Friday, December 29

A Failed Revolution


After first attempting to deny the scale of last month’s defeat, the apologists have settled on a story line that sounds just like Marxist explanations for the failure of the Soviet Union. What happened, you see, was that the noble ideals of the Republican revolution of 1994 were undermined by Washington’s corrupting ways. And the recent defeat was a good thing, because it will force a return to the true conservative path.

But the truth is that the movement that took power in 1994 — a movement that had little to do with true conservatism — was always based on a lie.

The lie is right there in “The Freedom Revolution,” the book that Dick Armey, who had just become the House majority leader, published in 1995. He declares that most government programs don’t do anything “to help American families with the needs of everyday life,” and that “very few American families would notice their disappearance.” He goes on to assert that “there is no reason we cannot, by the time our children come of age, reduce the federal government by half as a percentage of gross domestic product.”

Right. Somehow, I think more than a few families would notice the disappearance of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid — and those three programs alone account for a majority of nondefense, noninterest spending. The truth is that the government delivers services and security that people want. Yes, there’s some waste — just as there is in any large organization. But there are no big programs that are easy to cut.

As long as people like Mr. Armey, Newt Gingrich and Tom DeLay were out of power, they could run on promises to eliminate vast government waste that existed only in the public’s imagination — all those welfare queens driving Cadillacs. But once in power, they couldn’t deliver.

That’s why government by the radical right has been an utter failure even on its own terms: the government hasn’t shrunk. Federal outlays other than interest payments and defense spending are a higher percentage of G.D.P. today than they were when Mr. Armey wrote his book: 14.8 percent in fiscal 2006, compared with 13.8 percent in fiscal 1995.

Unable to make good on its promises, the G.O.P., like other failed revolutionary movements, tried to maintain its grip by exploiting its position of power. Friends were rewarded with patronage: Jack Abramoff began building his web of corruption almost as soon as Republicans took control. Adversaries were harassed with smear campaigns and witch hunts: Congress spent six years and many millions of dollars investigating a failed land deal, and Bill Clinton was impeached over a consensual affair.

But it wasn’t enough. Without 9/11, the Republican revolution would probably have petered out quietly, with the loss of Congress in 2002 and the White House in 2004. Instead, the atrocity created a window of opportunity: four extra years gained by drowning out unfavorable news with terror alerts, starting a gratuitous war, and accusing Democrats of being weak on national security.

Yet the Bush administration failed to convert this electoral success into progress on a right-wing domestic agenda. The collapse of the push to privatize Social Security recapitulated the failure of the Republican revolution as a whole. Once the administration was forced to get specific about the details, it became obvious that private accounts couldn’t produce something for nothing, and the public’s support vanished.

In the end, Republicans didn’t shrink the government. But they did degrade it. Baghdad and New Orleans are the arrival destinations of a movement based on deep contempt for governance.

Is that the end for the radical right? Probably not. As a long-suffering civil servant once told me, bad policy ideas are like cockroaches: you can flush them down the toilet, but they keep coming back. Many of the ideas that failed in the Bush years had previously failed in the Reagan years. So there’s no reason to assume they’re gone for good.

Indeed, it appears that loss of power and the ensuing lack of accountability is liberating right-wingers to lie yet again: since last month’s election, I’ve noticed a number of Social Security privatizers propounding the same free-lunch falsehoods that the Bush administration had to abandon in the face of demands that it present an actual plan.

Still, the Republican revolution of 1994 is over. And not a moment too soon.

Sunday, December 24

What’s Wrong With Cinderella?


I finally came unhinged in the dentist’s office — one of those ritzy pediatric practices tricked out with comic books, DVDs and arcade games — where I’d taken my 3-year-old daughter for her first exam. Until then, I’d held my tongue. I’d smiled politely every time the supermarket-checkout clerk greeted her with “Hi, Princess”; ignored the waitress at our local breakfast joint who called the funny-face pancakes she ordered her “princess meal”; made no comment when the lady at Longs Drugs said, “I bet I know your favorite color” and handed her a pink balloon rather than letting her choose for herself. Maybe it was the dentist’s Betty Boop inflection that got to me, but when she pointed to the exam chair and said, “Would you like to sit in my special princess throne so I can sparkle your teeth?” I lost it.

“Oh, for God’s sake,” I snapped. “Do you have a princess drill, too?”

She stared at me as if I were an evil stepmother.

“Come on!” I continued, my voice rising. “It’s 2006, not 1950. This is Berkeley, Calif. Does every little girl really have to be a princess?”

My daughter, who was reaching for a Cinderella sticker, looked back and forth between us. “Why are you so mad, Mama?” she asked. “What’s wrong with princesses?”

Diana may be dead and Masako disgraced, but here in America, we are in the midst of a royal moment. To call princesses a “trend” among girls is like calling Harry Potter a book. Sales at Disney Consumer Products, which started the craze six years ago by packaging nine of its female characters under one royal rubric, have shot up to $3 billion, globally, this year, from $300 million in 2001. There are now more than 25,000 Disney Princess items. “Princess,” as some Disney execs call it, is not only the fastest-growing brand the company has ever created; they say it is on its way to becoming the largest girls’ franchise on the planet.

Meanwhile in 2001, Mattel brought out its own “world of girl” line of princess Barbie dolls, DVDs, toys, clothing, home décor and myriad other products. At a time when Barbie sales were declining domestically, they became instant best sellers. Shortly before that, Mary Drolet, a Chicago-area mother and former Claire’s and Montgomery Ward executive, opened Club Libby Lu, now a chain of mall stores based largely in the suburbs in which girls ages 4 to 12 can shop for “Princess Phones” covered in faux fur and attend “Princess-Makeover Birthday Parties.” Saks bought Club Libby Lu in 2003 for $12 million and has since expanded it to 87 outlets; by 2005, with only scant local advertising, revenues hovered around the $46 million mark, a 53 percent jump from the previous year. Pink, it seems, is the new gold.

Even Dora the Explorer, the intrepid, dirty-kneed adventurer, has ascended to the throne: in 2004, after a two-part episode in which she turns into a “true princess,” the Nickelodeon and Viacom consumer-products division released a satin-gowned “Magic Hair Fairytale Dora,” with hair that grows or shortens when her crown is touched. Among other phrases the bilingual doll utters: “Vámonos! Let’s go to fairy-tale land!” and “Will you brush my hair?”

As a feminist mother — not to mention a nostalgic product of the Grranimals era — I have been taken by surprise by the princess craze and the girlie-girl culture that has risen around it. What happened to William wanting a doll and not dressing your cat in an apron? Whither Marlo Thomas? I watch my fellow mothers, women who once swore they’d never be dependent on a man, smile indulgently at daughters who warble “So This Is Love” or insist on being called Snow White. I wonder if they’d concede so readily to sons who begged for combat fatigues and mock AK-47s.

More to the point, when my own girl makes her daily beeline for the dress-up corner of her preschool classroom — something I’m convinced she does largely to torture me — I worry about what playing Little Mermaid is teaching her. I’ve spent much of my career writing about experiences that undermine girls’ well-being, warning parents that a preoccupation with body and beauty (encouraged by films, TV, magazines and, yes, toys) is perilous to their daughters’ mental and physical health. Am I now supposed to shrug and forget all that? If trafficking in stereotypes doesn’t matter at 3, when does it matter? At 6? Eight? Thirteen?

On the other hand, maybe I’m still surfing a washed-out second wave of feminism in a third-wave world. Maybe princesses are in fact a sign of progress, an indication that girls can embrace their predilection for pink without compromising strength or ambition; that, at long last, they can “have it all.” Or maybe it is even less complex than that: to mangle Freud, maybe a princess is sometimes just a princess. And, as my daughter wants to know, what’s wrong with that?

The rise of the Disney princesses reads like a fairy tale itself, with Andy Mooney, a former Nike executive, playing the part of prince, riding into the company on a metaphoric white horse in January 2000 to save a consumer-products division whose sales were dropping by as much as 30 percent a year. Both overstretched and underfocused, the division had triggered price wars by granting multiple licenses for core products (say, Winnie-the-Pooh undies) while ignoring the potential of new media. What’s more, Disney films like “A Bug’s Life” in 1998 had yielded few merchandising opportunities — what child wants to snuggle up with an ant?

It was about a month after Mooney’s arrival that the magic struck. That’s when he flew to Phoenix to check out his first “Disney on Ice” show. “Standing in line in the arena, I was surrounded by little girls dressed head to toe as princesses,” he told me last summer in his palatial office, then located in Burbank, and speaking in a rolling Scottish burr. “They weren’t even Disney products. They were generic princess products they’d appended to a Halloween costume. And the light bulb went off. Clearly there was latent demand here. So the next morning I said to my team, ‘O.K., let’s establish standards and a color palette and talk to licensees and get as much product out there as we possibly can that allows these girls to do what they’re doing anyway: projecting themselves into the characters from the classic movies.’ ”

Mooney picked a mix of old and new heroines to wear the Pantone pink No. 241 corona: Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, Ariel, Belle, Jasmine, Mulan and Pocahontas. It was the first time Disney marketed characters separately from a film’s release, let alone lumped together those from different stories. To ensure the sanctity of what Mooney called their individual “mythologies,” the princesses never make eye contact when they’re grouped: each stares off in a slightly different direction as if unaware of the others’ presence.

It is also worth noting that not all of the ladies are of royal extraction. Part of the genius of “Princess” is that its meaning is so broadly constructed that it actually has no meaning. Even Tinker Bell was originally a Princess, though her reign didn’t last. “We’d always debate over whether she was really a part of the Princess mythology,” Mooney recalled. “She really wasn’t.” Likewise, Mulan and Pocahontas, arguably the most resourceful of the bunch, are rarely depicted on Princess merchandise, though for a different reason. Their rustic garb has less bling potential than that of old-school heroines like Sleeping Beauty. (When Mulan does appear, she is typically in the kimonolike hanfu, which makes her miserable in the movie, rather than her liberated warrior’s gear.)

