Archive for the ‘Bruni’ Category

Bruni, solo

July 5, 2017

In “Chris Christie’s Tutorial in Hubris” Mr. Bruni says that what he and Donald Trump market as defiance is darker and more destructive.  Here he is:

We can scoff and sneer at those images of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie on his beachfront imperium, or we can learn from them. As he took in the sun, he doled out a lesson, the same one that Donald Trump is delivering on a daily basis and in a grander fashion:

Beware the politician who doesn’t give a damn for decorum. What he markets as irreverence can be something coarser and more perverse.

It can lead to ruin. Christie’s approval rating from New Jersey voters was just 15 percent — the lowest for any current governor in the country and the worst in his state’s history — before his weekend repose on what turned out to be quicksand. He could sink into single digits after this. Negative integers aren’t entirely out of the question.

I hope Trump is watching, but I have my doubts. The Christie family’s swimwear pageant isn’t the kind that he’s known to ogle. Plus, he surely turns the channel when the visage on the screen isn’t his own.

The stories of the disgraced New Jersey governor and the disgraceful American president overlap. Christie was “Trump before Trump,” Michael Steele, a former chairman of the Republican National Committee, told The Washington Post’s Robert Costa in an article published late Monday. “He does what he wants to do, and his success can be traced to that. But there are consequences, of course, when you work that way.”

Steele could as easily have been talking about Trump, and when Costa referred to the “defiance that has both lifted and hobbled Christie’s political career,” he brought to mind Trump’s temperament and trajectory, whether he meant to or not.

The twins of tantrum, Christie and Trump had almost identical political appeals. They mocked propriety. They broke rules. They assertively peddled the impression that as happy as they were to make friends, they were even happier to make enemies, because that meant that they were fully in the fight.

In an era of resentment and anger, many voters thrilled to the spectacle. The problem with other politicians, these voters legitimately reasoned, was too much indulgence of vested interests and too cowardly an obeisance to convention. If you didn’t slaughter the sacred cows, you’d never get to the tastiest filet.

But Christie and Trump proved to be butchers of a more indiscriminate and self-serving sort, and both demonstrated that there’s a short leap from headstrong to hardheaded and from defiant to delusional. Bold nonconformity can be the self-indulgent egotist’s drag.

Yes, Christie called out fools in certain circumstances where they deserved it and steamrolled opponents who stood in the way of some plans that were wholly defensible. And he was seemingly immune to any of the subsequent caricatures of him as a bully.

But he was also deaf to inevitable and entirely fair questions about his behavior. As Nick Corasaniti noted in The Times this week, he was caught “using a state helicopter paid for by taxpayers to attend his son’s baseball game.” He let King Abdullah of Jordan treat him and his family to a $30,000 weekend in a posh hotel.

He was blind to how he would come across when, in his speech at the 2012 Republican National Convention, he took such a gaudy star turn that the party’s presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, was reduced to a cameo. Christie bucked traditional manners, all right. He bucked them all the way to jaw-dropping megalomania.

Make no mistake: For all their flamboyant pugnaciousness, the Christies and Trumps of the political world are chasing adulation every bit as much as their peers are — maybe more so. They’re just taking a deliberately muddier route, and if they don’t get there, they’re more likely to wear their failure as a badge of honor and to dig in with a destructive arrogance.

When Christie was asked whether, despite a shutdown of the state government, he would steal away to the manse on the shore that’s a perk of his office, he unabashedly answered yes.

“That’s just the way it goes,” he said. “Run for governor, and you can have a residence.”

Translation: I’m governor and you’re not. Where have we heard a formulation like that before?

Trump and Christie somehow decided that you have to govern by middle finger if you want to avoid governing by pinkie finger. But there’s a digit in between: a middle ground. It’s where real leadership and true effectiveness lie.

Christie’s disrepute and dashed ambitions confirm as much. So does the ongoing insult of Trump’s presidency. They show that if you embrace a politician who talks too frequently and proudly about not caring what anyone thinks, you’ll wind up in the clutch of a politician whose last refuge is not caring what anyone thinks. That’s a dangerous place to be.

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Friedman and Bruni

June 28, 2017

The Moustache of Wisdom says “Trump Is China’s Chump” and that the president doesn’t look like a savvy negotiator to Asia-Pacific business and political leaders.  Quelle surprise, Tommy!  Mr. Bruni ponders “The Misery of Mitch McConnell” and says as he rushes a bad bill, he drags the Senate to new lows.  Here’s TMOW, writing from Hong Kong:

Having just traveled to New Zealand, Australia, South Korea, China, Taiwan and now Hong Kong, I can say without an ounce of exaggeration that more than a few Asia-Pacific business and political leaders have taken President Trump’s measure and concluded that — far from being a savvy negotiator — he’s a sucker who’s shrinking U.S. influence in this region and helping make China great again.

These investors, trade experts and government officials are still stunned by an event that got next to no attention in the U.S. but was an earthquake out here — and a gift that will keep on giving America’s allies pain and China gain for years to come. That was Trump’s decision to tear up the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) free-trade deal in his first week in office — clearly without having read it or understanding its vast geo-economic implications.

(Trump was so ignorant about TPP that when he was asked about it in a campaign debate in November 2015 he suggested that China was part of it, which it very much is not.)

Trump simply threw away the single most valuable tool America had for shaping the geo-economic future of the region our way and for pressuring China to open its markets. Trump is now trying to negotiate trade openings with China alone — as opposed to negotiating with China as the head of a 12-nation TPP trading bloc that was based on U.S. values and interests and that controlled 40 percent of the global economy.

It is hard to think of anything more stupid. And China’s trade hard-liners are surely laughing in their sleeves.

“When Trump did away with TPP, all your allies’ confidence in the U.S. collapsed,” a senior Hong Kong official told me.

“After America stopped TPP, everyone is now looking to China,” added Jonathan Koon-shum Choi, chairman of the Chinese General Chamber of Commerce, Hong Kong. “But China is very smart — just keeping its mouth shut.”

Beijing is now quietly encouraging everyone in the neighborhood to join the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, China’s free-trade competitor to TPP, which, unlike TPP, lacks environmental or labor standards; China’s Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank; and its One Belt, One Road development project.

Carrie Lam, the new chief executive of Hong Kong, told me that TPP countries like Australia are quickly reaching out to Hong Kong to forge closer and freer trade ties, now that the Americans have pulled TPP down. It’s a “pity” that the Americans are leaving, she said, but “this will give our country this opportunity to lead.” China is not just looking for growth, she added, but also for “influence.”

Just to remind: TPP was a free-trade agreement that the Obama team forged with Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam.

It was not only the largest free-trade agreement in history, it was the best ever for U.S. workers, closing loopholes Nafta had left open. TPP included restrictions on foreign state-owned enterprises that dumped subsidized products into our markets, intellectual property protections for rising U.S. technologies — like free access for all cloud computing services — but also anti-human-trafficking provisions that prohibited turning guest workers into slave labor, a ban on trafficking in endangered wildlife parts, a requirement that signatories permit their workers to form independent trade unions to collectively bargain and the elimination of all child labor practices — all to level the playing field with American workers.

Yes, like any trade deal, TPP would have challenged some U.S. workers, but it would have created opportunities for many others, because big economies like Japan and Vietnam were opening their markets. For decades we had allowed Japan to stay way too closed, because it was an ally in the Cold War, and Vietnam, because it was an enemy. Some 80 percent of the goods from our 11 TPP partners were coming into the U.S. duty-free already, while our goods and services were still being hit with 18,000 tariffs in their countries — which TPP eliminated.

That’s why the Peterson Institute for International Economics estimated that U.S. national income would have grown by some $130 billion a year by 2030 with TPP — not huge, just a nice boost for U.S. workers, businesses and diplomats.

“TPP would have encouraged C.E.O.s, logistics managers and others to place their bets on the world’s single largest trading zone, one that would have been dominated by the U.S., the largest and most developed economy in it,” economics writer Adam Davidson observed in The New Yorker.

Countries like Japan, Vietnam, Malaysia and Singapore made big concessions to the U.S. to be part of TPP — precisely because they wanted America embedded in their own economies, as a hedge against Chinese economic domination. A young Vietnamese businessman I met at a Wharton economic forum in Hong Kong asked me, “Do we have to choose between Russia and China now?”

The other people we disappointed, explained James McGregor, author of “One Billion Customers: Lessons From the Front Lines of Doing Business in China,” are China’s economic reformers: They were hoping that the emergence of TPP “would force China to reform its trade practices more along American lines and to open its markets. … We failed the reformers in China.”

Out here everyone gets it: China has Trump’s number. Its officials were afraid of him at first — with his tough trade talk. But they quickly realized how easy it was to distract him with shiny objects, like promises to defuse the North Korea threat for him or by giving stale sector-specific trade concessions, such as for American beef exports to China — things China has promised multiple presidents before — that Trump could brag about.

Beijing watched Trump threaten to abandon America’s adherence to the one-China policy if he did not get trade concessions — and then just fold the minute China’s president, Xi Jinping, said he would not take a phone call from Trump unless he reaffirmed the “One-China” policy.

And China just invited Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner on an official visit for early next year, red carpet and all. As my colleague Keith Bradsher reported, China, for the first time, has arrested Chinese labor-rights activists who were working undercover to investigate a Western supply chain — specifically, factories near Hong Kong that made shoes for Ivanka Trump and other brands. Moral of the story: Take care of the emperor’s daughter and everything will be fine.

You have to admire the Chinese combination of toughness, patience and savvy. One day I hope America again will have a president with such attributes — not a sucker for flattery, not an ignorant ideologue who rips up treaties he hasn’t even read, not a made-for-television negotiator who throws his best leverage out the window — the ability to negotiate with China as the head of a trading bloc controlling 40 percent of the world’s economy — before he sits down at the table.

We may call him “Trump” in America, but here it’s pronounced “Chump.”

Tommy, we did have the kind of president you yearn for — he’s been out of office for about 6 months now.  Here’s Mr. Bruni:

For a good laugh, or rather cry, zip backward to the beginning of 2014, when Democrats still had control of the Senate, and listen to Mitch McConnell’s lamentations about the way they were doing business.

“Major legislation is now routinely drafted not in committee but in the majority leader’s conference room,” he declaimed on the Senate floor. “Bills should go through committee.” He pledged that if Republicans were “fortunate enough to gain the majority next year, they would.”

In a speech a few months later at the American Enterprise Institute, he said, “The greatest way to ensure stability in our laws is to ensure that everyone has an opportunity to participate in some way in the passage.” He railed about the lack of transparency from Democrats and the damage they’d done “to the spirit of comity and respect that the public has every right to expect from their leaders.”

“If Republicans were fortunate enough to reclaim the majority in November, I assure you, my friends, all of this would change,” he vowed anew.

Republicans were fortunate enough. McConnell became the majority leader. And if you can find committee hearings, transparency, full participation, comity, respect or anything akin to good faith in the way he just tried to ram his health care bill through the chamber, then I want you on the hunt for the yeti and, pretty please, the Fountain of Youth.

His approach may prove fatal: On Tuesday, he had to postpone any vote on the legislation until after July 4.

Then again, perhaps he isn’t really chasing success. One intriguing theory is that he has no yen for stripping insurance from tens of millions of Americans and having it come back to bite Republicans. But he must go convincingly through the motions, lest President Trump mewl and right-wing donors carp that he isn’t seizing his best chance to drive a stake through Obamacare’s heart.

Whatever the case, it’s a sorry turn for a man who paid such lip service to the courtesy and collaboration that supposedly distinguished the Senate, which he did, in his way, seem to revere.

Unlike more telegenic colleagues, he never yearned to be president. He aspired to recognition as a master of the world’s “greatest deliberative body,” as the Senate is often described.

But since Trump’s inauguration, that body has been a sort of couch potato, slow to rouse to its rightful labors. Committees aren’t busily marking up bills.

And what McConnell has displayed isn’t mastery so much as bullying. Bye-bye to the 60 votes needed to proceed to confirmation of a Supreme Court nominee. He did away with that to smooth Neil Gorsuch’s passage.

Farewell to deliberation. McConnell did away with that, too. Back when the Senate considered Obamacare, there were scores of hearings and exhaustive analyses of the evolving legislation’s text. McConnell held no hearings for his bill. He spurned feedback from outside groups. An uncomely cabal of 13 men patched it together in the equivalent of a subterranean bunker, with the initial hope of a vote just a week after they emerged from hiding and brought it into the light.

