MoDo says “Russia Is Not Jamaica,” and that the cheerleader in chief was in Beijing with bikini-clad beach volleyball players while the Re-Evil Empire was sending columns of tanks into its former republic. Mr. Kristof was in China too, and he says “Malcontents Need Not Apply.” Chinese officials explained that so long as protesters obtained approval in advance, demonstrations would be allowed. So he decided to test the system. Ms. Judson’s column is titled “Testing Genes, Solving Little,” and she says that despite the hype, the era of personal medicine — where your treatment is tailored for your genes — remains frustratingly far away. Mr. Rich writes about “The Candidate We Still Don’t Know.” Heh. It’s not who you’re thinking it is. He says that with the exception of John McCain’s imprisonment in Vietnam, every aspect of his profile in courage is inaccurate or defunct. Here’s MoDo:
America’s back in the cold war and W.’s back on vacation.
Talk about your fearful symmetry.
After eight years, the president’s gut remains gullible. He’ll go out as he came in — ignoring reality; failing to foresee, prevent or even prepare for disasters; misinterpreting intelligence reports; misreading people; and handling crises in ways that makes them exponentially worse.
He has spent 469 days of his presidency kicking back at his ranch, and 450 days cavorting at Camp David. And there’s still time to mountain-bike through another historic disaster.
As Russian troops continued to manhandle parts of Georgia on Friday, President Bush chastised Russian leaders that “bullying and intimidation are not acceptable ways to conduct foreign policy in the 21st century” — and then flew off to Crawford.
His words might have carried more weight if he, Cheney and Rummy had not kicked off the 21st century with a ham-fisted display of global bullying and intimidation modeled after Sherman’s march through the other Georgia.
We knew we could count on the cheerleader in chief to be jumping around like a kid in Beijing with bikini-clad beach volleyball players while the Re-Evil Empire was sending columns of tanks into its former republic. (Georgia made the mistake of baiting the bear.)
If only W. had taken the rest of his presidency as seriously as he’s taken his sports outings.
When I interviewed him at the start of his first presidential run in 1999, he took an obvious shot and told me, “I believe the big issues are going to be China and Russia.”
But after 9/11, he let Cheney, Rummy and the neocons gull him into a destructive obsession with Iraq. While America has been bogged down and bled dry, China and Russia are plumping up. China has bought so much of America that we’d be dead Peking ducks if they pulled their investments out of our market, and Russia has transformed itself from a pauper nation to a land filled with millionaires — all through our addiction to oil.
What was so galling about watching W.’s giddy sightseeing at the Olympics was that it underscored China’s rise as a superpower and, thanks to the administration’s derelict foreign and economic policies, America’s fade-out. It’s as though China has become us and we’ve become Europe. Like Russia, China has also been showing jagged authoritarian ways and ignoring America’s preaching, including W.’s tame criticism as he flew into Beijing to revel in the spectacle of China’s ascension.
Despite his 1999 prediction that Russia and China would be key to security in the world, W. never bothered to study up on them. In 2006, at the Group of Eight summit meeting in St. Petersburg, Russia, a microphone caught some of the inane remarks of W. to the Chinese president, Hu Jintao.
“This is your neighborhood,” W. said. “It doesn’t take you long to get home. How long does it take you to get home? Eight hours? Me, too. Russia’s a big country and you’re a big country.”
President Bush and his Russian “expert” Condi have played it completely wrong with Russia from the start. W. saw a “trustworthy” soul in a razor-eyed K.G.B. agent who has never been a good guy for a single hour. Now the Bush crowd, which can do nothing about it, is blustering about how Russian aggression “must not go unanswered,” as Cheney put it. (W.’s other Russian expert, Bob Gates, was, as always, the only voice of realism, noting, “I don’t see any prospect for the use of military force by the United States in this situation.”)
The Bush administration may have a sentimental attachment to Georgia because it sent 2,000 troops to Iraq as part of the fig-leaf Coalition of the Willing, and because Poppy Bush and James Baker were close to Georgia’s first president, Eduard Shevardnadze.
