Archive for the ‘Saber rattling and dick swinging’ Category

Friedman and Bruni

October 5, 2016

In “Let’s Get Putin’s Attention” The Moustache of Wisdom tells us that the Russian leader’s rogue behavior threatens America and the E.U.  Mr. Bruni, in “Mike Pence’s Galling Amnesia,” says Donald Trump’s running mate made no apologies during a tense vice-presidential debate.  Here’s TMOW:

You may have missed this story, so I am repeating it as a public service:

MOSCOW, Special to The New York Times, Oct. 1 — A previously unheard-of group called Hackers for a Free Russia released a treasure trove of financial records online today indicating that President Vladimir Putin owns some $30 billion in property, hotels and factories across Russia and Europe, all disguised by front organizations and accounting charades.

The documents, which appear to be authentic, include detailed financial records and emails between Mr. Putin’s Kremlin office and a number of his Russian cronies and Swiss banks. They constitute the largest hack ever of Mr. Putin. Russian censors are scrambling to shut down Twitter inside the country and keep the emails out of Russian-language media.

At a news conference in Washington, C.I.A. Director John Brennan was asked if U.S. intelligence services had any hand in the cyberleak of what is being called “The Putin Files.” With a slight grin, Mr. Brennan said: “The U.S. government would never intervene in Russian politics, just as President Putin would never intervene in an American election. That would be wrong.” As Mr. Brennan left the podium, though, he burst out laughing.

No, you didn’t miss this story. I made it up. But isn’t it time there was such a story? Isn’t it time we gave Putin a dose of his own medicine — not for juvenile playground reasons and not to instigate a conflict but precisely to prevent one — to back Putin off from what is increasingly rogue behavior violating basic civilized norms and increasingly vital U.S. interests.

Putin “is at war with us, but we are not at war with him — both the U.S. and Germany are desperately trying to cling to a decent relationship,” remarked Josef Joffe, editor of Die Zeit, a weekly German newspaper and a leading strategic thinker in Europe. No one should want to start a shooting war between great powers “in the shadow of nuclear weapons,” Joffe told me.

But we also cannot just keep turning the other cheek. Putin’s behavior in Syria and Ukraine has entered the realm of war crimes, and his cyberattacks on the American political system threaten to undermine the legitimacy of our next election.

Just read the papers. Last week a Dutch-led investigation adduced irrefutable video evidence that Putin’s government not only trucked in the missile system used to shoot down a Malaysia Airlines plane flying over Ukraine in 2014, killing all 298 civilians onboard, but also returned it to Russia the same night and then engaged in an elaborate cover-up.

On Sept. 19, what U.S. intelligence officials say was almost certainly a Russian Su-24 warplane bombed a U.N. convoy in Syria carrying relief supplies for civilians. The Red Cross said at least 20 people were killed. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called the bombing “savage and apparently deliberate.”

For a long time, Putin’s excesses were just a tragedy for the Russian people and for many people in Ukraine and Syria, so President Obama could plausibly argue that the right response was economic sanctions and troop buildups in Eastern Europe. But in the last nine months, something has changed.

Putin’s relentless efforts to crush both the democratic and Islamist opposition to President Bashar al-Assad in Syria; his rejection of any real power-sharing solution there; and his joining with Assad in mercilessly bombing civilians in Aleppo are not only horrific in and of themselves, but they also keep pushing more refugees into the European Union. This is fostering an anti-immigrant backlash in Europe that is spawning right-wing nationalist parties and fracturing the E.U.

Meanwhile, Russia’s hacking of America’s Democratic Party — and signs that Russian or other cyberwarriors have tried to break into American state voter registration systems — suggests that Putin or other cyberdisrupters are trying to undermine the legitimacy of our next national election.

Together, these actions pose a threat to the two pillars of global democracy and open markets — America and the E.U. — more than anything coming from ISIS or Al Qaeda.

“The Soviet Union was a revolutionary state that sought a wholesale change in the international order,” observed Robert Litwak, director of security studies at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and author of “Deterring Nuclear Terrorism.” Putin is ostensibly not seeking a revolution of the international order, Litwak added, but Putin’s departure from standard great-power competition — encouraging a flood of refugees and attacking thHe e legitimacy of our political system — “is leading to shifts in global politics that could have revolutionary consequences, even if Putin is not motivated by revolutionary ideology.”

Obama believed that a combination of pressure and engagement would moderate Putin’s behavior. That is the right approach, in theory, but it’s now clear that we have underestimated the pressure needed to produce effective engagement, and we’re going to have to step it up. This is not just about the politics of Syria and Ukraine anymore. It’s now also about America, Europe, basic civilized norms and the integrity of our democratic institutions.

He does love to rattle his sabers and swing his dick, doesn’t he?  Now here’s Mr. Bruni:

Back when Mike Pence hosted a talk radio show in the 1990s, he described himself as “Rush Limbaugh on decaf.”

For much of Tuesday night, he was like Forrest Gump on chamomile, squarely and steadily plodding forward, seldom tugged from his talking points and never particularly rattled. His expression was a sort of upbeat blur. His voice was a lulling drone.

It wasn’t exactly a vivid performance, but it was an eerily consistent one, and it answered the question of how a man who supposedly prides himself on his virtue defends a running mate who is often bereft of it. He sets his jaw. He slows his pulse. He practices a bemused chuckle, perfects deafness to anything he prefers not to hear and purges from his memory anything he doesn’t want to own.

That included the whole grotesque cornucopia of Donald Trump’s slurs and bad behavior, which Tim Kaine had studied up on exhaustively, knew by heart and kept throwing at Pence, pressing for the barest glimmer of shame or the slightest hint of apology. It was pointless — a point that Kaine himself made about an hour into this exercise in futility.

“Six times tonight, I have said to Governor Pence: I can’t imagine how you can defend your running mate’s position on one issue after the next,” Kaine said, his voice somewhat squeaky with frustration. “And in all six cases, he’s refused to defend his running mate, and yet he is asking everybody to vote for somebody that he cannot defend.”

That’s a fair enough summary of the vice-presidential debate, and it flagged what made the event so fascinating, which was Pence — specifically, the astonishing peace he has made with Trump and his wholehearted readiness to promote a man who should be so offensive to him.

In the face of Kaine’s incessant grilling, Pence blithely denied that Trump had made statements that he inarguably had, changed the subject to Hillary Clinton’s failings, mocked Kaine for being scripted and dismissed Kaine and Clinton as career politicians — ignoring the fact that he fits that description, too.

Substantively, it was galling. Strategically, it may well have worked. With his minimalist speaking style, Pence drew attention to Kaine’s maximalist salvos. Pence’s unflappability threw Kaine’s irritation and interruptions into relief.

One of Pence’s assignments was to counter Trump’s childish excitability with adult calm, which he did almost flawlessly. Another of his assignments was to make Trump palatable to wavering Americans by communicating that Trump was positively yummy to him. He aced that, too, meaning that he’s either a phenomenally talented actor or a master of self-deception.

I wrongly expected that the debate would be a letdown, especially after last week’s blistering matchup of Trump and Clinton. Following that face-off with this one was like chasing a Quentin Tarantino movie with a rerun of “Touched by an Angel” — or so I assumed.

But I was forgetting the devil in Pence and what an engrossing, depressing character study the Indiana governor has turned out to be. It’s hard to think of a vice-presidential candidate in modern history who has gone so far against his supposed nature and his proclaimed values in the service of his running mate.

He has always worn his religiousness conspicuously, even flamboyantly, introducing himself time and again as “a Christian, a conservative and a Republican, in that order.”

In 1991, after losing a race for the United States Congress in which he harshly attacked his opponent, he published an essay, “Confessions of a Negative Campaigner,” in which he invoked Jesus and mentioned sin as he swore off such ugliness in the future.

“Negative campaigning is wrong,” he wrote, adding, “A campaign ought to demonstrate the basic human decency of the candidate.”

The Trump campaign has demonstrated anything but, and yet Pence has repeatedly vouched for Trump, even as Trump savaged the Muslim parents of a soldier who died defending America, seemed to encourage Second Amendment enthusiasts to take aim at Clinton, pinned the birther conspiracy on her, and spent the days after his own debate — a disastrous one — lashing out at a former Miss Universe and tweeting about pornography.

On Tuesday night Pence rewarded Trump’s inane, insane antics with a debate performance that reflected fierce determination and precisely the kind of thorough preparation that Trump had skipped. Pence didn’t forget to bring up the Clinton Foundation. Or the “basket of deplorables,” a knife he twisted dexterously.

Never has he taken Trump to task or taken a stand for “basic human decency.” He seems to have reversed the order of those three adjectives in his identity. “Republican” now comes first and “Christian” last.

Maybe he’ll atone and make amends in another post-campaign “Confessions.” God knows he has plenty of material.

Blow, Cohen and Krugman

February 8, 2016

In “Hillary Has ‘Half a Dream'” Mr. Blow says practicality and realistic goals are proving to be a handicap for Mrs. Clinton when it comes to young voters.  Mr. Cohen has produced a thing called “America’s Syrian Shame” in which he howls that Putin’s policy is hard to distinguish from Obama’s, and that America’s capitulation is complete, with appalling results.  In the comments “TDurk” from Rochester, NY had this to say:  “Really? President Obama’s Syrian policy has contributed to the slaughter in Paris and San Bernardino? That our president is not really interested in Europe?  When did Roger Cohen announce his candidacy for the republican presidential nomination? His non-logic and emotional assertions would fit in perfectly with that political circus.”  Prof. Krugman considers “The Time-Loop Party” and says Republican candidates keep repeating their canned policy statements, despite evidence that these prescriptions have failed in the real world.  Here’s Mr. Blow, writing from Durham, NH:

One of the most striking statistics to come of the Iowa caucus entry polling was the enormous skew of young voters away from Hillary Clinton and to Bernie Sanders. Only 14 percent of caucusgoers 17 to 29 supported Clinton, while 84 percent supported Sanders.

On Thursday, I traveled to the University of New Hampshire, site of a debate between Clinton and Sanders that night. Before the debate, I mingled on campus with people rallying for both candidates, with the Sanders rally many times larger than the Clinton one. The energy for Sanders at the school was electric.

For the actually debate, I went to a debate-watching party for Clinton supporters at the Three Chimneys Inn, just off campus. There were more heads of white hair in that room than a jar of cotton balls.

The two scenes so close to each other drove home the point for me: Hillary Clinton has a threatening young voter problem.

Young folks are facing a warming planet, exploding student debt, stunted mobility, stagnant wages and the increasing corporatization of the country due in part to the increasing consolidation of wealth and the impact of that wealth on American institutions.

Young folks are staring down a barrel and they want to put a flower in it, or conversely, smash it to bits. And they’re angry at those who came before them for doing too little, too late. They want a dramatic correction, and they want it now.

Sanders’s rhetoric plays well to young folks’ anxiety and offers a ray of hope. He wants to fix the system they see as broken, and he’s not new to those positions. He has held many of the same positions most of his life, but they have never had as much resonance as they do now. Never mind that Sanders has been in Congress for decades and doesn’t have the stronger record of accomplishments, as my colleague Nick Kristof put it last week.

Sanders is good at setting the goals, but not so good at getting there.

When people question Sanders on the feasibility of pushing his ambitious policies through an obstructionist, Republican-controlled Congress, he often responds with the broad and loose talk of a political revolution, like he put it in his closing remarks Thursday:

“I do believe we need a political revolution where millions of people stand up and say loudly and clearly that our government belongs to all of us and not just a handful of wealthy campaign contributors.”

