Archive for the ‘The Moustache of Wisdom’ Category

Friedman and Bruni

April 20, 2016

In “Out of Africa, Part II” The Moustache of Wisdom tells us that a farming village too parched to sustain crops is also losing its men, who leave in search of work to support their families.  Mr. Bruni, in “No Way to Elect a President,” says beyond New York’s primary is a system and sourness we must address.  Here’s TMOW, writing from Ndiamaguene, Senegal:

I am visiting Ndiamaguene village in the far northwest of Senegal. If I were giving you directions I’d tell you that it’s the last stop after the last stop — it’s the village after the highway ends, after the paved road ends, after the gravel road ends and after the desert track ends. Turn left at the last baobab tree.

It’s worth the trek, though, if you’re looking for the headwaters of the immigration flood now flowing from Africa to Europe via Libya. It starts here.

It begins with a trickle of migrants from a thousand little villages and towns across West Africa like Ndiamaguene, a five-hour drive from the capital, Dakar. I visited with a team working on the documentary “Years of Living Dangerously,” about the connection between climate change and human migration, which will appear this fall on the National Geographic Channel. The day we came, April 14, it was 113 degrees — far above the historical average for the day, a crazy level of extreme weather.

But there is an even bigger abnormality in Ndiamaguene, a farming village of mud-brick homes and thatch-roof huts. The village chief gathered virtually everyone in his community to receive us, and they formed a welcoming circle of women in colorful prints and cheerful boys and girls with incandescent smiles, home from school for lunch. But the second you sit down with them you realize that something is wrong with this picture.

There are almost no young or middle-aged men in this village of 300. They’re gone.

It wasn’t disease. They’ve all hit the road. The village’s climate-hammered farmlands can no longer sustain them, and with so many kids — 42 percent of Senegal’s population is under 14 years old — there are too many mouths to feed from the declining yields. So the men have scattered to the four winds in search of any job that will pay them enough to live on and send some money back to their wives or parents.

This trend is repeating itself all across West Africa, which is why every month thousands of men try to migrate to Europe by boat, bus, foot or plane. Meanwhile, refugees fleeing wars in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan are doing the same. Together, these two flows pose a huge challenge for the future of Europe.

Tell these young African men that their odds of getting to Europe are tiny and they will tell you, as one did me, that when you don’t have enough money to buy even an aspirin for your sick mother, you don’t calculate the odds. You just go.

“We are mostly farmers, and we depend on farming, but it is not working now,” the village chief, Ndiougua Ndiaye, explained to me in Wolof, through a translator. After a series of on/off droughts in the 1970s and 1980s, the weather patterns stabilized a bit, “until about 10 years ago,” the chief added. Then, the weather got really weird.

The rainy season used to always begin in June and run to October. Now the first rains might not start until August, then they stop for a while, leaving fields to dry out, and then they begin again. But they come back as torrential downpours that create floods. “So whatever you plant, the crops get spoiled,” the chief said. “You reap no profits.”

The chief, who gave his age as 70 but didn’t know for sure, could remember one thing for certain: When he was young he could walk out to his fields any time during the planting season “and your feet would sink into” the moist earth. “The soil was slippery and oily and it would stick to your legs and feet and you would have to scrape it off.” Now, he said, picking up a fistful of hot sand, the soil “is like a powder — it is not living anymore.”

Has he ever heard of something called “climate change”? I asked. “We heard about it on the radio, and we have seen it with our own eyes,” he answered. The temperature is different. The winds are different. They’re hot when they should be cold.

The chief’s impressions are not wrong. Senegal’s national weather bureau says that from 1950 to 2015, the average temperature in the country rose two degrees Celsius, much faster than anticipated, and since 1950, the average annual rainfall has declined by about 50 millimeters (about two inches). So the men of Ndiamaguene have no choice but to migrate to bigger towns or out of the country.

The lucky few find ways to get smuggled into Spain or Germany, via Libya. Libya was like a cork on Africa, and when the U.S. and NATO toppled the Libyan dictator — but did not put troops on the ground to help secure a new order — they essentially uncorked Africa, creating a massive funnel through chaotic Libya to the Mediterranean coast.

The less lucky find work in Dakar or Libya or Algeria or Mauritania, and the least lucky get marooned somewhere along the way — caught in the humiliating twilight of having left and gained nothing and having nothing to return to. This is creating more and more tempting recruiting targets for jihadist groups like Boko Haram, which can offer a few hundred dollars a month.

The chief introduced me to Mayoro Ndiaeye, the father of a boy who left to find work. “My son left for Libya one year ago, and since then we have no news — no telephone, nothing,” he explained. “He left a wife and two children. He was a tile fixer. After he made some money [in the nearby town] he went to Mauritania and then to Niger and then up to Libya. But we have not heard from him since.”

The father started to tear up. These people live so close to the edge. One reason they have so many children is that the offspring are a safety net for aging parents. But the boys are all leaving and the edge is getting even closer.

Which means they are losing the only thing they were rich in: a deep sense of community. Here, you grow up with your family, parents look after children and children then look after parents, and everyone eats and lives together. But now with the land no longer producing enough, “everyone has a [male] family member who has had to leave,” said the chief. “When I was young, everyone in the family was together. … The mother would be in the house and the man would go to the farm. And everyone stayed with their family, and now it is not what it used to be. I am afraid of losing my community, because my people can’t live here anymore.”

Africa has always had migrants, but this time is different. There are so many more people and so much less natural capital — Lake Chad alone has lost 90 percent of its water — and with cellphones everyone can see a better world in Europe.

Gardens or walls? It’s really not a choice. We have to help them fix their gardens because no walls will keep them home.

Now here’s Mr. Bruni:

With Donald Trump’s and Hillary Clinton’s victories in New York, we’re one furious contest closer to the end of this spectacle. But we’ve known for a while now where we’re headed, and it isn’t anyplace good.

American voters are displeased with the candidates they’ve been given. They’re disengaged from the process that winnows the field.

And that process disregards the political center, erodes common ground and leaves us with a government that can’t build the necessary consensus for, let alone implement, sensible action in regard to taxes, to infrastructure, to immigration, to guns, to just about anything.

Make America great again? We need to start by making it functional.

This election has certainly been extraordinary for its characters, but it’s equally remarkable for its context, one of profound, paralyzing sourness.

A poll released by NBC News and The Wall Street Journal on Sunday showed that 68 percent of American voters couldn’t imagine themselves casting a vote in the general election for Trump, while 61 percent said the same about Ted Cruz and 58 percent about Clinton.

A much, much higher percentage of voters viewed each of these three unfavorably than favorably. “Unpopularity Contest” was the headline on the story on the NBC News website, which rightly asked how well any president of such polarizing effect would be able to govern.

We’ve had such presidents (and candidates) before. And pessimism isn’t new.

But there have been developments and differences in 2016 that may well be making the situation worse.

The media, for one. This election isn’t being covered so much as marketed, by news organizations whose desperation for eyeballs has turned many of them into drama queens. Each new poll is a major scoop. There are countdown clocks for events as humdrum as candidate town halls. Debates are teased with ominous soundtracks and photographs better befitting prizefights.

When you treat a campaign as if it were an athletic competition, you turn it into more of a blood sport than it already is. And when you breathlessly promote it the way you would a hit TV show’s season finale, it becomes just another piece of theater. Neither approach encourages sober-minded engagement.

Nor does the manner in which so many voters use the Internet in general and social media in particular, to curate and wallow in echo chambers that amplify their prejudices, exacerbate their tribalism and widen the fault lines between us. The online behavior of the Bernie Bros is a great example, but it’s hardly the only one.

Additionally, the precise unfolding of the Republican and Democratic races this time around, along with complaints from the candidates themselves, has exposed the undemocratic quirks and mess of the process: the peculiarity of caucuses; the seduction of delegates and superdelegates; closed versus open primaries; states that are winner-take-all as opposed to states that are winner-take-most; the possibility of a brokered convention at which an interloper could be crowned.

To prevail, a candidate doesn’t even have to persuade an especially large share of the electorate, given how splintered and detached voters are. In an important commentary published in The Hill on Monday, the Democratic pollster and strategist Mark Penn extrapolated from Trump’s and Clinton’s vote tallies to note that, in his estimation, “We now have a system in which it takes just 10 million votes out of 321 million people to seize one of the two coveted nominations.”

“The result,” he wrote, “is a democracy that is veering off course, increasingly reflecting the will of powerful activist groups and the political extremes.” Would-be nominees needn’t worry much about the roughly 40 percent of Americans who at least technically consider themselves independents — a group that’s grown over the last decade — or the 60 percent who say that a third political party is needed.

No, these candidates “can just double down on elements of their base,” Penn observed. “Rather than bring the country together, they demonize their opponents to hype turnout among select groups, targeted by race, religion or ethnicity.”

Penn suggested several smart reforms to increase voters’ participation and sense of investment, including the abolition of caucuses and a rotation of the order in which states vote, so that Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina don’t always get such outsize sway.

