Archive for the ‘Bruni’ Category

Friedman and Bruni

February 18, 2015

Today we’ve got The Moustache of Wisdom and Mr. Bruni.  In “Democracy Is in Recession” TMOW says Turkey’s drift away from democracy is part of a much larger trend around the world.  Gee, I wonder why?  “Marie” from Texas hit on the cause in her comment:  “If our “democracy” is looked to as the gold standard that all others should aspire towards and emulate, the recent degradation of so many fledgling democratic systems around world is perfectly understandable. These countries are not, in fact, averting their eyes from our beacon, but have instead fixated their gaze on it. They are doing a wonderful job of following our lead in expediting the changes towards increased militarization, plutocracy, corruption, inequality, callousness, polarization and anti-intellectualism we have been pioneering for some time now. In this, “American Exceptionalism” and Imperialism is alive and well.”  Mr. Bruni considers “College, Poetry and Purpose” and says he reconnected with his Shakespeare professor to get her thoughts on the humanities and higher education today.  Here’s TMOW:

Every month now we get treated to another anti-Semitic blast from Turkey’s leadership, which seems to be running some kind of slur-of-the-month club. Who knew that Jews all over the world were busy trying to take down President Recep Tayyip Erdogan? Last week, it was Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu’s turn to declare that Turkey would not “succumb to the Jewish lobby” — among others supposedly trying to topple Erdogan, the Hurriyet Daily News reported. This was after Erdogan had suggested that domestic opponents to the ruling Justice and Development Party, or A.K.P., were “cooperating with the Mossad,” Israel’s intelligence arm. So few Jews, so many governments to topple.

Davutoglu’s and Erdogan’s cheap, crude anti-Semitic tropes, which Erdogan now relies on regularly to energize his base, are disgusting. For the great nation of Turkey, though, they’re part of a wider tragedy. It is really hard to say anymore that Erdogan’s Turkey is a democracy. Even worse, it is necessary to say that Turkey’s drift away from democracy is part of a much larger global trend today: Democracy is in recession.

As the Stanford University democracy expert Larry Diamond argues in an essay entitled “Facing Up to the Democratic Recession” in the latest issue of the Journal of Democracy: “Around 2006, the expansion of freedom and democracy in the world came to a prolonged halt. Since 2006, there has been no net expansion in the number of electoral democracies, which has oscillated between 114 and 119 (about 60 percent of the world’s states). … The number of both electoral and liberal democracies began to decline after 2006 and then flattened out. Since 2006 the average level of freedom in the world has also deteriorated slightly.”

Since 2000, added Diamond, “I count 25 breakdowns of democracy in the world — not only through blatant military or executive coups, but also through subtle and incremental degradations of democratic rights and procedure. … Some of these breakdowns occurred in quite low-quality democracies; yet in each case, a system of reasonably free and fair multiparty electoral competition was either displaced or degraded to a point well below the minimal standards of democracy.”

Vladimir Putin’s Russia and Erdogan’s Turkey are the poster children for this trend, along with Venezuela, Thailand, Botswana, Bangladesh and Kenya. In Turkey, Diamond writes, the A.K.P. has steadily extended “partisan control over the judiciary and the bureaucracy, arresting journalists and intimidating dissenters in the press and academia, threatening businesses with retaliation if they fund opposition parties, and using arrests and prosecutions in cases connected to alleged coup plots to jail and remove from public life an implausibly large number of accused plotters. This has coincided with a stunning and increasingly audacious concentration of personal power by … Erdogan.” Rule of law in Turkey is being seriously eroded.

Meanwhile, Freedom House, a watchdog group, found that, from 2006-14, many more countries declined in freedom than improved. This trend has been particularly pronounced in sub-Saharan Africa, including South Africa, where declining transparency, crumbling rule of law and rising corruption are becoming the norm.

Why this trend? One reason, says Diamond, is today’s autocrats are fast learners and adapters. They have developed and shared “new technologies of censorship and legal strategies to restrict civil society [groups] and ban international assistance to them,” and we haven’t responded with new strategies of our own. Also, old habits of corruption and abuse of power went into hiding during the 1990s and 2000s, when post-Cold War democracy was ascendant, “but now corrupt autocrats feel the heat is off and they can rule as nastily and greedily as they want.”

Moreover, China, which has no democracy standards or problems with corruption abroad, has displaced the U.S. as the most valued foreign aid provider in much of Africa, while Russia has become more aggressive in undermining virtually every democratic tendency on its borders. Finally, post-9/11, we let the “war on terror” supplant democracy promotion as our top foreign policy priority, so any autocrat who collared terrorists won a get-out-of-jail-free-card from America.

But, Diamond adds, “perhaps the most worrisome dimension of the democratic recession has been the decline of democratic efficacy, energy, and self-confidence” in America and the West at large. After years of hyperpolarization, deadlock and corruption through campaign financing, the world’s leading democracy is increasingly dysfunctional, with government shutdowns and the inability to pass something as basic as a budget. “The world takes note of all this,” says Diamond. “Authoritarian state media gleefully publicize these travails of American democracy in order to discredit democracy in general and immunize authoritarian rule against U.S. pressure.”

Diamond urges democrats not to lose faith. Democracy, as Churchill noted, is still the worst form of government — except for all the others. And it still fires the imagination of people like no other system. But that will only stay true if the big democracies maintain a model worth following. I wish that were not so much in question today.

Now here’s Mr. Bruni, writing from Philadelphia:

Over four decades at two universities, Anne Hall has taught thousands of students, enough to know that they come to college for a variety of reasons, with a variety of attitudes. Many are concerned only with jobs. Some are concerned chiefly with beer.

All would like A’s. And too many get them, she said, even from her, because a professor standing up to grade inflation is in a lonely place.

But what, in an overarching sense, should students be after? What’s the highest calling of higher education?

When I asked her this on Monday night, she shot me a look of exasperation, though it gave way quickly to a smile. And I remembered that smile from 30 years earlier, when she would expound on Othello’s corrosive jealousy, present Lady Macbeth as the dark ambassador of guilt’s insidious stamina and show those of us in her class that with careful examination and unhurried reflection, we could find in Shakespeare just about all of human life and human wisdom: every warning we needed to hear, every joy we needed to cultivate.

She answered my question about college’s purpose, but not right away and not glibly, because rushed thinking and glibness are precisely what she believes education should be a bulwark against. She’s right.

I introduced her in a column last week, writing that when I was recently pressed to describe a transformative educational experience, what came to mind were her voice and her animation as she read aloud the wondrous words of “King Lear.”

Her field is Renaissance poetry. I studied that and Shakespeare’s plays with her when I was an English major at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in the mid-1980s. I never got to know her well, though. I didn’t keep in touch.

But after my column appeared, she sent me an email. It included a lament about changes in the humanities that made me want to hear more. I was curious to know what the professor who was the highlight of my time in college thought of college today.

So I visited her in Philadelphia, where she has been a lecturer at the University of Pennsylvania since 1998. She’s 69.

She expressed regret about how little an English department’s offerings today resemble those from the past. “There’s a lot of capitalizing on what is fashionable,” she said. Survey courses have fallen out of favor, as have courses devoted to any one of the “dead white men,” she said.

“Chaucer has become Chaucer and …” she said. “Chaucer and Women in the Middle Ages. Chaucer and Animals in the Middle Ages. Shakespeare has become Shakespeare and Film, which in my cranky opinion becomes Film, not Shakespeare.”

She didn’t want to single out any particular course for derision but encouraged me to look at what Penn is offering this semester. There’s Pulp Fictions: Popular Romance From Chaucer to Tarantino. Also Sex and the City: Women, Novels and Urban Life. Global Feminisms. Comic Books and Graphic Novels. Psychoanalysis, Literature and Film. Literatures of Psychoanalysis.

And while she applauds the attempt to engage students and diversify instruction, she worries about an intellectual vogue and academic sensibility that place no one masterpiece, master, perspective or even manner of speech above others.

Not long ago, she said, she asked students to try to go for an entire class without letting the word “like” drop needlessly — part conjunction, part stutter — into their speech. One of them responded that Hall was a “cultural capitalist” defending her particular “cultural capital.”

She has qualms about the way a university now markets campus amenities to students and marvels at “how many sites there are for feeding them.” The increased weight given to the evaluations that they fill out can be a disincentive for professors to be rigorous.

“The student became the customer who’s always right,” she said.

And yet, she said, there are still many earnest young men and women who come before her wanting nothing more or less than to be bigger, better. She praised an undergraduate business major in the class that she is currently teaching, Poetry and Politics in Ancient Greece.

“She said that going to college develops something in you that’s like a muscle, in the same way that when you go out and play tennis or whatever sport, you develop certain muscles,” Hall told me, adding that she agreed with the student.

That brought Hall to her own answer about college’s mission: “It is for developing the muscle of thoughtfulness, the use of which will be the greatest pleasure in life and will also show what it means to be fully human.”

Bruni, solo

February 11, 2015

The Moustache of Wisdom is off today, so Mr. Bruni has the place to himself.  In “College’s Priceless Value” he says when it comes to learning, there’s a thin line between luxury and necessity.  Here he is:

What’s the most transformative educational experience you’ve had?

I was asked this question recently, and for a few seconds it stumped me, mainly because I’ve never viewed learning as a collection of eureka moments. It’s a continuum, a lifelong awakening to the complexity of the world.

But then something did come to mind, not a discrete lesson but a moving image, complete with soundtrack. I saw a woman named Anne Hall swooning and swaying as she stood at the front of a classroom in Chapel Hill, N.C., and explained the rawness and majesty of emotion in “King Lear.”

I heard three words: “Stay a little.” They’re Lear’s plea to Cordelia, the truest of his three daughters, as she slips away. When Hall recited them aloud, it wasn’t just her voice that trembled. It was all of her.

She taught a course on Shakespeare’s tragedies: “Lear,” “Macbeth,” “Othello.” It was by far my favorite class at the University of North Carolina, which I attended in the mid-1980s, though I couldn’t and can’t think of any bluntly practical application for it, not unless you’re bound for a career on the stage or in academia.

I headed in neither direction. So I guess I was just wasting my time, at least according to a seemingly growing chorus of politicians and others whose metrics for higher education are skill acquisition and job placement.

Scott Walker, the governor of Wisconsin and a likely presidential candidate, signaled his membership in this crowd when he recently proposed a 13 percent cut in state support for the University of Wisconsin. According to several reports, he simultaneously toyed with changing the language of the university’s mission statement so that references to the “search for truth” and the struggle to “improve the human condition” would be replaced by an expressed concern for “the state’s work force needs.”

I’m not sure where “Lear” fits into work force needs.

The debate over the rightful role of college goes a long way back. Michael Roth, the president of Wesleyan University, documented as much in his 2014 book, “Beyond the University: Why Liberal Education Matters.” He noted that Thomas Jefferson exalted learning for learning’s sake, while Ben Franklin registered disdain for people who spent too much time in lecture halls.

Ronald Reagan did, too. In 1967, just after he became the governor of California, he moved to slash spending for the University of California system and its eclectic menu of instruction, announcing that taxpayers shouldn’t be “subsidizing intellectual curiosity” and that “there are certain intellectual luxuries that perhaps we could do without.”

That was a pivotal moment in the discussion of higher education’s ideal benefits, after which “the balance started to tip toward utility,” according to a recent essay by Dan Berrett in The Chronicle of Higher Education. Titled “The Day the Purpose of College Changed,” it looked back at Reagan’s remarks. It also recalled President Obama’s, in particular a seemingly dismissive comment last year about art history degrees. Obama has called for a rating system that would take into account how reliably colleges place their graduates into high-paying jobs.

Neither he nor Walker is wrong to raise that issue, given the high cost of higher education and the fierce competition in the world. Students shouldn’t be blind to the employment landscape.

But it’s impossible to put a dollar value on a nimble, adaptable intellect, which isn’t the fruit of any specific course of study and may be the best tool for an economy and a job market that change unpredictably.

And it’s dangerous to forget that in a democracy, college isn’t just about making better engineers but about making better citizens, ones whose eyes have been opened to the sweep of history and the spectrum of civilizations.

It’s also foolish to belittle what those of us in Hall’s class got from Shakespeare and from her illumination of his work.

“Stay a little.” She showed how that simple request harbored such grand anguish, capturing a fallen king’s hunger for connection and his tenuous hold on sanity and contentment. And thus she taught us how much weight a few syllables can carry, how powerful the muscle of language can be.

She demonstrated the rewards of close attention. And the way she did this — her eyes wild with fervor, her body aquiver with delight — was an encouragement of passion and a validation of the pleasure to be wrung from art. It informed all my reading from then on. It colored the way I listened to people and even watched TV.

It transformed me.

Was this a luxury? Sure. But it was also the steppingstone to a more aware, thoughtful existence. College was the quarry where I found it.

The Pasty Little Putz, Dowd, Kristof and Bruni

February 1, 2015

Putzy has a question in “Our Loud, Proud Left:”  What is fueling the cultural activism of the later Obama years?  In the comments “gemli” from Boston has part of the answer:  “Where certain pundits see an excess of left-wing political correctness, others may see a reaction to Republican efforts to roll back every progressive initiative that has been enacted over the last half-century. I can see why the left has lost its taste for debate when one side wants to deny basic human rights to gay people using bogus religious-freedom objections, or to kill food stamps, or to increase the unconscionable income disparity. I don’t need to weigh the merits of both sides to know that one side sickens me.”  In “Mitt’s White Horse Pulls Up Lame” MoDo tells us how real Mitt fell in love with reel Mitt.  I’m sure that the Koch brothers had NOTHING to do with him leaving the race…  Mr. Kristof, in “Heroes and Bystanders,” says the best way to honor past victims of genocide is to fight it everywhere that it exists today.  Mr. Bruni looks at “The Vaccine Lunacy” and says for the sake of children’s health, let’s face facts and repudiate fiction.  Here’s The Putz:

For the last week, liberal journalists have been furiously debating whether a new political correctness has swept over the American left. The instigator of this argument was New York magazine’s Jonathan Chait, normally a scourge of Republicans, whose essay on what he dubbed “the new P.C.” critiqued left-wing activists for their zeal to play language cop, shout down arguments and shut down debate outright.

It will surprise absolutely nobody that I think the phenomenon that Chait describes is real. But I come not to judge but to explain — because whether you like or loathe the “P.C.” label, the rise of a more assertive cultural left is clearly one of the defining features of the later Obama years. This assertiveness is palpable among younger activists, on campus and online; it’s visible in controversy after controversy, from Ferguson to campus rape. And it’s interesting to think about exactly where it’s coming from.

The first source, probably, is disappointment with other forms of left-wing politics. A decade ago, the left’s energy was focused on Iraq; in President Obama’s first term, it was divided between his quest for a new New Deal and Occupy Wall Street’s free-form radicalism. But now the antiwar movement is moribund, Occupy has gone the way of the Yippies and it’s been years since the White House proposed a new tax or spending plan that wasn’t D.O.A.

What’s more, despite all the books sold by Thomas Piketty, the paths forward for progressive economic policy are mostly blocked — and not only by a well-entrenched Republican Party, but by liberalism’s ongoing inability to raise the taxes required to pay for the welfare state we already have. Since a long, slow, grinding battle over how to pay for those commitments is unlikely to fire anyone’s imagination, it’s not surprising that cultural causes — race, sex, identity — suddenly seem vastly more appealing.

The second wellspring is a more specific sort of disillusionment. Call it post-post-racialism: a hangover after the heady experience of electing America’s first black president; a frustration with the persistence of racial divides, even in an age of elite African-American achievement; and a sense of outrage over particular tragedies (Trayvon Martin, Ferguson) that seem to lay injustice bare.

Post-post-racial sentiment is connected to economic disappointments, because minorities have fared particularly poorly in the Great Recession’s aftermath. And this sentiment’s rejection of respectability politics — that is, the idea that the fate of black Americans rests mostly in their own hands — seems to point naturally toward a kind of redistributionism. (Ta-Nehisi Coates’s recent Atlantic essay “The Case For Reparations” made this argument explicitly.)

