Archive for the ‘The Moustache of Wisdom’ Category

Friedman and Bruni

May 25, 2016

In “Netanyahu, Prime Minister of the State of Israel-Palestine” The Moustache of Wisdom tells us that in his scheme, his country may suffer but he survives.  Mr. Bruni ponders a question in “Trumping on Eggshells:”  Do his relatives support Donald Trump? He doesn’t want to know.  Here’s TMOW:

Israel has recently been under intense criticism on the world stage. Some of it, like the “boycott, divestment, sanctions” (B.D.S.) campaign, is a campus movement to destroy Israel masquerading as a political critique. But a lot of it is also driven by Israel’s desire to destroy itself — thanks to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s steady elimination of any possibility that Israel will separate itself from the Palestinians in the West Bank.

Netanyahu is a man who is forever dog paddling in the middle of the Rubicon, never crossing it, always teasing you (“I’m coming your way — I’m going to make a decision”), only to remain right where he is, balancing between all his rivals, so that he alone survives. Meanwhile, Israel sinks ever deeper into a de facto binational state controlled by Jewish extremists.

Soon, this newspaper will have to call Netanyahu what he’s made himself into: “Prime Minister of the State of Israel-Palestine.”

I raise this now because Israel under Netanyahu has gone from bad to worse. He just forced out Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon. Yaalon, a former army chief of staff, is a very decent man — a soldier’s soldier, determined to preserve the Israeli Army as a people’s army that aspires to the highest standards of integrity in the middle of a very dangerous neighborhood.

Netanyahu plans to replace Yaalon with the far-right Avigdor Lieberman, who boasts he could not care less what American Jews think about how Israel is behaving and a man whom, Haaretz reported, was only recently dismissed by Bibi’s team as “a petty prattler,” unfit to be even a military analyst, and whose closest brush with a real battle was dodging a “tennis ball.”

Lieberman, when he has not been under investigation for corruption, has mused about blowing up Egypt’s Aswan Dam, denounced Israelis who want Israel to get out of the West Bank as traitors and praised an Israeli soldier, Sgt. Elor Azaria, who fatally shot a wounded Palestinian assailant in the head as he was lying on the ground awaiting medical attention.

Describing Netanyahu’s dumping of Yaalon for Lieberman, Yediot Aharonot columnist Nahum Barnea wrote, “Instead of presenting to the world a more moderate government ahead of the diplomatic battles to come in the fall, Netanyahu is presenting the most radical government to ever exist in Israeli history.”

Yaalon himself warned, “Extremist and dangerous forces have taken over Israel and the Likud movement and are destabilizing our home and threatening to harm its inhabitants.” Former Labor Defense Minister Ehud Barak said, “What has happened is a hostile takeover of the Israeli government by dangerous elements.” Former Likud Defense Minister Moshe Arens wrote in Haaretz that Bibi and his far-right cronies “insulted not only Yaalon, they insulted the I.D.F. [Israeli Army]. It’s a people’s army.”

This whole episode started March 24 when Azaria, a medic, was caught on video shooting the wounded Palestinian. He was one of two Palestinians armed with knives who had stabbed an Israeli soldier, lightly wounding him. Azaria just decided on his own to kill him.

Yaalon and the Army chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot, reacted swiftly, saying this is not how the Israeli Army behaves. Azaria was charged with manslaughter and inappropriate military conduct. At first Netanyahu, too, said the killing violated the army’s values, but when his settler base came out in favor of the killing, Netanyahu shifted, urging the court to take a balanced view of what happened. Lieberman actually went to the court to show support for Azaria.

All of this deeply troubled Yaalon and the army leadership, and it erupted on Israel’s Holocaust Remembrance Day when the army’s deputy chief of staff, Maj. Gen. Yair Golan, speaking to the nation, said, “It’s scary to see horrifying developments that took place in Europe begin to unfold here.” Yes, you read that right.

Netanyahu slammed Golan, but Yaalon, in an address to the army’s top generals, said, “Keep acting in accordance with your humane conscience and moral compass, and not according to which way the winds are blowing.”

So Netanyahu, who only acts the way the wind blows, purged Yaalon. With that move, said the Hebrew University religious philosopher Moshe Halbertal, we are witnessing “Israel’s ruling party being transformed from a hawkish nationalist party that used to have a humanitarian and democratic base, into an ultranationalist party that is now defined by turning against the ‘enemies’ from within — the courts, the NGOs, the education system, the Arab minority and now, the army — anyone who stands in the way of their project of permanent occupation of the West Bank. Having failed to deliver a solution for the enemies on the outside, so now Likud is focused on the enemies inside. This is a major transformation in Israel and should be looked upon with great concern.” The army’s leadership, added Halbertal, “is trying to transcend this war of all against all and impose moral order on chaos rather than inflame it for narrow political gains.”