I wish we could also find a way to shorten these presidential campaigns significantly, so that they’re not such a soul-draining, throat-ravaging turnoff to almost anyone who’s not an epic narcissist or mired in politics to the point of no return.

Then maybe we’d look up one of these years and be choosing among the greater of goods, not the lesser of evils, and the victor would be left, physically and ideologically, with a voice that still carries.

Friedman, solo

April 13, 2016

The Moustache of Wisdom is in Agadez, Niger.  In “Out of Africa” he tells us that in a city in the Sahara, migrants assemble with hopes of escaping to a better life.  Here he is:

It’s Monday and that means it’s moving day in Agadez, the northern Niger desert crossroad that is the main launching pad for migrants out of West Africa. Fleeing devastated agriculture, overpopulation and unemployment, migrants from a dozen countries gather here in caravans every Monday night and make a mad dash through the Sahara to Libya, hoping to eventually hop across the Mediterranean to Europe.

This caravan’s assembly is quite a scene to witness. Although it is evening, it’s still 105 degrees, and there is little more than a crescent moon to illuminate the night. Then, all of a sudden, the desert comes alive.

Using the WhatsApp messaging service on their cellphones, the local smugglers, who are tied in with networks of traffickers extending across West Africa, start coordinating the surreptitious loading of migrants from safe houses and basements across the city. They’ve been gathering all week from Senegal, Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Liberia, Chad, Guinea, Cameroon, Mali and other towns in Niger.

With 15 to 20 men — no women — crammed together into the back of each Toyota pickup, their arms and legs spilling over the sides, the vehicles pop out of alleyways and follow scout cars that have zoomed ahead to make sure there are no pesky police officers or border guards lurking who have not been paid off.

It’s like watching a symphony, but you have no idea where the conductor is. Eventually, they all converge at a gathering point north of the city, forming a giant caravan of 100 to 200 vehicles — the strength in numbers needed to ward off deserts bandits.

Poor Niger. Agadez, with its warrens of ornate mud-walled buildings, is a remarkable Unesco World Heritage site, but the city has been abandoned by tourists after attacks nearby by Boko Haram and other jihadists. So, as one smuggler explains to me, the cars and buses of the tourist industry have now been repurposed into a migration industry. There are now wildcat recruiters, linked to smugglers, all across West Africa who appeal to the mothers of boys to put up the $400 to $500 to send them to seek out jobs in Libya or Europe. Few make it, but others keep coming.

I am standing at the Agadez highway control station watching this parade. As the Toyotas whisk by me, kicking up dust, they paint the desert road with stunning moonlit silhouettes of young men, silently standing in the back of each vehicle. The thought that their Promised Land is war-ravaged Libya tells you how desperate are the conditions they’re leaving. Between 9,000 and 10,000 men make this journey every month.

A few agree to talk — nervously. One group of very young men from elsewhere in Niger tell me they’re actually joining the rush to pan for gold in Djado in the far north of Niger. More typical are five young men who, in Senegalese-accented French, tell a familiar tale: no work in the village, went to the town, no work in the town, heading north.

What’s crazy is that as you go north of here, closer to the Libya border, to Dirkou, you run into streams of migrants coming back from Libya, which they found ungoverned, abusive and lacking in any kind of decent work. One of them, Mati Almaniq, from Niger, tells me he had left his three wives and 17 children back in his village to search for work in Libya or Europe and returned deeply disillusioned. In Libya, say migrants, you can get beaten at any moment — or arbitrarily arrested and have the police use your cellphone to call your family in Niger and demand a ransom for your release.

Just as Syria’s revolution was set off in part by the worst four-year drought in the country’s modern history — plus overpopulation, climate stresses and the Internet — the same is true of this African migration wave. That’s why I’m here filming an episode for the “Years of Living Dangerously” series onclimate change across the planet, which will appear on National Geographic Channel next fall. I’m traveling with Monique Barbut, who heads the U.N.Convention to Combat Desertification, and Adamou Chaifou, Niger’s minister of environment.

Chaifou explains that West Africa has experienced two decades of on-again-off-again drought. The dry periods prompt desperate people to deforest hillsides for wood for cooking or to sell, but they are now followed by increasingly violent rains, which then easily wash away the topsoil barren of trees. Meanwhile, the population explodes — mothers in Niger average seven children — as parents continue to have lots of kids for social security, and each year more fertile land gets eaten by desertification. “We now lose 100,000 hectares of arable land every year to desertification,” says Chaifou. “And we lose between 60,000 and 80,000 hectares of forest every year.”

As long as anyone could remember, he says, the rainy season “started in June and lasted until October. Now we get more big rains in April, and you need to plant right after it rains.” But then it becomes dry again for a month or two, and then the rains come back, much more intense than before, and cause floods that wash away the crops, “and that is a consequence of climate change” — caused, he adds, primarily by emissions from the industrial North, not from Niger or its neighbors.

Says the U.N.’s Barbut, “Desertification acts as the trigger, and climate change acts as an amplifier of the political challenges we are witnessing today: economic migrants, interethnic conflicts and extremism.” She shows me three maps of Africa with an oblong outline around a bunch of dots clustered in the middle of the continent. Map No. 1: the most vulnerable regions of desertification in Africa in 2008. Map No. 2: conflicts and food riots in Africa 2007-2008. Map No. 3: terrorist attacks in Africa in 2012.

All three outlines cover the same territory.

The European Union recently struck a deal with Turkey to vastly increase E.U. aid to Ankara for dealing with refugees and migrants who have reached Turkey, in return for Turkey restricting their flow into Europe.

“If we would invest a fraction of that amount helping African nations combat deforestation, improve health and education and sustain small-scale farming, which is the livelihood of 80 percent of the people in Africa, so people here could stay on the land,” says Barbut, “it would be so much better for them and for the planet.”

Everyone wants to build walls these days, she notes, but the wall we need most is a “green wall” of reforestation that would hold back the desert and stretch from Mali in the west to Ethiopia in the east. “It’s an idea that the Africans themselves have come up with,” she adds. It makes enormous sense.

Because, in the end, no wall will hold back this surging migrant tide. Everything you see here screams that unless a way can be found to stabilize Africa’s small-scale agriculture, one way or another they will try to get to Europe. Some who can’t will surely gravitate toward any extremist group that pays them. Too many are now aware through mass media of the better life in Europe, and too many see their governments as too frail to help them advance themselves.

I interviewed 20 men from at least 10 African countries at the International Organization for Migration aid center in Agadez — all had gone to Libya, tried and failed to get to Europe, and returned, but were penniless and unable to get back to their home villages. I asked them, “How many of you and your friends would leave Africa and go to Europe if you could get in legally?”

“Tout le monde,” they practically shouted, while they all raised their hands.

I don’t know much French, but I think that means “everybody.”

Friedman, solo

April 6, 2016

In “Impossible Missions” The Moustache of Wisdom tells us that for two decades, America’s foreign policy was driven by nation-building abroad, and it failed.  This is rich, coming as it does from one of the main hoochy-koochy dancers for The Great Iraqi Fustercluck.  Here he is:

I just read a book that Barack Obama and Donald Trump would both enjoy.

It argues that the last two decades of U.S. foreign policy were an aberration — an era when America became so overwhelmingly more powerful than any rival that it got geopolitically drunk and decided that it didn’t just want to be a cop on the beat protecting our nation, but also a social worker, architect and carpenter doing nation-building abroad.

It was all done with the best of intentions, and in some cases did save precious lives. But none of the efforts achieved the kind of self-sustaining democratizing order we wanted, which is why neither this president nor the next wants to be doing any more of that — if they can at all avoid it.

But can they?

The book is called “Mission Failure: America and the World in the Post-Cold War Era,” by the Johns Hopkins foreign policy professor Michael Mandelbaum, and it’s going to be one of the most talked about foreign policy books of the year.

Beginning with the 1991 decision of the first Bush administration to intervene in northern Iraq and create a no-fly zone to protect the Iraqi Kurds from their country’s genocidal leader, Saddam Hussein, “the principal international initiatives of the United States” for the next two decades “concerned the internal politics and economics rather than the external behavior of other countries,” writes Mandelbaum, with whom I co-wrote a book in 2011, “That Used to Be Us”.

“The main focus of American foreign policy shifted from war to governance, from what other governments did beyond their borders to what they did and how they were organized within them,” writes Mandelbaum, referring to U.S. operations in Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia, Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan and toward Chinese human rights policy, Russian democratization policy, NATO expansion and the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

“The United States after the Cold War … became the equivalent of a very wealthy person, the multibillionaire among nations,” he argues. “It left the realm of necessity that it had inhabited during the Cold War and entered the world of choice. It chose to spend some of its vast reserves of power on the geopolitical equivalent of luxury items; the remaking of other countries.”

In each case, “the United States sought to make the internal governance of the countries with which it became entangled more like its own democratic, constitutional order and those of its Western allies,” Mandelbaum adds. “In the Cold War the United States aimed at containment; in the post-Cold War [the thrust] was transformation. The Cold War involved the defense of the West; post-Cold War foreign policy aspired to the political and ideological extension of the West.”