But again, because the paths to economic redistribution are mostly blocked, the more plausible way to put post-post-racialism into practice is social activism: a renewed protest politics of the kind we’ve seen since Ferguson, and a wider effort to police the culture for hidden forms of racism, which don’t require tax increases to root out.

Finally, the late-Obama left is shaped by the success of the same-sex marriage movement, a rare example of a progressive cause that seems to be carrying all before it. To activists, its progress offers a model for winning even when electoral obstacles loom large: It shows that the left can gain ground at the elite level and then watch the results trickle down, that victories on college campuses can presage wider cultural success and that pathologizing critics as bigoted and phobic can be an effective way to finish up debates.

I suspect that a lot of the ambition (or aggression, depending on your point of view) from the campus left right now reflects the experience of watching the same-sex marriage debate play out. Whether on issues, like transgender rights, that extend from gay rights, or on older debates over rape and chauvinism, there’s a renewed sense that what happens in relatively cloistered environments can have wide ripples, and that taking firm control of a cultural narrative can matter much more than anything that goes on in Washington.

What’s interesting about this ambition is that it’s about to intersect with a political campaign in which the champion of liberalism will be a Clinton — when the original Clintonism, in its Sister Souljah-ing, Defense of Marriage Act-signing triangulation on social issues, is a big part of what the new cultural left wants to permanently leave behind.

Precisely because this left’s energy is cultural rather than economic, this tension is unlikely to spur the kind of populist, Elizabeth Warrenesque challenge to Hillary that pundits keep expecting.

But it does promise an interesting subtheme for the campaign. Can Hillary, the young feminist turned cautious establishmentarian, harness the energy of the young and restless left? Or will the excesses associated with that energy end up dividing her coalition, as it has divided liberal journalists of late?

Those of us watching from the right — with, perhaps, a little popcorn — will be interested to find out.

Be careful, Putzy, you may very well choke on your popcorn.  Here’s MoDo, writing from Salt Lake City:

When the Mitt Romney documentary premiered here at the Sundance Film Festival last year, one member of the audience was especially charmed by the candidate up on the screen.

That guy is great, Mitt Romney thought to himself. That guy should be running for president.

It was an “Aha” moment that came to him belatedly at age 66, after two failed presidential runs that cost more than $1 billion.

Mitt had a revelation that he should have run his races as Mitt — with all the goofiness, Mormonism, self-doubt and self-mockery thrown into the crazy salad.

Some of his strategists had argued against the movie. But wasn’t it endearing, when the tuxedo-clad Romney ironed his own French cuffs while they were on his wrists? When he listened to “This American Life” on NPR with his family? When he wryly called himself a “flippin’ Mormon”? When he and Ann prayed on their knees just before the New Hampshire primary? When he went sledding with his grandkids?

He was himself as a moderate Massachusetts governor. But when he ran for president in 2008, he was “severely conservative,” as he would later awkwardly brag, and that wasn’t him.

In 2012, he was closer but still not truly himself, putting his faith and centrist record off to the side. He had surrounded himself with Stuart Stevens and other advisers who did not have faith that the unplugged Mitt could win, and the candidate did not have enough faith in himself to push back against them.

“It’s a sad story of discovery,” said a Republican who is friends with him. “He kept going through campaigns and evolving closer to himself. Then he saw the documentary and it was liberating, showing 100 percent of himself instead of 80. But it was too late. You don’t really get three shots.”

Romney got bollixed up by dueling fears that the unkind arena would rage at him if he put up his guard and rage at him if he dropped it. He was haunted by the collapse of his father’s 1968 campaign for president after his father dropped his guard, telling a Detroit TV broadcaster that he thought he had been brainwashed into supporting the Vietnam War by American commanders and diplomats there.

But after Romney saw the documentary “Mitt” — by Mormon filmmaker Greg Whiteley — and felt that he could be Mitt “all the way,” as one friend put it, he was ready to run “a hell of a race.”

Mormons learn firsthand that rejection — as the young Mitt learned in Paris on his mission when he got less than 20 converts in two-and-a-half years — doesn’t mean you should stop trying.

Recent polls had Romney ahead of Jeb Bush and other Republican contenders. He was more in demand on the trail than President Obama during the 2014 campaign. He had shied away in 2012 from explaining the role of faith in his life, worried that Mormonism might still sound strange to voters if he had to explain lore like the white horse prophecy, that a Mormon white knight would ride in to save the U.S. as the Constitution was hanging by a thread.

But, in the last few weeks, Romney had seemed eager to take a Mormon mulligan. Less sensitive about his great-grandparents fleeing to Mexico to preserve their right to polygamy, Romney began joking to audiences that when he learned about the church at Brigham Young University, “Emma was Joseph Smith’s only wife.”

It was foolish to ever think he could take his religion — which is baked into every part of his life — and cordon it off.

In Park City Wednesday, I talked to Jon Krakauer, the author of “Under the Banner of Heaven,” a history of Mormonism, and executive producer of “Prophet’s Prey,” a Showtime documentary, which was premiering at Sundance, about the most infamous Mormon polygamous cult.

“I don’t think he has a choice,” Krakauer said. “I don’t know how people will react, but he has nothing to be ashamed with, with his faith. And by not talking about it, it looks like he does.”

It was the same mistake Al Gore made in 2000 when he listened to advisers who told him he would seem too tree-huggy if he talked about the environment. When that was off-limits, Gore lost the issue he was least likely to be wooden on; it was the one topic that made him passionate — not to mention prescient.

If Mitt was 100 percent himself, he began to think this time, he could move past the debacles of his 47 percent comment caught on tape and his cringe-worthy 13 percent tax rate — both of which had made him seem like the pitiless plutocrat conjured by Democrats.

Two weeks ago, at a Republican meeting in San Diego, Romney talked about his decade as a Mormon bishop and stake president, working “with people who are very poor to get them help and subsistence,” finding them jobs and tending to the sick and elderly.

He changed his residency to Utah and started building a house in a wealthy suburb of Salt Lake City. He got a broker for the luxe La Jolla oceanfront home with the four-car elevator.

It was reported that a 2016 Romney campaign could be based here. Romney had been burning up the phone lines with donors and past operatives and was reassembling his old campaign team. But Jeb Bush popped Mitt’s trial balloon by peeling off the money and the talent.

“He thought there was more interest than there was,” one strategist close to Romney said. “There wasn’t a big groundswell. The donor-activist-warlord bubble had moved on. It’s a tough world. Mitt didn’t want to claw and slug.”

 Or as his 2008 presidential campaign adviser Alex Castellanos put it, “Mitt Romney found he had walked out on stage without his pants.”

At an appearance Wednesday in Mississippi, where he seemed to be honing talking points and attack lines for a possible run, he said Hillary Clinton had “cluelessly” pushed the reset button with Russia.

He blamed the news media and voters for concentrating on the wrong things. “It would be nice if people who run for office, that their leadership experience, what they’ve accomplished in life, would be a bigger part of what people are focused on, but it’s not,” he said. “Mostly it’s what you say — and what you do is a lot more important than just what you say.”

But both in what he said and did, Romney came across as clueless in 2012. He was hawking himself as a great manager, but he couldn’t even manage his campaign. His own advisers did not trust him to be himself. They did not adapt what the Obama team had taught everyone in 2008 about technologically revolutionizing campaigns. His own campaign was in need of a Bain-style turnaround and he was oblivious.

The reel Mitt could have told the real Mitt, as Romney said in the documentary, that the nominee who loses the general election is “a loser for life.”

He seemed shocked, the night of the election, to learn that his White Horse was lame. But how could he have won? The wrong Mitt was running.

Next up we have Mr. Kristof:

One of the great heroes of the 20th century was Auschwitz prisoner No. 4859, who volunteered to be there.

Witold Pilecki, an officer in the Polish resistance to the Nazi regime, deliberately let himself be captured by the Germans in 1940 so that he could gather information about Hitler’s concentration camps. Inside Auschwitz, he set up resistance cells — even as he almost died of starvation, torture and disease.

Then Pilecki helped build a radio transmitter, and, in 1942, he broadcast to the outside world accounts of atrocities inside Auschwitz — as the Nazis frantically searched the camp looking for the transmitter. He worked to expose the Nazi gas chambers, brutal sexual experiments and savage camp punishments, in hopes that the world would act.

Finally, in April 1943, he escaped from Auschwitz, bullets flying after him, and wrote an eyewitness report laying out the horror of the extermination camps. He then campaigned unsuccessfully for an attack on Auschwitz.

Eventually, he was brutally tortured and executed — not by the Nazis, but after the war, in 1947, by the Communists. They then suppressed the story of Pilecki’s heroism for decades (a book about his work, “The Auschwitz Volunteer,” was published in 2012).

I was thinking of Pilecki last week on the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camps. I had relatives killed in Auschwitz (they were Poles spying on the Nazis for the resistance), and these camps are emblems of the Holocaust and symbols of the human capacity for evil.

In the coming months, the world will also commemorate the 100th anniversary of the start of the Armenian genocide — which, despite the outrage of Turkish officials at the term, was, of course, a genocide. There, too, I feel a connection because my ancestors were Armenian.

Then, in the summer, we’ll observe the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II — an occasion for recalling Japanese atrocities in China, Korea, the Philippines and elsewhere. All this is likely to fuel more debates focused on the past. Should we honor Armenian genocide victims with a special day? Should Japan apologize for enslaving “comfort women”?

But, to me, the lesson of history is that the best way to honor past victims of atrocities is to stand up to slaughter today. The most respectful way to honor Jewish, Armenian or Rwandan victims of genocide is not with a ceremony or a day, but with efforts to reduce mass atrocities currently underway.

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington is a shining example of that approach, channeling outrage at past horrors to mitigate today’s — from Syria to Central African Republic. But, in general, the world is typically less galvanized by mass atrocities than paralyzed by them.

Even during the Holocaust, despite the heroism of Pilecki and others like Jan Karski, who tried desperately to shake sense into world leaders, no one was very interested in industrial slaughter. Over and over since then, world leaders have excelled at giving eloquent “never again” speeches but rarely offered much beyond lip service.

This year, I’m afraid something similar will happen. We’ll hear flowery rhetoric about Auschwitz, Armenia and World War II, and then we’ll go on shrugging at crimes against humanity in Syria, Central African Republic, Sudan and South Sudan, Myanmar and elsewhere.

Darfur symbolizes our fickleness. It has disappeared from headlines, and Sudan makes it almost impossible for journalists to get there, but Human Rights Watch reported a few days ago that the human rights situation in Sudan actually deteriorated in 2014.

Indeed, the Sudanese regime is now engaging in mass atrocities not only in Darfur but also in the Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile regions. Sudan bombed an aid hospital in January in the Nuba Mountains, and the Belgian branch of Doctors Without Borders has just announced the closure of operations in Sudan because of government obstructionism.

A decade ago, one of the most outspoken politicians on Darfur — harshly scolding President George W. Bush for not doing more — was an Illinois senator, Barack Obama. Today, as president of the United States, he is quiet. The United Nations force in Darfur has been impotent.

Granted, humanitarian crises rarely offer good policy choices, but there’s no need to embrace the worse option, which is paralysis. We’ve seen in Kosovo, Sierra Leone, Kurdistan and, lately, Yazidi areas of Iraq and eastern Congo that outside efforts sometimes can make a difference.

So, sure, let’s commemorate the liberation of Auschwitz, the horror of the Holocaust and the brutality of the Armenian genocide by trying to mitigate mass atrocities today. The basic lesson of these episodes is not just that humans are capable of astonishing evil, or that some individuals like Witold Pilecki respond with mesmerizing heroism — but that, sadly, it’s just too easy to acquiesce.

Last but not least here’s Mr. Bruni:

A few years back, an acerbic friend of mine who was a recent transplant to Los Angeles told me that she itched to write a satirical novel with the following narrative:

A group of wealthy, educated people in Santa Monica who deliberately didn’t vaccinate their children subsequently take them on a “poor-ism” trip to a developing country. The goal is to make them wiser and more sensitive to suffering in the world. While being sensitized, the kids catch diseases that they could have been inoculated against. Some of them die.

As a plot, it lacks subtlety (and compassion). But as a parable, it’s crystal-clear. You can be so privileged that you’re underprivileged, so blessed with choices that you choose to be a fool, so “informed” that you’re misinformed.

Which brings us to Disneyland, measles and the astonishing fact that a scourge once essentially eliminated in this country is back.

You’ve probably heard or read about the recent outbreak traced to the theme park. But there’s a chance that you’re unaware, because it hasn’t received nearly the coverage that, say, Ebola did, even though some of the dynamics at work here are scarier.

It started in mid-December and is now believed to be responsible for more than 70 cases in seven states and Mexico; 58 of those are in California, which of course is where the park is — in Orange County, to be more specific.

As it happens, there are affluent pockets of that county where the fraction of schoolchildren whose parents have cited a “personal belief” to exempt them from vaccinations is higher than the statewide average of 2.5 percent. That’s also true of some affluent pockets of the San Francisco and Los Angeles areas.

It used to be that unvaccinated children in America were clustered in impoverished neighborhoods; now they’re often clustered among sophisticates in gilded ZIP codes where a certain strain of health faddishness reigns. According to a story in The Hollywood Reporter last year, the parents of 57 percent of the children at a Beverly Hills preschool and of 68 percent at one in Santa Monica had filed personal-belief exemptions from having their kids vaccinated.

Why? Many of them buy into a discredited theory that there’s a link between the MMR (mumps-measles-rubella) vaccine and autism. They’re encouraged by a cadre of brash alarmists who have gained attention by pushing that thinking. Anti-vaccine panic was the path that the actress Jenny McCarthy traveled to innumerable appearances on prominent news and talk shows; she later demonstrated her singular version of concern for good health by working as a pitchwoman for e-cigarettes.

Other parents have separate or additional worries about vaccines, which can indeed have side effects. But they’re weighing that downside against what they deem to be a virtually nonexistent risk of exposure to the diseases in question. And that degree of risk depends entirely on a vast majority of children getting vaccines. If too many forgo them, we surrender what’s known as “herd immunity,” and the risk rises. That’s precisely what health officials see happening now.

In 2004, there were just 37 reported cases of measles in the United States. In 2014, there were 644. And while none of those patients died, measles can kill. Before vaccines for it became widespread in 1963, millions of Americans were infected annually, and 400 to 500 died each year.

“I don’t think its fatality rate has decreased,” said Daniel Salmon, a vaccine expert at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “We just haven’t had enough cases for someone to die.”

An estimated 90 percent of unvaccinated people who are exposed to the measles virus become infected, and they themselves can be infectious four days before they develop a telltale rash.

But what’s in play is more than one affliction’s resurgence. The size and sway of the anti-vaccine movement reflect a chilling disregard for science — or at least a pick-and-choose, cafeteria approach to it — that’s also evident, for example, in many Americans’ refusal to recognize climate change. We’re a curious species, and sometimes a sad one, chasing knowledge only to deny it, making progress only to turn away from its benefits.

The movement underscores the robust market for pure conjecture — not just about vaccines, but about all sorts of ostensible threats and putative remedies — and the number of merchants willing to traffic in it. Look at Dr. Oz, a cardiothoracic surgeon now drawing millions of viewers daily as a television host peddling weight-loss tricks. The British Medical Journal recently analyzed dozens of his shows and determined that more than half of the suggestions he doled out didn’t have sound scientific backing.

The Internet makes it easier for people to do their own “research” and can lead them to trustworthy and untrustworthy sites in equal measure.

“It can be difficult to know what to believe,” said Kristen Feemster, a infectious diseases specialist at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. “So many people can be an expert, because there are platforms for so many voices.”

Salmon noted that the sheer variety and saturation of media today amplify crackpot hypotheses to a point where they seem misleadingly worthy of consideration. “People say things enough times, there must be some truth to it,” he said. “Look at the proportion of people who question where our president was born or his religion.”

And we in the traditional media don’t always help, covering the news in an on-one-hand, on-the-other-hand fashion that sometimes gives nearly equal time to people citing facts and people weaving fiction.

I’m not entirely baffled by the fear of vaccines, which arises in part from a mistrust of drug companies and a medical establishment that have made past mistakes.