The first Princess items, released with no marketing plan, no focus groups, no advertising, sold as if blessed by a fairy godmother. To this day, Disney conducts little market research on the Princess line, relying instead on the power of its legacy among mothers as well as the instant-read sales barometer of the theme parks and Disney Stores. “We simply gave girls what they wanted,” Mooney said of the line’s success, “although I don’t think any of us grasped how much they wanted this. I wish I could sit here and take credit for having some grand scheme to develop this, but all we did was envision a little girl’s room and think about how she could live out the princess fantasy. The counsel we gave to licensees was: What type of bedding would a princess want to sleep in? What kind of alarm clock would a princess want to wake up to? What type of television would a princess like to see? It’s a rare case where you find a girl who has every aspect of her room bedecked in Princess, but if she ends up with three or four of these items, well, then you have a very healthy business.”

Every reporter Mooney talks to asks some version of my next question: Aren’t the Princesses, who are interested only in clothes, jewelry and cadging the handsome prince, somewhat retrograde role models?

“Look,” he said, “I have friends whose son went through the Power Rangers phase who castigated themselves over what they must’ve done wrong. Then they talked to other parents whose kids had gone through it. The boy passes through. The girl passes through. I see girls expanding their imagination through visualizing themselves as princesses, and then they pass through that phase and end up becoming lawyers, doctors, mothers or princesses, whatever the case may be.”

Mooney has a point: There are no studies proving that playing princess directly damages girls’ self-esteem or dampens other aspirations. On the other hand, there is evidence that young women who hold the most conventionally feminine beliefs — who avoid conflict and think they should be perpetually nice and pretty — are more likely to be depressed than others and less likely to use contraception. What’s more, the 23 percent decline in girls’ participation in sports and other vigorous activity between middle and high school has been linked to their sense that athletics is unfeminine. And in a survey released last October by Girls Inc., school-age girls overwhelmingly reported a paralyzing pressure to be “perfect”: not only to get straight A’s and be the student-body president, editor of the newspaper and captain of the swim team but also to be “kind and caring,” “please everyone, be very thin and dress right.” Give those girls a pumpkin and a glass slipper and they’d be in business.

At the grocery store one day, my daughter noticed a little girl sporting a Cinderella backpack. “There’s that princess you don’t like, Mama!” she shouted.

“Um, yeah,” I said, trying not to meet the other mother’s hostile gaze.

“Don’t you like her blue dress, Mama?”

I had to admit, I did.

She thought about this. “Then don’t you like her face?”

“Her face is all right,” I said, noncommittally, though I’m not thrilled to have my Japanese-Jewish child in thrall to those Aryan features. (And what the heck are those blue things covering her ears?) “It’s just, honey, Cinderella doesn’t really do anything.”

Over the next 45 minutes, we ran through that conversation, verbatim, approximately 37 million times, as my daughter pointed out Disney Princess Band-Aids, Disney Princess paper cups, Disney Princess lip balm, Disney Princess pens, Disney Princess crayons and Disney Princess notebooks — all cleverly displayed at the eye level of a 3-year-old trapped in a shopping cart — as well as a bouquet of Disney Princess balloons bobbing over the checkout line. The repetition was excessive, even for a preschooler. What was it about my answers that confounded her? What if, instead of realizing: Aha! Cinderella is a symbol of the patriarchal oppression of all women, another example of corporate mind control and power-to-the-people! my 3-year-old was thinking, Mommy doesn’t want me to be a girl?

According to theories of gender constancy, until they’re about 6 or 7, children don’t realize that the sex they were born with is immutable. They believe that they have a choice: they can grow up to be either a mommy or a daddy. Some psychologists say that until permanency sets in kids embrace whatever stereotypes our culture presents, whether it’s piling on the most spangles or attacking one another with light sabers. What better way to assure that they’ll always remain themselves? If that’s the case, score one for Mooney. By not buying the Princess Pull-Ups, I may be inadvertently communicating that being female (to the extent that my daughter is able to understand it) is a bad thing.

Anyway, you have to give girls some credit. It’s true that, according to Mattel, one of the most popular games young girls play is “bride,” but Disney found that a groom or prince is incidental to that fantasy, a regrettable necessity at best. Although they keep him around for the climactic kiss, he is otherwise relegated to the bottom of the toy box, which is why you don’t see him prominently displayed in stores.

What’s more, just because they wear the tulle doesn’t mean they’ve drunk the Kool-Aid. Plenty of girls stray from the script, say, by playing basketball in their finery, or casting themselves as the powerful evil stepsister bossing around the sniveling Cinderella. I recall a headline-grabbing 2005 British study that revealed that girls enjoy torturing, decapitating and microwaving their Barbies nearly as much as they like to dress them up for dates. There is spice along with that sugar after all, though why this was news is beyond me: anyone who ever played with the doll knows there’s nothing more satisfying than hacking off all her hair and holding her underwater in the bathtub. Princesses can even be a boon to exasperated parents: in our house, for instance, royalty never whines and uses the potty every single time.

“Playing princess is not the issue,” argues Lyn Mikel Brown, an author, with Sharon Lamb, of “Packaging Girlhood: Rescuing Our Daughters From Marketers’ Schemes.” “The issue is 25,000 Princess products,” says Brown, a professor of education and human development at Colby College. “When one thing is so dominant, then it’s no longer a choice: it’s a mandate, cannibalizing all other forms of play. There’s the illusion of more choices out there for girls, but if you look around, you’ll see their choices are steadily narrowing.”

It’s hard to imagine that girls’ options could truly be shrinking when they dominate the honor roll and outnumber boys in college. Then again, have you taken a stroll through a children’s store lately? A year ago, when we shopped for “big girl” bedding at Pottery Barn Kids, we found the “girls” side awash in flowers, hearts and hula dancers; not a soccer player or sailboat in sight. Across the no-fly zone, the “boys” territory was all about sports, trains, planes and automobiles. Meanwhile, Baby GAP’s boys’ onesies were emblazoned with “Big Man on Campus” and the girls’ with “Social Butterfly”; guess whose matching shoes were decorated on the soles with hearts and whose sported a “No. 1” logo? And at Toys “R” Us, aisles of pink baby dolls, kitchens, shopping carts and princesses unfurl a safe distance from the “Star Wars” figures, GeoTrax and tool chests. The relentless resegregation of childhood appears to have sneaked up without any further discussion about sex roles, about what it now means to be a boy or to be a girl. Or maybe it has happened in lieu of such discussion because it’s easier this way.

Easier, that is, unless you want to buy your daughter something that isn’t pink. Girls’ obsession with that color may seem like something they’re born with, like the ability to breathe or talk on the phone for hours on end. But according to Jo Paoletti, an associate professor of American studies at the University of Maryland, it ain’t so. When colors were first introduced to the nursery in the early part of the 20th century, pink was considered the more masculine hue, a pastel version of red. Blue, with its intimations of the Virgin Mary, constancy and faithfulness, was thought to be dainty. Why or when that switched is not clear, but as late as the 1930s a significant percentage of adults in one national survey held to that split. Perhaps that’s why so many early Disney heroines — Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Wendy, Alice-in-Wonderland — are swathed in varying shades of azure. (Purple, incidentally, may be the next color to swap teams: once the realm of kings and N.F.L. players, it is fast becoming the bolder girl’s version of pink.)

It wasn’t until the mid-1980s, when amplifying age and sex differences became a key strategy of children’s marketing (recall the emergence of “ ’tween”), that pink became seemingly innate to girls, part of what defined them as female, at least for the first few years. That was also the time that the first of the generation raised during the unisex phase of feminism — ah, hither Marlo! — became parents. “The kids who grew up in the 1970s wanted sharp definitions for their own kids,” Paoletti told me. “I can understand that, because the unisex thing denied everything — you couldn’t be this, you couldn’t be that, you had to be a neutral nothing.”

The infatuation with the girlie girl certainly could, at least in part, be a reaction against the so-called second wave of the women’s movement of the 1960s and ’70s (the first wave was the fight for suffrage), which fought for reproductive rights and economic, social and legal equality. If nothing else, pink and Princess have resuscitated the fantasy of romance that that era of feminism threatened, the privileges that traditional femininity conferred on women despite its costs — doors magically opened, dinner checks picked up, Manolo Blahniks. Frippery. Fun. Why should we give up the perks of our sex until we’re sure of what we’ll get in exchange? Why should we give them up at all? Or maybe it’s deeper than that: the freedoms feminism bestowed came with an undercurrent of fear among women themselves — flowing through “Ally McBeal,” “Bridget Jones’s Diary,” “Sex and the City” — of losing male love, of never marrying, of not having children, of being deprived of something that felt essentially and exclusively female.

I mulled that over while flipping through “The Paper Bag Princess,” a 1980 picture book hailed as an antidote to Disney. The heroine outwits a dragon who has kidnapped her prince, but not before the beast’s fiery breath frizzles her hair and destroys her dress, forcing her to don a paper bag. The ungrateful prince rejects her, telling her to come back when she is “dressed like a real princess.” She dumps him and skips off into the sunset, happily ever after, alone.

There you have it, “Thelma and Louise” all over again. Step out of line, and you end up solo or, worse, sailing crazily over a cliff to your doom. Alternatives like those might send you skittering right back to the castle. And I get that: the fact is, though I want my daughter to do and be whatever she wants as an adult, I still hope she’ll find her Prince Charming and have babies, just as I have. I don’t want her to be a fish without a bicycle; I want her to be a fish with another fish. Preferably, one who loves and respects her and also does the dishes and half the child care.

There had to be a middle ground between compliant and defiant, between petticoats and paper bags. I remembered a video on YouTube, an ad for a Nintendo game called Super Princess Peach. It showed a pack of girls in tiaras, gowns and elbow-length white gloves sliding down a zip line on parasols, navigating an obstacle course of tires in their stilettos, slithering on their bellies under barbed wire, then using their telekinetic powers to make a climbing wall burst into flames. “If you can stand up to really mean people,” an announcer intoned, “maybe you have what it takes to be a princess.”