These missions, he notes, all aimed “to convert not simply individuals but entire countries,” and they had one other thing in common: “They all failed.”

Don’t get him wrong, Mandelbaum says. The U.S. beat back some very bad actors in Bosnia, Somalia, Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan, and later in Libya. “The military missions that the United States undertook succeeded. It was the political missions that followed, the efforts to transform the politics of the places where American arms prevailed, that failed.”

Why? Because political success was never within our control. Such normative transformations can only come from within, from the will of local actors to change long-embedded habits, overcome longstanding enmities or restore long-lost political traditions.

In each of these cases, argues Mandelbaum, political transformation “was up to them — and they were not up to it.”

After having supported one of these initiatives — Iraq — precisely in the hope that it could be transformative, it’s hard to dispute Mandelbaum’s conclusion. But that then raises other big questions, starting with: Who will keep order in these places?

In earlier historical epochs the world relied on imperial powers to come in and control zones of weak governance, as the Ottomans did for 500 years in the Middle East. Then it relied on colonial powers. Then it relied on homegrown kings, colonels and dictators to maintain order.

But what if we’re now in a post-imperial, post-colonial and post-authoritarian age? The kings, colonels and dictators of old did not have to deal with amplified citizens deeply connected to one another and the world with smartphones. The old autocrats also had vast oil resources or aid from superpowers in the Cold War to buy off their people. What if they now have bulging populations, dwindling oil revenues and can’t buy off their people or shut them up?

The only option is more consensual government and social contracts among equal citizens. But that gets us back to Mandelbaum’s argument: What if it’s up to them and they’re not up to it — and the result is growing disorder and more and more of their people fleeing to the world of order in Europe or North America?

Then we may have to find a way to help them at a cost we can afford — even if we don’t know how. This will be one of the biggest foreign policy challenges facing the next president, which is why this book is a must-read for him or her.

And I’m sure that everything will be all solved in about, oh, 6 or 8 FUs.

Friedman and Bruni

March 16, 2016

The Moustache of Wisdom says “Let Trump Make Our Trans-Pacific Trade Deal.”  He offers a list of U.S.-friendly demands he’d no doubt make and win.  It’s satire, but it still operates under the idea that the TPP is really about trade instead of giving corporations more power.  Mr. Bruni considers “Rubio’s Exit and the G.O.P.’s Spoiled Buffet” and says the Republican race is down to three, two of whom still make party leaders queasy.  Here’s TMOW:

What if the United States had had a truly savvy deal maker like Donald Trump negotiate the Trans-Pacific Partnership free-trade accord instead of the wimpy Obama team? I mean, be honest, folks, would you let Barack Obama sell your house? I’ve researched the deal and concluded Trump would have gotten us this:

He would have begun by saying “a baby could figure out” that since 80 percent of the goods from our 11 TPP partners come into our country duty-free already, and so much of our stuff is still hit with tariffs in their countries, if we eliminate 18,000 tariffs we’ll be able to keep more production at home and sell more abroad. “We’ll export so much we’ll actually get tired of exporting,” Trump would say.

After all, America’s total manufacturing output was nearing an all-time high at the end of 2015. True, it was with more robots and fewer people, but we’ve still created nearly 900,000 manufacturing jobs since 2010 because we have cheap energy, skilled workers and good rule of law. Our workers can compete if we level the playing field, so Trump would have told opponents of the trade deal, “Just do the math, people.” Our average applied tariff is already only 1.5 percent while the tariffs of these Pacific countries can range much higher — Vietnam has peak tariffs of over 50 percent on cars and machines — so if we get rid of those tariffs our exporters are poised to benefit.

Since Trump cares about blue-collar workers, unlike the elitist Obama, he’d have demanded that in return for free access to our markets the 11 other TPP countries had to agree, some for the first time, to freedom for their workers to form independent trade unions, to elect their own labor leaders, to collectively bargain and to eliminate all child and forced labor practices. He’d also have insisted that they adopt laws on minimum wages, hours of work and occupational safety and health, again, precisely to level the playing field with U.S. workers.

Trump would also have required that the deal prohibit all customs duties for digital products, make sure companies did not have to share source codes in order to get into new markets and ensure free access for all cloud computing services in all TPP countries — all areas of growing U.S. strength.

Trump, because he respects women, surely would have demanded that this deal require all signatories — especially Malaysia — to take real steps to halt human trafficking from such countries as Thailand, Myanmar and Bangladesh and require each signatory to improve access for human rights groups to assist victims of trafficking. If you don’t comply, you lose your trade benefits. (Trump’s no sucker for a wink and a smile.)

Moreover, Trump would have made sure that the accord, in a first for any trade deal, put restrictions on state-owned companies that compete with our private businesses, like Vietnam’s oil company. These state-owned companies often get special benefits that enable them to undercut our companies. Trump’s trade deal would also have been the first requiring criminal penalties for stealing our industrial secrets.

“No more ripping off America,” Trump would have said.

He certainly would have insisted on strong intellectual property protections for America’s software industry, one of our greatest export assets, and taken an approach to pharmaceuticals that splits the difference between what the big drug companies want in the way of intellectual property protection time for their products and what the generic manufacturers want. Everybody would have gotten something but nobody would have gotten everything. It’s called “the art of the deal,” folks!

Trump would also surely have required that all signatories combat trafficking in endangered wildlife parts, like elephant tusks and rhino horns, and end all their subsidies that stimulate overfishing.

And Trump, who has a lot of Chinese restaurants in his hotels, would know that if we walk away from the TPP all our friends in the Pacific will just sign up for China’s R.C.E.P., or Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, which will set trade rules in Asia and include weak intellectual property protections, no labor or environmental protections and no disciplines on state-owned industries.

So that’s the Pacific trade deal Trump would have struck! And by now I hope you’ve figured something out: This is the trade deal Obama actually struck.

You don’t know that because Trump doesn’t know it himself; because Bernie Sanders knows it and doesn’t want to tell you; and because Hillary Clinton knows it but, sadly, won’t tell you, choosing instead to play “Bernie Lite.” (Remind me how that worked out for her in Michigan.)

No trade deal is perfect. No single deal will save every job or remake our economy. And we must be more generous in caring for workers hurt by trade. But we also have to recognize that smart deals, like the TPP, help keep us the most efficient and innovative economy in the world and strengthen our security alliances — as opposed to abandoning our allies to regimes that don’t support our values.

Thank goodness we had a former community organizer negotiating for us.

Now here’s Mr. Bruni:

As he exited the race for the Republican presidential nomination on Tuesday night, Marco Rubio told a crowd of dispirited supporters that “this may not have been the year for a hopeful and optimistic message.”

I’ll say. It’s a year for florid disruption, fisticuffs and a rejection of anyone and anything blessed by the guardians of the status quo.

Rubio was thus blessed, and so he was cursed. There’s little surprise in his political demise, though it was a mesmerizing development, given how long and confidently many Republican leaders and pundits clung to their forecasts of his eventual transcendence.

Equally mesmerizing was Donald Trump’s string of Tuesday victories, including his trouncing of Rubio in Florida, because they came after several tumultuous days of violent campaign rallies, intensified denunciations of his candidacy and a barrage of negative advertising against him. He easily weathered it all.

For party stalwarts, the race for the Republican presidential nomination began in a state of euphoric excitement about a buffet of political talent, with governors and ex-governors galore.

Tuesday’s results left the party with slim pickings. John Kasich, who notched a life-and-death victory in Ohio, is the best of the remaining three candidates and would be fiercest in the general election, but has little to no chance of pulling past either of the other two in the delegate count. Those two, Trump and Ted Cruz, are merely different flavors of rancid fare.

Trump had a much bigger night than Cruz. He not only overwhelmed Rubio in Florida but also won Illinois and North Carolina, where Cruz had hoped to stage upsets. Those triumphs bolstered his lead and showed that the turmoil of recent days — and the violence at his rallies — didn’t scare off his fans.

But it’s not over. Not even close. And many Republicans are still faced with grim calculations, compromises and reckonings.

They see a probable Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, who is so personally flawed, politically clumsy and out of sync with this anti-establishment moment that she’s ripe for defeat. Then they look at their own contest and see an outcome that might well ensure her victory.

Kasich and Cruz together should do well enough in the states ahead to prevent Trump from getting a majority of delegates. That foretells a chaotic convention, and it’s hard to see how the bedlam will position the party well.

There’s no consensus yet among Republicans. There’s more acrimony than clarity. Who’s to say whether former Rubio supporters and donors flock to Kasich, Cruz . . . or even Trump?

There are traditionalists rooting for Trump over Cruz, and the thinking of some goes like this: Neither candidate can win the presidency. But while Cruz has almost no crossover appeal beyond committed Republicans, Trump might draw enough independents, blue-collar Democrats and new voters in states like Ohio and Pennsylvania to buoy Republicans in tight Senate races there.

