Archive for the ‘Friedman’ Category

Friedman and Bruni

September 30, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But for Clinton? It’s a contrivance.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friedman and Bruni

September 23, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And now here’s Mr. Bruni:

With the arrival of the pope, our spirits lift.

With the departure of Scott Walker, they plummet.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Etiquette prevailed.

He didn’t.

Molotov, Governor Walker.

Friedman, solo

September 16, 2015

Mr. Bruni is off today, so TMOW has the place to himself.  In “Iran Deal Players’ Report Cards” he says it’s time to rate the performances of a number of the people who worked hard to get the agreement or to stop it.  Here he is:

The Iran nuclear deal is now sealed — from Washington’s end. But since this has been one of America’s most important foreign policy shifts in the last four decades, it’s worth looking back and grading the performance of the key players.

Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Grade: A.

His prediction last week that Israel won’t be around in “25 years” was perfectly timed to complicate President Obama’s effort to get the deal through Congress. Khamenei is a bad guy. When I asked a Middle East expert friend to explain Khamenei’s behavior, he invoked a Yiddish curse on the Iranian: “May all his teeth fall out, except the ones that hurt.”

But he’s also a clever guy. Through this deal Khamenei gets Iran out from under crippling sanctions, which his people want, by pushing the breakout time for Iran to make a nuclear bomb from two months to a year — for 15 years — but getting the world to bless Iran’s “peaceful” nuclear enrichment program, even though it cheated its way there. And he’s done it all while giving his hard-line base the feeling that he’s still actually against this deal and his negotiators the feeling that he’s for it. So all his options are open, depending on how the deal goes.

Hat’s off, Ali, you’re good. When I sell my house, could I give you a call?

But here’s a note to his parents: “Ali got an A, but he has a tendency to get cocky. He is confident that he can pull off this deal without any transformation in Iran’s domestic politics. I suggest you buy him a good biography of Mikhail Gorbachev.”

Dick Cheney. Grade: F.

I cite Cheney because his opposition to the deal, which he’s been peddling along with a new book, was utterly dishonest, but in a way that summed up much of the knee-jerk Republican opposition: This is a bad deal because Obama was a wimp.

No, this deal is what it is because it reflects the balance of power, and the key factor in that balance is that the Iranians came to believe America would never use force to eliminate their nuclear program. But that’s not all on Obama. Republicans, and Cheney personally, played a big role in the loss of U.S. credibility to threaten Iran with force.

After briefing Congress on Sept. 10, 2007, Gen. David Petraeus told Fox News that Iran was supporting and directing Iraqi Shiite insurgents who have “carried out violent acts against our forces, Iraqi forces and innocent civilians.” Iran was cited for making specially shaped roadside bombs responsible for killing hundreds of U.S. troops. Yet, even though our commanders said that publicly, their bosses — George W. Bush and Dick Cheney — refused to ever order retaliation against Iranian targets. Iran noticed.

Ditto on nukes. As Peter Beinart wrote for The Atlantic last week, Cheney stopped by “Fox News Sunday” to bash Obama’s nuclear deal, “but moderator Chris Wallace, to his credit, wanted to ask Cheney about his own failings on Iran. On the Bush administration’s watch, Wallace noted, Iran’s centrifuges for enriching uranium ‘went from zero to 5,000.’ Cheney protested, declaring that, ‘That happened on Obama’s watch and not on our watch.’ But Wallace held his ground. ‘No, no, no,’ he insisted. ‘By 2009, they were at 5,000.’ Cheney paused for an instant, muttered, ‘right,’ and went back to his talking points.”

Note to his parents: “Dick has a problem telling the truth, and he’s not alone. Some G.O.P. critiques of this deal should be looked at, but they’ll never be taken seriously if the party isn’t straight about its own role in our loss of deterrence vis-à-vis Iran.”

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu: Grade C.

No one had more impact in getting the world to impose sanctions and take Iran’s nuclear threat seriously than Netanyahu. But his reckless spat with Obama, which went beyond substance to openly endorsing Obama’s G.O.P. rivals and colluding with G.O.P. House leaders to address Congress — without the president’s support — hurt him, Israel and the deal.

Had Bibi hugged Obama, he could have made Israel effectively the sixth party in the P-5 side of negotiations with Iran and stiffened every spine. Instead, Netanyahu marginalized Israel. And by calling elections in the middle of it all, and forming a far-right cabinet with extremist Jewish settlers, Netanyahu is playing right into Iran’s hands: Iran wants a one-state solution, where Israel never leaves the West Bank and is in permanent conflict with Palestinians and Muslims, so Iran can better delegitimize and isolate Israel.

Note to Netanyahu’s parents: “Bibi won’t be punished for any of his mistakes; domestic U.S. politics will ensure that. But beware: That will only increase the odds that he’ll lead Israel into a permanent, corrosive occupation of the West Bank, make support for Israel an increasingly Republican cause and lose the next generation of American Jews.”

President Obama. Grade: I (Incomplete).

Note to Obama’s parents: “This deal makes sense; it can keep Iran away from a bomb. But Barack should go to bed every night for the next 15 years worrying whether Iran is living up to it. That’s the best way to ensure that he, his party and his successors will stay vigilant and put in place an effective deterrence to Iran ever building a bomb. I hope he gets an A, but only history can give it to him.”

Friedman and Bruni

September 9, 2015

The Moustache of Wisdom ponders “Walls, Borders, a Dome and Refugees” and tells us that the fallout of collapsing countries continues to spill into our orderly world, and just isolating ourselves won’t change that.  Mr. Bruni, in “The Spirit and Promise of Detroit,” says we’re all invested in this city, a reflection of our neglect and a referendum on our resilience.  Here’s TMOW:

After Donald Trump proposed building a high wall all along the U.S.-Mexico border, Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, not to be out-trumped, basically said, I see your wall and raise you one, stating that it was “legitimate” to consider building a wall along the 5,525-mile U.S.-Canada border as well.

Well, I see both your walls — and raise you a dome.

That’s right. I think we shouldn’t just put high walls on both borders, but also a retractable dome over the whole country and, for good measure, let’s mine our harbors, too — as Lindsey Graham jokingly suggested, criticizing his wall-obsessed fellow Republican presidential contenders.

I know, Walker’s proposal is crazy. But, alas, the fears that he and Trump are playing on with this wall theme are not crazy: Some very big tectonic plates are moving, and people feel it under their feet. The world is being redivided into regions of “order” and “disorder,” and for the first time in a long time, we don’t have an answer for all the people flocking to get out of the world of disorder and into the world of order.

But being surrounded by two oceans and friendly democracies in Mexico and Canada, the U.S. is actually less affected by this new era. (The net migration flow from Mexico to the U.S. is now zero.) In fact, we should keep enhancing our economic integration with both our neighbors in ways that can make all three nations more stable and thriving.

It is why, when it comes to our borders, I favor only high walls with big gates — yes, control the borders but with more efficient gates that enhance investment, common standards, trade, tourism and economic opportunity in all three countries. Nothing would make us more secure. When it comes to our neighbors, Trump and Walker are making Americans both afraid and dumb, purely for political gain.

But if either man were running for office in Europe today, his position on walls everywhere would be getting a big hearing, as masses of refugees from the African and Middle Eastern worlds of disorder try to walk, swim, sail, drive, bus and rail their way into Europe’s world of order.

And this is just the beginning. That is because the three largest forces on the planet — Mother Nature (climate change, biodiversity loss and population growth in developing countries), Moore’s law (the steady doubling in the power of microchips and, more broadly, of technology) and the market (globalization tying the world ever more tightly together) — are all in simultaneous, rapid acceleration.

This combination is stressing strong countries and blowing up weak ones. And the ones disintegrating first are those that are the most artificial: their borders are mostly straight lines that correspond to no ethnic, tribal or religious realities and their leaders, rather than creating citizens with equal rights, wasted the last 60 years by plundering their national resources. So when their iron fists come off (in Libya and Iraq with our help), there is nothing to hold these unnatural polygons together.