But with this country’s military and moral force so depleted, the Bushies can hardly tell Russia to stop doing what they themselves did in Iraq: unilaterally invade a country against the will of the world to scare the bejesus out of some leaders in the region they didn’t like.
W. and Condi are suddenly waking up to how vicious Vladimir is. In a press conference with Condi on Friday, Mikheil Saakashvili, the president of Georgia, chided the West for enabling Russia to resume its repressive tactics.
“Unfortunately, today we are looking evil directly in the eye,” he said. “And today this evil is very strong, very nasty and very dangerous, for everybody, not only for us.”
As Michael Specter, the New Yorker writer who has written extensively about Russia, observed: “There was a brief five-year period when we could get away with treating Russia like Jamaica — that’s over. Now we have to deal with them like grown-ups who have more nuclear weapons than anybody except us.”
Here’s Mr. Kristof, who’s in Beijing:
To put a smiley face on its image during the Olympics, the Chinese government set aside three “protest zones” in Beijing. Officials explained that so long as protesters obtained approval in advance, demonstrations would be allowed.
So I decided to test the system.
Following government instructions, I showed up at an office of the Beijing Public Security Bureau, found Window 12 and declared to the officer, “I’m here to apply to hold a protest.”
What I didn’t realize is that Public Security has arrested at least a half-dozen people who have shown up to apply for protest permits. Public Security is pretty shrewd. In the old days it had to go out and catch protesters in the act. Now it saves itself the bother: would-be protesters show up at Public Security offices to apply for permits and are promptly detained. That’s cost-effective law enforcement for you.
Fortunately, the official at Window 12 didn’t peg me as a counterrevolutionary. He looked at me worriedly and asked for my passport and other ID papers. Discovering that I was a journalist, he asked hopefully, “Wouldn’t you rather conduct an interview about demonstrations?”
“No. I want to apply to hold one.”
His brow furrowed. “What do you want to protest?”
“I want to demonstrate in favor of preserving Beijing’s historic architecture.” It was the least controversial, most insipid topic I could concoct.
“Do you think the government is not doing a good job at this?” he asked sternly.
“There may be room for improvement,” I said delicately.
The official frowned and summoned two senior colleagues who, after a series of frantic phone calls, led me into the heart of the police building. I was accompanied by a Times videographer, and he and a police videographer busily videoed each other. Then the police explained that under the rules they could video us but we couldn’t video them.
The Public Security Bureau (a fancy name for a police station) gleams like much of the rest of Beijing. It is a lovely, spacious building, and the waiting room we were taken to was beautifully furnished; no folding metal chairs here. It’s a fine metaphor for China’s legal system: The hardware is impeccable, but the software is primitive.
After an hour of waiting, interrupted by periodic frowning examinations of our press credentials, we were ushered into an elegant conference room. I was solemnly directed to a chair marked “applicant.”
Three police officers sat across from me, and the police videographer continued to film us from every angle. The officers were all cordial and professional, although one seemed to be daydreaming about pulling out my fingernails.
Then they spent nearly an hour going over the myriad rules for demonstrations. These were detailed and complex, and, most daunting, I would have to submit a list of every single person attending my demonstration. The list had to include names and identity document numbers.
In addition, any Chinese on a name list would have to go first to the Public Security Bureau in person to be interviewed (arrested?).
“If I go through all this, then will my application at least be granted?” I asked.
“How can we tell?” a policeman responded. “That would prejudge the process.”
“Well, has any application ever been granted?” I asked.
“We can’t answer that, for that matter has no connection to this case.”
The policemen did say that if they approved, they would give me a “Demonstration Permission Document.” Without that, my demonstration would be illegal.
I surrendered. The rules were so monstrously bureaucratic that I couldn’t even apply for a demonstration. My Olympic dreams were dashed. The police asked me to sign their note-taker’s account of the meeting, and we politely said our goodbyes.
Yet even though the process is a charade, it still represents progress in China, in that the law implicitly acknowledges the legitimacy of protest. Moreover, a trickle of Chinese have applied to hold protests, even though they know that they are more likely to end up in jail than in a “protest zone.” Fear of the government is ebbing.
