“I would like to be like the desert fathers [those are renunciates] but I don’t want to be what I want just yet.”

– Christian Abbott

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Decay happens when agencies that are supposed to serve the public are captured by elites, or overmanaged by elected officials, or buffeted by what Robert Kagan calls “adversarial legalism.” Basically, Fukuyama makes an argument for competent, uncorrupted bureaucrats — “public servants,” as they were once known. His model of an agency shattered by conflicting political mandates and poor management is the U.S. Forest Service, which went from a “gold standard” mission of managing forest resources to a secondary and misconceived goal of preventing forest fires.

“It would be one thing if the U.S. Forest Service were an isolated case of political decay,” Fukuyama writes. Unfortunately, “the overall quality of the American government has been deteriorating steadily for more than a generation.”

The deep anti-government hostility of the modern Republican Party is part of the problem. Tax cuts have starved many government agencies of money and good people. Fukuyama notes that Medicare and Medicaid, which account for 22 percent of the federal budget, are managed by 0.2 percent of federal workers. As the federal workforce has dwindled, the number of contractors has exploded. Taxpayers suspect that it’s a con, and they’re right.

Congress meddles with the federal agencies rather than passing legislation to solve problems. Fukuyama notes that the Pentagon is mandated to send Congress nearly 500 reports a year. “The United States is trapped in a bad equilibrium,” Fukuyama writes. “Congress mandates complex rules that reduce the government’s autonomy and make decisions slow and expensive. The government then doesn’t perform well, which confirms people’s original distrust.”

An angry public watches as the rich get richer, the middle class stagnates and government does nothing. Middle-class prosperity and self-confidence have been the foundation of U.S. democracy. Yet the Pew Research Center estimates that the share of household income going to middle-class families fell from 62 percent in 1970 to 43 percent in 2014, while the share for upper-income families rose from 29 percent to 49 percent.

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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.”

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Nobody is coming for you, Chris Christie. Nobody is coming to save you.

Chris Christie has seen things. Things you wouldn’t believe. Things that would make your hair fall out and turn grey all at once. But he cannot speak of them. He can only stand there. Chris Christie is the bearer of a hideous knowledge that hangs on him like a horrible weight. But he has no way to say it.

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When the plague descended on Thebes, Oedipus sent his brother-in-law to the Delphic oracle to discover the cause. Little did he realize that the crime for which Thebes was being punished was his own. Today’s Republican Party is our Oedipus. A plague has descended on the party in the form of the most successful demagogue-charlatan in the history of U.S. politics. The party searches desperately for the cause and the remedy without realizing that, like Oedipus, it is the party itself that brought on this plague. The party’s own political crimes are being punished in a bit of cosmic justice fit for a Greek tragedy.

Let’s be clear: Trump is no fluke. Nor is he hijacking the Republican Party or the conservative movement, if there is such a thing. He is, rather, the party’s creation, its Frankenstein monster, brought to life by the party, fed by the party and now made strong enough to destroy its maker. Was it not the party’s wild obstructionism — the repeated threats to shut down the government over policy and legislative disagreements; the persistent call for nullification of Supreme Court decisions; the insistence that compromise was betrayal; the internal coups against party leaders who refused to join the general demolition — that taught Republican voters that government, institutions, political traditions, party leadership and even parties themselves were things to be overthrown, evaded, ignored, insulted, laughed at? Was it not Sen. Ted Cruz R-Tex., among many others, who set this tone and thereby cleared the way for someone even more irreverent, so that now, in a most unenjoyable irony, Cruz, along with the rest of the party, must fall to the purer version of himself, a less ideologically encumbered anarcho-revolutionary? This would not be the first revolution that devoured itself.

Then there was the party’s accommodation to and exploitation of the bigotry in its ranks. No, the majority of Republicans are not bigots. But they have certainly been enablers. Who began the attack on immigrants — legal and illegal — long before Trump arrived on the scene and made it his premier issue? Who was it who frightened Mitt Romney into selling his soul in 2012, talking of “self-deportation” to get himself right with the party’s anti-immigrant forces? Who was it who opposed any plausible means of dealing with the genuine problem of illegal immigration, forcing Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) to cower, abandon his principles — and his own immigration legislation — lest he be driven from the presidential race before it had even begun? It was not Trump. It was not even party yahoos. It was Republican Party pundits and intellectuals, trying to harness populist passions and perhaps deal a blow to any legislation for which President Obama might possibly claim even partial credit. What did Trump do but pick up where they left off, tapping the well-primed gusher of popular anger, xenophobia and, yes, bigotry that the party had already unleashed?

