Archive for the ‘Friedman’ Category

Friedman and Bruni

September 27, 2017

In “Folks, We’re Home Alone” The Moustache of Wisdom says we need to adapt to succeed, and this president isn’t helping.  Mr. Bruni thinks he knows “The Lecture That Donald Trump Needs.” He says Jeff Sessions schooled college students on free speech, but his most important pupil is the president.  Here’s TMOW:

Former Secretary of State Dean Acheson wrote a famous memoir, “Present at the Creation,” about the birth of the post-World War II order — an order whose institutions produced six decades of security and growth for a lot of people. We’re now at a similar moment of rapid change — abroad and at home. Many institutions have to be rethought. But any book about Washington today would have to be called “Absent at the Creation.”

Surely one of the most cynical, reckless acts of governing in my lifetime has been President Trump and the G.O.P.’s attempt to ram through a transformation of America’s health care system — without holding hearings with experts, conducting an independent cost-benefit analysis or preparing the public — all to erase Barack Obama’s legacy to satisfy a few billionaire ideologue donors and a “base” so drunk on Fox News that its members don’t understand they’ll be the ones most hurt by it all.

Democrats aren’t exactly a fire hose of fresh ideas, but they do respect science and have a sense of responsibility to not play around with big systems without an ounce of study. Not so Trump. He scrapped the Paris climate treaty without consulting one climate scientist — and no G.O.P. leader protested. Think about that.

That failure is particularly relevant because, as this column has been arguing, “climate change” is the right analytical framework for thinking about how we shape policy today. Why? Because we’re going through three climate changes at once:

We’re going through a change in the actual climate — disruptive, destructive weather events are steadily on the rise.

We’re going through a change in the “climate” of globalization — going from an interconnected world to an interdependent one, from a world of walls where you build your wealth by hoarding the most resources to a world of webs where you build your wealth by having the most connections to the flow of ideas, networks, innovators and entrepreneurs. In this interdependent world, connectivity leads to prosperity and isolation leads to poverty. We got rich by being “America Connected” not “America First.”

Finally, we’re going through a change in the “climate” of technology and work. We’re moving into a world where computers and algorithms can analyze(reveal previously hidden patterns); optimize (tell a plane which altitude to fly each mile to get the best fuel efficiency); prophesize (tell you when your elevator will break or what your customer is likely to buy); customize (tailor any product or service for you alone); and digitize and automatize more and more products and services. Any company that doesn’t deploy all six elements will struggle, and this is changing every job and industry.

What do you need when the climate changes? Adaptation — so your citizens can get the most out of these climate changes and cushion the worst. Adaptation has to happen at the individual, community and national levels.

At the individual level, the single most important adaptation is to become a lifelong learner, so you can constantly add value beyond what machines and algorithms can do.

“When work was predictable and the change rate was relatively constant, preparation for work merely required the codification and transfer of existing knowledge and predetermined skills to create a stable and deployable work force,” explains education consultant Heather McGowan. “Now that the velocity of change has accelerated, due to a combination of exponential growth in technology and globalization, learning can no longer be a set dose of education consumed in the first third of one’s life.” In this age of accelerations, “the new killer skill set is an agile mind-set that values learning over knowing.”

At the community level, the U.S. communities that are thriving are the ones building what I call complex adaptive coalitions. These comprise local businesses that get deeply involved in shaping the skills being taught in the public schools and community colleges, buttressed by civic and philanthropic groups providing supplemental learning opportunities and internships. Then local government catalyzes these coalitions and hires recruiters to go into the world to find investors for their local communal assets.

These individual and communal adaptation strategies dictate the national programs you want: health care that is as portable as possible so people can easily move from job to job; as much free or tax-deductible education as possible, so people can afford to be lifelong learners; reducing taxes on corporations and labor to stimulate job creation and relying instead on a carbon tax that raises revenues and mitigates costly climate change; and immigration and trade policies that are as open as possible, because in an age of acceleration the most open country will get the change signals first and attract the most high-I.Q. risk takers who start new companies.

There was no good time for Donald Trump to be president. But this is a uniquely bad time for us to have a race-baiting, science-denying divider in chief. He is impossible to ignore, and yet reacting to his daily antics only makes us stupid — only makes our society less focused on the huge adaptation challenges at hand.

Now here’s Mr. Bruni:

I’m thrilled that Jeff Sessions is such an evangelist for free speech.

Now if only he could convert his boss.

On Tuesday afternoon, with much fanfare, Sessions strode onto a stage at Georgetown University and decried the rise of a creature with an insatiable appetite for affirmation, a distressing inability to respect the other side and an ugly impulse to silence anyone who dwells there. He meant today’s college student. He could have been describing today’s president.

While decency and decorum are dying in this administration, irony and hypocrisy thrive: Sessions’ defense of the First Amendment came just days after Donald Trump needlessly went to war against professional athletes who were exercising the very rights it protects. When pressed on this dissonance in a question-and-answer period after his remarks, Sessions simply refused to recognize it. He fell unswervingly in line with Trump, contradictions be damned. To serve in this administration is a transcendently speech-freeing thing.

There’s no dispute that many campuses are illiberal enclaves of bluntly enforced groupthink, and there’s no doubt that many students deserve the stern words that Sessions aimed at them. But they’re still green and still growing. What’s Trump’s excuse?

Given his office and capacity for destruction, he needs the lecture that Sessions delivered most of all. So let’s redirect it from its intended audience to its ideal one, from the ivory tower to Trump Tower, and look at Sessions’ remarks through the prism of his ruler.

“There are those who will say that certain speech isn’t deserving of protection. They will say that some speech is hurtful — even hateful … But the right of free speech does not exist only to protect the ideas upon which most of us agree.”

Bull’s eye, bingo and hallelujah. The right of free speech protects whatever Colin Kaepernick has to say and whatever he intended to communicate by kneeling during the national anthem. Trump may not be fond of that particular gesture. I myself never was. And as Sessions correctly noted, the president is free to make those thoughts known.

But he went so much further, exhorting team owners in the National Football League to fire players who didn’t listen to the anthem and salute the flag in the manner that Trump would like. The First Amendment says that the government mustn’t prohibit free expression, and his campaign against pro athletes, threatening them with the loss of their livelihoods, edges up to that territory.

“As Justice Robert Jackson once explained, ‘If there is a fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion or other matters of opinion.’ ”

Our highest official is also our pettiest, and his attack on athletes smacks of such an attempted prescription. So did the statement of his press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, that the ESPN host Jemele Hill’s characterization of the president as a “white supremacist” constituted a “fire-able offense.” That’s between ESPN and Hill. The government — meaning the White House — shouldn’t be getting involved.

And Trump’s onetime suggestion that flag burning be made a crime: How does that square with the constitution’s fixed star?

“A shelter for fragile egos.”

That’s how Sessions portrayed the college campus. Make “egos” singular and the phrase defines the Oval Office now. This president has such an overweening investment in his own glory, or rather in the illusion of it, that he distorts truth (the size of his inauguration crowd) and invents facts (the voter fraud that supposedly gave Hillary Clinton the popular vote) to sustain it.

As news organizations call him out on these and all of his other lies, he doesn’t merely push back at the stories one by one. He tweets and bleats that the media is an “enemy of the American people,” trafficking in “fake news.” He tries to intimidate given reporters and news organizations.