Since World War II, U.S. foreign policy has focused on integrating more countries into a democratic, free-market world community built on the rule of law while seeking to deter those states that resist from destabilizing the rest. This is what we know how to do.

But, argues Michael Mandelbaum, author of the forthcoming “Mission Failure: America and the World in the Post-Cold War Era”: “There is nothing in our experience that has prepared us for what is going on now: the meltdown of an increasing number of states all at the same time in a globalized world. And what if China starts failing in a globalized world?”

Historically we’ve counted on empires, like the Ottomans, colonial powers, like Britain and France, and autocratic strongmen, such as kings and colonels, to hold artificial states together and provide order in these regions. But we’re now in a post-imperial, post-colonial and, soon, I believe, post-authoritarian world, in which no one will be able to control these disorderly regions with an iron fist while the world of order goes about its business as best it can with occasional reminders of the nasty disarray on its frontiers.

Your heart aches for the Syrian refugees flocking to Europe. And Germany’s generosity in absorbing so many is amazing. We have a special obligation to Libyan and Iraqi refugees. But, with so many countries melting down, just absorbing more and more refugees is not sustainable.

If we’re honest, we have only two ways to halt this refugee flood, and we don’t want to choose either: build a wall and isolate these regions of disorder, or occupy them with boots on the ground, crush the bad guys and build a new order based on real citizenship, a vast project that would take two generations. We fool ourselves that there is a sustainable, easy third way: just keep taking more refugees or create “no-fly zones” here or there.

Will the ends, will the means. And right now no one wants to will the means, because all you win is a bill. So the world of disorder keeps spilling over into the world of order. And beware: The market, Mother Nature and Moore’s law are just revving their engines. You haven’t seen this play before, which is why we have some hard new thinking and hard choices ahead.

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

I’m a glutton, always will be, so you’ll have to forgive me for beginning with food — and for tasting hope, or something like it, in a peanut butter cookie.

I bought the cookie at Sister Pie, a bakeshop that opened earlier this year in a resurgent neighborhood here. Sister Pie is unusual, and not just because it makes scones with cauliflower and puts rosemary in its shortbread.

Even more noteworthy is its location: a stone’s throw from dozens of the deserted houses and decrepit lots for which Detroit is notorious. Sister Pie shouldn’t be here. That was my first thought when I walked through the door last week to find the kind of hipster crowd and funky scene that I’m accustomed to in Brooklyn, where the shop’s owner, Lisa Ludwinski, lived for six years.

My second thought was that Sister Pie is exactly where it belongs, in a city whose future hinges on a new generation of entrepreneurs, the risks they take and the ingenuity they muster. The top of my cookie glittered darkly with paprika. I beamed. And what coursed through me as I ate it and then another wasn’t just pleasure but gratitude and elation.

I lived in Detroit in the early 1990s, in my 20s, so perhaps I feel an investment bigger than it would otherwise be. But we’re all tied to this city and reflected in it, because it’s so central to the American narrative, so emblematic of our triumphs and humiliations, such a referendum on what we’re capable of, in terms of neglect and in terms of salvation.

If New York is a measure of our financial might and Los Angeles a yardstick for our imagination, Detroit is a gauge of our soul.

“It’s one of the cities in the United States that the whole world looks at,” said Dennis Archer Jr. when I asked him about the stakes of its latest bid for rebirth.

Archer’s father was Detroit’s mayor from 1994 through 2001. His corrupt successor, Kwame Kilpatrick, ended up behind bars, and shortly before Kilpatrick’s reign ended, the recession hit. Detroit reeled. In 2013 it became the largest American city ever to file for bankruptcy.

And since then? There are all these shoots of growth, all these glimmers of promise. Archer and I sat in Central Kitchen + Bar, a dashing month-old restaurant on Cadillac Square downtown. He’s one of its owners, and Cadillac Square bustles in a way that it didn’t years ago, when I routinely passed through it.

He directed my gaze to a nearby diner who happened to be wearing a T-shirt that said “Detroit -Vs- Everybody.” It’s a popular logo on clothing from a local company, and it’s a distillation of the way many Detroiters feel.

“We’re taking on a lot of negativity and some bad circumstances that weren’t entirely our doing,” Archer explained, alluding to the travails of the auto industry and the racial prejudice that contributed to the city’s population decline.

“But we’re resilient. We’re going to win.”

By “we” he was referring to all of the businesspeople who insist on seeing opportunity in the blight, including Dan Gilbert, the Quicken Loans chairman, who famously purchased a big chunk of downtown and has been rehabilitating it.

But Archer was talking as well about a stubborn civic spirit that’s personified by Terrence Berg, a federal judge, and his wife, Anita Sevier, an urban planner.

When they moved to the Detroit area in 1989, they were dismayed by the white-black divide between suburbs and city. A white couple, they chose to live in Detroit itself, and over the ensuing years they happily stayed put.

One evening last March, two men approached Berg on his front porch, demanded to be let into the house and, when he refused, shot him in the knee. He endured three surgeries and has put in hundreds of hours of physical therapy so far.

Through it all, he and Sevier have been adamant that the shooting doesn’t, and shouldn’t, define Detroit. Right after it happened, Sevier pointedly told The Detroit Free Press: “This is not a reason to hate Detroit.”

The couple used the media attention that came their way to advocate for better education and more jobs for Detroiters. When I visited them on Friday, Berg said, “I grew up in this area, and there’s a certain underdog quality that you feel about Detroit that makes you love it in a way that you want it to succeed.

“There’s a certain rooting,” he added. “You root for Detroit.”

The next day I took a run along a stretch of Detroit riverfront more prettily landscaped and painstakingly maintained than I’d ever seen it. I had to work off the wages of Sister Pie.

I spotted a poster: “America’s Great Comeback City.” Yes, I thought. Please. If we can rebuild Detroit, we can rebuild anything.

Friedman and Bruni

September 2, 2015

In “Our Radical Islamic BFF, Saudi Arabia” TMOW says the greatest purveyors of radical Islam aren’t the Iranians, as a general says. The Saudis win that title hands down.  Well, put me in the oven and call me a biscuit…  I never thought I’d live to see the day that a Very Serious Person actually said that out loud, in front of God and everyone.  Mr. Bruni, in “The Joe Biden Delusion,” says thed vice president commands enormous affection. That doesn’t mean he can win the Democratic presidential nomination.  Here’s TMOW:

The Washington Post ran a story last week about some 200 retired generals and admirals who sent a letter to Congress “urging lawmakers to reject the Iran nuclear agreement, which they say threatens national security.” There are legitimate arguments for and against this deal, but there was one argument expressed in this story that was so dangerously wrongheaded about the real threats to America from the Middle East, it needs to be called out.

That argument was from Lt. Gen. Thomas McInerney, the retired former vice commander of U.S. Air Forces in Europe, who said of the nuclear accord: “What I don’t like about this is, the number one leading radical Islamic group in the world is the Iranians. They are purveyors of radical Islam throughout the region and throughout the world. And we are going to enable them to get nuclear weapons.”

Sorry, General, but the title greatest “purveyors of radical Islam” does not belong to the Iranians. Not even close. That belongs to our putative ally Saudi Arabia.

When it comes to Iran’s involvement in terrorism, I have no illusions: I covered firsthand the 1983 suicide bombings of the U.S. Embassy and the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut, both believed to be the handiwork of Iran’s cat’s paw, Hezbollah. Iran’s terrorism, though — vis-à-vis the U.S. — has always been of the geopolitical variety: war by other means to push the U.S. out of the region so Iran can dominate it, not us.

I support the Iran nuclear deal because it reduces the chances of Iran building a bomb for 15 years and creates the possibility that Iran’s radical religious regime can be moderated through more integration with the world.