Then there was the Obama hatred, a racially tinged derangement syndrome that made any charge plausible and any opposition justified. Has the president done a poor job in many respects? Have his foreign policies, in particular, contributed to the fraying of the liberal world order that the United States created after World War II? Yes, and for these failures he has deserved criticism and principled opposition. But Republican and conservative criticism has taken an unusually dark and paranoid form. Instead of recommending plausible alternative strategies for the crisis in the Middle East, many Republicans have fallen back on a mindless Islamophobia, with suspicious intimations about the president’s personal allegiances.

Thus Obama is not only wrong but also anti-American, un-American, non-American, and his policies — though barely distinguishable from those of previous liberal Democrats such as Michael Dukakis or Mario Cuomo — are somehow representative of something subversive. How surprising was it that a man who began his recent political career by questioning Obama’s eligibility for office could leap to the front of the pack, willing and able to communicate with his followers by means of the dog-whistle disdain for “political correctness”?
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We are a culture conditioned by cable television, which has made the language of sailors, mobsters and New York real estate developers available to any digitally literate 11-year-old. Even the cable channels you don’t pay for have taken to constant, blindingly obvious bleeping, in a wink and nod to their perception of modern usage. This, after all, is the way “real life” sounds.

Let us hope not. In real life, expletives are often used as a form of aggression or cruelty. A co-worker who tells you to Trump yourself is usually being unpleasant. A co-worker who does this every day is often creating a hostile or demeaning work environment. Language suitable for decent company is a form of politeness, which is a species of respect, which is an expression of morality. And if I am the last holdout on this issue, so be it. I don’t really give a damn.

Win or lose, Trump has brought the language and sensibilities of cable TV to presidential politics. This is a relatively small transgression in a campaign that has involved groundbreaking appeals to ethnic and religious resentment. But there is a rhetorical strategy at work here worth noting. In recent rallies, Trump — in addition to telling people to go “F—” themselves — said he would “beat the s—” out of anyone attacking us and has now charmingly and by “charmingly” I mean loathsomely called Ted Cruz a “p—-.” Trump identifies crudity with populism, as if using words of four letters were a protest against prim elites. Rough language is intended to convey strength and authenticity. On both counts, it amounts to deception.

Trump employs tough-sounding language, along with the promise of war crimes (proposing killing the families of terrorists), as cover for a frighteningly feckless foreign policy. On the main humanitarian and strategic disaster of our time — the collapse of sovereignty in Syria and Iraq and the rise of the Islamic State — Trump’s answer is to farm out influence to the Russians. “Let Syria and ISIS fight. Why do we care?” Trump has argued. “And let Russia, they’re in Syria already, let them fight ISIS.”

Just to summarize, Trump is proposing for the United States to encourage a coalition of Russia, Iran and the remnants of Bashar al-Assad’s Syrian regime to fight the Islamic State and the rest of the Sunni rebels. This would recognize Russian strategic dominance over a region that still produces nearly 40 percent of the world’s oil supplies. It would concur in Iran’s bid for regional hegemony and probably frighten our abandoned Sunni allies into desperate acts (such as going nuclear). And it would reward Assad’s mass atrocities against Sunni civilians, which is a major generator of recruits for the Islamic State.

In this case, a foul mouth is meant to cover up for Trump’s ignorance and weakness. No actual enemy of the United States would be impressed by his trompe l’oeil toughness.

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Mr. Rubio’s inability to do anything besides repeat canned talking points was startling. Worse, it was funny, which means that it has gone viral. And it reinforced the narrative that he is nothing but an empty suit. But really, isn’t everyone in his party doing pretty much the same thing, if not so conspicuously?

The truth is that the whole G.O.P. seems stuck in a time loop, saying and doing the same things over and over. And unlike Bill Murray’s character in the movie “Groundhog Day,” Republicans show no sign of learning anything from experience.