He has called for changes in the law to make it easier to sue news organizations for libel. At rallies, he has encouraged crowds to rant at reporters. On Twitter, he has shared violent imagery in regard to CNN.

No president in my lifetime has so thoroughly rejected the media’s role as a vital pillar of democracy and so assertively sought to discredit it as an institution. Freedom of the press is mentioned snug alongside freedom of speech in Sessions’ beloved First Amendment, but you’d never know it from Trump’s behavior.

“The university is supposed to be the place where we train virtuous citizens.”

The White House is supposed to be the place to which we elevate the most virtuous ones of all, at least in happy theory. But can you show me the honor in a president who warps reality itself to his advantage and savages all who get in the way? And where in that ruthlessness is respect for the lofty principles that Sessions so disingenuously espoused?

Administration, heal thyself.

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Friedman and Cohen

August 23, 2017

The Moustache of Wisdom sends us “From Kabul to Baghdad, My Bird’s-Eye View.”  He says a five-nation tour offered a close look at the war on terror and disturbing context for Trump’s plans for Afghanistan.  Mr. Cohen addresses “Trump’s Afghan Illusions” and tells us that the new Afghan strategy is a mess because it has no diplomatic component.  Here’s TMOW, writing from Baghdad:

I just spent eight days traveling with the Air Force to all of its key forward bases in Afghanistan, Iraq, Kuwait, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. So President Trump’s speech on Monday night was very timely for me. It was also unnerving.

It was so full of bombast and clichés, so larded with phrases like “we will break their will,” so lacking in details and, most of all, so lacking in humility in confronting a problem and a region that has vexed better men for ages that I still don’t know where he’s going — only that he is going there very definitively.

I totally agreed with the president’s remarks that our men and women serving in the Middle East “deserve to return to a country that is not at war with itself at home.” But the rank hypocrisy of this man — who has done so much to divide us in recent months to satisfy only his “base” — using our troops as a prop to extol the virtues of national unity made me sick to my stomach.

It also made me recall a lunch I had last week in the mess hall at Bagram Airfield, near Kabul, with Chief Master Sgt. Cory Olson from the 455th Air Expeditionary Wing. Olson explained that working in Afghanistan he was really disconnected from all the political turmoil in America.

And then he told me this story: “I was talking to this civilian contractor the other day who just came back from a couple of weeks’ home leave in Dallas. And this guy told me he was really relieved to get back to ‘reality’ in Kabul — because the politics back home was so crazy.”

You know that American politics has jumped the rails when a U.S. contractor is relieved to get back from America to his little base in Afghanistan.

Anyway, enough of that. Since I can’t explain Trump’s Middle East, let me explain what I saw here — three things in particular: I saw a new way of mounting warfare by the United States in Iraq. I saw in this new warfare a strategy that offers at least a glimmer of hope for Iraq, if and when ISIS is defeated. But, though only a glimpse, I saw in Afghanistan an eroding stalemate — with all the same issues that have undermined stability there for years: government corruption, distrust among Afghans and perfidious interventions by Pakistan and Iran.

The best way for me to explain what’s new in Iraq is with a scene I watched unfold on Saturday. We were at the joint strike cell in Erbil, in Iraqi Kurdistan. This is where multiple Air Force television feeds come in live from drones, U-2s, satellites and U.S. and coalition fighter jets. The officers there are coordinating with Iraqi Army combat forces on the ground and their U.S. military advisers embedded just behind the battlefront to hit ISIS targets as the Iraqi Army begins its push west.

Having retaken Mosul, the Iraqi Army is driving ISIS into the Euphrates River Valley, where it looks like it will make a last stand. This was the second day of the Iraqis’ thrust west and they were already meeting resistance in a small town on the road to ISIS-controlled Tal Afar. Several U.S. eyes in the sky were trained on a single-story, flat-roof building, about 30 feet wide, sandwiched between two larger buildings. Iraqi soldiers crawling toward this building were receiving lots of small-arms fire from inside, stalling their advance about 500 feet away.

Their U.S. advisers were sending all this information to the strike cell in real time. Meanwhile in the strike cell, team members sitting in front of computer screens were calculating exactly how much firepower was required to kill the ISIS fighters and not hurt any civilians who might be nearby. They did a quick tally of the remaining weapons on the American fighter aircraft in the area — seeing which had what smart bombs left.

Seconds later a call of “weapon away, 30 seconds” rang out as an F-15E released a 500-pound GPS-guided smart bomb. The screen rebroadcasting the F-15E’s targeting pod showed the bomb going straight down through the roof.

“We have splash,” said one of the controllers in a monotone as a huge plume of smoke engulfed the video screen. Quickly, the smoke cleared and the 30-foot-wide building was smoldering rubble — but the two buildings to the sides were totally intact, so any civilians inside should be unhurt.

The officer in charge told me that a few weeks earlier, during the campaign to retake Mosul, two Iraqi soldiers were wounded and hiding from an ISIS unit inside a building 15 yards away. Using laser targeting, the U.S. team fired a rocket whose size, direction and shape were chosen to take down only the ISIS building and make its walls fall in the opposite direction of the two pinned-down Iraqis. The rocket worked as intended and they were rescued.

This is war in Iraq today in a nutshell.

For years we’ve measured our involvement in Middle East wars by one pair of indexes — boots on the ground and killed in action. Because of that, most Americans are now paying scant attention to Iraq, where our boots on the ground have shrunk to a few thousand and where there have been just 17 U.S. military deaths since we re-engaged in Iraq to defeat ISIS in 2014.

But the real story is wings in the air. We are involved in a gigantic military enterprise in Iraq. But it’s with massive conventional air power married to unconventional special forces, who are advising the Iraqi Army that is actually doing the ground fighting. This is making our presence in Iraq much more sustainable for us and for the Iraqis.

Ironically, it might never have happened had President Barack Obama not withdrawn our combat troops from Iraq in 2011 because Iraqis couldn’t agree on a legal formula for their staying.

After that, the then-Shiite-led Iraqi government began abusing Sunnis, and ISIS emerged in response. That forced Iraqis to rethink their relationship with us. A U.S. Air Force special operations officer told me of returning to Iraq in early 2014 and meeting with the Iraqi Counterterrorism Service — the only truly professional, nonsectarian fighting unit then left in the country. The U.S. officer had come to ask the CTS what material aid the U.S. could offer in the fight against ISIS, and the CTS commander responded that he didn’t need aid. “We want you,” he said.

And so Obama began slowly reintroducing U.S. Special Forces back into Iraq and, for the first time, sending some into Syria, all in a totally new context. When George W. Bush invaded Iraq in 2003 to topple Saddam Hussein, we destroyed the government from the top down. Wetoppled Saddam’s statue. And we were advised largely by Iraqi exiles of dubious legitimacy in local eyes.

It became our war, producing iconic pictures of U.S. soldiers kicking down doors and pointing guns at cowering women.

Even though ISIS emerged after we left, we have now returned at the invitation of Iraqis from the bottom up, not exiles — making our presence much more legitimate and sustainable for any long fight. Iraqi Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds were forced to unify, at least minimally, to defeat ISIS, opening new possibilities.

This is Iraq’s war of liberation. They own it.