I asked two former senators, a Republican and a Democrat, what they made of all this. Both mourned a long, steady erosion of bipartisanship that McConnell hardly owns.

“I actually think he’s done as well as he could with the cards he’s been dealt,” the Republican, Judd Gregg, told me, saying that McConnell is no doubt correct in his assumption that Democrats aren’t eager to work with him. They’re too consumed by contempt for Trump.

The Democrat, Bob Kerrey, characterized McConnell as a “creature of these very partisan times” who in some ways merely reflects them. But Kerrey said that when McConnell blocked any vote on President Barack Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court for the better part of a year, “he went way too far.”

Until now, McConnell has evaded the degree of demonization that you might expect. He’s too pale a blur to arouse passion, and as an object of fascination, he can hold neither bow nor arrow to the dimpled deer hunter who reigns over the other side of the Capitol.

The tote board of House Speaker Paul Ryan’s hypocrisies is more painstakingly maintained, and during the 2016 campaign, every step of his tango with Trump was scrutinized to smithereens. McConnell receded. He was the Jan Brady to Ryan’s Marcia.

But he has always been the ruthless one. In 2010, when he was the minority leader, he stated unabashedly that Republicans’ pre-eminent goal was to send Obama packing after one term.

Harry Reid, a Democrat, was then the majority leader, and after he eliminated the filibuster for all executive branch nominations apart from those for the Supreme Court, McConnell said, “I think it’s a time to be sad about what’s been done to the United States Senate.”

It was. But because of McConnell, it’s a time now to be sadder still.

Mitch McConnell is a poisonous old shit who should die a slow and painful death from a wasting disease.  This is the man who refused to meet with the March of Dimes, the group that funded his polio treatment, and had people in wheelchairs arrested and dragged out of their chairs for protesting outside his office.  Fuck you, Mitch.

Friedman and Bruni

June 21, 2017

The Moustache of Wisdom asks “Where Did ‘We the People’ Go?”  He says we’re having crises of truth, division and authority.  Frank Effing Bruni, who really should go back to reviewing restaurants, as seen fit to inform us that “After Georgia Election, Democrats Are Demoralized, Again” and that Jon Ossoff’s defeat will test the party’s spirit and its strategy.  Of course he neglects to mention that Handel was one of the primary leaders in the Republican strategy to disenfranchise as many potential Democratic voters as possible.  (Although I suppose it’s possible that she was doing that while he was off reviewing eateries and couldn’t be bothered to find out.)  Frankie, here’s a large plate of salted rat dicks just for you.  Here’s TMOW:

A few days ago I was at a conference in Montreal, and a Canadian gentleman, trying to grasp what’s happening to America, asked me a simple question: “What do you fear most these days?”

I paused for a second, like a spectator waiting to see what would come out of my own mouth. Two things came out: “I fear we’re seeing the end of ‘truth’ — that we simply can’t agree any more on basic facts. And I fear that we’re becoming Sunnis and Shiites — we call them ‘Democrats’ and ‘Republicans,’ but the sectarianism that has destroyed nation-states in the Middle East is now infecting us.”

It used to be that people didn’t want their kids to marry one of “them,” referring to someone of a different religion or race (bad enough). Now the “them” is someone of a different party.

When a liberal comedian poses with a mock severed head of Donald Trump, when the president’s own son, Eric Trump, says of his father’s Democratic opponents, “To me, they’re not even people,” you know that you are heading to a dark place.

So when I got home, I called my teacher and friend Dov Seidman, author of the book “How” and C.E.O. of LRN, which helps companies and leaders build ethical cultures, and asked him what he thought was happening to us.

“What we’re experiencing is an assault on the very foundations of our society and democracy — the twin pillars of truth and trust,” Seidman responded. “What makes us Americans is that we signed up to have a relationship with ideals that are greater than us and with truths that we agreed were so self-evident they would be the foundation of our shared journey toward a more perfect union — and of respectful disagreement along the way. We also agreed that the source of legitimate authority to govern would come from ‘We the people.’”

But when there is no “we” anymore, because “we” no longer share basic truths, Seidman argued, “then there is no legitimate authority and no unifying basis for our continued association.”

We’ve had breakdowns in truth and trust before in our history, but this feels particularly dangerous because it is being exacerbated by technology and Trump.

Social networks and cyberhacking are helping extremists to spread vitriol and fake news at a speed and breadth we have never seen before. “Today, we’re not just deeply divided, as we’ve been before, we’re being actively divided — by cheap tools that make it so easy to broadcast one’s own ‘truths’ and to undermine real ones,” Seidman argued.

This anger industry is now “either sending us into comfortable echo chambers where we don’t see the other or arousing such moral outrage in us toward the other that we can no longer see their humanity, let alone embrace them as fellow Americans with whom we share values.”

Social networks and hacking also “have enabled us to see, in full color, into the innermost workings of every institution and into the attitudes of those who run them,” noted Seidman, “and that has eroded trust in virtually every institution, and the authority of many leaders, because people don’t like what they see.”

With shared truth debased and trust in leaders diminished, we now face a full-blown “crisis of authority itself,” argued Seidman, who distinguishes between “formal authority” and “moral authority.”

While our system can’t function without leaders with formal authority, what makes it really work, he added, is “when leaders occupying those formal positions — from business to politics to schools to sports — have moral authority. Leaders with moral authority understand what they can demand of others and what they must inspire in them. They also understand that formal authority can be won or seized, but moral authority has to be earned every day by how they lead. And we don’t have enough of these leaders.”

In fact, we have so few we’ve forgotten what they look like. Leaders with moral authority have several things in common, said Seidman: “They trust people with the truth — however bright or dark. They’re animated by values — especially humility — and principles of probity, so they do the right things, especially when they’re difficult or unpopular. And they enlist people in noble purposes and onto journeys worthy of their dedication.”

Think how far away Trump is from that definition. In Trump we not only have a president who can’t lead us out of this crisis — because he has formal authority but no moral authority — but a president who is every day through Twitter a one-man accelerator of the erosion of truth and trust eating away at our society.

We saw that play out between Trump and James Comey, the F.B.I. director.

There’s an adage, explained Seidman, that says: “Ask for my honesty and I’ll give you my loyalty. Ask for my loyalty and I’ll give you my honesty.” But Trump was not interested in Comey’s honesty. He only wanted Comey’s blind loyalty — delivered free because Trump thought he had the formal authority to demand it. “But true loyalty can’t be commanded; it can only be inspired,” said Seidman.

Alas, Trump is not going to get any better and the technology is not going to get any slower. It is imperative, in the short run, that some moral leaders emerge in the G.O.P. and actually restrain Trump. But that’s doubtful.

But the upside of today’s political-technology platform is that leaders can come out of anywhere — fast. Look at the new president of France. In the long run, the only thing that will save us is if more people — no matter what age, color, gender or faith — build moral authority in their respective realms and then use it to do big, meaningful things. Use it to run for office, start a company, operate a school, lead a movement or build a community organization. And in so doing you can help put the “We” back in “We the people.”

Now here’s Mr. Bruni’s piece of crap:

Make no mistake: Democrats were swimming against the current in Georgia. The House seat that their sights were on had been safely in Republican hands for nearly four decades. Georgia’s Sixth District is purple only if you scrunch your eyes just so. If you un-scrunch them and look at it honestly, it’s red.

So the question isn’t what happened on Tuesday, when Karen Handel, the Republican candidate, prevailed over Jon Ossoff, the Democrat, in a special election with stakes and resonance well beyond the district’s parameters.

The question is what happens next. How do Democrats buoy their spirits, maintain their ardor and press on?

They ached for this seat. They fought for it fiercely. They reasoned that Ossoff had a real chance: Donald Trump, after all, won this district by just 1.5 percentage points. Donations for Ossoff flooded in, helping to make this the most expensive House race in history by far.

Democrats came up empty-handed nonetheless. So a party sorely demoralized in November is demoralized yet again — and left to wonder if the intense anti-Trump passion visible in protests, marches, money and new volunteers isn’t just some theatrical, symbolic, abstract thing.

When will it yield fruit? Where will it translate into results? And at what point will Trump be held accountable for a presidency that, so far, has been clumsier and more chaotic than even many of his detractors warned that it would be?

With Handel’s victory, Trump caught an enormous break and got fresh hope for his stalled legislative agenda. As he tries to persuade moderate Republicans to support a deeply flawed, broadly unpopular and ridiculously secrecy-shrouded health care bill, he can and will point to the outcome of the Georgia race, in which Handel sided with him and Ossoff pilloried her for it.

Republicans who have been agitated about the investigation into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia and the president’s low approval ratings will be calmed somewhat, strengthening Trump’s hand.

And G.O.P. leaders and strategists will feel reassured that the party isn’t tethered entirely to Trump’s fortunes and, when it mobilizes its resources, can transcend his failings and all the melodrama he stirs up. In the final weeks of the Georgia race, outside Republican groups poured millions into the contest and worked feverishly to turn out the vote for Handel. Those frantic efforts obviously paid off.

Although her fumbles were many and her charisma in limited supply, she fashioned a model for how a Republican in a district that isn’t a ready-made Trump stronghold lurches across the finish line: by being with him and without him at the same time. Handel’s bid was mesmerizingly conflicted.

I’ve watched many campaigns I’d describe as moronic. Hers was oxymoronic.

She held a fund-raiser with Vice President Mike Pence — but not a rally.

She backed Trump’s desired rollback of Obamacare, but during her two debates with Ossoff, she sidestepped any utterance of Trump’s name to a point where Jim Galloway, a columnist for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, cracked that “the clothes have no emperor.”

“Let us be clear,” Galloway wrote in an analysis of the first debate. “There is a 70-year-old man with a battleship of a comb-over named Donald Trump, and he lives in the White House. He really, truly exists.”

Galloway was in fact noting that Ossoff, too, tended to steer away from Trump talk, and that will be discussed extensively and debated furiously in the days, weeks and months to come, as Democrats second-guess his approach and plot a path forward.

The party has been bitterly divided over whether that route should veer toward the left, which is where Bernie Sanders is beckoning it, or toward the center. Ossoff chose the latter, electing not to put his chips on the demonization of Trump, lest he offend all the district voters who had put faith in the president. His positions, in aggregate, were moderate.

I think that was the right call, given the demographics of this district, in the northern Atlanta suburbs. It’s no lefty enclave.

My guess is that Handel’s success owed a great deal to the assertiveness with which Republicans painted Ossoff as a liberal puppet, ready to have Nancy Pelosi pull his strings. Because he’s just 30, had a paltry record to invoke and seemed to be getting ahead of himself by running in a district in which he wasn’t even residing, he was ripe to be defined — and caricatured — by the other side.

That’s one lesson to take away from this: Candidates matter. And Ossoff’s defeat may make it more difficult for Democrats to recruit the best ones for the equally tough House races to come. Those ditherers craved encouragement, as did the party. It eludes all of them still.

STFU and sit the fuck down, Frank.

Friedman and Bruni

June 14, 2017

The Moustache of Wisdom, in “Solving the Korea Crisis by Teaching a Horse to Sing,” says America is the odd man out in the drama on the Korean Peninsula.  In “The Mortification of Jeff Sessions” Mr. Bruni invites us to behold the wages of drawing too close to Donald Trump.  Here’s TMOW, writing from Seoul:

Some stories have to be experienced to fully grasp — the Korea crisis is one of them. I arrived in Seoul on the evening of May 28. As I was dressing for breakfast the next morning, I was jarred by a news alert ringing on my phone: North Korea had just fired a short-range ballistic missile that had landed in the sea off its east coast.

I waited for the sirens to tell us to go to the hotel shelter, as happened when I was in Israel during a Hamas rocket attack. But there were no sirens. Nothing. The breakfast buffet was packed. The mood was: Another North Korean missile test? Oh, pay no attention to our crazy cousins. Could you pass the kimchi, please?

I was immediately reminded of my favorite quote from when I lived in Beirut during the Lebanese civil war, where people also became inured to the constant threat of violence. It was from a Beirut hostess who asked her dinner guests, “Would you like to eat now or wait for the cease-fire?”

A few hours after the missile test, two U.S. B-1B Lancer strategic bombers out of Guam flew right up to the North’s border on what North Korea called “a nuclear bomb dropping drill.” No matter. The South Korean stock market didn’t flinch.