What he is saying is that a political revolution, meaning massive numbers of new voters and unprecedented voter turnout by people who support his policies, would result in flipping control of Congress and an easier path to his policies’ passage and implementation.

But if Iowa is any measure, that revolution has yet to materialize, and indeed, may never.

Iowa did see a record number of caucusgoers … for the Republican candidate. The number of Democratic caucusgoers fell significantly, and half of those went to Clinton.

As RealClearPolitics reported:

“The trend line is positive for Republicans (turnout up 54 percent from 2012) and negative for Democrats (turnout was down 22 percent from 2008).”

This doesn’t sound anything like the kind of numbers Sanders would need to push his agenda forward, and he knows that. If anything, it sounds like the budding of another Republican revolution. But these facts are ones that would never pass Sanders’s lips. They would puncture the balloon and end his ascendance.

Clinton, on the other hand, represents much of what they distrust or even despise. There is an aura of ethical ambiguity — from the emails to the Wall Street paid speeches to the super PACs. (There is growing pressure for her to release the transcripts of those speeches and have the content of them compared to her public pronouncement.) There is the legacy of her military hawkishness, including her Iraq war vote. There is the articulation of her positions that are at odds with young folks’ aspirations and sensibilities, like saying Thursday, “I don’t believe in free college,” and saying that she continues to support capital punishment.

But possibly the most damaging of Clinton’s attributes is, ironically, her practicality. As one person commented to me on social media: Clinton is running an I-Have-Half-A-Dream campaign. That simply doesn’t inspire young people brimming with the biggest of dreams. Clinton’s message says: Aim lower, think smaller, move slower. It says, I have more modest ambitions, but they are more realistic.

As Clinton put it Thursday in a swipe at Sanders, “I’m not making promises that I cannot keep.”

But the pragmatic progressive line is not going to help her chip away at Sanders’s support among the young. That support is hardening into hipness. Supporting Sanders is quickly becoming the thing to do if you are young and want to appeal to those who are. Clinton’s time to reverse that is quickly running out, and a strategy of simply holding out long enough so that the heavy black and brown support for her counters it may not be sufficient.

And if those young voters don’t turn out and vote for Hillary if she’s the nominee they will deserve the hell that they’ll unleash on us all.  Now here’s Mr. Cohen, foaming at the mouth:

The Putin policy in Syria is clear enough as the encirclement of rebel-held Aleppo proceeds and tens of thousands more Syrians flee toward the Turkish border. It is to entrench the brutal government of Bashar al-Assad by controlling the useful part of Syrian territory, bomb the moderate opposition into submission, block any possibility of Western-instigated regime change, use diplomatic blah-blah in Geneva as cover for changing the facts on the ground, and, maybe fifth or sixth down the list, strengthen the Syrian Army to the point it may one day confront the murderous jihadist stronghold of the Islamic State.

The troubling thing is that the Putin policy on Syria has become hard to distinguish from the Obama policy.

Sure, the Obama administration still pays lip service to the notion that Assad is part of the problem and not the solution, and that if the Syrian leader may survive through some political transition period he cannot remain beyond that. But these are words. It is President Vladimir Putin and Russia who are “making the weather” in Syria absent any corresponding commitment or articulable policy from President Obama.

Aleppo, Syria’s largest city, is now virtually encircled by the Syrian Army. A war that has already produced a quarter of a million dead, more than 4.5 million refugees, some 6.5 million internally displaced, and the destabilization of Europe through a massive influx of terrorized people, is about to see further abominations as Aleppo agonizes.

Aleppo may prove to be the Sarajevo of Syria. It is already the Munich.

By which I mean that the city’s plight today, its exposure to Putin’s whims and a revived Assad’s pitiless designs, is a result of the fecklessness and purposelessness over almost five years of the Obama administration. The president and his aides have hidden at various times behind the notions that Syria is marginal to core American national interests; that they have thought through the downsides of intervention better than others; that the diverse actors on the ground are incomprehensible or untrustworthy; that there is no domestic or congressional support for taking action to stop the war or shape its outcome; that there is no legal basis for establishing “safe areas” or taking out Assad’s air power; that Afghanistan and Iraq are lessons in the futility of projecting American power in the 21st century; that Syria will prove Russia’s Afghanistan as it faces the ire of the Sunni world; and that the only imperative, whatever the scale of the suffering or the complete evisceration of American credibility, must be avoidance of another war in the Middle East.

Where such feeble evasions masquerading as strategy lead is to United States policy becoming Putin’s policy in Syria, to awkward acquiescence to Moscow’s end game, and to embarrassed shrugs encapsulating the wish that — perhaps, somehow, with a little luck — Putin may crush ISIS.

Obama’s Syrian agonizing, his constant what-ifs and recurrent “what then?” have also lead to the slaughter in Paris and San Bernardino. They have contributed to a potential unraveling of the core of the European Union as internal borders eliminated on a free continent are re-established as a response to an unrelenting refugee tide — to which the United States has responded by taking in around 2,500 Syrians since 2012, or about 0.06 percent of the total.

“The Syrian crisis is now a European crisis,” a senior European diplomat told me. “But the president is not interested in Europe.” That is a fair assessment of the first postwar American leader for whom the core trans-Atlantic alliance was something to be dutifully upheld rather than emotionally embraced.

Syria is now the Obama administration’s shame, a debacle of such dimensions that it may overshadow the president’s domestic achievements.

Obama’s decision in 2013, at a time when ISIS scarcely existed, not to uphold the American “red line” on Assad’s use of chemical weapons was a pivotal moment in which he undermined America’s word, incurred the lasting fury of Sunni Gulf allies, shored up Assad by not subjecting him to serious one-off punitive strikes, and opened the way for Putin to determine Syria’s fate.

Putin policy is American policy because the United States has offered no serious alternative. As T.S. Eliot wrote after Munich in 1938, “We could not match conviction with conviction, we had no ideas with which we could either meet or oppose the ideas opposed to us.” Syria has been the bloody graveyard of American conviction.

It is too late, as well as pure illusion, to expect significant change in Obama’s Syria policy. Aleppo’s agony will be drawn-out. But the president should at least do everything in his power, as suggested in a report prepared by Michael Ignatieff at the Harvard Kennedy School, to “surge” the number of Syrian refugees taken in this year to 65,000 from his proposed 10,000. As the report notes, “If we allow fear to dictate policy, terrorists win.”

Putin already has.

And now we finally get to Prof. Krugman:

By now everyone who follows politics knows about Marco Rubio’s software-glitch performance in Saturday’s Republican debate. (I’d say broken-record performance, but that would be showing my age.) Not only did he respond to a challenge from Chris Christie about his lack of achievements by repeating, verbatim, the same line from his stump speech he had used a moment earlier; when Mr. Christie mocked his canned delivery, he repeated the same line yet again.

In other news, last week — on Groundhog Day, to be precise — Republicans in the House of Representatives cast what everyone knew was a purely symbolic, substance-free vote to repeal Obamacare. It was the 63rd time they’ve done so.

These are related stories.

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

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

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

First, there’s the ritual denunciation of Obamacare as a terrible, very bad, no good, job-killing law. Did I mention that it kills jobs? Strange to say, this line hasn’t changed at all despite the fact that we’ve gained 5.7 million private-sector jobs since January 2014, which is when the Affordable Care Act went into full effect.

Then there’s the assertion that taxing the rich has terrible effects on economic growth, and conversely that tax cuts at the top can be counted on to produce an economic miracle.

This doctrine was tested more than two decades ago, when Bill Clinton raised tax rates on high incomes; Republicans predicted disaster, but what we got was the economy’s best run since the 1960s. It was tested again when George W. Bush cut taxes on the wealthy; Republicans predicted a “Bush boom,” but actually got a lackluster expansion followed by the worst slump since the Great Depression. And it got tested a third time after President Obama won re-election, and tax rates at the top went up substantially; since then we’ve gained eight million private-sector jobs.

Oh, and there’s also the spectacular failure of the Kansas experiment, where huge tax cuts have created a budget crisis without delivering any hint of the promised economic miracle.

But Republican faith in tax cuts as a universal economic elixir has, if anything, grown stronger, with Mr. Rubio, in particular, going even further than the other candidates by promising to eliminate all taxes on capital gains.

Meanwhile, on foreign policy the required G.O.P. position has become one of utter confidence in the effectiveness of military force. How did that work in Iraq? Never mind: The only reason anybody in the world fails to do exactly what America wants must be because our leadership is lily-livered if not treasonous. And diplomacy, no matter how successful, is denounced as appeasement.

Not incidentally, the shared Republican stance on foreign policy is basically the same view Richard Hofstadter famously described in his essay “The Paranoid Style in American Politics”: Whenever America fails to impose its will on the rest of the world, it must be because it has been betrayed. The John Birch Society has won the war for the party’s soul.

But don’t all politicians spout canned answers that bear little relationship to reality? No.

Like her or not, Hillary Clinton is a genuine policy wonk, who can think on her feet and clearly knows what she is talking about on many issues. Bernie Sanders is much more of a one-note candidate, but at least his signature issue — rising inequality and the effects of money on politics — reflects real concerns. When you revisit Democratic debates after what went down Saturday, it doesn’t feel as if you’re watching a different party, it feels as if you’ve entered a different intellectual and moral universe.

So how did this happen to the G.O.P.? In a direct sense, I suspect that it has a lot to do with Foxification, the way Republican primary voters live in a media bubble into which awkward facts can’t penetrate. But there must be deeper causes behind the creation of that bubble.

Whatever the ultimate reason, however, the point is that while Mr. Rubio did indeed make a fool of himself on Saturday, he wasn’t the only person on that stage spouting canned talking points that are divorced from reality. They all were, even if the other candidates managed to avoid repeating themselves word for word.

Bobo, solo

December 8, 2015

Bobo has decided he knows enough now, and that he can tell us “How ISIS Makes Radicals.”  Then he starts rattling his saber and swinging his dick around and says ISIS’ ideological seduction will end only when the group is defeated militarily and psychologically.  In the comments “gemli” from Boston had this to say:  “Note that the three-part solution offered by Mr. Brooks involves two vague and impossible tasks, namely to heal social disintegration and replace suicidal causes with inspiring ones. But the entire column is actually designed to promote only the third part of the final solution, which is to break ISIS militarily. Brooks thinks this diffuse, poisonous and persecuted group of religiously-motivated zealots can be killed with bullets. He wants us to kill a death cult. You’d have better luck trying to drown a fish.”  Better that Bobo should take a good long look in the mirror and ponder how his party produces radicals like Trump and his supporters.  Here he is:

After the terrorist attack in San Bernardino, some people’s minds flew to the materialistic element of the atrocity — the guns that were used in the killing. But the crucial issue, it seems to me, is what you might call the technology of persuasion — how is it that the Islamic State is able to radicalize a couple living in Redlands, Calif.? What psychological tools does it possess that enable it to wield this far-flung influence?

The best source of wisdom on this general subject is still “The True Believer,” by Eric Hoffer, which he wrote back in 1951. Hoffer distinguished between practical organizations and mass movements. The former, like a company or a school, offer opportunities for self-advancement. The central preoccupation of a mass movement, on the other hand, is self-sacrifice. The purpose of an organization like ISIS is to get people to negate themselves for a larger cause.