But this subject has been studied and studied and studied, and it’s abundantly clear that we’re best served by vaccinating all of those children who can be, so that the ones who can’t be — for medical reasons such as a compromised immune system — are protected.

Right now, Salmon said, only two states, Mississippi and West Virginia, limit vaccine exemptions to such children. If the anti-vaccination crowd grows, other states may have to move in that direction.

There’s a balance to be struck between personal freedom and public safety, and I’m not at all sure that our current one is correct.

We rightly govern what people can and can’t do with guns, seatbelts, drugs and so much more, all in the interest not just of their welfare but of everybody’s. Are we being dangerously remiss when it comes to making them wear the necessary armor against illnesses that belong in history books?

Blow, Friedman and Bruni

January 28, 2015

In “Reducing Our Obscene Level of Child Poverty” Mr. Blow says a new report on our nation’s “moral disgrace” reminds us that allowing child poverty to remain this widespread costs more than eliminating it would.   The Moustache of Wisdom has a question in “Czar Putin’s Next Moves:”  Is anyone paying attention to the awful things President Vladimir Putin of Russia is doing to Ukraine, not to mention his own country?  Mr. Bruni says “We Dodged Icy Doom.  Let’s Gripe.”  He explains that whether they prepare for too little snow or too much, politicians can be assured of our unhappiness.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

I’m not someone who believes that poverty can ever truly be ended — I’m one of those “the poor will always be with you” types — but I do believe that the ranks of the poor can and must be shrunk and that the effects of poverty can and must be ameliorated.

And there is one area above all others where we should feel a moral obligation to reduce poverty as much as possible and to soften its bite: poverty among children.

People may disagree about the choices parents make — including premarital sex and out-of-wedlock births. People may disagree about access to methods of family planning — including contraception and abortion. People may disagree about the size and role of government — including the role of safety-net programs.

But surely we can all agree that no child, once born, should suffer through poverty. Surely we can all agree that working to end child poverty — or at least severely reduce it — is a moral obligation of a civilized society.

And yet, 14.7 million children in this country are poor, and 6.5 million of them are extremely poor (living below half the poverty line).

Today, the Children’s Defense Fund is releasing a report entitled “Ending Child Poverty Now” that calls this country’s rate of child poverty “a moral disgrace.”

As the report points out:

“America’s poor children did not ask to be born; did not choose their parents, country, state, neighborhood, race, color, or faith. In fact if they had been born in 33 other Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries they would be less likely to be poor. Among these 35 countries, America ranks 34th in relative child poverty — ahead only of Romania, whose economy is 99 percent smaller than ours.”

It points out many of the corrosive cruelties of childhood poverty: worse health and educational outcomes, impaired cognitive development and the effects of “toxic stress” on brain functions. It also points out the “intergenerational transmission” properties of poverty:

“In one study, people who experienced poverty at any point during childhood were more than three times as likely to be poor at age 30 as those who were never poor as children. The longer a child was poor, the greater the risk of adult poverty.”

But the report is more than just an excoriation of the hollowness of our professed American values and our ethical quandary. It also serves as an economic manifesto, making the point that allowing child poverty to remain at these unconscionable levels costs “far more than eliminating it would,” calculating that an immediate 60 percent reduction in child poverty would cost $77.2 billion a year, or just 2 percent of our national budget.

For context, the report puts it this way:

“Every year we keep 14.7 million children in poverty costs our nation $500 billion — six times more than the $77 billion investment we propose to reduce child poverty by 60 percent.”

The report cites the M.I.T. Nobel laureate economist and 2014 Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient Dr. Robert Solow, who wrote in his foreword to a 1994 C.D.F. report, “Wasting America’s Future”: “As an economist I believe that good things are worth paying for; and that even if curing children’s poverty were expensive, it would be hard to think of a better use in the world for money.”

To pay for the effort, the report calls for some of the same things the president called for in his State of the Union speech last week, like closing tax loopholes and eliminating tax breaks for the wealthy. But it also called for a reduction in the military budget. This is an echo, in a way, of the concerns Martin Luther King had about military spending sapping money from efforts to help the poor, which he laid out in his not-nearly-cited-enough 1967 anti-Vietnam speech at the Riverside Church:

“I knew that America would never invest the necessary funds or energies in rehabilitation of its poor so long as adventures like Vietnam continued to draw men and skills and money like some demonic destructive suction tube. So I was increasingly compelled to see the war as an enemy of the poor and to attack it as such.”

What would we get for our $77 billion, anyway? Things like the creation of subsidized jobs, an increase in the earned income tax credit, a raise of the minimum wage, an expansion of child care subsidies and housing subsidies, and an increase in SNAP benefits.

The report holds up Britain, which took some of the same steps as a case study of how such an approach can work because they “managed to reduce child poverty by more than half over 10 years, and reductions persisted during the Great Recession.”

We can do this too, if just stop seeing helping these children as an us-versus-them struggle between makers and takers, if we stop getting so hung up on prudishness about sex and traditional views of what constitutes a family, if we stem our impulse to punish children for their mothers giving birth before marriage.

By the way, Britain’s out-of-wedlock birthrate is even higher than ours.

Next up we have The Moustache of Wisdom, writing from Zurich:

Last March, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was quoted as saying that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s attack on Ukraine, supposedly in defense of Russian-speakers there, was just like “what Hitler did back in the ‘30s“ — using ethnic Germans to justify his invasion of neighboring lands. At the time, I thought such a comparison was over the top. I don’t think so anymore. I’d endorse Mrs. Clinton’s comparison purely for the shock value: It draws attention to the awful things Putin is doing to Ukraine, not to mention his own country, whose credit rating was just reduced to junk status.

Putin’s use of Russian troops wearing uniforms without insignia to invade Ukraine and to covertly buttress Ukrainian rebels bought and paid for by Moscow — all disguised by a web of lies that would have made Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels blush and all for the purpose of destroying Ukraine’s reform movement before it can create a democratic model that might appeal to Russians more than Putin’s kleptocracy — is the ugliest geopolitical mugging happening in the world today.

Ukraine matters — more than the war in Iraq against the Islamic State, a.k.a., ISIS. It is still not clear that most of our allies in the war against ISIS share our values. That conflict has a big tribal and sectarian element. It is unmistakably clear, though, that Ukraine’s reformers in its newly elected government and Parliament — who are struggling to get free of Russia’s orbit and become part of the European Union’s market and democratic community — do share our values. If Putin the Thug gets away with crushing Ukraine’s new democratic experiment and unilaterally redrawing the borders of Europe, every pro-Western country around Russia will be in danger.

“Putin fears a Ukraine that demands to live and wants to live and insists on living on European values — with a robust civil society and freedom of speech and religion [and] with a system of values the Ukrainian people have chosen and laid down their lives for,” Natalie Jaresko, Ukraine’s finance minister, told a Ukraine seminar at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, last week.

The U.S. and Germany have done a good job organizing the sanctions on Russia. While the Obama administration recently decided to deploy some American soldiers to Ukraine in the spring to train the Ukrainian National Guard, I’d support increasing our military aid to Ukraine’s Army now so it can better defend itself from the estimated 9,000 troops Putin has infiltrated into Ukraine.

Ukraine also needs $15 billion in loans and grants in the next year to stabilize its economy, in addition to its bailout from the International Monetary Fund. Ukrainians had dug themselves into a deep, deep hole with their 20-plus years of industrial levels of corruption from a series of bad governments after Kiev became independent of the Soviet Union. The reason for hope is that the revolution and latest elections in Ukraine have brought in a new generation of reformers, who are rapidly transforming ministries and passing tax and transparency regulations. They are actually welcoming hardheaded, good-governance benchmarks as a condition for Western aid. But if they deliver, we must deliver.

Treasury Secretary Jack Lew has been traveling across Europe this week in part to lock in the aid package for Kiev. The U.S. has committed its share, but the European Union is still balking a bit. Putin’s aim is to sow enough instability that the West will hold back aid so the Ukraine reformers will fail to deliver and be discredited. That would be a shame.

Global financier George Soros, who’s been helping foster Ukrainian reform, told the Davos gathering that “there is a new Ukraine that is determined to be different from the old Ukraine. … What makes it unique is that it is not only willing to fight but engage in executing a set of radical reforms. It is up against the old Ukraine that has not disappeared … and up against a very determined design by President Putin to destabilize it and destroy it. But it is determined to assert the independence and European orientation of the new Ukraine.”

Ukraine could also impact the price of oil. The two biggest actors who can shape that price today are Saudi Arabia’s new king, Salman, and Russia’s czar, Putin. If the Saudis decide to cut back production significantly, the price of oil will go up. And if Putin decides to fully invade Ukraine, or worse, one of the Baltic states, and test whether NATO will really fight to defend either, the price of oil will go up. With his economy in shambles, Putin’s regime is now almost entirely dependent on oil and gas exports, so he’s really hurting with the oil price collapse. The odds of Putin fully invading Ukraine or the Baltics are low, but do not rule out either.

Triggering a big geopolitical crisis with NATO is an easy way for Putin to shock the oil price back up. Putin’s covert Ukraine interventions up to now have not succeeded in that. In sum: Today’s oil price will be most affected by two men — King Salman and how he uses his spare capacity to produce oil and Czar Putin and how he uses his spare capacity to produce trouble.

Last but not least we get to Mr. Bruni:

“You can’t be a Monday morning quarterback on something like the weather,” Bill de Blasio said right after the snow.

Oh really? On Tuesday morning we hurled second guesses and grievances the way Tom Brady tosses an inadequately inflated football.

By “we” I mean not just us New Yorkers, who were promised the icy end of the world and then forced to make do with something less dramatic, but also all of those who gazed upon the city, state and region and gleefully joined a chorus of instant complaint.

We grilled de Blasio, wondering if he might be using an emergency — and his role as responder in chief — to shake off that nastiness with the police and turn the page.

We put Andrew Cuomo on the hot seat, noting that as long as he was gasping at the possibility of a record-breaking blizzard, he didn’t have to deal with the actuality of jaw-dropping corruption on his watch.

And we marveled that Chris Christie was even present in New Jersey. He spent months gallivanting around the country collecting i.o.u.s for a presidential campaign, then thundered home just in time to close roads and prophesy disaster? What a storm queen.

That’s one perspective, and a sizable share of the cynicism is warranted. These guys are showboats who always preen and play the angles. It’s called getting elected.

But before we reflexively shovel too much censure on them, let’s get a few things straight.

None of them hallucinated those forecasts of two feet (or more) of snow, nor did they cherry-pick apocalyptic ones. Meteorologists and broadcasters aplenty tripped over their adjectives to describe the frigid horrors in wait for residents of the northeastern United States.

Our politicians heard what we heard, and the same tidings that had us picking grocery-store shelves clean and standing in epic checkout lines had them cordoning off bridges and tunnels. Everyone braced for the worst, which is a whole lot smarter than hoping for the best.

“All signs were that this was going to be very bad,” Juliette Kayyem, a former assistant secretary of homeland security, told John Berman and Kate Bolduan on CNN, adding that for de Blasio not to take many or most of the steps that he did “would have been complete negligence.”

And it was indeed a bad storm. In New England, people did get several feet of snow. They also got that much in areas of Long Island that aren’t all that far from the New York City border, as the mayor noted at his news conference on Tuesday.

But from the howls of inconvenience and accusations of overreaction in the city itself, you would have thought that Central Park’s snowfall (almost 10 inches) was everybody’s. Untrue. In matters meteorological as in others, Manhattan is solipsism central.

Still, there are questions to be fairly asked. Was it really necessary, at 11 p.m. Monday, to take the extraordinary step of shutting down the subways? Especially when it turned out that some trains were still running, empty, as a way of maintaining the system?

That was Cuomo’s call, and it could have waited, if indeed it ever had to be made. Friends who’ve lived through Moscow’s brutal winters tell me that its mass transit never lets up. And while Russia’s people are hardier, their vehicles are not.

To varying degrees, Cuomo, de Blasio, Christie and other politicians overreacted, at least slightly, but who’s to blame? They’ve seen leaders past — including the New York mayors John Lindsay in 1969, Michael Bloomberg in 2010 and de Blasio himself just a year ago — endure or be undone by charges of insufficient girding for snow.

And they know that these days, thanks to Twitter and the like, the verdict will be especially hasty and the jury unusually large and loud. TV networks, pressed for money and ratings, will pay rapt attention, because weather is an easy news story to cover: straightforward, theatrical. The correspondents get to wear their ski-chalet best and to roar over the wind’s whisper.

In a more nuanced environment, the politicians in the snow’s path could have charted a better midcourse between readiness and run-for-cover alarm. They could have trusted us to understand that their talents don’t include soothsaying and that their plans will never be precisely right.

But that’s not the climate we live in. No, ours is so gripe-happy that not long after dawn Tuesday, on the Business Insider website, Henry Blodget reacted to the transportation shutdown with this sweeping judgment: “New York has become a nanny state.”

Perhaps. But imagine if all the snow predicted had arrived and scores of motorists were stranded. We’d be asking those nannies why they’d abandoned us, and we’d be looking for their replacements.

Friedman and Bruni

January 21, 2015

In “Say It Like It Is” The Moustache of Wisdom says you can’t dance around the topic of radical Islam.  In the comments “Lymond Crawford” of Brooklyn had this to say:  “Interesting that Marine Le Pen made much the same argument in her Times Op-Ed today. And not to diminish the point, but when Thomas Friedman comments on radical Islam one cannot help but remember that the war Mr. Friedman so enthusiastically embraced in Iraq (which many others accurately predicted would breed generations of terrorists) has been such an inspiration for Islamic extremists. Every piece he ever does on the subject should begin with that acknowledgement.”  Amen.  In “Cradle to Ivory Tower” Mr. Bruni says college is crucial, and so is all that leads up to it.  Here’s The Moustache of Wisdom:

I’ve never been a fan of global conferences to solve problems, but when I read that the Obama administration is organizing a Summit on Countering Violent Extremism for Feb. 18, in response to the Paris killings, I had a visceral reaction: Is there a box on my tax returns that I can check so my tax dollars won’t go to pay for this?

When you don’t call things by their real name, you always get in trouble. And this administration, so fearful of being accused of Islamophobia, is refusing to make any link to radical Islam from the recent explosions of violence against civilians (most of them Muslims) by Boko Haram in Nigeria, by the Taliban in Pakistan, by Al Qaeda in Paris and by jihadists in Yemen and Iraq. We’ve entered the theater of the absurd.

Last week the conservative columnist Rich Lowry wrote an essay in Politico Magazine that contained quotes from White House spokesman Josh Earnest that I could not believe. I was sure they were made up. But I checked the transcript: 100 percent correct. I can’t say it better than Lowry did:

“The administration has lapsed into unselfconscious ridiculousness. Asked why the administration won’t say [after the Paris attacks] we are at war with radical Islam, Earnest on Tuesday explained the administration’s first concern ‘is accuracy. We want to describe exactly what happened. These are individuals who carried out an act of terrorism, and they later tried to justify that act of terrorism by invoking the religion of Islam and their own deviant view of it.’

This makes it sound as if the Charlie Hebdo terrorists set out to commit a random act of violent extremism and only subsequently, when they realized that they needed some justification, did they reach for Islam.

The day before, Earnest had conceded that there are lists of recent ‘examples of individuals who have cited Islam as they’ve carried out acts of violence.’ Cited Islam? According to the Earnest theory … purposeless violent extremists rummage through the scriptures of great faiths, looking for some verses to cite to support their mayhem and often happen to settle on the holy texts of Islam.”

President Obama knows better. I am all for restraint on the issue, and would never hold every Muslim accountable for the acts of a few. But it is not good for us or the Muslim world to pretend that this spreading jihadist violence isn’t coming out of their faith community. It is coming mostly, but not exclusively, from angry young men and preachers on the fringe of the Sunni Arab and Pakistani communities in the Middle East and Europe.

If Western interventions help foster violent Islamic reactions, we should reduce them. To the extent that Muslim immigrants in European countries feel marginalized, they and their hosts should worker harder on absorption. But both efforts will only take you so far.