I met Marine Col. Seth Folsom, who commands a forward special operations air base, Al-Asad, in the western Iraqi desert. It was 120 degrees outside, but he had a bounce in his step.

“I was here in 2003 and in 2008,” he told me. In those days, if he had a convoy going through a town it would speed 100 miles an hour not to get shot at or blown up, pushing Iraqi cars out of the way, creating resentments. “Now we are driving with the Iraqis. It’s a paradigm shift. It doesn’t even seem like the same country to me. Now I am saying to my Iraqi counterparts, ‘What do you want to do?’”

So we are fighting a very different war in Iraq, which Trump has amped up. But you can’t grasp its true dimensions unless you go to the overall U.S. regional air headquarters in Qatar and watch on giant screens a 24/7 choreography that boggles the mind: B-52s, U-2s, F-16s, F-22s, F-35s, F-15s, A-10s, C-17s, V-22s, U-28s, C-130s, JStars, AWACs, satellites and unmanned Reapers and Predators — all fueled aloft by a fleet of KC-10 and KC-135 flying gas stations — that have conducted 23,934 strikes on ISIS targets in Iraq and Syria, using 84,585 precision-guided bombs, since we came back in 2014.

There is much still to worry about. At the joint operations headquarters in Baghdad, U.S. officers plan on computer screens and the Iraqi planners on wall-size maps with markers and blue arrows representing troops that they move around. It can drive American planners crazy when speed is of the essence.

More worrying: American advisers at the joint operations headquarters told me that many of their Iraqi counterparts take their uniforms off before they go home at night. Not everyone respects them for working with the Americans, particularly in the hard-line Shiite areas. Some have even had to change houses.

And yet, they still show up, and their men still fought house-to-house to recapture Mosul, taking huge casualties. At the height of the battle for Mosul, the U.S. Air Force field hospital at Al-Asad Air Base treated many Iraqi soldiers. The U.S. officer who heads the hospital told us that when the first Iraqi wounded soldier arrived, and he desperately needed blood, the U.S. commander asked for six volunteers. Some 50 American military personnel showed up to donate.

“It is one thing for us to be respectful of the Iraqis and another to respect the Iraqis,” the Air Force chief of staff, Gen. Dave Goldfein, remarked to me. “Today there is mutual respect. We admire their tenacity.”

All of that said, I am still wary. There is no slam-dunk here. While ISIS is on the run, lasting victory in Iraq depends entirely on whether Iraqis can come together — not just to fight a shared enemy but to build a shared government — the morning after ISIS is defeated.

Alas, there is no “power-sharing” bomb that we can drop on the Iraqi Parliament that will make Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds trust one another enough to live together as equal citizens. And there is no “culture-buster” bomb that we can drop that will burrow deep into Iraqi/Arab culture and stop them from always letting their past bury their future and instead start letting their future bury their past.

Culture always trumps strategy and only they can change their political culture. As the overall U.S. commander in Iraq, Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend, put it to me: After ISIS is defeated, Iraqis need to produce a government “for all Iraqis.” It cannot be a government where “Sunnis feel disenfranchised.” We better have in place a strategy for coaching Iraqis on power-sharing as much as we did on dynamic targeting. Otherwise, the morning after ISIS 1.0 is defeated we’ll see ISIS 2.0.

The war in Afghanistan is different. The air power component is there but U.S. Special Forces are still doing too much fighting and dying. And Trump talked on Monday night like they will now do more. And we don’t have the legitimacy you now feel in Iraq.

Personal security for our Afghan allies is still minimal. I stood on the tarmac at Bagram Airfield and listened as a U.S.-trained Afghan pilot explained that the last thing he does before climbing into the cockpit is call home to be sure his kids have not been abducted by the Taliban, who know that he works with the U.S. and have threatened him repeatedly.

Again, the fact that this pilot is still ready to fly with the U.S. shows real courage. He wants something different for his country, and he’s not alone. But is he in the majority? Clearly he’s got neighbors who don’t think that we, or the Afghan government we’re supporting, are legitimate. Culture trumps strategy.

This is going to take ages to fix, and if you fix Afghanistan, well, you fix Afghanistan. So what. If you fix Iraq with a real power-sharing accord you create a model that can radiate out across the Arab world, because Iraq is a microcosm of the Arab world, with Sunnis, Shiites, Kurds, Turkmen, Christians and many others.

I slept well in the U.S. Embassy green zone in Baghdad, which is protected outside by Iraqis. Two nights earlier we slept at the Bagram base near Kabul and were repeatedly awakened by a blaring loudspeaker saying “take cover,” because another rocket was coming in.

For the moment — and I stress moment — we have a sustainable military strategy to defeat ISIS in Iraq. But a sustainable political outcome depends on Iraqis rising to the occasion. I do not see that in Afghanistan and I did not hear it in Trump’s speech. I fear our choices there are unchanged: lose early, lose late, lose big or lose small.

Now here’s Mr. Cohen:

Here was Donald Trump tethered by his generals. The new-old Afghan war strategy set out by the president Monday night contained a Trump line or two — terrorists as “losers,” the nixing of “nation-building” — but was the work of the adults in the room. They forced the commander-in-chief to curtail his wilder instincts.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, the national security adviser, both have bitter experience of Afghanistan. John Kelly, the chief of staff, lost his 29-year-old son, First Lt. Robert Kelly, there. They were not about to let Trump declare Afghanistan “a complete waste,” as he did in 2012, and walk away.

In a sense this is reassuring. Trump is not home alone. He fires off, gets a lesson on the real world, bridles again, and is momentarily muted. Qatar, North Korea, Iran and Charlottesville: the pattern repeats itself. It’s ominous but it has not sent the world over a cliff, yet.

And now we have Afghanistan, the nearly 16-year-old war that just became Trump’s war, against the wishes of Steve Bannon, his ousted chief strategist.

The decision not to leave was the right decision; and Trump was also right to note that telegraphing future pullout dates for American troops, as President Obama did, is military folly. Ashraf Ghani, the embattled Afghan president, needs United States help in holding the line against an invigorated Taliban. But what Trump announced did not amount to a strategy, let alone a new one. It amounted rather, in the tweeted words of Barnett Rubin, an Afghanistan expert at New York University, to “a set of incoherent slogans.”

Trump talked plenty about “victory” but did not even attempt to define what would constitute it. That’s because there can be no military victory in Afghanistan. The best that can be hoped for is keeping the Taliban from power, and bolstering government forces to the point the Taliban can be persuaded to sue for peace. In other words, the end game can only be diplomatic.

Yet Trump has eviscerated the State Department. He has not named an ambassador to Afghanistan; he has eliminated the office of the special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan; he has shown no inclination to engage allies or Afghanistan’s neighbors on ways to end the war.

While the president talked distantly of reaching “a political settlement that includes elements of the Taliban,” his secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, was explicit about supporting peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban “without preconditions”: the usual disconnect.

Iran could have been helpful; Trump has rebuffed it in his Saudi love trance. Russia could have been helpful; Trump is paralyzed by his Moscow secrets with respect to President Vladimir V. Putin. So Iran and Russia will do their worst in Afghanistan. As for China, another important regional player, it did not even get a mention.