Now here were some girls who had grit as well as grace. I loved Princess Peach even as I recognized that there was no way she could run in those heels, that her peachiness did nothing to upset the apple cart of expectation: she may have been athletic, smart and strong, but she was also adorable. Maybe she’s what those once-unisex, postfeminist parents are shooting for: the melding of old and new standards. And perhaps that’s a good thing, the ideal solution. But what to make, then, of the young women in the Girls Inc. survey? It doesn’t seem to be “having it all” that’s getting to them; it’s the pressure to be it all. In telling our girls they can be anything, we have inadvertently demanded that they be everything. To everyone. All the time. No wonder the report was titled “The Supergirl Dilemma.”

The princess as superhero is not irrelevant. Some scholars I spoke with say that given its post-9/11 timing, princess mania is a response to a newly dangerous world. “Historically, princess worship has emerged during periods of uncertainty and profound social change,” observes Miriam Forman-Brunell, a historian at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Francis Hodgson Burnett’s original“Little Princess” was published at a time of rapid urbanization, immigration and poverty; Shirley Temple’s film version was a hit during the Great Depression. “The original folk tales themselves,” Forman-Brunell says, “spring from medieval and early modern European culture that faced all kinds of economic and demographic and social upheaval — famine, war, disease, terror of wolves. Girls play savior during times of economic crisis and instability.” That’s a heavy burden for little shoulders. Perhaps that’s why the magic wand has become an essential part of the princess get-up. In the original stories — even the Disney versions of them — it’s not the girl herself who’s magic; it’s the fairy godmother. Now if Forman-Brunell is right, we adults have become the cursed creatures whom girls have the thaumaturgic power to transform.

In the 1990s, third-wave feminists rebelled against their dour big sisters, “reclaiming” sexual objectification as a woman’s right — provided, of course, that it was on her own terms, that she was the one choosing to strip or wear a shirt that said “Porn Star” or make out with her best friend at a frat-house bash. They embraced words like “bitch” and “slut” as terms of affection and empowerment. That is, when used by the right people, with the right dash of playful irony. But how can you assure that? As Madonna gave way to Britney, whatever self-determination that message contained was watered down and commodified until all that was left was a gaggle of 6-year-old girls in belly-baring T-shirts (which I’m guessing they don’t wear as cultural critique). It is no wonder that parents, faced with thongs for 8-year-olds and Bratz dolls’ “passion for fashion,” fill their daughters’ closets with pink sateen; the innocence of Princess feels like a reprieve.

“But what does that mean?” asks Sharon Lamb, a psychology professor at Saint Michael’s College. “There are other ways to express ‘innocence’ — girls could play ladybug or caterpillar. What you’re really talking about is sexual purity. And there’s a trap at the end of that rainbow, because the natural progression from pale, innocent pink is not to other colors. It’s to hot, sexy pink — exactly the kind of sexualization parents are trying to avoid.”

Lamb suggested that to see for myself how “Someday My Prince Will Come” morphs into “Oops! I Did It Again,” I visit Club Libby Lu, the mall shop dedicated to the “Very Important Princess.”

Walking into one of the newest links in the store’s chain, in Natick, Mass., last summer, I had to tip my tiara to the founder, Mary Drolet: Libby Lu’s design was flawless. Unlike Disney, Drolet depended on focus groups to choose the logo (a crown-topped heart) and the colors (pink, pink, purple and more pink). The displays were scaled to the size of a 10-year-old, though most of the shoppers I saw were several years younger than that. The decals on the walls and dressing rooms — “I Love Your Hair,” “Hip Chick,” “Spoiled” — were written in “girlfriend language.” The young sales clerks at this “special secret club for superfabulous girls” are called “club counselors” and come off like your coolest baby sitter, the one who used to let you brush her hair. The malls themselves are chosen based on a company formula called the G.P.I., or “Girl Power Index,” which predicts potential sales revenues. Talk about newspeak: “Girl Power” has gone from a riot grrrrl anthem to “I Am Woman, Watch Me Shop.”

Inside, the store was divided into several glittery “shopping zones” called “experiences”: Libby’s Laboratory, now called Sparkle Spa, where girls concoct their own cosmetics and bath products; Libby’s Room; Ear Piercing; Pooch Parlor (where divas in training can pamper stuffed poodles, pugs and Chihuahuas); and the Style Studio, offering “Libby Du” makeover choices, including ’Tween Idol, Rock Star, Pop Star and, of course, Priceless Princess. Each look includes hairstyle, makeup, nail polish and sparkly tattoos.

As I browsed, I noticed a mother standing in the center of the store holding a price list for makeover birthday parties — $22.50 to $35 per child. Her name was Anne McAuliffe; her daughters — Stephanie, 4, and 7-year-old twins Rory and Sarah — were dashing giddily up and down the aisles.

“They’ve been begging to come to this store for three weeks,” McAuliffe said. “I’d never heard of it. So I said they could, but they’d have to spend their own money if they bought anything.” She looked around. “Some of this stuff is innocuous,” she observed, then leaned toward me, eyes wide and stage-whispered: “But ... a lot of it is horrible. It makes them look like little prostitutes. It’s crazy. They’re babies!”

As we debated the line between frivolous fun and JonBenét, McAuliffe’s daughter Rory came dashing up, pigtails haphazard, glasses askew. “They have the best pocketbooks here,” she said breathlessly, brandishing a clutch with the words “Girlie Girl” stamped on it. “Please, can I have one? It has sequins!”

“You see that?” McAuliffe asked, gesturing at the bag. “What am I supposed to say?”

On my way out of the mall, I popped into the “ ’tween” mecca Hot Topic, where a display of Tinker Bell items caught my eye. Tinker Bell, whose image racks up an annual $400 million in retail sales with no particular effort on Disney’s part, is poised to wreak vengeance on the Princess line that once expelled her. Last winter, the first chapter book designed to introduce girls to Tink and her Pixie Hollow pals spent 18 weeks on The New York Times children’s best-seller list. In a direct-to-DVD now under production, she will speak for the first time, voiced by the actress Brittany Murphy. Next year, Disney Fairies will be rolled out in earnest. Aimed at 6- to 9-year-old girls, the line will catch them just as they outgrow Princess. Their colors will be lavender, green, turquoise — anything but the Princess’s soon-to-be-babyish pink.

To appeal to that older child, Disney executives said, the Fairies will have more “attitude” and “sass” than the Princesses. What, I wondered, did that entail? I’d seen some of the Tinker Bell merchandise that Disney sells at its theme parks: T-shirts reading, “Spoiled to Perfection,” “Mood Subject to Change Without Notice” and “Tinker Bell: Prettier Than a Princess.” At Hot Topic, that edge was even sharper: magnets, clocks, light-switch plates and panties featured “Dark Tink,” described as “the bad girl side of Miss Bell that Walt never saw.”

Girl power, indeed.

A few days later, I picked my daughter up from preschool. She came tearing over in a full-skirted frock with a gold bodice, a beaded crown perched sideways on her head. “Look, Mommy, I’m Ariel!” she crowed. referring to Disney’s Little Mermaid. Then she stopped and furrowed her brow. “Mommy, do you like Ariel?”

I considered her for a moment. Maybe Princess is the first salvo in what will become a lifelong struggle over her body image, a Hundred Years’ War of dieting, plucking, painting and perpetual dissatisfaction with the results. Or maybe it isn’t. I’ll never really know. In the end, it’s not the Princesses that really bother me anyway. They’re just a trigger for the bigger question of how, over the years, I can help my daughter with the contradictions she will inevitably face as a girl, the dissonance that is as endemic as ever to growing up female. Maybe the best I can hope for is that her generation will get a little further with the solutions than we did.

For now, I kneeled down on the floor and gave my daughter a hug.

She smiled happily. “But, Mommy?” she added. “When I grow up, I’m still going to be a fireman.”

Peggy Orenstein is a contributing writer for the magazine. Her book “Waiting for Daisy: A Tale of Two Continents, Three Religions, Five Infertility Doctors, An Oscar, An Atomic Bomb, A Romantic Night and One Woman’s Quest to Become a Mother” will be published in February by Bloomsbury.

Yes, You Are the Person of the Year!


TIME’S choice for 2006 Person of the Year — “You” — was a bountiful gift of mirth to America, second only to the championship Donald Trump-Rosie O’Donnell bout as a comic kickoff to the holiday season. The magazine’s cover stunt, a computer screen of Mylar reflecting the reader’s own image, was so hokey that Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert merely had to display it on camera to score laughs. The magazine’s disingenuous rationale for bestowing its yearly honor on its readers was like a big wet kiss from a distant relative who creeps you out.

According to Time, “You” deserve to be Person of the Year because you — “yes, you,” as the cover puts it — “control the Information Age” and spend a lot of time watching YouTube and blogging instead of, well, reading dead-tree media like Time. The pronouncements ginned up to inflate this theme include the observation that “Thomas Paine was in effect the first blogger” (which presumably makes the Old Testament in effect the first Facebook). The desperation of Time to appear relevant and hip — “fantastically cutting-edge and New Media,” as Nora Ephron put it in a hilarious essay for The Huffington Post — was embarrassing in its nakedness.

And sad. This editorial pratfall struck me, once a proud Time staff member, as a sign that my journalistic alma mater might go the way of the old Life. Like Time today, Life in the late 1960s was a middle-of-the-road publishing fixture sent into an identity crisis by the cultural revolution that coincided with a calamitous war. The fabled weekly finally shut down in 1972, the year Rolling Stone celebrated its fifth anniversary.

Let’s hope publishing history doesn’t repeat itself. So in Time’s defense, let me say that the more I reflected on its 2006 Person of the Year — or perhaps the more that Mylar cover reflected back at me — the more I realized that the magazine wasn’t as out of touch as it first seemed. Time made the right choice, albeit for the wrong reasons.

As our country sinks deeper into a quagmire — and even a conclusive Election Day repudiation of the war proves powerless to stop it — we the people, and that includes, yes, you, will seek out any escape hatch we can find. In the Iraq era, the dropout nostrums of choice are not the drugs and drug culture of Vietnam but the equally masturbatory and narcissistic (if less psychedelic) pastimes of the Internet. Why not spend hour upon hour passionately venting in the blogosphere, as Time suggests, about our “state of mind or the state of the nation or the steak-frites at the new bistro down the street”? Or an afternoon surfing from video to video on YouTube, where short-attention-span fluff is infinite? It’s more fun than the nightly news, which, as Laura Bush reminded us this month, has been criminally lax in unearthing all those “good things that are happening” in Baghdad.

