Archive for the ‘Friedman’ Category

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.

Advertisements

Friedman and Bruni

May 24, 2017

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

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

It was weird, but was it all wrong?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is the real picture of America today.

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

It’s actually Bill Clinton’s America.

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

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

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

Now here’s Mr. Bruni:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friedman and Bruni

May 17, 2017

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

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

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

But we already know the answer: No.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nothing else matters.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now here’s Mr. Bruni:

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

Thank heaven for that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friedman and Bruni

May 10, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This city tells an ancient story.

It also tells a modern one.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friedman, solo

May 3, 2017

The Moustache of Wisdom has posed a question:  “Trump: Crazy Like a Fox, or Just Crazy?”  He seems to think that he needs to tell us that the president’s remarks about his first 100 days have been simply bizarre.  Tommy, it ain’t news to any of us.  Here he is:

Has the first 100 days of the presidency made Donald Trump nuts?

I don’t ask that question as a doctor. I don’t do medical diagnoses. I ask it as a newspaper reader. You read all of Trump’s 100-day interviews and they are just bizarre.

Out of nowhere Trump tells us he would be “honored” to negotiate directly with the leader of North Korea, after weeks of threatening war. Out of nowhere he says he would consider a gasoline tax to pay for infrastructure. Out of nowhere he says he is considering breaking up the nation’s biggest banks. He also insists that his Obamacare replacement legislation contains protections for people with pre-existing conditions that it doesn’t.

There’s barely a dictator in the world for whom he doesn’t have praise. And he repeats a known falsehood — that Barack Obama wiretapped him — and tells reporters they should go find the truth, when, as president, he could get the truth from the F.B.I. with one phone call, and when pressed whether he stands by that allegation, answers, “I don’t stand by anything.”

Is this a political strategy unfolding or a psychiatric condition unfolding? I don’t know — but it tells me that absolutely anything is possible in the next 100 days — both good and bad. Trump is clearly capable of shifting gears and striking any deal with any party on any issue.

Trump was always going to be an unpredictable work in progress because he did no homework before coming to office — which is why he now tells us that he’s finding so many problems more difficult than he anticipated — and because he didn’t know most of his cabinet members. They’re sort of a pickup basketball team, bound not by a shared vision but by a shared willingness to overlook Trump’s core ignorance, instability and indecency and serve in key jobs as much to restrain him as to be guided by him.

In his first 100 days, allies and adversaries saved Trump and the country from some of his most extreme, ill-considered campaign promises. His foreign policy team stopped him from tearing up the Iran nuclear deal and moving the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

North Korea’s missile-loving dictator saved him from declaring China a currency manipulator and starting a trade war with Beijing, because Trump discovered he needed China to restrain North Korea and avoid a war.

Boeing and General Electric restrained Trump from getting rid of the Export-Import Bank, which would have left U.S. exporters at a big disadvantage. The federal courts prevented him from imposing his Muslim ban. Border-state Republicans blocked his Mexico wall and other Republicans are blocking his draconian replacement of Obamacare. U.S. farmers, whose exports to Mexico have soared since Nafta was signed, dissuaded him from walking out of that trade deal.

As for the next 100 days, who will protect us? Myself, I am not counting on the Democratic Party. It’s too weak. On the issues I care about most, I’m actually counting on California. I believe California’s market size, aspirational goals and ability to legislate make it the most powerful opposition party to Trump in America today.

How so? Trump wants to scrap Obama-era standards requiring passenger cars to average about 51 miles a gallon by 2025; today it’s just under 37 miles a gallon. But as The Los Angeles Times recently noted, under the Clean Air Act, California “can impose emissions standards stronger than those set by the federal government, and a dozen other states have embraced the California rules.”

More than one-third of the vehicles sold in America are subject to the rules California sets. Trump can deregulate U.S. automakers to make more gas guzzlers all he wants, but they can’t if they want to sell cars in California. Trump can sue, but that will take years.

Ditto California companies: Apple is now powering 96 percent of its operations around the world with renewable energy — 100 percent in 24 countries — including the U.S. and China. Trump’s pro-coal — make-America-cough-again — campaign will never get Apple back on coal.