My hunch is that in the coming months, perhaps after the Olympics, we will see some approvals granted. China is changing: it is no democracy, but it’s also no longer a totalitarian state.
China today reminds me of Taiwan in the mid-1980s as a rising middle class demanded more freedom. Almost every country around China, from Mongolia to Indonesia, Thailand to South Korea, has become more open and less repressive — not because of the government’s kindness but because of the people’s insistence.
I feel that same process happening here, albeit agonizingly slowly. Someday China’s software will catch up with its hardware.
Here’s Ms. Judson:
It was supposed to be simple. Once it became cheap to scan large numbers of people for large numbers of genetic differences, everyone assumed that it would swiftly become straightforward to convert genetic differences into physical differences — that we’d be able to look at someone’s genome and say, this man is between 5-foot-10 and 6-foot-2, has black hair, green eyes and a high risk of developing diabetes.
Not so. The age of large-scale screening arrived about five years ago, and a hunt for the genes underlying heritable human differences immediately began. But with a few exceptions — almost all of which predate the large screens — the business of genetic forecasting has turned out to be much more difficult than anyone expected. And despite the hype, the era of personal medicine — where your treatment is tailored for your genes — remains frustratingly far away.
At the heart of this story there is a paradox. We have accumulated huge databases on human genetic differences — but many of the differences appear to be more or less irrelevant.
To see what I mean, suppose you set out to analyze a DNA sample from someone you knew nothing about. What could you discover?
You could discover their sex. That’s easy. You could also discover where they are from, genetically speaking. In the past five years, the genetics of ancestry testing has become excellent. So much so that you can reliably tell the difference between someone descended from Swedes, as against Italians.
The reason this works is that in the past, humans didn’t move around much. As a result, genetic differences accumulated slightly differently in different groups. On average, then, Swedes’ genomes resemble each other more closely than they resemble those of Italians or American Indians.
If you discovered someone’s ancestors were Swedish, you’d infer that they themselves are likely to be tall and blond with pale skin. But that’s only because you already know what other Swedes look like. If you didn’t — and this is the odd thing — you wouldn’t be able to infer much from the genes themselves. This is because, by and large, we don’t know how to translate genetic differences into physical differences.
Consider height. This trait has a strong genetic component: we know that as much as 90 percent of the difference in height between you and me is because of differences in our genes. (The rest is because of differences in things like nutrition.) One recent study, which looked at more than 30,000 people, found 20 genes that influence height. But together, these 20 genes accounted for just 3 percent of the variation. That leaves a whopping 87 percent still to be accounted for.
Not all traits are so intractable. If your mystery individual had a particular form of a gene known as melanocortin receptor 1, you’d know they had red hair. A variant in the control region of another gene has been strongly linked to blue eyes. Having variants of still another gene greatly increases the odds of getting Alzheimer’s disease. Forms of several genes have been strongly linked to adverse drug reactions — or to a given drug having no effect at all. And then there are the handful of genetic diseases we already knew about, like sickle cell anemia and Huntington’s disease.
But for many traits, including diabetes, the pattern is similar to what we see for height. Large numbers of people have been screened, and impressively large numbers of genes have been implicated — but no single gene seems to be having a particularly big effect by itself. Moreover, and this is the more important point, a lot of the genetic variation underlying each trait has not yet been found.
What does this mean? There are a couple of possibilities. Either, huge numbers of genes affect most traits, with each gene making a tiny contribution. If this is so, our hopes for finding meaningful risk factors for most genetic diseases is poor. Or, variants of a few genes do have a substantial effect but they are too rare to have been discovered yet. (Most of the screens used today capture only the 500,000 most common genetic differences. Rare differences are essentially invisible.) In which case, we need to change the way we are approaching the problem.
Scientifically, this is fascinating. But from a practical point of view, the results are discouraging. If you want to learn your odds of getting different diseases, consult your family history. Or visit a fortune teller. For most traits, genetic testing is — for now, anyway — little better than consulting the tea leaves.