Netanyahu does just the opposite. For those of us who care about Israel’s future, this is a dark hour.

Now here’s Mr. Bruni:

I recently asked a good friend where her boss stood on Donald Trump.

This wasn’t an idle question. Her boss gives big money to Republican candidates. He’s both power broker and weather vane. And she talks politics with him all the time.

But she has no idea about him and Trump. She hasn’t inquired, because she doesn’t want to know. She’s fond of her boss. She respects him. But what if he’s made peace with a candidate who called for a ban on all Muslims entering the United States, mocked a disabled journalist, belittled John McCain’s experience as a prisoner of war, praised Vladimir Putin’s thuggish leadership style, complimented the Chinese government on its brutal handling of the uprising in Tiananmen Square, made misogynistic remarks galore and boasted during a debate about the size of his penis?

She can’t go there.

I understand.

I have many relatives who loyally vote Republican, regardless of their excitement about the particular nominee. There’s a definite chance that some of them back Trump. So I steer clear of talk about this election, though we’ve spoken plenty — and placidly — about every other election.

One of these relatives routinely pushes back at any Trump-negative columns I write, and I’ve convinced myself that he’s just baiting me and playing devil’s advocate. I’ve never said to him, point blank, “Are you actually voting for Trump?” And I won’t. It’s my goal to get to and through Election Day without learning the truth.

There are various measures of the chilling singularity of Trump’s candidacy, including the last two Republican presidents’ announcement that they won’t be attending their party’s convention, all the prominent G.O.P. donors who have publicly rejected Trump and the stubborn drumbeat among some Republicans for a third-party challenger, if only as a means to assure Hillary Clinton’s victory. These are extraordinary developments. We mustn’t forget that.

But another gauge of this freaky interlude is the number of us who are steadfastly avoiding conversations we’d normally have. We pride ourselves on not letting political arguments disrupt personal relationships. We have friends across the ideological spectrum. We esteem leaders from both parties. We value a healthy give-and-take.

But we can’t fit Trump into that. He’s a disagreement too far, an enthusiasm too bizarre. So we’re treading lightly and maneuvering around him. We’re Trumping on eggshells.

That’s not the same as burying our heads in the sand, and it’s not a squandered opportunity to dissuade someone from Trump. Most Trump supporters aren’t ignorant of the litany I presented above. They’ve decided not to be bothered by it. They’ve crafted a counterargument. I’ve heard it.

At least he’s not Clinton, they say. True. Neither is Kim Kardashian. Shall we elect her? Her husband, Kanye West, has said that he might run in 2020. Let’s accelerate the timetable and speed the couple to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Trump has a furtive decency and unsung sensitive side, or so his boosters claim. They cite his relationship with his grown children. You know who else is an obviously loving and beloved parent? Clinton. You know who had a strained relationship with his kids? Ronald Reagan. If that wasn’t a mark against him, why is the opposite a gold star for Trump?

But Trump will be a competent executive! Let’s assume that’s so. Will he be executing a Muslim ban? In that case, wouldn’t incompetence be preferable?

Enough about the Muslim ban, his accommodators respond: He doesn’t believe in three-quarters of what he puts out there. It’s all theater.

Great! So what does he believe in? Are we supposed to guess and hope for the best? And will his theatrical impulse dissipate when he takes the oath of office? Or will it flare now and again, sending markets into turmoil and ships into battle?

With Clinton, they say, we get the status quo. With Trump we get disruption.

Possibly. But disruption cuts many different ways. And Trump’s particular disruption could leave us in shreds.

To some of us, Trump is a fundamentally unserious person, and thus a dangerous one. To others, he’s a vessel of grievance and protest, and that’s enough. The chasm between those viewpoints isn’t easily bridged. So we take detours around it. They’re as elaborate as cloverleafs.

Friends have asked me about the leanings of other friends, because they shudder to find out for themselves. Relatives have grilled me on other relatives. I’m acquainted with anti-Trump Republicans who have purged the billionaire from their discourse with Trump-acquiescent Republicans, simply so they can press on.

There will be epic ugliness in the foreground of this election. But pockets of silence in the background will be just as unsettling, because they’ll reflect a despair and bafflement beyond words.

