Archive for the ‘Friedman’ Category

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.

Friedman and Bruni

May 31, 2017

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

President Trump’s trip to Europe was truly historic.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

6.) Be Russia, and you pay nothing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

And now here’s Mr. Bruni:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Screw the cookie — I need a drink.

Friedman and Bruni

May 24, 2017

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

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

It was weird, but was it all wrong?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is the real picture of America today.

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

It’s actually Bill Clinton’s America.

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

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

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

Now here’s Mr. Bruni:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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