Something else is also at work, and it needs to be discussed. It is the struggle within Arab and Pakistani Sunni Islam over whether and how to embrace modernity, pluralism and women’s rights. That struggle drives, and is driven by, the dysfunctionality of so many Arab states and Pakistan. It has left these societies with too many young men who have never held a job or a girl’s hand, who then seek to overcome their humiliation at being left behind, and to find identity, by “purifying” their worlds of other Muslims who are not sufficiently pious and of Westerners whom they perceive to be putting Muslims down. But you don’t see this in the two giant Muslim communities in Indonesia or India.

 Only Sunni Arabs and Pakistanis can get inside their narrative and remediate it. But reformers can only do that if they have a free, secure political space. If we’re not going to help create space for that internal dialogue, let’s just be quiet. Don’t say stupid stuff. And don’t hold airy fairy conferences that dodge the real issues, which many mainstream Muslims know and are actually starved to discuss, especially women.

The Arab journalist Diana Moukalled, writing in the London-based Asharq Al-Awsat last week, asked: “Don’t all these events now going on around us and committed in our name require us to break the fear barrier and begin to question our region and our societies, especially the ideas being trafficked there that have led us to this awful stage where we are tearing at one another’s throats — to mention nothing of what as a result also happens beyond our region?”

And a remarkable piece in The Washington Post Sunday by Asra Q. Nomani, an American Muslim born in India, called out the “honor corps” — a loose, well-funded coalition of governments and private individuals “that tries to silence debate on extremist ideology in order to protect the image of Islam.” It “throws the label of ‘Islamophobe’ on pundits, journalists and others who dare to talk about extremist ideology in the religion. … The official and unofficial channels work in tandem, harassing, threatening and battling introspective Muslims and non-Muslims everywhere. … The bullying often works to silence critics of Islamic extremism. … They cause governments, writers and experts to walk on eggshells.”

I know one in particular.

Well, when you find yourself quoting Rich “Sparkle Pants” Lowry you’ve pretty much told everyone exactly where you stand.  Here’s Mr. Bruni:

Leaving aside all of the other good arguments both for and against it, I have one big problem with the proposal for free community college that President Obama recently outlined and described anew in his State of the Union address on Tuesday night.

It’s awfully late in the game.

I don’t mean that he should have moved on it earlier in his presidency. I mean that our focus on getting kids to and through higher education cannot be separated from, or supplant, our focus on making sure that they’re prepared for it. And we have a painfully long way to go in that regard.

College is somehow tidier to talk about; I talk about it quite a bit myself. It’s an attractive subject for several reasons. There’s a particular mythology and romance to college, a way in which it’s synonymous with the passage into adulthood and with a lofty altitude of competence, knowledge and intellectual refinement.

It’s totemic. And it comes with handy metrics: specifically, data showing that the acquisition of a college degree translates into various benefits over the course of a lifetime, including higher earnings. So we look to, and lean on, college as a way to increase social mobility and push back against middle-class wage stagnation. That’s important context for not only Obama’s frequent invocations of college but also for a new report, “Expectations and Reality,” by America Achieves, a nonprofit organization that does educational research, policy development and advocacy. I was given an advance copy.

It demonstrates, for starters, that while hope may spring eternal, it springs in error where college is concerned. Using a survey of hundreds of parents and looking at college graduation rates, the report concludes that middle-class parents who expect their kids to finish four-year college degrees are wrong more than half the time.

The same survey, conducted by the Benenson Strategy Group for America Achieves, revealed some cold-eyed realism amid that unwarranted optimism. More than 70 percent of parents expressed the worry that their children’s chances of achieving a middle-class lifestyle would be diminished if their pre-college education didn’t become more challenging.

They’re right. We need to raise standards. That’s in fact what the Common Core is ideally about, and that’s why the education secretary, Arne Duncan, under harsh attack, remains wedded to a certain amount of testing. High standards without monitoring and accountability are no standards at all.

The goal is to lift children from all income groups up — and to maximize their chances of success with higher education. Their failure to complete higher education isn’t just a function of financial hardships and related stresses, though those are primary reasons. Academic readiness factors in.

Jon Schnur, the executive chairman of America Achieves, said that there’s a significant difference in graduation rates between students who need remediation after they’ve enrolled and those who don’t. The failures of elementary, middle and secondary schools shadow them.

Those failures persist, and they’re demonstrated every three years when PISA tests — which compare 15-year-olds in countries around the world — are done. American kids tend to perform in the middle of the heap.

The America Achieves report, looking at PISA results from 2003 to 2012, which is when the tests were last administered, had a bit of good news. While American kids from middle-class families haven’t markedly improved their international standing in math and science over recent years, kids from poorer families have done precisely that.

Poverty may well make educational advancement much harder, but doesn’t prohibit it. If we take the right steps — including more aggressive recruitment and rewarding of exemplary teachers and the continued implementation of higher standards — we can help kids at every rung of the economic ladder.

“All of these need to be backed by funding,” Schnur, who has advised the Obama administration on education, told me. “There are great examples of what works, such as quality preschool and early learning for low-income children.”

In the State of the Union both last year and the year before it, President Obama called for universal preschool (to no avail). Some studies have shown that disadvantaged children start falling behind even before that point.

The moral is this: Education is a continuous concern and must be a continuous investment, cradle to Ivory Tower. If we don’t recognize and act on that, our reality will never meet our expectations.

The Pasty Little Putz, Dowd, Kristof and Bruni

January 18, 2015

In “Mitt the Insurgent” The Putz says a third Romney run is a bad idea, but it’s hard to see what harm it can do.  He has a delicious description of the 2012 Clown Car, in which he calls them “a collection of dwarves and hobbits.”  These are the same people he was writing puff pieces about then…  In “Not Just a Movie” MoDo says the truth of the strategizing on civil rights between President Johnson and Dr. King was dramatic enough. Why twist it?  Mr. Kristof says “Smart Guns Save Lives.  So Where Are They?”  He points out that we protect our cellphones with a PIN or a fingerprint, so why not do the same with firearms?  Mr. Bruni considers “Mark Wahlberg, Penance and Pardons” and says the actor wants his criminal record wiped clean. But what kind of message would that send?  Here’s The Putz:

The idea of yet a third Mitt Romney campaign for the presidency, once the idle dream of a few Romney bundlers and now apparently something embraced by the Man From Bain Capital himself, has been greeted by most Republicans with a mixture of horror, exhaustion and embarrassment. The polite ones sound like a girl before the senior prom who can’t believe that the stumblebum date who ruined her last school dance is in line first to ask her again: No, please, not this time. The rest sound like the characters in the third act of a horror movie, confronting a shambling revenant that just keeps coming: How do we kill this thing?

And these attitudes are understandable. Romney was not, perhaps, quite as terrible a presidential candidate as memories of his worst moments might lead one to believe: He ran ahead of many Republican Senate candidates; he had the most successful presidential debate performance in recent memory; he persuaded the public that he was closer to the ideological middle than President Obama.

But his failures were … conspicuous. There was the threadbare policy agenda, linked to a self-defeating theory that the election would be decided by the unemployment rate alone. There were the various rich-guy disasters that played into the White House’s effort to portray him as the candidate of the richest 0.47 percent. And most unforgivable, given his promise of a ruthless private sector competence, there were the polling failures and ground game debacles that let Obama coast to victory.

What would Romney re-redux offer? Nothing obvious: Romney’s a decade removed from elected office, with nothing on his résumé since except the permanent campaign. As a white, superrich, late-60-something male, he’s the walking embodiment of his party’s image problems. He won the last nominating contest because on the debate stage he looked like Aragorn son of Arathorn among a collection of dwarves and hobbits (plus Jon Huntsman’s elf lord and Ron Paul’s Gollum). Unless meteors strike several state capitols and the United States Senate, that won’t be true this time.

So a third Romney run will almost certainly be a blind alley for a man who should be thinking of a better way to serve his country and his fellow man.

But should Republicans actively fear a Romney run? I think not: If the conventional wisdom is correct about its folly, it’s hard to see what harm it can do, save to Romney’s own ego and self-image, to have that folly ruthlessly exposed.

Another run would be genuinely frightening for Republicans — and this is probably why the reaction against it has been so intense — if there were any chance of Romney doing what he did in 2012: monopolizing fund-raising to a point where other potentially electable candidates stay out; carpet-bombing his opponents with attack ads; and essentially forcing the party faithful to accept him, flaws and all.

But unless G.O.P. power brokers are truly crazy — and based on the response to Romney’s trial balloon they aren’t — that isn’t going to happen. Not even close. Instead, a Romney candidacy would depend on a small circle of backers while ceding immense fund-raising territory to Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Scott Walker, Marco Rubio … the list goes on. He wouldn’t quite resemble his old rivals Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum, each of whose insurgent campaigns were floated by a single megadonor, but he would be closer to their position than to that of the commanding Mitt of old.

And he would resemble Gingrich and Santorum in other ways. In 2008, he had the backing of key voices in the conservative movement; in 2012, he had the establishment (however reluctantly) behind him. In 2016, he would be on his own, hanging out in Iowa living rooms and New Hampshire diners, trying to win primaries on the basis of debate performances and flesh-pressing and even (gasp!) ideas, like any other long-shot candidate.

Which is why, purely as human drama, Romney 3.0 could actually be interesting to watch. Maybe he’ll campaign more openly as a Mormon, running ads like the moving testimonials that aired just before Clint Eastwood’s prime time weird-out at the Republican convention, in which his faith and works are played up rather than hidden. Maybe he’ll roll out a sweeping policy agenda on poverty, as he claims he wants to do, amid incredibly awkward but maybe touching photo ops with the rural unemployed and inner-city kids. Maybe he’ll sock Mike Huckabee in the jaw during a debate.

Or maybe he’ll be wooden, clueless and entitled; finish sixth in Iowa and fourth in New Hampshire; and drop out. In which case he’ll lose some dignity, but we won’t lose anything at all.

So Mitt, it’s your call. I wouldn’t do it, you won’t win it, but I respect a Romney’s right to choose.

Now if only Mitt, Putzy, and the rest of the occupants of the 2016 Clown Car would respect MY right to choose…  Here’s MoDo:

I went Friday morning to see “Selma” and found myself watching it in a theater full of black teenagers.

Thanks to donations, D.C. public school kids got free tickets to the first Hollywood movie about the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on his birthday weekend — an effort that was duplicated for students around the country.

The kids did plenty of talking and texting, and plenty of fighting over whether there was too much talking and texting. Slowly but surely, though, the crowd was drawn in by the Scheherazade skills of the “Selma” director, Ava DuVernay.

The horrific scene of the four schoolgirls killed in the white supremacist bombing of a Birmingham, Ala., church stunned the audience. One young man next to me unleashed a string of expletives and admitted that he was scared. When civil rights leaders are clubbed, whipped and trampled by white lawmen as feral white onlookers cheer, the youngsters seemed aghast.

In a delicately wrought scene in which Coretta Scott King calls out her husband about his infidelities, some of the teenage girls reacted with a chorus of “oooohs.”

DuVernay sets the tone for her portrayal of Lyndon Johnson as patronizing and skittish on civil rights in the first scene between the president and Dr. King. L.B.J. stands above a seated M.L.K., pats him on the shoulder, and tells him “this voting thing is just going to have to wait” while he works on “the eradication of poverty.”

Many of the teenagers by me bristled at the power dynamic between the men. It was clear that a generation of young moviegoers would now see L.B.J.’s role in civil rights through DuVernay’s lens.

And that’s a shame. I loved the movie and find the Oscar snub of its dazzling actors repugnant. But the director’s talent makes her distortion of L.B.J. more egregious. Artful falsehood is more dangerous than artless falsehood, because fewer people see through it.

DuVernay told Rolling Stone that, originally, the script was more centered on the L.B.J.-M.L.K. relationship and was “much more slanted to Johnson.”

“I wasn’t interested in making a white-savior movie,” she said.

Hollywood has done that with films like “Mississippi Burning,” which cast white F.B.I. agents as the heroes, or “Cry Freedom,” which made a white journalist the focus rather Denzel Washington’s anti-apartheid activist, Steve Biko.

Instead of painting L.B.J. and M.L.K. as allies, employing different tactics but complementing each other, the director made Johnson an obstacle.

Top Johnson aide Jack Valenti told Michael Beschloss, the presidential historian, that L.B.J. aspired to pass a Voting Rights Act from his first night as president. Valenti said that his boss talked to him about it the night of J.F.K.’s assassination in the bedroom of Johnson’s house in D.C., The Elms, before the newly sworn-in president went to sleep.

On the tape of a phone conversation between President Johnson and Dr. King the week of L.B.J.’s 1965 inauguration, the president said that he indicated the time was yet ripe to ask Congress for it, and he made it clear that they both needed to think of something that would move public opinion more than a presidential speech.

“Johnson was probably thinking, at least in part, of the spring of ’63, when J.F.K. was privately saying the public wasn’t yet politically ready for a comprehensive civil rights bill,” Beschloss said. “Then came the May 1963 photograph of Birmingham police setting dogs against African-American demonstrators, which helped to move many white Americans who were on the fence about the issue.

“Once Selma happened, L.B.J. was, of course, horrified, but he knew that the atrocity would have an effect on white Americans similar to Birmingham that would make it easier for him to get a Voting Rights Act from Congress.”

In an interview with Gwen Ifill on P.B.S., DuVernay dismissed the criticism by Joseph Califano Jr. and other L.B.J. loyalists, who said that the president did not resist the Selma march or let J. Edgar Hoover send a sex tape of her husband to Mrs. King. (Bobby Kennedy, as J.F.K’s attorney general, is the one who allowed Hoover to tap Dr. King.)

“This is art; this is a movie; this is a film,” DuVernay said. “I’m not a historian. I’m not a documentarian.”

The “Hey, it’s just a movie” excuse doesn’t wash. Filmmakers love to talk about their artistic license to distort the truth, even as they bank on the authenticity of their films to boost them at awards season.

John Lewis, the Georgia congressman who was badly beaten in Selma, has said that bridge led to the Obama White House. And, on Friday night, the president offset the Oscar dis by screening “Selma” at the White House. Guests included DuVernay, Lewis and Oprah Winfrey, who acts in the film and was one of its producers.

There was no need for DuVernay to diminish L.B.J., given that the Civil Rights Movement would not have advanced without him. Vietnam is enough of a pox on his legacy.

As I have written about “Lincoln,” “Zero Dark Thirty,” and “Argo,” and as The New York Review of Books makes clear about “The Imitation Game,” the truth is dramatic and fascinating enough. Why twist it? On matters of race — America’s original sin — there is an even higher responsibility to be accurate.

DuVernay had plenty of vile white villains — including one who kicks a priest to death in the street — and they were no doubt shocking to the D.C. school kids. There was no need to create a faux one.

Next up we have Mr. Kristof:

Just after Christmas, Veronica Rutledge of Blackfoot, Idaho, took her 2-year-old son to a Walmart store to spend holiday gift cards. As they strolled by the electronics section, according to news reports, the toddler reached into his mom’s purse and pulled out a handgun that she legally carried. He pulled the trigger once and killed her.

The previous month, a 3-year-old boy in Washington State was shot in the face by a 4-year-old. Earlier, a 2-year-old boy in Pennsylvania shot and killed his 11-year-old sister.

About 20 children and teenagers are shot daily in the United States, according to a study by the journal Pediatrics.

Indeed, guns kill more preschool-age children (about 80 a year) than police officers (about 50), according to the F.B.I. and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

This toll is utterly unnecessary, for the technology to make childproof guns goes back more than a century. Beginning in the 1880s, Smith & Wesson (whose gun was used in the Walmart killing) actually sold childproof handguns that required a lever to be depressed as the trigger was pulled.

“No ordinary child under 8 years of age can possibly discharge it,” Smith & Wesson boasted at the time, and it sold half-a-million of these guns, but, today, it no longer offers that childproof option.

Doesn’t it seem odd that your cellphone can be set up to require a PIN or a fingerprint, but there’s no such option for a gun?

Which brings us to Kai Kloepfer, a lanky 17-year-old high school senior in Boulder, Colo. After the cinema shooting in nearby Aurora, Kloepfer decided that for a science fair project he would engineer a “smart gun” that could be fired only by an authorized user.

“I started with iris recognition, and that seemed a good idea until you realize that many people firing guns wear sunglasses,” Kloepfer recalls. “So I moved on to fingerprints.”