Friedman and Bruni

May 18, 2016

The Moustache of Wisdom has some advice for Teh Donald.  In “Donald, Save Your Golf Greens, and the Planet” he says Trump could protect his financial interest, America’s interest and his grandkids’ if he embraced the reality of climate change.  Yeah, like that’s going to happen.  If it doesn’t involve tweeting or insulting someone Teh Donald ain’t interested.  Mr. Bruni, in “Where Republican Dreams Die?”, says in a tumultuous patch of the South, some of 2016’s biggest themes and questions will play out.  Here’s TMOW:

MEMO TO: DONALD TRUMP

FROM: TOM FRIEDMAN

SUBJECT: GOLF COURSES

Dear Donald,

It’s been a while since we talked on the practice tee at Doral. (Nice course you built.) I am only going to do this once, but I am going to offer you some free advice — and it’s about all the things you love most: yourself, your kids, winning, money and golf. Have I got a deal for you …

You see, Donald, I was looking at all the golf courses you own. Some of them are real gems, like Doral, Turnberry, Doonbeg, Palm Beach, Aberdeenshire. But you know what else I noticed? How many of them are on or near coastlines. And do you know what’s going to happen to those golf courses, Donald, if the climate scientists are even half right? They’re going to go from oceanfront property to ocean-floor property. Because ice melt and sea level rise are going to threaten all of them. Here’s a July 21, 2015, story from Weather.com:

“As our seas continue to rise, some cities, like Miami, are planning to spend billions on revamping infrastructure. But some scientists say sea level rise will lead to another phenomenon in South Florida, and local leaders need to start preparing for it now. The region that’s home to thousands of high-priced homes nestled against the water is expected to be threatened directly by the rising seas in the coming decades, and when the harsh reality sets in, a mass exodus could commence. … In short, there’s no way to save South Florida, and lawmakers should start to prepare for millions to move north. … More than 2.4 million people live within 4 feet of the local high-tide line, and according to Climate Central, the risk of storm surge flooding will be far higher by 2030. … ‘This is not a future problem. It’s a current problem,’ Leonard Berry, director of the Florida Center for Environmental Studies at Florida Atlantic University, told PBS.”

In other words, Donald, there is no candidate in this race who is more exposed to climate change than … you. And I am not talking only about your coastal golf courses. Global warming doesn’t mean the weather, on average, just gets hotter. It means the weather gets weirder. You get more weather extremes — hotter hot days, wetter wet ones, longer droughts, fiercer storms, heavier snows.

The Climate Wire quoted a United States Golf Association turf expert in August 2014 as saying that “individual golfers and club leadership are becoming aware that these are real issues.” I can only imagine what this will mean for insurance rates for golf course. And that was before Nature magazine published a new study in March indicating that sea levels could rise almost twice as much as previously predicted by the end of the century — “an outcome that could devastate coastal communities around the globe,” as The Washington Post noted, unless we curb emissions of greenhouse gases. Ask your golf course greens keepers how many of them think climate change is a hoax?

So here’s the advice: I know that you’ve tweeted that “the concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.” (Just as an aside, Donald, that’s incredibly stupid. The Chinese are ahead of us in putting a price on carbon because they can’t breathe.) But let’s put that aside. We both know that you know as much about climate change as you did about abortion rights and the nuclear triad. It was just one of those things you put out there to keep you looking like a Republican good ol’ boy.

Donald, you’ve done something truly revolutionary: You’ve single-handedly reshaped the agenda of the Republican Party, mixing some left-of-center and centrist positions with the G.O.P.’s traditional right-of-center stuff. You should do the same now, embrace the reality of climate change and vow as president that you will be “huge, huuuuuge” on this issue — that “I’ll make the whole planet great again.”

It would be in your financial interest, America’s interest and your grandkids’ interest. Nobody who voted for you in the primaries did so because of climate, except maybe coal miners in West Virginia. Your base does not care about this issue, and, by the way, all their kids are telling them climate change is real. The reason the G.O.P. has its head in the sand on climate is the oil companies force it to. But you don’t need Big Oil’s money.

Here’s what you need: some Bernie Sanders voters. You can’t win without some of them. And they’re all greens. If you promised to take climate change seriously, you’d make it much easier for some of them, who dislike Hillary, to hold their noses and vote for you. You’d also get a lot of other people to give you a second look. Most important, it would tip the G.O.P. on this issue.