As of Friday morning, “Britney Spears Nude on Beach” had been viewed 1,041,776 times by YouTube’s visitors. The count for YouTube video clips tagged with “Iraq” was 22,783. Not that there is anything wrong with that. But compulsive blogging and free soft-core porn are not, as Time would have it, indications of how much you, I and that glassy-eyed teenage boy hiding in his bedroom are in control of the Information Age. They are indicators instead of how eager we are to flee from brutal real-world information that makes us depressed and angry. This was the year Americans escaped as often as they could into their private pleasure pods. So the Person of 2006 was indeed you — yes, you.

Unless it was Borat. The often uproarious farce that took its name from that hopelessly dense and bigoted fictional TV correspondent from Kazakhstan was the year’s most revealing hit movie. It was escapism incarnate, and we couldn’t eat it up fast enough. “Borat” also encapsulated the rising xenophobia that feeds American fantasies of the ultimate national escape: fencing off our borders from the world. If its loutish title character hadn’t been invented by Sacha Baron Cohen for us to ridicule and feel morally superior to, then Lou Dobbs would have done it for him.

The second most revealing movie hit of this escapist year was “Casino Royale.” Though technically an updating of the old Bond franchise — it is, nominally at least, set in the present — its screenplay actually hewed closely to the original Ian Fleming novel of 1953. The film merely changed the villain from a lethal Soviet operative to a terrorist financier, thereby recasting the confusing, hydra-headed threat of Al Qaeda and its ilk as a manageable, easily identifiable enemy that 007 could vanquish as decisively as the ham-fisted Iron Curtain Commies. Better still, Daniel Craig’s James Bond smites the terrorists in two hours plus change, not the 24 hours it takes Kiefer Sutherland’s Jack Bauer. There could be no happier fairy tale for a country looking in the eye of defeat.

“Christ, I miss the cold war,” M, Bond’s boss at British intelligence, says early on in “Casino Royale.” M — the reassuring Judi Dench — speaks for the entire audience. Nostalgia for the cold war, which America won unambiguously, was visible everywhere this year as we lost a war that has divided the country. In Florida, there was a joyous countdown to Fidel Castro’s imminent demise. At NASA, there was a new plan to return to the moon. Throughout the news media, there was a Hannibal Lecterish pleasure in the excruciating physical decline of Alexander Litvinenko, the former KGB spy murdered by poison. As the CNN anchor John Roberts put it rather gleefully, “For many of us, headlines out of London seemed like a James Bond movie or a distant echo of the cold war.” Heaven knows those headlines were easier to take than those coming out of the hot war — or, for that matter, out of London itself when terrorists struck there 18 months ago. It’s no surprise that “Casino Royale” sold way more tickets than “World Trade Center” and “United 93” combined.

The most revealing index of our lust for escapism this year cannot be found at YouTube or the multiplex, however, but in the sideshow villains who distracted us from main news events in the Middle East: James Frey, Mel Gibson, Michael Richards and Judith Regan. It was a thrill beyond schadenfreude to watch them be soundly thrashed and humiliated for their sins.

FAR be it for me to defend any of them; Mr. Gibson once threatened to have my “intestines on a stick” after I raised the notion that the author of “The Passion of the Christ” might be an anti-Semite. But our over-the-top pleasure in their comeuppance still seems like escapist fare. It may be satisfying to see “Apocalypto” fade fast after its opening weekend or watch Ms. Regan lose her job after enriching O. J. Simpson for a sleazy book project. Yet something is out of whack when these relatively minor miscreants are publicly stoned and the architects of a needless catastrophe that has cost thousands of American and Iraqi lives escape scot-free. On the same day that Ms. Regan was canned, the fired Donald Rumsfeld was given a 19-gun salute and showered with presidential praise in a farewell ceremony at the Pentagon.

For that matter, Ms. Regan’s worst offenses can’t compare even with those of her former lover, Bernard Kerik, the Giuliani-era New York City police commissioner who was appointed by President Bush in 2003 to train Iraqi’s police. Mr. Kerik promised to stay “as long as it takes to get the job done,” then fled months later without explanation and without the job even started. Today the Iraqi police he failed to train are not only useless but are also routinely engaged in sectarian violence, including torture, helping to ensure that Iraq is more dangerous for everyone than ever, American troops included.

Mr. Kerik has never been held accountable for that failure, only for less lethal and unrelated graft in New York. Paul Bremer, whose early decisions as our Iraqi viceroy all but guaranteed our defeat, received the highest civilian award from the president. So did both George Tenet, who presided over the “slam dunk” intelligence that sped us to war, and Gen. Tommy Franks, who let Osama bin Laden get away. Even now, no generals have been fired for their failures in Iraq; the only one to lose his job was the former Army chief of staff, Eric Shinseki, who antagonized Mr. Rumsfeld before the war by correctly warning that hundreds of thousands of American troops would be needed to secure Iraq. But never mind. That’s ancient history. We can avoid confronting these morally grotesque skeletons in our closet as long as we can distract ourselves with Michael Richards’s meltdown.

Besides, it’s time for the home front to party. Whatever else is to be said about Time’s Mylar cover, it’s news you can literally use: it is just a paper shredder away from being recycled as the most glittering of New Year’s Eve confetti.

Friday, December 22

Marines Charge 4 of Their Own With Murder of 18 Iraq Civilians

NY Times

Four marines were charged yesterday with murder in the killings of two dozen Iraqi civilians, including at least 10 women and children, in the village of Haditha last year, military officials said at Camp Pendleton, Calif.

Military prosecutors also charged four officers, including a lieutenant colonel in charge of the First Marine Regiment’s Third Battalion, with dereliction of duty and failure to ensure that accurate information about the killings was delivered up the Marine Corps’ chain of command. A military investigation has found evidence that Marine officers may have obscured certain facts in the case.

The Marines could punish other ranking officers administratively in weeks to come. But the criminal charges filed yesterday against Lt. Col. Jeffrey R. Chessani, 42, and three other officers reflect an unusually aggressive judicial reaction by military prosecutors to a massacre that has damaged the military’s credibility with Iraqi officials and civilians, military justice experts said.

“This is very aggressive charging — wow,” said Gary Solis, who teaches the law of war at Georgetown University Law Center and at West Point. “I think this illustrates the deep seriousness the Marine Corps takes with these events.”

He added, “I definitely think the Marine Corps is sending a message to commanders, to those in authority of combat troops, that they better pay close attention to the activities of their subordinates to ensure that there was no wrongdoing.”

Though this was not the first instance of American forces being charged with killing Iraqi civilians, the charges announced yesterday, including 13 counts of murder against one sergeant alone, Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich, 26, suggest that military prosecutors view the Haditha killings as being among the most serious breaches of military rules in the nearly four-year war. The charges are a result of two military investigations into the actions of members of Company K, Third Battalion, First Marine Regiment after a roadside bomb killed one of their comrades shortly after 7 a.m. on Nov. 19, 2005, in Haditha, a village in a region northwest of Baghdad that is rife with Sunni Arab insurgents.

A total of 24 Iraqis, nearly all of them unarmed, were killed by several marines in a series of attacks on a car and three nearby homes over the next several hours, military officials said.

The four enlisted men charged with unpremeditated murder, all members of a squad of Company K, Third Battalion, First Marine Regiment, are: Sergeant Wuterich of Meriden, Conn.; Sgt. Sanick De La Cruz, 24, of Chicago; Lance Cpl. Justin L. Sharratt, 22, of Carbondale, Pa.; and Lance Cpl. Stephen B. Tatum, 25, of Edmund, Okla.

Sergeant Wuterich and Sergeant De La Cruz confronted five military-age men — a taxi driver and four college students — after marines frantically ordered the vehicle to stop, about 100 yards from the stalled Marine convoy of four Humvees. The two marines were each charged with murder in connection with the deaths of all five men after ordering them out of the taxi, Marine officials said.

Several marines then attacked a home nearby, killing several family members inside, military officials and defense lawyers said. Sergeant Wuterich is charged with killing six people in the house. Lance Corporal Tatum is charged with negligent homicide in the deaths of four people, including an elderly man in a wheelchair in that house.

Thinking they were under fire and believing they were pursuing attackers from the first home, squad members proceeded to a second home, defense lawyers said. Sergeant Wuterich is charged with killing six people in that house: two adults and four children, including three who were 4, 6 and 11 years old.

Lance Corporal Tatum is charged with killing two children in the second house: a 15-year-old boy and a girl who was about 6 years old.

At least two hours later, squad members attacked people in a third home nearby, where one AK-47 was found later, military officials and defense lawyers have said. Sergeant Wuterich is charged with killing the first person in that house. Lance Corporal Sharratt is charged with killing three brothers who rushed to the home to inquire what was happening, military officials have said. They were shot with an M9 service pistol.

In all, Sergeant Wuterich was charged with 13 counts of murder in connection with the deaths of 18 people, who were killed with an M4 service rifle; falsely telling an investigator that the men from the taxi had fired at the convoy; and urging Sergeant De La Cruz to report that those men had been killed by Iraqi Army soldiers at the scene.

Lance Corporal Sharratt was charged with three counts of murder, and Lance Corporal Tatum was charged with murder in the death of two Iraqis, negligent homicide in the deaths of four others, and assault.

The lawyers for all four enlisted men declared their clients’ innocence, arguing in separate statements after the charges that the killings were an unfortunate result of marines properly responding to an insurgent attack in a dangerous area. Sergeant Wuterich and his men “did everything they were supposed to do that day to protect themselves,” said his lawyer, Neal A. Puckett.

In addition to Colonel Chessani, prosecutors charged two captains and a first lieutenant with either covering up or failing to discover and pass along certain facts about the killings. “The reporting of the incident up the chain of command was inaccurate and untimely,” Col. Stewart Navarre said at a news conference at Camp Pendleton.