Think about the doctrines every Republican politician now needs to endorse, on pain of excommunication.

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They want you to put the money to use building an asset, something that works better and better over time, something that makes your project more profitable and more efficient.

And they want you to use that asset to create value that will pay them back many times over.

Most small businesses ignore both of these desires. There’s so much stress from being on the edge, it feels like money will relieve that stress. And in the short run, it will. But if it doesn’t build an asset, soon you’ll be back to the edge, with the added problem of having an unrepaid investor as well.

Assets buildings, machines, powerful brands, new technologies are less essential than ever before. For many organizations, a laptop is worth more than a building or a punch press. That’s great if you’re getting started, because the connection economy has made the cost of entry lower than ever before.

It also means, though, that the easy-entry business you’re in might not respond well to the investor’s money. If there isn’t an asset you can buy and build and defend and monetize, you’re much better off not chasing one.

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treatment of mania The Super Rich Technologists Making Dire Predictions About Artificial Intelligence club gained another fear-mongering member this week: Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak.

In an interview with the Australian Financial Review, Wozniak joined original club members Bill Gates, Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk by making his own casually apocalyptic warning about machines superseding the human race.

"Like people including Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk have predicted, I agree that the future is scary and very bad for people," Wozniak said. "If we build these devices to take care of everything for us, eventually they’ll think faster than us and they’ll get rid of the slow humans to run companies more efficiently."

For what it’s worth, Wozniak did outline a scenario by which super-machines will be stopped in their human-enslaving tracks. Citing Moore’s Law — “the pattern whereby computer processing speeds double every two years” — Wozniak pointed out that at some point, the size of silicon transistors, which allow processing speeds to increase as they reduce size, will eventually reach the size of an atom, according to the Financial Review.

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Bill Gates is a passionate technology advocate big surprise, but his predictions about the future of computing aren’t uniformly positive.

During a wide-ranging Reddit "Ask me Anything" session — one that touched upon everything from his biggest regrets to his favorite spread to lather on bread — the Microsoft co-founder and billionaire philanthropist outlined a future that is equal parts promising and ominous.

Midway through the discussion on Wednesday, Gates was asked what personal computing will look like in 2045. Gates responded by asserting that the next 30 years will be a time of rapid progress.

"Even in the next 10 problems like vision and speech understanding and translation will be very good," he wrote. "Mechanical robot tasks like picking fruit or moving a hospital patient will be solved. Once computers/robots get to a level of capability where seeing and moving is easy for them then they will be used very extensively."

After gushing about the immediate future of technology in his Reddit AMA, Gates aligned himself with the AI alarm-sounders.

“I am in the camp that is concerned about super intelligence,” Gates wrote. “First the machines will do a lot of jobs for us and not be super intelligent. That should be positive if we manage it well. A few decades after that though the intelligence is strong enough to be a concern. I agree with Elon Musk and some others on this and don’t understand why some people are not concerned.”

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After Obama won, the main goal of Republican leaders of all stripes was to take back Congress as a prelude to defeating the president in 2012. The angry grass-roots right — it has been there for decades but cleverly rebranded itself as the tea party in 2009 — would be central in driving the midterm voters the GOP would need to the polls. Since no one was better at rousing them than Palin, old-line Republican leaders embraced and legitimized her even if they snickered privately about who she was and how she said things.

Today’s Republican crisis was thus engineered by the party leadership’s step-by-step capitulation to a politics of unreason, a policy of silence toward the most extreme and wild charges against Obama, and a lifting up of resentment and anger over policy and ideas as the party’s lodestars.

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The dispute — which grew out of a question about the number of transactions the Bitcoin network can handle — may sound like something of interest only to the most die-hard techies. But it has exposed fundamental differences about the basic aims of the Bitcoin project, and how online communities should be governed. The two camps have broadly painted each other as, on one side, populists who are focused on expanding Bitcoin’s commercial potential and, on the other side, elitists who are more concerned with protecting its status as a radical challenger to existing currencies.