Mass movements, he argues, only arise in certain conditions, when a once sturdy social structure is in a state of decay or disintegration. This is a pretty good description of parts of the Arab world. To a lesser degree it is a good description of isolated pockets of our own segmenting, individualized society, where some people find themselves totally cut off.

The people who serve mass movements are not revolting against oppression. They are driven primarily by frustration. Their personal ambitions are unfulfilled. They have lost faith in their own abilities to realize their dreams. They sometimes live with an unrelieved boredom. Freedom aggravates their sense of frustration because they have no one to blame but themselves for their perceived mediocrity. Fanatics, the French philosopher Ernest Renan argued, fear liberty more than they fear persecution.

The successful mass movement tells such people that the cause of their frustration is outside themselves, and that the only way to alter their personal situation is to transform the world in some radical way.

To nurture this self-sacrificing attitude, the successful mass movement first denigrates the present. Its doctrine celebrates a glorious past and describes a utopian future, but the present is just an uninspiring pit. The golden future begins to seem more vivid and real than the present, and in this way the true believer begins to dissociate herself from the everyday facts of her life: Her home, her town, even her new child. Self-sacrifice is an irrational act, so mass movements get their followers to believe that ultimate truth exists in another realm and cannot be derived from lived experience and direct observation.

Next mass movements denigrate the individual self. Everything that is unique about an individual is either criticized, forbidden or diminished. The individual’s identity is defined by the collective group identity, and fortified by a cultivated hatred for other groups.

There’s a lot of self-renunciation going on here. Ironically the true believer’s feeling that he is selfless can lead to arrogance and merciless cruelty. It can also be addictive. If the true believer permitted himself to lose faith in his creed then all that self-imposed suffering would have been for nothing.

These movements generate a lot of hatred. But ultimately, Hoffer argues, they are driven by a wild hope. They believe an imminent perfect future can be realized if they proceed recklessly to destroy the present. The glorious end times are just around the corner.

This kind of thinking is fantastical. “In the practice of mass movements,” Hoffer continues, “make-believe plays perhaps a more enduring role than any other factor.” The fanatics stage acts of violent theatricality, acutely aware of their audience. They dress up in military costumes. They rent mysterious black SUVs. Shooting a bunch of unarmed innocents couldn’t be more pathetic, but they play it with all the theatrical dramaturgy of a Hollywood action movie.

Hoffer summarizes his thought this way, “For men to plunge headlong into an undertaking of vast change they must be intensely discontented yet not destitute, and they must have the feeling that by the possession of some potent doctrine, infallible leader or some new technique they have access to a source of irresistible power. They must also have an extravagant conception of the prospects and potentialities of the future. Finally, they must be wholly ignorant of the difficulties involved in their vast undertaking. Experience is a handicap.”

The big thing that has changed in the past 60 odd years is that you don’t actually have to join a mass movement any more. You can follow it online and participate remotely.

The correct response is still the same, however. First, try to heal the social disintegration that is the seedbed of these movements. Second, offer positive inspiring causes to replace the suicidal ones. Third, mass movements are conquered when their charisma is destroyed, when they are defeated militarily and humiliated. Then they can no longer offer hope, inspiration or a plausible way out for the disaffected.

Cohen, Kristof and Collins

November 19, 2015

Well.  Mr. Cohen has decided to rattle his little saber and swing his little dick.  In “Body Bags in Paris” he snarls that the West, post-Iraq, has lost the capacity for anger, and says that is dangerous.  In the comments “craig geary” from Redlands, FL had this to say:  “Same song, different day.  Never worn a uniform, never been IN a war, Roger Cohen wants Americans sent to slaughter or to be slaughtered.”  And “Stephen LeGrand” from right here in Savannah adds:  “This is the kind of thinking that will keep us in a perpetual war in the Mideast, sucking blood and treasure with no foreseeable end.”  Not to be outdone, “Arun Gupta” from NJ kept it short and sweet:  “I think Mr Cohen should take a sabbatical until good sense returns.”  Mr. Kristof, in “Following the Terrorists’ Script,” says our disgraceful response to Jews fleeing Germany during World War II risks being repeated with Syrian refugees.  No risk at all — it IS being repeated, with 31 governors huddled under their beds, peeing their pants in fear of toddlers.  Ms. Collins gives us “A Holiday Treat From Congress,” and says most of our senators don’t want to burden private pilots with a lot of questions about their health.  Here’s Mr. Cohen, pounding his little tin drum:

The flag at half-mast atop the Grand Palais, the darkened silhouette of the Eiffel Tower, the Big Wheel at Place Concorde immobilized for days, the jumpiness at the slightest sound, the stories of friends lost or almost, the streets that feel as if the air has been sucked out of them: This is Paris, resilient but jittery.

I open the daily Le Monde and read Antoine Leiris writing about his wife, Hélène Muyal-Leiris, one of the 129 people slaughtered by the terrorists of the Islamic State: “On Friday evening, you stole the life of an exceptional being, the love of my life, the mother of my son, but you will not have my hatred.” Nor the hatred of his one-year-old son, who “will affront you by being happy and free.”

Defiance lies in remaining unbowed, in embracing the life the traffickers of death wish to extinguish. No child should be raised in hatred.

But freedom has to be fought for. It can demand anger. These killers make us hostages of our own democracies. They trample on the very border-crossing freedoms that European passports afford them. The West, post-Iraq, has lost its capacity for rage, even at this. That is dangerous.

We may not know who exactly the killers are but we know what they want to destroy. They spit at Montaigne, Voltaire and De Tocqueville. They loathe reason. They detest freedom. They cannot bear the West’s sexual mores. They would enslave the world, particularly its women, to the cruel god of their medievalist reading of Islam.

The French President, François Hollande, says France is “at war” against “a jihadi army.” France will be “pitiless.” There will be “no respite, no truce.” More than two years ago, after President Bashar al-Assad used chemical weapons, Hollande was ready to bomb Syria alongside President Obama. Then Obama wavered. Hesitation has been Obama’s modus operandi on Syria.

Now there are body bags in Paris.

Since 2013, ISIS has come to terrorize the world. Hollande will travel to Washington and Moscow next week in an attempt to forge a broad coalition to act “decisively” against it.

If the President Obama he finds is the same Obama who spoke in Turkey on Monday, the French president will be disappointed. The contrast between Hollande’s fire and Obama’s flatness as he insisted he would not put American troops on the ground to defeat ISIS was one of the stranger aspects of being in Paris this week.

It was clear again that Europe’s generational struggle for unity and freedom against totalitarian violence tends to leave this post-Atlanticist president cold. Words and body language are not everything. Still, they count.

Obama said: “We can retake territory. As long we leave our troops there, we can hold it, but that does not solve the underlying problem of eliminating the dynamics that are producing these kinds of violent extremist groups.”

True, jihadi terrorism (not “extremism”) will not disappear overnight if the United States and its allies take back the territory ISIS controls in Syria and Iraq. But the existence of this “state” is a compelling recruitment tool. It gives ISIS oil revenue (between $500 million and $1 billion a year), training camps, stature, space to enact its wanton brutality, and a base to direct international killing.

This border-straddling ISIS sanctuary must be eliminated, just as the Afghan safe haven of Al Qaeda was after 9/11 (before the disastrous distraction of Iraq). Raqqa is much closer to Europe than Tora Bora. ISIS has effective terrorists but indifferent soldiers. They are beatable. Kurdish militias — not the U.S. military by any means — have made rapid inroads. They and other local forces can help.

But Obama does not have the will. “Let’s assume we send 50,000 troops into Syria,” he said in Turkey. “What happens when there’s a terrorist attack generated from Yemen?”

That’s a straw-man game unworthy of the president. Its subtext: Because you can’t solve all the problems of the world, solve none. ISIS in Syria and Iraq is the core of the terrorist threat to Europe and America today. So destroy it.

President Vladimir Putin has forces on the ground in Syria. He has at last turned Russian bombing against ISIS after the terrorist group’s downing of a Russian passenger jet. Like Hitler, ISIS may have made the fatal mistake of targeting Moscow.

Stalin was an effective Western ally in World War II. Hitler was defeated. But the division of Europe ensued and the Soviet enslavement of half the Continent. Maybe Putin can help against ISIS, but if the West is a mere spectator the result will be equally disastrous. America and its allies must be as present on the ground as Russia if they are to shape the Syrian denouement. President Assad is not part of the solution. He’s part of the problem.

I fear for Antoine Leiris’s little motherless boy. The West has lost its spine, a spine called America.

Eat a huge plate of salted rat dicks, you turd.  Send your own son.  Now here’s Mr. Kristof:

Desperate refugees flee persecution and war, but American politicians — worried about security risks — refuse to accept them.

That’s the situation today, but it’s also the shameful way we responded as Jews were fleeing Nazi Germany in the 1930s. In the shadow of one world war, on the eve of another, Americans feared that European Jews might be left-wing security threats.

“Jews are not Communists,” Rabbi Louis I. Newman of Manhattan noted, pleadingly, in December 1938, trying to assuage the xenophobia. “Judaism has nothing in common with Communism.”

Yet in January 1939, Americans polled said by a two-to-one majority that the United States should not accept 10,000 mostly Jewish refugee children from Germany. That year, the United States turned away a ship, the St. Louis, with Jewish refugee children; the St. Louis returned to Europe, where some of its passengers were murdered by the Nazis.

That is a stain on our conscience that risks being repeated. Some 26 Republican governors are trying to block entry of Syrian refugees. All the Republican presidential candidates say that we should bar Syrian refugees or apply a religious test and accept only Christians.


A tweet of a young British man’s Facebook page went viral.

Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey says we shouldn’t accept Syrians even if they are toddlers and orphans. And the House of Representatives may vote this week on legislation to impede the resettlement of Syrian refugees.

One Syrian family — a man who once ran a clothing store, his wife and their 4-year-old child — were supposed to arrive in Indiana this week. Then Gov. Mike Pence announced that Syrians were unwelcome, and the family is settling in Connecticut instead.

Remember what a Syrian immigrant looks like — the father of Steve Jobs.

Thank goodness that when my father came to America as a refugee from Eastern Europe in 1952, politicians weren’t fearmongering. My dad sailed to New York, bought a copy of the Sunday New York Times to teach himself English, and took the train across the country to a welcoming Oregon.

When Indiana today shuns desperate refugees, it is shunning people like my family.

Yes, security is critical, but I’ve known people who have gone through the refugee vetting process, and it’s a painstaking ordeal that lasts two years or more. It’s incomparably more rigorous than other pathways to the United States.

If the Islamic State wanted to dispatch a terrorist to America, it wouldn’t ask a mole to apply for refugee status, but rather to apply for a student visa to study at, say, Indiana University. Hey, governors, are you going to keep out foreign university students?

Or the Islamic State could simply send fighters who are French or Belgian citizens (like some of those behind the Paris attacks) to the U.S. as tourists, no visa required. Governors, are you planning to ban foreign tourists, too?

Refugee vetting has an excellent record. Of 785,000 refugees admitted to the United States since 9/11, just three have been arrested for terrorism-related charges, according to the Migration Policy Institute in Washington.

If Republican governors are concerned about security risks, maybe they should vet who can buy guns. People on terrorism watch lists are legally allowed to buy guns in the United States, and more than 2,000 have done so since 2004. The National Rifle Association has opposed legislation to rectify this.