But if you think Iran is the only source of trouble in the Middle East, you must have slept through 9/11, when 15 of the 19 hijackers came from Saudi Arabia. Nothing has been more corrosive to the stability and modernization of the Arab world, and the Muslim world at large, than the billions and billions of dollars the Saudis have invested since the 1970s into wiping out the pluralism of Islam — the Sufi, moderate Sunni and Shiite versions — and imposing in its place the puritanical, anti-modern, anti-women, anti-Western, anti-pluralistic Wahhabi Salafist brand of Islam promoted by the Saudi religious establishment.

It is not an accident that several thousand Saudis have joined the Islamic State or that Arab Gulf charities have sent ISIS donations. It is because all these Sunni jihadist groups — ISIS, Al Qaeda, the Nusra Front — are the ideological offspring of the Wahhabism injected by Saudi Arabia into mosques and madrasas from Morocco to Pakistan to Indonesia.

And we, America, have never called them on that — because we’re addicted to their oil and addicts never tell the truth to their pushers.

“Let’s avoid hyperbole when describing one enemy or potential enemy as the greatest source of instability,” said Husain Haqqani, the former Pakistani ambassador to Washington, who is an expert on Islam at the Hudson Institute.

“It is an oversimplification,” he said. “While Iran has been a source of terrorism in supporting groups like Hezbollah, many American allies have been a source of terrorism by supporting Wahhabi ideology, which basically destroyed the pluralism that emerged in Islam since the 14thcentury, ranging from Bektashi Islam in Albania, which believes in living with other religions, to Sufi and Shiite Islam.

“The last few decades have seen this attempt to homogenize Islam,” claiming “there is only one legitimate path to God,” Haqqani said. And when there is only one legitimate path, “all others are open to being killed. That has been the single most dangerous idea that has emerged in the Muslim world, and it came out of Saudi Arabia and has been embraced by others, including the government in Pakistan.”

Consider this July 16, 2014, story in The Times from Beirut: “For decades, Saudi Arabia has poured billions of its oil dollars into sympathetic Islamic organizations around the world, quietly practicing checkbook diplomacy to advance its agenda. But a trove of thousands of Saudi documents recently released by WikiLeaks reveals in surprising detail how the government’s goal in recent years was not just to spread its strict version of Sunni Islam — though that was a priority — but also to undermine its primary adversary: Shiite Iran.”

Or consider this Dec 5, 2010, report on “U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned last year in a leaked classified memo that donors in Saudi Arabia were the ‘most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide.’ She said it was ‘an ongoing challenge’ to persuade Saudi officials to treat such activity as a strategic priority. The groups funded include al-Qaeda, the Taliban and Lashkar-e-Taiba, she added.”

Saudi Arabia has been an American ally on many issues and there are moderates there who detest its religious authorities. But the fact remains that Saudi Arabia’s export of Wahhabi puritanical Islam has been one of the worst things to happen to Muslim and Arab pluralism — pluralism of religious thought, gender and education — in the last century.

Iran’s nuclear ambition is a real threat; it needs to be corralled. But don’t buy into the nonsense that it’s the only source of instability in this region.

Now here’s Mr. Bruni:

Many politicians seem intent on holding themselves as far back from us as possible, on parceling themselves out in only the smallest and most controlled bits. Even as they implore us to love them and insist that we trust them, they’re stingy. Cagey. Coiled.

Not Joe Biden. Where others say too little, he says too much. Where others depend on extravagantly compensated swamis to contrive their authenticity and coax them toward it, Biden needs help tamping down his irrepressible self.

How I’ve loved watching him over his decades in public life.

How I’d hate to see him enter the presidential race and punctuate those years with a final defeat.

Biden, Biden, Biden. The drumbeat swells, coming from all directions, even from Dick Cheney. He recently did an interview with CNN, the first snippets of which were shown on Monday, and offered Biden the following counsel about 2016: “Go for it.” This is probably the most compelling evidence that Biden shouldn’t. When Cheney itches for an intervention, beware.

Biden’s own moves, including a scheduled appearance next Thursday on “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert,” further stoke speculation and hopes.

But while many Democrats have enormous respect for him and he’s done plenty to deserve it, this isn’t really about him. It’s about Hillary Clinton: her presumptuousness, the whole email mess, the sloppy administration of the Clinton Foundation, the sense that scandals are as inextricable from her political identity as pantsuits.

Some Democratic leaders and operatives would desperately like an alternative — an alternative, that is, with better general-election prospects than a 73-year-old socialist with little support from minorities. Martin O’Malley hasn’t come through: He might as well be an apparition for all the impact he’s made. Someone else is needed. Cue the Biden talk.

We journalists eagerly amplify it, because nothing improves a narrative like the addition of an especially colorful character. We disingenuously pretend that his favorability ratings and other flattering poll results have the same meaning as corresponding numbers for Clinton and Bernie Sanders.

They don’t, because he’s a hypothetical candidate and they’re actual ones, and it’s the difference between a courtship in its dawn and a marriage in its dusk. Once someone has really moved into the house and is leaving dirty dishes in the sink, the electricity dims and everything droops.

Even while drooping, Clinton holds onto a great deal of support, and she stands on the very territory that Biden, to get the nomination, would need.

“He’s neither to the left of her, where the energy of the party is, nor is he newer than her,” one Democratic strategist said. “He personifies neither progressivity nor change. And you need to have one of the two — preferably, both — to win.”

Clinton’s familiarity is mitigated by the possibility that she’d make history: the first woman in the White House. Biden has nothing like that going for him.

He’s a profoundly awkward fit for this strange political moment, this season of outsiders and insurgents.

Voters are sour on career politicians, and Biden’s career in politics spans about 45 uninterrupted years.

Voters are anti-Washington in particular, and more than 42 of those years have been spent in the national’s capital, as a senator from Delaware and then as the vice president.

Aspects of his legislative record are more troubling for him now than ever before. As Nicholas Fandos noted in a recent story in The Times, Biden pushed for, and later crowed about, tough-on-crime legislation in the 1980s and 1990s that preceded the mass incarceration of today. That would be a wedge between him and the Democratic Party’s black voters especially.

And as Steve Eder noted in another recent story in The Times, Biden was, of necessity, an ambassador for the financial services industry in Delaware. That hardly positions him to win the favor of liberal Democrats who yearn for a crackdown on Wall Street.

Biden has twice before pursued the Democratic nomination and never won a single state. The last time, in 2008, he got less than 1 percent of the vote in the Iowa caucuses and then quickly dropped out.

And while much about circumstances and about Biden has changed since then, what hasn’t, at least not significantly, is the uncorked, uncensored quality that contributed to his troubles before.

He rolls his eyes. He reaches out with his hands. He talks and talks, in sentences that sometimes go too far, with words that haven’t been weighed as carefully as they could be. The route from his brain to his lips is direct and swift. None of the usual traffic cones there.

Sometimes this is enervating. Mostly it’s endearing. For better or worse, it’s not the means to a promotion, not for this remarkable man at this remarkable time.

Friedman and Bruni

August 26, 2015

In “Bonfire of the Assets, With Trump Lighting Matches” TMOW says China burns money for its stock market, Russia burns food as a nationalist distraction and the U.S. is now burning pluralism for politics.  Mr. Bruni, in “Trump-ward, Christian Soldiers?”, says the veneration of The Donald affirms the selective morality of the religious right.  Here’s TMOW:

Normally, when your main geopolitical rivals are shooting themselves in both feet, the military manual says step back and enjoy the show. But I take little comfort in watching China burning money and Russia burning food, because in today’s interdependent world we’re all affected.

I also find no joy in it because we Americans, too, have started burning our most important source of competitive advantage — our pluralism. One of our two political parties has gone nuts and started following a pied piper of intolerance, named Donald Trump.

First, we watched China’s leadership burn money — trying to prop up a ridiculously overvalued stock market by buying falling stocks with government savings, and then seeing that market continue to collapse because the very fact that the government was intervening suggested no one knew what these stocks were worth.

