What next?

There is a move afoot in New York to ban lewd whistles and catcalls. What next? Criminalizing bagels? Prohibiting nearly naked faux cowboys in Times Square? Locking porn stars out of the family suites at the Plaza? What would New York be without meat-headed construction workers hooting at Kathie Lee Gifford, Hoda Kotb, and all ...

STAN HONDA/AFP/Getty Images
STAN HONDA/AFP/Getty Images
STAN HONDA/AFP/Getty Images

There is a move afoot in New York to ban lewd whistles and catcalls. What next? Criminalizing bagels? Prohibiting nearly naked faux cowboys in Times Square? Locking porn stars out of the family suites at the Plaza? What would New York be without meat-headed construction workers hooting at Kathie Lee Gifford, Hoda Kotb, and all the other local beauties?

According to Holly Kearl, author of Stop Street Harassment: Making Public Places Safe and Welcoming for Women, an informal survey of 800 women from 23 countries and 43 states showed that 99 percent had been sexually harassed by strangers. This is clearly nothing to joke about. So, let me change the subject. If New York outlaws cat calls, what next, is Paris going to outlaw rude waiters? Is Hollywood going to outlaw kissing studio executives' asses with collagen-injected lips? Is Mumbai going to outlaw insane taxi drivers? Is Moscow going to outlaw outlaws? Every city is as defined by its idiosyncratic flaws as it is by its monuments. If not exactly part of their charm, they are part of the character. What next? Is the Vatican going to outlaw sexually abusive priests? (Ok, they're trying. I'll admit that. The Pope really seems to be making an effort on that front.) Is Washington going to outlaw liars? (No progress on that front as we have recently seen.)

What next, indeed.

There is a move afoot in New York to ban lewd whistles and catcalls. What next? Criminalizing bagels? Prohibiting nearly naked faux cowboys in Times Square? Locking porn stars out of the family suites at the Plaza? What would New York be without meat-headed construction workers hooting at Kathie Lee Gifford, Hoda Kotb, and all the other local beauties?

According to Holly Kearl, author of Stop Street Harassment: Making Public Places Safe and Welcoming for Women, an informal survey of 800 women from 23 countries and 43 states showed that 99 percent had been sexually harassed by strangers. This is clearly nothing to joke about. So, let me change the subject. If New York outlaws cat calls, what next, is Paris going to outlaw rude waiters? Is Hollywood going to outlaw kissing studio executives’ asses with collagen-injected lips? Is Mumbai going to outlaw insane taxi drivers? Is Moscow going to outlaw outlaws? Every city is as defined by its idiosyncratic flaws as it is by its monuments. If not exactly part of their charm, they are part of the character. What next? Is the Vatican going to outlaw sexually abusive priests? (Ok, they’re trying. I’ll admit that. The Pope really seems to be making an effort on that front.) Is Washington going to outlaw liars? (No progress on that front as we have recently seen.)

What next, indeed.

In the same vein, today’s papers carried two stories that suggest that the leadership of the intelligence communities have been in therapy a little too long. I mean it’s good to open up emotionally from a psychological perspective, but what sort of group therapy have the folks at the director of National Intelligence office and MI6 been attending? Within a 24 hour span, the U.S. government for the first time disclosed the total amount of the U.S. intelligence budget — a whopping $80 billion — and for the first time in its 101 years of existence, the head of the British foreign intelligence service, MI6, Sir John Sawers, gave a public address. Of course, one of the central themes of Sawers’s speech was the importance of secrecy — an irony only compounded by the fact that he first came into public view when his wife posted pictures of him frolicking on the beach on her Facebook page.

The Sawers speech follows the first public address by the head of Britain’s equivalent of the NSA and a series of public appearances by the director general of the country’s domestic security agency, MI5. Said Sawers: "Why now you might ask?… In today’s open society, no government institution is given the benefit of the doubt all the time." In the United States, the director of National Intelligence explained the budget announcement by saying, "I think the American people (are) entitled to know the totality of the investment we make year in intelligence."

The U.S. revelation has already led to members of Congress, like Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), asking why the budget has doubled in the past decade. "It is clear," she observed, "that the overall spending on intelligence has blossomed to an unacceptable level in the past decade." But all this touchy-feely openness on the part of national secret keepers is bound to lead some to ask, "What next?" Are we going to ask whether it’s really necessary for there to be 850,000 people with top secret security clearances? Whether anything can be truly kept secret when so many people have such clearances (even with all the compartmentalization of information we do)? What next? Are we going to ask whether it is really necessary to classify vast oceans of information that is available publicly via the Internet, thus creating billions of dollars of unnecessary storage and administrative costs and posing huge hurdles to information sharing and informed policy making? What next? Are we actually going to have a rational discussion about the cult of secrecy in the intelligence community?

What next indeed. In a world without wolf whistles on New York City streets, and a world where someone shines light on some of the unnecessarily dark corners of the U.S. government, I suppose the next thing you are going to tell me is that voters are going to learn their lessons and finally do what they should have done in the United States two years ago — electing as president a tough, intelligent, experienced 63-year-old woman — who has a political record of real accomplishment , balancing progressive ideals and fiscal responsibility — to lead a country that is gaining an ever more important global role and enjoying unprecedented economic expansion.

You are? Oh, I see, but the country isn’t the United States — it’s Brazil. Combined with the rest of these unexpected developments — kidding aside — there are certainly signs of progress: overdue developments that suggest in some areas it may not actually require audacity to remain hopeful.

David Rothkopf is visiting professor at Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs and visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. His latest book is The Great Questions of Tomorrow. He has been a longtime contributor to Foreign Policy and was CEO and editor of the FP Group from 2012 to May 2017. Twitter: @djrothkopf

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