Cards on the table, Donald, I won’t be voting for you. But if you really want to make this race interesting, continue to reshape the G.O.P., raise the odds of winning Florida, preserve your wealth and do something to make America great again, tweet this: “Talked to some scientists, smartest in the world, changing position on climate change. Feeling the burn. Gotta protect our kids.”

After all, Donald, you don’t want to be remembered as the politician who’ll be the answer to the question, “Who lost Florida?”

If TMOW thinks any Sanders supporters will go to Trump I’d love to have some of what he’s smoking.  Here’s Mr. Bruni, writing from Raleigh, NC:

Ohio and Florida. Florida and Ohio. What a pair of election-year divas, always preening for the pundits. Enough. There are other comely swing states on the stage.

Let’s gawk at North Carolina.

If Donald Trump drags down Republicans across the board, this is one of the places where they’ll flail. Its Republican governor, nearing the end of a tumultuous first term, is in trouble. One of the state’s two Republican senators is facing a tougher re-election battle than was predicted just months ago. Democrats are circling. Make that drooling.

Although purple, North Carolina turned deceptively red over the last few years, and Republican lawmakers have behaved with a potentially suicidal swagger. In the process they’ve managed to enrage corporate America, exposing a newly profound tension in the G.O.P. between its business-minded wing and the religious right.

Some of the most interesting crosswinds of American politics blow through this state.

In 2008 it voted for Barack Obama — by a margin of just .32 percent. Enthusiasm for him helped to propel Democratic women to the Senate and the governor’s office.

Both are gone now, replaced by Republican men, and Mitt Romney won the state narrowly in 2012. But the more sweeping change has been in the state legislature, where an overwhelming Republican majority took hold and hurtled forward (or, rather, backward).

Take the recently passed measure known as H.B. 2. It’s the law that mandates that people use bathrooms corresponding to the gender on their birth certificates. Republicans, including Gov. Pat McCrory, gambled that it would energize elements of the party’s base.

But it went much, much further than that supposed solution to a nonexistent problem, overriding local anti-discrimination statutes. Many prominent companies denounced it. Some withdrew business from the state — or are threatening to. Conventions have been canceled. Tourism has declined. By some estimates, the state has already lost tens of millions of dollars.

“I’m talking to businesspeople all the time,” Deborah Ross told me when I sat down with her in Raleigh last week. “They are livid.”

Ross is the Democratic challenger to Senator Richard Burr. She’s a fierce underdog: an articulate, energetic lawyer who served for decades in the legislature. She’d be the third woman sent to the Senate by North Carolinians, after Elizabeth Dole and Kay Hagan.

But her résumé also includes work for the A.C.L.U., and Republicans detect a gold mine of negative ads. I wager that the Koch brothers and other big G.O.P. donors will flood this state with money. How much could be decisive.

There are other pivotal questions, reflecting crucial dynamics around the country.

Will new voter-identification laws hurt Democrats? Since the last presidential election, Republicans here significantly tightened rules and requirements — and not out of the goodness of their hearts.

Which demographic and economic trends will hold the greatest sway? North Carolina is America in miniature: Its minority population has grown and it has urbanized, developments that favor Democrats, but it has also hemorrhaged manufacturing jobs, so it brims with the sorts of displaced workers who’ve rallied to Trump.

A recent Pew Research Center study listed three of North Carolina’s metropolitan areas among the 10 nationally that had “lost the most in economic status” between 2000 and 2014. By that measure, it fared worse than any Rust Belt state.

“There’s a lot of economic anxiety here, mixed with race and cultural change, that will keep Trump and other Republicans viable,” said Ferrel Guillory, a longtime analyst of state politics who is now a professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Can Republicans profit from a culture war? They failed with H.B. 2. But the Obama administration’s new directive advising schools to let transgender students use bathrooms that correspond with their gender identity may scramble the situation, allowing the G.O.P. to pin the charge of overreach on the federal government.

“There’s a possibility that the Obama directive is something of a lifeline to Republicans,” said Pope McCorkle, a former Democratic consultant who teaches at Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy.

Just how toxic is Trump? McCorkle noted, with a chuckle, that the state’s Democrats have usually been the ones fretting about their party’s presidential nominee: “Do you go to the airport to greet him? Touch him? Allow a picture?”

“What’s interesting,” he added, “is how much the shoe is on the other foot this time.” Burr hasn’t said whether he’ll campaign with Trump.

Perhaps he noticed several polls that showed Hillary Clinton with a lead over Trump in a head-to-head matchup in this state, which has 15 electoral votes, just three fewer than Ohio. It matters. And it’s ready for its close-up.