Capt. Lucas M. McConnell, 31, the Company K commander, was charged with dereliction of duty for willfully failing to ensure a thorough investigation; Capt. Randy W. Stone, 34, a military lawyer for the Third Battalion, was charged with dereliction of duty for failing to investigate suspected violations.

A Marine intelligence officer who was part of a team that photographed the aftermath of the killings, Andrew A. Grayson, 25, was charged with dereliction of duty, failure to ensure a thorough investigation, making a false official statement and obstruction of justice.

The murder charges against the four enlisted marines are punishable by a maximum of life in prison and dishonorable discharge, the Marines said. The charges filed against the four officers carry significantly less potential prison time — two years for Colonel Chessani and Captain Stone; six months for Captain McConnell; and more than 10 years for Lieutenant Grayson — as well as the prospect of dismissal and forfeiture of pay.

Kevin B. McDermott, a civilian lawyer for Captain McConnell, said his client had reported what he knew of the Haditha episode to superiors and was not guilty of any crime. Colonel Chessani, Captain Stone and Lieutenant Grayson could not be reached for comment yesterday afternoon.

None of the eight marines charged entered a plea yesterday. Formal reviews, known as Article 32 hearings, to determine whether the charges warrant court-martial, could begin next month, said Mr. Solis, the teacher of the law of war.

Prosecutors may use the hearings to lay out some of the evidence collected by two military investigations — one into the killings themselves, and a second into the Marines’ investigation of them — and other physical evidence. That evidence is likely to include detailed photographs of the dead taken by Lieutenant Grayson’s intelligence unit after the killings; a videotape made by an Iraqi man shortly after the killings that shows blood-spattered walls inside several homes and statements from children who survived the assault; and a surveillance video from a military drone that flew over the scene after the attack.

Archie Tse contributed reporting.

Thursday, December 21

Republican Congressman Criticizes Election of Muslim


WASHINGTON, Dec. 20 — In a letter sent to hundreds of voters this month, Representative Virgil H. Goode Jr., Republican of Virginia, warned that the recent election of the first Muslim to Congress posed a serious threat to the nation’s traditional values.

Mr. Goode was referring to Keith Ellison, the Minnesota Democrat and criminal defense lawyer who converted to Islam as a college student and was elected to the House in November. Mr. Ellison’s plan to use the Koran during his private swearing-in ceremony in January had outraged some Virginia voters, prompting Mr. Goode to issue a written response to them, a spokesman for Mr. Goode said.

In his letter, which was dated Dec. 5, Mr. Goode said that Americans needed to “wake up” or else there would “likely be many more Muslims elected to office and demanding the use of the Koran.”

“I fear that in the next century we will have many more Muslims in the United States if we do not adopt the strict immigration policies that I believe are necessary to preserve the values and beliefs traditional to the United States of America and to prevent our resources from being swamped,” said Mr. Goode, who vowed to use the Bible when taking his own oath of office.

Mr. Goode declined Wednesday to comment on his letter, which quickly stirred a furor among some Congressional Democrats and Muslim Americans, who accused him of bigotry and intolerance.

They noted that the Constitution specifically bars any religious screening of members of Congress and that the actual swearing in of those lawmakers occurs without any religious texts. The use of the Bible or Koran occurs only in private ceremonial events that take place after lawmakers have officially sworn to uphold the Constitution.

Mr. Ellison dismissed Mr. Goode’s comments, saying they seemed ill informed about his personal origins as well as about Constitutional protections of religious freedom. “I’m not an immigrant,” added Mr. Ellison, who traces his American ancestors back to 1742. “I’m an African-American.”

Since the November election, Mr. Ellison said, he has received hostile phone calls and e-mail messages along with some death threats. But in an interview on Wednesday, he emphasized that members of Congress and ordinary citizens had been overwhelmingly supportive and said he was focusing on setting up his Congressional office, getting phone lines hooked up and staff members hired, not on negative comments.

“I’m not a religious scholar, I’m a politician, and I do what politicians do, which is hopefully pass legislation to help the nation,” said Mr. Ellison, who said he planned to focus on secular issues like increasing the federal minimum wage and getting health insurance for the uninsured.

“I’m looking forward to making friends with Representative Goode, or at least getting to know him,” Mr. Ellison said, speaking by telephone from Minneapolis. “I want to let him know that there’s nothing to fear. The fact that there are many different faiths, many different colors and many different cultures in America is a great strength.”

In Washington, Brendan Daly, a spokesman for the incoming House speaker, Nancy Pelosi of California, called Mr. Goode’s letter “offensive.” Corey Saylor, legislative director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, criticized what he described as Mr. Goode’s “message of intolerance.”

Representative Bill Pascrell Jr., Democrat of New Jersey, urged Mr. Goode to reach out to Muslims in Virginia and learn “to dispel misconceptions instead of promoting them.”

“Keith Ellison serves as a great example of Muslim Americans in our nation, and he does not have to answer to you, to me or anyone else in regards to questions about his faith,” said Mr. Pascrell, whose district includes many Arab-Americans.

The fracas over Mr. Ellison’s decision to use the Koran during his personal swearing-in ceremony began last month when Dennis Prager, a conservative columnist and radio host, condemned the decision as one that would undermine American civilization.

“Ellison’s doing so will embolden Islamic extremists and make new ones, as Islamists, rightly or wrongly, see the first sign of the realization of their greatest goal — the Islamicization of America,” said Mr. Prager, who said the Bible was the only relevant religious text in the United States.

“If you are incapable of taking an oath on that book, don’t serve in Congress,” Mr. Prager said.

In his letter, Mr. Goode echoed that view, saying that he did not “subscribe to using the Koran in any way.” He also called for ending illegal immigration and reducing legal immigration.

Linwood Duncan, a spokesman for Mr. Goode, said the Virginia lawmaker had no intention of backing down, despite the furor.

“He stands by the letter,” Mr. Duncan said. “He has no intention of apologizing.”

Monday, December 18

What Should a Billionaire Give – and What Should You?


What is a human life worth? You may not want to put a price tag on a it. But if we really had to, most of us would agree that the value of a human life would be in the millions. Consistent with the foundations of our democracy and our frequently professed belief in the inherent dignity of human beings, we would also agree that all humans are created equal, at least to the extent of denying that differences of sex, ethnicity, nationality and place of residence change the value of a human life.

With Christmas approaching, and Americans writing checks to their favorite charities, it’s a good time to ask how these two beliefs — that a human life, if it can be priced at all, is worth millions, and that the factors I have mentioned do not alter the value of a human life — square with our actions. Perhaps this year such questions lurk beneath the surface of more family discussions than usual, for it has been an extraordinary year for philanthropy, especially philanthropy to fight global poverty.

For Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft, the ideal of valuing all human life equally began to jar against reality some years ago, when he read an article about diseases in the developing world and came across the statistic that half a million children die every year from rotavirus, the most common cause of severe diarrhea in children. He had never heard of rotavirus. “How could I never have heard of something that kills half a million children every year?” he asked himself. He then learned that in developing countries, millions of children die from diseases that have been eliminated, or virtually eliminated, in the United States. That shocked him because he assumed that, if there are vaccines and treatments that could save lives, governments would be doing everything possible to get them to the people who need them. As Gates told a meeting of the World Health Assembly in Geneva last year, he and his wife, Melinda, “couldn’t escape the brutal conclusion that — in our world today — some lives are seen as worth saving and others are not.” They said to themselves, “This can’t be true.” But they knew it was.

Gates’s speech to the World Health Assembly concluded on an optimistic note, looking forward to the next decade when “people will finally accept that the death of a child in the developing world is just as tragic as the death of a child in the developed world.” That belief in the equal value of all human life is also prominent on the Web site of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, where under Our Values we read: “All lives — no matter where they are being led — have equal value.”

We are very far from acting in accordance with that belief. In the same world in which more than a billion people live at a level of affluence never previously known, roughly a billion other people struggle to survive on the purchasing power equivalent of less than one U.S. dollar per day. Most of the world’s poorest people are undernourished, lack access to safe drinking water or even the most basic health services and cannot send their children to school. According to Unicef, more than 10 million children die every year — about 30,000 per day — from avoidable, poverty-related causes.

Last June the investor Warren Buffett took a significant step toward reducing those deaths when he pledged $31 billion to the Gates Foundation, and another $6 billion to other charitable foundations. Buffett’s pledge, set alongside the nearly $30 billion given by Bill and Melinda Gates to their foundation, has made it clear that the first decade of the 21st century is a new “golden age of philanthropy.” On an inflation-adjusted basis, Buffett has pledged to give more than double the lifetime total given away by two of the philanthropic giants of the past, Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller, put together. Bill and Melinda Gates’s gifts are not far behind.

Gates’s and Buffett’s donations will now be put to work primarily to reduce poverty, disease and premature death in the developing world. According to the Global Forum for Health Research, less than 10 percent of the world’s health research budget is spent on combating conditions that account for 90 percent of the global burden of disease. In the past, diseases that affect only the poor have been of no commercial interest to pharmaceutical manufacturers, because the poor cannot afford to buy their products. The Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI), heavily supported by the Gates Foundation, seeks to change this by guaranteeing to purchase millions of doses of vaccines, when they are developed, that can prevent diseases like malaria. GAVI has also assisted developing countries to immunize more people with existing vaccines: 99 million additional children have been reached to date. By doing this, GAVI claims to have already averted nearly 1.7 million future deaths.

Philanthropy on this scale raises many ethical questions: Why are the people who are giving doing so? Does it do any good? Should we praise them for giving so much or criticize them for not giving still more? Is it troubling that such momentous decisions are made by a few extremely wealthy individuals? And how do our judgments about them reflect on our own way of living?

Let’s start with the question of motives. The rich must — or so some of us with less money like to assume — suffer sleepless nights because of their ruthlessness in squeezing out competitors, firing workers, shutting down plants or whatever else they have to do to acquire their wealth. When wealthy people give away money, we can always say that they are doing it to ease their consciences or generate favorable publicity. It has been suggested — by, for example, David Kirkpatrick, a senior editor at Fortune magazine — that Bill Gates’s turn to philanthropy was linked to the antitrust problems Microsoft had in the U.S. and the European Union. Was Gates, consciously or subconsciously, trying to improve his own image and that of his company?