Besides which, he scrambles all rules and all precedents so thoroughly that you never know. Victory isn’t unthinkable, and better a Republican who’s allergic to caution, oblivious to actual information and altogether dangerous than a Democrat who’ll dole out all the plum administration jobs to her own party.

Republican traditionalists who prefer Cruz are no more ebullient in their outlooks.

“Cruz is a disaster for the party,” one of them told me. “Trump is a disaster for the country.”

“If Cruz is the nominee, we get wiped out,” he added, with a resigned voice. “And we rebuild.” The party needs that anyway.

In fact, some Republicans have insisted to me that a Cruz nomination and subsequent defeat would have a long-term upside. It would put to rest the stubborn argument, promoted by Cruz and others on the party’s far right, that the G.O.P. has lost presidential elections over recent decades because its nominees weren’t conservative enough.

If anything, those nominees weren’t sufficiently moderate. A Cruz wipeout would prove as much.

He moved assertively over recent days to send a message to Republican leaders who loathe him that a partnership is still possible — that love could yet bloom! The talk of Trump’s culpability for his menacing rallies has given Cruz a new opening to encourage supporters of other candidates to take the Cruz plunge.

“Come on in,” he said at a rally in North Carolina on Sunday. “The water’s fine.”

Sounds like something someone in “Jaws” blurted out right before the shark made an appetizer of her ankle. The water’s fine only if the alternative is the River Trump, a bloody churn of piranhas and Palins.

Republicans started out with what they thought was a feast of possibilities. Now they’re poised to be eaten alive.

Friedman, solo

March 9, 2016

Tommy turns his eye to The Clown Car.  In “Only Trump Can Trump Trump” he tells us that Donald Trump’s opponents foolishly think they can break his bond with voters by giving them facts, but his supporters are following their gut.  Tommy, Tommy, Tommy…  His followers are creatures of Faux Noise.  Facts terrify them.  In the comments “bnyc” from NYC had this to say:  “That was a brilliant summation of the staggering deficiencies of today’s Republican party. I used to be one of them, but they deserted me.   If Trump wins, eliminating the comically unqualified Cruz and Rubio, he has done the nation a great service.  Then we can only hope that HE is defeated.”  Amen.  Here’s TMOW:

Donald Trump is a walking political science course. His meteoric rise is lesson No. 1 on leadership: Most voters do not listen through their ears. They listen through their stomachs. If a leader can connect with them on a gut level, their response is: “Don’t bother me with the details. I trust your instincts.” If a leader can’t connect on a gut level, he or she can’t show them enough particulars. They’ll just keep asking, “Can you show me the details one more time?”

Trump’s Republican rivals keep thinking that if they just point out a few more details about him, voters will drop The Donald and turn to one of them instead. But you can’t talk voters out of something that they haven’t been talked into.

Many have come to Trump out of a gut feeling that this is a guy who knows their pain, even if he really doesn’t. Many of his supporters are from the #middleagewhitemalesmatter movement, for whom the current age of acceleration has not been kind and for whom Trump’s rallies are their way of saying “Can you hear me now?” and of sticking it to all the people who exploited their pain but left them behind, particularly traditional Republican elites. They are not interested in Trump’s details. They like his gut.

And no wonder. Those G.O.P. elites sold their own souls and their party so many times to charlatans and plutocrats that you wonder when it’s going to show up on closeout on eBay: “For sale: The G.O.P. soul. Almost empty. This soul was previously sold to Sarah Palin, the Tea Party anarchists, Rush Limbaugh, Grover Norquist, the gun lobby, the oil industry, the Koch brothers, Sheldon Adelson and Fox News. Will bargain. No offer too low.”

Normally smart people, like Mitt Romney, discarded all their best instincts to suck up to this ragtag assortment of self-appointed G.O.P. commissars, each representing a different slice of what came to be Republican orthodoxy — climate change is a hoax; abortion, even in the case of rape or incest, is impermissible; even common-sense gun laws must be opposed, no matter how many kids get murdered; taxes must always be cut and safety nets shrunk, no matter what the economic context; Obamacare must be destroyed, even though it was based on a Republican idea; and Iraq was a success even though it was a mess.

The G.O.P. became an accretion of ideas that ossified over the years without the party ever stopping to ask afresh: What world are we living in now? What are the dominant trends? And how does America best exploit them by applying conservative values and market-based solutions?

The cynicism of today’s G.O.P. could not have been more vividly displayed than when Marco Rubio, John Kasich (a decent guy) and Ted Cruz all declared that they would support the party’s nominee, even if it was Trump, right after telling voters he was a con man. No wonder so many Republicans are voting for Trump on the basis of what they think is in his guts. All the other G.O.P. candidates have none.

But even if his support is weakening, Democrats take Trump lightly at their peril. He is still sitting with three aces that he hasn’t played yet. They could all come out in the general election.

One ace is that if he wins the nomination he will have no problem moving to the center to appeal to independents and minorities. He will have no problem playing the moderate unifier — and plenty of people will buy it, saying: “Why not give him a chance? He says he can make us winners.” Sure, Mexico will have to pay for that wall, Trump will say, but it will be in “installments.” Deport 11 million illegal immigrants? C’mon, don’t you know an opening bid on an immigration bill when you hear one? Ban all Muslims? Well of course we can’t ban a whole faith community, but Trump will vow to be much harder on visas from certain countries. Have you never read “The Art of the Deal”?

His second ace is that given the position he staked out on terrorism, if, God forbid, there is a major terrorist attack on our soil between now and Election Day, Trump will reap enormous political benefits. Watch out. I’ve seen how one well-timed terrorist attack tilted an Israeli election.

His third ace is that he will indeed go after Hillary Clinton in ways you never heard before and that will delight and bring back a lot of disaffected Republicans, whose hatred of Hillary knows no bounds. “Did you hear what Trump said about Hillary last night? That she was ‘Bill’s enabler!’ Finally! I will vote for him just for that.” Again, beware.

But Trump is also holding two jokers with those aces. One of the lessons I learned covering the Middle East is that the only good thing about extremists is that they don’t know when to stop — and in the end, they often do themselves in. See: Saddam Hussein.

Trump has already gone places no candidate ever has, even telling us he has a big penis. One day he may go too far (if he hasn’t already) and sever his gut connection with voters. Trump’s other joker is that among those attracted to his gut are racists and fascists with a taste for violence at his rallies. One day they may go too far and do something so ugly, so brownshirt, it will also turn people off to his gut.

In short, only Trump can trump Trump. Don’t count on it, but don’t count it out.

Friedman, solo

March 2, 2016

In “Beware: Exploding Politics” The Moustache of Wisdom opines that we have a system that incentivizes polarization and prevents hybrid solutions.  Yeah, Tommy, and I’ll just bet that Both Sides Do It, right?  Here he is:

When the U.S. military trains fighter pilots, it uses a concept called the OODA loop. It stands for observe, orient, decide, act. The idea is that if your ability to observe, orient, decide and act in a dogfight at 30,000 feet is faster than the other pilot’s, you’ll shoot his plane out of the sky. If the other pilot’s OODA loop is faster, he’ll shoot you out of the sky. For a while now, it’s been obvious that our national OODA loop is broken — and it couldn’t be happening at a worse time.

Our OODA loop is busted right when the three largest forces on the planet — technology, globalization and climate change — are in simultaneous nonlinear acceleration. Climate change is intensifying. Technology is making everything faster and amplifying every voice. And globalization is making the world more interdependent than ever, so we are impacted by others more than ever.

These accelerations are raising all the requirements for the American dream — they are raising the skill level and lifelong learning requirements for every good job; they are raising the bar on governance, the speed at which governments need to make decisions and the need for hybrid solutions that produce both stronger safety nets and more entrepreneurship to spawn more good jobs. They are also raising the bar on leadership, requiring leaders who can navigate this complexity and foster a resilient country.

My own view is that these three accelerations have begun blowing up weak countries — see parts of the Middle East and Africa — and they’re just beginning to blow up the politics of strong ones. You can see it in America, Britain and Europe. The challenges posed by these accelerations, and what will be required to produce resilient citizens and communities, are forcing a politics that is much more of a hybrid of left and right.

It is the kind of politics you already see practiced in successful communities and towns in America — places like Minneapolis; Austin, Tex.; Louisville, Ky.; Chattanooga, Tenn.; and Portland, Ore. — where coalitions made up of the business community, educators and local government come together to forge hybrid solutions to improve their competitiveness and resilience. We can’t get there at the national level since one of our two major parties has gone nuts and we have designed paralysis into our politics.

The G.O.P. fell into the grip of a coalition of far-right media and money people who have created a closed loop of incentives for bad behavior and never getting to hybrid: Deny climate change. Spurn immigration reform. Shut down the Congress. Block Obamacare (even though it was based on an idea first implemented by a Republican governor). Do so, and you get rewarded by Fox TV and the G.O.P. cash machine. Stray from those principles, and you get purged.

That purging eventually produced a collection of G.O.P. presidential candidates who, when they gathered on stage for their first debate, resembled nothing more than the “Star Wars” bar scene at the Mos Eisley Cantina on the remote planet of Tatooine — that assortment of alien species, each more bizarre than the last, from a “galaxy far, far away.”