Also, notes Energy Innovation founder Hal Harvey: “California has a renewable portfolio standard requiring that 50 percent of all electricity come from wind, solar and other renewables by 2030. Another 15 percent already comes from existing nuclear and hydro — so our grid will be 65 percent decarbonized in 13 years.”

As Kevin de León, leader of the California State Senate, told me: California has far more clean energy jobs than there are coal jobs in all of America, and California’s now nation-leading growth rate in jobs gives the lie to everything Trump says: You can have gradually rising clean energy standards, innovation, job creation and G.D.P. growth — all at the same time.

California is also leading the resistance to Trump’s draconian immigration policies, with a web of initiatives embracing tighter border controls while also creating health care, education and work opportunities for illegal immigrants who have been living here responsibly and productively.

“We have made it very clear — we will protect our economic prosperity and our values from Trump,” said de León, whose Legislature recently hired former Attorney General Eric Holder to defend it against Trump suits. Holder is California’s (and my) secretary of defense.

Just in case nobody else is aware of this (which I doubt) a group of psychiatrists at Yale have said he’s nuts.

Solo Friedman.

April 26, 2017

Well, it doesn’t get much better than this.  The Moustache of Wisdom enjoying being “On a Par 5 in Dubai, Good Humor and a Respite From All Things Trump.”  Oh — he also tells us that there’s this yogi with a flowing white beard and golf clothes.  Think I’m kidding?  Here he is:

President Trump has already played an incredible amount of golf in his first 100 days. He says he needs the break. I sympathize. In fact, I need a break, too — from him, from writing about his relentless assault on truth and science. It’s toxic. So I break today to write about … golf — in Dubai, where I recently participated in an education conference.

Dubai is not a democracy and is fueled by cheap labor. But it’s also not Damascus. With its Ministry of Tolerance, Ministry of Happiness and Ministry of Youth (whose minister is a 23-year-old woman), the U.A.E. has made Dubai into the counter-ISIS, a place where young Arabs can live local and act global. It’s the most interesting crossroad city in the Arab world today. You run into the most unexpected characters here — especially on the golf course — which is where our story begins.

So a Hindu, a Muslim and a Jew are playing golf together in Dubai …

Sounds like the first line of a joke, right? Actually, it’s the first line of one of those serendipitous stories that often happen when you play golf abroad. In my case, I was invited to play at the Emirates Club with a U.A.E. education expert and the famed Indian mystic, poet and yogi Jaggi Vasudev, who goes by his reverential name, Sadhguru.

When I got to the first tee, I realized this was not going to be a normal round. Sadhguru is the founder of Isha, an Indian-based humanitarian and environmental movement with millions of followers (and some critics, too) — several of whom I could tell were at the course, because caddies and staff members kept coming over for selfies with Sadhguru and offering the traditional Hindu greeting, “I bow to the divine in you.”

What made it fun was that Sadhguru was not dressed in his traditional multicolor robes, but a gray Under Armour golf shirt, tight golf slacks and a floppy golf hat. The only giveaways to his day job were an ankle bracelet peeking out above a golf shoe and the longest flowing white beard I’ve ever seen on anyone trying to swing a club. I thought: Was he Bobby Jones in a previous life?

Sadhguru got addicted to golf while visiting followers in America. With about a 15 handicap now, he can hit a drive 220 yards.

As a yogi, it was not surprising that he had probed the deeper meaning of the game: “The simplicity of it makes everyone attempt it, but the subtlety of it makes almost everybody get frustrated with it,” he once observed in an interview with Isha’s magazine. Golf was also just like life (and yoga), he added: People mess up at both when their “interior is not settled.”

He was also up on all the jokes about Jesus and Moses playing golf together. So as we waited to tee off on a par 3, I offered him and our Muslim partner my favorite Jewish golf joke: This threesome is at a public course and the starter comes over and says, “Do you mind if this rabbi plays with you?” They say, “No problem.” The rabbi walks up on the tee with banged-up clubs, a tattered golf bag and a yarmulke instead of a golf hat — but then proceeds to shoot a 69.

At the end of the round one of the other players asks, “Rabbi, how did you get so good?”