This kind of sniping tells us more about the attackers than the attacked. Giving away large sums, rather than spending the money on corporate advertising or developing new products, is not a sensible strategy for increasing personal wealth. When we read that someone has given away a lot of their money, or time, to help others, it challenges us to think about our own behavior. Should we be following their example, in our own modest way? But if the rich just give their money away to improve their image, or to make up for past misdeeds — misdeeds quite unlike any we have committed, of course — then, conveniently, what they are doing has no relevance to what we ought to do.

A famous story is told about Thomas Hobbes, the 17th-century English philosopher, who argued that we all act in our own interests. On seeing him give alms to a beggar, a cleric asked Hobbes if he would have done this if Christ had not commanded us to do so. Yes, Hobbes replied, he was in pain to see the miserable condition of the old man, and his gift, by providing the man with some relief from that misery, also eased Hobbes’s pain. That reply reconciles Hobbes’s charity with his egoistic theory of human motivation, but at the cost of emptying egoism of much of its bite. If egoists suffer when they see a stranger in distress, they are capable of being as charitable as any altruist.

Followers of the 18th-century German philosopher Immanuel Kant would disagree. They think an act has moral worth only if it is done out of a sense of duty. Doing something merely because you enjoy doing it, or enjoy seeing its consequences, they say, has no moral worth, because if you happened not to enjoy doing it, then you wouldn’t do it, and you are not responsible for your likes and dislikes, whereas you are responsible for your obedience to the demands of duty.

Perhaps some philanthropists are motivated by their sense of duty. Apart from the equal value of all human life, the other “simple value” that lies at the core of the work of the Gates Foundation, according to its Web site, is “To whom much has been given, much is expected.” That suggests the view that those who have great wealth have a duty to use it for a larger purpose than their own interests. But while such questions of motive may be relevant to our assessment of Gates’s or Buffett’s character, they pale into insignificance when we consider the effect of what Gates and Buffett are doing. The parents whose children could die from rotavirus care more about getting the help that will save their children’s lives than about the motivations of those who make that possible.

Interestingly, neither Gates nor Buffett seems motivated by the possibility of being rewarded in heaven for his good deeds on earth. Gates told a Time interviewer, “There’s a lot more I could be doing on a Sunday morning” than going to church. Put them together with Andrew Carnegie, famous for his freethinking, and three of the four greatest American philanthropists have been atheists or agnostics. (The exception is John D. Rockefeller.) In a country in which 96 percent of the population say they believe in a supreme being, that’s a striking fact. It means that in one sense, Gates and Buffett are probably less self-interested in their charity than someone like Mother Teresa, who as a pious Roman Catholic believed in reward and punishment in the afterlife.

More important than questions about motives are questions about whether there is an obligation for the rich to give, and if so, how much they should give. A few years ago, an African-American cabdriver taking me to the Inter-American Development Bank in Washington asked me if I worked at the bank. I told him I did not but was speaking at a conference on development and aid. He then assumed that I was an economist, but when I said no, my training was in philosophy, he asked me if I thought the U.S. should give foreign aid. When I answered affirmatively, he replied that the government shouldn’t tax people in order to give their money to others. That, he thought, was robbery. When I asked if he believed that the rich should voluntarily donate some of what they earn to the poor, he said that if someone had worked for his money, he wasn’t going to tell him what to do with it.

At that point we reached our destination. Had the journey continued, I might have tried to persuade him that people can earn large amounts only when they live under favorable social circumstances, and that they don’t create those circumstances by themselves. I could have quoted Warren Buffett’s acknowledgment that society is responsible for much of his wealth. “If you stick me down in the middle of Bangladesh or Peru,” he said, “you’ll find out how much this talent is going to produce in the wrong kind of soil.” The Nobel Prize-winning economist and social scientist Herbert Simon estimated that “social capital” is responsible for at least 90 percent of what people earn in wealthy societies like those of the United States or northwestern Europe. By social capital Simon meant not only natural resources but, more important, the technology and organizational skills in the community, and the presence of good government. These are the foundation on which the rich can begin their work. “On moral grounds,” Simon added, “we could argue for a flat income tax of 90 percent.” Simon was not, of course, advocating so steep a rate of tax, for he was well aware of disincentive effects. But his estimate does undermine the argument that the rich are entitled to keep their wealth because it is all a result of their hard work. If Simon is right, that is true of at most 10 percent of it.

In any case, even if we were to grant that people deserve every dollar they earn, that doesn’t answer the question of what they should do with it. We might say that they have a right to spend it on lavish parties, private jets and luxury yachts, or, for that matter, to flush it down the toilet. But we could still think that for them to do these things while others die from easily preventable diseases is wrong. In an article I wrote more than three decades ago, at the time of a humanitarian emergency in what is now Bangladesh, I used the example of walking by a shallow pond and seeing a small child who has fallen in and appears to be in danger of drowning. Even though we did nothing to cause the child to fall into the pond, almost everyone agrees that if we can save the child at minimal inconvenience or trouble to ourselves, we ought to do so. Anything else would be callous, indecent and, in a word, wrong. The fact that in rescuing the child we may, for example, ruin a new pair of shoes is not a good reason for allowing the child to drown. Similarly if for the cost of a pair of shoes we can contribute to a health program in a developing country that stands a good chance of saving the life of a child, we ought to do so.

Perhaps, though, our obligation to help the poor is even stronger than this example implies, for we are less innocent than the passer-by who did nothing to cause the child to fall into the pond. Thomas Pogge, a philosopher at Columbia University, has argued that at least some of our affluence comes at the expense of the poor. He bases this claim not simply on the usual critique of the barriers that Europe and the United States maintain against agricultural imports from developing countries but also on less familiar aspects of our trade with developing countries. For example, he points out that international corporations are willing to make deals to buy natural resources from any government, no matter how it has come to power. This provides a huge financial incentive for groups to try to overthrow the existing government. Successful rebels are rewarded by being able to sell off the nation’s oil, minerals or timber.

In their dealings with corrupt dictators in developing countries, Pogge asserts, international corporations are morally no better than someone who knowingly buys stolen goods — with the difference that the international legal and political order recognizes the corporations, not as criminals in possession of stolen goods but as the legal owners of the goods they have bought. This situation is, of course, beneficial for the industrial nations, because it enables us to obtain the raw materials we need to maintain our prosperity, but it is a disaster for resource-rich developing countries, turning the wealth that should benefit them into a curse that leads to a cycle of coups, civil wars and corruption and is of little benefit to the people as a whole.

In this light, our obligation to the poor is not just one of providing assistance to strangers but one of compensation for harms that we have caused and are still causing them. It might be argued that we do not owe the poor compensation, because our affluence actually benefits them. Living luxuriously, it is said, provides employment, and so wealth trickles down, helping the poor more effectively than aid does. But the rich in industrialized nations buy virtually nothing that is made by the very poor. During the past 20 years of economic globalization, although expanding trade has helped lift many of the world’s poor out of poverty, it has failed to benefit the poorest 10 percent of the world’s population. Some of the extremely poor, most of whom live in sub-Saharan Africa, have nothing to sell that rich people want, while others lack the infrastructure to get their goods to market. If they can get their crops to a port, European and U.S. subsidies often mean that they cannot sell them, despite — as for example in the case of West African cotton growers who compete with vastly larger and richer U.S. cotton producers — having a lower production cost than the subsidized producers in the rich nations.

The remedy to these problems, it might reasonably be suggested, should come from the state, not from private philanthropy. When aid comes through the government, everyone who earns above the tax-free threshold contributes something, with more collected from those with greater ability to pay. Much as we may applaud what Gates and Buffett are doing, we can also be troubled by a system that leaves the fate of hundreds of millions of people hanging on the decisions of two or three private citizens. But the amount of foreign development aid given by the U.S. government is, at 22 cents for every $100 the nation earns, about the same, as a percentage of gross national income, as Portugal gives and about half that of the U.K. Worse still, much of it is directed where it best suits U.S. strategic interests — Iraq is now by far the largest recipient of U.S. development aid, and Egypt, Jordan, Pakistan and Afghanistan all rank in the Top 10. Less than a quarter of official U.S. development aid — barely a nickel in every $100 of our G.N.I. — goes to the world’s poorest nations.

Adding private philanthropy to U.S. government aid improves this picture, because Americans privately give more per capita to international philanthropic causes than the citizens of almost any other nation. Even when private donations are included, however, countries like Norway, Denmark, Sweden and the Netherlands give three or four times as much foreign aid, in proportion to the size of their economies, as the U.S. gives — with a much larger percentage going to the poorest nations. At least as things now stand, the case for philanthropic efforts to relieve global poverty is not susceptible to the argument that the government has taken care of the problem. And even if official U.S. aid were better-directed and comparable, relative to our gross domestic product, with that of the most generous nations, there would still be a role for private philanthropy. Unconstrained by diplomatic considerations or the desire to swing votes at the United Nations, private donors can more easily avoid dealing with corrupt or wasteful governments. They can go directly into the field, working with local villages and grass-roots organizations.

Nor are philanthropists beholden to lobbyists. As The New York Times reported recently, billions of dollars of U.S. aid is tied to domestic goods. Wheat for Africa must be grown in America, although aid experts say this often depresses local African markets, reducing the incentive for farmers there to produce more. In a decision that surely costs lives, hundreds of millions of condoms intended to stop the spread of AIDS in Africa and around the world must be manufactured in the U.S., although they cost twice as much as similar products made in Asia.

In other ways, too, private philanthropists are free to venture where governments fear to tread. Through a foundation named for his wife, Susan Thompson Buffett, Warren Buffett has supported reproductive rights, including family planning and pro-choice organizations. In another unusual initiative, he has pledged $50 million for the International Atomic Energy Agency’s plan to establish a “fuel bank” to supply nuclear-reactor fuel to countries that meet their nuclear-nonproliferation commitments. The idea, which has been talked about for many years, is widely agreed to be a useful step toward discouraging countries from building their own facilities for producing nuclear fuel, which could then be diverted to weapons production. It is, Buffett said, “an investment in a safer world.” Though it is something that governments could and should be doing, no government had taken the first step.