At the same time, as the political scientist Gidi Grinstein points out, at the national level, because of the way congressional districts have been gerrymandered by both parties to produce either more liberal Democrats or more conservative Republicans, we’ve shifted to a system that nationally incentivizes polarization and prevents hybrid solutions. America, argues Grinstein, is making itself “structurally polarized at the national level and therefore collectively stupid.”

We have major issues that Congress needs to resolve via politics, and the failure to do so will really hurt us: How do we balance privacy and security? How do we expand free trade and cushion our workers hurt from the effects? How do we make the fixes in Obamacare to make it more sustainable? These will all require hybrid compromises, not dogmatism.

The guy who actually understands this is President Obama. He’s never been as strong on entrepreneurship as I would like, but he’s also never been the radical lefty the G.O.P. invented. His instinct has become hybrid — to combine support for free trade and immigration, to implement a Common Core to upgrade education, to provide health care so workers can be more mobile, to fund more Pell grants so more students can afford college, to make investments in clean tech, to make changes in the tax code to narrow income gaps — all to make the country more resilient. We could have done so much more with his presidency.

What is fascinating about Donald Trump is that he is blowing up the Republican Party by offering a totally new hybrid politics. In that regard he is a pioneer — socially liberal in some ways, isolationist in others. He is almost Democratic in his approach to Social Security, yet he is anti-immigrant, bigoted and fearmongering in other ways. And he is positively irresponsible in his budget proposals. His hybrid is an incoherent mess, designed more to appeal to the G.O.P. base than to govern. But if Trump uses it to explode this Republican Party and to open the way for a new, mature, hybrid center-right version, he will have done the Lord’s work.

But please, Lord, keep him away from the White House.

Friedman and Bruni

February 17, 2016

Tommy Friedman has a question:  “Who Are We?”  He gurgles that the leading presidential candidates are missing the real America if they believe their attacks on the pillars of the nation’s strength.  In the comments “Socrates” from downtown Verona, NJ had this to say:  “Who Are You, Tom ?  Your column is yet another superficial stalactite hanging from the cozy cave ceiling of 1% indifference, dismissal and condescension.  We’re not socialists, you say…except for our taxpayer-funded FBI, Justice Dept., SEC, EPA, police and fire departments, highways, public schools, NIH, CDC, the strongest army in the world, world-class national park system and a thousand other items of common good established by the government.  We are socialist to a large degree, but are afraid to use the word because right-wing propagandists have successfully brainwashed Americans into ignorance, incoherence and glorious myths of exceptional psychopathic greed.”  Mr. Bruni considers “The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Trump” and says as new outrages overwrite old ones, it’s easy to forget the sum of his sins.  Here’s TMOW:

I find this election bizarre for many reasons but none more than this: If I were given a blank sheet of paper and told to write down America’s three greatest sources of strength, they would be “a culture of entrepreneurship,” “an ethic of pluralism” and the “quality of our governing institutions.” And yet I look at the campaign so far and I hear leading candidates trashing all of them.

Donald Trump is running against pluralism. Bernie Sanders shows zero interest in entrepreneurship and says the Wall Street banks that provide capital to risk-takers are involved in “fraud,” and Ted Cruz speaks of our government in the same way as the anti-tax zealot Grover Norquist, who says we should shrink government “to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub.” (Am I a bad person if I hope that when Norquist slips in that bathtub and has to call 911, no one answers?)

I don’t remember an election when the pillars of America’s strength were so under attack — and winning applause, often from young people!

Trump’s famous hat says “Make America great again.” You can’t do that if your message to Hispanics and Muslims is: Get out or stay away. We have an immigration problem. It’s an outrage that we can’t control our border, but both parties have been complicit — Democrats because they saw new voters coming across and Republicans because they saw cheap labor coming across. But we can fix the border without turning every Hispanic into a rapist or Muslim into a terrorist.

Trump seized on immigration as an emotional wedge to rally his base against “the other” and to blame “the other” for lost jobs, even though more jobs, particularly low-skilled jobs, are lost to microchips, not Mexicans.

What we have in America is so amazing — a pluralistic society withpluralism. Syria and Iraq are pluralistic societies without pluralism. They can only be governed by an iron fist.

Just to remind again: We have twice elected a black man whose grandfather was a Muslim and who defeated a woman to run against a Mormon! Who does that? That is such a source of strength, such a magnet for the best talent in the world. Yet Trump, starting with his “birther” crusade, has sought to undermine that uniqueness rather than celebrate it.

Sanders seems to me like someone with a good soul, and he is right that Wall Street excesses helped tank the economy in 2008. But thanks to the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, that can’t easily happen again.

I’d take Sanders more seriously if he would stop bleating about breaking up the big banks and instead breathed life into what really matters for jobs: nurturing more entrepreneurs and starter-uppers. I never hear Sanders talk about where employees come from. They come from employers — risk-takers, people ready to take a second mortgage to start a business. If you want more employees, you need more employers, not just government stimulus.

I have just the plan for him: The 2015 “Milstein Commission on Entrepreneurship and Middle-Class Jobs” report produced by the University of Virginia, which notes: “The identity of America is intrinsically entrepreneurial [enshrined] by the founders, popularized by Horatio Alger, embodied by Henry Ford. … With enough hard work anyone can use entrepreneurship to pave their own way to prosperity and strengthen their communities by creating jobs and growing their local economy.”

In short, we’re not socialists.

The report outlines many steps government can take — from deregulation to education to finance — to unlock more entrepreneurship in America, and not just in Silicon Valley, but anywhere, like Louisville, where “a vibrant start-up community has developed. … Today, the city boasts five accelerators, a vibrant angel investor community and partnerships with large companies to support start-up enterprises like the GE FirstBuild center, which brings together micro-manufacturing and the maker movement.” We can do this! We are doing it. “Roughly half of private-sector employees work in small businesses, and 65 percent of new jobs created since 1995 have come from small enterprises.”

Unlike Sanders, Ted Cruz does not have a good soul. He brims with hate, and his trashing of Washington, D.C., is despicable. I can’t defend every government regulation. But I know this: As the world gets faster and more interdependent, the quality of your governing institutions will matter more than ever, and ours are still pretty good. I wonder how much the average Russian would pay to have our F.B.I. or Justice Department for a day, or how much a Chinese city dweller would pay for a day of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission or Environmental Protection Agency? Cruz wraps himself in an American flag and spits on all the institutions that it represents.

America didn’t become the richest country in the world by practicing socialism, or the strongest country by denigrating its governing institutions, or the most talent-filled country by stoking fear of immigrants. It got here via the motto “E Pluribus Unum” — Out of Many, One.

Our forefathers so cherished that motto they didn’t put it on a hat. They put it on coins and then on the dollar bill. For a guy with so many of those, Trump should have noticed by now.

Well, Tommy, in one and a half Friedman Units the election will be over and you can go back to talking to cab drivers in Bangalore.  Here’s Mr. Bruni:

Donald Trump has been recognized for his mastery of the media, his fascination with gilt and his bold advocacy for baffling hair.

But I think his greatest distinction is as a surrealist. Not since Salvador Dalí has someone so ambitiously jumbled reality and hallucination.

I’m thinking of his news conference in South Carolina on Monday and of one assertion in particular, though with Trump it’s always hard to pick and choose.

In an appeal to African-American voters, he charged that Barack Obama had done nothing for them, and drew a contrast between himself and the president by saying: “I’m a unifier. Obama is not a unifier.”

The second of those sentences is debatable. The first is just a joke. Trump sneeringly divides the world into winners and losers, savagely mocks those who challenge him, dabbles in sexism, marinates in racism, and on and on.

To call that unification is laughable under any circumstances. To make that claim to blacks is perverse. Not long ago, he insistently questioned the legitimacy of Obama’s presidency by latching onto the popular right-wing conspiracy theory that Obama had been born in Kenya and couldn’t produce a proper American birth certificate.

Has he forgotten that? Or is he simply betting that Americans have?

Every campaign is a painstaking manipulation of memory, an attempt to get voters to focus on only certain parts of the past and disregard the rest.

Candidates say that they’re eager to run on their records, but what they want from voters isn’t total recall. It’s selective amnesia.

Hillary Clinton would have us dwell on her fight for civil rights in the 1960s. She’d prefer that we edit out bits of the 1990s, when she supported the crime bill and welfare reform.

Bernie Sanders would have us luxuriate in his vision of economic justice. He’d rather us not glance backward and note how little headway he’s made to date.

But Trump is in a different category altogether. He doesn’t so much recast his yesterdays as utterly reinvent them, confident that the brio of his proclamations will mask their bogusness.

Lately he’s been trumpeting his prescience in having urged the Bush administration not to invade Iraq back in 2003, but there’s no such urging on record.

The website PolitiFact went in search of it, combing through newspapers and television transcripts, and came up empty-handed.

“Trump makes it sound like he stood on a railroad to try to stop the Iraq war train in its tracks,” PolitFact reported. “In reality, by the time he got around to forcefully criticizing the war, that train had already left the station.”