“You have to convert to Judaism,” he answers. So, a year goes by and the same three guys arrange to play with the rabbi again. He shoots another 69, but they all still shoot in the 90s. At the end of the round, one says: “Rabbi, I don’t get it. We all converted like you said, but you still shot 69 and we all still shot in the 90s. What’s wrong?”

“What synagogue did you get converted at?” the rabbi asks earnestly.

“Temple Beth Shalom,” they answer in unison.

“Oh no,” says the rabbi. “Temple Beth Shalom? That’s for tennis!”

Sadhguru loved that one, and for the rest of the round when the yogi missed a shot he would look over to me and say, “Wrong temple!”

We had a match and I gave Sadhguru extra shots to make up for the difference in our handicaps. The 18th hole was a 550-yard par 5 around a lake, and Sadhguru hammered his first two shots and had only 110 yards to the green. As he got an extra shot on this hole, it wasn’t looking good for me. So I tried to get into his head: “As a holy man,” I whispered to him, “don’t you feel guilty taking a shot from me on this hole?”

“Not at all!” he grinned. But when he chunked his next shot he exclaimed that a higher power had clearly intervened — and given me my shot back!

Two days later I ran into Jeby Cherian, who used to run IBM’s Global Business Services unit in India but quit in 2015 to build Sadhguru’s Leadership Academy. I asked him what the yogi’s message was to young leaders?

Sadhguru sees “leadership as serious sacrifice — not as power to dominate,” Cherian said. The best leaders “first work on themselves to achieve the necessary inner capabilities, because their actions impact millions of people. If you are personally transformed then you will conduct yourself in a manner that is inclusive. If you are inclusive, then you will transform the communities you live in and thereby the world.”

Hmm, I thought, I know a golfer-leader who should meditate on that message, but, as promised, I’m not writing about Trump today.

I can’t tell you how much I hope Matt Taibbi sees this…

Friedman, solo

April 19, 2017

In “Coal Museum Sees the Future; Trump Doesn’t” The Moustache of Wisdom says the president is focused on prolonging a dying industry rather than on renewable energy, which is making the country stronger without him.  Here he is:

Did you catch this gem on CNN.com from April 6? “The Kentucky Coal Mining Museum in Benham, owned by Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College, is switching to solar power to save money. … Communications director Brandon Robinson told CNN affiliate WYMT that the project ‘will help save at least eight to ten thousand dollars, off the energy costs on this building alone.’”

Go figure. The coal mining museum is going solar, for solid economic reasons, and President Trump is reviving coal, with no economic logic at all. This bizarre contrast speaks to a deeper question of leadership and how we judge presidents.

Trump took two major national security decisions in the past few weeks. One was to strike Syria for using poison gas. Trump summoned his national security team, asked for options on Syria, chose the cruise-missile strike — which was right — and won praise for acting “presidential.”

The other decision you didn’t see. It was Trump dismantling budgets and regulations undergirding U.S. climate and environmental protection policies — in his nutty effort to revive U.S. coal-fired energy — while quietly announcing plans to withhold a promised $32.5 million U.S. contribution for the U.N. Population Fund, which supports family planning and maternal health.

Unlike the Syria decision, Trump made the second move without seeking a comprehensive briefing from experts — he controls the world’s greatest collection of climate scientists at NASA, NOAA, the E.P.A., the Pentagon and the C.I.A. — and without ever asking for an intelligence briefing on how the combination of climate change, environmental degradation, drought and population explosions helped trigger the civil war in Syria, spawn terrorist groups like Boko Haram around Africa’s central Lake Chad (which has lost 90 percent of its water mass since 1963) and become the main force pushing tens of thousands of migrants from sub-Saharan Africa into Europe each year, and from Central America up to the U.S.

I promise you that Trump will spend the rest of his presidency dealing with the disruptions caused by this cocktail of population explosion and climate/environmental degradation — and his generals know it. But in today’s politics, bombing is considered presidential and ignoring science and defunding family planning, when populations are exploding and droughts expanding, are ho-hum back-page news.