Although Donald Trump fulminates about President Obama supposedly wanting to bring in 250,000 or more Syrian refugees, that’s preposterous: Obama proposes admitting 10,000 Syrian refugees over a year. That’s tiny, just 1 percent of the number that Lebanon has accepted.

The Islamic State is trying to create a religious divide and an anti-refugee backlash, so that Muslims will feel alienated and turn to extremism. If so, American and European politicians are following the Islamic State’s script.

Let’s be careful not to follow that script further and stigmatize all Muslims for ISIS terrorism. As a young British Muslim man, Kash Ali, wrote in a post that went viral on Twitter: “I don’t understand why non Muslims think we British Muslims can stop ISIS. Mate, I can’t even get a text back from the girl I like, and you expect me to stop a terrorist organization?”

Look, accepting 10,000 refugees is not a solution. Indeed, there is a risk that Angela Merkel’s admirable compassion will lead far larger numbers to undertake the difficult journey and die on the way. The top priority must be making Syria habitable so that refugees need not flee. This is where I believe President Obama has failed — Syria is his worst foreign policy failure — but it’s good to see him push back at the hysteria about Syrian refugees.

Helping Syrian refugees today doesn’t solve the Middle East mess any more than helping Jewish refugees in 1939 would have toppled Hitler. But it’s the right thing to do. Syrians, no less than those Jewish refugees, no less than my father, are human beings needing help, not flotsam.

And now here’s Ms. Collins:

In honor of the coming vacation travel season, the Senate is working on a bill that would loosen the requirement that pilots take medical examinations.

Yes! I know that’s been on your mind a lot, people. Next week, as you gather around the Thanksgiving table, be sure to express your gratitude to Congress. If you hear a small plane buzzing overhead, drink a toast to the future, when the folks in America’s cockpits may no longer be burdened with repressive, old-fashioned health monitoring.

Pop quiz: Which of the following aviation issues would you like to see your elected representatives resolve by the end of 2015?

— Ban those laser lights that stupid kids keep flashing in pilots’ eyes.

— Do something about all the damned drones flying around airports.

— End the passenger peril of being squashed by a reclining seat.

— Ease pilot health exams! Ease pilot health exams!

“The U.S. Senate has an excruciatingly difficult time doing anything, and here they’re dismantling something that’s been working pretty well,” complained Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut. He is opposed to the bill in question, and that puts him in pretty select company. More than two-thirds of his colleagues are co-sponsors.

We are talking here about general aviation pilots, the men and women who fly private planes. They’re currently required to get a medical exam by an F.A.A.-approved physician every five years, and then every two years once they pass 40. The pilots hatehatehate this rule. They claim the doctors are hard to find and charge too much money. But the great underlying fear is that some stranger with a stethoscope will strip them of the ability to fly.

It’s easy to understand why pilots want to stay aloft. I’ve enjoyed every non-campaign-related private flight I’ve ever taken, including in the two-seater owned by an environmentalist who once flew me over a lake full of pig feces that had been treated with chemicals that turned it the color of Pepto-Bismol.

However, I think I speak for most of America when I say that we ought to continue being a little picky about the people we let up there.

The bill’s lead sponsor, Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma, is a very enthusiastic 81-year-old pilot who starred in an exciting airborne adventure about five years ago, when he landed his Cessna at an airport in Texas despite A) The large “X” on the runway, indicating it was closed, and B) The construction crew working on said runway, which ran for their lives when he dropped in.

As a result, the senator had to take part in a remedial training program. This irritated him so much that he successfully sponsored the first Pilot’s Bill of Rights, which makes it easier to appeal that kind of harsh, unforgiving judgment.

The Senate commerce committee is now considering Inhofe’s P.B.R. 2, which would eliminate the current medical exam requirement. Instead, pilots would just write a note in their log every four years saying they’d been to a physician who said everything’s fine. The bill has 69 sponsors.

Very little in the current world of Washington is that popular. You may be wondering why. Well, although Inhofe is best known as the climate change denier who once brought a snowball into the Senate to prove the globe isn’t warming, he’s also a very powerful guy, the chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, an architect of this year’s $350 billion highway construction bill.

Plus, there are hundreds of thousands of private pilots, many of them rather wealthy. “Most of them are single-issue people, so it would be very good to join in on this,” Inhofe said pointedly in a recent Senate speech. Some small-minded observers suspect he also has personal skin in the game, what with having had quadruple bypass heart surgery and all.

The bill hit a small snag on Wednesday when Democrats on the Senate commerce committee proposed that the doctors who do the new exams — who could be anyone from a dermatologist to a golfing buddy — be given a government-approved checklist of problems to look for.

They lost on a party-line vote. “My trust is in the physician compared to the F.A.A.,” said one of the Republicans. The real problem was apparently resistance from a certain snowball-making highway bill author.

“The answer has always come back from Senator Inhofe’s staff: No,” complained Bill Nelson of Florida, the ranking Democrat on the committee. Nelson, you understand, was not arguing that a dermatologist should be off-limits as a pilot medical examiner. He just wanted to increase the chances that the patient would be asked if he was subject to dizzy spells.

At that moment the committee suddenly discovered it was lacking a quorum. But everyone expects the bill to rise again in triumph. “It would have been laughable except it’s so serious,” said Blumenthal.

Blow, Cohen and Collins

October 15, 2015

In “Queen Hillary Came to Play” Mr. Blow says Sanders’s strong performance was subsumed by Clinton’s even stronger one. She held steady and defiant.  Mr. Cohen, in “Obama’s What Next?”, says the president has been the king of the slippery-slope school of foreign policy.  Ms. Collins considers “Hillary Clinton’s Happy Brew” and says she’s having a magical month, so be careful about messing with her mojo.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

Hillary Clinton crushed it! There is no other way for me to put it.

Her performance Tuesday night at the first Democratic debate was so spectacular as to erase all doubt: Weakened as she may be, there is still fire in that belly, and she will not quietly shift to the side to make room for someone else — not Bernie Sanders, and not Joe Biden should he ever stop this annoying dillydallying and decide to run.

And I don’t consider her performance spectacular simply because of what she did — although she demonstrated a remarkable assuredness and dexterity — but also because of what the others didn’t do.

It seemed as if Clinton was the only candidate on that stage that came to play … and to win.

Days before the debate on CNN (where I am a commentator), I was asked who I thought had the most to gain from the debate. I answered: Bernie Sanders.

My reasoning was that there are still large sections of the Democratic base — namely blacks and Hispanics — who don’t know who he is, and the debate was a perfect opportunity for him to introduce himself to those voters.

I actually believe that Sanders did that. He forcefully presented his message, and really hammered his selling point, his crusade against income inequality. And he had some strong and memorable lines, like “Congress does not regulate Wall Street; Wall Street regulates Congress.”

But in the end, Sanders’s strong performance was subsumed by Clinton’s even stronger one. Indeed, Sanders may have increased the margin separating them when he said that Americans were tired of talking about Clinton’s emails, thereby giving her a pass.

None of this means Republicans have not done real damage to her brand — her credibility and her electability. They have. None of it means that she would be the best general election candidate. Who knows.

And none of this means that Clinton’s performance was perfect. She inexplicably couldn’t bring herself to say the words “Black Lives Matter,” even after meeting with the group last week. She fumbled about a bit when answering a question about her relationship to Wall Street. She could have been more tactful when answering the question about the enemies she was proud of making.

But all in all, she played it nearly perfectly. That was in part because there was a prevailing sense of civility and seriousness that hung over the debate. That’s good. But there were also times when that civility seemed to border on acquiescence. Absolute civility isn’t always a luxury available to those who are losing. They need to punch up, often and hard.

The only person who came with that kind of bite was the curmudgeonlyJim Webb, who seemed like a candidate who got lost on his way to the Republican debate and simply decided to show up at the Democratic one.

Martin O’Malley seemed to be asleep during the first hour of the debate, and when he spoke he whispered more than Janet Jackson on the “Rhythm Nation” album.

I was absolutely sure that Clinton would be dinged a bit during the debate, but she escaped virtually unscathed and therefore looking untouchable.

Even when they attacked Hillary, she deftly negotiated the obstacles and turned them to her advantage.

Poor Lincoln Chafee, who seemed dazed and confused for the whole debate, could hardly get his answers out.

When Chafee was asked if he stood by his previous attacks on Clinton’s character and her use of a private email server, Chafee replied:

“Absolutely. We have to repair American credibility after we told the world that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction which he didn’t, so there’s an issue of American credibility out there. So anytime someone’s running to be our leader, and a world leader, which the American president is, credibility is an issue out there with the world. And we have repair work to be done. I think we need someone that has the best in ethical standards as our next president.”

When Clinton was asked if she would like to respond, she delivered the perfect little one-word dis: “No!” That’s the kind of shade that would make Dorian Corey — who introduced the nuanced concept of “shade” to much of America in the 1990 documentary “Paris is Burning” — applaud.

But that wasn’t the only thing I’ve seen on a screen that occurred to me Tuesday.

One of the most memorable lines from the HBO series “The Wire” comes when the notorious and eerily unflappable Omar yells to men shooting at him: “You come at the king, you best not miss.”

That line kept replaying in my mind Tuesday night as attacks like Chafee’s missed their mark and Hillary held steady and defiant.

You come at the queen, you best not miss.

It’s interesting that almost everyone at the Times is firmly in the bag for Hillary.  Their readers?  Not so much.  Here’s “Karen Garcia” from New Paltz, NY in response to Mr. Blow:  “It was a performance, period. And now Charles Blow dutifully joins the elite chorus to make the coronation official. Actually, the Huffington Post was the first outlet to use the phrase “crushed it” to describe the Chris Matthews-like thrill traveling up the giant media leg. That the press esteems style over substance has never been made more abundantly, nauseatingly clear. Paul Krugman wrote a pretty good smack-down of all the columnists and talking heads now tripping all over themselves in their abrupt pivot from Hillary Hate to Hillary Love She didn’t change. Her TV persona – her “brand” – has improved.  The irony is that it was fear of her stumbling that caused her pal Debbie Wasserman Schultz to limit the Democratic debates to an undemocratic, ridiculous six. The blessing is that the pundits are finally beginning to stifle their annoying “Draft Biden” chatter.  But guess what? Early polls, albeit unscientific, show that as far as regular citizens are concerned, it was Bernie who “crushed it.” In choosing not to attack Hillary on such things as the Saudis contributing $1 million to the Clinton Foundation after her State Department sold them $20 billion worth of lethal weapons, he showed himself to be a focused, decent man more interested in defending the downtrodden than in scoring points to win at any cost.  People don’t care about performances. We care, and Bernie cares, about how political corruption enables an oligarchy that is ruining millions of our lives.”  Now here’s Mr. Cohen:

Throughout the Obama years, when international crises and possible American intervention were discussed in the Situation Room, one question from the president was likely to recur: “O.K., but what happens after that?”

It could be the establishment of a no-fly zone in Syria, or setting up a safe area for Syrians fleeing, or putting troops back in Iraq after Islamic State militants overran Mosul — always there was concern over a slippery slope. President Obama, under his Doctrine of Restraint described in my last column, has been the king of the slippery-slope school of foreign policy. His decision to keep thousands of troops in Afghanistan, rather than withdraw them as previously planned, appears to reflect an acknowledgement that American retrenchment can be perilous.