Trump invited India “to help us more with Afghanistan” — effectively holding a red rag to the Pakistani bull. The military in Pakistan will be enraged by the combination of Trump’s blunt (if justified) criticism and blandishments to India. This looks like sheer diplomatic stupidity. I wonder if the State Department, whose expertise has been flouted since January, even got to vet the speech.

The Afghan war could have been ended a long time ago when people still remembered what it was about. But the United States diverted its forces and treasure to Iraq. Then Obama, in preparing to withdraw from Iraq, tried to compensate with a hapless “surge” in Afghanistan. This is a zigzagging chapter in American military history that soldiers are not about to resolve now. The mission became a mess; some 2,400 American troops have given their lives for a moving target. Trump’s words did nothing to redress this shame.

“Trump put forward no coherent plan for finishing the war,” Vali Nasr, the dean of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, told me. “He needs a serious diplomatic tack.”

The problem is Trump has no notion of diplomacy. He looked like an impersonator as he spoke, a man pretending to be something we know he’s not. A man of such evident moral shallowness, to whom personal sacrifice is a stranger, cannot speak of valor, bravery and heroism without becoming cringe-worthy.

He spoke of “principled realism.” His presidency has been about unprincipled recklessness: allies shunned, dalliances with dictators, environmental sabotage. The man who earlier this month could not distinguish between neo-Nazi white supremacists with blood on their hands and leftist protesters calls for America’s soldiers to come home to a country that rejects bigotry and “has renewed the sacred bonds of love and loyalty.”

Really?

Shortly after Kelly, Trump’s chief of staff, lost his son in Afghanistan, he gave a eulogy for two marines killed in Iraq. Kelly described how, confronted by a suicide bomber in a truck, “they never stepped back. They never even started to step aside. They never even shifted their weight.”

For that brave act, of course, they needed something Trump will never have: a center of gravity.

Friedman and Bruni

August 16, 2017

The Moustache of Wisdom weighs in on “Charlottesville, ISIS and Us” and says pluralism is America’s strength, both at home and abroad.  Tell that to the nest of Nazis in the White House, Tommy.  Mr. Bruni, in “Can’t Eclipse the American Spirit,” says what’s happening in the heavens is a bonanza on earth.  Here’s TMOW, writing from Al Udeid, Qatar:

I’ve been on the road since the Charlottesville killing. I am traveling around the Arab world and Afghanistan with the chief of the U.S. Air Force, Gen. David Goldfein; his civilian boss, the Air Force secretary, Heather Wilson; and their aides. We’re currently at the giant Al Udeid Air Base, from which America’s entire ISIS-Syria-Iraq-Afghanistan air war is run.

With all the news from Charlottesville, I was feeling in the wrong place at the wrong time. And then I looked around me here, and the connection with Charlottesville became obvious. Just one glance at our traveling party and the crews at this base and you realize immediately why we are the most powerful country in the world.

It’s not because we own F-22s. And it surely isn’t that we embrace white supremacy. It’s because we embrace pluralism. It’s because we can still make out of many, one.

I am a pluralism supremacist.

How could I not be? I look around me and see our Air Force chief, who is of Eastern European Jewish descent, reporting to a woman Air Force secretary, who was among the early women graduates of the Air Force Academy and whose senior aide is an African-American woman lieutenant colonel. The base commander here in Qatar, overseeing the whole air war, is of Armenian descent, and his top deputy is of Lebanese descent.

In the control center I’m introduced to the two Russian-speaking U.S. servicemen who 10 to 12 times a day get on the local “hotline” with the Russian command post in Syria to make sure Russian planes don’t collide with ours. One of the servicemen was born in Russia and the other left Kiev, Ukraine, just five years ago, in part, he told me, because he dreamed of joining the U.S. Air Force: “This is the country of opportunity.”

Then we get a briefing from the combat innovation team, which is designing a new algorithm for dynamic targeting with colleagues in Silicon Valley. I ask their commander about his last name — Ito — and he explains, “My dad is from Cuba and my mother is from Mexico.” The intelligence briefing was delivered by “Captain Yang.”

The very reason America is the supreme power in this region is that the U.S. military can take all of those different people and make them into a fist. And the very reason we are stuck in this region and can’t get out is that so many of the nation-states and people here are fighting only for their exclusivist dreams of supremacy — Shiite supremacy, Sunni supremacy, Alawite supremacy, Taliban supremacy, Turkish supremacy and Persian supremacy.

With a few exceptions, they can’t generate self-sustaining power-sharing. Which is why we keep defeating the worst of them and they keep losing the peace, because the best of them can never share power long enough and deep enough to build lasting stability.

None of the U.S. military people here talk U.S. politics. But I do. As a citizen, I say they deserve a commander in chief who does not need three tries to grudgingly denounce violent white supremacists. Pluralism is our true source of strength at home and abroad. It has to be nurtured, celebrated and protected from its enemies everywhere and always.

Now that I got that off my chest, let’s talk strategy. We toured the command center here with its wall-size screens that take the data from satellites, drones, manned aircraft, cyber, sensors, human intelligence and aerial refueling tankers and meld them into a series of strategic targeting decisions. Watching the choreography of all this is both chilling and mesmerizing.

We are moving “from wars of attrition to wars of cognition,” explained General Goldfein. These new integrated systems are simultaneously “state of the art, unparalleled — and too slow for the future.”

On one recent day you could look up at those screens and find a Syrian fighter jet preparing to drop bombs near U.S. special forces in Syria. The Syrian jet is about to be blown out of the sky by a U.S. fighter jet, while two Russian fighters watch from a higher altitude and a stealth U.S. F-22 watches the Russians watching the U.S. plane watching the Syrian.

While that is all happening, the coastal Syrian surface-to-air system lights up as Turkish, Jordanian and Israeli jets buzz in and out of theater. And almost daily an Iranian-made drone being directed from the back of an R.V. by Iranian Revolutionary Guards members in the desert of eastern Syria is hunting for U.S. special forces. We’ve shot down a couple of those, too.

If you tried to sell this very real drama to a video game company, it would be rejected as unrealistic.

Just one U.S. fighter jet over Syria — and we have them in the air now 24/7 — has to be aerially refueled eight or nine times during its eight-hour mission. Add in Iraq and Afghanistan, and on any given day the Air Force is coordinating as many as 60 KC-135 tankers (aerial gas stations) operating over these three countries.

Meanwhile, ISIS is buying drones from online shopping sites, jury-rigging them with GoPro cameras and grenades and dropping them on U.S. and Iraqi troops, or it’s armor-plating S.U.V.s, loading them with explosives and a suicide bomber and turning them into Mad Max vehicles driven right into our troops or our allies.

The good news? ISIS, having been largely defeated in Iraq, will most likely be defeated in Syria, too, by Americans, Kurds, Russians, Syrians, Iranians and pro-Iranian militias. The bad news? There is a good chance that ISIS’ territory will ultimately fall under Iran’s sway.

Preventing that would require the Arab-Sunni Muslim world to get its act together, but it is as weak and divided as ever. That’s why Iran now indirectly controls four Arab capitals: Beirut, Baghdad, Sana and Damascus. And what is really scary is that it controls them at a pretty cheap price through proxies. We can defeat ISIS extremism, with our pluralistic fighting machine, but the one thing we can’t do is create Sunni-Shiite pluralism and power-sharing to replace it. Which is why we keep getting dragged back — not to make things better but, as always, to prevent the bad from becoming the awful.