Since Trump seems to be pivoting from some of his campaign nonsense, one can only hope he will do the same on these issues. If Trump is looking for a blueprint, he could not do better than to read a smart new book, “Climate of Hope,” by a most unlikely duo: former Sierra Club executive director Carl Pope and billionaire and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

When Carl met Mike… It was 2011, Pope went to Bloomberg with a plan for generating bottom-up community activism to help shut down as many coal-fired power plants in America as possible, so another generation of American kids wouldn’t be afflicted with childhood asthma and another generation of coal workers wouldn’t have to make a living breathing coal dust.

Bloomberg put $50 million into the effort, and the rest is — helping to make coal — history, thanks to the Sierra Club mobilizing communities and technology making natural gas (when the methane leakage is controlled) a much cleaner, cheaper base-load power source for utilities, and wind and solar energy so much more cost-effective.

When the Sierra Club and Bloomberg started in 2011, there were 514 coal-fired power plants in America; since then, 254 have announced they will shut down. They expect that fully two-thirds will be phased out by 2022 — no matter what Trump says or does.

“Climate of Hope” is about how to build on this, by reframing the interrelated challenges of climate change, clean air, clean water and population “from questions of who is going to sacrifice to who is going to grab the profits,” Bloomberg explained in an interview. Each of these challenges, he said, can be met in ways that enable cities and countries to make themselves more prosperous, innovative, healthy and secure — if we just get the incentives right.

Imagine, added Pope, that every U.S. company joined Anheuser-Busch in committing to getting all of its electricity from renewable sources. Imagine that instead of subsidizing surplus cotton, destroying the livelihoods of small farmers in Africa, the U.S. government subsidized our farmers to grow crops that restore carbon and store water in their soils, thus drought-proofing Texas and California.

Imagine every U.S. city joining those already buying electric self-driving vehicles, thereby scaling a new auto-on-demand industry — while reducing the need for personal cars and the parking places and garages for them — thereby unlocking so much real estate for growth and easing urban housing prices. Imagine that instead of vowing to bring back coal mining jobs, our president offered to link West Virginia and the nation’s most prosperous metropolitan economy, Washington, D.C., with high-speed rail service.

Imagine … we could actually make America great again, not just prolong a dying coal industry! Now that would be presidential.

Yeah, Tommy, and if my granny had wheels she’d be a bus…

Friedman, solo

April 12, 2017

The Moustache of Wisdom has a question:  “Why Is Trump Fighting ISIS in Syria?”  He says a strategy built on territory won’t ultimately eliminate the terrorist group.  Well, I’m sure that Mein Fubar and his merry band will figure it all out in 1 or 2 Friedman Units…  Here’s TMOW:

The Trump foreign policy team has been all over the map on what to do next in Syria — topple the regime, intensify aid to rebels, respond to any new attacks on innocent civilians. But when pressed, there is one idea everyone on the team seems to agree on: “The defeat of ISIS,” as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson put it.

Well, let me add to their confusion by asking just one question: Why?

Why should our goal right now be to defeat the Islamic State in Syria? Of course, ISIS is detestable and needs to be eradicated. But is it really in our interest to be focusing solely on defeating ISIS in Syria right now?

Let’s go through the logic: There are actually two ISIS manifestations.

One is “virtual ISIS.” It is satanic, cruel and amorphous; it disseminates its ideology through the internet. It has adherents across Europe and the Muslim world. In my opinion, that ISIS is the primary threat to us, because it has found ways to deftly pump out Sunni jihadist ideology that inspires and gives permission to those Muslims on the fringes of society who feel humiliated — from London to Paris to Cairo — to recover their dignity via headline-grabbing murders of innocents.

The other incarnation is “territorial ISIS.” It still controls pockets in western Iraq and larger sectors of Syria. Its goal is to defeat Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria — plus its Russian, Iranian and Hezbollah allies — and to defeat the pro-Iranian Shiite regime in Iraq, replacing both with a caliphate.

Challenge No. 1: Not only will virtual ISIS, which has nodes all over the world, not go away even if territorial ISIS is defeated, I believe virtual ISIS will become yet more virulent to disguise the fact that it has lost the territorial caliphate to its archenemies: Shiite Iran, Hezbollah, pro-Shiite militias in Iraq, the pro-Shiite Assad regime in Damascus and Russia, not to mention America.

