Brooks, Cohen, Nocera and Bruni

Bobo has decided that he must step up to the plate and offer President Obama his advice.  [sigh]  In “Obama the Dealmaker” he gurgles that President Obama has a chance to build a great middle-class economy, but he must isolate those who distract with their partisan incentives and instead present a clear offer.  It’s just too effing rich.  It’s OBAMA’S job to isolate the folks who distract with partisan incentives?  Lemme clue you in, you idiot — it’s YOUR party that’s infested with tea party lunatics and Grover Norquist worshipers.  Mr. Cohen addresses “The Need for U.S.-Iran Talks” and says armed conflict with Iran in 2013 is still possible and there is no more immediate strategic challenge for the re-elected president.  I no more think that Iran will attack Israel than I think I’m the Queen of the May, but YMMV.  Mr. Nocera tells us “A Texas Prosecutor Faces Justice” and that too often, a prosecutor’s conduct goes unchallenged. Not this time.  In “The Siren and the Spook” Mr. Bruni says in clucking over the David Petraeus-Paula Broadwell affair, we’re casting roles and assigning blame with our usual chauvinism.  Here’s Bobo:

During his first term, President Obama faced a wicked problem: How do you govern in a highly polarized, evenly divided country with House Republicans who seem unwilling to compromise? Obama never really solved that one, and he was forced to pass his agenda on partisan lines (during the first two years) or not pass it at all (the final two).

Now re-elected with Republicans still in control of the House, Obama faces the problem again. You might say the success of his second term rests upon him solving it.

Some on the left are suggesting that he adopt a strategy of confrontation and conquest. The president should use the advantages of victory to crush the spirit of the Republican House majority, they say. Reject the Grand Bargain approach. Instead, take the country over the so-called fiscal cliff. Blame it on the Republicans who are unwilling to even raise taxes on the rich. Wait until they fold, and then you will have your way.

The first thing to say about this strategy is that it is irresponsible. The recovery is fragile. Europe may crater. China is ill. Business is pulling back at the mere anticipation of a fiscal cliff. It’s reckless to think you can manufacture an economic crisis for political leverage and then control the cascading results.

Second, it’s terrible politics. Obama could probably triumph in a short-term confrontation, pushing through higher tax rates on the rich that wouldn’t even produce enough revenue to cover a tenth of the deficit. But he’d sow such bitterness that it would be the last thing he’d pass for the rest of his term. The Republican House majority isn’t going to magically disappear.

Finally, it misunderstands the state of the G.O.P. This is not the Republican Party of 2010. Today’s Republicans no longer have an incentive to deny Obama victories. He’s never running again. Most of today’s Republicans understand that they need to decontaminate their brand. They’re more open to compromise, more likely to be won over with deal-making than brow-beating.

The liberal left wing, like the Tea Party types, has an incentive to build television ratings by fulminating against their foes. But President Obama and John Boehner have an incentive to create a low-decibel businesslike atmosphere. The opinion-entertainment complex longs for the war track. The practitioners should long for the deal-making track.

Before he gets lost in the mire of negotiations, the president could step back and practically describe the task ahead. Between 1947 and 2007, the U.S. economy grew an average of 3.3 percent a year. But over the next few decades, according to forecasts from the Congressional Budget Office, it’s projected to grow only at 2.3 percent per year. The task ahead is to make the sort of structural changes that will get America back on its old growth trajectory.

Then the president could remind everyone that there’s lots to do. Some of the things on the to-do list are things Democrats relish doing: investing in infrastructure and basic research; reforming immigration to attract global talent; investing in student loans and community colleges; trimming the annual $1.1 trillion in tax loopholes, many of which go to corporations and the rich.

Other things the Republicans will surely relish doing: simplifying a tax code that has bloated to 74,000 pages; streamlining the Code of Federal Regulation that has metastasized to 165,000 pages; slowing entitlement spending.

But the point is the only way to get things done in a divided polarized country is side by side — an acceptable Democratic project paired with an acceptable Republican one.

The fiscal-cliff talks are just the first chapter in this long process. In this first episode, the Democrats should get higher revenues from the rich (elections have consequences) and the Republicans should get some entitlement reform. But the main point is to lay the predicate for the bigger deals to come.

This is about horse-trading. It’s about conducting meetings in which people don’t lecture each other; they deal. It’s about isolating those who want an economic culture war. It’s about making clear offers and counteroffers.

If you want a great example of how these deals might work, check out a new paper at Third Way called The Bargain. It offers a perfect model of how you might structure a series of big trades to move the country back on the growth path — on innovation policy, tax policy, spending policy and so on.

The more you put on the table, the more trading is possible, the better the atmosphere and the more you might get done. If you only put one idea on the table at a time, then everybody gets gridlocked and nothing gets done.