I wanted it to be otherwise, but it’s not. We tried. So, do we just keep trying? You can’t visit one of these huge U.S. bases built since 9/11, see the dedication of the young men and women, and the sophistication of the systems they have built, and not wonder: What if all of this talent and energy and idealism and pluralism were applied not to propping up a decrepit Arab state system against Iran, but instead fixing the worst neighborhoods of Baltimore, Chicago and Detroit?

We need to have a national discussion about this.

Yeah.  I’m sure we’ll get around to that after 3 or 4 Friedman Units.  Now here’s Mr. Bruni:

Situated on a busy thoroughfare and oh so romantically named, the 1st Interstate Motel in Casper, Wyo., could stand improvement. Eight of its nine reviewers on Trip Advisor gave it the lowest rating possible, and they weren’t shy about their reasons. “Absolutely filthy.” “Two empty liquor bottles under the bed.” “Foul smell.” “Horrible smell.” “Hell hole.”

But you can snag a room this coming Sunday and Monday for only $1,211 a night, according to my recent search on hotels.com.

A bargain! No, really. The initially advertised rate was $1,346, for two queen beds. For a kitchenette as well, it was $1,616, later discounted to $1,454. Act now while supplies last.

What the 1st Interstate Motel has in lieu of an endurable odor is an exalted latitude: Casper lies on the path of towns and cities from Oregon to South Carolina that are set to experience a total eclipse on Monday. And this eclipse is a total mind-blower.

I don’t mean astronomically — moon smothers sun, day turns to night, birds freak out, all of that. I mean entrepreneurially. What’s happening in the heavens is a bonanza here on earth, in this money-minded patch of purple mountains, fruited plains and Donald Trump-branded properties called the United States.

Our response affirms that we Americans haven’t completely lost our savvy or our way. True, we failed to sniff out and stanch a presidential disaster in the making, and we’re stuck for now with a morally bankrupt plutocrat so defensive and deluded that he’s urging more nuance in the appraisal of neo-Nazis. But we still know a prime interplanetary opportunity when we see one.

The eclipse is precisely that. I’m not well versed in matters of the cosmos — I’ve never even made it through a whole episode of “The Big Bang Theory” — so I’ll describe its rareness in a vocabulary that I and most of you probably better understand. Envision a month in which the president didn’t golf. Imagine a sentence in which he didn’t brag. Fantasize a speech of his that made you proud. The eclipse is that rare.

Contradicting its name, it reveals rather than obscures many aspects of the American character. It’s a portal to the crafty, stagy, venal sum of us.

We Americans are marketers above all else. I wasn’t more than a few minutes into my eclipse research when I learned of the claim that Hopkinsville, Ky., makes to being “the point of greatest eclipse,” a reference to how long the eclipse will last there: 2 minutes 40 seconds.

To exploit this blessing, Hopkinsville has rebranded itself “Eclipseville,” built a snazzy website using that term and orchestrated an array of events. You can combine eclipse viewing with bourbon tasting, which didn’t surprise me, or with scuba diving, which did. When I think Kentucky, I somehow don’t think coral reefs.

You can of course purchase Eclipseville swag: fleece blankets, twill caps, T-shirts in sizes going all the way up to XXXL. We Americans merchandize, and we Americans swell.

We Americans splurge. For sale on a popular site for handmade crafts, there’s a $1,224 “solar eclipse diamond ring” with a series of gems that change colors incrementally from yellow to black and back again, thus evoking “the moon’s journey as it eclipses the sun.”

We Americans congregate. All along the eclipse’s path, there are small outdoor theaters and large outdoor stadiums in which eclipse watchers will come together, each with his or her own protective eclipse eyewear, of which there seem to be thousands of varieties. I’ve yet to order mine. We Americans procrastinate.

There are eclipse concerts, too. In Jefferson City, Mo., a band will play selections from a particular Pink Floyd album, and if anyone out there is guessing “The Wall” or “Animals” and not “Dark Side of the Moon,” you’re eclipse-grounded and must stay indoors.

In Columbia, S.C., a philharmonic orchestra will perform the soundtrack from a certain intergalactic epic. Savor the “Star Wars Musiclipse.”

We Americans sometimes connive, if we’re being honest and not letting our vanity eclipse the truth. In Oregon in particular there have been complaints that hotels canceled or “lost” reservations made long ago so that they could jack up prices, then blamed … computer glitches! That’s my new preferred explanation for Trump’s election.

We Americans are resourceful — evident in how many are poised to wring dough from their domiciles. According to Airbnb, there will be more than 50,000 “guest arrivals” tied to eclipse viewing, in comparison with fewer than 11,000 in the same geographic area a week earlier.

A week after the eclipse, a room at the 1st Interstate Motel reverts to $63 a night. That’s savings of more than $1,000 from the eclipse rate! Amazing what a galactic phenomenon will do — and what we Americans will do with it.

Friedman and Bruni

August 9, 2017

The Moustache of Wisdom decides to tell us a thing or two in “Democrats, Start Aiming for the Gut.”  He says Trump’s campaign genius was pushing the right buttons with voters.  In “Sorry, Mike Pence, You’re Doomed” Mr. Bruni says Faust made a better bargain than Donald Trump’s vice president did.  Here’s TMOW:

I was talking the other day to a wise executive friend and he recalled for me something his favorite boss liked to say: When people rise to the top of an organization and get power, they usually do one of two things: “They either swell or they grow.”

Donald Trump has swollen.

Every character flaw he had before taking office — from his serial lying to his intellectual laziness to his loyalty just to himself and his needs — has grown only larger and more toxic as he has been president. He seems not to have grown a whit in the job. He has surprised only on the downside — never once challenging his own base with new thinking or appearing to be remotely interested in being president of all the people, not just his base.

What strikes me most about Trump, though, is how easily he still could become more popular — fast — if he just behaved like a normal leader for a month: if he reached out to Democrats on health care, taxes or infrastructure; stopped insulting every newsperson who writes critically about him; stopped lying; stopped tweeting inanities; and actually apologized for some of his most egregious actions and asked for forgiveness. Americans are a forgiving people.

With the Dow at 22,000 and unemployment at 4.3 percent, oh my God, this guy could actually become more popular outside his base without much effort. That’s scary. But, as I said, it would require Trump doing something he has shown no ability or willingness to do — to grow in office, not just swell.

Still, Democrats would be wise not to count on Trump swelling forever or on Robert Mueller taking him down. Whatever happens, Democrats need to win the argument with at least some Trump/G.O.P. voters. There are many ways for Democrats to counter any new and improved Trump. I’d start by acknowledging a simple fact: Some things are true even if Donald Trump believes them!

That is, Trump’s core base of support — those people who he says would stick by him even if he shot someone “in the middle of Fifth Avenue” — are people who have heard and appreciated all his nativist dog whistles: from his slur that Barack Obama was not born in America to his focus on voter suppression to his restricting transgender people in the military to his reversing affirmative action and imposing immigration restrictions. That white nationalist constituency is beyond the reach — for good reason — of any Democratic candidate.