Aid has always had its critics. Carefully planned and intelligently directed private philanthropy may be the best answer to the claim that aid doesn’t work. Of course, as in any large-scale human enterprise, some aid can be ineffective. But provided that aid isn’t actually counterproductive, even relatively inefficient assistance is likely to do more to advance human wellbeing than luxury spending by the wealthy.

The rich, then, should give. But how much should they give? Gates may have given away nearly $30 billion, but that still leaves him sitting at the top of the Forbes list of the richest Americans, with $53 billion. His 66,000-square-foot high-tech lakeside estate near Seattle is reportedly worth more than $100 million. Property taxes are about $1 million. Among his possessions is the Leicester Codex, the only handwritten book by Leonardo da Vinci still in private hands, for which he paid $30.8 million in 1994. Has Bill Gates done enough? More pointedly, you might ask: if he really believes that all lives have equal value, what is he doing living in such an expensive house and owning a Leonardo Codex? Are there no more lives that could be saved by living more modestly and adding the money thus saved to the amount he has already given?

Yet we should recognize that, if judged by the proportion of his wealth that he has given away, Gates compares very well with most of the other people on the Forbes 400 list, including his former colleague and Microsoft co-founder, Paul Allen. Allen, who left the company in 1983, has given, over his lifetime, more than $800 million to philanthropic causes. That is far more than nearly any of us will ever be able to give. But Forbes lists Allen as the fifth-richest American, with a net worth of $16 billion. He owns the Seattle Seahawks, the Portland Trailblazers, a 413-foot oceangoing yacht that carries two helicopters and a 60-foot submarine. He has given only about 5 percent of his total wealth.

Is there a line of moral adequacy that falls between the 5 percent that Allen has given away and the roughly 35 percent that Gates has donated? Few people have set a personal example that would allow them to tell Gates that he has not given enough, but one who could is Zell Kravinsky. A few years ago, when he was in his mid-40s, Kravinsky gave almost all of his $45 million real estate fortune to health-related charities, retaining only his modest family home in Jenkintown, near Philadelphia, and enough to meet his family’s ordinary expenses. After learning that thousands of people with failing kidneys die each year while waiting for a transplant, he contacted a Philadelphia hospital and donated one of his kidneys to a complete stranger.

After reading about Kravinsky in The New Yorker, I invited him to speak to my classes at Princeton. He comes across as anguished by the failure of others to see the simple logic that lies behind his altruism. Kravinsky has a mathematical mind — a talent that obviously helped him in deciding what investments would prove profitable — and he says that the chances of dying as a result of donating a kidney are about 1 in 4,000. For him this implies that to withhold a kidney from someone who would otherwise die means valuing one’s own life at 4,000 times that of a stranger, a ratio Kravinsky considers “obscene.”

What marks Kravinsky from the rest of us is that he takes the equal value of all human life as a guide to life, not just as a nice piece of rhetoric. He acknowledges that some people think he is crazy, and even his wife says she believes that he goes too far. One of her arguments against the kidney donation was that one of their children may one day need a kidney, and Zell could be the only compatible donor. Kravinsky’s love for his children is, as far as I can tell, as strong as that of any normal parent. Such attachments are part of our nature, no doubt the product of our evolution as mammals who give birth to children, who for an unusually long time require our assistance in order to survive. But that does not, in Kravinsky’s view, justify our placing a value on the lives of our children that is thousands of times greater than the value we place on the lives of the children of strangers. Asked if he would allow his child to die if it would enable a thousand children to live, Kravinsky said yes. Indeed, he has said he would permit his child to die even if this enabled only two other children to live. Nevertheless, to appease his wife, he recently went back into real estate, made some money and bought the family a larger home. But he still remains committed to giving away as much as possible, subject only to keeping his domestic life reasonably tranquil.

Buffett says he believes in giving his children “enough so they feel they could do anything, but not so much that they could do nothing.” That means, in his judgment, “a few hundred thousand” each. In absolute terms, that is far more than most Americans are able to leave their children and, by Kravinsky’s standard, certainly too much. (Kravinsky says that the hard part is not giving away the first $45 million but the last $10,000, when you have to live so cheaply that you can’t function in the business world.) But even if Buffett left each of his three children a million dollars each, he would still have given away more than 99.99 percent of his wealth. When someone does that much — especially in a society in which the norm is to leave most of your wealth to your children — it is better to praise them than to cavil about the extra few hundred thousand dollars they might have given.

Philosophers like Liam Murphy of New York University and my colleague Kwame Anthony Appiah at Princeton contend that our obligations are limited to carrying our fair share of the burden of relieving global poverty. They would have us calculate how much would be required to ensure that the world’s poorest people have a chance at a decent life, and then divide this sum among the affluent. That would give us each an amount to donate, and having given that, we would have fulfilled our obligations to the poor.

What might that fair amount be? One way of calculating it would be to take as our target, at least for the next nine years, the Millennium Development Goals, set by the United Nations Millennium Summit in 2000. On that occasion, the largest gathering of world leaders in history jointly pledged to meet, by 2015, a list of goals that include:

Reducing by half the proportion of the world’s people in extreme poverty (defined as living on less than the purchasing-power equivalent of one U.S. dollar per day).

Reducing by half the proportion of people who suffer from hunger.

Ensuring that children everywhere are able to take a full course of primary schooling.

Ending sex disparity in education.

Reducing by two-thirds the mortality rate among children under 5.

Reducing by three-quarters the rate of maternal mortality.

Halting and beginning to reverse the spread of H.I.V./AIDS and halting and beginning to reduce the incidence of malaria and other major diseases.

Reducing by half the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water.

Last year a United Nations task force, led by the Columbia University economist Jeffrey Sachs, estimated the annual cost of meeting these goals to be $121 billion in 2006, rising to $189 billion by 2015. When we take account of existing official development aid promises, the additional amount needed each year to meet the goals is only $48 billion for 2006 and $74 billion for 2015.

Now let’s look at the incomes of America’s rich and superrich, and ask how much they could reasonably give. The task is made easier by statistics recently provided by Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez, economists at the École Normale Supérieure, Paris-Jourdan, and the University of California, Berkeley, respectively, based on U.S. tax data for 2004. Their figures are for pretax income, excluding income from capital gains, which for the very rich are nearly always substantial. For simplicity I have rounded the figures, generally downward. Note too that the numbers refer to “tax units,” that is, in many cases, families rather than individuals.

Piketty and Saez’s top bracket comprises 0.01 percent of U.S. taxpayers. There are 14,400 of them, earning an average of $12,775,000, with total earnings of $184 billion. The minimum annual income in this group is more than $5 million, so it seems reasonable to suppose that they could, without much hardship, give away a third of their annual income, an average of $4.3 million each, for a total of around $61 billion. That would still leave each of them with an annual income of at least $3.3 million.

Next comes the rest of the top 0.1 percent (excluding the category just described, as I shall do henceforth). There are 129,600 in this group, with an average income of just over $2 million and a minimum income of $1.1 million. If they were each to give a quarter of their income, that would yield about $65 billion, and leave each of them with at least $846,000 annually.

The top 0.5 percent consists of 575,900 taxpayers, with an average income of $623,000 and a minimum of $407,000. If they were to give one-fifth of their income, they would still have at least $325,000 each, and they would be giving a total of $72 billion.

Coming down to the level of those in the top 1 percent, we find 719,900 taxpayers with an average income of $327,000 and a minimum of $276,000. They could comfortably afford to give 15 percent of their income. That would yield $35 billion and leave them with at least $234,000.

Finally, the remainder of the nation’s top 10 percent earn at least $92,000 annually, with an average of $132,000. There are nearly 13 million in this group. If they gave the traditional tithe — 10 percent of their income, or an average of $13,200 each — this would yield about $171 billion and leave them a minimum of $83,000.

You could spend a long time debating whether the fractions of income I have suggested for donation constitute the fairest possible scheme. Perhaps the sliding scale should be steeper, so that the superrich give more and the merely comfortable give less. And it could be extended beyond the Top 10 percent of American families, so that everyone able to afford more than the basic necessities of life gives something, even if it is as little as 1 percent. Be that as it may, the remarkable thing about these calculations is that a scale of donations that is unlikely to impose significant hardship on anyone yields a total of $404 billion — from just 10 percent of American families.

Obviously, the rich in other nations should share the burden of relieving global poverty. The U.S. is responsible for 36 percent of the gross domestic product of all Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development nations. Arguably, because the U.S. is richer than all other major nations, and its wealth is more unevenly distributed than wealth in almost any other industrialized country, the rich in the U.S. should contribute more than 36 percent of total global donations. So somewhat more than 36 percent of all aid to relieve global poverty should come from the U.S. For simplicity, let’s take half as a fair share for the U.S. On that basis, extending the scheme I have suggested worldwide would provide $808 billion annually for development aid. That’s more than six times what the task force chaired by Sachs estimated would be required for 2006 in order to be on track to meet the Millennium Development Goals, and more than 16 times the shortfall between that sum and existing official development aid commitments.

If we are obliged to do no more than our fair share of eliminating global poverty, the burden will not be great. But is that really all we ought to do? Since we all agree that fairness is a good thing, and none of us like doing more because others don’t pull their weight, the fair-share view is attractive. In the end, however, I think we should reject it. Let’s return to the drowning child in the shallow pond. Imagine it is not 1 small child who has fallen in, but 50 children. We are among 50 adults, unrelated to the children, picnicking on the lawn around the pond. We can easily wade into the pond and rescue the children, and the fact that we would find it cold and unpleasant sloshing around in the knee-deep muddy water is no justification for failing to do so. The “fair share” theorists would say that if we each rescue one child, all the children will be saved, and so none of us have an obligation to save more than one. But what if half the picnickers prefer staying clean and dry to rescuing any children at all? Is it acceptable if the rest of us stop after we have rescued just one child, knowing that we have done our fair share, but that half the children will drown? We might justifiably be furious with those who are not doing their fair share, but our anger with them is not a reason for letting the children die. In terms of praise and blame, we are clearly right to condemn, in the strongest terms, those who do nothing. In contrast, we may withhold such condemnation from those who stop when they have done their fair share. Even so, they have let children drown when they could easily have saved them, and that is wrong.