The thing about the president’s what-next refrain was that it inevitably led to a range of dire scenarios. Suppose an American forward air controller in Iraq gets captured by Islamic State and burned alive? Suppose you’ve cratered the airfields in Syria and President Bashar al-Assad, rather than suing for peace, steps up his brutal ground campaign and resists? Well, take out his air defense sites and fast-forward arming the opposition. But then you get Russians and Iranians and Hezbollah pouring in to help Assad, and before you know it you’ve got 150,000 American troops on the ground invested in another intractable war.

O.K., but what happens after that?

Obama came to office at a time when sins of commission (read Iraq and Afghanistan) outweighed sins of omission. Inclined to lawyerly prudence, yet not without Wilsonian idealism, he was determined to reverse that.

He has sought, with some conspicuous exceptions, including the important Iran nuclear deal, what Robert Blackwill, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, described to me as “a risk-free foreign policy.” For example, drone attacks on nations without air defenses are near risk-free.

But because there are always reasons not to act, the pursuit of the risk-free tends to pass the initiative to adversaries who believe they can escalate with no fear of American reprisal — see Russia and China. That is the freelance world we now live in. Syria is the American sin of omission par excellence, a diabolical complement to the American sin of commission in Iraq — two nations now on the brink of becoming ex-nations.

A pivotal moment came in 2013 when Obama was on the verge of a military response to Assad for crossing the American “red line” on chemical weapons. The British Parliament had voted against participation. Obama spoke to David Cameron, the British prime minister, who explained the situation. He spoke to François Hollande, the French president, who said France stood shoulder-to-shoulder with America. Targets had been identified. A long meeting of Obama’s top advisers was held on Friday, Aug. 30. The consensus was that the British vote did not change the calculus for action. The president asked if he had the constitutional authority to go ahead. He was told he did. When the meeting broke up, military action was imminent.

Then the president went for a now famous walk and in effect changed his mind. As a result, America’s word is worth less in the world. Syria could not be worse off than it is. “When your strongest asset, your military, is not ready to engage, people will factor you out,” Vali Nasr, the dean of the John Hopkins University Paul H. Nitze School of International Studies, told me.

But could it have been otherwise? American power in 2015 is not American power in 1990. Hyper-connectivity and the rise of the rest will constrain any president even if the United States, as Hillary Clinton put it, is not Denmark.

Suppose — that word — Obama had been frank and said: “My job is to reduce the footprint of America in a changed world and empower other countries to do more.” That’s a total sinker in American politics.

It’s unthinkable because most Americans are still hard-wired to American exceptionalism, the notion that America is not America if it gives up on spreading liberty. So it becomes hard to find a foreign-policy language that’s aligned to reality but does not smack of “declinism” — fatal for any politician. Republican bloviating about “weakling” Obama notwithstanding, any future president will face this foreign-policy dilemma: The distance between America’s idea of itself and what it can plausibly achieve is widening.

That said, I believe Obama has sold America short. The foreign-policy pendulum that swings between expansiveness and retrenchment has swung too far. His shift from indispensable power to indispensable partner has backfired when partner after partner — the Afghan Army, the Iraqi Army — has proved ineffective. The United States is not even at the Minsk table on the Ukraine crisis. Germany is.

“Just do it” might have served Obama better at times than “What next?” Between paralysis and 350,000 troops on the ground there are options. Not every intervention is a slippery slope. The question, post-Syria, is whether the next president can make American power credible enough to stop this crisis or another in the Middle East, the Baltics, or the South China Sea, from spiraling out of control.

And the rattling of sabers and swinging of dicks continues.  Just about the only thing you need to know about Mr. Cohen is that he was a supporter of the Iraq war.  Now here’s Ms. Collins:

So, Hillary Clinton. Skipping down the street. Sun is shining. A small and brightly colored bird is perching on her shoulder. Look — is that a rainbow?

Wow, what a good month she’s having. Certainly she’s due, by the sheer laws of probability. Nobody has as many bad months as Hillary Clinton. But this is really one heck of a run. Do you think there’s been an intervention? I just looked up a magic spell for “achieving a dream job” and it involves candles, cinnamon incense and bergamot oil. Just saying.

She had a great debate Tuesday night. Her main opponent, Bernie Sanders, said America was sick and tired of the damned email thing! This is actually classic Sanders, who combines persistent truth-telling with extreme crankiness. But convenient as all get-out for Clinton, who did an excellent job herself on most of the questions. In a perfect world she wouldn’t have said “I represented Wall Street,” but all in all, a home run.

And think of all the other stuff that’s been falling her way. She aced her spot on “Saturday Night Live.” This sort of thing is actually not all that tough for politicians — you just have to look sort of human. On the other hand, it’s hard to imagine Ted Cruz playing a sympathetic bartender.

And there’s Benghazi. The Republican-controlled House investigative committee that’s scheduled to grill her next week is beset by every disaster short of a plague of locusts. First House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy went on TV and utterly ruined the committee’s credibility by suggesting its purpose was to destroy Clinton’s presidential campaign.

The bad juju kept spreading. McCarthy dropped out of the race for speaker of the House, leaving the Republican majority in disarray and chaos. Maybe Clinton has been using that Macbeth recipe, the one involving eye of newt.

Then a former employee of the investigative committee popped up out of nowhere claiming he had been fired because he didn’t want to spend all of his time looking for ways to destroy Hillary Clinton. Double the newts and don’t hold back on the toe of frog.

A Times story by Eric Lipton, Noam Scheiber and Michael Schmidt explored the committee’s $4.5 million, 17-month history and was full of fascinating details beginning with the planned interviews that never occurred and hearings that never happened. Meanwhile, according to the aggrieved ex-employee, some staffers used their spare time to form a gun-buying club, while members held “wine Wednesdays” at which they sipped from glasses labeled “Glacial Pace.”

The committee leaders could, of course, still come down hard on Clinton. But if they do, you have to hope at some point she’ll bring up the guns and wine.

Right now, the Clinton campaign is still in the post-debate glow. More viewers watched it than the season premiere of “The Walking Dead”! People, when you are depressed about the state of the nation, think about the fact that more people wanted to see Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders on CNN than tuned in for the most popular zombie TV series in history.

Clinton is almost always good in debates — she hit a question about Carly Fiorina’s opposition to paid family leave out of the park — and it didn’t hurt to be a woman surrounded by four crabby-looking men, only one of whom seemed to have any actual excuse for being there. Some people felt the high point was Sanders’s denouncing the email questions, but I personally treasure the moment when Lincoln Chafee called himself “a block of granite.”

Sanders did fine. In fact, he seemed to win the focus groups, and small donors poured in a new font of money. The country deserves a two-person debate between him and Clinton, maybe just about the financial industry. The next morning we would be discussing the Glass-Steagall Act from coast to coast, which would definitely make “The Walking Dead” ratings story pale by comparison.

But the first-debate danger for Clinton was mainly that one of the lesser-known candidates would come out of left field and throw her off balance, with jabs about ethics and emails. It is hard to express the degree to which that did not happen. Martin O’Malley, the former governor of Maryland, who was the original favorite to be Guy Who Gives Hillary a Run, looked at times as if he wanted to cry. The next morning O’Malley sent out a mass mailing announcing that the debate “wasn’t about me” but instead about … the death penalty.

It was possibly the weirdest campaign email I have ever seen in my life. Maybe O’Malley got caught up by the Hillary Clinton success spell. We’ll know it’s real next week if they open the Benghazi hearing and the Capitol starts to levitate.

And another one’s in the bag…  In the comments “Meredith” from NYC had this to say:  “Sanders ‘extreme crankiness’ has to be compulsively mentioned, even when ‘he did fine’? Thanks. Yes, HC did well, but not THAT well.  I don’t get why there’s an obvious NY Times bandwagon going on. First it was all dissing Sanders and now all rah rah Hillary. All alike. Can’t there be some variation? Some issue discussion instead of just horse race?  All the news that’s fit to print? Or all the news that’s fit for —what? Cable TV? The Web?  Readers might like to know, what do the op ed columnists think of fair wealth tax rates, a financial transaction tax, reversing Citizens United, restoring regulations, and how to finance college tuition—just to name a few. Is it verboten to discuss unions and min wage? Is it too much of a stretch to switch to these from the horse race, once in a while?   This is the nation’s most prestigious and authoritative newspaper? Seems as the quality of our campaigns declines, so does our media coverage.  Of course the Dems had a better debate than Gop—anything would be better. If the inmates of an insane asylum staged a debate for who would be president of the inmate association—it would sound like the Republican debates!  Did the decline in media start with television changing over to news infotainment, and cable TV 24 hour blather to fill air time, then the web and instant trendiness and click bait? Then the newspapers, trying for revenue, follow along? Will this get worse? What could reverse it? It’s big money in politics of course.”

Blow, Cohen and Krugman

February 9, 2015

In “Beyond ‘Black Lives Matter'” Mr. Blow has a question.  He says Michael Brown and Eric Garner are now old news. He then asks: Where do we go from here?  Mr. Cohen, in “Western Illusions Over Ukraine,” says the only way to change Putin’s cost-benefit analysis is to help arm Ukraine.  JUST what we need — more saber rattling and dick swinging…  Prof. Krugman says “Nobody Understands Debt.”  He says families who rely on it make themselves poorer, so isn’t that true of nations? No, it isn’t, as he explains.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

The Black Lives Matter protesters took some criticism for what others viewed as a lack of clear focus and detailed agenda. But in truth, raising an issue to the point where it can no longer be ignored is the grist for the policy mill. Visibility and vocalization have value.

In the same way that Occupy Wall Street forever elevated that concept of income inequality, the Black Lives Matter protesters have elevated the idea of inequity in policing as it relates to minority communities.

Protests following the grand jury decisions in the police killings of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., and Eric Garner on Staten Island have largely died down. Those stories no longer command front page placement or lead the news. The news machine, hungry for newness, as is its wont, has moved on to measles and back to the Islamic State’s medieval murder tactics.

But, as is often the case, there was no full resolution or reconciliation. The issue of police-community relations was raised but not solved. The memory of mistrust still wafts through the air like the smell of rot being carried by the breeze.

What was it all for? What came of it? Where do we go from here?

First, the encouraging news.

In December, President Obama signed an executive order establishing the Task Force on 21st Century Policing, which in part aims to “foster strong, collaborative relationships between local law enforcement and the communities they protect.”

The White House has promoted the use of body cameras, and police departments across the country are considering their purchase and use.

The task force has held listening sessions around the country, and Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. is holding round-table discussions.

The Ferguson Police Department last week began testing a “less lethal” device that attaches to an officer’s gun. According to The Washington Post, “When a bullet fired, it melded with an attached projectile the size of a Ping-Pong ball that flew with enough force to knock a person down, maybe break some ribs, but not kill him, the product’s makers said — even at close range.”

The Huffington Post reported in November that in 2013, 27 law enforcement officers “were killed as a result of felonious acts — the lowest such figure in more than 50 years of F.B.I. reporting.” That month, The Chicago Tribune reported that “U.S. violent crimes including murders fell 4.4 percent in 2013 to their lowest number since the 1970s, continuing a decades-long downturn, the F.B.I. said.”

Now the discouraging news. According to a November USA Today report, “The number of felony suspects fatally shot by police last year — 461 — was the most in two decades, according to a new F.B.I. report.”

Something about these numbers doesn’t add up, and it will be interesting to see whether the protests and the heightened sensibilities they brought to the surface will affect these numbers in next year’s reporting.