His greatest trick, though, isn’t to toy with memory but to overwhelm it, rendering insults and provocations at such a hectic pace that the new ones eclipse and then expunge the old ones. It’s as if the DVR of the electorate and the media can store only so many episodes before it starts erasing earlier indignities.

His flamboyant present overwrites his distressing past. It’s the eternal sunshine of the spotless Trump.

His proposed ban on Muslims coming into the country exited the discussion much more quickly than it should have. So did his false claims that Muslims in Jersey City celebrated by the thousands on 9/11.

At the Republican debate last Saturday night, when Jeb Bush brought up Trump’s galling dismissal of John McCain’s ordeal as a prisoner of war, he was like a D.J. dusting off a golden oldie from the vault. We hadn’t heard that song in a while.

We seldom read much anymore about Trump the birther (unless it’s in relation to Ted Cruz and Canada). And while that’s partly because his Republican rivals see no profit in an attack on him that could be taken as a defense of Obama, it’s also because there’s been so much other, fresher fodder since.

The sheer volume of his offenses minimizes each affront, and as his shock tactics become predictable, they inevitably grow less menacing, too.

I hear it in the conversations around me; I see it in media coverage that increasingly treats him as a normal candidate. Familiarity breeds surrender, even rationalizations: He doesn’t actually mean what he says. He doesn’t ultimately believe in anything. It’s all strategy, all spectacle. Sit back and enjoy the show.

“It’s so fun to watch,” Ezra Klein of Voxrecently wrote, “it’s easy to lose sight of how terrifying it really is.”

I might quibble with “fun,” but not with the notion that Trump has used a kind of sensory overload to numb us to the fictions he spins, the indecency he indulges.

We can’t lose track. We must keep score. The sum of them is the essence of him, a picture worth a thousand slurs.

Friedman and Bruni

February 3, 2016

In “Social Media: Destroyer or Creator?” The Moustache of Wisdom says a man who helped set off the 2011 Tahrir Square uprising in Egypt has drawn some conclusions about “Facebook revolutions.””  Mr. Bruni, in “Hillary Clinton’s Dutiful Slog,” says her campaign declared victory in Iowa, but she has no reason to celebrate.  Here’s TMOW:

Over the last few years we’ve been treated to a number of “Facebook revolutions,” from the Arab Spring to Occupy Wall Street to the squares of Istanbul, Kiev and Hong Kong, all fueled by social media. But once the smoke cleared, most of these revolutions failed to build any sustainable new political order, in part because as so many voices got amplified, consensus-building became impossible.

Question: Does it turn out that social media is better at breaking things than at making things?

Last month an important voice answered this question with a big “ yes.” That voice was Wael Ghonim, the Egyptian Google employee whose anonymous Facebook page helped to launch the Tahrir Square revolution in early 2011 that toppled President Hosni Mubarak — but then failed to give birth to a true democratic alternative.

In December, Ghonim, who has since moved to Silicon Valley, posted a TED talk about what went wrong. It is worth watching and begins like this: “I once said, ‘If you want to liberate a society, all you need is the Internet.’ I was wrong. I said those words back in 2011, when a Facebook page I anonymously created helped spark the Egyptian revolution. The Arab Spring revealed social media’s greatest potential, but it also exposed its greatest shortcomings. The same tool that united us to topple dictators eventually tore us apart.”

In the early 2000s, Arabs were flocking to the web, Ghonim explained: “Thirsty for knowledge, for opportunities, for connecting with the rest of the people around the globe, we escaped our frustrating political realities and lived a virtual, alternative life.”

And then in June 2010, he noted, the “Internet changed my life forever. While browsing Facebook, I saw a photo … of a tortured, dead body of a young Egyptian guy. His name was Khaled Said. Khaled was a 29-year-old Alexandrian who was killed by police. I saw myself in his picture. … I anonymously created a Facebook page and called it ‘We Are All Khaled Said.’ In just three days, the page had over 100,000 people, fellow Egyptians who shared the same concern.”

Soon Ghonim and his friends used Facebook to crowd-source ideas, and “the page became the most followed page in the Arab world. … Social media was crucial for this campaign. It helped a decentralized movement arise. It made people realize that they were not alone. And it made it impossible for the regime to stop it.”

Ghonim was eventually tracked down in Cairo by Egyptian security services, beaten and then held incommunicado for 11 days. But three days after he was freed, the millions of protesters his Facebook posts helped to galvanize brought down Mubarak’s regime.

Alas, the euphoria soon faded, said Ghonim, because “we failed to build consensus, and the political struggle led to intense polarization.” Social media, he noted, “only amplified” the polarization “by facilitating the spread of misinformation, rumors, echo chambers and hate speech. The environment was purely toxic. My online world became a battleground filled with trolls, lies, hate speech.”

Supporters of the army and the Islamists used social media to smear each other, while the democratic center, which Ghonim and so many others occupied, was marginalized. Their revolution was stolen by the Muslim Brotherhood and, when it failed, by the army, which then arrested many of the secular youths who first powered the revolution. The army has its own Facebook page to defend itself.

“It was a moment of defeat,” said Ghonim. “I stayed silent for more than two years, and I used the time to reflect on everything that happened.”

Here is what he concluded about social media today: “First, we don’t know how to deal with rumors. Rumors that confirm people’s biases are now believed and spread among millions of people.” Second, “We tend to only communicate with people that we agree with, and thanks to social media, we can mute, un-follow and block everybody else. Third, online discussions quickly descend into angry mobs. … It’s as if we forget that the people behind screens are actually real people and not just avatars.

“And fourth, it became really hard to change our opinions. Because of the speed and brevity of social media, we are forced to jump to conclusions and write sharp opinions in 140 characters about complex world affairs. And once we do that, it lives forever on the Internet.”

Fifth, and most crucial, he said, “today, our social media experiences are designed in a way that favors broadcasting over engagements, posts over discussions, shallow comments over deep conversations. … It’s as if we agreed that we are here to talk at each other instead of talking with each other.”

Ghonim has not given up. He and a few friends recently started a website, Parlio.com, to host intelligent, civil conversations about controversial and often heated issues, with the aim of narrowing gaps, not widening them. (I participated in a debate on Parlio and found it engaging and substantive.)

“Five years ago,” concluded Ghonim, “I said, ‘If you want to liberate society, all you need is the Internet.’ Today I believe if we want to liberate society, we first need to liberate the Internet.”

Now here’s Mr. Bruni:

Late Monday, as the unfinished vote count suggested the slimmest of victories for Hillary Clinton, she stepped to a microphone, flashed an Oscar-worthy smile of triumph and told supporters that she was “breathing a big sigh of relief.”

She wasn’t. She isn’t. And she definitely shouldn’t be.

That’s not because what happened in Iowa — almost a tie between her and Bernie Sanders — substantially loosens her grip on the Democratic presidential nomination. Iowa was better terrain for Sanders than much of what lies ahead, and the dynamics that made her a heavy favorite to be the nominee before the state’s caucuses make her a heavy favorite still.

But Iowa demonstrated, yet again, what a flawed and tarnished candidate she is. And on the Republican side, the caucuses augured the possibility of a retreat from the party’s craziness and the rise of an adversary, Marco Rubio, who could give her trouble in a general-election matchup.

She should have trounced Sanders. Yes, he communicates authenticity to an electorate ravenous for it and has given potent voice to Americans’ economic angst. But little in his Senate career suggests that he’d be able to turn that oratory into remedy.

He’s no gushing font of political charisma. He’s a 74-year-old, self-proclaimed socialist who until fairly recently had minimal name recognition outside of Vermont.

President Obama clearly prefers Clinton. And in a poll of Democrats showing up for the Iowa caucuses, well over half said that they wanted someone who would continue Obama’s agenda — which is the precise pledge that Clinton has been making over the last few weeks — while only about one-third said that they preferred someone more liberal.

Even so, Clinton appears to have edged out Sanders by mere decimal points. How to explain it?

Perhaps with the sturdiest truism of politics: Elections are about the future. And so much about Clinton screams the past.

A rally of hers that I attended in Iowa last week actually began with a highlights reel of Clinton through time, including plenty of footage from the 1990s.

I understand why. The retrospective underscored her extraordinary experience. But nothing in her subsequent speech looked forward as stirringly as those images looked backward.

She’s forever stressing what she’s put up with, what she’s survived. “I’ve been around a long time,” she said in Des Moines a week ago, answering — but not really — a young voter’s question about the dearth of enthusiasm for her. “They throw all this stuff at me, and I’m still standing.”

It’s the language of drudgery and duty rather than inspiration, and she can sound as if she’s collecting on an i.o.u. and asking voters to complete hertrajectory rather than begin one of their own.

Bill Clinton may well garner applause, but every time he stumps for her, it’s an implicit promise to revisit yesterday, not to chart tomorrow. On Monday night, he and Chelsea stood with her as she spoke, and I was struck by the overwhelming familiarity of that tableau. It has been with us for a quarter of a century.