Kloepfer designed a smart handgun that fires only when a finger it recognizes is on the grip. More than 1,000 fingerprints can be authorized per gun, and Kloepfer says the sensor is 99.999 percent accurate.

A child can’t fire the gun. Neither can a thief — important here in a country in which more than 150,000 guns are stolen annually.

Kloepfer’s design won a grand prize in the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair. Then he won a $50,000 grant from the Smart Tech Challenges Foundation to refine the technology. By the time he enters college in the fall (he applied early to Stanford and has been deferred), he hopes to be ready to license the technology to a manufacturer.

There are other approaches to smart guns. The best known, the Armatix iP1, made by a German company and available in the United States through a complicated online procedure, can be fired only if the shooter is wearing a companion wristwatch.

The National Rifle Association seems set against smart guns, apparently fearing that they might become mandatory. One problem has been an unfortunate 2002 New Jersey law stipulating that three years after smart guns are available anywhere in the United States, only smart guns can be sold in the state. The attorney general’s office there ruled recently that the Armatix smart gun would not trigger the law, but the provision has still led gun enthusiasts to bully dealers to keep smart guns off the market everywhere in the U.S.

Opponents of smart guns say that they aren’t fully reliable. Some, including Kloepfer’s, will need batteries to be recharged once a year or so. Still, if Veronica Rutledge had had one in her purse in that Idaho Walmart, her son wouldn’t have been able to shoot and kill her.

“Smart guns are going to save lives,” says Stephen Teret, a gun expert at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “They’re not going to save all lives, but why wouldn’t we want to make guns as safe a consumer product as possible?”

David Hemenway, a public health expert at Harvard, says that the way forward is for police departments or the military to buy smart guns, creating a market and proving they work.

An interfaith group of religious leaders is also appealing to gun industry leaders, ahead of the huge annual trade show in Las Vegas with 65,000 attendees, to drop opposition to smart guns.

Smart guns aren’t a panacea. But when even a 17-year-old kid can come up with a safer gun, why should the gun lobby be so hostile to the option of purchasing one?

Something is amiss when we protect our children from toys that they might swallow, but not from firearms. So Veronica Rutledge is dead, and her son will grow up with the knowledge that he killed her — and we all bear some responsibility when we don’t even try to reduce the carnage.

And now we get to Mr. Bruni:

Every time I read about the actor Mark Wahlberg’s bid to be pardoned by the state of Massachusetts for crimes he committed in his youth, I flash back to the days I spent with him for a Times magazine profile just before “Boogie Nights” came out. I remember a specific detail.

He was then trying to pivot from being Marky Mark, the trash-talking rapper and underwear model, to being a serious actor. Over lunch one day, I asked him about his bulky eyeglasses, which sent a signal of studiousness that struck me as too emphatic. They weren’t familiar from any old images of him that I’d seen.

Was he nearsighted?

No, he said.

Farsighted?

No.

So what were they for?

He stalled and squirmed a bit. Then he conceded that they were just for effect.

In the story I submitted, I fleetingly mentioned the glasses. A fact checker questioned my description of them as “nonprescription,” because Wahlberg’s publicist, a savvy one, had insisted to her that it was an error and that we must take it out. But I had Wahlberg on tape. The description stayed.

Ah, Hollywood. It’s a place where reinvention rules supreme; where truth is often whatever script you can convincingly perform and persuasively sell; and where any details or bits of the past that run counter to your purposes are annoyances to be deleted. That applies both to what’s put on-screen — as “Selma,” “American Sniper” and a few of the other movies nominated for a Best Picture Oscar last week demonstrate — and to what you’re putting out there about yourself.

Elsewhere life is less easily manipulated. Wahlberg is confronting that now.

While there’s not yet been any decision about his pardon application, which was filed late last year, it has drawn no small measure of extra attention to him, much of it rightly negative.

What I wish it would do is amplify and broaden a conversation in America about the contradictions in the way we treat people who’ve done their time.

Generally, we send them back out into the world with the exhortation that they build or rebuild productive lives, which we’re invested in having them do. But we simultaneously saddle them with a dizzying range of restrictions, varying from state to state, that make that significantly more difficult.

We deny them kinds of government assistance available to others. We prevent them from engaging in all sorts of business transactions and jobs, and some of these prohibitions make little or no sense.

“We have people with real talents who aren’t able to employ those talents,” Mark Osler, a law professor who is an expert on pardons, told me. If our goal is to prevent recidivism, this isn’t a smart way to go about it.

Pardons eliminate many restrictions. And for people who’ve served their sentences, they should be more common. But they’re granted in a small enough minority of cases that it’s impossible to argue that Wahlberg’s should be one.

He’s 43 now. His crimes occurred at 16, in Dorchester, Mass. On a night when he has said that he was heavily intoxicated, he used a stick to hit a Vietnamese man on the head with such force that it knocked him unconscious. As he fled the police, he punched another Vietnamese man in the eye. All the while, he used racial slurs.

It wasn’t out of character. When he was 15, according to court documents, he was involved in two incidents of using racial slurs as he physically threatened black children. That matter was referred to civil court and he got off with a warning.

For the subsequent crimes, he served 45 days in prison, and he has said in interviews over time that once he got out, he was determined to be a different man.

That transformation was gradual and fitful. As Marky Mark in the early 1990s, he was known for using crude language about women. He was implicated in brawls.

He dedicated an autobiographical picture book to his penis.

Since then there have been many fine movies, an Oscar nomination, a wife, four kids. Several prominent Hollywood producers with whom I spoke last week said that his reputation in the industry today is sterling. They praised him as a joy to work with: sincere, diligent, humble.

In his pardon application, he said that he tried to get to church almost daily and that he devoted considerable time to working with troubled kids through the Mark Wahlberg Youth Foundation, which has raised about $9.6 million over the years.

But he can afford that in a way that very few ex-cons can. And, oddly, one of many reasons Wahlberg cited for wanting a pardon has to do with money. He and his brothers are expanding their chain of Wahlburgers restaurants, and licensing in some states is complicated by his record of a felony conviction.

Advocates for Asian-Americans have complained that before filing his pardon application, Wahlberg never reached out to the Vietnamese community in Dorchester or to the victims of his crimes.

Some good could come from his appeal. “It shines a light on a beneficent power that has atrophied in Massachusetts,” Margaret Love, a lawyer with extensive knowledge about the pardon process, wrote in a recent blog post. With any luck, she added, it will encourage pardons “for the dozens of ordinary individuals whose futures may depend on it.”

But nothing that Wahlberg has said publicly suggests that he was motivated by that. He declined to be interviewed for this column.

And when I spoke with Love, asking her about the proper fate of his particular request for a pardon, she said, “Given the irregularity and the absence of pardons, I think it would be a very bad idea to single out someone of such a high profile.”

That’s exactly right. In Massachusetts, just four pardons have been granted over the last dozen years. If Wahlberg got one of the next ones, it would be going to a person whose unpardoned offenses don’t shadow him the way most former prisoners’ do. He’s the wrong poster boy for the right cause.

Financial generosity shouldn’t be a factor in his (or anyone else’s) favor: That’s just the criminal-justice system’s version of income inequality.

In his application he argued that getting a pardon could be an inspiration to people trying to turn their lives around and hoping for forgiveness. But to the less advantaged of them, it would be the opposite: a confirmation that being white, rich and famous earns you special treatment.

What he’s asking for isn’t just an image overhaul, a routine Hollywood rewrite.

If he can’t see that, he needs better glasses.

Friedman and Bruni

January 14, 2015

The Moustache of Wisdom says “We Need Another Giant Protest.”  He asks how about a million-person march by Muslims for Muslims?  In “Mitt and the Melee” Mr. Bruni says Romney and Perry and Santorum and Huckabee? Here we go again, but even more chaotically.  Here’s The Moustache of Wisdom:

President Obama was criticized for failing to attend, or send a proper surrogate to, the giant antiterrorism march in Paris on Sunday. That criticism was right. But it is typical of American politics today that we focus on this and not what would have really made the world feel the jihadist threat was finally being seriously confronted. And that would not be a march that our president helps to lead, but one in which he’s not involved at all. That would be a million-person march against the jihadists across the Arab-Muslim world, organized by Arabs and Muslims for Arabs and Muslims, without anyone in the West asking for it — not just because of what happened in Paris but because of the scores of Muslims recently murdered by jihadists in Pakistan, Yemen, Iraq, Libya, Nigeria and Syria.

Abdul Rahman al-Rashed, one of the most respected Arab journalists, wrote Monday in his column in Al-Sharq Al-Awsat: “Protests against the recent terrorist attacks in France should have been held in Muslim capitals, rather than Paris, because, in this case, it is Muslims who are involved in this crisis and stand accused. … The story of extremism begins in Muslim societies, and it is with their support and silence that extremism has grown into terrorism that is harming people. It is of no value that the French people, who are the victims here, take to the streets. … What is required here is for Muslim communities to disown the Paris crime and Islamic extremism in general.” (Translation by Memri.org.)

The truth is there is a huge amount of ambivalence toward this whole jihadist phenomenon — more than any of us would like to believe — in the Arab-Muslim world, Europe and America. This ambivalence starts in the Muslim community, where there is a deep cleavage over what constitutes authentic Islam today. We fool ourselves when we tell Muslims what “real Islam” is. Because Islam has no Vatican, no single source of religious authority, there are many Islams today. The puritanical Wahhabi/Salafi/jihadist strain is one of them, and its support is not insignificant.

Ambivalence runs through Europe today on the question of what a country should demand of new Muslim immigrants by way of adopting its values. Is Stratfor’s George Friedman right when he argues that Europeans adopted multiculturalism precisely because they didn’t really want to absorb their Muslim immigrants, and many of those Muslim immigrants, who went to Europe to find a job, not a new identity, didn’t want to be absorbed? If so, that spells trouble.

Ambivalence runs through Washington’s ties with Saudi Arabia. Ever since jihadists took over Islam’s holiest shrine in Mecca in 1979, proclaiming that Saudi Arabia’s rulers were not pious enough, Saudi Arabia has redoubled its commitment to Wahhabi or Salafist Islam — the most puritanical, anti-pluralistic and anti-women version of that faith. This Saudi right turn — combined with oil revenues used to build Wahhabi-inspired mosques, websites and madrassas across the Muslim world — has tilted the entire Sunni community to the right. Look at a picture of female graduates of Cairo University in 1950. Few are wearing veils. Look at them today. Many are wearing veils. The open, soft, embracing Islam that defined Egypt for centuries — pray five times a day but wash it down with a beer at night — has been hardened by this Wahhabi wind from Arabia.

But U.S. presidents never confront Saudi Arabia about this because of our oil addiction. As I’ve said, addicts never tell the truth to their pushers. The Saudi government opposes the jihadists. Unfortunately, though, it’s a very short step from Wahhabi Islam to the violent jihadism practiced by the Islamic State, or ISIS. The French terrorists were born in France but were marinated in Wahhabi-Salafi thought through the web and local mosques — not Voltaire.

Also, the other civil war in Islam — between Sunnis and Shiites — has led many mainstream Sunni charities, mosques and regimes to support jihadist groups because they’re ferocious fighters against Shiites. Finally — yet more ambivalence — for 60 years there was a tacit alliance between Arab dictators and their Sunni religious clergy. The regimes funded these uninspired Muslim clerics, and these clergy blessed the uninspired dictators — and both stifled the emergence of any authentic, inspired, reformist Islam that could take on Wahhabism-Salafism, even though many Muslims wanted it. An authentic reformation requires a free space in the Arab-Muslim world.

“Muslims need to ‘upgrade their software,’ which is programmed mainly by our schools, television and mosques — especially small mosques that trade in what is forbidden,” Egyptian intellectual Mamoun Fandy wrote in Al-Sharq Al-Awsat. (Also translated by Memri.org.) “There is no choice but to dismantle this system and rebuild it in a way that is compatible with human culture and values.”

In short, jihadist zeal is easy to condemn, but will require multiple revolutions to stem — revolutions that will require a lot of people in the Arab-Muslim world and West to shed their ambivalence and stop playing double games.

And now here’s Mr. Bruni:

There’s an adage in my business that it’s not news when a dog bites a man, only when a man bites a dog.

By that reasoning, the political story of the year so far is Paul Ryan’s announcement that he will not run for president.

Seemingly everyone else in his party will. Rick Santorum’s back. George Pataki’s back. Mike Huckabee’s back, with an alliterative new book (“God, Guns, Grits and Gravy”) that sounds like an agenda hijacked by a Denny’s menu, or maybe a sequel to “Fried Green Tomatoes” starring Mel Gibson and a howitzer.

Even Rick Perry’s back. I’d tick off three reasons that he’s crazy to try again except that I can remember only two. He’s a whole new candidate, at least on the accessories front. It’s been said that Americans give you 10 additional I.Q. points if you have a British accent; he’s betting on an extra five for eyeglasses.

And now — the heart quickens and the flesh quivers — Mitt Romney’s back. That’s the word this week: that he’s inching ever closer to another presidential bid, which we know because he’s articulated as much to donors.

Doesn’t it pretty much say everything about our political process right now that candidates flag their intentions first to the people they’ll be hitting up for money? And that the way they attempt to clear the field isn’t with a surge in polls but with a fortune in the bank? I bet some of them form PACs before they bother to tell their spouses what’s up. It’s called priorities.

By one count that I just came across, there are 25 Republicans of some standing who have signaled at least a flickering interest in the 2016 race. This certainly explains the dip in unemployment. Thousands of Republican presidential strategists and advisers have been added to payrolls.

It also explains the difference between the parties. Democrats want to expand government. Republicans want to expand auditions for it.

A Romney candidacy would be curious in the extreme. In 2000, Al Gore beat George W. Bush in the popular vote and lost the presidency by dint of a Supreme Court ruling; he nonetheless let someone else carry the Democratic banner in 2004.

That person was John Kerry, who came closer to winning than Romney did, and yet he, too, didn’t circle back four years later for more punishment.

From what I hear, Romney began mulling a third bid for the presidency months ago, when the Republican establishment remained skeptical of Chris Christie and when it wasn’t at all certain that Jeb Bush would join the race. Romney was poised to rush in like a cinematically coifed superhero and save the party from the deliriums of Rand Paul and the diatribes of Ted Cruz.

By the time Bush began all the maneuvering of the last four weeks, Romney had developed the itch. He also apparently believes that Bush’s support for Common Core educational standards and immigration reform will cripple him in the primaries.

If Bush formalizes a candidacy and Romney follows suit, he’d run to Bush’s right. But Bush is the one with the truly conservative record as a governor, in Florida, while Romney is the one with a moderate record from Massachusetts. He’d be flipping the script, and if his political orientation was confusing last time around, it would be only more so this time.

He’s reportedly concerned that Bush’s financial dealings will make him acutely vulnerable to attacks. So the solution is … Romney?

His campaign would be predicated on buyer’s remorse: Voters could have had him and now get a do-over. But the buyers may be growing less remorseful. Romney had promised them that by the end of his first term, unemployment would be at or under 6 percent. It’s there already, in half the time.

Romney, Perry and others forget that when they’re not candidates, they’re well loved. When they are, they’re well trashed. Today’s fascination is tomorrow’s flop on “Meet the Press,” a hapless porterhouse for the panel to carve up.

Some Republicans (and Democrats) are simply chasing higher speaking fees, maybe a book like Huckabee’s, hold the gravy.

But there’s a cost to us. An overcrowded field of candidates doesn’t mean a more spirited exchange of ideas; it means so many voices that none get properly heard (or vetted).

Remember those early Republican debates during the last cycle, when so many contenders fanned out across the stage that they looked like misbegotten Rockettes? We could have twice that number in 2016. We could have a crowd scene in “Cats.”

So I’d say to Romney what he said to The Times’s Ashley Parker when she asked him early last year about one more campaign:

“Oh, no, no, no. No, no, no, no, no. No, no, no.”