In New York, after Mayor Bill de Blasio and the police union came to loggerheads, the mayor skipped an opportunity to address the issue of the police and minorities communities, and Police Commissioner Bill Bratton seems to be going out of his way to reassure the department at the expense of future protests.

The worry is that rapprochement may come to resemble appeasement.

In this month’s State of the City speech, as The Village Voice put it, de Blasio hardly mentioned policing, offering anodyne praise for the city’s officers. This raised the hackles of many reform advocates, even among his supporters.

Bratton has announced the creation of a separate police unit of roughly 500 patrol officers to handle temporary issues like large protests. He has resisted Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposal for an independent monitor in cases where grand juries fail to indict officers in the death of a civilian. And he proposed raising resisting arrest from a misdemeanor — a charge that carries a maximum penalty of one year in prison and is often tossed out — to a felony.

According to BuzzFeed, the president of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, Pat Lynch, “also called for enhanced penalties against protesters, asking the Legislature to make assaulting a police officer at a public assembly a Class B felony, which would carry a penalty of up to 25 years in prison.”

Few people support resisting arrest or assaulting officers, but in the scrum of protests, such severe penalties for sometimes subjective or even dubious charges seem disproportionate and an attempt to chill dissent.

This is what happens when a story fades from the headlines, the heat is dialed down and the eyes avert: In the silence, amid the stillness, there is movement. The immediacy of protests gives way to the glacial pace of policy. The burden is to remain vigilant, so that movement is in the right direction.

Now here’s Mr. Cohen, who just can’t wait to whale away on those war drums:

The most difficult thing for a communist, it has been observed, is to predict the past. I was reminded of this as I listened to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, in full Soviet mode at the Munich Security Conference, suggesting that after World War II it was “the Soviet Union that was against splitting Germany.”

People laughed; they guffawed. Germans recall the Soviet clamp on the east of the country and the Berlin Wall. But in a way Lavrov was right: The Soviet Union would have been quite happy to swallow all of Germany, given the chance.

Today, in similar fashion, President Vladimir Putin’s Russia would be quite happy to absorb all of Ukraine, which it views as an extension of the motherland, an upstart deluded by the West into imagining independent statehood.

Lavrov’s performance here reflected the alternate universe in which the Russian spaceship has docked almost a quarter-century after the collapse of the Soviet Union. George Orwell’s doublethink scarcely begins to describe his assertions.

Russia’s annexation of Crimea was, he insisted, a popular uprising, the people “invoking the right of self-determination” as per the United Nations Charter. Ukrainians were engaged in an orgy of “nationalistic violence” characterized by ethnic purges directed against Jews and Russians. The United States was driven by an insatiable desire for global dominance and, in Ukraine, had orchestrated the “coup d’état” last year that led to the ousting of President Viktor Yanukovych. Europe post-1989 had turned its back on building “the common European house,” declining the prospect of a “free economic zone” from Lisbon to Vladivostok in favor of the expansion of NATO eastward to the doorstep of mother Russia.

Dream on, Sergei.

In fact, the Russian annexation of Crimea tore up by forceful means “the territorial integrity” and “political independence” of Ukraine, in direct violation of Article 2 of the United Nations Charter. It also shredded Russia’s formal commitment under the Budapest Memorandum of 1994 to respect Ukraine’s international borders. The “nationalistic violence” that has again raised issues of war and peace in Europe stems not from Kiev but from Moscow, where Putin has cultivated a preposterous fable of encirclement, humiliation and Western depredation to generate hysteria and buttress Russian aggression in eastern Ukraine.

Similarly, the fascism Lavrov purports to locate in Ukraine through allusions to attacks against Jews and other ethnic groups can in fact be far more persuasively identified back home. Putin has reminded humankind that the idiom fascism knows best is untruth so grotesque it begets unreason. The Russian leader has invoked history the better to turn it into farce. He has persevered in the nonsense that all the Russian forces and matériel in eastern Ukraine are figments of the world’s imagination.

Lavrov’s “coup” in Ukraine was nothing of the sort: It was a popular uprising against a corrupt Russian puppet strong-armed into turning his country away from closer association with the West. Ukrainians are not nuts. They find the allure of Warsaw or Berlin greater than that of sunny Minsk. When they hear “common European house” they translate it as “Soviet imperium.”

Two plus two equals five was a Soviet slogan. It was deployed in 1931 in support of the notion that Stalin’s five-year plan could be completed in four. Two plus two equals five is still the “truth” emanating from Moscow. This is worth recalling in all negotiations over Ukraine.

There was much talk here of a possible Franco-German engineered cease-fire; of there being “no military solution” to the Ukrainian conflict (except, of course, the one Putin has in mind); of the advisability or not for the West of sending weapons to support the Ukrainian government (Chancellor Angela Merkel is opposed); and of the need to be resolute, at least in word.

Resolute-schmesolute: It’s time to get real over Putin. He has not poured tanks and multiple-launch rocket systems over the Ukrainian border because he is about to settle for anything less than a weak Ukraine, sapped by low-level conflict in the Donetsk region, a country with its very own pro-Russian enclave à la Abkhazia or Transnistria, firmly within the Russian sphere of influence: the symbol of his definitive strategic turn away from closer cooperation with the West toward the confrontation that shores him up as oil prices and the currency plunge. He will not let Ukraine go.

There is a language Moscow understands: antitank missiles, battlefield radars, reconnaissance drones. Bolster the Ukrainian Army with them and other arms. Change Putin’s cost-benefit analysis. There are risks but no policy is risk-free. Recall that Ukraine gave up more than 1,800 nuclear warheads in exchange for that bogus commitment from Russia back in 1994 to respect its sovereignty and borders. Surely it has thereby earned the right to something more than night-vision goggles. The West’s current Ukraine diplomacy is long on illusion and short on realism. Two plus two equals four, in war and peace.

I wonder if there’s an area that he doesn’t want to arm…  Here’s Prof. Krugman:

Many economists, including Janet Yellen, view global economic troubles since 2008 largely as a story about “deleveraging” — a simultaneous attempt by debtors almost everywhere to reduce their liabilities. Why is deleveraging a problem? Because my spending is your income, and your spending is my income, so if everyone slashes spending at the same time, incomes go down around the world.

Or as Ms. Yellen put it in 2009, “Precautions that may be smart for individuals and firms — and indeed essential to return the economy to a normal state — nevertheless magnify the distress of the economy as a whole.”

So how much progress have we made in returning the economy to that “normal state”? None at all. You see, policy makers have been basing their actions on a false view of what debt is all about, and their attempts to reduce the problem have actually made it worse.

First, the facts: Last week, the McKinsey Global Institute issued a report titled “Debt and (Not Much) Deleveraging,” which found, basically, that no nation has reduced its ratio of total debt to G.D.P. Household debt is down in some countries, especially in the United States. But it’s up in others, and even where there has been significant private deleveraging, government debt has risen by more than private debt has fallen.

You might think our failure to reduce debt ratios shows that we aren’t trying hard enough — that families and governments haven’t been making a serious effort to tighten their belts, and that what the world needs is, yes, more austerity. But we have, in fact, had unprecedented austerity. As the International Monetary Fund has pointed out, real government spending excluding interest has fallen across wealthy nations — there have been deep cuts by the troubled debtors of Southern Europe, but there have also been cuts in countries, like Germany and the United States, that can borrow at some of the lowest interest rates in history.

All this austerity has, however, only made things worse — and predictably so, because demands that everyone tighten their belts were based on a misunderstanding of the role debt plays in the economy.

You can see that misunderstanding at work every time someone rails against deficits with slogans like “Stop stealing from our kids.” It sounds right, if you don’t think about it: Families who run up debts make themselves poorer, so isn’t that true when we look at overall national debt?

No, it isn’t. An indebted family owes money to other people; the world economy as a whole owes money to itself. And while it’s true that countries can borrow from other countries, America has actually been borrowing less from abroad since 2008 than it did before, and Europe is a net lender to the rest of the world.

Because debt is money we owe to ourselves, it does not directly make the economy poorer (and paying it off doesn’t make us richer). True, debt can pose a threat to financial stability — but the situation is not improved if efforts to reduce debt end up pushing the economy into deflation and depression.

Which brings us to current events, for there is a direct connection between the overall failure to deleverage and the emerging political crisis in Europe.

European leaders completely bought into the notion that the economic crisis was brought on by too much spending, by nations living beyond their means. The way forward, Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany insisted, was a return to frugality. Europe, she declared, should emulate the famously thrifty Swabian housewife.

This was a prescription for slow-motion disaster. European debtors did, in fact, need to tighten their belts — but the austerity they were actually forced to impose was incredibly savage. Meanwhile, Germany and other core economies — which needed to spend more, to offset belt-tightening in the periphery — also tried to spend less. The result was to create an environment in which reducing debt ratios was impossible: Real growth slowed to a crawl, inflation fell to almost nothing and outright deflation has taken hold in the worst-hit nations.

Suffering voters put up with this policy disaster for a remarkably long time, believing in the promises of the elite that they would soon see their sacrifices rewarded. But as the pain went on and on, with no visible progress, radicalization was inevitable. Anyone surprised by the left’s victory in Greece, or the surge of anti-establishment forces in Spain, hasn’t been paying attention.

Nobody knows what happens next, although bookmakers are now giving better than even odds that Greece will exit the euro. Maybe the damage would stop there, but I don’t believe it — a Greek exit is all too likely to threaten the whole currency project. And if the euro does fail, here’s what should be written on its tombstone: “Died of a bad analogy.”

Cohen and Nocera

September 30, 2014

Mr. Cohen loves him some war.  In “Here There is No Why” he shrieks that the Islamic State represents the counterhuman and that the human has no alternative but to fight back.  In the comments “Mark Thomasen” from Clawson, WI has this to say:  “This begins by comparing the deaths of three men to the Holocaust, with several excerpts from an account of a death camp. It ends with Hitler. Along the way it says both this enemy like Hitler is ‘non-human,’ and ‘really counter-human.’ … This is purest propaganda for war.”  Mr. Nocera takes a look at “The Hole in Holder’s Legacy” and says the Justice Department under Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. failed to prosecute cases related to the financial crisis.  Here’s Mr. Cohen:

In a famous passage from “Survival in Auschwitz,” Primo Levi relates an incident upon arrival in the Nazi death camp that captures the intersection of the human with the inhuman. He and other Italian prisoners have been held in a shed as they await their fate. Levi looks around in search of some means to quench his thirst:

“I eyed a fine icicle outside the window, within hand’s reach. I opened the window and broke off the icicle but at once a large, heavy guard prowling outside brutally snatched it away from me. ‘Warum?’ I asked him in my poor German. ‘Hier ist kein warum,’ (there is no why here), he replied, pushing me inside with a shove.”

There is no why here. The phrase has been reverberating in me since I watched a henchman of the organization that calls itself Islamic State behead two American journalists, James Foley and Steven Sotloff, and a British aid worker, David Haines. The men had been broken by their imprisonment. They had been hollowed out, a terrible thing to behold. How many times they must have asked themselves the why of their captivity, humiliation and torture right up to the moment when a small knife was applied, with a sawing motion, to their throats. Each of the three men died alone, unlike the Yazidis murdered in droves, the Shiite soldiers massacred, the women and children slaughtered during the advance of black-clad ISIS forces across northern Iraq. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of ISIS, has created a cult of violence that makes the elimination of all nonbelievers the cornerstone of a movement whose avowed objective is a restored Islamic caliphate but whose raison d’être is the slaughter itself.