But Trump did not win, and could not win again, with that group alone. His genius was expanding beyond that nativist core with just enough votes in the right places to get him over the top — by pushing other buttons. These were things that many conservative and centrist voters believe in their guts, even if they don’t articulate them.

Trump connects with these gut issues and takes them in a destructive direction. It’s vital for Democrats to connect with them and take them in a constructive direction.

What issues? Here’s my list:

• We can’t take in every immigrant who wants to come here; we need, metaphorically speaking, a high wall that assures Americans we can control our border with a big gate that lets as many people in legally as we can effectively absorb as citizens.

• The Muslim world does have a problem with pluralism — gender pluralism, religious pluralism and intellectual pluralism — and suggesting that terrorism has nothing to do with that fact is naïve; countering violent extremism means constructively engaging with Muslim leaders on this issue.

• Americans want a president focused on growing the economic pie, not just redistributing it. We do have a trade problem with China, which has reformed and closed instead of reformed and opened. We have an even bigger problem with automation wiping out middle-skilled work and we need to generate more blue-collar jobs to anchor communities.

• Political correctness on college campuses has run ridiculously riot. Americans want leaders to be comfortable expressing patriotism and love of country when globalization is erasing national identities. America is not perfect, but it is, more often than not, a force for good in the world.

Voters don’t listen through their ears. They listen through their stomachs. And when you connect with voters in their guts, they feel respected, and when they feel respected, they will listen to anything — including big issues that are true even if Democrats believe them. Such as the fact that a majority of Americans like Obamacare and want to see it built to last, and a majority of Americans do not like the way Trump is despoiling the environment and bringing back coal.

Indeed, the biggest wind power states in America — Texas, Iowa, Kansas, South Dakota, Oklahoma and North Dakota — are all red states. The Democrats literally have the wind at their backs on health care and clean energy.

But to be heard, they need candidates who can pass a gut check with the more moderate Trump/G.O.P. voters. Just 10 percent of Trump voters would suffice. Trump’s core base is solid, but he’s clearly losing the soft support around his core. Democrats can grow into the soft support — as long as they’re smart and Trump continues to just swell.

Yeah, Tommy — pandering to people who voted for Trump is the way to go.  SURE it is.  Here’s Mr. Bruni:

The other day, from the Naval Observatory in Washington, you heard a howl of such volume and anguish that it cracked mirrors and sent small forest animals scurrying for cover. Vice President Mike Pence was furious. He was offended. Someone — namely, my Times colleagues Jonathan Martin and Alexander Burns — had dared to call him out on the fact that he seemed to be laying the groundwork for a presidential bid.

Problem No. 1: His president is still in the first year of his first term. Problem No. 2: That president is Donald Trump, who doesn’t take kindly to any glimmer that people in his employ are putting their vanity or agenda before his. Just ask Steve Bannon. Or Anthony Scaramucci. They were too big for their britches, and Trump snatched their britches away.

The Times report put Pence in similar peril, so he pushed back with an operatic outrage that showed just how close to the bone it had cut. When a story’s actually wrong, you eviscerate it, exposing its erroneous assertions without ever breaking a sweat. When it’s a stink bomb at odds with your plotting, you set your jaw, redden your face and proclaim it “disgraceful,” never detailing precisely how.

That was Pence’s route. And his rancor, I suspect, reflects more than the inconvenient truths that Martin and Burns told. It’s overarching. It’s existential. On some level, he must realize that he’s in a no-win situation. Without Trump he’s nothing. With Trump he’s on a runaway train that he can’t steer or brake. If it doesn’t crash, Trump can scream down the tracks straight through 2020. If it does, Pence will be one of the casualties.

So why has Pence formed a political action committee, the only sitting vice president ever to do so? Why is he taking all these meetings, building all these bridges? I guess there could be some imaginable future in which Trump falls and Pence is left standing strong enough to soldier on. But mostly he’s in denial, and he’s living very dangerously.

Many Republicans wonder if Trump will remain in the picture and viable in 2020. He could implode — even more than he already has, I mean. He could be run out of town, one way or another. He could stomp off. The scenarios are myriad, and to prepare for them, Pence indeed needs an infrastructure and a network of his own. But there’s simply no way to assemble those without looking disloyal to Trump and courting the wrath of alt-right types who know how to go on a Twitter jihad.

Other would-be successors to Trump aren’t in the same bind. They don’t owe Trump what Pence does. They never pledged Trump complete allegiance. Gov. John Kasich of Ohio, whose unofficial 2020 campaign commenced even before Trump’s inauguration, can raise money, stage news conferences, take up residence on CNN and pick apart Trump’s proposals all he wants. It won’t endear him to Trump’s base, but it won’t make him a marked man.

Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska can style himself as a humble, homespun remedy to Trump’s cupidity and histrionics. Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas can take a calibrated approach, more hawkish than Trump on foreign policy but eager to link arms with him on immigration.

Pence, though, is squeezed tight into a corner of compulsory worship. And despite his behind-the-scenes machinations, he has done a masterful job of appearing perfectly content there.

In news photographs and video, you catch other politicians glancing at the president in obvious bafflement. Not Pence. Never Pence. He moons. He beams. It’s 50 shades of infatuation. Daniel Day-Lewis couldn’t muster a more mesmerizing performance, and it’s an unusually florid surrender of principles.

I’m not referring to policy and the fact that before he agreed to become Trump’s running mate, he blasted Trump’s proposed Muslim ban, tweeting that it was “offensive and unconstitutional,” and fiercely advocated free trade. I’m referring to Pence’s supposed morality.

He trumpets his conservative Christianity and avoids supping alone with any woman other than his wife, then turns around and steadfastly enables an avowed groper with a bulging record of profanely sexual comments.

He publishes a testimonial, “Confessions of a Negative Campaigner,” in which he invokes Jesus while vowing never to repeat such political ugliness in the future, then turns around and collaborates with a politician whose ugliness knows no limit.

No wonder he wants and expects a reward as lavish as the White House itself: He sold his soul. But I don’t think he studied the contract closely enough and thought the whole thing through.’

There’s no political afterlife in this equation, just the loopy, mortifying limbo in which he and so many of Trump’s other acolytes dwell.

Maybe the howling is cathartic. Won’t change a thing.

Friedman, solo

August 2, 2017

The Moustache of Wisdom tells us that “Climate Shifts Aren’t Limited to the Weather,” and that globalization and technology are changing the world, too.  Which, as he has told us before, is flat…  Here he is:

I have a simple view of governing today: We are in the middle of not one but three climate changes at once to which government must help citizens respond — and Donald Trump doesn’t have a clue and China does.

Here is what I mean: We are in the middle of a change in the climate of the climate. We are going from “later” to “now.” In the past you could fix any climate/environmental problem later or now. But today later is officially over. Later will be too late. At some point, the deforestation of the Amazon is not reversible.

We are the middle of a change in the “climate” of globalization. We are going from an interconnected world to an interdependent one, and in such a world your friends can hurt you faster than your enemies: Think what happens if Mexico’s economy fails. And your rivals’ falling becomes more dangerous than your rivals’ rising: We will be hurt a lot more by China’s economy tanking than its putting tanks on islands in the South China Sea.

