold on! Hold on! . . . He’s walking in right now.” The camera documented it, step after step.

Were we supposed to get goose bumps? I just felt queasy.

Well…  That was much longer than it needed to be.  And now we get to Ms. Collins:

Our national attention span is … short. The Republican presidential primary debate on Wednesday was … long. Really, if you throw in the earlier loser debate, it was the longest ever.

The Lincoln-Douglas debates would go on for three hours. But that was back when in many towns, the most exciting public activity of the year was pole-raising.

Are people going to remember the shallow, sassy Donald Trump from the first half-hour? (“I wrote ‘The Art of the Deal.’ I say not in a braggadocio’s way I’ve made billions and billions of dollars.”)

Or the middle-section Trump who clearly didn’t have a clue about how to critique President Obama’s Syrian policy? (“Somehow he just doesn’t have courage. There’s something missing from our president.”)

And then there was the completely, unbelievably irresponsible Trump of the finale who claimed he knew people whose daughter got autism from a vaccine shot. (This happened, he said, to “people that work for me just the other day.”)

Remember when the vaccination issue destroyed Michele Bachmann’s political career? One can only hope.

Of course everyone wanted to hear Jeb Bush take on the front-runner. Smackdown! Bush got his opportunity very early. Where would he go? Immigration? Taxes? Foreign affairs?

Bush accused Trump of giving him campaign donations in order to get casino gambling in Florida.

“Totally false,” said Trump. “I promise if I wanted it, I would have gotten it.”

Do you think that’s what Bush was practicing over the last couple of weeks? There were six or seven people on the stage who sounded more forceful than he did. A recent poll in Florida suggested that only 52 percent of Florida Republicans want their former governor to continue running for president. At times on Wednesday, that seemed like overenthusiasm.

Bush perked up a little in the middle, when he volunteered that he’d smoked marijuana in his youth. Then at the end, when he was asked what woman he’d like to see on the 10-dollar bill, he said … Margaret Thatcher.

Nobody wanted to deal with the global warming issue. Virtually everybody made up a Planned Parenthood scenario that never existed. Ah, Republicans …

And in other activities, Carly Fiorina managed to yet again drop the name “my good friend … Bibi Netanyahu.” Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin repeated his previous debate trick of vanishing entirely into the scenery. Walker’s poll numbers are vanishing, too, and it appears his only playing card is to remind people that he fought against public employee unions. Lately he’s been desperately upping the anti-union ante so much that his next step would have to be demanding that federal employees be prohibited from talking with one another outside of work.

Marco Rubio — remember Marco Rubio? The senator who vanished all summer except the time he hit the kid in the head with a football? He definitely looked rested.

Ben Carson, at one point, appeared to be accusing Trump of socialism.

Chris Christie did pretty well. Too bad he’s such a terrible governor. New Jersey would rather have another traffic crisis at the George Washington Bridge than vote again for Chris Christie.

What do you think it is about governors in this race? Florida is deeply unenthusiastic about Jeb Bush, Wisconsin seems to hate Scott Walker, and if Louisiana had a chance to get its hands on Bobby Jindal, God knows what would happen.

The debate went on for so long it was a wonder no one fainted. And think about the viewers who made it all the way from the first segment — the one where the CNN preview featured a zipper at the bottom of the screen announcing, “PATAKI ARRIVES AT DEBATE HALL.”

“The first four questions are about Donald Trump!” former Gov. George Pataki complained. Senator Lindsey Graham repeatedly slid in the fact that his parents ran a bar and a poolroom. Graham insists he’s really enjoying himself, although when someone keeps saying “I’m running because I think the world is falling apart,” it’s sort of a downer.

Former Senator Rick Santorum and Governor Jindal tried so hard to break through the barrier of national indifference they sounded like rabid otters.

Yes, some political junkies watched Republicans debating for almost five hours Wednesday. This should be a message to the Democrats. Right now the party is engaged in a fight about whether its schedule of three debates in 2015 is too puny. There are a number of democratic nations in the world where you could easily overcome this argument by pointing out that the election is not until 2016.

But the American people are fine with more debates. Honest, there can be one every night as long as the American people are not actually forced to watch them. It could be a kind of endurance contest. Last person standing gets the nomination.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 168 other followers