In fact, one of the most popular housing markets for young Koreans today is Musan, located just south of the DMZ, the demilitarized zone separating the South from the North. It’s an easy commute to Seoul, and young people have gamed out that if the North launched rockets or artillery shells, they would likely go over their heads because they are so close to the border! Human beings! God love ’em. Their ability to adapt never ceases to amaze me.

I interviewed a group of South Korean college students at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies, and here’s what some said: “The fear has been diluted — as time goes by you just get used to it.” “We don’t really believe that North Korea can harm us or launch war, because we think we are stronger than them economically and militarily.” “We heard the G.D.P. gap between us and North Korea is 20 times, and we don’t want to pay more taxes to fix them up.” “When I went to the U.S. I freaked out [over] why people there care more about North Korea than me.”

After a couple of days of such discussions, I realized that America is now the odd man out in this drama. Why? Because China and South Korea have one thing in common: The thing they fear most is not a North Korean nuclear missile blowing them up. It’s North Korea either blowing itself up — economically collapsing under the weight of sanctions — or being blown up by America.

That would spill refugees and fissile material into China and South Korea, presenting both with a huge cleanup bill and China with a possible united Korea with a nuclear weapon next door.

The U.S. — by contrast — now fears North Korea blowing us up, or at least Los Angeles. It would not be an exaggeration to say that Washington fears North Korea more than ever, while China and South Korea fear a unilateral U.S. strike on North Korea more than ever.

Or, as Rob Litwak, the Wilson Center Korea arms control expert, described it: Seoul’s fear that Donald Trump could draw it into a catastrophic conflict on the Korean Peninsula “brings to mind Charles de Gaulle’s admonition during the Cuban missile crisis that being a U.S. ally ran the risk of ‘annihilation without representation.’”

And that’s why the U.S. has dispatched to South Korea Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) antimissile batteries. But the new South Korean president is delaying their full deployment, fearing it will provoke the North or alienate China — which doesn’t like a U.S. antimissile system near its border that can also cover its airspace; China has imposed a partial economic boycott on Seoul to make that clear.

Chaibong Hahm, president of the Asan Institute, explained, “When North Korea started to develop weapons of mass destruction that threatened us, the U.S. tried to assure us and Japan that ‘we will protect you.’” Hahm said: “And the big question then was: ‘Is the U.S. deterrence real? Will it really protect us?’”

But when North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un also started threatening the U.S. by building a long-range nuclear missile, the story shifted for America. “It was not about reassuring us anymore but its own people,” added Hahm, “which means that Washington does not have to consult us. It can do what it needs to do.” And Trump’s America-first rhetoric only amplifies the worry here that he will. Some people “are more scared of [Trump] than Kim Jong-un,” concluded Hahm. “Kim Jong-un they understand.”

North Korea gets 95 percent of its oil from China. Beijing could shut down the North’s economy overnight by shutting off that oil. But it hasn’t. It has suspended purchases of North Korean coal, hurting Pyongyang financially, but not enough to stop missile testing. For now, it appears that China will do just enough to keep Trump at bay — by keeping North Korea from putting the last screws on a nuclear missile that can hit the U.S. — but never enough to collapse the regime or definitively end its nuclear program.

What about diplomacy? For now, North Korea shows no willingness to trade its nuclear arsenal for guarantees that the U.S. will not pursue regime change, and Trump is not going to give such guarantees without total denuclearization.

In sum, China and South Korea don’t dare starve the North for fear it could collapse. They don’t dare shoot it for fear it could shoot back. They and the Americans don’t dare negotiate with Kim for fear that they will end up blessing his nukes — and because they don’t trust him to keep any deal. And they don’t dare ignore him, because he keeps getting stronger.

So we all wait — for something.

Indeed, the whole situation reminds me of the medieval fable of the criminal hauled before the king to plead for his life and successfully does so by promising that if the king spared his life for a year he could teach the king’s favorite horse to sing.

When the criminal got back to his cell, his cellmate scoffed at him: You could never teach the king’s horse to sing if you had a lifetime. And the man said: “No matter. I have a year now that I didn’t have before. And a lot of things can happen in a year. The king might die. The horse might die. I might die. And, who knows? Maybe the horse will sing.”

And that is our North Korea policy. Waiting for something to solve this insoluble problem. Waiting for a horse to sing.

Now here’s Mr. Bruni:

The appearance of Jeff Sessions before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday didn’t bring us much closer to understanding what did or didn’t happen between Donald Trump and the Russians, or what the president has or hasn’t done to cover it up. Sessions batted away many questions. His answers to others were gauzy and useless.

But as I watched him, a flustered Gump in the headlights, I saw a broader story, a dark parable of bets misplaced and souls under siege. This is what happens when you draw too close to Trump.

You’re diminished at best, mortified at worst. You’ve either done work dirtier than you meant to or told fibs bigger than you ought to or been sullied by contact or been thrown to the wolves.

One day, you’re riding high on the myth of Trump as a transformative figure and reasoning that some tweaking of norms and maybe even breaking of rules are an inevitable part of the unconventional equation.

The next, you’re ensnared in his recklessness, at the mercy of his tempestuousness and quite possibly the butt of his rage: the case with Sessions, who sank low enough that he felt compelled last month to offer Trump his resignation.

“It’s just like through the looking glass: What is this?” Sessions said during his Senate testimony, and while he was alluding to the suggestion that he and the Russian ambassador had plotted together to steal a presidential election, he could just as easily have been referring to the warped topography of Trumplandia.

It’s a reputation-savaging place. Ask Rod Rosenstein for sure. Herbert McMaster, too. Also James Mattis. Sean Spicer. Reince Priebus. Rex Tillerson. Dan Coats. All have been under pressure, undercut or contradicted. They’ve been asked to pledge their fidelity to — even proclaim their adoration for — a man who adores only himself.

My God, that video, the one of the cabinet in full session at long last. I’ve never seen anything like it. It’s the most chilling measure yet of Trump’s narcissism, and it’s a breathtaking glimpse into what that means for the people around him.

They don’t volunteer purplish flattery like that because it’s their wont. He wants it so badly that they cough it up. To buoy his ego, they debase themselves, and what you heard them doing in that meeting wasn’t just swallowing their pride but choking on it. They looked like hostages — hostages in need of the Heimlich.

Well, most of them. Mike Pence has discovered a freaky talent for such freakish sycophancy, and called it “the greatest privilege of my life” to assist “the president who’s keeping his word to the American people.” (Which word is that?) He sounded like he believed it. The mysteries of faith, indeed.

A few others in the meeting summoned less ardor. “It’s an honor,” Mattis said, but then continued, “to represent the men and women of the Department of Defense.” Trump turned away just then, as if the absence of his name equaled the loss of his interest.

Mattis has suffered the humiliation of assuring allies of our commitment to NATO just before Trump, without warning him, sowed doubts about precisely that. McMaster, whose book “Dereliction of Duty” is expressly about talking truth to power, found himself at a lectern doing damage control for his damage-prone boss. He vouched that Trump’s divulgence of classified information to Russian officials at the White House was no big deal.

No one in Trump’s administration was forced into this service and its compromises. Some hungered for power, in whatever bastard package delivered it. At least a few, like Sessions, had poisoned reputations already.

But there were those with higher motives, too, and they find themselves in a White House governed by dread. Who’s next to be shamed? What tweet or tantrum awaits? They thought that they’d be bolstering a leader. They see now that they’re holding a grenade.

You could sense the stress of that in Sessions, who endorsed Trump before any other senator did, won the prize of attorney general but on Tuesday was the prosecuted, not the prosecutor.

At times he had a hurt, helpless air. He cried foul at the “secret innuendo being leaked out there about me.”

He called the suggestion that he’d conspired with Russia “an appalling and detestable lie.”

“I did not recuse myself from defending my honor against scurrilous and false allegations,” he declared. No, but he made it a hell of a lot harder the moment he took Trump’s hand.

For all Trump’s career and all his campaign, he played the part of Midas, claiming that everything he touched turned to gold. That was never true. This is: Almost everyone who touches him is tarnished, whether testifying or not.

Friedman and Bruni

June 7, 2017

In “Trump Lies. China Thrives.” TMOW says the president is a serial liar, but he’s right that Beijing plays unfair on trade.  Mr. Bruni has a question in “Donald Trump Is Never to Blame:” What’s a president with such incompetent underlings to do?  Here’s TMOW:

One of the many dangers posed to our society by having a president who’s a serial liar — and who doesn’t behave like an adult, let alone a president — is that we more easily ignore him even if he happens to say something true.

Yes, some things are true even if Donald Trump believes them. I explored one of them in China last week — Trump’s charge that China is playing unfair on trade.

My visit to Beijing left me with two very strong responses. The first is that we underestimate China — and attribute all of its surge in growth to unfair trade practices — at our peril. The country has been fast and smart at adopting new technologies, particularly the mobile internet. For instance, China has moved so fast into a cashless society, where everyone pays for everything with a mobile phone, that Chinese newspapers report beggars in major cities have started to place a printout of a QR code in their begging bowls so any passer-by can scan it and use mobile payment apps like Alibaba’s Alipay or Tencent’s WeChat Wallet to contribute to the beggar’s mobile payment account.

Chinese men and women friends tell me they don’t carry purses or wallets anymore, only a mobile phone, which they use for everything — including for buying vegetables from street vendors.

“America has been dreaming of becoming a cashless society,” Ya-Qin Zhang, president of Baidu, China’s main search engine, remarked to me, “but China is already there.” It has “leapfrogged the rest of world” and is now going mobile-first in everything.

Wang Xing, the founder of Meituan.com — a Chinese mobile website that is a combination of Fandango, Yelp, OpenTable, Grubhub, TripAdvisor, Booking.com and Angie’s List — told me that he has around 300,000 people on electric bicycles who deliver takeout food and groceries to 10 million Chinese mobile internet users daily. “We are the largest food delivery company in the world,” said Xing.

And in an age when raw data from the internet of people and the internet of things is the new oil, the fact that China has 700 million people doing so many transactions daily on the mobile internet means it’s piling up massive amounts of information that can be harvested to identify trends and spur new artificial intelligence applications.

Moreover, while Trump is pulling out of the Paris climate deal, China is steadily pulling out of coal. Xin Guo, C.E.O. of Career International, told me two of his hottest job openings in China are in “software and new energy” — everyone is looking for engineers for electric cars, solar and wind. Walter Fang, a top executive at iSoftStone, which helps design China’s smart, sustainable cities, told me that “just two weeks ago I brought in about a dozen green energy start-up companies from Massachusetts” to show them opportunities in China.

And yet, as smart as China has been in adopting new technologies, Trump’s broad complaint that China is not playing fair on trade and has grown in some areas at the expense of U.S. and European workers has merit and needs to be addressed — now. Before going to Beijing I emailed the smartest person I know inside China on trade (who will have to go nameless) and asked if Trump had a point.

He answered: “Your note has arrived as I slide across the Chinese countryside at 300 kilometers per hour from Beijing to Shanghai. There are nearly 60 trains going from Beijing to Shanghai every day, typically with 16 cars able to carry nearly 1,300 people. … We glide past endless brand-new factories and immaculate apartment buildings in practically every city along the way, with many more still under construction. As you suspect, I have been sympathetic to many of Trump’s trade and industrial policy ideas. But if anything, Trump may be too late.”

Ouch.

The core problem, U.S. and European business leaders based in China explained, is that when the U.S. allowed China to join the World Trade Organization in 2001 and gain much less restricted access to our markets, we gave China the right to keep protecting parts of its market — because it was a “developing economy.” The assumption was that as China reformed and become more of our equal, its trade barriers and government aid to Chinese companies would melt away.

They did not. China grew in strength, became America’s equal in many fields and continued to protect its own companies from foreign competition, either by limiting access or demanding that foreign companies take on a Chinese partner and transfer their intellectual property to China as the price of access, or by funneling Chinese firms low-interest loans to grow and buy foreign competitors.

Once those companies got big enough, they were unleashed on the world. China plans to use this strategy to implement its new plan — “Made in China 2025” — to make itself the world leader in electric vehicles, new materials, artificial intelligence, semiconductors, bio-pharmacy, 5G mobile communications and other industries.

The latest annual survey of the American Chamber of Commerce in China, released in January, found that 81 percent of its members felt “less welcome” in China than in the past and had little confidence any longer that China would carry through on promises to open its markets. APCO Worldwide’s James McGregor, one of the keenest observers of China trade, recently noted that China tells the world that its policy is “reform and opening,” but on the ground its policy “more resembles reform and closing.”