The Wall Street Journal reported on July 30 that the “state-owned China Securities Finance Corporation has been spending up to 180 billion yuan a day ($29 billion) to try to stabilize stocks.” Since the Shanghai exchange has fallen sharply since then, the amount of money China burned trying to prop up already unrealistic valuations must be staggering.

The economic management team in Beijing has seriously lost its way. But leaders do funky things when the ruling party’s bargain with its people is “we get to rule and you get to get rich.” Collapsing markets can quickly lead to collapsing legitimacy.

Ask the Russian president, Vladimir Putin. He burned the eastern quarter of Ukraine to distract the Russian middle class from his economic mismanagement and illegitimacy.

Putin decided that building his own Silicon Valley — the Skolkovo Innovation Center outside of Moscow — was too hard. So to build his legitimacy he chose nationalism and seized Crimea instead. Putin prefers to manufacture chips on his shoulder than microchips. When the Crimea annexation nationalist sugar high wore off, Putin started burning food imported from countries sanctioning Russia for seizing Crimea from Ukraine.

As The Times reported on Aug. 6, “Following an order by President Vladimir V. Putin, officials threw huge piles of pork, tomatoes, peaches and cheese into landfills and garbage incinerators. The frenzy, remarkable even by the standards of Russia’s recent politicization of food supplies, was gleefully reported by Russian state television.” This is in a country where food prices have soared because of the collapse of the ruble.

My fear is that once Putin’s food-burning nationalist sugar high wears off, he’ll burn up another neighbor. Estonia, please beware.

Alas, though, America has joined this assets bonfire. We’re now in a world where all top-down authority structures are being challenged. It’s most obvious in the Arab world where you have pluralistic countries that lack pluralism and so could be held together from the top-down only by an iron fist — and when that iron fist got removed they spun apart. America’s greatest advantage is its pluralism: It can govern itself horizontally by its people of all colors and creeds forging social contracts to live together as equal citizens.

It not only makes us more stable but also more innovative, because we can collaborate internally and externally with anyone anywhere, leveraging more brainpower. Who is the new C.E.O. of Google? Sundar Pichai. Who is the new C.E.O. of Microsoft? Satya Nadella. Mark Zuckerberg’s family did not come over on the Mayflower.

But right now we’re messing around with that incredible asset. Yes, we must control our borders; it is the essence of sovereignty. It has been a failure of both our political parties that the Mexican-American border has been so porous. So I am for a high wall, but with a very big gate — one that legally lets in energetic low-skilled workers and the high-I.Q. risk-takers who have made our economy the envy of the world — and for legislation that provides a pathway for the millions of illegal immigrants already here to gain legal status and eventually citizenship.

In June 2013, the Senate, including 14 Republicans, passed a bill that would do all that. But the extremists in the G.O.P. House refused to follow, so the bill stalled.

And now we have Trump shamelessly exploiting this issue even more. He’s calling for an end to the 14th Amendment’s birthright principle, which guarantees citizenship to anyone born here, and also for a government program to round up all 11 million illegal immigrants and send them home — an utterly lunatic idea that Trump dismisses as a mere “management” problem. Like lemmings, many of the other G.O.P. presidential hopefuls just followed Trump over that cliff.

This is not funny anymore. This is not entertaining. Donald Trump is not cute. His ugly nativism shamefully plays on people’s fears and ignorance. It ignores bipartisan solutions already on the table, undermines the civic ideals that make our melting pot work in ways no European or Asian country can match (try to become a Japanese) and tampers with the very secret of our sauce — pluralism, that out of many we make one.

Every era spews up a Joe McCarthy type who tries to thrive by dividing and frightening us, and today his name is Donald Trump.

And now here’s Mr. Bruni:

Let me get this straight. If I want the admiration and blessings of the most flamboyant, judgmental Christians in America, I should marry three times, do a queasy-making amount of sexual boasting, verbally degrade women, talk trash about pretty much everyone else while I’m at it, encourage gamblers to hemorrhage their savings in casinos bearing my name and crow incessantly about how much money I’ve amassed?

Seems to work for Donald Trump.

Polls show him to be the preferred candidate among not just all Republican voters but also the party’s vocal evangelical subset.

He’s more beloved than Mike Huckabee, a former evangelical pastor, or Ted Cruz, an evangelical pastor’s son, or Scott Walker, who said during the recent Republican debate: “It’s only by the blood of Jesus Christ that I’ve been redeemed.”

When Trump mentions blood, it’s less biblical, as Megyn Kelly can well attest.

No matter. The holy rollers are smiling upon the high roller. And they’re proving, yet again, how selective and incoherent the religiosity of many in the party’s God squad is.

Usually the disconnect involves stern moralizing, especially on matters sexual, by showily devout public figures who are then exposed as adulterers or (gasp!) closet homosexuals. I’d list all the names, starting with Josh Duggar and working backward, but my column doesn’t sprawl over an entire page of the newspaper.

Or the disconnect is between evangelists’ panegyrics about Christ’s penury and their hustle for funds to support less-than-penurious lifestyles. John Oliver, the host of HBO’s “Last Week Tonight,” has been making brilliant satirical fun of this by promoting his new tax-exempt church, Our Lady of Perpetual Exemption. Last Sunday he apologized to viewers that his wife, Wanda Jo, “cannot be with us this evening.”

“She’s at our summer parsonage in Hawaii,” he continued, “for a week of spiritual introspection and occasional parasailing.”

What’s different and fascinating about the Trump worship is that he doesn’t even try that hard for a righteous facade — for Potemkin piety. Sure, he speaks of enthusiastic churchgoing, and he’s careful to curse Planned Parenthood and to insist that matrimony be reserved for heterosexuals as demonstrably inept at it as he is.

But beyond that? He just about runs the table on the seven deadly sins. He personifies greed, embodies pride, radiates lust. Wrath is covered by his anti-immigrant, anti-“losers” rants, and if we interpret gluttony to include big buildings and not just Big Macs, he’s a glutton through and through. That leaves envy and sloth. I’m betting that he harbors plenty of the former, though I’ll concede that he exhibits none of the latter.

In 2012, inexplicably, he was invited to Liberty University, where he digressed during his remarks to extol the prudence of prenuptial agreements. But all was forgiven: His host, Jerry Falwell, told audience members that Trump could be credited for “single-handedly” forcing President Obama to release his birth certificate. Oh how they cheered, as if ugly, groundless partisan rumor-mongering were on a saintly par with washing lepers’ feet.

Maybe it’s Trump’s jingoism they adore. They venerated Ronald Reagan though he’d divorced, remarried and spent much of his career in the godless clutch of Hollywood.

Maybe their fealty to Trump is payback for his donations to conservative religious groups.

Or maybe his pompadour has mesmerized them. It could, in the right wind, be mistaken for a halo.

I’m grasping at straws, because there’s no sense in the fact that many of the people who most frequently espouse the Christian spirit then proceed to vilify immigrants, demonize minorities and line up behind a candidate who’s a one-man master class in such misanthropy.

From Trump’s Twitter account gushes an endless stream of un-Christian rudeness, and he was at it again on Monday night, retweeting someone else’s denigration of Kelly as a “bimbo.” Shouldn’t he be turning the other cheek?

For politicians as for voters, devotion and grace can be fickle, convenient things. Courting the evangelical vote, Cruz used his own Twitter account last week to say that his “thoughts and prayers are with President Jimmy Carter,” whose struggle with cancer was riveting the nation. But then Cruz pressed on with a speech that bemoaned the “misery, stagnation and malaise” of Carter’s presidency. He couldn’t have hit pause on the Carter bashing for a week or two?

Carter pressed on, too — with his usual weekend routine of teaching Sunday school, which he has long done with little fanfare. His own Christianity is not a bludgeon but a bridge.

As for Trump, I must not be watching the same campaign that his evangelical fans are, because I don’t see someone interested in serving God. I see someone interested in being God.