And now here’s Mr. Rich:
As I went on vacation at the end of July, Barack Obama was leading John McCain by three to four percentage points in national polls. When I returned last week he still was. But lo and behold, a whole new plot twist had rolled off the bloviation assembly line in those intervening two weeks: Obama had lost the election!
The poor guy should be winning in a landslide against the despised party of Bush-Cheney, and he’s not. He should be passing the 50 percent mark in polls, and he’s not. He’s been done in by that ad with Britney and Paris and by a new international crisis that allows McCain to again flex his Manchurian Candidate military cred. Let the neocons identify a new battleground for igniting World War III, whether Baghdad or Tehran or Moscow, and McCain gets with the program as if Angela Lansbury has just dealt him the Queen of Hearts.
Obama has also been defeated by racism (again). He can’t connect and “close the deal” with ordinary Americans too doltish to comprehend a multicultural biography that includes what Cokie Roberts of ABC News has damned as the “foreign, exotic place” of Hawaii. As The Economist sums up the received wisdom, “lunch-pail Ohio Democrats” find Obama’s ideas of change “airy-fairy” and are all asking, “Who on earth is this guy?”
It seems almost churlish to look at some actual facts. No presidential candidate was breaking the 50 percent mark in mid-August polls in 2004 or 2000. Obama’s average lead of three to four points is marginally larger than both John Kerry’s and Al Gore’s leads then (each was winning by one point in Gallup surveys). Obama is also ahead of Ronald Reagan in mid-August 1980 (40 percent to Jimmy Carter’s 46). At Pollster.com, which aggregates polls and gauges the electoral count, Obama as of Friday stood at 284 electoral votes, McCain at 169. That means McCain could win all 85 electoral votes in current toss-up states and still lose the election.
Yet surely, we keep hearing, Obama should be running away with the thing. Even Michael Dukakis was beating the first George Bush by 17 percentage points in the summer of 1988. Of course, were Obama ahead by 17 points today, the same prognosticators now fussing over his narrow lead would be predicting that the arrogant and presumptuous Obama was destined to squander that landslide on vacation and tank just like his hapless predecessor.
The truth is we have no idea what will happen in November. But for the sake of argument, let’s posit that one thread of the Obama-is-doomed scenario is right: His lead should be huge in a year when the G.O.P. is in such disrepute that at least eight of the party’s own senatorial incumbents are skipping their own convention, the fail-safe way to avoid being caught near the Larry Craig Memorial Men’s Room at the Twin Cities airport.
So why isn’t Obama romping? The obvious answer — and both the excessively genteel Obama campaign and a too-compliant press bear responsibility for it — is that the public doesn’t know who on earth John McCain is. The most revealing poll this month by far is the Pew Research Center survey finding that 48 percent of Americans feel they’re “hearing too much” about Obama. Pew found that only 26 percent feel that way about McCain, and that nearly 4 in 10 Americans feel they hear too little about him. It’s past time for that pressing educational need to be met.
What is widely known is the skin-deep, out-of-date McCain image. As this fairy tale has it, the hero who survived the Hanoi Hilton has stood up as rebelliously in Washington as he did to his Vietnamese captors. He strenuously opposed the execution of the Iraq war; he slammed the president’s response to Katrina; he fought the “agents of intolerance” of the religious right; he crusaded against the G.O.P. House leader Tom DeLay, the criminal lobbyist Jack Abramoff and their coterie of influence-peddlers.
With the exception of McCain’s imprisonment in Vietnam, every aspect of this profile in courage is inaccurate or defunct.
McCain never called for Donald Rumsfeld to be fired and didn’t start criticizing the war plan until late August 2003, nearly four months after “Mission Accomplished.” By then the growing insurgency was undeniable. On the day Hurricane Katrina hit, McCain laughed it up with the oblivious president at a birthday photo-op in Arizona. McCain didn’t get to New Orleans for another six months and didn’t sharply express public criticism of the Bush response to the calamity until this April, when he traveled to the Gulf Coast in desperate search of election-year pageantry surrounding him with black extras.