The economic crisis interrupted him last time, but President Obama still has a chance to build a great middle-class economy. It’ll take a dealmaker, not a warrior.

Yeah.  It’s Obama’s job to crawl to Boehner and beg for a deal?  Let me see if I can remember what we were told years ago…  Oh, yeah — WE WON.  GET OVER IT.  Now here’s Mr. Cohen:

Mitt Romney used the word “peace” or “peaceful” a dozen times in the last presidential debate, as if he’d been communing with the ghosts of John Lennon and Mohandas Gandhi. But the American people were not fooled. In re-electing Barack Obama, they voted for peace and against a third war in a Muslim nation in little over a decade.

Americans are tired of their trillion-dollar wars. A recent survey by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs found that 67 percent of Americans believe the Iraq war was not worth it, 69 percent think the United States is no safer from terrorism as a result of the Afghan war, and 71 percent say the Iraq experience should make the country more cautious about using force [pdf].

The risk was real that Romney — surrounded by hawks like the former United Nations ambassador John Bolton, beholden to the casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson, and prodded by his friend Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel — might take the United States to war in Iran. Certainly, any chance of a diplomatic resolution of the crisis caused by Iran’s nuclear program would have receded for the foreseeable future.

Armed conflict with Iran in 2013 is still possible. If a reminder were needed, Iran’s firing shots earlier this month at a U.S. drone provided it. Israel is impatient with the steady progression of Iranian enrichment. Obama, while opposed to war and largely impervious to Netanyahu’s clumsy prodding, has said he will not allow Iran to obtain a nuclear weapon. There is no more immediate strategic challenge for the re-elected president.

The question of whether the quest for Israeli-Palestinian peace or for a breakthrough with Iran should be the first diplomatic priority for Obama’s second term amounts to a no-brainer. It’s Iran, stupid. (There are no good options in Syria and — as with most Middle Eastern issues — American noncommunication with Iran on the matter is unhelpful. Iran’s constructive role in the 2001 Bonn conference on Afghanistan is too often forgotten.)

War with Iran would be devastating, to a Middle East in transition, to U.S. interests from Afghanistan to Egypt, and to the global economy. The time available for averting conflict is limited. Israel-Palestine, by contrast, is a draining confrontation but not today the potential spark to a conflagration; nor does it offer any new encouraging elements; nor is it likely that Netanyahu, if re-elected next year, would cease using Iran as a diversion from serious engagement with the Palestinians, who are divided in crippling ways they and the United States are reluctant to address.

But do any new avenues with Iran exist? Is there any political space for them? During Obama’s first term Republican machismo prevailed on many fronts. Demonization of Iran was a never-ending source of rhetorical inspiration. Democrats were not far behind.

Diplomacy is in urgent need of resurrection. It is becoming a lost art in an age of declamation. During a recent conversation, William Luers, a former U.S. ambassador to Venezuela and the director of The Iran Project, and Stephen Heintz, the president of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, told me they avoid the phrase “diplomatic solution” in conversations about Iran on Capitol Hill. Instead they say “political solution.” Diplomacy just sounds too wimpy.

But, as they well know, diplomacy with Iran is needed. Diplomacy involves accepting that in order to get what you want you have to give something. The key question is: “What do I want to get out of my rival and what do I have to give to get it?”

Pressure alone, in the form of sanctions, is not going to stop Iran’s nuclear program. At some point, as with Nixon’s bold breakthrough with China, undertaken against furious protests (just as vehement as Aipac would be on talks with Iran), the questions must be asked: “What do we want, what do they want, and what do we both want?” Areas of overlapping interest must be developed.

This will take unusual courage from Obama — and more good sense from an economically squeezed Islamic Republic than normally emanates from Tehran. Still, Obama is now a second-term president. He is freer — and the macho school of foreign policy is weaker. He must develop, through a special envoy, a direct line of communication with Tehran. Iranian-American trauma, now decades old, is inseparable from the nuclear crisis.

What do we want from Iran? Open up all its nuclear facilities, get rid of all its 20 percent enriched uranium, end all threats to Israel, stop rampant human rights abuses, changed policies on Hamas and Hezbollah, a constructive approach to Syria. What can we offer? Lift some sanctions, stop a range of covert actions, take regime change off the table, put the right to limited enrichment (up to 5 percent) on the table, and address the regional role of Iran.

A creative diplomat could juggle the above and work to build confidence through phased tradeoffs. But first Obama must get beyond the conventional wisdom on Iran, think big, act bold, ignore the visceral Iran-haters and stop believing coercion alone is the answer.

Next up is Mr. Nocera:

In just about a month from now, Texas will witness a rare event: a former prosecutor is going to be held to account for alleged prosecutorial misconduct.