Friedman and Bruni

May 11, 2016

In “Trump’s Miss Universe Foreign Policy” The Moustache of Wisdom says he based it on a beauty pageant, a convenience store and statements of fiction.  Mr. Bruni, in “Obama’s Gorgeous Goodbye,” says as he prepares to exit, the president makes a final plea about cooperation and common purpose.  Here’s TMOW:

O.K., it’s easy to pick on Donald Trump’s foreign policy. But just because he recently referred to the attack on the World Trade Center as happening on “7/11” — which is a convenience store — instead of 9/11, and just because he claimed that “I know Russia well” because he held a “major event in Russia two or three years ago — [the] Miss Universe contest, which was a big, big, incredible event” — doesn’t make him unqualified.

I’m sure you can learn a lot schmoozing with Miss Argentina. You can also learn a lot eating at the International House of Pancakes. I never fully understood Arab politics until I ate hummus — or was it Hamas?

And, by the way, just because Trump’s big foreign policy speech was salted with falsehoods — like “ISIS is making millions and millions of dollars a week selling Libyan oil” — it doesn’t make him unqualified.

The New York Times Magazine just profiled one of the president’s deputy national security advisers, Ben Rhodes, reporting how he and his aides boasted of using social media, what the writer called a “largely manufactured” narrative, and a pliant press to, in essence, dupe the country into supporting the Iran nuclear deal. The Donald is not the only one given to knuckleheaded bluster and misrepresentation on foreign policy.

Life is imitating Twitter everywhere now.

Indeed, criticizing Trump for inconsistency when it comes to foreign policy is a bit rich when you consider that both Democrats and Republicans have treated Pakistan as an ally, knowing full well that its secret service has trucked with terrorists and coddled the Taliban — the people killing U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan; they’ve both treated Saudi Arabia as an ally because we needed its oil, knowing full well that its export of Salafist Islam has fueled jihadists; they both supported decapitating Libya and then not staying around to support a new security order, thus opening a gaping hole on the African coast for migrants to flow into Europe; they’ve both supported NATO expansion into Russia’s face and then wondered aloud why the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, is so truculent.

No, if I were critiquing Trump’s foreign policy views it would not be on inconsistency, hypocrisy or lying. It would be that he shows no sign of having asked the most important question: What are the real foreign policy challenges the next president will face? I don’t think he has a clue, because if he did, he wouldn’t want the job. This is one of the worst times to be conducting U.S. foreign policy.

Consider some of the questions that will greet the Oval Office’s next occupant. For starters, what does the new president do when the necessary is impossible but the impossible is necessary? Yes, we’ve proved in Iraq and Afghanistan that we don’t know how to do nation-building in other people’s countries. But just leaving Libya, Syria and parts of Iraq and Yemen ungoverned, and spewing out refugees, has led to a flood of migrants hitting Europe and stressing the cohesion of the European Union; that refugee flood could very well lead to Britain’s exit from the E.U.

President Obama has been patting himself on the back a lot lately for not intervening in Syria. I truly sympathized with how hard that call was — until I heard the president and his aides boasting about how smart their decision was and how stupid all their critics are. The human and geopolitical spillover from Syria is not over. It’s destabilizing the E.U., Lebanon, Iraq, Kurdistan and Jordan. The choices are hellish. I would not want the responsibility for making them. But nobody has a monopoly on genius here, and neither Obama’s victory lap around this smoldering ruin nor Trump’s bombastic and simplistic solutions are pretty to watch.

And there are more of these stressors coming: Falling oil prices, climate change and population bombs are going to blow up more weak states, hemorrhaging refugees in all directions.

There’s also the question of what you should do about the networked nihilists? Ever since the rise of Osama bin Laden, super-empowered angry men have challenged us. But at least Bin Laden had an identifiable cause and set of demands: cleansing the Arabian Peninsula of Western influence. But now we are seeing a mutation. Can anyone tell me what the terrorists who killed all those people in Brussels, Paris or San Bernardino wanted? They didn’t even leave a note; their act was their note. These suicidal jihadist-nihilists are not trying to win; they just want to make us lose. That’s a tough foe. They can’t destroy us — now — but they will ratchet up the pain if they get the ammo. Curbing them while maintaining an open society, with personal privacy on your cellphone and the Internet, will be a challenge.

And then there are Russia and China. They’re back in the game of traditional sphere-of-influence geopolitics. But both Russia and China face huge economic strains that will tempt their leaders to distract attention at home with nationalist adventures abroad.