Challenge No. 2: America’s goal in Syria is to create enough pressure on Assad, Russia, Iran and Hezbollah so they will negotiate a power-sharing accord with moderate Sunni Muslims that would also ease Assad out of power. One way to do that would be for NATO to create a no-fly safe zone around Idlib Province, where many of the anti-Assad rebels have gathered and where Assad recently dropped his poison gas on civilians. But Congress and the U.S. public are clearly wary of that.

So what else could we do? We could dramatically increase our military aid to anti-Assad rebels, giving them sufficient anti-tank and antiaircraft missiles to threaten Russian, Iranian, Hezbollah and Syrian helicopters and fighter jets and make them bleed, maybe enough to want to open negotiations. Fine with me.

What else? We could simply back off fighting territorial ISIS in Syria and make it entirely a problem for Iran, Russia, Hezbollah and Assad. After all, they’re the ones overextended in Syria, not us. Make them fight a two-front war — the moderate rebels on one side and ISIS on the other. If we defeat territorial ISIS in Syria now, we will only reduce the pressure on Assad, Iran, Russia and Hezbollah and enable them to devote all their resources to crushing the last moderate rebels in Idlib, not sharing power with them.

I don’t get it. President Trump is offering to defeat ISIS in Syria for free — and then pivot to strengthening the moderate anti-Assad rebels. Why? When was the last time Trump did anything for free? When was the last real estate deal Trump did where he volunteered to clean up a toxic waste dump — for free — before he negotiated with the owner on the price of the golf course next door?

This is a time for Trump to be Trump — utterly cynical and unpredictable. ISIS right now is the biggest threat to Iran, Hezbollah, Russia and pro-Shiite Iranian militias — because ISIS is a Sunni terrorist group that plays as dirty as Iran and Russia.

Trump should want to defeat ISIS in Iraq. But in Syria? Not for free, not now. In Syria, Trump should let ISIS be Assad’s, Iran’s, Hezbollah’s and Russia’s headache — the same way we encouraged the mujahedeen fighters to bleed Russia in Afghanistan.

Yes, in the long run we want to crush ISIS everywhere, but the only way to crush ISIS and keep it crushed on the ground is if we have moderate Sunnis in Syria and Iraq able and willing to replace it. And those will only emerge if there are real power-sharing deals in Syria and Iraq — and that will only happen if Assad, Russia, Iran and Hezbollah feel pressured to share power.

And while I am at it, where is Trump’s Twitter feed when we need it? He should be tweeting every day this message: “Russia, Iran and Hezbollah have become the protectors of a Syrian regime that uses poison gas on babies! Babies! Russia, Iran, Hezbollah, Assad — poison gas enablers. Sad.”

Do not let them off the hook! We need to make them own what they’ve become — enablers of a Syria that uses poison gas on children. Believe it or not, they won’t like being labeled that way. Trump needs to use his global Twitter feed strategically. Barack Obama never played this card. Trump needs to slam it down every day. It creates leverage.

Syria is not a knitting circle. Everyone there plays dirty, deviously and without mercy. Where’s that Trump when we need him?

Friedman, Cohen, and Bruni

April 5, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SuperJared has taken flight.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s a bird! It’s a plane!

It’s ridiculous.

Friedman and Bruni

March 29, 2017

In “Trump Is a Chinese Agent” The Moustache of Wisdom says ignoring climate change and the benefits of clean energy only helps a rival.  Mr. Bruni says “Devin Nunes is Dangerous” because he’s so deep in the tank for Donald Trump that he needs scuba gear.  Here’s TMOW:

The big story everyone is chasing is whether President Trump is a Russian stooge. Wrong. That’s all a smoke screen. Trump is actually a Chinese agent. He is clearly out to make China great again. Just look at the facts.

Trump took office promising to fix our trade imbalance with China, and what’s the first thing he did? He threw away a U.S.-designed free-trade deal with 11 other Pacific nations — a pact whose members make up 40 percent of global G.D.P.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership was based largely on U.S. economic interests, benefiting our fastest-growing technologies and agribusinesses, and had more labor, environmental and human rights standards than any trade agreement ever. And it excluded China. It was our baby, shaping the future of trade in Asia.