At this point the Clintons are royalty, and royalty sits at a remove from all else. Among Democratic caucusgoers most concerned about voting for a candidate who cared about people like them, 74 percent picked Sanders, while only 22 percent chose Clinton. (Martin O’Malley got the remainder.)

For caucusgoers acting primarily on the basis of who they deemed most “honest and trustworthy,” 83 percent voted for Sanders, while just 10 percent voted for Clinton. That’s the toll of all the attention to her emails, a topic that’s not disappearing anytime soon.

She has a habit, whether addressing a large group or a small one, of diving so deeply into the weeds of a subject that she doesn’t so much impress listeners as exhaust them. To her credit, she has educated herself more thoroughly than other politicians. But she somehow hasn’t learned to wear that erudition lightly.

For months Democrats have been heartened by the absurdity with which Donald Trump infused the Republican primary and by the prospect of him or Ted Cruz as the party’s nominee. But his second-place showing could be his twilight, and Rubio’s strong third-place finish supports the scenario that he’s the one.

He poses a bigger threat to Clinton. He understands that she, like Jeb Bush, is an awkward fit for the national mood, and he’d try to take advantage of that. He leans hard on his youth. He talks about a new generation.

Clinton needs to persuade voters that as much as they’ve seen of her, she can still lead them to a place they’ve not yet seen. She hasn’t succeeded, and she slogs on from Iowa much as she did eight years ago: with more to prove than to savor.

Friedman and Bruni

January 27, 2016

In “Friends and Refugees in Need” The Moustache of Wisdom tells us that a tidal wave of people threatens to overwhelm our top ally, the E.U.  In “The Twinned Egos of Cruz and Trump” Mr. Bruni says the Republican front-runners are quite the self-infatuated pair. What does that say about the future of politics?  Here’s TMOW, writing from Stockholm:

Now in his last year in office, President Obama is in legacy mode. He has much to be proud of. But if he doesn’t want his achievements muddied by foreign policy, he’ll spend his last year redoubling his efforts to contain the Middle East refugee crisis before it goes from a giant humanitarian problem to a giant geostrategic problem that shatters America’s most important ally: the European Union.

I know — putting “European Union” into the lead of a column published in America is like a “Do Not Read” sign. Maybe I should call it “Trump’s European Union.” That would go viral. But for the two of you still reading, this is really important.

The meltdowns of Syria, Somalia, Eritrea, Mali, Chad and Yemen and our takedowns of Libya, Iraq and Afghanistan — without proper follow-up on our part, NATO’s part or by local elites — has uncorked the worst refugee crisis since World War II. This tidal wave of migrants and refugees is a human tragedy, and their outflow from Syria and Libya in particular is destabilizing all the neighboring islands of decency: Tunisia, Jordan, Lebanon, Kurdistan and Turkey. And now it is eating away at the fabric of the E.U. as well.

Why should Americans care? Because the E.U. is the United States of Europe — the world’s other great center of democracy and economic opportunity. It has its military shortcomings, but with its wealth and liberal values, the E.U. has become America’s primary partner in addressing climate change, managing Iran and Russia and containing disorder in the Middle East and Africa.

This partnership amplifies American power and, if the E.U. is hobbled or fractured, America will have to do so many more things around the world with much less help.

At a seminar in Davos, Switzerland, sponsored by the Wilson Center, I interviewed David Miliband, president of the International Rescue Committee, which oversees relief operations in more than 30 war-affected countries. He made several key points.

First, one in every 122 people on the planet today is “fleeing a conflict” at a time when wars between nations “are at a record low,” said Miliband, a former British foreign secretary. Why? Because we now have nearly 30 civil wars underway in weak states that are “unable to meet the basic needs of citizens or contain civil war.”

Second, he said, last year the rescue committee assisted 23 million refugees and internally displaced individuals. Some 50 percent of those going to Europe come directly out of Syria and most of the rest come from Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia and Eritrea — and the international humanitarian relief system “is now being overwhelmed by the numbers.”

Last year, within the E.U. bloc there were 56 million truck crossings between countries and every day 1.7 million crossings by people. Preserving that free movement of trucks, trade and people, Miliband added, is a huge “economic prize,” but it will not be sustained if E.U. countries feel swamped by refugees who can’t be properly registered or absorbed.

More and more countries are now sealing their borders, and anti-immigrant parties are rising everywhere. Sweden has imposed border controls, and its ultranationalist Sweden Democrats party has grown from the fringe to one of the largest. Many in Germany, Sweden and Austria, which have accepted the lion’s share of refugees so far, want to seal off Greece from the E.U.’s passport-free internal travel zone if Greece — the first port of entry of many refugees — is unable or unwilling to hold them.

In the past few days, The Guardian reported, national leaders and top E.U. officials warned “that Europe’s passport-free travel zone could crumble within weeks, risking the dissolution of the union.”

Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany was well intentioned when she opened her country to 1.1 million Arab, African and Afghan migrants last year, but it was also reckless of her to think that so many immigrants, primarily Muslims, could be properly absorbed so quickly into society in Germany — a country that took two decades and billions of dollars to absorb East Germans. Merkel’s open-door policy drew even more refugees to the E.U., and now that the Germans want to stop the flow, their neighbors won’t take them.

“This refugee crisis is a real arrow pointed at the heart of the European Union,” said Miliband. “There is no solution that confines itself within the borders of Europe.” As long as there is “war without law and without end in Syria,” the refugee flow will continue, with all its destabilizing implications.

Obama did not cause this Syria problem, and he can’t fix it alone — but it’s not going to get fixed without U.S. leadership. I have shared the president’s caution about getting involved on the ground in Syria. But I now believe we need to take another look at establishing some kind of U.S./E.U./NATO safe zone inside Syria and Libya to create space for refugees to remain in these countries. It’s not a panacea or cost-free, but letting this refugee disaster fracture the E.U. will be a lot more expensive.

Next up we have Mr. Bruni, writing from Osceola, Iowa:

For a few minutes I wondered if I’d wandered into the wrong barn.

Rick Perry, the former Texas governor, was introducing the candidate I’d come to see, but with descriptions that bore no relation to the candidate I’d come to know.

He called this man “one of the great listeners that I’ve ever been around in my entire life.” He praised him as “a person who is full of humility.”

Then it hit me: Perry was playing defense and asserting the precise virtues that the candidate famously lacks.

Because when most people think of Ted Cruz, they don’t think: listener.

And when Cruz took the microphone and made his remarks, I hardly thought: humble.

It was Tuesday morning, six days until the caucuses. Dozens of voters sat among bales of hay and cows could be heard mooing in the background at such perfectly staggered intervals that I suspected a soundtrack rather than the real thing.

Cruz explained what he regarded as the seven battles of our time, and guess who was the conquering hero in each? (Hint: not Barack Obama.) He expressed the need for a Ronald Reagan of the here and now, and guess who’s perfect for the part? (Hint: not Donald Trump.)

His voice swelled and swooped and dropped at times to a whisper so fraught with foreboding that it belonged in a bad afternoon soap. There are speakers who smoothly get the job done, and then there are those who dance to the music of their own voices, pirouette after pirouette. Cruz is the 2016 campaign trail’s prima ballerina.

But then Trump is its black swan.

As each tries to muscle the other into the wings, they emphasize their contrasts. So does the media, describing the dissimilar paths that these two Republican front-runners traveled.

But to me they’re as alike as they are different, with an overlap that helps to explain the intensely, passionately negative reactions they elicit. They’re both transcendently — and transparently — self-serving and self-infatuated. They scale new pinnacles of egotism in a profession (politics) and pursuit (the presidency) that’s already a veritable mountain range of it.

They’re grim prophecies come true. Many of us have worried that the increasingly circuslike, invasive, round-the-clock nature of modern campaigns would frighten off anyone with an inkling of modesty, an iota of self-doubt. Who would endure this ordeal and make this bargain?

The answer, all too often, is someone who finds the spotlight so mesmerizing that the ugliness on its periphery doesn’t matter, or someone whose hunger for validation is so prodigious that only Air Force One will sate it.

Here in Iowa four years ago, I marveled at the Everest of vanity that was Newt Gingrich. But he doesn’t even reach base camp on the slopes of Trump, whose campaign is one bottomless, boundless soliloquy of self-congratulation. On Sunday he stunned journalists by sitting through a church service, but it wasn’t really the religious gesture that impressed them. It was the fact that for a solid hour, he assumed a posture of deference, and he couldn’t brag.

Cruz is cut from the same flamboyant cloth. It’s striking how many explorations of his past wind up focusing on the magnitude of his confidence, the scale of his ambitions and the off-putting nakedness of both.

As a cocky teenager, he said that his life goals were to “take over the world, world domination, you know, rule everything.” He separately wrote of plans to “achieve a strong enough reputation and track record to run for — and win — president of the United States.”

That last detail comes from a recent story in Politico whose themes included Cruz’s zest for attention, quickness to grab credit and utter self-consumption. It opened with a scene in which Cruz, gearing up to run for the Senate, visits George W. Bush to get his backing, then holds forth at such tone-deaf length about his disruptive plans for the Republican Party that the former president is appalled and repelled.