The days of clear-cut, satisfying victories overseas, like opening up China or tearing down the Berlin Wall, are over. U.S. foreign policy now is all about containing disorder and messes. It is the exact opposite of running a beauty pageant. There’s no winner, and each contestant is uglier than the last.

Now here’s Mr. Bruni:

In this twilight of his presidency, Barack Obama is unlikely to deliver much in the way of meaningful legislation.

But he’s giving us a pointed, powerful civics lesson.

Consider his speech to new graduates of Howard University last weekend. While it brimmed with the usual kudos for hard work, it also bristled with caveats about the mistakes that he sees some young people making.

He chided them for demonizing enemies and silencing opponents. He cautioned them against a sense of grievance too exaggerated and an outrage bereft of perspective. “If you had to choose a time to be, in the words of Lorraine Hansberry, ‘young, gifted and black’ in America, you would choose right now,” he said. “To deny how far we’ve come would do a disservice to the cause of justice.”

He was by no means telling them to be satisfied, and he wasn’t talking only or even chiefly to them. He was talking to all of us — to America — and saying: enough. Enough with a kind of identity politics that can shove aside common purpose. Enough with a partisanship so caustic that it bleeds into hatred.

Enough with such deafening sound and blinding fury in our public debate. They make for entertainment, not enlightenment, and stand in the way of progress.

His remarks at Howard were an extension of those in his final State of the Union address in January and of those to the Illinois General Assembly in February, nine years to the day after he announced his history-making bid for the presidency. The Illinois speech, wise and gorgeous, received less attention than it deserved.

“We’ve got to build a better politics — one that’s less of a spectacle and more of a battle of ideas,” he said then. Otherwise, he warned, “Extreme voices fill the void.” This current presidential campaign has borne him out.

Obama detractors and skeptics probably hear in all of this a professorial haughtiness that has plagued him and alienated them before. And there’s legitimate disagreement about the degree to which he has been an agent as well as a casualty of the poisoned environment he rues. His administration’s actions haven’t always been as high-minded as his words.

But we should all listen to him nonetheless, for several reasons.

One is that he’s not just taking jabs at opponents. He’s issuing challenges to groups — African-Americans, college students — from whom he has drawn strong support and with whom he has real credibility.

“We must expand our moral imaginations,” he told black students at Howard, imploring them to recognize “the middle-aged white guy who you may think has all the advantages, but over the last several decades has seen his world upended by economic and cultural and technological change, and feels powerless to stop it. You got to get in his head, too.”

Just two weeks earlier, at a town-hall-style meeting in London, hevolunteered a critique of the Black Lives Matter movement, saying that once “elected officials or people who are in a position to start bringing about change are ready to sit down with you, then you can’t just keep on yelling at them.”

Another reason to listen to Obama is the accuracy and eloquence with which he’s diagnosing current ills. In Illinois he noted that while ugly partisanship has always existed, it’s fed in our digital era by voters’ ability to curate information from only those news sources and social-media feeds that echo and amplify their prejudices.

“We can choose our own facts,” he lamented. “We don’t have a common basis for what’s true and what’s not.” Advocacy groups often make matters worse, he added, by “keeping their members agitated as much as possible, assured of the righteousness of their cause.”

At Howard, Obama insisted that change “requires listening to those with whom you disagree, and being prepared to compromise.”

“If you think that the only way forward is to be as uncompromising as possible, you will feel good about yourself, you will enjoy a certain moral purity, but you’re not going to get what you want,” he continued. “So don’t try to shut folks out. Don’t try to shut them down, no matter how much you might disagree with them.”

At this late point, his message isn’t a self-serving one about the political climate that he personally wants to operate in and benefit from. It’s about the climate that would serve everyone best. If it draws attention to the improvements that he pledged but couldn’t accomplish, he’s O.K. with that. It still needs saying.

And so he’s fashioning this blunt, soulful goodbye, a reflection on our troubled democracy that, I fear, will be lost in the din of the Trump-Clinton death match. It brings him full circle, from the audacity to the tenacity of hope.