Imagine if Trump were negotiating with China now as not only the U.S. president but also as head of a 12-nation trading bloc based on our values and interests. That’s called l-e-v-e-r-a-g-e, and Trump just threw it away … because he promised to in the campaign — without, I’d bet, ever reading TPP. What a chump! I can still hear the clinking of champagne glasses in Beijing.

Now more Asian nations are falling in line with China’s regional trading association — the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership — which has no serious environmental, intellectual property, human trafficking or labor standards like TPP. A Peterson Institute study said TPP would “increase annual real incomes in the United States by $131 billion” by 2030, without changing total U.S. employment levels. Goodbye to that.

But Trump took his Make China Great campaign to a new level on Tuesday by rejecting the science on climate change and tossing out all Obama-era plans to shrink our dependence on coal-fired power. Trump also wants to weaken existing mileage requirements for U.S.-made vehicles. Stupid.

O.K., Mr. President, let’s assume for a second that climate change is a hoax. Do you believe in math? There are now 7.5 billion people on the planet, and there will be 8.5 billion by 2030, according to the United Nations population bureau — and most will want to drive like us, eat protein like us and live in houses like us. And if they do, we’ll eat up, burn up, smoke up and choke up the planet — and devour our fisheries, coral reefs, rivers and forests — at a pace we’ve never seen before. Major cities in India and China already can’t breathe; wait for when there are another billion people.

That means that clean power, clean water, clean air, clean transportation and energy-efficient buildings will have to be the next great global industry, whether or not there is climate change. The demand will be huge.

So what is China doing? Its new five-year plan is a rush to electric cars, batteries, nuclear, wind, solar and energy efficiency — and a cap-and-trade system for carbon. Trump’s plan? More coal and oil. Hello? How can America be great if we don’t dominate the next great global industry — clean power?

The U.S. state leading in clean energy innovations is California, which also has the highest vehicle emissions standards and the strictest building efficiency codes. Result: California alone has far more advanced energy jobs than there are coal miners in America, and the pay is better and the work is healthier. In January 2016, CNNMoney reported that nationally the U.S. “solar industry work force is bigger than that of oil and gas construction, and nearly three times the size of the entire coal mining work force.”

“More than half the electric vehicles sold in the U.S. are sold in California,” said Hal Harvey, C.E.O. of Energy Innovation. “If there are two jurisdictions hellbent on transformation, it is China and California. There have been 200 million E.V.s sold in China already. They’re called electric bicycles, which cost about $400 — quiet, not contributing to congestion or pollution, and affordable.”

China is loving this: It’s doubling down on clean energy — because it has to and it wants to leapfrog us on technology — and we’re doubling down on coal, squandering our lead in technology.

It was bitterly ironic that on the same day that President Trump took America on a great leap backward to coal, The Wall Street Journal reported that “Tencent Holdings Ltd. bought a 5% stake in Tesla Inc., giving the backing of China’s most valuable company to the Silicon Valley electric-vehicle maker as it prepares to launch its first car aimed at the mass market. … Having a powerful friend in China could help Tesla as it eyes further global expansion. Big Chinese tech companies have backed a wave of green-car start-ups in the country recently.”

If you liked buying your oil from Saudi Arabia, you’ll love buying your electric cars, solar panels, efficiency software and batteries from China.

Finally, Trump wants to slash the State Department and foreign aid budgets and make it harder for people to immigrate to America, particularly Muslims. This opens the way for China to expand its influence across the developing world and signals the smartest math and science students in the world to start their start-ups overseas and not in America.

NBC News reported last week that applications from foreign students, notably from China, India and the Middle East, “are down this year at nearly 40 percent of schools that answered a recent survey by the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers.”

So you tell me that Trump is not a Chinese agent. The only other explanation is that he’s ignorant and unread — that he’s never studied the issues or connected the dots between them — so Big Coal and Big Oil easily manipulated him into being their chump, who just tweeted out their talking points to win votes here and there — without any thought to grand strategy. Surely that couldn’t be true?