Today, Alibaba can set up its own cloud server in America, but Amazon or Microsoft can’t do the same in China. China just agreed to allow U.S. credit card giants, like Visa and MasterCard, access to its huge market — something it was required to do under W.T.O. rules but just dragged its feet on for years — but now domestic Chinese financial services companies, like UnionPay, so dominate the Chinese market that U.S. companies will be left to fight over the scraps. The world leader in industrial robots, the German company Kuka Robotics, was just bought by the Chinese company Midea; Beijing would never allow the U.S. to buy one of China’s industrial gems like that.

This is not fair. China needs to know that some people who disagree with everything else Trump stands for — and who value a strong U.S.-China relationship — might just support Trump’s idea for a border-adjustment tax on imports to level the playing field. Because our economic relationship with China is out of whack — and not just because China makes great products, but because we do, too, and it’s high time they are all allowed through China’s front door.

Now here’s Mr. Bruni:

Poor Donald Trump, so late to the lesson that so many plutocrats before him learned: You can’t find good help.

Jeff Sessions? What a bust. True, he was never the nimblest newt in the swamp and had all that racial muck in his past. But he mirrored his master’s irreverence and atavism, with slighter dimensions and a Southern accent: Donald in a Dixie cup. Surely Sessions and his Justice Department could be expected to accomplish something as straightforward as keeping the Muslims at bay.

Hah. More than four months since the inauguration, there’s meager, flickering hope for the travel ban that wasn’t a travel ban until it became a travel ban again. The fault for that cannot possibly lie with its foundation of bigotry, its shoddy conception or the president’s own sloppy and shifting characterizations of it over time. No, there must be a fall guy with less shimmering tresses. The buck stops anywhere but hair.

So does the pound, the euro and every last bit of spare change and pocket lint. If Trump is feuding with the London mayor, it’s the mayor who should be abashed. If Trump is at odds with Angela Merkel, she must have something to apologize for. Never mind his baseless tweets and boundless pique. He’s the American president, they’re not, and global hegemony means never having to say you’re sorry.

But back to the Potomac and his principal aides, unprincipled underlings and princeling of a son-in-law, each more incompetent than the next.

The buck stops with Sean Spicer, who kept wandering from the script like a toddler into traffic. All he had to do was stick to his lines: The president’s proposals are the wisest. The president’s ethics are the purest. The president’s crowds are the biggest. The president’s detractors fall into three camps: illegals, commies and Samantha Bee.

He couldn’t manage that much, or rather that little, and so Sarah Huckabee Sanders is claiming ever more podium time. She won’t last. No one will. The relevant sinkhole isn’t the one that opened up just outside Mar-a-Loco last month. It’s the one beneath the feet of anyone dippy, delusional or daring enough to think that Trumplandia is terrain on which to make a positive difference, let alone a career.

The buck stops with Jared Kushner, never mind that his grandiosity and shortcuts were emulations of dear old dad-in-law. He has lumbered onto investigators’ radar and thus teetered ever so slightly from favor — that’s Steve Bannon chortling in the background — though he reportedly tasted Trump’s rancor before, when he hid in Aspen during the health care debacle, skiing while Washington churned.

Where will the buck stop next? With the tiniest Trump, Barron? He has some nerve doing homework while tax reform is still being hammered out and infrastructure is just coming together.

Trump’s quickness to deflect blame, readiness to designate scapegoats, unpredictable tirades and stinginess with the loyalty that he demands from others aren’t just character flaws. They’re serious and quite possibly insurmountable obstacles to governing.

Those who serve him are forever fearful of being undercut, perpetually having to defend behavior from him that’s indefensible, and demoralized as a result. Consider Defense Secretary James Mattis, whose torments were summarized by James Hohmann this week in The Washington Post. How can the country get the best from him when he’s getting the worst from Trump?

Many of the country’s diplomats are in a funk, as my Times colleague Mark Landler just recounted, and the ludicrously large number of unfilled positions throughout the administration partly reflects the limited appeal of such a gloomy club. There was never any overflow of top-tier applicants, given how many Republicans swore off Trump and how many others were spurned by him for not being obsequious enough.

But now that the terms of working for him — ridicule by tweet, potentially stratospheric legal bills — are clear, the pool of available talent is a puddle too shallow to keep a newt afloat. Mike Allen reported in Axios on Tuesday morning that the creation of Trump’s “war room” — a battalion of lawyers and such who would do damage control during the Russia probe — is on hold, because he can’t find the soldiers to staff it.

By many accounts, the atmosphere in the White House is one part high school cafeteria, two parts “Lord of the Flies.” Aides who are jockeying for position and trying to safeguard their reputations ask operatives on the outside to whisper to the media that they’re up while their rivals are down, and so we’re subjected to a daily Dow Jones on the stock of various players, with special note of who has Oval Office “walk-in privileges.”

I suspect that the Trump era will flip that phrase, and the people walking out of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue will be seen as — and be — the privileged ones.

Friedman and Bruni

May 31, 2017

In “Trump’s United American Emirate” The Moustache of Wisdom tells us that America now has a monarchy in the White House, headed by an emir named Donald.  Mr. Bruni, in “How We Really Die,” says countries rich and poor confront the same diseases, which Michael Bloomberg is upping the fight against.  Here’s TMOW, writing from Seoul:

President Trump’s trip to Europe was truly historic.

He left our most important allies there so uncertain about America’s commitment to their security from Russia and to shared values on trade and climate change that German leader Angela Merkel was prompted to tell her countrymen that Europe’s days of relying on America are “over to a certain extent,” and therefore Germany and its European allies “really must take our fate into our own hands.”

No U.S. president before had ever put a crack in the Atlantic alliance on his inaugural tour. Historic.

Merkel is just the first major leader to say out loud what every American ally is now realizing: America is under new management. “Who is America today?” is the first question I’ve been asked on each stop through New Zealand, Australia and South Korea. My answer: We’re not the U.S.A. anymore. We’re the new U.A.E.: the United American Emirate.

We have an emir. His name is Donald. We have a crown prince. His name is Jared. We have a crown princess. Her name is Ivanka. We have a consultative council (Congress) that rubber-stamps whatever the emir wants. And like any good monarchy, our ruling family sees no conflict of interest between its personal businesses and those of the state.

So any lingering Kennedyesque thoughts about us should be banished, I explained. Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay no price, bear no burden, meet no hardship, support no friend, oppose no foe to assure the success of liberty — unless we’re paid in advance. And we take cash, checks, gold, Visa, American Express, Bitcoin and memberships in Mar-a-Lago.

The Trump doctrine is very simple: There are just four threats in the world: terrorists who will kill us, immigrants who will rape us or take our jobs, importers and exporters who will take our industries — and North Korea. Threats to democracy, free trade, the environment and human rights are no longer on our menu. Therefore, no matter how unsavory you are as a foreign leader, you can be the United American Emirate’s best friend if you:

1.) Pay us by buying our weapons. I warn you, though, Saudi Arabia has set the bar very high, starting at $110 billion.

2.) Pay us in higher defense spending for NATO — not to deter Russia, which is using cyberwarfare to disrupt every democratic election it can, but to deter “terrorism,” something that tanks and planes are useless against.

3.) Pay us in trade concessions. And it doesn’t matter how lame those concessions are. All that matters is that Emir Trump can claim “concessions.” See the recent “trade concessions” to Trump from China. (Pay no attention to that laughter from Beijing.)

4.) Pay us by freeing any U.S. citizen you arrested on trumped-up charges to annoy Barack Obama and to intimidate human rights activists. See Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s release of a U.S.-Egyptian charity worker, Aya Hijazi, who was working with homeless children.

5.) Pay us by grossly flattering our emir about how much of an improvement he is over Obama. See President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines and Bibi Netanyahu of Israel.

6.) Be Russia, and you pay nothing.

Now, if you do any one of these six things the United American Emirate’s commitment to you — and it’s ironclad — is that you can do anything you want “out back.” You can deprive your people of whatever human rights you like out back. You can be as corrupt as you want out back. You can steal as many elections as you like out back. Just keep the arms purchases coming, the NATO dues rising, the phony trade concessions flowing and the compliments gushing — or be Vladimir Putin — and anything goes.

Too harsh? Not at all. Being in Korea and seeing how much this country has grown out of poverty over the last 50 years by adopting all of our values — so much so that it just impeached its president for corruption after a peaceful “candlelight” mass protest based entirely on American democratic software — it makes you weep to think that virtually the only thing Trump’s had to say about Korea is that it’s a freeloader on our army (not even true) and needs to pay up.

Does Trump have a point that German economic policies have dampened its imports and disadvantaged southern Europe? Yes, he does. And NATO members should fulfill the alliance’s long-term spending targets. But how much is Germany spending to absorb one million Syrian refugees so they won’t be joining ISIS? How much security is that buying the world? The U.S. took 18,000 Syrians. Trump’s friend Putin took zero, but Trump never thinks about such things.

It took us decades to build the Atlantic alliance and it has brought us so many tangible and intangible benefits in the form of security, stability, growth and friendships. Trump could actually break it, not just crack it.

This week for the first time I saw the official photographs that now grace the entry halls of all U.S. embassies. Vice President Mike Pence is smiling warmly. Trump is actually scowling. If his picture had a caption, it would be: “Get off my lawn.”

It could also say: “Let all who enter this embassy know: We don’t do alliances any more. We only do Master Limited Partnerships. Interested? Call 1-202-456-1414. Operators are standing by.”

And now here’s Mr. Bruni:

Over recent years, without much media fanfare, something fascinating occurred, a reminder that for all the ways in which we seem to be sliding backward, we’re lurching forward, too.

The developing world turned a corner — thanks to medical advances, rising wealth and more — and communicable diseases like malaria and AIDS now kill fewer of its people than noncommunicable ones like heart disease, strokes, respiratory ailments and diabetes do.

But awareness of this progress lags far behind it. According to the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, noncommunicable diseases were responsible for 67 percent of deaths in low- and middle-income countries in 2015, but only about 1 percent of the foreign aid and donations dedicated to health care was aimed at preventing and treating them.

That discrepancy is showcased in an open letter that Michael Bloomberg publishes every year to explain the direction of Bloomberg Philanthropies, which gives away hundreds of millions of dollars annually, much of it to promote health.

He provided me with an advance copy and sat down with me last week to underscore its plea that nonprofits and governments work harder to fight noncommunicable diseases.

Viewed one way, he’s trying to globalize priorities from his time as mayor of New York, where he waged wars against smoking and trans fats and coaxed people to eat smarter and exercise more.

“In 12 years in City Hall, life expectancy increased by three years,” he said, referring to New York during his mayoralty, which ended in 2013. As he spoke, he nibbled from several bowls of snacks — blackberries, grapes, carrots — arrayed colorfully before us like props in a movie devoted to an obvious theme.

I asked him if his public crusades had made him a private health nut.

Yes and no, he said, copping to too much bread and conceding that he means to exercise daily but often manages only four times a week. He hasn’t smoked in many decades, though.

“A friend of mine once said the way to stop smoking is to close your eyes, think about the person you dislike the most,” Bloomberg, 75, told me. “Now, do you want to be at their funeral or you want them to be at yours?”

He was making a point about how difficult it can be for people to change their behavior, which is a big part of foiling noncommunicable diseases. It’s also one reason those diseases don’t always generate the concern that something like Zika or Ebola does. They’re regarded as the sufferer’s fault.

There are other reasons, too. A communicable disease can spread fast and far and kill indiscriminate of age.

But heart disease, respiratory ailments and diabetes — all among the world’s top 10 causes of death — also end the lives of many people still in their prime. And they’re often abetted by environmental factors within government’s influence.

We’ve used taxes to lessen the appeal of cigarettes and can take a similar approach with sugary beverages. We can construct parks and bike lanes.

We can clean the air. We can improve road safety; traffic injuries were the 10th leading cause of death globally in 2015, according to the World Health Organization.

Bloomberg is advocating all of this in a new role as the W.H.O.’s global ambassador for noncommunicable diseases. And his charitable organization’s Partnership for Healthy Cities provides money and other support to local governments around the world that implement policies to prevent noncommunicable diseases, road injuries or both. A decade ago, his organization funded two programs along these lines; now it funds nine. He has committed more than $800 million over the next six years to these efforts.

He noted that while many countries have cut smoking rates, none has made significant inroads against obesity, maybe because people don’t deem someone else’s extreme overweightness to be a concern of theirs, the way secondhand smoke is.