Friedman and Bruni

May 4, 2016

In “Trump and the Lord’s Work” The Moustache of Wisdom says that in order to get the nation’s politics unstuck, the intransigent version of the Republican Party had to be destroyed.  Mr. Bruni considers “Ted Cruz’s Bitter End” and says sour, smug and nakedly ambitious, the Texas senator was never built to go the distance.  To which I say “Thank God!”  Here’s TMOW:

Like many others, I watched the video that President Obama showed at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner on Saturday of him inviting former House Speaker John Boehner over to solicit his advice on what Obama should do post-presidency. It was remarkable to see the real Boehner and the real Obama acting like best buddies in the White House movie theater. Boehner even tells Obama that he finally got a “grand bargain” — only it was on a Chevy Tahoe, not the one they tried to negotiate on the economy.

I watched that video with Chuck Todd, the host of “Meet the Press,” and he had the exact same reaction I had: “Where was that brotherly love when America needed it” for a real grand bargain?

That scene plucked the deepest emotional chord in the country today: The nonstop fighting between our two political parties has left many Americans feeling like the children of two permanently divorcing parents. The country is starved to see its two major parties do big hard things together again. And getting a glimpse — even just a pretend one — of Obama and Boehner teaming up reminds you what’s been lost.

I think what’s propelling Donald Trump’s success more than anything is the feeling of many Americans that our politics are totally stuck. There is an overwhelming sense of “stuckness” — and the fantasy that Trump plays to, and plays up, is that he can pull the sword from the stone and do deals. No one was more responsible for this “stuckness,” though, than today’s Republican Party. When Mitch McConnell, the G.O.P. leader in the Senate, said in October 2010 that “the single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president,” he described the Republicans’ dominant strategy since 2008. The party stopped thinking seriously about market-based alternatives. Into that emptiness entered Trump, like an invasive species.

This was a really bad time for us to be stuck. I’m just finishing writing a new book, which is partly about the inflection point we hit around 2007. In 2007, Apple came out with the iPhone, beginning the smartphone/apps revolution; in late 2006 Facebook opened its doors to anyone, not just college and high school students, and took off like a rocket; Google came out with the Android operating system in 2007; Hadoop launched in 2007, helping create the storage/processing power for the big data revolution; Github, launched in 2007, scaling open-source software; Twitter was spun off as its own separate platform in 2007. Amazon came out with the Kindle in 2007. Airbnb started in 2007.

In short, on the eve of Obama’s presidency, something big happened:Everything started getting digitized and made mobile — work, commerce, billing, finance, education — reshaping the economy. A lot of things started to get very fast all at once. It was precisely when we needed to double down on our formula for success and update it for a new era — more lifelong learning opportunities for every worker, better infrastructure (roads, airports, rails and bandwidth) to promote the flow of commerce, better rules to incentivize risk-taking and prevent recklessness, better immigration policies to attract the world’s smartest minds, and more government-funded research to push out the boundaries of science and sow the seeds for the next generation of start-ups.

That was the real grand bargain we needed. Instead, we had the 2008 economic meltdown, which set off more polarization, and way too much gridlock, given how much rethinking, reimagining and retooling we needed to do. In this vortex a lot of the public got unmoored and disoriented, opening the way for populists with simple answers. Get rid of immigrants, end trade with China or eliminate big banks and all will be fine. It’s nonsense.

We got strong as a country through democracy and capitalism. We got rich as a country through trade. We got smart and powerful as a country through immigration. We got fair as a country through Social Security, Medicare and Obamacare. They all lead to vastly more winners than losers. This is no time to lose confidence in what got us here. If you’re running for president and are not for all these things, you’re wrong — and I hope you lose.

But if you’re for these things only as they now exist, you’re also wrong. Each one needs retooling. It’s clear: Free trade with China has hurt more people than originally thought. It’s clear: Low-skilled illegal immigration has hurt more American workers than we’ve fully understood. (And more high-skilled immigration in a knowledge age would enhance our economy more than most people understand.) It’s clear: Social Security, Medicare and Obamacare all need fixes to remain sustainable. It’s clear: Capitalism driven more by machines and robots poses new challenges for both white-collar and blue-collar workers.

Every one of these challenges can be met if we put our heads and hands together. For that to happen, though, this version of the Republican Party had to be destroyed, so a thinking center-right party can emerge. If that is what Trump has done, he’s done the Lord’s work. We also need Democrats to be a center-left party, though, and not let Bernie Sanders pull them to the far left. If both happen, maybe something good can actually emerge from this crazy election.

Oh, FFS…  Bernie Sanders is about as “far left” as FDR.  And Eisenhower.  And I wonder how many Friedman Units it will take before what’s left of the Republican party comes to its senses.  I doubt that I’ll be alive to see it…  Now here’s Mr. Bruni:

If you listened much to Ted Cruz over these last furious months, you heard him talk frequently about “the abyss,” as in what this country was teetering on the edge of. If you listened to him over these last furious hours, you heard him mention the “yawning cavern of insecurity” that motivates Donald Trump and other bullies.