He is Ken Anderson, who for nearly 17 years was the district attorney in Williamson County, a fast-growing suburb of Austin. (In 2002, Gov. Rick Perry made him a district judge.) As Pamela Colloff writes, in a brilliant two-part series in Texas Monthly, Anderson was the kind of prosecutor who “routinely asked for, and won, harsh sentences and fought to keep offenders in prison long after they became eligible for parole.”

One of Anderson’s most high-profile prosecutions was of a man named Michael Morton. In 1987, Anderson prosecuted him for a heinous crime: His wife, Christine, was bludgeoned to death. Morton was then in his early 30s, with a 3-year-old son and a job at Safeway. He had never been in trouble. Yet the Williamson County sheriff, Jim Boutwell, from whom Anderson took his cues, was convinced that Morton had committed the crime.

Evidence that could be used against him — such as a plaintive note Morton wrote to his wife after she fell asleep when he was hoping to have sex — was highlighted. Evidence that suggested his innocence — most importantly, a blood-stained bandana discovered near Morton’s house — was ignored. Worst of all, Anderson’s office hid from the defense some crucial evidence that would undoubtedly have caused the jury to find Morton not guilty. By the time Morton was sentenced — to life — only his parents and a single co-worker believed he was innocent.

But he was. In October 2011, after 25 years in prison, Morton was set free. Nine years earlier, the Innocence Project, which works on behalf of people who have been wrongly prosecuted, got involved in Morton’s case. After years of legal wrangling, they got hold of the hidden evidence, and a court agreed to allow DNA testing on the bloody bandana. The DNA test not only absolved Morton, but pointed to a man who had subsequently killed another woman.

Colloff’s articles are gripping and powerful, but they’re not as unusual as they ought to be. Stories about innocent people wrongly imprisoned are a staple of journalism. (Colloff herself has written about two other such prisoners in Texas.) Barry Scheck, the co-founder of the Innocence Project, told me that the group has gotten 300 people exonerated, mostly by using sophisticated DNA testing.

Sam Millsap, a former Texas prosecutor, now crusades against the death penalty because a man he prosecuted — on the basis of a single eyewitness — was put to death. He later learned that the witness had been wrong. “I’d love to be able to tell you I am the only former elected prosecutor in the country who finds himself in the position of having to admit an error in judgment that may have led to the execution of an innocent man, but I know I am not,” he said in a talk he gave a few years ago.

Very few prosecutors, however, are willing to admit they’ve made errors. They fight efforts to reopen cases. “They want finality,” said Ellen Yaroshefsky, a professor at Cardozo School of Law. The standard for introducing evidence postconviction is that it has to be strong enough to have changed the result. It rarely is.

Some prosecutors have another incentive: hiding misconduct. Brandon Garrett, who teaches law at the University of Virginia and has written a book, “Convicting the Innocent,” about exonerations, told me that in almost every case, prosecutorial misconduct is involved.

What makes the Morton case unusual is that, thanks to the Innocence Project’s re-investigation, Ken Anderson will soon go before a Texas Court of Inquiry. If the court believes that Anderson’s alleged misconduct rises to the level of a crime, it could refer the matter to a grand jury. But the Court of Inquiry exists only in Texas, and is almost never used even there.

In truth, Anderson isn’t the only Williamson County prosecutor who faced consequences as a result of the Morton case. His successor, John Bradley, was the one who had fought for years against the DNA testing of the bandana. Seven months after Morton was set free, Bradley, who had always been a shoo-in for re-election as district attorney, was resoundingly defeated.

When I spoke to him the other day, he told me that he now believes he had been wrong to fight so hard against the DNA testing. “We shouldn’t set up barriers to the introduction of new evidence,” he said. Although it would mean more work for prosecutors, Bradley now believes that examining important new evidence is “a legitimate and acceptable cost to doing business in the criminal justice system.”

Bradley will leave office soon. He told me he was going to start a law practice specializing in appellate work. Here’s hoping he argues some appeals for the wrongly imprisoned.

And some people wonder why I view the American criminal “justice” system with an extremely jaundiced eye…  Here’s Mr. Bruni:

There were remarks galore about her unusually toned arms and the way she dressed to show them off. I even spotted a comment about how much of her armpits one of her outfits revealed, as if underarm exhibitionism were some sort of sexual sorcery, some aphrodisiac, the key to it all.

What else could explain his transgression? Why else would a man of such outward discipline and outsize achievement risk so much? The temptress must have been devious. The temptation must have been epic.

That was the tired tone of some of the initial coverage of, and reaction to, the affair between David Petraeus and Paula Broadwell, which had many people claiming surprise where there wasn’t cause for any, reverting to clichés that should be retired and indulging in a sexism we like to think we’ve moved past.