It is human to seek for reasons. Perhaps the rise of ISIS may be seen as the culmination of decades of Arab resentment at perceived Western domination, drawing support from the same anger as the Muslim Brotherhood and Al Qaeda before it; or as an expression of the abject failure of Arab societies; or as an armed Sunni response to the Shia-bolstering American invasion of Iraq; or as brutal payback for Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo (where, it must be said, there was scant “why” for prisoners detained for years and guilty of no crime); or as a well-funded offshoot of Saudi Wahhabism interpreted in its most literal form; or as a heady alternative for disaffected young Muslims to the moral void of Western civilization; or as evidence of the crisis of Islam and the inevitable Thirty Years War of its Sunni and Shia branches; or simply as a call to arms to drive out the United States the way the infidel Crusaders were ousted from the Levant.

Yet, in the end, there is no why to the barbarism of ISIS. There is no why in Raqqa. Evil may adduce reasons; they fall short. The Nazi death machine was unique. Facile invocation of it is too frequent, belittling the phenomenon and its victims. But I was given pause by Martin Amis’ afterword to his powerful new novel, “The Zone of Interest,” where he probes the “why” of Hitler and quotes both the icicle passage and another from Levi:

“Perhaps one cannot, what is more one must not, understand what happened, because to understand is almost to justify. Let me explain: ‘understanding’ a proposal or human behavior means to ‘contain’ it, contain its author, put oneself in his place, identify with him.” Levi, referring to Hitler, Himmler and the rest, goes on: “Perhaps it is desirable that their words (and also, unfortunately, their deeds) cannot be comprehensible to us. They are non-human words and deeds, really counter-human.”

Presented with the counter-human, the human must fight back. In the joint “Statement on Atrocities” of October 1943, issued by Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin, there was no mention of the Jews, although millions had been gassed or shot by then. A defense mechanism to the incomprehensible is to pretend it does not exist. “Leave it to the Arabs, it’s their mess, they can clean it up,” is an inadequate (if understandable) response to ISIS. It would have been the wrong one. President Obama’s coalition in the war to eradicate ISIS may be flimsy but passivity was not an option.

Hitler, of course, destroyed Germany. His fury was directed outward but its ultimate impact was inward. Al-Baghdadi with his 1,000-year caliphate targets the West, but it is a rotten Arab order that is at risk and must find a response to ISIS and the frustrations of its citizens. This is an Arab Zero Hour. One other thing: In this fight, I would say, all means are good. The Soviet Union, an ideological rival, was a key ally of the United States in defeating Nazism. It is obvious which nation today can play that role against ISIS. Its name is Iran.

“All means are good.”  So he’s telling us that the end justifies the means…  Here’s Mr. Nocera:

A few weeks ago, Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. gave a speech at the New York University School of Law on the subject of white-collar prosecutions. In it, he offered a full-throated defense of his department’s efforts in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis. With his resignation announcement coming eight days later, one can’t help but view his speech as a kind of valedictory.

The Justice Department, he said, had stood vigilant against financial fraud “wherever it is uncovered” — and prosecuted “criminal conduct to the fullest extent of the law.” He took credit for negotiating huge fines against financial firms, and for forcing several big banks — Credit Suisse and BNP Paribas — to accept guilty pleas.

As for the prosecution of individuals involved in the financial crisis, he claimed that the Justice Department had “taken aggressive action, nearly doubling the number of mortgage fraud indictments and criminal convictions between 2009 and 2010, then increasing them even further the following year.”

Actually, Holder’s Justice Department has been notoriously laggard in prosecuting crimes that stemmed from the financial crisis, and much of what it has done amounts to an exercise in public relations.

Take, for instance, those guilty pleas extracted from Credit Suisse and BNP Paribas. Last March, Holder said that he feared that prosecuting large financial institutions could hurt the economy. This became known as his “too big to jail” remark — which he quickly disavowed. No wonder he was eager to have some firms plead guilty! Yet, as Peter Henning notes in a New York Times DealBook article, the Justice Department made sure those guilty pleas didn’t inflict too much pain. In the case of BNP Paribas, prosecutors secured agreements from state banking regulators that they wouldn’t pull the bank’s license to do business.

Or take the claim that the Justice Department has been rigorously rooting out mortgage fraud. In fact, after a grand announcement that the department was putting together a mortgage fraud task force, U.S. attorneys around the country began aiming their fire at easy prey: small-time mortgage brokers, or homeowners who had lied on “liar loans.” None of the top executives from any of the major firms were indicted. Indeed, according to an article in The New York Times Magazine in May, only one executive of any kind — a mid-level executive with Credit Suisse — has gone to prison as a result of his actions during the financial crisis. The notion that he’s the only one who committed a crime in the mortgage-crazed run-up to the financial crisis is, quite simply, implausible.

As for those big fines against Bank of America, Citigroup and JPMorgan Chase, not only did they come very late, but their terms were such that it was impossible to know for sure the extent of their wrongdoing. And, of course, despite fines that went into the billions, no actual human was prosecuted for any wrongdoing.

So the question worth asking, as Holder plans to step down, is not what his department did but why it did so little. Why was it so reluctant to pursue the financial crimes connected to the 2008 crisis? One answer is that these are hard cases to prosecute — harder than negotiating a financial settlement with a big bank. Early on, the Justice Department tried two Bear Stearns portfolio managers whose hedge fund — stuffed with mortgage-backed securities — collapsed. The two men were found innocent. That verdict seems to have sent a chill through prosecutors, making them reluctant to go after others.

Jesse Eisinger, the author of that Times Magazine article, wrote that, over the years, the Justice Department saw “an erosion of the department’s actual trial skills,” as well as a drop in resources. In the Southern District of New York, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara focused — with great success — on insider-trading cases, where he had wiretaps that made prosecutions relatively easy, instead of difficult-to-try financial crisis cases.

Adam Levitin, a professor at Georgetown Law School, had his own list of reasons, which he emailed me. They included fear that the Obama administration would be accused of an anti-business witch hunt if it went after Wall Street; “deep personal, cultural, financial and political ties” between the administration and Wall Street; and a lack of understanding of the products and markets involved. “What it all boils down to,” Levitin concluded, “is that we didn’t have prosecutions because no one ever really wanted to prosecute.”

Holder’s legacy is a mixed bag. As The Times’s Matt Apuzzo wrote last week, he “succeeded in reducing lengthy prison sentences, opened civil rights investigations against police departments in record numbers and challenged identification requirements for voters.” On the negative side, he subpoenaed journalists and went after their sources.

No matter how he tries to spin it, Holder’s inability — or unwillingness — to prosecute financial crimes is on the negative side of the ledger.

Of course he wasn’t going to prosecute the banksters.  And he’s heading right back to the same white shoe law firm he came from.  A firm that represents those very banksters, as well as good citizens like the NFL…

Cohen, Nocera and Bruni

August 19, 2014

In “Ambivalence About America” Mr. Cohen tells us that even as Europeans rage at the United States, they love its products.  Mr. Nocera tells us about “The Man Who Blew the Whistle.”  He says when the S.E.C. announced last month that it was awarding $400,000 to a whistle-blower, it didn’t name the recipient per the Dodd-Frank law. His name is Bill Lloyd, and Mr. Nocera gives us his story.  Mr. Bruni tells us all about “The Trouble With Tenure” and says teacher job protections are being challenged, and a lawmaker and former school principal explains why that’s good.  Here’s Mr. Cohen:

Attitudes in Europe toward an America that is regrouping are marked today by extreme ambivalence. Europeans have long been known for finishing their diatribes about the United States by asking how they can get their child into Stanford. These days, European after-dinner conversation tends to be dominated by discussion of the latest episode of “House of Cards” or “Homeland” or “Mad Men.” A French diplomat told me that every meeting he attended at the White House during his tour in Washington ended with one of his party asking if it might be possible to see the West Wing. He found it embarrassing.

Europeans complain of the personal data stored or the tax loopholes exploited by the likes of Amazon, Facebook, Starbucks, Google and Twitter, but they are hooked on them all. Google, as recently reported by my colleague Mark Scott, now has an 85 percent share of search in Europe’s largest economies, including Germany, Britain and France, whereas its share of the American market is about 67 percent. American tech companies operate seven of the 10 most visited websites in Europe. Rage at the practices of the National Security Agency is outweighed by addiction to a cyberuniverse dominated by American brands.

The magnetism of Silicon Valley may suggest that the United States, a young nation still, is Rome at the height of its power. American soft power is alive and well. America’s capacity for reinvention, its looming self-sufficiency in energy, its good demographics and, not least, its hold on the world’s imagination, all suggest vigor.

But geostrategic shifts over the past year indicate the contrary: that the United States is Imperial Rome, A.D. 376, with various violent enemies playing the role of the Visigoths, Huns, Vandals et al.; the loss at home of what Edward Gibbon, the historian of Rome’s fall, called “civic virtue,” as narrow interests paralyze politics; the partial handover of American security to private military contractors (just as a declining Rome increasingly entrusted its defense to mercenaries); the place of plunder rather than productiveness in the economy; and the apparent powerlessness of a leader given to talk of the limits of what the United States can do. There is no record of the Emperor Valens’s saying, as Obama did, “You hit singles, you hit doubles,” but perhaps he thought it.

Ambivalence is not peculiar to Europe, of course. To heck with the world’s problems, many Americans now say, we have done our share over all these decades of Pax Americana. If China and India are really rising, let them take responsibility for global security, as America took the mantle from Britain in 1945.

Barack Obama — professional, practical and prudent — would appear to suit this American zeitgeist. He may not be managing decline but he is certainly resisting overreach. He is not the decider. He is the restrainer.

Why, then, is Obama’s no-stupid-stuff approach to the globe so unpopular? Fifty-eight percent of Americans in a recent New York Times/CBS News poll disapproved of his handling of foreign policy, the highest of his presidency. A strange duality seems to be at work. Americans want the troops to come home. They want investment to prioritize domestic jobs, education, health care and infrastructure.

Yet many seem to feel Obama is selling the nation short. They want a president to lead, not be a mere conduit for their sentiments. Americans, as citizens of a nation that represents an idea, are optimistic by nature. It may be true that there is no good outcome in Syria, and certainly no easy one. It may be that Egyptian democracy had to be stillborn. It may be that Vladimir Putin annexes Crimea because he can. Still, Americans do not like the message that it makes sense to pull back and let the world do its worst. America’s bipolarity sees recent bitter experience vying with the country’s innermost nature, its can-do aspiration to be a “city upon a hill.”

It is not easy to read this world of bipolarity (both European and American), Jihadi Springs and Chinese assertiveness. It is too simple, and probably wrong, to say that the United States is in decline.

But Pax Americana is in decline. America’s readiness to use its power to stabilize the world — the current bombing of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria notwithstanding — is fading. For that reason, the world is more dangerous than it has been in a long time. The waning under Obama of the credibility of American power has created a vacuum no magnetic soft power fills.

The pendulum always swings too far. Obama the restrainer has been the great corrective to Bush the decider. Far from the magician imagined back in 2008, Obama has been the professional moderator. But the president has gone too far; and in so doing has undersold the nation, encouraged foes, disappointed allies, and created doubts over American power that have proved easy to exploit.