Oh, Tommy, Tommy, Tommy…  You can bet your fat butt that it IS true.  And worse.  Here’s Mr. Bruni:

Representative Devin Nunes obviously fancies himself Jason Bourne. To sneak onto the White House grounds for that rendezvous with an unnamed source last week, he switched cars and ditched aides, vanishing into the night.

But Senator Lindsey Graham looks at him and sees a different character. Graham said on the “Today” show on Tuesday that Nunes was bumbling his way though something of an “Inspector Clouseau investigation,” a reference to the fantastically inept protagonist of the “Pink Panther” comedies.

I salute Graham’s movie vocabulary. I quibble with his metaphor. While Clouseau was a benign fool, there’s nothing benign about Nunes’s foolishness.

As chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Nunes, a California Republican, is a principal sleuth in the paramount inquiry into whether members of the Trump campaign were in cahoots with Russia, and from all appearances, he either doesn’t want to know the answer or has determined it already — in President Trump’s favor.

Democrats are rightly calling on him to recuse himself. They’ve been joined in their alarm by Graham, a South Carolina Republican, and Senator John McCain, an Arizona Republican. As Graham summoned the specter of Clouseau, McCain said on “CBS This Morning” that “something’s got to change.”

“Otherwise,” he continued, “the whole effort in the House of Representatives will lose credibility.”

But Nunes was defiant when asked by reporters on Capitol Hill on Tuesday whether he would continue to guide that effort, saying, “Why would I not?”

Oh, many reasons.

Let’s start here: The Intelligence Committee isn’t supposed to be a partisan arm of the majority party (though it has behaved that way in the past). And any collusion with the White House is a betrayal of its special oversight role.

But Nunes is so deep in the tank for Trump that he needs scuba gear. With his words and deeds, he has labored mightily to redirect attention from Trump’s alleged wrongdoing to his claims of persecution, recasting villain as victim. It’s Trump’s gratitude that he’s after, not the truth.

When politicians on both sides of the aisle upbraided Trump for his baseless accusations about the wiretapping of Trump Tower, Nunes swooped in to say, “I don’t think we should attack the president for tweeting.” But Twitter was hardly the issue. The president’s paranoid hallucinations were.

When James Comey, the F.B.I. director, appeared before Nunes’s committee to confirm his own agency’s investigation into Trump-Russia ties, Nunes changed the subject to the media’s acquisition of classified information, going on about leaks, leaks, leaks. He sounded more like a plumber than a politician.

And when Nunes gathered reporters around him two days later, it was to say that he’d seen secret documents suggesting that people around Trump may indeed have been subject to surveillance by our government.

This was Nunes at his most irresponsible. To the casual listener, he was insinuating that Trump’s wiretapping charges weren’t so very far from the mark. But they were, and Nunes had to acknowledge that as he clarified his remarks. He was talking about the surveillance of Americans who happened to be in contact with foreign players whose communications were the real subjects of concern. He had no evidence — zilch — of any eavesdropping that targeted Trump.

This week we learned that Nunes got that information during that rendezvous, details of which he has not provided to his fellow committee members, just as he failed to share the information itself with Democrats on the committee before he went public with it.

All of this is irregular enough to peg him as a puppet of the Trump administration or a complete boob. Either way, he has surrendered his investigation’s integrity — and his own.

A Republican insider who once worked closely with him described him to me as an “overeager goofball” who can’t see “the line between ingratiating and stupid.” The insider said that Nunes crossed that line with John Boehner, the former House speaker, who gave him the committee chairmanship but grew weary of Nunes’s indiscriminate pep and constant bumming of his cigarettes.

My source wondered why Paul Ryan hadn’t kept a closer watch on Nunes, given his shortcomings. “No one is asking him to bring the potato salad to the Mensa picnic,” my source said.

Salad and more salad: Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, complained to reporters on Tuesday afternoon that “if the president puts Russian salad dressing on his salad tonight, somehow that’s a Russian connection.”

Spicer is right that we’re obsessed with Russia, wrong that it’s as random as condiments. We’re obsessed because every signal from the administration and its allies is that they don’t want us looking any further or any closer, and Nunes’s Bourne identity is the most glaring signal of all.

If Trump and his associates have nothing to hide, why all the cloak and dagger? And why such clumsiness?

Because they’re all such ghastly buffoons.