“You have 80 percent that want you to stop smoking,” he said. “Zero percent want you to stop being obese.” People need to understand better the wages of obesity, but such education isn’t easy.

“What percentage of the public would know the name of the vice president of the United States?” he said, noting that many Americans don’t. “It’s hard to get a message out.”

Ah, politics. I knew we’d get there. Bloomberg, an independent who opposed Donald Trump, said that Democrats never found an effective message. “Hillary said, ‘Vote for me because I’m a woman and the other guy’s bad,’ ” he said.

They’re still searching for the right issues and words, he said, and too many have visions of 2020 dancing in their heads.

“They’ll step on each other and re-elect Donald Trump,” he told me, estimating “a 55 percent chance he gets re-elected.”

Fifty-five percent? Whether good for my longevity or not, I need a cookie.

Screw the cookie — I need a drink.

Friedman and Bruni

May 24, 2017

The Moustache of Wisdom has been on ” A Road Trip Through Rusting and Rising America” and tells us that the comeback of distressed and lost communities is the story of Bill Clinton’s America, not Donald Trump’s.  Mr. Bruni says “Mitch Landrieu Reminds Us That Eloquence Still Exists,” and that the mayor of New Orleans just gave a speech on race and history that you need to hear.  Here’s TMOW, writing from Oak Ridge, Tennessee:

In his dystopian Inaugural Address, President Trump painted a picture of America as a nation gripped by vast “carnage” — a landscape of “rusted-out factories scattered like tombstones” that cried out for a strongman to put “America first” and stop the world from stealing our jobs. It was a shocking speech in many ways and reportedly prompted former President George W. Bush to say to those around him on the dais, “That was some really weird [stuff].”

It was weird, but was it all wrong?

I just took a four-day car trip through the heart of that landscape — driving from Austin, Ind., down through Louisville, Ky., winding through Appalachia and ending up at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee to try to answer that question.

Trump is half right in his diagnosis, but his prescription is 100 percent wrong. We do have an epidemic of failing communities. But we also have a bounty of thriving ones — not because of a strongman in Washington but because of strong leaders at the local level.

Indeed, this notion that America is a nation divided between two coasts that are supposedly thriving, pluralizing and globalizing and a vast flyover interior, where jobs have disappeared, drug addiction is rife and everyone is hoping Trump can bring back the 1950s, is highly inaccurate.

The big divide in America is not between the coasts and the interior. It’s between strong communities and weak communities. You can find weak ones along the coast and thriving ones in Appalachia, and vice versa. It’s community, stupid — not geography.

The communities that are making it share a key attribute: They’ve created diverse adaptive coalitions, where local businesses get deeply involved in the school system, translating in real time the skills being demanded by the global economy.

They also tap local colleges for talent and innovations that can diversify their economies and nurture unique local assets that won’t go away. Local foundations and civic groups step in to fund supplemental learning opportunities and internships, and local governments help to catalyze it all.

The success stories are all bottom-up; the failures are all where the bottom has fallen out.

I started in one of the bottomless places: Austin, Ind., a tiny town of 4,000 off Interstate 65, which was described in a brilliant series in The Louisville Courier-Journal “as the epicenter of a medical disaster,” where citizens of all ages are getting hooked on liquefied painkillers and shooting up with dirty needles.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed that Austin “contains the largest drug-fueled H.I.V. outbreak to hit rural America in recent history.” Its 5 percent infection rate “is comparable to some African nations.” Austin, the newspaper noted, doesn’t just sit at the intersection between Indianapolis and Louisville but at the “intersection of hopelessness and economic ruin.”

I chose to go there to meet the town’s only doctor, Will Cooke, whose heroic work I learned of from the Courier-Journal series. Cooke’s clinic, Foundations Family Medicine, sits at 25 West Main Street — opposite Marko’s Pizza & Sub, a liquor store and a drugstore. Down the street was a business combination I’d never seen before: Eagle’s Nest Tanning and Storage. It’s the Kissed by the Sun Tanning Salon and a warehouse — both of which seemed to be shuttered, with the space available for rent.

For generations Austin’s economy was anchored by the Morgan Foods canning plant, but, as The Courier-Journal noted, “then came a series of economic blows familiar to many manufacturing-based communities. The American Can plant next to Morgan Foods shut its doors in 1986 after more than 50 years in business. A local supermarket closed. Workers left along with the jobs and poverty crept up among those who stayed.”

Austin, Cooke explained to me, got caught in the vortex of declining blue-collar jobs, leading to a loss of dignity for breadwinners, depression and family breakdown, coinciding with doctors’ and drug companies’ pushing painkillers, and with too many people in the community failing to realize that to be in the middle class now required lifelong learning — not just to get a job but to hold one.

“Thirty percent of students were not even graduating from high school,” said Cooke. “Then you take high unemployment, generational poverty, homelessness, childhood abuse and neglect, and cloak that within a closed-off culture inherited from Appalachia, and you begin to have the ingredients that contributed to the H.I.V. outbreak.”

Austin’s insularity proved deadly for both jobs and families. “The close-knit, insular nature of the community worked against it, with the C.D.C. later finding up to six people shared needles at one sitting, and two or three generations — young adults, parents and grandparents — sometimes shot up together,” The Courier-Journal reported.

Lately, though, Cooke told me, the town’s prospects have started to improve, precisely because the community has come together, not to shoot up but to start up and learn up and give a hand up. “The local high school has introduced college-credit classes and trade programs so people are graduating with a head start,” said Cooke. Faith-based and civic groups have mobilized, celebrating social and economic recovery, providing community dinners called “Food 4R Soul” and even installing community showers for people without running water.

Addiction is often a byproduct of social breakdown leading to a sense of isolation. Cooke feels hopeful because he sees the tide slowly shifting as “social isolation gives way to community.”

“Only a healthy individual can contribute to a healthy family, and only a healthy family can contribute to a healthy community — and all of that requires a foundation of trust,” said Cooke. “That kind of change can’t come from the outside, it has to be homegrown.”

I shared with him the business philosopher Dov Seidman’s admonition that “trust is the only legal performance-enhancing drug.” Dr. Cooke liked that a lot and only wished he could prescribe it as easily as others had prescribed opioids.

But just 40 minutes down the highway from Austin, I interviewed Greg Fischer, the mayor of Louisville, a city bustling with energy and new buildings. “That ‘Intifada’ you wrote about in the Middle East is happening in parts of rural and urban America — people saying, ‘I feel disconnected and hopeless about participating in a rapidly changing global economy.’ Drug-related violence and addiction is one result — including in a few neighborhoods of Louisville.”

But Louisville also has another story to tell: “We have 30,000 job openings,” said Fischer, and for the best of reasons: Louisville has “a vision for how a city can be a platform for human potential to flourish.” It combines “strategies of the heart,” like asking everyone to regularly give a day of service to the city; strategies of science, like “citizen scientists” bearing GPS-enabled inhalers that the city uses to track air pollution, mitigate it and warn asthma suffers; and strategies for job creation that leverage Louisville’s unique assets.

One job-creation strategy led to a slew of new businesses that make “end of runway” products for rapid delivery by leveraging the fact that Louisville is UPS’s worldwide air hub; “bourbon tourism” that leverages the fact that Kentucky is the Napa Valley of bourbon; a partnership with Lexington, home of the University of Kentucky, has created an advanced manufacturing corridor; and by leveraging Humana’s headquarters in Louisville, the city has unleashed a lifelong wellness and aging-care industry.

Show me a community that understands today’s world and is working together to thrive within it, and I’ll show you a community on the rise — coastal or interior, urban or rural.

I found more such communities as I moved south on Interstate 75 through Tennessee to Oak Ridge, home of the Manhattan Project facilities where the enriched uranium for the “Little Boy” atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima was produced.

Today, the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, which sprawls across two counties, is still involved with nuclear weaponry, but its supercomputer, one of the world’s most powerful, and its hundreds of scientists help drive a broad array of research in energy, materials science, 3-D manufacturing, robotics, physics, cybersecurity and nuclear medicine — research it now actively shares with the surrounding Appalachian communities to spawn new industries and jobs.

Sitting on the spot where the K-25 Manhattan Project facility once stood, I interviewed Ron Woody, county executive for Roane County, where Oak Ridge is partly located, and Steve Jones, an industrial recruiter hired by the city of Oak Ridge to seek out companies interested in investing in the region or leveraging spinouts from Oak Ridge’s labs. That kind of active entrepreneurship is a new thing for Roane County, where generations of people have known only a government job.

“Back in the 1980s you had the T.V.A. [Tennessee Valley Authority], and it had over 50,000 employees. Now it has 10,000 employees,” explained Woody, so “we were not diversified in our employment. We had to convince the public that we can’t rely on the Oak Ridge lab and T.V.A. The Cold War is over. So our communities had to make a big transition from a lot of government programs to very few.”

It’s starting to work, said Woody, “but progress is slow.” One of those success stories was luring a former three-time Tour de France winner, Greg LeMond, to open a 65,000-square-foot factory for his new company, LeMond Composites, for making lightweight carbon-fiber bikes, based on new materials pioneered at Oak Ridge.

“The research Oak Ridge has done is going to change the way we make things,” LeMond explained to me, as we sat in his new factory. “It is a really exciting future. My goal is that you will be able to go on my website and design your own bike out of carbon fiber.”

But just because there are workers looking for employment and there are new jobs opening, it isn’t automatic that local people work in those jobs, explained Jones, the recruiter. Because of the opioid crisis, many people cannot pass the mandatory drug test — and years of working for the government has left them unprepared for the pace of today’s private sector.

“The two biggest issues we are dealing with are the soft skills and passing the drug test,” explained Woody. “I thought the problem was that people needed more STEM skills.” But that’s not the case.

It turns out that it’s not that hard to train someone, even with just a high school or community college degree, to operate an advanced machine tool or basic computer. “Factory managers would say, ‘I will train them and put them to work tomorrow in good jobs” requiring hard skills, said Woody. “The problem they have is finding people with the right soft skills.”

What are those soft skills? I asked. “Employers just want someone who will get up, dress up, show up, shut up and never give up,” Woody responded without hesitation. And there are fewer workers with those soft skills than you might think, he added.

When new companies come into the area today, noted Jones, who grew up on a farm, they ask specifically for young people who were either in a 4-H club or Future Farmers of America (now called FFA) because kids with a farming background are much more likely to get up, dress up, show up on time and never give up in a new job.

Soft skills also include the willingness to be a lifelong learner, because jobs are changing so quickly. For instance, the Oak Ridge lab is partnering to embed top-level local technical talent as entrepreneurial research fellows in advanced manufacturing who want to start companies in this realm. Every summer Oak Ridge’s M.D.F. — Manufacturing Demonstration Facility — hosts 100 young interns to learn the latest in 3-D printing, and its experts coach teams from local high schools for national robotics competitions.

The beauty of 3-D printers is that any community can now go into the manufacturing business, explained Lonnie Love, a corporate fellow at Oak Ridge, as he showed me around the M.D.F., where whole car bodies and car parts are being “printed” on giant 3-D printers.

“Traditionally to make a car part you first had to build a die, and those dies cost anywhere from $500,000 to $1 million to make,” Love said. Every die consists of a female and a male die, and the way you made a car part was to stamp them together. There are hundreds of dies needed to make a car, and that was why an assembly line for a new car model in Detroit could cost upward of $200 million — and take two years to build. Sadly, that die-making industry actually moved out of America to Asia over the last 15 years, leaving only a dozen such companies in the U.S.

No more. “Large-scale 3-D printing is enabling us to re-shore that industry,” explained Love, who then offered this example: “The Naval Air Station at Cherry Point, S.C., repairs all the aircraft for the Navy on the East Coast. About a year ago their head of engineering called me on a Monday and asked if we could print a die mold for them and I said, ‘Sure, just send me the digital model of what you want printed.’

“We got it by email that afternoon, and by Friday he had the mold to make the new part. And it only weighed about 40 pounds because with 3-D printing we could make it stronger but lighter weight by hollowing out the inside. The following Monday he calls and asks me how much did it cost and how long did it take me to make? I told him it took me longer — and was more expensive — to ship it to him than it was make it.”

Think about car dealers in the future who, instead of needing a huge lot with hundreds of cars in inventory, will just custom print the car you want. “Our only inventory is carbon fiber pellets that cost $2 a pound, and we can make any product out of them,” said Love. “You won’t need inventory anymore.”