Friedman and Bruni

August 19, 2015

In “The World’s Hot Spot” Mr. Friedman says that mideast governments that are often focused on bloody conflicts are being stressed by the pressures brought on by Mother Nature.  Mr. Bruni considers “Jeb Bush’s Slog: The Tortoise and the Hair” and says Jeb! had better hurry up if he wants to finish ahead of Donald Trump and a raucous Republican field.  Here’s TMOW:

Here’s my bet about the future of Sunni, Shiite, Arab, Turkish, Kurdish and Israeli relations: If they don’t end their long-running conflicts, Mother Nature is going to destroy them all long before they destroy one another. Let me point out a few news items you may have missed while debating the Iran nuclear deal.

On July 31, USA Today reported that in Bandar Mahshahr, Iran, a city adjacent to the Persian Gulf, the heat index soared to 163 degrees “as a heat wave continued to bake the Middle East, already one of the hottest places on earth. ‘That was one of the most incredible temperature observations I have ever seen, and it is one of the most extreme readings ever in the world,’ AccuWeather meteorologist Anthony Sagliani said in a statement.

“While the temperature was ‘only’ 115 degrees, the dew point was an unfathomable 90 degrees. … The combination of heat and humidity, measured by the dew point, is what makes the heat index — or what the temperature actually feels like outside.”

Then we saw something we’ve not seen before: An Iraqi government was sacked over its failure to deliver air conditioning. Two weeks ago, the prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, abolished all three vice-presidential posts and the office of deputy prime minister and proposed sweeping anti-corruption reforms after weeks of street protests over the fact that the government could supply electricity for air-conditioning for only a few hours a day during weeks of 120-degree temperatures.

As The Times’s Anne Barnard reported on Aug. 1, the heat issue in Iraq “has even eclipsed war with the Islamic State. The prime minister … declared a four-day weekend to keep people out of the sun … and ordered an end to one of the most coveted perks of government officials: round-the-clock power for their air-conditioners. …

“Several thousand people — workers, artists and intellectuals — demonstrated Friday evening … in the center of Baghdad, chanting and carrying signs about the lack of electricity and blaming corruption for it. … Some men stripped to their shorts and lay down in the street to sleep, a strong statement in a modest society. … The protest was unusual in that it did not appear to have been called for by any major political party.”

On Feb. 19, 2014, The Associated Press reported from Iran: “The first cabinet decision made under Iran’s new president, Hassan Rouhani, wasn’t about how to resolve his country’s nuclear dispute with world powers. It was about how to keep the nation’s largest lake from disappearing. Lake Oroumieh, one of the biggest saltwater lakes on earth, has shrunk more than 80 percent to … (nearly 400 square miles) in the past decade, mainly because of climate change, expanded irrigation for surrounding farms and the damming of rivers that feed the body of water, experts say.

“ ‘The lake is gone. My job is gone. My children are gone. Tourists, too,’ said Mozafar Cheraghi, 58, as he stood on a dusty platform that was once his bustling teahouse.”

Francesco Femia and Caitlin Werrell run the indispensable Center for Climate and Security in Washington that tracks these trends. They noted that the South Asia scholar Michael Kugelman recently observed “that in Pakistan more people have died from the heat wave than from terrorism this year. We would emphasize that there shouldn’t be a competition between ‘terrorism’ and ‘climate stress,’ but that the resources spent on the former vastly outstrip the latter.”

They added, “A 2011 study from the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) found strong evidence that winter precipitation decline in the Mediterranean littoral and the Middle East from 1971 to 2010 was likely due to climate change, with the region experiencing nearly all of its driest winters since 1902 in the past 20 years.”

Finally they noted: “The social contract between governments and their publics is being stressed by these extreme events, and that matters are only likely to get worse, given climate projections for many of these places. … Governments that are responsive to publics in the face of these stresses are likely to strengthen the social contract, while those who are unresponsive are likely to weaken it. And for the most part, we’re seeing inadequate responses.”

Indeed, see Syria: Its revolution was preceded by the worst four-year drought in the country’s modern history, driving nearly a million farmers and herders off the land, into the cities where the government of Bashar al-Assad completely failed to help them, fueling the revolution.

All the people in this region are playing with fire. While they’re fighting over who is caliph, who is the rightful heir to the Prophet Muhammad from the seventh century — Sunnis or Shiites — and to whom God really gave the holy land, Mother Nature is not sitting idle. She doesn’t do politics — only physics, biology and chemistry. And if they add up the wrong way, she will take them all down.

The only “ism” that will save them is not Shiism or Islamism but “environmentalism” — understanding that there is no Shiite air or Sunni water, there is just “the commons,” their shared ecosystems, and unless they cooperate to manage and preserve them (and we all address climate change), vast eco-devastation awaits them all.

I love the “them all” there…  Tommy, it’s “us all.”  Now here’s Mr. Bruni, plugging away for Jeb!:

In politics, the smallest things often turn out to be the most telling ones, and so it is with the man who was supposed to be the Republican front-runner, who once inspired such rapture among party elders and whose entrance into the presidential race they yearned and clamored for.

They not only got their wish, they got it with punctuation: Jeb! That’s Jeb Bush’s logo, and the exclamation point is the tell. None of the other Republican presidential candidates has anything like it. None of the Democrats either. It’s a declaration of passion that only someone worried about a deficit of it would issue. Methinks thou doth exclaim too much.

Before Bush announced his candidacy, talk of his vulnerabilities focused largely on certain positions — his defense of Common Core educational standards, his advocacy for immigration reform — that were anathema to many voters in the Republican primaries. He was sure to catch flak.

But catching fire is his bigger problem. He can’t do it. In a bloated field of bellicose candidates, he’s a whisper, a blur, starved of momentum, bereft of urgency and apt to make news because he stumbles, not because he soars.Can he soar? Or even sprint?

“I’m the tortoise in the race,” he told a group of voters in Florida not long ago. “But I’m a joyful tortoise.”

And Donald Trump’s a demented peacock and I’m a crotchety hippo. Reverse anthropomorphism is a fun game, but if you’re playing it in the service of selling yourself, best not to summon a sluggish creature with a muted affect and an impenetrable shell.

Republicans should have seen this turtle coming. In some sense they did. Bush’s fans and backers praised him as a thoughtful “policy wonk” and conceded that he wasn’t any dynamo at the lectern or on the trail.

But they downgraded the importance of dynamism, maybe because they didn’t expect so much competition, including Trump. (It’s “the race between the tortoise and the bad hair,” cracked Jay Leno last week.) They couldn’t envision the way in which 16 rivals would rob Bush of clear distinction and definition.

Sure, he speaks Spanish and has a Mexican-born wife, but Marco Rubio also speaks Spanish and has two Cuban-born parents. Sure, he was twice elected governor of a state that’s not reliably red, but so were Scott Walker, Chris Christie and John Kasich.

He’s not the most eloquent or the most inspiring, so his backers began to pitch him as the most adult. But at that first debate, Kasich stole even that superlative from him.

What’s left? He’s raised the most money, some of which he’ll use for television ads much sooner than anyone had anticipated. He’ll try to buy the oomph that he can’t organically generate.

Oomph is what that big speech last week — in which he blamed Hillary Clinton for the rise of the Islamic State — was largely about. He was flexing his audacity and independence, showing that his surname wouldn’t cow him from going after a Democratic rival on any matter, including Iraq. It took gall to edit his older brother out of the diatribe. It took guts to go with a diatribe in the first place.

Did it help? Polls suggest not. A CNN/ORC survey that was released on Tuesday showed that he doesn’t fare nearly as well as Trump when Republican voters are asked whom they trust most on the economy, on immigration and on battling Islamic extremists.

He runs afoul of the moment. Voters right now are more enamored of outsiders than usual, as the traction of not just Trump but also two other Republican candidates who have never held elective office — Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina — demonstrates.