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As it happens, in recent weeks I was the target of a trolling campaign and saw exactly how it works. It started when an obscure website published a post titled “CNN host Fareed Zakaria calls for jihad rape of white women.” The story claimed that in my “private blog” I had urged the use of American women as “sex slaves” to depopulate the white race. The post further claimed that on my Twitter account, I had written the following line: “Every death of a white person brings tears of joy to my eyes.”

Disgusting. So much so that the item would collapse from its own weightlessness, right? Wrong. Here is what happened next: Hundreds of people began linking to it, tweeting and retweeting it, and adding their comments, which are too vulgar or racist to repeat. A few ultra-right-wing websites reprinted the story as fact. With each new cycle, the levels of hysteria rose, and people started demanding that I be fired, deported or killed. For a few days, the digital intimidation veered out into the real world. Some people called my house late one night and woke up and threatened my daughters, who are 7 and 12.

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As favorable as the reaction from some Republicans was, though, Trump supporters and others not-so-enamored of the GOP establishment were not favorable in their reviews. Rush Limbaugh, Laura Ingraham and other conservative talk show hosts slammed the speech. Carly Fiorina, still trying to get traction in the “outsider” track to the GOP nomination, said “it was the wrong note.” Of course, some number of conservatives have always wanted to be “noisier” and even less compromising, on the grounds that Democrats and the weak-kneed GOP establishment are flushing America down the toilet. A true, uncompromising conservative, they say, would, well, “Make America Great Again.” The difference is that now, between Cruz, Trump and Ben Carson, the “everything is awful” portion of the GOP is a clear majority, not limited to the fringe.

“We live in a time of threats like few others in recent memory” doesn’t become magically less fear-inducing when spoken rather than shouted, or when mixed in with promises of lower taxes. The message is still the same: Be afraid. That fear and the anger from the GOP establishment’s apparent complacency are the reasons behind the strength of Trump, Cruz and others. Platitudes from Nikki Haley and others won’t stop that fear as long as they keep feeding it.**
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Hints: Any question that’s difficult to answer deserves more thought. Any answers that are meandering, nuanced or complex are probably a symptom of something important.

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Putin = Facsist

Although international relations are not conducted under Marquess of Queensberry rules and political satire can be expected from one’s foes, intensely personal attacks on foreign leaders are uncommon except in wartime. While Soviet-era anti-American propaganda could be sharp, it did not employ slurs. But in recent years racist and scatological salvos against foreign leaders have become a staple of official Russian discourse.

Turkish, German and Ukrainian officials are cast as sycophantic stooges of the United States. While slamming Ankara at a December news conference for shooting down a Russian plane that violated Turkish airspace, Russian President Vladimir Putin opined that “the Turks decided to lick the Americans in a certain place.” Sergey Glaziev, a senior adviser to Putin, has called Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko “a Nazi Frankenstein,” and Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin compared Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk to “a rubber doll from a sex shop.”

The ugliest vilification campaign, however, has been reserved for President Obama. Anti-Obama tweets come openly from government officials. Rogozin, while commenting on Obama’s 2015 State of the Union address, compared Obama to a Tuzik, Russian slang for a pathetic small dog. Irina Rodnina , a well-known Duma member, tweeted doctored images of Barack and Michelle Obama staring longingly at a banana.

This despicable onslaught is not just the random venting of a narcissistic Kremlin leader but also an indispensable component of Putin’s efforts to mobilize domestic support for his policies and enhance his standing. The fact that this propaganda campaign is working — Putin and his policies remain popular — is attributable to several factors.

Against this backdrop, and lacking either democratic or ideological legitimacy, Putin’s government is increasingly brittle. As the Kremlin doubles down on its aggressive foreign policy and increases domestic repression, it has also intensified its global propaganda efforts. Moscow has heavily invested in its broadcasting assets, with the satellite network RT being the pivotal component, giving it an unprecedented ability to reach domestic and foreign audiences.