Broadwell has just 13 percent body fat, according to a recent measurement. Did you know that? Did you need to? It came up nonetheless. And like so much else about her — her long-ago coronation as homecoming queen, her six-minute mile — it was presented not merely as a matter of accomplishment, but as something a bit titillating, perhaps a part of the trap she laid.

There are bigger issues here. There are questions of real consequence, such as why the F.B.I. got so thoroughly involved in what has been vaguely described as a case of e-mail harassment, whether the bureau waited too long to tell lawmakers and White House officials about the investigation, and how much classified information Broadwell, by dint of her relationship with Petraeus, was privy to. The answers matter.

Her “expressive green eyes” (The Daily Beast) and “tight shirts” and “form-fitting clothes” (The Washington Post) don’t. And the anecdotes and chatter that implicitly or explicitly wonder at the spidery wiles she must have used to throw the mighty man off his path are laughably ignorant of history, which suggests that mighty men are all too ready to tumble, loins first. Wiles factor less into the equation than proximity.

Sure, the spotlight these men have attracted and the altitude they’ve reached should, theoretically, give them greater pause. But they’ve either become accustomed to or outright sought a kind of adulation in the public arena that probably isn’t mirrored in their marriages. A spouse is unlikely to provide it. A spouse knows you too well for that, and gives you something deeper, truer and so much less electric.

It has to be more than mere coincidence that Bill Clinton had an affair with a White House intern; Newt Gingrich with a Congressional aide (now his wife); John Edwards with a woman who followed him around with a camera, creating hagiographic mini-documentaries about his presidential campaign; and Petraeus with a woman who made him the subject of a biography so worshipful that its main riddle, joked Jon Stewart, was whether Petraeus was “awesome or incredibly awesome.”

These mighty men didn’t just choose mistresses, by all appearances. They chose fonts of gushing reverence. That’s at least as deliberate and damnable as any signals the alleged temptresses put out.

Petraeus’s choice suggests an additional measure of vanity. Broadwell exercises compulsively, as he does. She’s fascinated by all matters military, as he is. “Petraeus once joked I was his avatar,” she told The Charlotte Observer a while back. So by his own assessment, he was having an affair with a version of himself.

And yet it’s the women in these situations who are often subjected to a more vigorous public shaming — and assigned greater responsibility.

The Web site Business Insider posted an interview with an unnamed former colleague of Petraeus’s who knew Broadwell and characterized her as “a shameless self-promoting prom queen.” The colleague all but exonerated Petraeus by saying: “You’re a 60-year-old man and an attractive woman almost half your age makes herself available to you — that would be a test for anyone.”

The headline of The Washington Post story that weighed in on Broadwell’s wardrobe asserted that he “let his guard down,” a phrase that portrays him as passive, possibly even a victim. The story notes that his former aides considered him “the consummate gentleman and family man.”

It goes on to say that Broadwell was “willing to take full advantage of her special access” to him.

An article in Slate asked “how could he — this acclaimed leader and figure of rectitude — allow such a thing to a happen?” The italics are mine, because the verb is a telling one. “She went a bit ga-ga for the general,” the article later observes, adding: “She may have made herself irresistible.”

Such adamant women, such pregnable men. We’ve been stuck on this since Eve, Adam and the Garden of Eden. And it’s true: Eve shouldn’t have been so pushy with the apple.

But Adam could have had a V8.

One Response to “Brooks, Cohen, Nocera and Bruni”

  1. William Tell Says:

    Is Cohen insane? No that’s not rhetorical. From his journal:

    What do we want from Iran? Open up all its nuclear facilities, get rid of all its 20 percent enriched uranium, end all threats to Israel, stop rampant human rights abuses, changed policies on Hamas and Hezbollah, a constructive approach to Syria. What can we offer? Lift some sanctions, stop a range of covert actions, take regime change off the table, put the right to limited enrichment (up to 5 percent) on the table, and address the regional role of Iran.

    As if he isn’t already aware of the talking points these are the identical issues we have been trying to talk to the Revolutionary Guard about for years. Now if Cohen hasn’t read anything but his own Neville Chamberlain dalliances in absurdity the Iranians are not interested in making a deal. Their interests are in destroying Israel, creating closer ties with China and Russia and taking over all of the ME. All of the ME includes Tom Friedman’s compadres in Egypt. Perhaps u can have lunch with Abbas and still make it for tee time in the Gaza? Do u have the correct equipment to toss the remaining Jews into new ovens Mr. Cohen? Is gray your fav color? You are a mockery of your name. I hope u are not Jewish so that we can rest easy knowing we don’t have to war to bring back your remains.
    Never Again.

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