McCain long ago embraced the right’s agents of intolerance, even spending months courting the Rev. John Hagee, whose fringe views about Roman Catholics and the Holocaust were known to anyone who can use the Internet. (Once the McCain campaign discovered YouTube, it ditched Hagee.) On Monday McCain is scheduled to appear at an Atlanta fund-raiser being promoted by Ralph Reed, who is not only the former aide de camp to one of the agents of intolerance McCain once vilified (Pat Robertson) but is also the former Abramoff acolyte showcased in McCain’s own Senate investigation of Indian casino lobbying.
Though the McCain campaign announced a new no-lobbyists policy three months after The Washington Post’s February report that lobbyists were “essentially running” the whole operation, the fact remains that McCain’s top officials and fund-raisers have past financial ties to nearly every domestic and foreign flashpoint, from Fannie Mae to Blackwater to Ahmad Chalabi to the government of Georgia. No sooner does McCain flip-flop on oil drilling than a bevy of Hess Oil family members and executives, not to mention a lowly Hess office manager and his wife, each give a maximum $28,500 to the Republican Party.
While reporters at The Post and The New York Times have been vetting McCain, many others give him a free pass. Their default cliché is to present him as the Old Faithful everyone already knows. They routinely salute his “independence,” his “maverick image” and his “renegade reputation” — as the hackneyed script was reiterated by Karl Rove in a Wall Street Journal op-ed column last week. At Talking Points Memo, the essential blog vigilantly pursuing the McCain revelations often ignored elsewhere, Josh Marshall accurately observes that the Republican candidate is “graded on a curve.”
Most Americans still don’t know, as Marshall writes, that on the campaign trail “McCain frequently forgets key elements of policies, gets countries’ names wrong, forgets things he’s said only hours or days before and is frequently just confused.” Most Americans still don’t know it is precisely for this reason that the McCain campaign has now shut down the press’s previously unfettered access to the candidate on the Straight Talk Express.
To appreciate the discrepancy in what we know about McCain and Obama, merely look at the coverage of the potential first ladies. We have heard too much indeed about Michelle Obama’s Princeton thesis, her pay raises at the University of Chicago hospital, her statement about being “proud” of her country and the false rumor of a video of her ranting about “whitey.” But we still haven’t been inside Cindy McCain’s tax returns, all her multiple homes or private plane. The Los Angeles Times reported in June that Hensley & Company, the enormous beer distributorship she controls, “lobbies regulatory agencies on alcohol issues that involve public health and safety,” in opposition to groups like Mothers Against Drunk Driving. The McCain campaign told The Times that Mrs. McCain’s future role in her beer empire won’t be revealed before the election.
Some of those who know McCain best — Republicans — are tougher on him than the press is. Rita Hauser, who was a Bush financial chairwoman in New York in 2000 and served on the Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board in the administration’s first term, joined other players in the G.O.P. establishment in forming Republicans for Obama last week. Why? The leadership qualities she admires in Obama — temperament, sustained judgment, the ability to play well with others — are missing in McCain. “He doesn’t listen carefully to people and make reasoned judgments,” Hauser told me. “If John says ‘I’m going with so and so,’ you can’t count on that the next morning,” she complained, adding, “That’s not the man we want for president.”
McCain has even prompted alarms from the right’s own favorite hit man du jour: Jerome Corsi, who Swift-boated John Kerry as co-author of “Unfit to Command” in 2004 and who is trying to do the same to Obama in his newly minted best seller, “The Obama Nation.”
Corsi’s writings have been repeatedly promoted by Sean Hannity on Fox News; Corsi’s publisher, Mary Matalin, has praised her author’s “scholarship.” If Republican warriors like Hannity and Matalin think so highly of Corsi’s research into Obama, then perhaps we should take seriously Corsi’s scholarship about McCain. In recent articles at worldnetdaily.com, Corsi has claimed (among other charges) that the McCain campaign received “strong” financial support from a “group tied to Al Qaeda” and that “McCain’s personal fortune traces back to organized crime in Arizona.”
As everyone says, polls are meaningless in the summers of election years. Especially this year, when there’s one candidate whose real story has yet to be fully told.