All Americans should be outraged by the Kremlin’s messaging campaign and support a robust U.S. response. To present such a response effectively to global audiences, Congress should promptly enact bipartisan legislation proposed by House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Edward R. Royce (R-Calif.) and ranking Democrat Eliot L. Engel (N.Y.) to revitalize America’s public diplomacy infrastructure. Winning the global battle of ideas is an essential part of fostering a stable democratic world order. Consistent with our core values, the United States must lead in challenging Moscow’s racist propaganda and highlighting the moral narrative of democracy, tolerance, human rights and rule of law.
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There is an irony to the presidential candidacy of Bernie Sanders: The senator from Vermont is often cast as exotic because he calls himself a “democratic socialist.” Yet the most important issue in politics throughout the Western democracies is whether the economic and social world that social democrats built can survive the coming decades.

Let’s deal first with the tyranny of labels. “Socialist” has long been an unacceptable word in the United States, yet our country once had a vibrant socialist movement; its history has been well recounted by John Nichols and James Weinstein. Socialists had a major impact on the mainstream conversation. Reforming liberals, including Franklin D. Roosevelt, co-opted many of their best ideas, and it’s one reason they were marginalized.

Moreover, the vast majority of “democratic socialists” are now properly described more modestly as “social democrats” because most on the left believe in a successful private sector. But they also favor a government that achieves broad public objectives, from a clean environment to wide access to education, and regulates and redistributes in ways that strengthen the bargaining power of those who don’t own much capital.

When Sanders defined his own brand of socialism this year in a speech at Georgetown University, he made clear he’s in this camp. “The next time you hear me attacked as a socialist, remember this,” he said. “I don’t believe government should own the means of production, but I do believe that the middle class and the working families who produce the wealth of America deserve a fair deal.”

Honestly, Bernie, you’re really a social democrat.

But there is great honor in this. The bargain between government and the market that allowed the United States and the other Western democracies to share growing prosperity from the end of World War II until recent years was essentially a social democratic achievement.

As economist J. Bradford DeLong argued in a recent essay on Talking Points Memo, these economies were “relatively egalitarian places when viewed in historical perspective (for native-born white guys, at least).” The chance to influence politics was “widely distributed throughout the population” while “the claims of wealth to drive political directions” were “kept within bounds.”

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As of Sunday afternoon, The Washington Post called them "occupiers." The New York Times opted for "armed activists" and "militia men." And the Associated Press put the situation this way: "A family previously involved in a showdown with the federal government has occupied a building at a national wildlife refuge in Oregon and is asking militia members to join them."

Not one seemed to lean toward terms such as "insurrection," "revolt," anti-government "insurgents" or, as some on social media were calling them, "terrorists." When a group of unknown size and unknown firepower has taken over any federal building with plans and possibly some equipment to aid a years-long occupation — and when its representative tells reporters that they would prefer to avoid violence but are prepared to die — the kind of almost-uniform delicacy and the limits on the language used to describe the people involved becomes noteworthy itself.

It is hard to imagine that none of the words mentioned above — particularly “insurrection” or “revolt” — would be avoided if, for instance, a group of armed black Americans took possession of a federal or state courthouse to protest the police. Black Americans outraged about the death of a 12-year-old boy at the hands of police or concerned about the absence of a conviction in the George Zimmerman case have been frequently and inaccurately lumped in with criminals and looters, described as “thugs,” or marauding wolf packs where drugs are, according to CNN’s Don Lemon, “obviously” in use.

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Back in the summer, when Megyn Kelly confronted Donald Trump with a few of the nasty things he had said about women, the candidate had a simple retort.

“The big problem this country has is being politically correct,” he said.

The big problem? Not economic growth, or terrorism, or war against the Islamic State. No, the big problem in these United States is political correctness.

Since that first debate, Trump and his fellow Republican presidential candidates have connected political correctness to virtually every issue: Vladimir Putin. Immigration. The San Bernardino shooting. Planned Parenthood. David Cameron. The Islamic State. Gun ownership. Social networks. Demagoguery. Muslims. Women in the military. Israel. American exceptionalism. Climate change. Education. The mental-health system. The media. The national debt. Drug addiction. Prisoners of war. Women. Torture. Trans fats.

CNN’s Jake Tapper exposed the intellectual laziness in the label when Cruz said “political correctness” prevented U.S. officials from seeing radical Facebook postings by one of the San Bernardino shooters.

Tapper pointed out that the posting in question was under a pseudonym and was in a private message that the government can’t access. “How is that political correctness and not just privacy issues?” he asked.

Cruz changed the subject.

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