Cruz should take up spelunking. He’s obviously fascinated by unfathomable depths, and with his loss in Indiana on Tuesday, his candidacy for the presidency is finished, giving him a whole lot of extra time. A new hobby is definitely in order.

As we bid Cruz adieu, we should give him his due: He took a mien and manner spectacularly ill suited to the art of seducing voters about as far as they could go. He outlasted the likes of Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio. He outperformed Rick Santorum in 2012 and Mike Huckabee in 2008.

Like him, Santorum and Huckabee won the Iowa caucuses and built from there, courting the religious right with particular fervor. But they lacked the intensity of Cruz’s professed disdain for Washington, which was his other big sales pitch, made at its moment of maximum potency. He peddled extravagant piety and extreme contempt in equal measure.

If that sounds paradoxical, it is, and the tension between contradictory Cruzes is what ultimately did him in.

He spoke out of both sides of his scowl, itching to be the voice of the common man but equally eager to demonstrate what a highfalutin, Harvard-trained intellect he possessed. He wed a populist message to a plummy vocabulary. And while the line separating smart and smart aleck isn’t all that thin or blurry, he never could stay on the winning side of it.

He wore cowboy boots, but his favorites are made of ostrich.

Two peacocks in a pod, he and Trump, and what ghastly plumage they showed on Tuesday.

Trump somehow saw fit to bring up a National Enquirer story linking Cruz’s father to the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Cruz exploded, branding Trump a “pathological liar” and “serial philanderer.” He also brought up an interview from many years ago in which Trump told Howard Stern that his effort to steer clear of sexually transmitted diseases was his “personal Vietnam.”

Where was this rant six months ago, when the Republican field was crowded and Cruz played footsie with Trump? Back then he was wagering that Trump would fade, and he wanted to be in a friendly position to inherit the billionaire’s supporters.

But by Tuesday, Trump was the main obstacle between Cruz and the Republican presidential nomination, and Cruz has just one true compass: his own advancement.

The nakedness of his vanity and transparency of his ambition were always his biggest problem. He routinely excoriated other politicians for self-centeredness while repeatedly hogging center stage, his remarks interminable — after his Iowa victory, for example, or when he presumptuously introduced Carly Fiorina as his running mate — and his pauses so theatrically drawn out that you could watch the entirety of “The Revenant” during some of them.

He trashed “the establishment” and wore its rejection of him as a badge of honor only until it stopped rejecting him and its help was his best hope to wrest the nomination away from Trump. At that point he did dizzy cartwheels over every prominent endorsement that came his way.

He took great pride in an adversarial relationship with the media, decreeing us irrelevant, until he went in hunt of a fresh excuse for losing to Trump and decided over the last few days that it was all our fault. We didn’t matter and then we did, depending on which estimation flattered him.

He purported to be more high-minded than his peers but pettily mocked Michelle Obama for urging schoolchildren to eat leafy greens. When Heidi Cruz is first lady, he pledged, “French fries are coming back to the cafeteria.” Heidi Cruz is not going to be first lady, so she’ll need some other platform for the promotion of calorie bombs and second chins.

And where in her husband was the humility that a Christian faith as frequently proclaimed as his should encompass? It wasn’t evident when he stormed into the Senate in early 2013, an upstart intent on upstaging the veterans.

There were flickers of it on Tuesday night, as he conceded defeat not just in Indiana but in the presidential contest, announcing that he was suspending his campaign “with a heavy heart.” He articulated gratitude to those Americans — no small number of them — who had buoyed him.

He went overboard in his praise of Fiorina, merely reminding us all of what an odd and oddly timed alliance theirs was. “An incredible, phenomenal running mate,” he called her, as if they’d been on some epic journey. It was less than a week long. How many phenomena could she accomplish in that time?

He left Trump out of his remarks. There were no congratulations. There was no indication of whether he’d publicly back Trump in the months to come. There was nothing to purge the memory of what he’d said earlier Tuesday, when he described Trump as “a narcissist at a level I don’t think this country has ever seen.” Yes, we have, and so has he, every day, in the mirror.

That’s why he’ll undoubtedly be back to try for the presidency again. But this bid is moribund. It’s time for Cruz to rest in peevishness.

As far as I’m concerned it’s past time for the Lord to call him home…

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.


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