And lastly we’re in the middle of a change in the “climate” of technology. We’re moving into a world where machines and software can analyze (see patterns that were always hidden before); optimize(tell a plane which altitude to fly each mile to get the best fuel efficiency); prophesize (tell you when your elevator will break and fix it before it does); customize (tailor any product or service for you alone) and digitize and automate just about any job. This is transforming every industry.

Governing today is all about how you prepare your society to get the most out of these three climate changes and cushion the worst. Sadly, that’s not our society’s priority right now. In the age of Trump we are treating governing as entertainment.

Some conservatives argue that’s fine. The less D.C. does, the better. Let the market rule. I disagree. What actually made America great was a government that prepared the right soil in education, regulation, immigration, research and infrastructure, and a dynamic private sector that grew all kinds of flowers in that soil.

Which brings me to China. China takes governing seriously — in a cruel way and in an impressive way. Its leaders wake up every morning and ask themselves two questions. First, how do we stay in power? Their answer, which I find reprehensible, is: We’ll use technology to repress our people. I think in the long run depriving China’s people of freedom, a basic human right, will undermine their ability to realize their full potential.

But it has worked better than expected, up to now, because China’s leaders are just as focused on asking a second question: What world are we living in? Which leads to: What are the biggest forces shaping this world? And what kind of national strategy do we need so our people can get the most out of these forces and cushion the worst?

They know we’re in the midst of these three climate changes and have formulated a strategy — “Made in China 2025” — to thrive within it. It’s a plan for building the infrastructure, investments, education and regulations that will enable Chinese companies to lead in supercomputing, new materials, computer-controlled machine tools, industrial robotics, space and aviation equipment — including drones — clean cars, clean energy, biomedicine and next-gen medical devices.

Only time will tell how much what China has wrong about governing will undermine what it has right.

By contrast, Trump hasn’t even named a science adviser. He pulled out of the Paris climate accord without any input from scientists, and he proposed a budget for fiscal 2018 that eliminated the Department of Energy’s innovation lab (the “Advanced Research Projects Agency — Energy”) and slashed funding for all of our key national science and medical labs, which provide the basic research for the very next-gen technologies in which China is now massively investing.

He’s spending the money instead on a wall against Mexico. Is there anything more stupid?

And then you watch the health care debate. And then you realize that in addition to the executive branch, one of our two parties has gone nuts. For seven years the G.O.P. made replacing Obamacare, which needs improving, its top goal, and when it finally controlled all the levers of power, it was clear that it had done no homework on a better plan or built any intraparty consensus for it. It was all a fraud.

And then you look at all the knife fights between rival Trump aides and you realize that none of these fights were over how to thrive in a world challenged by these three climate changes. They were all about who could get closest to and flatter our Dear Leader most. But our Dear Leader — as we saw in the health care debate — has done no homework on the future, either. He’s been too busy promising to restore the past.

This is so dangerous. When the pace of change accelerates in climate, technology and globalization all at once, small errors in leadership navigation can have huge consequences. It’s like a 747 pilot who enters the wrong navigational coordinates. You can find yourself so far off course that the pain of getting back will be staggering.

We have such a pilot. It is time for the adult Republicans and Democrats in Congress to come together and take the helm.

Oh, FFS Tommy…  If you seriously believe that the Republicans will work with Democrats you should stop smoking those funny cigarettes.

Friedman and Bruni

July 26, 2017

I guess because there doesn’t seem to be much of anything going on in the country worth commenting on The Moustache of Wisdom has decided instead to discuss “Self-Driving People, Enabled by Airbnb.”  He says that the company known for room rentals now offers guided “experiences.”  Mr. Bruni considers “Donald Trump’s Dominatrix” and says technically, he defeated her, but emotionally, not so much. Here’s TMOW:

Roughly a decade ago two new “platform” companies burst out of California. The one that dominated the headlines was called Uber, which created a platform where with one touch of your phone you could summon a cab, direct the driver, pay the driver and rate the driver. It grew like a weed — as all kinds of people became taxi drivers in their spare time. But Uber made clear that its ultimate goal was self-drivingcars.

The other was called Airbnb. It created a trust platform so efficient that people all over the world were ready to use it to rent out their spare bedrooms to total strangers. Airbnb is growing so fast that it’s now adding the equivalent of one entire Hilton hotel chain’s worth of rooms for rent each year.

But while Uber aspires to self-driving cars, Airbnb has a different goal: enabling what I call self-driving people.

And that’s why I won’t be surprised if in five years Airbnb is not only still the world’s biggest home rental service, but also one of the world’s biggest jobs platforms. You read that right. Very quietly Airbnb has been expanding its trust platform beyond enabling people to rent their spare rooms to allowing them to translate their passions into professions, and thereby empower more self-driving people.

Don’t worry: I don’t own stock in Airbnb. (Wish I could.) But I’ve been following it nearly from its inception through conversations with one of its founders, C.E.O. Brian Chesky, and I highlight the latest step in its evolution because I think it provides part of the answer to one of the most vexing societal questions we face today: Will machines and robots take all our jobs?

Answer: Only if we let them — and Airbnb is creating a platform to not let them. It all started with people who were renting rooms saying to their customers: “Hey, hope you enjoy the room. By the way, I’m also a great cook; would you like me to prepare a dinner party for you?” Or, “I’m an amateur historian; would you like me to give you a tour of the city?” Now this trend has just taken off.

“We created a garden and planted one plant — and that was home-sharing,” explained Chesky over breakfast in San Francisco. “And now we’re seeing what other things can grow in this garden.”

To see what’s growing, go to Airbnb’s site and click not on “homes” but on “experiences.” You’ll find an endless smorgasbord of people turning their passion into profit and their inner artisan into second careers.

Take for instance the team of Luca & Lorenzo. They explain in endearing broken English: “We are 100 percent Italian food lovers; we were used to cook with our grandmothers since we were child. We continued to have this passion through the years, so it makes sense founded our company Lovexfood.”

For $152 a person, they will take seven people visiting Florence, Italy, on a trip to “make pasta from scratch in the woods outside the city” in an “old house … surrounded by a garden with aromatic plants. We are between the hills where is produced the famous Chianti wine.”

In Dublin, for $85 a person, John will introduce you to low-light photography and then take you on an evening tour of some of the city’s most interestingly lit locations, ending in his studio, where he’ll “help you to edit and retouch your photographs, taking them to the next level for social media and print.”

In London, for $84 a person, you can learn in three hours how to “make a one-of-a-kind hat with a professional millinery designer,” Sarah, using “an array of feathers, flowers, lace and tulle.” A “traditional English breakfast complete with finger sandwiches and an assortment of cakes” is included.

For $35 a person, Lee Marvin will take five people in Havana on a tour of three-on-three neighborhood basketball games. “Christina” posted a message on his site on July 18, saying: “I signed my teenage son up for this & it was one of the best activities of the trip. It was supposed to end at 8 p.m. or so. Well, my son felt so welcomed that he & Lee Marvin’s gang hung out for several hours after they played basketball. They learned about each other’s lives, told jokes, talked sports and really bonded. Talk about a great emersion into the Cuban culture.” Also, not a bad way for a Cuban to earn $175 a night, minus Airbnb’s commission.

For $99 a person and five hours in Los Angeles, Antonio will teach your group how to “make a custom piñata with an esteemed pâper-maché artist” in the piñata district. Tools, “tamales and pan dulce” from Antonio’s favorite places are all included.