Over the last 100 years, Love concluded, we went from decentralized artisan-based manufacturing to centralized mass manufacturing on assembly lines. Today, with these emerging technologies, we can go back to artisans, which will be great for local communities that spawn a leadership and workers able to take advantage of these emerging technologies. We are going to see a world of micro-factories, and you can see them sprouting around Oak Ridge already.

“There’s a new wave of kids coming up who love this stuff,” said Love. “We can create mini-moonshots all over the place.”

The same applies to the design of the parts. Thom Mason, the director of the Oak Ridge lab, explained to me that high-performance computing “allows you to design and test out all the parts on the computer and only make those that you know will work. It is totally speeding up the iteration loop of physical manufacturing. You move all the trial and failure into the digital world — so you don’t need to do all that costly tooling of prototypes — and then go straight to manufacturing.”

But the state of Tennessee has also had its thinking cap on about the fast world. In 2014 it decided to make tuition and fees free for high school graduates who want to enroll in any state community college or technical school — on the condition that they maintain at least a C- average, stay in school for consecutive semesters, contribute eight hours of community service each semester and meet with a volunteer coach/mentor who will help them stay on track to get their degree. Starting in 2018, Tennessee adults who don’t already have a two-year degree will be able to go to any state community college and earn one free as well.

I ended my little tour in Knoxville, Tenn., where I met with the mayor at a restaurant in the newly rejuvenated downtown square, a beehive of restaurants, public art exhibitions, theaters, shopping and museums.

“Until the mid-1980s, the old economic development model here was low wages and no unions. That model wasn’t sustainable,” said Mayor Madeline Rogero, the first woman mayor of Knoxville and a former organizer for Cesar Chavez’s United Farm Workers union. “We wanted better schools, and you cannot build a great school system on the back of low-wage workers. So we started thinking about what are our unique assets and stopped selling ourselves as a low-wage town.”

The whole region came together around that project and wove an adaptive coalition that could draw in investors based on the region’s strengths. It’s call Innovation Valley, the mayor explained, and it markets the assets of the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Pellissippi State and Roane State Community Colleges, the work force skills in the metro area and available infrastructure that can be utilized by technology companies. It also stimulated a dialogue between employers and higher-learning institutions to ensure they’re meeting the labor force needs of the future.

But there are real constraints that need to be overcome. The region has a shortage of both manufacturing and back-office workers. “We face the same work force development issues that all metro areas in the U.S. are facing,” explained Bryan Daniels, president of the Blount Partnership, one of Knoxville’s regional development boards. “Our local law enforcement has described the prison populations as having approximately 65 percent opioid-related inmates.”

It is vital, therefore, for the community to develop programs to get this population back to being employable. At the same time, said Daniels, the Knoxville region is exploring new ways to get workers from outlying rural areas into the metro area labor force and help them acquire the “educational attainment they need to get their skill level up” for a modern economy. They are even studying “public-private partnerships to provide transportation for [rural] workers up to a two-hour commute radius,” he said.

This is the real picture of America today.

It’s cities and regions rising together to leverage their unique assets from the bottom up — living side by side with distressed and lost communities where the bottom has fallen out. It’s not your grandparents’ America, but it is also not Trump’s America — that land of vast carnage and an industrial wasteland. The picture is much more complex.

It’s actually Bill Clinton’s America.

Clinton once famously observed, “There is nothing wrong with America that cannot be cured with what is right in America.” That has never been more accurate — and necessary — than it is today.

What is wrong with America is that too many communities, rural and urban, have broken down. What is right with America is the many communities and regions that are coming together to help their citizens acquire the skills and opportunities to own their own futures. We need to share and scale these success stories.

Only strong communities, not a strong man, will make America great again.

Now here’s Mr. Bruni:

These are hard days of coarse language — of tweets and catcalls that appeal to the worst in us, not the best. Maybe that’s why a big, sweeping, old-fashioned speech delivered in New Orleans on Friday made such an impression on me. It was a reprieve. It was an antidote.

But it also addressed matters that are forever tripping us up — race, history, healing — better than anything I’ve heard or read in a long time. It was the masterpiece we needed at the moment we needed it, and I fear that it was lost in the brutal whirl of news these days. It shouldn’t be.

I’m referring to remarks by that city’s Democratic mayor, Mitch Landrieu, upon his removal of the last of several bitterly contested Confederate monuments there. And I’m thinking of the way his words responded to so much of what’s going on in this country without stooping to the rants that too many other Democrats are being drawn into and that represent a trap.

Although outrage is the order of the day, his speech trafficked in empathy. It felt like a holdover from a past that we left behind without exactly meaning to, and that we’d be wise to get back to.

Because Landrieu has been mentioned as a possible Democratic presidential candidate in 2020, I should spell out a few things: I’m not putting my thumb on the scale of his political future. I haven’t followed his career closely. I once crossed paths and shook hands with him. I can vouch for his grip. That’s about it.

But his speech: wow. He spent his energy not on vilifying anyone but on stating in the least hysterical, most persuasive manner possible what’s right and what’s wrong.

He didn’t talk in terms of Democrats and Republicans. He didn’t mention any political party, period. Predictably (and justly), he invoked the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Barack Obama. But he invoked George W. Bush first.

Our country’s leader was denied even a cameo. But he was most certainly present in Landrieu’s warnings about holding on to any “false narrative” and his plea that we not “marinate in historical denial.” This was a speech about facing and owning the truth.

It cut straight to the heart of things, making the case against monuments that glorify the Confederacy by asking us to consider them “from the perspective of an African-American mother or father trying to explain to their fifth-grade daughter” why a statue of the most famous Confederate general occupied such a lofty perch above the city.

“Can you look into that young girl’s eyes and convince her that Robert E. Lee is there to encourage her?” Landrieu said. “Do you think she will feel inspired — and hopeful — by that story? Do these monuments help her see a future with limitless potential?”

He then put her experience in a larger context. “Have you ever thought that if her potential is limited, yours and mine are, too?”

Landrieu dismantled the argument that statues like the one of Lee merely recognize the past by asking where the rest of that record is. “There are no slave ship monuments, no prominent markers on public land to remember the lynchings or the slave blocks,” he said, adding that the defenders of Confederate monuments “are eerily silent on what amounts to this historical malfeasance, a lie by omission.”

We talk plenty about diversity these days, but too often in abstractions, and too often by listing various minorities, tallying how they’ve been wronged and specifying what they’re owed.

Landrieu took a different tack. He indeed did a roll call of the tribes and ethnicities that built New Orleans, but he dwelled on how they’d come together — in the tapestry made possible by such varied threads — and how much poorer all of us would be without it.

“We gave the world this funky thing called jazz, the most uniquely American art form,” he said. “Think about Mardi Gras, think about muffuletta, think about the Saints, gumbo, red beans and rice. By God, just think.”

I didn’t realize how starved I was for talk like this until Landrieu fed me. It’s the stuff of solace, the grist for hope. We subsist now on a meager vocabulary of winners and “losers,” of “sad!” naysayers and “nut job” adversaries. We’re asked to see an absence of eloquence as the presence of authenticity.

But that’s bunk. Words, like monuments, matter. They nudge. They shape. That’s true when they elevate what shouldn’t be elevated, encouraging complacency or evil, and that’s just as true when they show us a better way and help us get there.

Landrieu did that, putting some poetry back in public life and demonstrating afresh that in language beautifully rendered, we find our humanity fully acknowledged.

Friedman and Bruni

May 17, 2017

In “It’s Chicken or Fish” The Moustache of Wisdom says elected Republicans won’t stand up to Trump’s abuse of power, like his asking James Comey to halt the Flynn-Russia inquiry, so now we have a choice.  (He seems pissed…)  Mr. Bruni considers “Trump’s Leaky Fate” and says maybe the most potent check on the president is the aghast people around him.  Here’s TMOW:

Since President Trump’s firing of F.B.I. Director James Comey, one question has been repeated over and over: With Democrats lacking any real governing power, are there a few good elected men or women in the Republican Party who will stand up to the president’s abuse of power as their predecessors did during Watergate?

And this question will surely get louder with the report that Trump asked Comey in February to halt the investigation into the president’s former national security adviser.

But we already know the answer: No.

The G.O.P. never would have embraced someone like Trump in the first place — an indecent man with a record of multiple bankruptcies, unpaid bills and alleged sexual harassments who lies as he breathes — for the answer to ever be yes. Virtually all the good men and women in this party’s leadership have been purged or silenced; those who are left have either been bought off by lobbies or have cynically decided to take a ride on Trump’s Good Ship Lollipop to exploit it for any number of different agendas.

It has not been without costs. Trump has made every person in his orbit look like either a “liar or a fool,” as David Axelrod put it. So call off the search. There will be no G.O.P. mutiny, even if Trump resembles Captain Queeg more each day.

That’s why the only relevant question is this: Are there tens of millions of good men and women in America ready to run and vote as Democrats or independents in the 2018 congressional elections and replace the current G.O.P. majority in the House and maybe the Senate?

Nothing else matters — this is now a raw contest of power.

And the one thing I admire about Trump and his enablers: They are not afraid of, and indeed they enjoy, exercising raw power against their opponents. They are not afraid to win by a sliver and govern as if they won by a landslide.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had the power to block President Barack Obama from naming a Supreme Court justice and he did not hesitate to use it, the Constitution be damned.

Trump had the power to appoint climate deniers to key environmental posts and he did it — science be damned. And Trump had the power to fire Comey, even though it meant firing the man investigating him for possible collusion with Russia, and Trump did just that — appearances be damned.

Democrats and independents should not be deluded or distracted by marches on Washington, clever tweets or “Saturday Night Live” skits lampooning Trump. They need power. If you are appalled by what Trump is doing — backed by House and Senate Republicans — then you need to get out of Facebook and into somebody’s face, by running for Congress as a Democrat or an independent, registering someone to vote for a Democrat or an independent, or raising money to support such candidates.

Nothing else matters.

The morally bankrupt crowd running today’s G.O.P. are getting their way not because they have better arguments — polls show majorities disagreeing with them on Comey and climate — but because they have power and are not afraid to use it, no matter what the polls say. And they will use that power to cut taxes for wealthy people, strip health care from poor people and turn climate policy over to the fossil fuel industry until someone else checks that power by getting a majority in the House or the Senate.

Personally, I’m not exactly a rabid Democrat. I’m more conservative on issues of free trade, business, entrepreneurship and use of force than many Democratic candidates. I think the country would benefit from having a smart conservative party offering market and merit-based solutions for our biggest challenges — from climate to energy to education to taxes to infrastructure — that was also ready to meet Democrats halfway. But there is no such G.O.P. today. The party has lost its moral compass.

Just think about that picture of Trump laughing it up with Russia’s foreign minister in the Oval Office, a foreign minister who covered up Syria’s use of poison gas. Trump reportedly shared with him sensitive intelligence on ISIS, and Trump refused to allow any U.S. press in the room. The picture came from Russia’s official photographer. In our White House! It’s nauseating. And the G.O.P. is still largely mute. If Hillary had done that, they would have shut down the government.

That’s why for me, in 2018, the most left-wing Democratic candidate for House or Senate is preferable to the most moderate Republican, because none of the latter will confront Trump. And Trump’s presidency is not just a threat to my political preferences, it is a threat to the rule of law, freedom of the press, ethics in government, the integrity of our institutions, the values our kids need to learn from their president and America’s longstanding role as the respected leader of the free world.

That’s why there are just two choices now: chicken or fish — a Democratic-controlled House or Senate that can at least deter Trump for his last two years, or four years of an out-of-control president. This G.O.P. is not going to impeach him; forget that fantasy. Either Democrats get a lever of power, or we’re stuck emailing each other “S.N.L.” skits.

So, I repeat: Run as, raise money for or register someone to vote for a Democrat or independent running for House or Senate on Nov. 6, 2018. Nothing else matters.

It’s chicken or fish, baby. It’s just chicken or fish.

Now here’s Mr. Bruni:

For a president so given to fantasy and fond of alternative facts, Donald Trump has been right about one thing all along: His government is a shockingly leaky vessel.

Thank heaven for that.

It’s not judges or senators who will save us from the worst of Trump, which is most of Trump. His undoing will come from within. Be as cynical as you want about Washington — I certainly indulge myself — but there remain insiders with consciences, and some of them actually work for the president. They’re willing to work against him if circumstances warrant it. Circumstances have been warranting it, and here we are.