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

January 11, 2015

In “France, the Crucible of Europe” The Putz tells us that it is increasingly clear that the Continent’s future will be determined by the French.  I’m sure Angela Merkel is fascinated by what he has to say…  MoDo is back [sigh] and is spelunking in people’s heads again.  In “The Deano Chronicles, Continued” she voyages inside the head of the tanned, rested and ready Speaker Boehner after the tumultuous first week of the 114th Congress.  In “Race, the Police and the Propaganda” Mr. Kristof suggests ending the impunity that fuels unequal law enforcement.  Mr. Bruni, in “Your God and My Dignity,” says faith warrants respect, but it shouldn’t earn anyone an exemption from laws or permission to discriminate.  Mr. Cohen, in “The Battle to Belong,” says his mother suffered as an immigrant, as a Jew set adrift.  (I’ve placed Mr. Cohen last since his is a much longer piece.)  Here’s The Putz:

The France that endured a vicious terrorist attack last week is a France that has suffered, for decades and centuries, from anxieties about its own decline. And for good reason: Since the 18th century, when it bestrode Europe and seemed poised to dominate the globe, France has seen its relative power diminish, suffering defeats and humiliations at the hands of rival forces, from Britain’s navies to Germany’s jackboots to the invading might of American popular culture.

Now these longstanding anxieties have been thrown into relief by the murderous attack on the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, an attack linked to all the various specters haunting contemporary France: fears of creeping Islamification and rising anti-Semitism, fears of the far right’s growing power and anti-Muslim backlash — and all of it bound up in a larger sense, amid economic stagnation, of betrayal at the hands of the Continent’s elite.

ut notwithstanding these declinist fears, France isn’t actually irrelevant or spent. Instead, it’s arguably becoming more important, more central to the fate of Europe and the West.

No, the age of the Sun King isn’t about to return. But politically, culturally, even intellectually, events in France over the next half-century could matter more than at any point since before the two world wars. Indeed, more than Germany or Greece or Britain or any other actor, it’s in France that the fate of 21st-century Europe could ultimately be decided.

Consider the specific issue at the heart of the Hebdo nightmare: the question of whether European nation-states can successfully integrate Muslim immigrants, and what will happen if they don’t.

Here France looks like the crucial test case. It has the largest Muslim population of any major European country, and parts of that population are more assimilated and others far more radicalized (16 percent of French citizens expressed support for the Islamic State in a poll last summer) than elsewhere on the Continent.

Not surprisingly, the response to Islam is divided as well: Muslims are regarded more favorably in France than elsewhere in Western Europe, and yet French politics features an increasingly potent far-right party, Marine Le Pen’s National Front, whose electoral clout is now likely to increase. Meanwhile, France’s foreign policy has distinctive (often military) entanglements across Northern Africa and the Levant, which means the ripples from French domestic politics have more room to spread and then return.

So if there’s a path to greater Muslim assimilation and inclusion, it’s more likely to be pioneered in France. If Islamic radicalism is going to gain ground or mutate into something more pervasive and dangerous, it’s also more likely to happen in France’s sphere of influence than elsewhere. And if Europe’s much-feared far right is going to complete its journey from the fringe to the mainstream, it will probably happen first in Paris.

French politics is likewise central to the fate of the wider European Union project, which is in crisis at the moment because of the gulf between Germany’s interests and the interests of the E.U. periphery, Greece and Italy and Spain. But that gulf (and the weight of 20th-century history) means that the Germans, however economically dominant, cannot hold the union together on their own. Instead it’s France, for reasons of history and culture as well as geography, that has to bridge the divide between Europe’s north and south and make the E.U. work politically. Unless, of course, the French gradually and fatefully choose not to, in which case the entire project will fall apart or be completely reconceived.

Either way, France’s star may rise as Germany’s descends. Demography, the source of so much Gallic anxiety in the past, suddenly has turned in France’s favor: The Germans are rich but aging, whereas even amid economic drift the French birthrate has risen sharply (suggesting a certain optimism amid the ennui). By the 2050s, under some scenarios, France could once again have the larger economy and population — making it either dominant in a more integrated Europe, or the most important power on a continent more divided than today.

Then amid these political and economic patterns there’s an important intellectual possibility — namely, that if there’s something beyond the West’s current end-of-history torpor, some new ideological conflict or synthesis, it might emerge first in the place where so many revolutions had their birth.

France has always been a country of extremes — absolutist and republican, Catholic and anticlerical, Communist and fascist. Now it’s once again the place where strong forces are colliding, and where the culture’s uncertainties — about Islam, secularism, nationalism, Europe; about modernity itself — suggest that new ones might soon be born.

The decline has been real, but the future is unwritten. If there is real history yet to be made in Europe, for good or ill, it might be made first in la belle France.

That was surprisingly coherent.  I wonder who really wrote it…  Here’s MoDo:

Kissing the sun. Swilling merlot. Plotting revenge.

Life is good for John Boehner.

Lying in a hammock at his new condo in Marco Island, Fla., the speaker of the House is even closing in on his goal of getting darker than the oxblood leather wingback chair in his Capitol office.

D.C.’s Dean Martin is relaxing, reviewing the tumultuous first week of the 114th Congress. There were the usual annoyances. The speaker told the press that he was comfortable in his skin even as his skin made the press uncomfortable. The Times’s First Draft did a Sherwin-Williams analysis of Boehner’s strikingly darker hue, syncing it to a color called “Husky Orange.”

And there were serious irritations, like another coup attempt by Tea Partiers eager to wreck the celebration of their party’s congressional takeover. This really bugs Boehner. How could a blue-collar Ohio pol who came to Congress in 1991 as a revolutionary be denounced as too establishment? How could critics dismiss him as “a squish?” How could he nearly be toppled from his speakership by a nobody named Ted Yoho?

Even in the flush of victory, the 65-year-old is hurt that some consider him a RINO, a fauxpublican who doesn’t have the brass to stand up to President Obama on immigration.

“That knuckle-dragger Hannity called me ‘cowardly,’ ” he mutters, lighting up another Ultra Light Camel. “I’m the most anti-establishment speaker we’ve ever had.” Hadn’t he always fought the good fight on earmarks? Hadn’t he always kept his regular-guy, son-of-a-Cincinnati-barkeep personality? Didn’t he still cut his own grass and eat breakfast at Pete’s Diner on the Hill?

As they had sat in his office, watching the dramatic vote count for speaker on C-Span, Boehner made his true feelings clear to his rat-pack pal, Saxby Chambliss: “Do these morons think they could do any better? Could Louie Gohmert really run the House better than me?

“I let Ted Yahoo make the response to Obama’s immigration order and he ran against me. Now I want him deported. And how about that Daniel Webster? At least the original tried to prevent civil war. I gave him a plum assignment on the Rules Committee and he ran against me. Then little Danny had the nerve to want his picture taken with me.

“If this were Chicago, those rat-finks would be in Lake Michigan. I did kick two of the quislings off the Rules Committee. My wife and my rat pack want vengeance. But I don’t do anger. I’m going to try to rise above it, and believe me, it’s not that hard to rise above guys like Gohmert and Yoho.

“We got the biggest majority since the Great Depression, but my pallie Mitch might be in for a shock. He’s been bragging that he’s going to get the Senate working again and move beyond the culture of ‘No’ that he created. I found out the hard way that you can’t get these knuckleheads to agree on anything except their right to be re-elected.”

His BlackBerry ring-a-ding dings, flashing a Florida area code.

“That better not be Webster or Yahoo,” he mutters. Listening, he grins. “Hey, Jeb,” he says warmly. “What’s up? I hope you didn’t take offense when I said I was anti-establishment.”

Pause. “Oh, you are, too?”

Boehner chuckles as the call ends, thinking an anti-establishment Bush is going to be an even tougher sell than an anti-establishment Boehner.

With everything else going on, he even had to come to the defense of Representative Steve Scalise of Louisiana, one of his top lieutenants, who spoke to a racist group back in 2002.

“I told those reporters that I knew, in his heart, Steve wasn’t a white supremacist,” Boehner says, laughing. “How could he be when he hangs out with somebody like me? Even President Obama called me a ‘person of color,’ hailing my orange as ‘the new black.’ ”

Thinking about Obama makes Boehner wince.

“So now President Harvard wants to give everybody free community-college educations? Should we do their homework for them, too? I had to work my way through school as a janitor.”

He wonders if the president saw Glenn Thrush’s piece in Politico revealing that, sometimes when Obama calls Boehner, the speaker puts the receiver on his desk, rolls his eyes and lights a Camel while the president drones on.

The speaker shrugs, rolls his eyes and lights a Camel. “The president keeps saying that he wants to work with us, but then he acts like his pal, the Cuban dictator,” he says. “He’s going to veto the Keystone pipeline. Executive orders have become par for the course. At least he’s par somewhere.

“Obama acts all liberated, but he’s just killing time. He was out of town all week and no one even noticed he was gone. Maybe I’ll retire with him. I don’t do legacy and I can’t bear the thought of going through another one of these battles for speaker with peabrains with slingshots.

“I can give speeches, get on boards and play Augusta National, just like all those other anti-establishment types.”

He refills his glass of red wine as his blue eyes fill with tears.

“It’s still just me, guys,” he sobs, “doing it my way.”

Lord, how I dread the upcoming 2016 campaign and all of MoDo’s drivel.  Here’s Mr. Kristof:

Welcome visitors to New York City! This has been the best time ever to urinate on a street, sneak onto the subway or run a red light, for the police force has been on a virtual strike.

Police officers may be making a point for contract negotiations. But many also are genuinely frustrated and, along with millions of other Americans, seem sympathetic to an argument that goes like this:

The real threat to young black men isn’t white cops. It’s other black men. Police officers are numerous in black neighborhoods not because they want to hang out there, but because they’re willing to risk their lives to create order on streets where too many residents have kids outside of marriage, or collect government benefits but disdain jobs. Instead of receiving thanks for their efforts, cops have been cursed and attacked. Hate-mongering led by President Obama built a climate of animosity that led to the murder of two of New York’s finest. And where are the street protests denouncing those racist murders? Don’t blue lives count?

Rudy Giuliani, the former mayor of New York and de facto spokesman for that viewpoint, put it this way in November when he was asked about Ferguson, Mo., on “Meet the Press”: “I find it very disappointing that you’re not discussing the fact that 93 percent of blacks in America are killed by other blacks. We’re talking about the exception here.”

“What about the poor black child that is killed by another black child?” he added. “Why aren’t you protesting that?”

After the assassination of the two New York police officers, Giuliani declared: “We’ve had four months of propaganda, starting with the president, that everybody should hate the police.”

That view has gained traction, creating an astonishing impasse in America’s largest city. In one week in late December, the number of police citations, summonses and arrests in some categories fell by 90 percent from the same week the previous year.

That’s not “a few bad apples.” That’s the apple basket.

Most of us understand that police officers are often in an impossible position, and we appreciate their courage and good work. When they work.

So let’s examine the narrative that Giuliani and others have spread.

Take the argument that police killings are a red herring because the biggest threat to blacks is other blacks. The latter part is true. Where the perpetrator has been identified, 93 percent of murderers of blacks are also black. Then again, it’s equally true that 84 percent of murderers of whites are fellow whites.

So?

How would we feel if we were told: When Americans are killed by Muslim terrorists, it’s an exception. Get over it.

Some offenses are particularly destructive because they undermine the social system. Terrorism is in that category, and so is police abuse. Unfortunately, there’s evidence that such abuse is too common.

In 2012, an African-American detective in the New York City Police Department, Harold Thomas, hobbled from a nightclub to his car (he had been shot a year earlier by a would-be armed robber). Other police officers didn’t recognize him and, according to Thomas, slammed his head into his vehicle, threw him to the ground and handcuffed him. He is suing the city.

Thomas, who retired last year after 30 years, admires the police force but says the racial bias is ingrained — caused by a small percentage of officers who “make everyone look bad.”

Reuters interviewed 25 African-American male police officers, some retired, in New York City and said all but one reported having been subjected to unwarranted incidents — from stop-and-frisks to being thrown into prison vans. Five said they had had guns pulled on them.

A 2010 New York State task force report on police-on-police shootings identified 14 officers around the country killed by fellow officers over the previous 15 years in mistaken identity shootings. Ten of the 14 were officers of color.

Then there’s a ProPublica investigation that found that young black men are shot dead by police at 21 times the rate of young white men.

It’s true that some on the left who are aghast at racial profiling are sometimes prone to career profiling: We should stereotype neither black youths nor white cops. Some extremist protesters turned to the slogan “arms up, shoot back,” or to chants of “What do we want? Dead cops.” That was inexcusable. But, of course, that’s not remotely what Obama was saying.

PunditFact reviewed all of Obama’s statements and found that he never encouraged hostility toward police; it labeled that Giuliani assertion as “pants on fire.” Good for Obama and other politicians — including Mayor Bill de Blasio — for trying to shine a light on inequality in law enforcement.

“Many of my peers were deeply racist,” Redditt Hudson, a former St. Louis cop, wrote in The Washington Post last month. He described seeing force used unnecessarily, particularly against blacks, such as the time a boy who couldn’t walk was punched, handcuffed and dragged by his ankles from his home to a car.

Hudson said that the fundamental need is an end to impunity.

“Cops aren’t held accountable for their actions, and they know it,” he wrote. “These officers violate rights with impunity. They know there’s a different criminal justice system for civilians and police. Even when officers get caught, they know they’ll be investigated by their friends, and put on paid leave.”

Race is a nettlesome issue, and I recognize that I’m calling for more diversity and accountability in police forces even as my own institution — the press — doesn’t look like America either.

We can all do better. Put yourselves in the shoes of the family of Tamir Rice, the black 12-year-old boy shot dead in November in Cleveland. A 911 call had reported someone carrying a “probably fake” gun, and Tamir was carrying a pellet pistol.

A white police officer, who had previously been judged unprepared for the stresses of the job, shot Tamir. A video released a few days ago shows the boy’s 14-year-old sister rushing to her fallen brother — and then tackled by police, handcuffed, and placed in a police car a few feet from her dying brother. The officers stood around and gave him no medical aid.

To those who see no problem in policing, just one question: What if that were your son or daughter?

And now here’s Mr. Bruni:

I’ve been called many unpleasant things in my life, and I’ve deserved no small number of them. But I chafe at this latest label:

A threat to your religious liberty.

I don’t mean me alone. I mean me and my evidently menacing kind: men who have romantic relationships with other men and maybe want to marry them, and women in analogous situations. According to many of the Americans who still cast judgment on us, our “I do” somehow tramples you, not merely running counter to your creed but running roughshod over it.

That’s absurd. And the deference that many politicians show to such thinking is an example not of religion getting the protection it must but of religious people getting a pass that isn’t warranted. It’s an illustration of religion’s favored status in a country that’s still working out this separation-of-church-and-state business and hasn’t yet gotten it quite right.

We’re at an interesting crossroads, brought about by the rapid advance of same-sex marriage. It’s now legal in 36 states, including, as of last week, Florida. Equality is increasingly being enshrined into law, and one response from those opposed to it is that the law shouldn’t apply to them.

Why? Because it contradicts their religious beliefs, which they use as a fig leaf for intolerance.

“This is the new wave, the new frame,” James Esseks, a lawyer with the A.C.L.U., told me. He said that last year, more than 10 states considered legislation that, to varying degree, blessed discrimination based on sexual orientation by people claiming that it was a right, a matter of religious liberty. Only one of those states, Mississippi, passed such a law, but efforts elsewhere persist. A Virginia lawmaker introduced this sort of legislation just a few weeks ago.

The issue is also playing out in courts. As Michael Paulson noted in a recent story in The Times, judges have been hearing complaints about a florist or baker or photographer refusing to serve customers having same-sex weddings. They’ve been siding so far with the gay couples.

But this is only the beginning, especially with the contest for the Republican presidential nomination gathering steam.

Several likely candidates — Ted Cruz, Rick Santorum, Mike Huckabee — get a special gleam in their eyes when they’re denigrating gays, and Huckabee has perfected a stew of homophobia and puerility, on display in a new book of his that sounds like a collection of recipes by Paula Deen expressly for the N.R.A.: “God, Guns, Grits and Gravy.” With three copies you get a free sandwich combo at Chick-fil-A.

Kidding.