Voters have had enough of protocol and pieties. Thus Trump thrives in a party that he constantly browbeats and shows no real loyalty toward, while Bernie Sanders flourishes among Democrats though he has repeatedly railed against them and doesn’t technically identify as one.

For some alienated voters, supporting either of these two insurgents is the same as raising a middle finger to establishment politicians and to politics as usual, and tactful, tasteful Bush can never be a middle finger. More like a pinkie.

The pinkie may prevail. In the Bush camp there’s a theory, or perhaps an anxiety-quelling fantasy, that the Trump mania and the related craziness will benefit Bush, who can methodically build support and incrementally lengthen his stride while the glare and heat are on others.

Trump burns out, the field eventually winnows, and Bush is saved by a superlative after all. He’s the most durable candidate.

It’s a plausible scenario. But it’s hardly a joyful one. And there’s only one way to punctuate it — with a question mark.

The first Bush presidency was blah and clumsy.  The second one was such an unmitigated disaster that to even consider the possibility of a third should give any rational human being the screaming collywobbles…

Friedman and Bruni

August 12, 2015

In “If I Were an Israeli Looking at the Iran Deal” TMOW says that his  thinking as an Israeli grocer would be different from as an Israeli general, and that would be still different from as the prime minister.  Boy, is that ever profound…  Mr. Bruni has a question:  “Can We Interest You in Teaching?”  He says the  teacher shortage compels us to look harder at a crucial profession’s inadequate allure.  Here’s TMOW:

With the U.S. and Israel openly arguing over the Iran nuclear deal, I’ve asked myself this: How would I look at this deal if I were an Israeli grocer, an Israeli general or the Israeli prime minister?

If I were an Israeli grocer, just following this deal on the radio, I’d hate it for enshrining Iran’s right to enrich uranium, since Iran regularly cheated its way to expanding that capability, even though it had signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. After all, Iran holds “death to Israel” marches and in 2006 sponsored a conference to promote denial of the Holocaust. Moreover, Iran’s proxy, the Lebanese Shiite militia, Hezbollah, in 2006, started an unprovoked war with Israel, and when Israel retaliated against Hezbollah military and civilian targets, Hezbollah fired thousands of Iranian-supplied rockets all across Israel. No — no matter the safeguards — I as an Israeli grocer would reject this deal from my gut.

If I were an Israeli general, I’d share my grocer’s skepticism, but end up somewhere else (as many Israeli military officers have). I’d start by recalling what the Israeli statesman Abba Eban used to say when Israeli hawks would argue against taking risks for peace with the Palestinians, that Israel is not “a disarmed Costa Rica.” It not only possesses some 100 to 200 nuclear weapons, it also can deliver them to Iran by plane, submarine and long-range rocket. I’d also note the reason Hezbollah hasn’t launched an unprovoked attack on Israel since 2006 is it knows, by experience, that Israel’s core strategic doctrine is this: No enemy will ever out-crazy us into leaving this region.

Israel plays, when it has to, by what I’ve called “Hama rules” — war without mercy. The Israeli Army tries to avoid hitting civilian targets, but it has demonstrated in both Lebanon and Gaza that it will not be deterred by the threat of civilian Arab casualties when Hezbollah or Hamas launches its rockets from civilian areas. It is not pretty, but this is not Scandinavia. The Jewish state has survived in an Arab-Muslim sea because its neighbors know that for all its Western mores it will not be out-crazied. It will play by local rules. Iran, Hamas and Hezbollah know this, which is why Israel’s generals know they possess significant deterrence against an Iranian bomb.

And Iran’s ayatollahs have long demonstrated they are not suicidal. As the Israeli strategists Shai Feldman and Ariel Levite wrote recently in National Interest: “It is noteworthy that during its thirty-six-year history the Islamic Republic [of Iran] never gambled its survival as Iraq’s Saddam Hussein did three times” — by launching a war against Iran in 1980, invading Kuwait in 1990 and betting that George W. Bush would not attack him in 2003. If I were an Israeli general, I wouldn’t love this deal, but I could see its advantages, especially if the U.S. enhanced its deterrence.

If I were Israel’s prime minister, I’d start by admitting that my country faces two existential threats: One, external, is an Iranian bomb and the other, internal, is the failure to separate from the West Bank Palestinians into two states, leaving only a one-state solution where Israel would end up governing so many Palestinians it could no longer be a Jewish democracy.

To deal with the Iran threat I would not, as Israel’s leader, be pressuring U.S. Jews to go against their own government to try to scuttle the deal — when I have no credible alternative.

This deal sharply reduces Iran’s bomb-making uranium stockpile for 15 years, and pushes Iran’s ability to break out with a nuclear weapon from three months — where it is now — to a year. I’d be very confident that if I can keep Iran one year away from a bomb for 15 years, during that time Israel’s defense technologists will develop many more ways to detect and eliminate any kind of Iranian breakout.

And I’d recognize that if my lobbyists in Washington actually succeeded in getting Congress to scrap this deal, the result wouldn’t be a better deal. It would be no deal, so Iran would remain three months from a bomb — and with no intrusive inspectors, with collapsing sanctions and Israel, not Iran, diplomatically isolated.

So rather than fighting with President Obama, as prime minister I’d be telling him Israel will support this deal but it wants the U.S. to increase what really matters — its deterrence capability — by having Congress authorize this and any future president to use any means necessary to destroy any Iranian attempt to build a bomb. I don’t trust U.N. inspectors; I trust deterrence. And to enhance that I’d ask the U.S. to position in the Middle East the U.S. Air Force’s Massive Ordnance Penetrator (MOP), a precision-guided, 30,000-pound “bunker buster” bomb that could take out any Iranian reactor hidden in any mountain. The Iranians would get the message.

And then I’d put all my energies as Israel’s leader into trying to securely disengage from the West Bank Palestinians to preserve Israel as a Jewish democracy. That — plus the Iran deal plus enhanced U.S. deterrence — would make Israel more secure against both its existential threats.

Unfortunately, Israel has a prime minister whose strategy is to reject the Iran deal without any credible Plan B and to downplay the internal threat without any credible Plan A.

Why a grocer instead of a taxi driver, I wonder…  He’s always been very familiar with taxi drivers and their thoughts.  Here’s Mr. Bruni:

Teaching can’t compete.

When the economy improves and job prospects multiply, college students turn their attention elsewhere, to professions that promise more money, more independence, more respect.

That was one takeaway from a widely discussed story in The Times on Sunday by Motoko Rich, who charted teacher shortages so severe in certain areas of the country that teachers are being rushed into classrooms with dubious qualifications and before they’ve earned their teaching credentials.

It’s a sad, alarming state of affairs, and it proves that for all our lip service about improving the education of America’s children, we’ve failed to make teaching the draw that it should be, the honor that it must be. Nationally, enrollment in teacher preparation programs dropped by 30 percent between 2010 and 2014, as Rich reported.

To make matters worse, more than 40 percent of the people who do go into teaching exit the profession within five years.

How do we make teaching more rewarding, so that it beckons to not only enough college graduates but to a robust share of the very best of them?

Better pay is a must. There’s no getting around that. Many teachers in many areas can’t hope to buy a house and support a family on their incomes, and college students contemplating careers know that. If those students are taking on debt, teaching isn’t likely to provide a timely way to pay it off. The average salary nationally for public school teachers,including those with decades in the classroom, is under $57,000; starting salaries in some states barely crest $30,000.

There’s also the issue of autonomy.

“The No. 1 thing is giving teachers a voice, a real voice,” Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, said to me this week.

Education leaders disagree over how much of a voice and in what. Weingarten emphasizes teacher involvement in policy, and a survey of some 30,000 teachers and other school workers done by the A.F.T. and the Badass Teachers Association in late April showed that one large source of stress was being left out of such decisions.