What we’re witnessing is astonishing. I don’t mean Trump’s actions — including the reports that he divulged highly classified information to Russian visitors and had asked James Comey to lay off Michael Flynn — though those absolutely qualify. I mean how reliably these details reached journalists. I mean how reliably Trump’s outrageous behavior always reaches journalists, as government officials use the very media that he demonizes to expose his malfeasance, ridicule his cluelessness, warn Americans about his intentions and head him off at the pass.

This much leaking this soon in an administration is a powerful indication of what kind of president we have. He is so unprepared, shows such bad judgment and has such an erratic temper that he’s not trusted by people who are paid to bolster him and who get the most intimate, unvarnished look at him. Some of them have decided that discretion isn’t always the keeping of secrets, not if it protects bad actors. They’re right. And they give me hope.

In one of those nifty and incredibly revealing confluences of news developments, the story about Trump’s dangerously loose lips with the Russians came out on the same day that the hosts of “Morning Joe” spoke of Kellyanne Conway’s privately admitted disgust for Trump, at least back during the campaign.

This was Conway they were talking about, the high priestess of hyper-spin, who can look at the smallest droplet in the largest goblet and pronounce the glass half full. Even she saw the emptiness of Trump. Even she cringed. And if that’s the case, there must be more cringing around the president than we realized.

It’s getting worse and worse. Last week in particular demonstrated that. He gives his lieutenants lies to peddle, creates avoidable messes and then rails if underlings don’t grab their mops and clean up with sufficient cheer and success. Aides will suck up a whole lot for proximity to power, and partisans will make enormous compromises in the name of the team. But at the end of the day, they’re human. They have limits, dignity and the mobile phone numbers of dozens of reporters.

Trump should understand that. He’s always telling us how smart he is but showing us the opposite, and as our parents always warned us, actions speak louder than words.

Foolish: to demand such fierce loyalty from the people around you but give precious little in return. It loosens their lips.

Foolish: to continue to treat the Russians with a double scoop of courtesy — here, guys, take a gander at this Islamic State intelligence! — amid a continuing investigation into, and intensifying suspicions about, your exact degree of coziness with Moscow.

If he was wagering that his words to the Russians would never leave the room, well, that’s proof of yet more foolishness. With Trump, everything has been leaving the room, by some route or another. If he hasn’t learned that yet, he’s uneducable.

There are people around Trump who see him for who and what he is. There are people who work in his administration not because they have high hopes for him but because they have modest hopes that they can bend things in a better direction or mitigate damage. None of them were setting themselves up to be moles. But some are playing that part.

And so we knew, even before Trump sat down with NBC’s Lester Holt, that the White House was spinning a fairy tale about why the president fired Comey. We knew about possible policy changes regarding climate change and L.G.B.T. rights before Trump was ready to publicize them, because aides checked and balanced him with leaks to the media.

We discovered this week that an administration official had presented to Trump, and that he believed, a fake cover of a Time magazine from the 1970s that warned of an impending ice age. And we were briefed on his imprudent conversation with the Russians.

All of this came from within, and much of it reflects a concern for country — and for truth — that’s greater than any concern for Trump. Foolish: the failure to account for some aides’ decency and patriotism.

“Don’t be tattletales” was another caution from our parents, but it was imperfect — or at least incomplete. Sometimes tattling is all that keeps danger at bay. Swampy as Washington can be, it still harbors creatures who understand that.

Friedman and Bruni

May 10, 2017

There wasn’t anything to post yesterday, hence the radio silence.

Today in “Owning Your Own Future” The Moustache of Wisdom says if you stop learning you could find yourself without a job.  Mr. Bruni considers “The Filthy Metaphor of Rome” and says the best of Italy’s capital shines brightly. The rest? Not so much.  Here’s TMOW, writing from Palo Alto, California:

Political analysts will long debate over where Brexit, Trump and Le Pen came from. Many say income gaps. I’d say … not quite. I’d say income anxiety and the stress over what it now takes to secure and hold a good job.

I believe the accelerations set loose by Silicon Valley in technology and digital globalization have created a world where every decent job demands more skill and, now, lifelong learning. More people can’t keep up, and clearly some have reached for leaders who promise to stop the wind.

Let me elaborate through a few conversations, starting with Brian Krzanich, the C.E.O. of Intel, who recently remarked to me: “I believe my grandchildren will not drive.”

Since he has teenage daughters, that means self-driving vehicles should be fully deployed in 25 years, at which time you won’t “steer” your car but will program it on a smartphone or watch or glasses. Sounds like fun — unless you’re one of the millions who drive a truck or cab for a living.

But don’t think you’re safe as an accountant, either.

Mark Bohr, Intel’s senior fellow for technology, explained to me that Intel’s main workhorse microprocessor today is the 14-nanometer chip it introduced in 2014. It packs 37.5 million transistors per square millimeter. By the end of 2017, thanks to Moore’s Law, Intel will begin producing a 10-nm chip that will pack “100 million transistors per square millimeter — more than double the previous density with less heat and power usage,” said Bohr.

If you think machines are smart today … wait a year. It’s this move from 14-nm to 10-nm chips that will help enable automakers to shrink the brain of a self-driving car — a brain that has to take in sensor data from 360 degrees and instantly process whether it’s a dog, a human, a biker or another car — from something that fills a whole trunk to a small box under the front seat, so these cars can scale.

When you get that much processing power, putting out that much data exhaust with ever-improving software, you create a world where we can analyze, prophesize and optimize with a precision unknown in human history. We can see trends we never saw, predict when engine parts will break and replace them before they do, with great savings, and we can optimize everything — from the most energy-saving flight path for an airplane to the ideal drilling path for a natural gas well.

I recently visited the control room at Devon Energy, a large oil and gas producer, in Oklahoma City. It’s half a floor of computer screens displaying data coming out of every well Devon is drilling around the world.

At the bottom of each screen are two boxes that blew my mind. One box displays how much money was budgeted to drill that particular well per foot, and the other box displays — in real time — how much the drilling of that well is actually costing, as it bores through different rocks, and it’s updated every foot!

A typical well might involve sending pipe two miles down and then turning horizontally for two miles east or west — with such precision it can hit a seam of gas as small as 20 feet wide!

If you’re working on a Devon oil rig today, you’re holding a computer, not just an oily wrench. And if you’re getting a degree in auto mechanics at a community college today, it’s not to be a “grease monkey.” It’s to be a repairman for a computer with wheels.

The notion that we can go to college for four years and then spend that knowledge for the next 30 is over. If you want to be a lifelong employee anywhere today, you have to be a lifelong learner.

And that means: More is now on you. And that means self-motivation to learn and keep learning becomes the most important life skill.

That’s why education-to-work expert Heather E. McGowan likes to say: “Stop asking a young person WHAT you want to be when you grow up. It freezes their identity into a job that may not be there. Ask them HOW you want to be when you grow up. Having an agile learning mind-set will be the new skill set of the 21st century.”

Some are up for that, some not; and many want to but don’t know how, which is why the College Board has reshaped the PSAT and SAT exams to encourage lifelong learning.

“We analyzed 250,000 students from the high school graduating class of 2017 who took the new PSAT and then the new SAT,” College Board president David Coleman told me. “Students who took advantage of their PSAT results to launch their own free personalized improvement practice through Khan Academy advanced dramatically: 20 hours of practice was associated with an average 115-point increase from the PSAT to the SAT — double the average gain among students who did not.

“Practice advances all students without respect to high school G.P.A., gender, race and ethnicity or parental education. And it’s free. Our aim is to transform the SAT into an invitation for students to own their future.”

So the tough news is that more will be on you. The good news is that systems — like Khan-College Board — are emerging everywhere to enable anyone to accelerate learning for the age of acceleration.

Step back from all of this and it’s clear that thriving countries today won’t elect a strongman. They’ll elect leaders who inspire and equip their citizens to be strong people who can own their own futures.

And now here’s Mr. Bruni, writing from Rome:

This city tells an ancient story.

It also tells a modern one.

Behold the Colosseum. The other day I did, and I was blown away, not by its link to the past but by its luster in the present. On previous trips to Rome and during the two years I lived here, I knew it as a gray and grimy relic. Now it’s stripped of soot and the color of ivory, thanks to an elaborate cleanup.

But a few hundred yards away, in a hilltop park, there’s badly cracked pavement, wildly unkempt grass and oodles of trash, because there’s trash almost everywhere in Rome, whose officials keep promising — and failing — to get the problem under control. That’s the first thing that Romans mention if you ask them about their city these days. It’s also the second and third.

“A tragic situation,” Massimiliano Tonelli told me. “No other country in Europe has a capital in this condition.”

Tonelli doesn’t just bemoan it. He, along with other Romans, chronicles it, on a sadly popular website, Roma Fa Schifo (“Rome Sucks”), that he helped to found. It posts pictures of such eyesores as defaced subway signs, Dumpsters that are disappearing under mountains of uncollected garbage and even, recently, a man in a kitschy gladiator costume taking a leak in public. Type the hashtag #degrado (“degradation”) into Twitter and up comes a gallery of similar scenes.

They’re not new. The website has been around for almost a decade. But the situation is arguably worse than usual and more demoralizing than ever, because Romans last year elected a young new mayor from a young new political party who pledged to turn things around. Almost 11 months later, she has done nothing of the kind.

On top of which, there’s the shocking, mocking contrast of monuments that gleam for tourists while everyday Rome reeks for its residents. The contradiction constantly reminds Italians that “the public sector is inefficient and totally disorganized while the private sector functions better,” Tonelli said.

A roughly $30 million donation from Tod’s, the Italian shoemaker, is financing a sorely needed restoration of the Colosseum. The impressive scrubbing of the Spanish Steps, which was completed last year, reflected a $1.7 million investment by the jeweler Bulgari, which has a flagship store close by. Fendi forked over some $3 million for the rejuvenation of the Trevi Fountain. It glistens as it hadn’t for decades.

And that’s happy news, for the most part. An Italian government strapped for money is smartly tapping private philanthropy to protect its cultural heritage, which is a vital engine of its economy. And it hasn’t let these companies stamp their names or logos prominently on centuries-old travertine.

But this new reliance on corporate munificence could set up a dynamic by which only the most famous landmarks get face-lifts, because they generate the publicity that donors want. Income inequality: the monumental version.

And the government’s own impotence is brought into starker relief by what Tom Rankin, an architect in Rome, described as “a general context of blight around these sparkling monuments.”

“People who have a stake in these things are really frustrated,” he told me.

It’s not just the trash. It’s the profusion of unlicensed street vendors. The riot of untamed weeds. The erratic public transportation. The obstacle course of cars parked where they shouldn’t be. The treacherous bulges and dips of unrepaired streets.

“Did anyone trip and break their leg?” Elizabeth Minchilli, a Roman tour guide and food writer, asked me when I mentioned that I’d been leading my siblings and their spouses around the city. “The streets are full of holes. Everybody you talk to these days has knee problems, ankle problems, hip problems.”

She also asked if I’d noticed an explosion in the bird population, which she pinned on the garbage. “They have bird fights over Piazza Venezia,” she said, adding that she’d seen, amid Rome’s domes and cupolas, “a sea gull swooping down to attack a pigeon that was being attacked by a crow.” She might have been describing a horror movie co-directed by Fellini and Hitchcock.

I did notice the birds but even more so the butts: cigarettes cast away and never swept up. I counted them to distract myself as I ran beside the bilious water of the Tiber, slaloming around broken glass and swatting away mosquitoes, which seem to be enjoying a boom of their own.

Later I climbed the Spanish Steps, freshly gleaming. From the top I could see the glory of Rome. I could also see how so many Italians — and plenty of other Westerners — feel that they live in some perverse shadow of affluence, and how anger and cynicism flower. There’s a perch from which all is magnificent. There’s another that’s for the birds.

Friedman, Cohen, and Bruni

April 5, 2017

The Moustache of Wisdom considers “President Trump’s Real-World Syria Lesson” and says doing nothing shouldn’t be an option.  Mr. Cohen considers “Trump’s Gifts to China” and says the Trump foreign policy is: Shout loud and carry a little stick.  Mr. Bruni considers “Jared Kushner: Man of Steel” and says the president’s faith in his son-in-law is magical thinking.  Here’s TMOW:

With each passing day our new president is discovering that every big problem he faces is like Obamacare — if there were a good, easy solution it would have been found already, and even the less good solutions are more than his own party is ready to pay for or the country is ready to tolerate.