In “God, Guns, Grits and Gravy” (it bears repeating), he bemoans the acquiescence of air travelers to invasive screenings with this dignified locution: “Bend over and take it like a prisoner.” In fact that’s the title of a whole chapter, with an exclamation point added. This, mind you, is from someone who once governed a state (Arkansas) and won the 2008 Republican caucus in Iowa.

Another probable contender, Jeb Bush, weighed in anew on same-sex marriage last week, and some of his words — that laws must be honored and same-sex couples respected — were encouraging. But he also said that America needed to take care to “safeguard religious liberty,” and there are several problems with that formulation.

For starters, it perpetuates confusion, some of which is cynically engineered, about the consequences of marriage-equality laws. They do not pertain to religious services or what happens in a church, temple or mosque; no clergy member will be compelled to preside over gay nuptials. Civil weddings are covered. That’s it.

But also, “religious liberty” sounds disturbingly like a dog whistle to the crowd that wants specified, codified exemption from anti-discrimination laws; it’s one of the phrases they lean on. If Bush didn’t know that, he should have. If he did, he just sided, for the moment, with religious extremists.

As these lamentations about religious liberty get tossed around, it’s worth remembering that racists have used the same argument to try to perpetuate segregation. Esseks noted that even after the Civil Rights Act, the owner of the Piggie Park restaurant chain in South Carolina maintained that he could refuse to serve black people because his religion forbade the mixing of races. The courts were unimpressed.

Christian fundamentalists in this country are practiced at claiming marginalization and oppression. “They’re always saying they’re kept out of the public square, and that’s baloney,” said Marci Hamilton, a constitutional law expert and the author of “God vs. the Gavel.” “They’re all over the public square.”

They and their churches inject themselves into political debates while enjoying tax-exempt status. They get public support in questionable circumstances. After a student Christian magazine insisted on its right to funds from the University of Virginia, the Supreme Court decided in 1995 that if a nonreligious publication got financial help from a public school, so must a religious publication, even if it’s proselytizing.

And churches have been allowed to adopt broad, questionable interpretations of a “ministerial exception” to anti-discrimination laws that allow them to hire and fire clergy as they wish.

What’s more, in a country that’s not supposed to promote any one religion over others, we do precisely that.

Would we be content to let a Muslim store owner who believes that a woman should always cover her hair refuse service to women who do not? Or a Mormon hairdresser who spurns coffee to turn away clients who saunter in with frappuccinos?

I doubt it. So why should a merchant whose version of Christianity condemns homosexuality get to exile gays and lesbians?

Baking a cake, arranging roses, running an inn: These aren’t religious acts, certainly not if the establishments aren’t religious enclaves and are doing business with (and even dependent on) the general public.

Their owners are routinely interacting with customers who behave in ways they deem sinful. They don’t get to single out one group of supposed sinners. If they’re allowed to, who’s to say they’ll stop at that group?

I respect people of faith. I salute the extraordinary works of compassion and social justice that many of them and many of their churches do. I acknowledge that we in the news media, because we tend to emphasize conflict and wrongdoing and hypocrisy, sometimes focus more on the shortcomings of religious institutions than on their positive contributions.

And I support the right of people to believe what they do and say what they wish — in their pews, homes and hearts.

But outside of those places? You must put up with me, just as I put up with you.

And now here’s Mr. Cohen’s extensive piece:

Never before have so many people been on the move. New opportunity, like a bright star, draws immigrants across the world. In every one of the past four generations my family has moved, hopping from Lithuania to what is now South Africa and on to Britain, Israel and the United States. Sometimes they have found success and happiness. But the other side of displacement, its black sun, is loss.

The strain of burying the past, losing one identity and embracing another, can be overwhelming. Home is an indelible place. It is the landscape of unfiltered experience, of things felt rather than thought through, of the world in its beauty absorbed before it is understood, of patterns and sounds that lodge themselves in the psyche and call out across the years. When home is left behind, or shattered, an immense struggle often ensues to fill the void.

I was born in London to South African Jewish parents. We left almost immediately for South Africa, lived there for two years and returned to Britain. Although the word was never uttered, we were immigrants. Our priority was assimilation into Englishness. Pogroms and penury had been left far behind. The past was as silent as a village at the bottom of a dam.

Why then was I tugged to Israel as a college student? Our Jewish identity had been dribbling away ever since my great-grandparents and grandparents left Lithuania for South Africa around the turn of the 20th century. It was a slow process but appeared inexorable.

Having been persecuted as Jews in the Eastern European shtetl, my forebears put their faith in education and science to usher them from backwardness. My father did have a bar mitzvah in Johannesburg in 1934 but hated the experience, seeing it as an exercise in obscurantism and hypocrisy. He reached England in the mid-1950s with no inclination to inflict such instruction on me.

His was the silence, or at least discretion, shared by many Jews — whether Holocaust survivors or not — in the postwar years, especially in Europe. There was after Auschwitz something shameful about survival that no Jew could abjure. Why them and not me? Better, at least in England, to look forward, work hard, say little, and confine protest to shunning German cars.

Tradition and custom and ceremony went missing. No days were different from any other days. We did not have a Christmas tree. Nor did we have anything else. Our deity was academic and professional achievement. My father’s rise as a scientist in his adopted country was meteoric.

Nonetheless in time I wanted what I was not given, a Jewish identity, because that, simply, is what I felt myself to be, a Jew. Being called a “Yid” during my first year in high school stirred within me a lost and then defiant identity. In England, Philip Roth wrote, people’s voices always drop “just a little” when Jews are mentioned — and indeed my mother’s voice used to drop when she said the word in the land of Lewis Namier’s “trembling Israelites.”

Adaptation to England, with its retreat-from-empire gloom, proved too much for my mother, June. Born on Human Street in the small South African mining town of Krugersdorp in 1929, she was bright and full of laughter, with lovely, pale skin and thick, bouncy curls. She was highly strung, with a rapier wit. In 1950, upon graduation from Johannesburg’s University of the Witwatersrand, she married Sydney, a young doctor born on Honey Street in the Berea district of the city. A few years later the girl from Human Street and the boy from Honey Street decided to turn their backs on the horrors of apartheid. They emigrated.

June’s first depression occurred soon after. It came on after she was uprooted, bounced back and forth between England and South Africa, set down at last in north London in 1957, pregnant with my younger sister, Jenny. She had a hardworking husband and was obliged to get on with life as best she could as she raised two infants without all the support she had known in South Africa. She placed coins in a meter for hot water. She strained to fit in, to drop South Africa and its tight-knit Jewish community, to belong again. She wanted to help my father, her overriding goal always. Instead, she collapsed.

She was admitted in 1958 to a sanitarium near London. Diagnosed with “post-puerperal depression,” she first underwent electroshock treatment on July 30, 1958, and again on Aug. 1, 1958, the day before my third birthday, as it took me more than a half century to discover. Later she suffered from manic depression and never shook it off. In each generation of my family the condition recurred — a great-uncle in Johannesburg, a cousin who committed suicide in Tel Aviv at age 28. The question is whether my mother’s condition was endogenous, a purely pharmacological issue, or exogenous, a psychological issue tied to our Jewish odyssey of the 20th century and the tremendous pressure of wandering, adapting, pretending, silencing and forgetting.

There can be no absolute answer. The study of epigenetics is a relatively new one that seeks to explore how something in the external environment can, in the words of Rachel Yehuda, an Israeli-born neuroscientist and psychiatrist, “affect the internal environment, and before you know it a gene is functioning in a different way.” Evidence is growing of such trauma-induced changes. Yehuda quoted Ezekiel in a recent interview with Tablet: “The fathers ate sour grapes, and the children’s teeth were set on edge.” My mother was always on edge. After the electroshock treatment she was like a tree hollowed out by lightning. As her life progressed, she craved return to the sun and South Africa.

This was not supposed to happen. As immigrants, our gaze was to be forward-looking. June, despite her suffering, made an immense effort to that end. But the shock of upheaval can prove too much for some people. The project of starting anew collapses; its foundations are too weak.

European societies make fitting in harder than America. The difference between those who came first and those who came last in the United States is negligible beside the intricate matter of British ancestry — not to mention the subtle matter of British anti-Semitism. June had been raised in a cocoon of new South African wealth so enveloping as to eliminate, almost overnight, the Lithuanian past. I was raised an English boy, as if England were my birthright.

A child of repetitive Jewish displacement, I would sit in a Christian epicenter of continuity, Westminster Abbey, every school-day morning. This irony was lost on me. I was unaware that my paternal grandparents and much of my mother’s family came from the shtetls of northern Lithuania; or that my upbringing, while bestowing the gifts of a superb liberal education, had also been devoted to the expunging of this past, as well as to the suppression of the not-unrelated history of my mother’s mental breakdown.

I see my forebears losing touch with one another and fanning out across the world. I see the ebb and flow of their fortunes and the battle for assimilation. Theirs is a constant, almost manic, reinvention — in Johannesburg, in London, in Jerusalem, in Cleveland. Yet all the while they carry within them a bipolar gene that forms an unbroken chain with the past, liable to surface at any moment. They fight for that feeling of belonging that goes with home, the elusive place where, as Robert Frost noted, “when you have to go there, they have to take you in.”

My mother’s suicide note to my father of July 25, 1978, was found in the Hampstead house on the hill she loved; the house she had, in a bout of manic activity, agreed to sell the previous March to buy a Georgian terraced jewel on Lord North Street in central London, only to cancel the sale when she plunged back into a depression in June.

She had suffered from a combination of symptoms: weight loss, dizzy spells, hot flashes, as well as alternating hyperactivity and inertia, or manic depression. In early February, a doctor had again suggested electroshock treatment. No! Two decades on from her 1958 confinement, she would not return to that hell. She would not tolerate again the metal plates being strapped to her swabbed temples, enclosing her skull in its high-voltage carapace.

The strain of hiding her condition was enormous. She had to pursue her work as a magistrate and maintain the outward appearance of familial stability. Voiding the real estate deal concluded in manic March filled June with guilt over the time and money wasted. One thing about mania, with its rashness and rages, is that it provides plenty of legitimate reasons for remorse during the ensuing depressive phase.

My father came home from work and found the bedroom doors closed. He thought little of it. June was often in bed. He fixed himself a whiskey, sat down with the papers. It was a mild summer’s evening, sunlight glinting through the trees, clouds of gnats against the fence. June’s cycles were running at three-month intervals. With luck, come September she would be active again. Sydney tossed the papers aside. He tried the bedroom door. It was locked. He raced around to the other door, from the bathroom.

It was locked. He ran outside. The net curtains were drawn. The windows looked sealed. On closer inspection, one was very slightly ajar.

My mother lay sprawled on the bed, a bottle of gin beside her. She had taken large doses of doxepin and Valium, washed down with the gin. Her arms were thrown back behind her head.

Her pupils were scarcely responsive, her breathing shallow. The suicide note written to my father was beside her bed: “You are made to do great things, make immensely useful discoveries to aid all mankind and I’m leaving you to continue unimpeded by my burden. I so much hoped to help you and to help you and to love and adore you …” June survived, just. The emetic effect of the gin probably saved her. She vowed to us all that she would never again “resort to such a drastic step.” But death was always the cajoling voice in her ear.

June tried to kill herself again on June 15, 1982. Again there was a suicide note. Again, she survived, barely. At last cancer took her on Jan. 2, 1999, at age 69.

Mental illness is a charnel house from which nobody escapes unscathed. My parents’ marriage, in its last two decades, was filled with terrible silences and fierce eruptions. After the loss of my mother, I had to find vitality at any price. Every relationship was a mausoleum in the making.

When a parent dies unhappy, there is something unresolved that keeps nagging. It is irrational to want to save my mother from her torment — and now I cannot anyway. Still, because of her, I had to go back. The void, ever renewed, that her absence has left can be explained only by her refusal to stop believing in love, however compromised by frailty her expression of it was. Love and acceptance and stoicism and dignity were, against all odds, her fundamental and enduring lessons. Her spirit, housed too long in that troubled body, had immense strength.

It was my father she had loved most deeply, despite everything. My father, who had begun another relationship to survive, and who had hardened with the demands and the secrecy of that involvement, crumpled with a grief that shocked him after my mother’s death. He wrote to me:

“Your expanding memories of Mom have become infinitely precious and important; I share with you the vision of a light which is the obverse of her tormenting darkness and which in some miraculous way has become completely dominant since her death. I hope and pray that this vision of her will be an enduring source of strength and inspiration to you in all the years ahead, ever cherished and unsullied.

“For myself, I did have a fleeting dream of a few tranquil years carrying me into the sunset. I still hope for that in a mental and bodily sense. But I know that my spirit will not soon be released from those cruel demons that tore so relentlessly at the entwining fabric of love between Mom and me. I did strive within the feeble limits of my human fallibility to preserve and cherish and sustain her. But alas — for Mama ultimately, death was the only angel that could shield her from despair.”

We were too undone to ask for the urn with my mother’s ashes. I do not know where it ended up. The girl from Human Street left no trace of her anguished passage across the earth, from the Southern to the Northern Hemisphere. After her high school records from Barnato Park in Johannesburg, after the bulk of her medical records from the Holloway Sanatorium near London, her very physical remains vanished, too. From an early age, I had grown used to deploying my imagination as a defense. I told many other stories with many foreign datelines before I realized, returning to the place where I began, that the one story I had to tell was hers — and through hers that of a far-flung Jewish family, tied by the pain of forgetting, the strain of assimilation, the curse of mental illness and the ever-renewed consolation of love.

The Sunday Dregs, The Pasty Little Putz and Bruni

January 4, 2015

Okay, I’ve put it off as long as I can.  (Having to deal with the Putz on Sunday puts me in a bad mood…)  Anybody worth reading at the Times is off today, but they’ve given us The Putz and Bruni.  In “Confessions of a Columnist” Putzy offers up what he thinks is his annual inventory of mistakes and bad predictions.  In the comments “Jack Archer” from Pleasant Hills, CA summed it up succinctly:  “Only three mistakes last year? Really?”  (The correction at the end of this thing is SO special…)  Mr. Bruni has a question:  “Are Two Dynasties Our Destiny?”  He says the prematurely anointed frontrunners for the White House have miles to go and many liabilities.  Here’s The Putz:

In the new year, it goes without saying that we should all eat more vegetables, exercise more often, tweet or text a little less and pray a little more. But for the professional pundit, there’s really only one resolution that matters: Be less wrong.

So in that spirit, here is my annual inventory of the places where I went astray in 2014, offered in the hope that beginning 2015 with a confession will lead to fewer mistakes in the year to come.

1. I thought Jeb Bush wasn’t really serious about 2016. In two columns on the Republican presidential field, in March and in November, I didn’t exactly write off a Bush candidacy. But I spent far more time on Marco Rubio (whose chances I felt were being underestimated) and Rand Paul, and to a lesser extent Chris Christie and Ted Cruz, than I did on the former Florida governor.

That’s because I strongly suspected various forces would keep Bush on the sidelines: his wife’s likely opposition, a sense of Bush-dynasty fatigue among the party’s machers, and all the very human reasons a wealthy, comfortable, relaxed 60-something who last campaigned for office a dozen years ago might decide to pass on the presidential madhouse.

These suspicions could still be vindicated; Bush’s recently announced “exploration” could end before the first primary vote is cast. But he suddenly looks much more like a full-speed-ahead candidate than I expected, and — in what counts as clear bad news for Rubio and Christie, among others — many of the party’s donors and operatives seem not at all deterred by his fraternal connection to a deeply unpopular president.

Jeb the serious candidate isn’t Jeb the front-runner, or at least not yet. But his apparent plan to run is a big, important 2016 fact, and one my 2014 columns failed to sufficiently anticipate.

2. I was too optimistic about the prospects for demilitarizing the police. In an August column during the early days of protest in Ferguson, Mo., I argued that while many reforms to the criminal justice system might come with difficult trade-offs, the case for limiting the flow of heavy weapons — grenade launchers, armored cars, and so on — from the military to local police departments was “easy, uncomplicated, clear.” Crime rates keep falling, the threat of terrorism is more marginal than it seemed after 9/11, and there isn’t a justification for giving cops in places like Ferguson the armaments of an occupying force.