Others focus on primarily letting teachers chart the day-by-day path to the goals laid out for them, so that they’re not just obedient vessels for a one-size-fits-all script. Hold them accountable, but give them discretion.

The political battles over education, along with the shifting vogues about what’s best, have left many teachers feeling like pawns and punching bags. And while that’s no reason not to implement promising new approaches or to shrink from experimentation, it puts an onus on policy makers and administrators to bring generous measures of training, support and patience to the task.

Teachers crave better opportunities for career growth. Evan Stone, one of the chief executives of Educators 4 Excellence, which represents about 17,000 teachers nationwide, called for “career ladders for teachers to move into specialist roles, master-teacher roles.”

“They’re worried that they’re going to be doing the same thing on Day 1 as they’ll be doing 30 years in,” he told me.

He also questioned licensing laws that prevent the easy movement of an exemplary teacher from one state to another. Minnesota recently relaxedsuch requirements; if other states followed suit, it might build a desirable new flexibility into the profession.

Teaching also needs to be endowed with greater prestige. One intriguing line of thought about how to do this is to make the requirements for becoming a teacher more difficult, so that a teaching credential has luster. In the book “The Smartest Kids in the World,” Amanda Ripley noted that Finland’s teachers are revered in part because they’re the survivors of selective screening and rigorous training.

Kate Walsh, the president of the National Council on Teacher Quality, told me that in this country, “It’s pretty firmly rooted in college students that education is a fairly easy major.” Too often, it’s also “a major of last resort,” she said.

Dan Brown, a co-director of Educators Rising, which encourages teenagers to contemplate careers in the classroom, said that teaching might be ready for its own Flexner Report, an early 1900s document that revolutionized medical schools and raised the bar for American medicine, contributing to the aura that surrounds physicians today.

He also asked why, in the intensifying political discussions about making college more affordable, there’s not more talk of methods “to recognize and incentivize future public servants,” foremost among them teachers.

There should be. The health of our democracy and the perpetuation of our prosperity depend on teaching no less than they do on Wall Street’s machinations or Silicon Valley’s innovations. So let’s make the classroom a destination as sensible, exciting and fulfilling as any other.

Friedman, solo

August 5, 2015

In “My Question for the Republican Presidential Debate” TMOW says he would certainly pay a nickel for the candidates’ thoughts.  Which is more than they’re worth…  Here he is:

If I got to ask one question of the presidential aspirants at Thursday’s Fox Republican debate, it would be this: “As part of a 1982 transportation bill,President Ronald Reagan agreed to boost the then 4-cent-a-gallon gasoline tax to 9 cents, saying, ‘When we first built our highways, we paid for them with a gas tax,’ adding, ‘It was a fair concept then, and it is today.’ Do you believe Reagan was right then, and would you agree to raise the gasoline tax by 5 cents a gallon today so we can pay for our highway bill, which is now stalled in Congress over funding?”

The gasoline tax is currently 18.4 cents a gallon, and was last hiked by Bill Clinton in 1993, after a raise by George Bush in 1990. Average gasoline prices have fallen roughly a dollar a gallon in the last year, so a 5-cent increase would hardly be noticed. No matter, the Senate last week passed a six-year transportation bill, but funded it for only three years. And because Senate Republicans refused to pay for any of it with a gas tax, they raise the funds instead, in part, by selling oil from our Strategic Petroleum Reserve, which is our insurance against another oil crisis. I’m not making this up.

House Republicans have yet to weigh in. Perhaps they’ll propose paying for it by selling gold from Fort Knox or paintings from the National Gallery.

Why is this such a key question? Because it cuts to the core of what is undermining the Republican Party today and, indirectly, our country: There is no longer a Republican center-right that would have no problem raising the gas tax for something as fundamental as infrastructure. Sure, there are center-right candidates — like Jeb Bush and John Kasich. But can they run, win and govern from the center-right when the base of their party and so many of its billionaire donors reflect the angry anti-science, anti-tax, anti-government, anti-minorities, anti-gay rights and anti-immigration views of the Tea Party and its media enforcer, Fox News?

America has more natural advantages to thrive in the 21st century than any other country on the planet. But we prosper only by making the right investments and adaptations to maximize our strengths. That can happen only if there is a center-right party offering creative, market-based solutions to meet these opportunities and challenges — ready to compromise with a center-left party offering more government-oriented approaches. Bernie Sanders notwithstanding, the Democratic Party is still dominated by its center-left — Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. In today’s G.O.P., the far-right base is setting the agenda.

The Republican Bruce Bartlett, writing in Politico last week, said he hoped that Donald Trump becomes the G.O.P. presidential nominee, riding the Tea Party wave, and is so badly defeated in the national election that the party has to return to the center-right. “The Trump phenomenon perfectly represents the culmination of populism and anti-intellectualism that became dominant in the Republican Party with the rise of the Tea Party,” wrote Bartlett, who served in Reagan’s administration. “I think many Republican leaders have had deep misgivings about the Tea Party since the beginning, but the short-term benefits were too great to resist. A Trump rout is Republican moderates’ best chance to take back the G.O.P.”

What does it mean to be a center-right Republican? It means starting each day by asking, What world am I living in and how do I best align the country to thrive in that world? Offering market-based responses to science- and fact-based problems and opportunities. Being ready to compromise to get fundamentals like a transportation bill passed and making a distinction between an “expenditure” and an “investment.” There is a big difference between funding energy research, bioscience or a new university — and some pork-barrel project.

Making cuts across the board, like the sequester, is stupid.

What do center-right policies look like? On infrastructure, it’s a gas tax. On immigration, it’s a high wall, to assure citizens that we can control our borders, but with a very big gate to promote legal immigration of the high-I.Q. knowledge workers and high-energy less-skilled workers who have always propelled our economy. On climate, it looks like a recent paper by Jerry Taylor, president of the Niskanen Center, a libertarian think tank, making a conservative case for a carbon tax.

Taylor argues that “the risks imposed by climate change are real, and a policy of ignoring those risks and hoping for the best is inconsistent with risk-management practices conservatives embrace in other, non-climate contexts. Conservatives should embrace a carbon tax (a much less costly means of reducing greenhouse gas emissions) in return for elimination of E.P.A. regulatory authority over greenhouse gas emissions, abolition of green energy subsidies and regulatory mandates, and offsetting tax cuts to provide for revenue neutrality.”

The center-left wouldn’t agree with all of his trade-offs, but if that were the G.O.P. position — climate change is real and here’s our market solution — I guarantee you we’d have had a serious compromise national climate policy by now. We’re paying a huge price for the way the Tea Party has marginalized the center-right.

Marginalized?  MARGINALIZED???  The “center-right” has been hanged, drawn, quartered, embalmed, cremated and buried.

Friedman and Bruni

July 29, 2015

I’m sorry about yesterday, but the computer was in the DOSpital with a bad case of gremlins.  Today TMOW says “For the Mideast It’s Still 1979” and that events 36 years ago still shape the region, but that could change.  And pigs could fly…  Mr. Bruni, in “Today’s Exhausted Superkids,” says overpacked days lead to restless nights, and more experts are rightly questioning the sense — and safety — of that.  Here’s TMOW:

I started my career as a foreign correspondent in Beirut in 1979. I didn’t know it at the time, but 1979 turned out to be one of the great vintage years for foreign news — particularly from the Middle East. It set in motion the most important dynamics still shaping that region today. In fact, it’s been 1979 for 36 years. And the big question about the Iran nuclear deal reached this month is, Will it ultimately be a break on the history set in motion in 1979, and put the region on a new path, or will it turbocharge 1979 in ways that could shake the whole world?

What happened in 1979? For starters, there was the takeover of the Grand Mosque in Mecca by Islamist extremists who challenged the religious credentials of the Saudi ruling family, accusing them of impiety. The al-Sauds responded by forging a new bargain with their religious conservatives: Let us stay in power and we’ll give you a freer hand in setting social norms, relations between the sexes and religious education inside Saudi Arabia — and vast resources to spread the puritanical, anti-women, anti-Shiite, anti-pluralistic Sunni Wahhabi fundamentalism to mosques and schools around the world.