And for $37 each, Naky will take your group on a four-hour tour of Lisbon to “see the city through the eyes of an African immigrant.” You’ll explore “the African continent’s influence on the city and visit areas where African immigrants live, work, and play.” Naky is originally from Togo and has “a passion for history.”

No wonder Airbnb’s “experiences” site has grown tenfold this year.

Tourists visiting a foreign country try to understand the culture by going to a museum and viewing “art by dead people,” noted Chesky. “Why not learn how to make art yourself, taught by a living artist in that culture and immerse yourself in the artist’s world? These are experiences you can bring back with you!”

Chesky believes that the potential for Airbnb experiences could be bigger than home-sharing. I agree.

“The biggest asset in people’s lives is not their home, but their time and potential — and we can unlock that,” he explained. “We have these homes that are not used, and we have these talents that are not used. Instead of asking what new infrastructure we need to build, why don’t we look at what passions we can unlock? We can unlock so much economic activity, and this will unlock millions of entrepreneurs.”

When he retires, said Chesky, age 35, “I’d like to say that Airbnb created 100 million new entrepreneurs in the world.” I wouldn’t bet against him. Because the world is full of artisans and people with passions waiting to be unlocked.

In America, though, there is a surplus of fear and a poverty of imagination in the national jobs discussion today — because “all we are focusing on are the things that are going away,” said Chesky. “We need to focus on what’s coming. Do we really think we’re living in the first era in history where nothing will ever again be created by humans for humans, only by machines? Of course not. It’s that we’re not talking about all of these human stories.”

Indeed, the beauty of this era is that you don’t need to wait for Ford to come to your town with a 25,000-person auto factory. Anyway, that factory is now 2,500 robots and 1,000 people. The future belongs to communities that learn to leverage their unique attributes, artisans and human talent.

There is no Eiffel Tower in Louisville, Ky., but there are amazing bourbon distilleries popping up all over, creating myriad tourist opportunities; there are no pyramids in Detroit, but there is a bountiful history of Motown music and all kinds of artists now creating boutique concerts and tours for visitors to experience it.

Is this the only answer for the American middle-class jobs challenge? Of course not. There is no one answer. That’s the point.

We have to do 50 things right to recreate that broad middle class of the ’50s and ’60s, and platforms like Airbnb’s are just one of them. (Having universal health care to create a safety net under all of these budding entrepreneurs would be another.) But you have to be inspired by how many people are now finding joy and income by mining their passions.

“A tourist is someone who does things that locals who live there never do,” said Chesky. Airbnb’s experiences platform is now enabling visitors to live like locals — even though they’re guests and, in the process, enrich the local community and create new employment. Any town can play.

So much of what companies did in the past, concluded Chesky, “was unlocking natural resources to build the stuff we wanted.” Today’s new platforms are unlocking human potential to “be the people we wanted.”

Now here’s Mr. Bruni:

At this point I think it’s fair to say that Donald Trump has gone beyond taunting and demonizing Hillary Clinton to a realm of outright obsession.

He’s stalking her.

He can’t stop tweeting about her. Can’t stop muttering about her. On Monday he addressed tens of thousands of boy scouts at their Jamboree, and who should pop up in his disjointed thoughts and disheveled words? Clinton. He dinged her, yet again, for having ignored voters in Michigan, which he won.

The Jamboree, mind you, was in West Virginia.

And it brought together dewy-eyed adolescents, not dyspeptic acolytes of the Heritage Foundation. Some weren’t yet out of puberty, most were well under voting age, and nearly all cared more about — I don’t know — camping gear, crafts projects and merit badges than whether the Democratic nominee should have made an additional stop in Grand Rapids and maybe scarfed down a funnel cake in Kalamazoo while she was at it.

But Trump doesn’t meet his audiences on their terms. He uses each as a sounding board for his vanities, insecurities, delusions and fixations. Clinton factors mightily into all of these. She’s his psychological dominatrix.

He keeps telling us that he’s president and we’re not. Does he know that he’s president and she’s not? Does he realize that most Americans can go a whole day, an entire week — verily, a month! — without picturing her at a rostrum, hearing the melody of her stump speech or repeating, “I’m with her”?

At least they could if Trump would shut up about her. I understand that he misses her, but, sheesh, send some Godiva chocolates and move on.

Many political observers have been marveling at recent tweets of his that blasted Jeff Sessions, his attorney general, for not reinvestigating and potentially prosecuting Clinton for supposed crimes. He ripped into Sessions anew at a brief news conference on Tuesday afternoon.

But the other half of that equation is Clinton, and it’s just as remarkable that more than eight months after Election Day, Trump is still hauling his vanquished opponent out for public ridicule and marching her toward the stockade. Did Barack Obama do that with John McCain or George Bush with Al Gore or Bill Clinton with the previous George Bush? No, no and no.

Many political observers have noted Trump’s hyperconsciousness of Barack Obama, who was also mentioned in those remarks to the boy scouts, which were so inappropriately political and self-centered that parents actually lodged complaints.

But Clinton is more precious to him. While he merely itches to erase Obama from the history books, he’s desperate to keep her at the center of every page. Beneath all of his braggadocio about the genius of his campaign strategy and the potency of his connection to blue-collar Americans, he knows that he made it to the White House largely because many voters didn’t want her there and he was Door No. 2.

So he reminds them of that. Over and over again.

It would be one thing if he had amassed a trove of accomplishments and watched his approval ratings climb. But the opposite is true, so he depends on a foil who flatters him, a fork in the road that he can portray as rockier and swampier. That’s Clinton’s role, and it’s more important than Jared’s and Ivanka’s and the Mooch’s combined. They whisper sweet nothings. She saves him from damnation.

Don’t look at his campaign’s relationship with Russia. Look at hers with Ukraine! Don’t focus on Don Jr.’s incriminating emails. Focus on her missing ones! And while you’re at it, tally up how many of her donors are on Robert Mueller’s staff and take fresh note of her big-dollar speeches. Seldom has a scapegoat grazed in such a profusion of pastures.

He’s more or less back to chanting “lock her up,” as if it’s early November all over again. He has frozen the calendar there so that he can perpetually savor the exhilaration of the campaign and permanently evade the drudgery of governing and the ignominy of his failure at it so far.

Nov. 8 is his “Groundhog Day,” on endless repeat, in a way that pleases and pacifies him. That movie has a co-star, Clinton. If he dwells in it, he dwells with her. He can no more retire her than Miss Havisham, in “Great Expectations,” could put away her wedding dress. Clinton brings Trump back to the moment before the rose lost its blush and the heartache set in.

During the second of their three debates, he was accused of shadowing her onstage, but that was nothing next to the way he pursues her now. His administration slips further into chaos; he diverts the discussion to her. She’s the answer to evolving scandals. She’s the antidote to a constipated agenda — or so he wagers. What stature he has inadvertently given her. And what extraordinary staying power.

Friedman and Bruni

June 28, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friedman and Bruni

June 21, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now here’s Mr. Bruni’s piece of crap:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

STFU and sit the fuck down, Frank.

Friedman and Bruni

June 14, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So we all wait — for something.

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

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

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

Now here’s Mr. Bruni:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friedman and Bruni

June 7, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ouch.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now here’s Mr. Bruni:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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