To which I would have been wise to add: “And yet they’re likely to keep getting weapons anyway.” The flurry of congressional interest faded once police unions flexed some muscle. The White House is notionally committed to tougher standards, but its proposals seem likely to add paperwork without meaningfully reducing the flow of arms.

Programs in motion tend to stay in motion, that much is always true. But I didn’t foresee that Ferguson itself, initially a story that produced bipartisan sympathy for the protesters, would turn into a weak and polarizing exhibit in the case for policing reform.

The persistent rioting made the argument that the cops needed all their gear seem more plausible (though I am not convinced), and the facts of the original tragedy, the shooting of Michael Brown, turned out to make a weaker case against the police than suggested by the initial coverage.

The hard truth — which is also on display in New York right now — is that crime and punishment stir up (for good reason) the strongest of human emotions, which makes achieving consensus on reform slow, hard work. This process can be hastened by particular injustices, but when the facts are bad or complicated, it can just as easily be set back.

3. I gave America’s Ebola countermeasures too little credit. In an October column on the public health fiascos that allowed the deadly virus to infect American health care workers, I wrote that if “we manage to contain Ebola domestically, then the president and his appointees will look more competent and levelheaded than their critics.” But I wasn’t particularly confident in that outcome, and so — worried about a wider outbreak — I also wrote that “travel restrictions increasingly seem like an appropriate hedge against ongoing domestic incompetence.”

Two months later, there has been no wider outbreak, most of the cases treated domestically have resulted in a cure, and the president and his appointees can reasonably claim vindication. (As can Dr. Paul Farmer, the famous physician-humanitarian, who argued in an October essay for the London Review of Books that with Western standards of medical treatment, Ebola victims could have a 90 percent survival rate.) So I was too alarmist, often a pundit’s besetting vice.

But while pessimism can be an analytic mistake, it’s the happiest way to be wrong. So if infallibility remains out of reach, my hope for 2015 is that my columns will only err in undue pessimism, and that reality will only surprise me — and you, and all of us — with good news.

Correction: January 3, 2015 An earlier version of this article referred incorrectly to Jeb Bush’s relationship with George W. Bush. It is fraternal, of course, not filial.

Sweet baby Jesus on a pogo stick — has the Times COMPLETELY given up on the concept of fact checking, or did they just let him look like a dunce on purpose?  Could go either way…  Here’s Mr. Bruni:

Jeb and Hillary. Hillary and Jeb. It’s getting to the point where a mention of one yields a reference to the other, where they’re semantically inseparable, presidentially conjoined. Should we just go the extra step, save ourselves some syllables and keystrokes? The 2016 matchup as envisioned by many: Jebary. Or, more economically still, Heb.

The fascination with this pair as possible rivals for the White House makes perfect sense, because it defies belief. We’re talking about tomorrow while trafficking in yesterday. We’re saying we need to turn the page by going back to a previous chapter.

We’re a country of self-invention (that’s the myth, at least) in thrall to legacies and in the grip of dynasties, riveted by the mightiest surname in modern Democratic politics and its Republican analogue, imagining not just a clash of the titans but a scrum of the successors.

It would be a replay of the 1992 race, but with the wife of the victor against a son of the loser. It would also call to mind the 2000 race, when that victor’s heir apparent, Al Gore, squared off against another of that loser’s sons, George W. Bush. That too was a Clinton-Bush contest, because Bush campaigned against the incumbent president, repeatedly suggesting that his conduct with a White House intern had brought dishonor to the office.

And then, years later, they all somehow got chummy. In an interview with C-Span that aired last January, Barbara Bush revealed that Bill Clinton had developed the habit of dropping by her family’s Kennebunkport, Me., compound every summer for a visit.

“I love Bill Clinton,” she said, explaining that he and her husband, the 42nd and 41st presidents, had formed a special bond. “Bill’s father wasn’t around, and I think that he thinks of George a little bit like the father he didn’t have.” If he’s an adopted son of sorts, then Jebary would be incestuous in addition to operatic.

How irresistible.

But how unlikely, despite all the current speculation following Jeb Bush’s maneuvers to prime a candidacy: the release of emails from his years as governor of Florida; the announcement last week that he’d resigned his positions on the boards of corporations and nonprofit organizations.

There’s no doubt that he and Hillary Clinton enjoy enormous structural advantages — in terms of name recognition, fund-raising and ready-made support networks — over other potential aspirants for their parties’ nominations.

But they also have significant external problems and internal flaws, and there are serious open questions about each. Factor those in and it’s a reach, as a sheer matter of probability, that they wind up as the final two.

One of them? Sure. Both? Too much could go wrong.

A successful campaign isn’t just coffers and endorsements, though those matter. It’s narrative and emotion. It’s a speech-by-speech, handshake-by-handshake seduction, and on this score it’s unclear that Clinton and Bush are especially well positioned or masters of the game. They’re formidable candidates, yes. But are they good ones?

What I’ve previously noted about her is true as well of him: They’re not fresh and unfamiliar enough for all that many voters to discover them, the way they did Barack Obama in 2008 and to some extent George W. Bush in 2000, and develop that kind of political crush.

They’re not naturals on the stump. Clinton came into the 2008 campaign with extensive experience in the spotlight; still she struggled to warm up to audiences (and vice versa) and find the looseness and air of intimacy that many voters crave. Her “Hard Choices” book tour last year was rocky, with awkward moments that she created or should have been able to avoid.

And it’s impossible to predict how Bush would fare on the trail, because he hasn’t waged a campaign since his re-election as governor of Florida in 2002. That’s significant, and it’s getting less attention than it should.

His bid for the Republican nomination, if he formalizes it, would be his first. And while his brother succeeded on his maiden voyage, the subsequent two nominees, John McCain and Mitt Romney, were making second tries. Practice helps.

Even Bush’s most ardent admirers don’t sell him as a rousing orator. Last April I happened to hear him give an education reform speech, at an event where Chris Christie had been the headliner the previous year, and the contrast was stark. Christie had come across as impassioned, unscripted. He filled and held the room. Bush was a phlegmatic blur. Afterward his supporters talked about and fretted over it.

Both he and Hillary Clinton may be too awash in money. More so than other Democrats and Republicans who’ve signaled interest in the presidency, they’ve existed for many years now at a financial altitude far, far above that of ordinary Americans.

And reporters digging into their affairs would provide voters with constant reminders of that, revisiting the Clintons’ speaking fees and examining Jeb Bush’s adventures in private equity, which a Bloomberg Politics story from December described under this headline: “Jeb Bush Has a Mitt Romney Problem.”

It’s hard to fathom that at this of all junctures, when there’s growing concern about income inequality and the attainability of the American dream, voters in both parties would choose nominees of such economically regal bearing.

Clinton would at least hold the promise of history in the making — a first female president — and her candidacy would wring excitement from that. But to seal the deal, she’d probably have to tamp down excessive talk of inevitability, forge a less combative relationship with the news media and find a nimbleness that has often eluded her.

As Peter Beinart observed in a National Journal appraisal last year, “She’s terrific at developing and executing a well-defined plan. She’s less adept at realizing that a well-defined plan is not working and improvising something new.” He was previewing a Clinton presidency, but his assessment is equally germane to a Clinton candidacy.

And Clinton and Bush together have more baggage than the cargo hold of a 747. That’s the flip side of all of those family tentacles, all that political history, all those privileged inside glimpses of the process. They make you putty in the hands of the right opposition researcher.

We’re nearly two years away from November 2016. So are Clinton and Bush. They remain abstractions.

But they won’t get to campaign that way, and we won’t know some of the most important stuff about them until they’re actually in the arena, showing us their fettle and whether it fits the mood of the moment.

Maybe Jebary really is who we are and where we’re headed. I suspect a different destination.

But you’re still riding that bandwagon and tooting that horn, aren’t you?

Cohen and Bruni

December 31, 2014

In “Gaza Is Nowhere” Mr. Cohen says that in the enclave, another war is waiting to happen.  Mr. Bruni thinks he has “A Democrat to Watch in 2015.”  He says in some ways the anti-Warren, Rhode Island’s first female governor is a dynamo and dissident who forces tough conversations on her party.  You heard it first here — the Democrats need her like they need root canals and bunions.  Here’s Mr. Cohen, writing from Gaza City:

You trudge into Gaza from a high-tech Israeli facility through a caged walkway that brings you, after about 15 minutes, to a ramshackle Palestinian border post; and then, formalities completed, on you go, through dust and the reek of sewage, past the crumpled buildings and the donkey carts, to arrive at last in the middle of nowhere.

Gaza is nowhere. Very few people go in or out of the 140-square-mile enclave. Most people want to forget about it. The border with Egypt was closed in October. A handful of travelers negotiate the labyrinth of inspections at the Israeli border and proceed into the Jewish state.

I watched a young man passing sand through a sieve as the surface of a road was laid beside the sea in Gaza City. He’d shake the sieve, watch the sand drop through and, finally, tip out the remnants. Again and again he did it, in the dust. He is among the more productively employed of Gaza’s 1.8 million citizens.

There is another war waiting to happen in Gaza. The last one changed nothing. Hamas rockets are being test-fired. A Palestinian farmer has been shot dead near the border. Tensions simmer. The draft Security Council resolution at the United Nations, championed by the Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas, seeking a withdrawal of Israeli forces from the West Bank by 2017, amounts to an elaborate sideshow. The real matter of diplomatic urgency going into 2015, for the Palestinian people and the world, is to end the lockdown of Gaza.

“People are mad, frustrated, they have nothing to lose,” Ahmed Yousef, an adviser to the Hamas Gaza leader, Ismail Haniyeh, told me. “We are dying gradually so it is better to die with dignity.”

The only dust-free environment is the compound of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency. I went to see its director, Robert Turner. He told me that initial estimates of war damage belittled its extent: 96,000 homes of refugee families (against initial estimates of 42,000) are either destroyed or damaged, and 124,000 houses in all. But very little rebuilding material is available. “There’s a vacuum.” he said.

The supposed reconciliation between Abbas’s Fatah and Hamas has proved worthless. At the hospital, contracts for cleaners and food are not being paid. Hamas and Fatah blame each other. Turner described “a drift toward more radical groups.” None of the causes of the conflict had been addressed. “Fatah and Hamas and Israel can avert a descent into new violence, but I don’t think that window will stay open for long,” he told me.

Nobody wants to talk about Gaza because it reeks of failure — the failure of Israeli withdrawal; the failure of a long-ago election that ushered Hamas to power; the failure to achieve the Palestinian unity necessary for serious peace talks; the failure to prevent repetitive war; the failure of the Arab Spring that led to that sealed Egyptian border; the failure to be coherent about Hamas (negotiated with by Israel to end the war and to secure the release of the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit but otherwise viewed as a terrorist group with which negotiation is impossible); the failure to offer decency to 1.8 million trapped human beings.

Gaza is shameful.

The enclave is a thorny quandary. Hamas has a vile Charter, a goal of destroying Israel, and it fires rockets on Israeli civilians from among Palestinian civilians. But it is not monolithic. Putting Gaza first would have several merits: forcing Palestinians to unify their national movement and hold long-delayed elections; averting yet another war with its heavy toll in human life and negative impact on Israel’s international standing; ushering a large group of Palestinians out of radicalizing misery; obliging the peacemakers, so-called, to get real or go home; stopping the distraction at the United Nations.

My Gaza road ended at the Shuhadaa al Shejaeya Secondary School for boys. It is about 1,400 yards from the border in eastern Gaza City. You look out past a destroyed juice factory, a destroyed farm-equipment factory and see the tantalizing green fields of Israel, from which Palestinians tend to avert their eyes. The classrooms all have windows blown out or doors blown off. Kids play football in a courtyard imprinted with Israeli tank tracks. Half of them have homes partially destroyed. I asked one student, Saleem Ejla, age 16, what he expected: “War after war,” he shot back.

Hasan al-Zeyada, a psychologist, showed me around. He lost six close relatives, including his mother and three brothers, in an Israeli airstrike on July 20. Of the students at the school, he said that they had no need to be taught history: “They have lived it. They can teach it to me.”

He told me about his 8-year-old daughter, Zeina, who refuses to speak to God since her grandmother was killed and tells her father: “God is a weak one. I will never say God again. He can’t change anything.”

But Israelis, Palestinians, Egyptians, Europeans and Americans can — if they choose to locate the nowhere named Gaza and turn it into somewhere. The alternative is war without end.

And now here’s Mr. Bruni, extolling another Republican Lite:

With the New Year comes a new slate of officeholders whose careers warrant close attention and whose fates could have broader political implications. Put Gina Raimondo near the top of that list.

She’s the first woman to be elected governor of Rhode Island, and when she’s inaugurated next week, she’ll become, at 43, one of just two Democratic women, alongside Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire, at the helms of their states.

But it’s another prominent female Democrat from New England who provides a more interesting point of reference for Raimondo. I mean Elizabeth Warren, the senator from Massachusetts. As much as Warren has excited the left wing of her party, Raimondo has enraged them.

She just wrapped up four years as her state’s treasurer, during which she successfully pushed an unusually ambitious overhaul of the pension system for state employees. It suspended cost-of-living adjustments, raised the retirement age by five years and left unions boiling mad. They opposed her in the Democratic gubernatorial primary. She marched to the governor’s job in tension, not harmony, with a key element of the party’s base.

Some in the party cast her as a pawn of the finance industry and big corporations, partly because she once worked in venture capital. She started Rhode Island’s first venture capital firm.

She doesn’t talk about plutocrats with Warren’s angry fire, not because she thinks they’re above reproach but because she deems vilifying them less fruitful than reminding them that they, too, have a profound stake in a healthier America with a fairer distribution of wealth and more social mobility.

“I fall into the camp that income inequality is the biggest problem we face,” she said Monday night over eggplant parmigiana in a Providence restaurant. An Italian-American, she grew up just outside the city and lives here now with her husband and their two young children.

She said that she has told Wall Street titans point blank that they should be paying higher federal taxes and leveling the playing field, but with this message: “I need you to double down on America. We need you. We need your brains, we need your money, we need your engagement — not because it’s Wall Street versus Main Street, but because you’re some of the smartest, richest people in the world, and you need to be a part of fixing America, because you want to live in an America that’s the best country in the world.”

She said that Democrats must always prioritize the underdogs, the strivers. And she spoke admiringly of Warren: “She says things that make people uncomfortable but need to be said.”

But, she added, “My own rhetoric is not so ‘us versus them.’ I don’t like fighting.”

And she has highlighted additional concerns, such as the Democratic Party’s frequent fealty to organized labor and its reluctance at times to shake up the status quo in order to find the money needed for social spending.

Her pension-reform campaign was fascinating for its blunt talk of trade-offs, of sacrifices today for investments in tomorrow. She framed the cutbacks as progressive — as the only responsible liberalism — because without them, education, infrastructure, transportation and more would suffer.

She thus provided a template for how politicians in Washington could try to rein in Social Security and Medicare spending, if they wished. An article in National Journal framed her efforts and the pushback against them as “a battle for the Democratic Party’s future,” and Matt Miller later wrote in The Washington Post that she could transform the “national conversation about how to achieve progressive goals in an aging America.”

She sometimes speaks a language of metrics that makes her as stirring to some business-minded centrists as Warren is to many liberals. And if she manages to improve Rhode Island’s famously beleaguered economy, she’s teed up to be a national player, thanks to her youth and back story: a working-class upbringing followed by Harvard, then a Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford, then Yale Law.

She’s small — just under 5-foot-3 — and intense. When she mentions that she played rugby in school, it fits. When she describes her advantage on the field, it sounds as if she’s talking about more than sport. “It’s good to be little and fast,” she said.

In focus groups, some Rhode Islanders called her “too harsh,” she said, a judgment seemingly connected to her wardrobe of suits. “Then you show them pictures of me in casual clothes and they’re like, ‘Oh, she seems nice.’ It’s, like, if you’re a strong woman, you can’t also be nice. It’s really that simple.”

Will she be a strong governor? She starts out dogged by a sweeping court challenge to those pension reforms.

But this much is clear: She takes risks, colors outside the lines and seeks a tone all her own. That’s worthy of note.

Bull crap.  Bruni should go back to reviewing restaurants — at least then he knew what the fck he was writing about.


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