This Saudi lurch backward coincided with Iran’s Islamic Revolution in 1979, which brought Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini to power. That revolution set up a global competition between Shiite Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia for leadership of the Muslim world, and it also led to a big surge in oil prices that gave both regimes more money than ever to export Shiite and Sunni fundamentalism. That is why the Egyptian scholar Mamoun Fandy liked to say, “Islam lost its brakes in 1979.”

That competition was further fueled by the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 — which spawned the Sunni jihadist movement and eventually Al Qaeda — and by the Three Mile Island nuclear accident, also in 1979, which basically ended all new building of nuclear power plants in America, making us more dependent on fossil fuels. Of course, the Islamic Revolution in Iran also led to a break in relations with the U.S. — and shifted Iran from a tacit ally of Israel’s to a country wishing “death to Israel.”

So the U.S.-Iran nuclear deal marks a big change — but because it will lead to an end to economic sanctions on Iran, it could turbocharge 1979 as easily as end it. That depends on a lot of factors: Will the nuclear deal empower the more moderate/pragmatic majority inside Iran rather than the hard-line Revolutionary Guards Corps? The reason to be worried is that the moderates don’t control Iran’s nuclear program or its military/intelligence complex; the hard-line minority does. The reason to be hopeful is the majority’s aspiration to reintegrate with the world forced the hard-liners to grudgingly accept this deal.

A lot will depend also on Saudi Arabia moderating the anti-modernist trend it imposed on Sunni Islam. On Tuesday the Middle East Media Research Institute released a translation of a TV interview by the Saudi author Turki al-Hamad about the extremist discourse prevalent in Saudi Arabia. “Who serves as fuel for ISIS?” he asked. “Our own youth. What drives our youth to join ISIS? The prevailing culture, the culture that is planted in people’s minds. It is our youth who carry out bombings. … You can see (in ISIS videos) the volunteers in Syria ripping up their Saudi passports.”

That’s why another factor determining if 2015 is a break with 1979 or a multiplier of it will be the energy revolution in America — efficiency, renewables and fracking — and whether it keeps putting downward pressure on oil prices. Give me five years of $25-a-barrel oil and you’ll see reformers strengthened in Iran and Saudi Arabia; they’ll both have to tap their people instead of oil.

But while that oil price decline is necessary, it is not sufficient. Both regimes also have to stop looking for dignity and legitimacy in combating the other — and Israel — and find it, instead, in elevating their own people. Saudi Arabia’s attempt to bomb Iranian influence out of Yemen is sheer madness; the Saudis are bombing rubble into rubble. Will Iran spend its windfall from this nuclear deal trying to dominate the Arab world? Maybe. But Iraq, Syria, Libya and Yemen today are like a giant Superfund toxic cleanup site. Iran wants to own that? It will sap more of its strength than strengthen it. We know.

On July 9, Agence France-Presse reported that the International Monetary Fund estimated Saudi Arabia, whose population tripled since 1975, would run a budget deficit this year exceeding “$130 billion, the largest in the kingdom’s history,” and “to finance spending Riyadh has already withdrawn $52.3 billion from its fiscal reserves in the first five months of the year.” Iran’s population has doubled since 1979, and 60 percent of its residents are under 30 and it has 20 percent unemployment. Last April, Issa Kalantari, a former Iranian agriculture minister, warned that because of dwindling water resources, and over-exploitation, if Iran doesn’t radically change its water usage “50 million people — 70 percent of Iranians — will have no choice but to leave the country,” Al-Monitor reported.

Nukes are hardly the only threats for this region. Both Iran and Saudi Arabia desperately need to make 2015 the end of the 1979 era. It would be fanciful to predict that they will — and utterly realistic to predict the destruction that will visit both if they don’t.

Now here’s Mr. Bruni:

There are several passages in the new book “Overloaded and Underprepared” that fill me with sadness for American high school students, the most driven of whom are forever in search of a competitive edge. Some use stimulants like Adderall. Some cheat.

But the part of the book that somehow got to me most was about sleep.

It’s a prerequisite for healthy growth. It’s a linchpin of sanity. Before adulthood, a baseline amount is fundamental and nonnegotiable, or should be.

But many teenagers today are so hyped up and stressed out that they’re getting only a fraction of the rest they need. The book mentions a high school in Silicon Valley that brought in outside sleep experts, created a kind of sleep curriculum and trained students as “sleep ambassadors,” all to promote shut-eye.

The school even held a contest that asked students for sleep slogans. The winner: “Life is lousy when you’re drowsy.”

Sleep ambassadors? Sleep rhymes? Back when I was in high school in the 1980s, in a setting considered intense in its day, the most common sleep problem among my peers was getting too much of it and not waking up in time for class.

Now the concern isn’t how to rouse teens but how to lull them. And that says everything about the way childhood has been transformed — at least among an ambitious, privileged subset of Americans — into an insanely programmed, status-obsessed and sometimes spirit-sapping race.

Take one more Advanced Placement class. Add another extracurricular. Apply to all eight Ivies.

Lose a few winks but never a few steps.

“Overloaded and Underprepared,” published on Tuesday, was written by Denise Pope, Maureen Brown and Sarah Miles, all affiliated with a Stanford University-based group called Challenge Success, which urges more balanced learning environments. The book looks at homework loads, school-day structures and much more.

And it joins an urgently needed body of literature that pushes back athelicopter parenting, exorbitant private tutoring, exhaustive preparation for standardized tests and the rest of it. This genre goes back at least a decade and includes, notably, Madeline Levine’s “The Price of Privilege” and Paul Tough’s “How Children Succeed.”

But it has expanded with particular velocity of late. “How to Raise an Adult,” by Julie Lythcott-Haims, came out last month. “The Gift of Failure,” by Jessica Lahey, will be released in two weeks.

There’s a unifying theme: Enough is enough.

“At some point, you have to say, ‘Whoa! This is too crazy,’ ” Pope, a senior lecturer at Stanford, told me.

Sleep deprivation is just a part of the craziness, but it’s a perfect shorthand for childhoods bereft of spontaneity, stripped of real play and haunted by the “pressure of perfection,” to quote the headline on a story by Julie Scelfoin The Times this week.

Scelfo wrote about six suicides in a 13-month period at the University of Pennsylvania; about the prevalence of anxiety and depression on college campuses; about many star students’ inability to cope with even minor setbacks, which are foreign and impermissible.

Those students almost certainly need more sleep. In a study in the medical journal Pediatrics this year, about 55 percent of American teenagers from the ages of 14 to 17 reported that they were getting less than seven hours a night, though the National Sleep Foundation counsels 8 to 10.

“I’ve got kids on a regular basis telling me that they’re getting five hours,” Pope said. That endangers their mental and physical health.

Smartphones and tablets aggravate the problem, keeping kids connected and distracted long after lights out. But in communities where academic expectations run highest, the real culprit is panic: about acing the exam, burnishing the transcript, keeping up with high-achieving peers.

I’ve talked with many parents in these places. They say that they’d love to pull their children off such a fast track, but won’t the other children wind up ahead?

They might — if “ahead” is measured only by a spot in U-Penn’s freshman class and if securing that is all that matters.

But what about giving a kid the wiggle room to find genuine passions, the freedom to discover true independence, the space to screw up and bounce back? Shouldn’t that matter as much?

“No one is arguing for a generation of mediocre or underachieving kids — but plenty of people have begun arguing for a redefinition of what it means to achieve at all,” wrote Jeffrey Kluger in Time magazine last week. He noted, rightly, that “somewhere between the self-esteem building of going for the gold and the self-esteem crushing of the Ivy-or-die ethos, there has to be a place where kids can breathe.”

And where they can tumble gently into sleep, which is a gateway, not an impediment, to dreams.


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