Similarly, in the real world, it should be seen as a serious moral failure when those with ample income do not do their fair share toward relieving global poverty. It isn’t so easy, however, to decide on the proper approach to take to those who limit their contribution to their fair share when they could easily do more and when, because others are not playing their part, a further donation would assist many in desperate need. In the privacy of our own judgment, we should believe that it is wrong not to do more. But whether we should actually criticize people who are doing their fair share, but no more than that, depends on the psychological impact that such criticism will have on them, and on others. This in turn may depend on social practices. If the majority are doing little or nothing, setting a standard higher than the fair-share level may seem so demanding that it discourages people who are willing to make an equitable contribution from doing even that. So it may be best to refrain from criticizing those who achieve the fair-share level. In moving our society’s standards forward, we may have to progress one step at a time.

For more than 30 years, I’ve been reading, writing and teaching about the ethical issue posed by the juxtaposition, on our planet, of great abundance and life-threatening poverty. Yet it was not until, in preparing this article, I calculated how much America’s Top 10 percent of income earners actually make that I fully understood how easy it would be for the world’s rich to eliminate, or virtually eliminate, global poverty. (It has actually become much easier over the last 30 years, as the rich have grown significantly richer.) I found the result astonishing. I double-checked the figures and asked a research assistant to check them as well. But they were right. Measured against our capacity, the Millennium Development Goals are indecently, shockingly modest. If we fail to achieve them — as on present indications we well might — we have no excuses. The target we should be setting for ourselves is not halving the proportion of people living in extreme poverty, and without enough to eat, but ensuring that no one, or virtually no one, needs to live in such degrading conditions. That is a worthy goal, and it is well within our reach.

Peter Singer is the Ira W. DeCamp professor of bioethics at the Center for Human Values at Princeton University. He is the author of many books, including most recently “The Way We Eat: Why Our Food Choices Matter.”

Sunday, December 17

Overstretched U.S. Forces Are ‘Losing’ in Iraq, Powell Says


WASHINGTON, Dec. 17 — Former Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said today that badly overstretched American forces in Iraq were losing the war there, and that a temporary increase in troop levels probably would not help.

But, he quickly added, “we haven’t lost.”

The situation could be reversed, General Powell said in one of his most extensive commentaries on the Iraq war since leaving office. He urged an intense effort to train and support Iraqi security forces and strengthen the government in Baghdad.

General Powell was deeply skeptical about proposals to increase troop levels in Iraq, an idea that appears to have gained ground as President Bush reconsiders the United States’ strategy there.

“There really are no additional troops” to send, General Powell said, adding that he agreed with those who say that the United States Army is “about broken.”

General Powell said he was unsure that new troops could successfully suppress sectarian violence or secure Baghdad.

He urged the United States to do everything possible to prepare Iraqis to take over lead responsibility; the “baton pass,” he said, should begin by mid-2007.

“We are losing — we haven’t lost — and this is the time, now, to start to put in place the kinds of strategies that will turn this situation around,” General Powell said on the CBS News program “Face the Nation.”

Military planners and White House budget analysts have been asked to provide Mr. Bush with options for increasing American forces in Baghdad by 20,000 or more, and there are signs that the president is leaning in that direction.

Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the incoming Democratic majority leader, said today that he would “go along with” an increase in troops in Iraq if it were clearly intended to lead to an ultimate troop withdrawal by early 2008.

Mr. Reid supported the proposal of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group to undertake a broad regional effort to gain diplomatic support for a peaceful Iraq.

General Powell endorsed a related study group idea: opening talks with Syria and Iran.

The general has kept a low public profile since leaving office in January 2005, but he has emerged at crucial points in the growing debate over Iraq to weigh in, as when he said that Iraq was now embroiled in civil war.

An increase in troop strength, he said today, “cannot be sustained.” The thousands of additional American troops sent into Baghdad since summer had been unable to stabilize the city and more probably could not tip the balance, General Powell said. The deployment of further troops would, moreover, impose long-term costs on a badly stretched military.

While Mr. Reid suggested that he would support a troop increase for only two or three months, Gen. Jack Keane, one of five Iraq experts who met with Bush last Monday, called that schedule “impossible.”

General Keane, a retired Army vice chief of staff, asserted that Iraq could not be secured before mid-2008. “It will take a couple of months just to get forces in,” he said on the ABC News program “This Week.”

The president’s request to military planners and White House budget officials to provide details of what a troop increase would mean indicates that the option is gaining ground, senior administration officials said.

Political, training and recruiting obstacles mean that an increase larger than 20,000 to 30,000 troops would be prohibitive, the officials said. The increase would probably be accomplished largely by accelerating scheduled deployments while keeping some units in Iraq longer than had been planned.

General Powell said this meant it would be “a surge that you’d have to pay for later,” as replacement troops became even harder to find.

The current strategy stresses stepping up the training of Iraqi forces and handing off to them as soon as possible.

Senator Reid made clear that his support for a troop increase depended on its being linked to an overall withdrawal plan. “We have to change course in Iraq,” he said on the ABC News program “This Week.” But in the meantime, Mr. Reid said, Democrats would “give the military anything they want.”

General Powell, who as chairman of the joint chiefs of staff helped lead an earlier American-led coalition that forced Iraqi troops out of Kuwait in 1991, said that he was unsure this time whether victory could be achieved.

“If victory means you have got rid of every insurgent, that you have peace throughout the country, I don’t see that in the cards right now,” he said. But it was possible to install a certain level of order and security.

General Powell said the Iraq war had left Americans “a little less safe” by curtailing the forces available should another major crisis arise. But, he added, “I think that’s all recoverable.”

He supported the call for talks with Syria and Iran, although the latter, he said, would be more difficult.

“I have no illusion that either Syria or Iran want to help us in Iraq,” General Powell said. But there were times, he said, when difficult contacts can be productive.

Before he visited Damascus as secretary of state, General Powell said, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon of Israel asked him not to go. But Mr. Sharon then added that it would be helpful if General Powell should ask Syrian leaders to stop Hezbollah militants in Lebanon from firing rockets into Israel.

“The rockets stopped,” General Powell said.

Farewell, Dense Prince


James Baker ran after W. with a butterfly net for a while, but it is now clear that the inmates are still running the asylum.

The Defiant Ones came striding from the Pentagon yesterday, the troika of wayward warriors marching abreast in their dark suits and power ties. W., Rummy and Dick Cheney were so full of quick-draw confidence that they might have been sauntering down the main drag of Deadwood.

Far from being run out of town, the defense czar who rivals Robert McNamara for deadly incompetence has been on a victory lap in Baghdad, Mosul and Washington. Yesterday’s tribute had full military honors, a color guard, a 19-gun salute, an Old Guard performance with marching musicians — including piccolo players — in Revolutionary War costumes, John Philip Sousa music and the chuckleheaded neocons and ex-Rummy deputies who helped screw up the occupation, Paul Wolfowitz and Douglas Feith, cheering in the audience.

It was surreal: the septuagenarian who arrogantly dismissed initial advice to send more troops to secure Iraq, being praised as “the finest secretary of defense this nation has ever had” by his pal, the vice president, even as a desperate White House drafted ways to reinvade Iraq by sending more troops in a grasping-at-straws effort to reverse the chaos caused by Rummy’s mistakes.

Just imagine the send-off a defense secretary would have gotten who hadn’t sabotaged the Army, Iraq, global security, our chance to get Osama, our moral credibility, the deficit and American military confidence.

Even Joyce Rumsfeld got a Distinguished Public Service Award ribbon placed around her neck. The grandiose ceremony featured everything but the gold-plated matching set of pistols Tommy Franks, another failed warrior, and his wife, Cathy, recently received from a weapons manufacturer. (His had four stars and diamonds; hers, rubies and their marriage date.)

W. never seems as alarmed about the devastation in Iraq as he should be. He told People magazine, “I must tell you, I’m sleeping a lot better than people would assume,” and he told Brit Hume that his presidency was “a joyful experience.”

He slacked off on his slacker effort to form a new Iraq plan. (Can’t these guys ever order pizzas and pull some all-nighters?) Mr. Bush was busy this week hosting Christmas parties for a press corps he disdains; convening a malaria conference at the National Geographic with Dr. Burke of “Grey’s Anatomy,” Isaiah Washington; and presiding over a hero’s departure for the defense secretary he actually dumped, not because of incompetence but for political expediency.

The Rummy hoopla was a way for W. to signal his decision to shred the Baker-Hamilton study, after reportedly denouncing it as a flaming cow pie. Condi Rice signaled the same, telling The Washington Post that she did not want to negotiate with Syria and Iran, as the Iraq Study Group had proposed, because “the compensation” might be too high.

The Democrats thought that when they had won the election, they won the debate on the war and they had W. cornered. But the president is leaning toward surging over the Democrats, voters, Baker and the Bush 41 crowd and some of his own commanders.

W. seems gratified by the idea that rather than having his ears boxed by his father’s best friend, he’s going to go down swinging, or double down, in the metaphor du jour, on his macho bet in Iraq. He’s reading about Harry Truman and casting himself as a feisty Truman, but he’s heading toward late L.B.J. The White House budget office is studying how much it will cost to finance The Surge, an infusion of 20,000 to 50,000 troops into Baghdad to make one last try at “victory.” The policy would devolve from “We stand down as they stand up” to “We stand up more and maybe someday they will, too.”

Some serving commanders are not in favor of The Surge because they fret that it will infantilize Iraqis even more about assuming responsibility for their own security. They also fear that the insurgents, who have nowhere to go, will outwait our troops.

But W. would rather take a risk in Iraq than risk being a wimp. So he continued to wrap himself in muscular delusions, asserting that on Rummy’s watch, “the United States military helped the Iraqi people establish a constitutional democracy in the heart of the Middle East, a watershed event in the story of freedom.”

Dick Cheney offered this praise to his friend: “On the professional side, I would not be where I am today but for the confidence that Don first placed in me those many years ago.”

Alas, we wouldn’t be where we are today, either.