But on Tuesday, tragically, Trump got this lesson in foreign policy via a truly vile poison-gas attack on Syrian civilians, many of them children, reportedly perpetrated by the pro-Russian, pro-Iranian, murderous regime of Bashar al-Assad.

President Trump came to office with the naïve view that he could make fighting ISIS the centerpiece of his Middle East policy — and just drop more bombs and send more special forces than President Barack Obama did to prove his toughness. Trump also seemed to think that fighting ISIS would be a bridge to building a partnership with President Vladimir Putin of Russia.

It was naïve because ISIS does not exist in a vacuum — nor is it the only bad actor in the region. ISIS was produced as a Sunni Muslim reaction to massive overreach by Iran in Iraq, where Iranian-backed Shiite militias and the Iraqi government forces of Nouri al-Maliki tried to crush all vestiges of Sunni power in that country and make it a vassal of Iran. (If you think ISIS is sick, Google the phrase “power drills to the head and Shiite militias in Iraq” and you will discover that ISIS did not invent depravity in that part of the world.)

The Iranian/Shiite onslaught against Iraqi Sunnis ran parallel with Assad’s Shiite-Alawite regime in Syria, turning what started out as a multisectarian democracy movement in Syria into a sectarian war between Sunnis and Shiites. Assad figured that if he just gunned down or poison-gassed enough Syrian Sunnis he could turn their democracy efforts into a sectarian struggle against his Shiite-Alawite regime — and presto, it worked.

The opposition almost toppled him, but with the aid of Russia, Iran and Iran’s Hezbollah militia, Assad was able to pummel the Syrian Sunnis into submission as well.

ISIS was the deformed creature created by a pincers movement — Russia, Iran, Assad and Hezbollah in Syria on one flank and Iran and pro-Iranian militias in Iraq on the other. When Trump said he wanted to partner with Russia to crush ISIS, it was music to the ears of Assad, Russia, Iran and Hezbollah. Like everyone else, they figured they could manipulate Trump’s ignorance to their advantage.

So, last week, someone named “Rex Tillerson” (who, I am told, is the U.S. secretary of state) declared that the “longer-term status of President Assad will be decided by the Syrian people” — as if the Syrian people will be having an Iowa-like primary on that subject soon. U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley made the same point even more cravenly, telling reporters that the United States’ “priority is no longer to sit there and focus on getting Assad out.”

Is there any wonder that Assad felt no compunction about perpetrating what this paper described as “one of the deadliest chemical weapons attacks in years in Syria,” killing dozens of people in Idlib Province, the last major holdout for Syrian rebels.

Mind you, Donald Trump did not cause this Syria problem, and he is right to complain that it was left in his lap by the Obama team, which had its own futile strategy for dealing with Syria — trying to negotiate with Russia and Iran, the key players there, without creating any leverage on the ground.

But if you’re looking for a culprit for why America has refused to intervene in Syria, you have to look both to your left and to your right.

“The only obstacle to putting real U.S. military leverage into Syria is democracy in America,” explained the foreign policy expert Michael Mandelbaum, author of “Mission Failure: America and the World in the Post-Cold War Era.” “The American public simply does not want to spend the blood and treasure to produce what would probably be a less awful but still not good outcome in Syria.” And that is a byproduct of the failed George W. Bush interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Alas, though, I now think doing nothing is a mistake. Just letting Assad keep trying to restore control over all of Syria will mean endless massacres. A negotiated power-sharing solution is impossible; there is no trust.

The least bad solution is a partition of Syria and the creation of a primarily Sunni protected area — protected by an international force, including, if necessary, some U.S. troops. That should at least stop the killing — and the refugee flows that are fueling a populist-nationalist backlash all across the European Union.

It won’t be pretty or easy. But in the Cold War we put 400,000 troops in Europe to keep the sectarian peace there and to keep Europe on a democracy track. Having NATO and the Arab League establish a safe zone in Syria for the same purpose is worth a try. And then if Putin and Iran want to keep the butcher Assad in Damascus, they can have him.

It’s either that, President Trump, or get ready for a lot more days like Tuesday. As I said, every problem is like Obamacare — never as easy as you thought to fix. The least bad alternatives can be forged only by a compromise in the middle, and, like your hotels, they’ll all soon have your name on them.

Next up we have Mr. Cohen, writing from Singapore:

The United States meets China this week in a position of weakness. Since taking office, Donald Trump has handed China a strategic gift by abandoning a trade pact designed to offset Chinese power in the region, been obliged to grovel after offending China over Taiwan, and turned President Xi Jinping of China into an unlikely poster boy for climate change concern and an open global trading system.

So much for the art of the deal; to Asian nations like Singapore worried about China’s aggressive territorial expansion in the South China Sea, American policy under Trump has looked more like a blink-first exercise.

Now Trump — having given the Japanese prime minister, Shinzo Abe, the full Mar-a-Lago – is obliged to give Xi the same at his Florida resort. (Angela Merkel, merely the German chancellor, need not apply.)

Top of the Florida menu is North Korea and how far China will help Trump in rolling back Kim Jong-un’s nuclear and missile program. The thousands of acres of new land built by China in the form of artificial islands or expanded reefs in the Spratly Islands off the coast of the Philippines — an extraordinary act of lawless territorial expansionism — will also be part of the discussions. Then of course there’s bilateral trade and Trump’s unhappiness with the $347 billion U.S. deficit last year — although with North Korea’s belligerent Kim now in a position to hit Japan, that feels like a manageable irritant in the symbiotic U.S.-Chinese economic entanglement.

China will not satisfy the United States on North Korea. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has said “strategic patience” is over. But what does that mean? A pre-emptive American strike is nearly unthinkable given Kim’s ability to blow up Seoul. It sounds like what the Trump administration has specialized in: bluster. The Trump foreign policy doctrine: Shout loud and carry a little stick. When Trump tells The Financial Times that he can “totally” solve North Korea without China’s help, everyone shrugs at his saber-rattling.

China has leverage over Kim, but its “strategic patience” with him is infinite. Its priority is the survival of the totalitarian regime as a buffer. The dictator is China’s insurance against a nuclear-armed united Korea at its doorstep. Millions of North Koreans flooding over its border in the event of a regime collapse is the last thing China wants.

To Trump’s demands to deliver Kim, China is likely to shrug. Especially if the president (unlikely scenario) does what he should and tells Xi that China’s artificial-island push for regional dominance in the South China Sea is unacceptable.

In the long run any effective North Korea policy will probably have to begin with acceptance that denuclearization is no longer possible and stringent curtailment of Kim is the best bet. Diplomacy is a word that Trump might usefully add to his vocabulary.

For countries from Vietnam to Singapore, its absence has been alarming. Trump’s decision to rip up the Trans-Pacific Partnership, an ambitious free-trade arrangement including many countries in the region but not China, was reckless. China’s pressure on Singapore to choose between the United States and Beijing — something Singapore rightly refuses to do — is typical of the increasingly heavy-handed Chinese regional approach. With the T.P.P. dead, China is emboldened.

Already last year it had impounded some Singaporean military vehicles to signal impatience with Singapore’s close relations with Taiwan. It has also been critical of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong of Singapore when he raises concerns over China’s South China Sea aggrandizement. For the Chinese, “silence is golden” when it comes to all that new land for runways, radars and the like in waters far from its shore. But for Singapore, the sea is its lifeline. It cannot stay quiet; and it needs offsetting American power in Asia to keep those sea-lanes open.

Here we get to the nub of what should be on the Trump-Xi agenda. As Razeen Sally, an associate professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, told me: “In the end it’s about free people and open societies. Are we going to have more or less of that in this part of the world? That is why more Chinese domination in Asia would be so ominous.”

But of course the Trump foreign policy is an experiment in a valueless, transactional approach to the world from which the American idea has been stripped.

Anthony Miller, an American businessman in Japan, wrote to me recently about a meeting with a senior Japanese university official who had asked him why Japan should align itself with America if there is no longer “a mutual belief in democracy, free trade and liberal values.” Miller concluded of Trump: “The damage he is doing to the underpinnings of liberal democracy is tremendous.”

When Lee, the Singapore prime minister, called Trump in early December he mentioned the free trade agreement between the United States and Singapore. The then president-elect, I was told, had no idea of its existence. Nor did Trump know that the United States has a trade surplus with Singapore.

Unpreparedness is bad. It’s worse when combined with bluster and recklessness. That’s why China is winning.

And last but not least we come to Mr. Bruni:

Why don’t we just stitch him a red cape, put him in spandex, affix a stylized “S” to his chest and be done with it?

SuperJared has taken flight.

He’s President Trump’s point man with the Chinese, having finalized the details of the big meeting at Mar-a-Loco later this week. He was Trump’s middleman with the Mexicans not long ago.

“A shadow secretary of state,” The Washington Post called Jared Kushner, and that was well before he traveled to Iraq on Monday, beating the actual secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, to one of the most consequential theaters of American foreign policy.

Kushner’s to-do list, not Tillerson’s, contains the small, pesky item of brokering a durable truce between the Israelis and the Palestinians. “If you can’t produce peace in the Middle East, nobody can,” Trump said to the 36-year-old real estate scion, who has absolutely no background in diplomacy, from the stage of an inaugural party.

The precise strategy is under wraps. As Henry Kissinger, an informal adviser to Kushner and others in the Trump administration, told Annie Karni of Politico in mid-February: “It’s not clear to me in what way he’s in charge of it, whether he’s in charge of it with supervision from the White House, or whether he’s supposed to be the actual negotiator. Nor has it been defined what they’re negotiating about.”

Mere details! Just leave things to Kushner. He’ll figure it out in those down moments when he’s not supervising the brand new Office of American Innovation, whose modest ambition is a full-scale reorganization of the federal government that makes it more efficient.

His plan on that front is clear. He’ll simply do everything himself. Take note: When you file your taxes in about two weeks, you can send them either to the Internal Revenue Service or to Kushner. He’ll be chipping in with the auditing.

I jest, and I do so in line with the mocking tone of the media’s continuing tally of tasks being piled on Kushner’s plate. But Kushner’s many mandates aren’t a laughing matter. They’re a reflection of some of Trump’s most unsettling traits as president, and Kushner is a symbol of his delusions.

Trump keeps expanding Kushner’s bloated portfolio while leaving key agencies woefully understaffed, and that’s “a sign that he doesn’t know how government works,” said a former Bush administration official who has had extensive dealings with Kushner.

“There’s no deputy secretary of state,” the official told me. “There’s no deputy secretary of defense.” He ticked off an array of other unfilled positions, insisted that these gaps can’t all be chalked up to some noble desire to shrink government and said that they pretty much prevent any meaningful follow-through on whatever bold ideas Kushner might hatch. “Trump just thinks, ‘Oh, yeah, Jared’s in charge of that.’ In charge of what? What’s he running? You need a bureaucratic infrastructure.”

Trump’s overreliance on Kushner illustrates the extraordinary premium he places on loyalty. Kushner’s status as a visionary is entirely disputable: His real-estate company was a birthright, not a start-up, and as an article by Charles Bagli in The Times this week demonstrated, one of Kushner’s key acquisitions, the skyscraper at 666 Fifth Avenue, turned into an albatross. But he married Ivanka. He’s family. And he chose the political ambitions of his father-in-law over his own previous reputation as a reasonably enlightened man.

Kushner also exemplifies the degree to which Trump not only prizes the fresh eyes of people from outside of politics, which is sensible, but downright fetishizes them, which isn’t. To the extent that the administration is staffed, it teems with government naïfs, and that has been apparent in the botched composition and rollout of executive orders and in the failed attempt to undo Obamacare.

Trump’s cavalier attitude toward conflicts of interest is manifest in Kushner, who was reportedly talking about government business with the Chinese ambassador even as his family’s company sought Chinese investment for that skyscraper.

So is Trump’s magical thinking. The president seems to see certain people as exempt from the laws of gravity, and he has accorded Kushner a place snug beside him in that pantheon. He keeps telling us that he can predict the future, and he keeps telling himself that Kushner can juggle more than even the most seasoned, brilliant White House aides of yesteryear pulled off. Kushner doesn’t seem to be quibbling.

I’m told by insiders that when Trump’s long-shot campaign led to victory, he and Kushner became convinced not only that they’d tapped into something that everybody was missing about America, but that they’d tapped into something that everybody was missing about the two of them.

Kushner was reborn with new powers, and to the heavens he ascended.

It’s a bird! It’s a plane!

It’s ridiculous.