In The Times on Monday, Matt Flegenheimernoted discrepancies between Cruz’s accounts of his vital contributions to Bush’s legal team during the 2000 Florida recount and the memories of others. “There are a lot of people who claim to be in Florida at the time of the recount,” Joe Allbaugh, Bush’s campaign manager, told Flegenheimer.

Every successful politician is a self-promoter. Every campaign is a sequence of boasts. In an ideal political environment, the narcissism is tempered and the worst narcissists foiled.

But the current ecosystem is toxic, and Trump and Cruz flourish. Neither demonstrates an especially robust appetite for listening, though listening is important. Both are full of a great many things. Humility isn’t among them.

Friedman and Bruni

January 20, 2016

The Moustache of Wisdom has a question in “What If?”:  What if the eras of the E.U., high growth in China, expensive oil and newly independent nations’ economic foundations are all over?  In “Rethinking College Admissions” Mr. Bruni says a new report suggests that we’re on the cusp of important, necessary changes in the way colleges evaluate applicants.  Here’s TMOW, writing from Zurich:

Just get me talking about the world today and I can pretty well ruin any dinner party. I don’t mean to, but I find it hard not to look around and wonder whether the recent turmoil in international markets isn’t just the product of tremors but rather of seismic shifts in the foundational pillars of the global system, with highly unpredictable consequences.

What if a bunch of eras are ending all at once?

What if we’re at the end of the 30-plus-year era of high growth in China, and therefore China’s ability to fuel global growth through its imports, exports and purchases of commodities will be much less frothy and reliable in the future?

“Now that this debt bubble is unwinding, growth in China is going offline,” Michael Pento, president of Pento Portfolio Strategies, wrote on CNBC.com last week. “The renminbi’s falling value, cascading Shanghai equity prices (down 40 percent since June 2014) and plummeting rail freight volumes (down 10.5 percent year over year) all clearly illustrate that China is not growing at the promulgated 7 percent, but rather isn’t growing at all. The problem is that China accounted for 34 percent of global growth, and the nation’s multiplier effect on emerging markets takes that number to over 50 percent.”

What if the $100-a-barrel oil price era is over and all these countries whose economies were directly or indirectly propped up by those prices will have to learn to grow the old-fashioned way — by making goods and services others want to buy? Thanks to steady technological advances in America for fracking, horizontal drilling and using big data to identify deposits,OPEC’s pricing power has disappeared. Countries that have set their budgets based on $80- to $100-a-barrel oil will find themselves vastly underfunded just when their populations — in places like Iran, Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, Indonesia and Venezuela — have surged.

What if average is over for countries? During the Cold War you could be an average, newly independent state with artificial borders drawn by colonial powers. There were two superpowers ready to throw foreign aid at you, educate your kids in America or Moscow, build up your armed forces and security services and buy your crummy manufactured exports or commodities.

But what if the rise of robots, software and automation mean that these countries can’t rely on manufacturing to create mass labor anymore, that the products they can make and sell can’t compete with Chinese goods, that climate change is pressuring their ecosystems and that neither Russia nor America wants to have anything to do with them because all either wins is a bill?

Many of these frail, artificial states don’t correspond to any ethnic, cultural, linguistic or demographic realities. They are caravan homes in a trailer park — built on slabs of concrete without real foundations or basements — and what you’re seeing today with the acceleration of technology, climate change stresses and globalization is the equivalent of a tornado going through a trailer park. Some of these states are just falling apart, and many of their people are now trying to cross the Mediterranean — to escape their world of disorder and get into the world of order, particularly the European Union.

But what if the E.U. era is over? Reuters reported this week that Germany is telling other E.U. countries that if they don’t prevent the influx of more refugees into Europe from the Mediterranean and “relieve Berlin of the lonely task of housing refugees, Germany could shut its doors.” Some Germans even want a border fence. One senior conservative was quoted as saying, “If you build a fence, it’s the end of Europe as we know it.”

What if the era of Iranian isolation is over, just as the Arab system is collapsing and the two-state solution between Israelis and Palestinians is history? How will all those molecules interact?

And what if all this is happening when the two-party system in America seems to be getting most of its energy from the far left and the far right? Bernie Sanders’s platform is that we can solve our most onerous economic problems if we just tax “The Man” more. Donald Trump and Ted Cruz are running on the theme that they are “The Man” — the strongman — who can magically fix everything.

What if our 2016 election ends up being between a socialist and a borderline fascist — ideas that died in 1989 and 1945 respectively?

And what if all of this is happening at a time when our government’s ability to stimulate the economy through either monetary or fiscal policy is constrained? Unless we go to negative interest rates, the best the Fed can do now is rescind the tiny rate hike made in December. Meanwhile, after all the vital government spending to stimulate demand after the 2008 crisis, there is no consensus in the country for another big round.

These what-ifs constitute the real policy landscape that will confront the next president. But here’s the worst “what if”: What if we’re having a presidential election but no one is even asking these questions, let alone “what if” all of these tectonic plates move at once? How will we generate growth, jobs, security and resilience?

There’s still an opportunity for someone to lead by asking, and answering, all of these “what ifs,” but that time is quickly coming to an end, just like the last dinner party I ruined.

I’m sure he can ruin a dinner party just by showing up…  Now here’s Mr. Bruni:

Over recent years there’s been a steady escalation of concern about the admissions process at the most revered, selective American colleges. And little by little, those colleges have made tweaks.

But I get the thrilling sense that something bigger is about to give.

The best evidence is a report to be released on Wednesday. I received an advance copy. Titled “Turning the Tide,” it’s the work primarily of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, though scores of educators — including the presidents and deans of admission at many of the country’s elite institutions of higher education — contributed to or endorsed it. Top administrators from Yale, M.I.T. and the University of Michigan are scheduled to participate in a news conference at which it’s unveiled.

“Turning the Tide” sagely reflects on what’s wrong with admissions and rightly calls for a revolution, including specific suggestions. It could make a real difference not just because it has widespread backing but also because it nails the way in which society in general — and children in particular — are badly served by the status quo.

Focused on certain markers and metrics, the admissions process warps the values of students drawn into a competitive frenzy. It jeopardizes their mental health. And it fails to include — and identify the potential in — enough kids from less privileged backgrounds.

“It’s really time to say ‘enough,’ stop wringing our hands and figure out some collective action,” Richard Weissbourd, a senior lecturer at Harvard’s education school, told me. “It’s a pivot point.”

Weissbourd is one of the directors of the school’s Making Caring Common project, which produced the report. He’s also the author of research that was one motivation for it — specifically, a survey of more than 10,000 middle- and high-school students that asked them what mattered most: high individual achievement, happiness or caring for others. Only 22 percent said caring for others.

The new report contemplates how the admissions process contributes to that psychology and how it might be changed. Some of those alterations would simultaneously level the playing field for kids applying to college from less advantaged backgrounds.

“Colleges spend a huge sum each year sending signals that influence the behavior of millions of students,” the report notes. Why not rethink those signals to reshape that behavior?

The report recommends less emphasis on standardized test scores, which largely correlate with family income.

It asks colleges to send a clear message that admissions officers won’t be impressed by more than a few Advanced Placement courses. Poorer high schools aren’t as likely to offer A.P. courses, and a heavy load of them is often cited as a culprit in sleep deprivation, anxiety and depression among students at richer schools.

The report also suggests that colleges discourage manic résumé padding by accepting information on a sharply limited number of extracurricular activities; that they better use essays and references to figure out which students’ community-service projects are heartfelt and which are merely window dressing; and that they give full due to the family obligations and part-time work that some underprivileged kids take on.

Stephen Farmer, the vice provost for enrollment and undergraduate admissions at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, praised the report as consistent with his school’s desire “to be humbler and more alert to the many ways in which people can stake a claim on a place here.”

He said that the school had already, for example, downgraded the importance of “A.P. everything,” which doesn’t necessarily measure true ability or intellectual hunger.

“Just making people jump through hoops because we can — we don’t want to do that,” he told me, especially when some hoops are so arbitrary that “we might as well be admitting these people on the basis of their height or the size of their neck.”

“Turning the Tide” follows other reexaminations of the admissions process. A growing number of colleges have made the SAT or ACT optional. And late last year, more than 80 colleges, including all eight in the Ivy League, announced the formation of the Coalition for Access, Affordability and Success, which is developing a website and application process intended in part to diversify student bodies.

Colleges are becoming more conscious of their roles — too frequently neglected — in social mobility. They’re recognizing how many admissions measures favor students from affluent families.

They’re realizing that many kids admitted into top schools are emotional wrecks or slavish adherents to soulless scripts that forbid the exploration of genuine passions. And they’re acknowledging the extent to which the admissions process has contributed to this.

But they still need to stop filling so much of each freshman class with specially tagged legacy cases and athletes and to quit worrying about rankings like those of U.S. News and World Report. Only then will the tide fully turn.


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