Immediately after this was a notation that Bobo was off today, so I guess Mr. Cohen had to send in his screed and do the saber-rattling and dick swinging instead.  Here’s Mr. Nocera:

Late last month, the Securities and Exchange Commission issued an oblique press release announcing that it was awarding an unnamed whistle-blower $400,000 for helping expose a financial fraud at an unnamed company. The money was the latest whistle-blower award — there have been 13 so far — paid as part of the Dodd-Frank financial reform law, which includes both protections for whistle-blowers and financial awards when their information leads to fines of more than $1 million.

The law also prevents the S.E.C. from doing anything to publicly identify the whistle-blowers — hence, the circumspect press release. But through a mutual friend, I discovered the identity of this particular whistle-blower, who, it turned out, was willing to tell his story.

His name is Bill Lloyd. He is 56 years old, and he spent 22 years as an agent for MassMutual Financial Group, the insurance company based in Springfield, Mass. Although companies often label whistle-blowers as disgruntled employees, Lloyd didn’t fit that category. On the contrary, he liked working for MassMutual, and he was a high performer. He also is a straight arrow — “a square,” said the mutual friend who introduced us — who cares about his customers; when faced with a situation where his customers were likely to get ripped off, he couldn’t look the other way.

In September 2007, at a time when money was gushing into variable annuities, MassMutual added two income guarantees to make a few of its annuity products especially attractive to investors. Called Guaranteed Income Benefit Plus 6 and Guaranteed Income Benefit Plus 5, they guaranteed that the annuity income stream would grow to a predetermined cap regardless of how the investment itself performed.

Then, upon retirement, the investors had the right to take 6 percent (or 5 percent, depending on the product) of the cap for as long as they wanted or until it ran out of money, and still be able, at some point, to annuitize it. It is complicated, but the point is that thanks to the guarantee, the money was never supposed to run out. That is what the prospectus said, and it is what those in the sales force, made up of people like Lloyd, were taught to sell to customers. It wasn’t long before investors had put $2.5 billion into the products.

The following July, Lloyd — and a handful of others in the sales force — discovered, to their horror, that the guarantee didn’t work as advertised. In fact, because of the market’s fall, it was a near-certainty that thousands of customers were going to run through the income stream within seven or eight years of withdrawing money.

Lloyd did not immediately run to the S.E.C. Rather, he dug in at MassMutual and, as the S.E.C. press release put it, did “everything feasible to correct the issue internally.” For a while, he thought he was going to have success, but, at a certain point, someone stole the files he had put together on the matter and turned them over to the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, which is the industry’s self-regulatory body. It was only when the regulatory authority failed to act that his lawyer told him about the whistle-blower provisions in Dodd-Frank and he went to the S.E.C., which began its own investigation.

The Dodd-Frank law has provisions intended to protect whistle-blowers from retaliation, but there are certain aspects of being a whistle-blower that it can’t do anything about. “People started treating me like a leper,” recalls Lloyd. “They would see me coming and turn around and walk in the other direction.” Convinced that the company was laying the groundwork to fire him, he quit in April 2011, a move that cost him both clients and money. (Lloyd has since found employment with another financial institution. For its part, MassMutual says only that “we are pleased to have resolved this matter with the S.E.C.”)

In November 2012, MassMutual agreed to pay a $1.6 million fine; Lloyd’s $400,000 award is 25 percent of that. It was a slap on the wrist, but more important, the company agreed to lift the cap. This will cost MassMutual a lot more, but it will protect the investors who put their money — and their retirement hopes — on MassMutual’s guarantees. Thanks to Lloyd, the company has fixed the defect without a single investor losing a penny.

Ever since the passage of Dodd-Frank reform, the financial industry has been none too happy about the whistle-blower provisions, and there have been rumblings that congressional Republicans might try to roll back some of it. The S.E.C. now has an Office of the Whistleblower, and a website where potential whistle-blowers can report fraud. It has given out $16 million in whistle-blower awards.

There are, without question, parts of the Dodd-Frank law that are problematic, not least the provisions dealing with the Too Big to Fail institutions.

But the whistle-blower provisions? They are working as intended. That is the moral of Bill Lloyd’s story.

And now here’s Mr. Bruni, writing from Denver:

Mike Johnston’s mother was a public-school teacher. So were her mother and father. And his godfather taught in both public and private schools.

So when he expresses the concern that we’re not getting the best teachers into classrooms or weeding out the worst performers, it’s not as someone who sees the profession from a cold, cynical distance.

What I hear in his voice when he talks about teaching is reverence, along with something else that public education could use more of: optimism.

He rightly calls teachers “the single most transformative force in education.”

But the current system doesn’t enable as many of them as possible to rise to that role, he says. And a prime culprit is tenure, at least as it still exists in most states.

“It provides no incentive for someone to improve their practice,” he told me last week. “It provides no accountability to actual student outcomes. It’s the classic driver of, ‘I taught it, they didn’t learn it, not my problem.’ It has a decimating impact on morale among staff, because some people can work hard, some can do nothing, and it doesn’t matter.”

I sat down with Johnston, a Democrat who represents a racially diverse chunk of this city in the State Senate, because he was the leading proponent of a 2010 law that essentially abolished tenure in Colorado. To earn what is now called “non-probationary status,” a new teacher must demonstrate student progress three years in a row, and any teacher whose students show no progress for two consecutive years loses his or her job protection.

The law is still being disputed and has not been fully implemented. But since its enactment, a growing number of states have chipped away at traditional tenure or forged stronger links between student performance and teacher evaluations. And the challenges to tenure have gathered considerable force, with many Democrats defying teachers unions and joining the movement.

After a California judge’s recent ruling that the state’s tenure protections violated the civil rights of children by trapping them with ineffective educators in a manner that “shocks the conscience,” Arne Duncan, the education secretary, praised the decision. Tenure even drew scrutiny from Whoopi Goldberg on the TV talk show “The View.” She repeatedly questioned the way it sometimes shielded bad teachers.

“Parents are not going to stand for it anymore,” she said. “And you teachers, in your union, you need to say, ‘These bad teachers are making us look bad.’ ”

Johnston spent two years with Teach for America in Mississippi in the late 1990s. Then, after getting a master’s in education from Harvard, he worked for six years as a principal in public schools in the Denver area, including one whose success drew so much attention that President Obama gave a major education speech there during his 2008 presidential campaign.

Johnston said that traditional tenure deprived principals of the team-building discretion they needed.

“Do you have people who all share the same vision and are willing to walk through the fire together?” he said. Principals with control over that coax better outcomes from students, he said, citing not only his own experience but also the test scores of kids in Harlem who attend the Success Academy Charter Schools.

“You saw that when you could hire for talent and release for talent, you could actually demonstrate amazing results in places where that was never thought possible,” he said. “Ah, so it’s not the kids who are the problem! It’s the system.”

When job protections are based disproportionately on time served, he said, they don’t adequately inspire and motivate. Referring to himself and other tenure critics, he said, “We want a tenure system that actually means something, that’s a badge of honor you wear as one of the best practitioners in the field and not just because you’re breathing.”

There are perils to the current tenure talk: that it fails to address the intense strains on many teachers; that it lays too much fault on their doorsteps, distracting people from other necessary reforms.

But the discussion is imperative, because there’s no sense in putting something as crucial as children’s education in the hands of a professional class with less accountability than others and with job protections that most Americans can only fantasize about.

We need to pay good teachers much more. We need to wrap the great ones in the highest esteem. But we also need to separate the good and the great from the bad.

Johnston frames it well.

“Our focus is not on teachers because they are the problem,” he said. “Our focus is on teachers because they are the solution.”

Brooks, Nocera and Bruni

August 12, 2014

In “Clinton, Obama and Iraq” Bobo gurgles that Hillary Clinton’s muscular approach to foreign policy offers a wise contrast to President Obama’s excess of caution.  The word “Bush” appears nowhere…  In “From Sneakers to O’Bannon” Mr. Nocera explains how a sports marketer came to take on the N.C.A.A.  In “Hillary Clinton, Barbed and Bellicose” Mr. Bruni says it’s clear that she’s in the race. It’s just as clear that she’s in a bind.  Here’s Bobo:

Last week, Hillary Clinton had a fascinating interview with Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic. The interview got immediate attention because of the way she discussed her differences with President Obama.

While admitting that no one will ever know who was right, Clinton argues that Obama might have done more to help the moderate opposition in Syria fight the regime of President Bashar al-Assad. “The failure to help build up a credible fighting force of the people who were the originators of the protests against Assad … left a big vacuum, which the jihadists have now filled,” she told Goldberg.

While showing lavish respect for the president’s intelligence and judgment, Clinton also made it clear that she’d be a more aggressive foreign policy leader. “Great nations need organizing principles, and ‘Don’t do stupid stuff’ is not an organizing principle,” she said, citing Obama’s famous phrase.

But the interview also illuminates the different flavors of Democratic thinking on foreign policy. We are now living in what we might as well admit is the Age of Iraq. The last four presidents have found themselves drawn into that nation because it epitomizes the core problem at the center of so many crises: the interaction between failing secular governance and radical Islam.

In her interview with Goldberg, Clinton likens the current moment to the Cold War. The U.S. confronts a diverse global movement, motivated by a hostile ideology: jihadism.

“Jihadist groups are governing territory. They will never stay there, though. They are driven to expand.” This jihadism shows up in many contexts, but whether in Gaza or Syria or Iraq, she says, “it is all one big threat.”

Clinton speaks as a Truman-Kennedy Democrat. She’s obviously much, much more multilateral than Republicans, but there’s a certain muscular tone, a certain assumption that there will be hostile ideologies that threaten America. There is also a grand strategic cast to her mind. The U.S. has to come up with an “overarching” strategy, she told Goldberg, to contain, deter and defeat anti-democratic foes.

She argues that harsh action is sometimes necessary. “I think Israel did what it had to do to respond to the rockets, “ she declared, embracing recent Israeli policy. “There’s no doubt in my mind that Hamas initiated this conflict. … So the ultimate responsibility has to rest on Hamas.”

This tone sometimes stands in tension with the approach President Obama articulated in his West Point speech in the spring, or in his interview with my colleague Thomas Friedman on Friday.

Obama has carefully not organized a large part of his foreign policy around a war against jihadism. The foreign policy vision he describes is, as you’d expect from a former law professor, built around reverence for certain procedures: compromise, inclusiveness, rules and norms. The threat he described in his West Point speech was a tactic, terrorism, not an ideology, jihadism. His main argument was against a means not an end: the efficacy of military action.

Obama is notably cautious, arguing that the U.S. errs when it tries to do too much. The cast of his mind is against intervention. Sometimes, when the situation demands it, he goes against his natural temperament (he told Friedman that he regrets not getting more involved in Libya), but it takes a mighty shove, and he is resistant all the way. In his West Point speech, he erected barriers to action. He argued, for example, that the U.S. could take direct action only when “there is near certainty of no civilian casualties.” (This is not a standard Franklin Roosevelt would have applied.)

Obama and Clinton represent different Democratic tendencies. In their descriptions of the current situation in Iraq, Clinton emphasizes that there cannot be inclusive politics unless the caliphate is seriously pushed back, while Obama argues that we will be unable to push back the caliphate unless the Iraqis themselves create inclusive politics. The Clinton language points toward some sort of intervention. Obama’s points away from it, though he may be forced by events into being more involved.

It will be fascinating to see how Clinton’s approach plays in Democratic primaries. (I’d bet she is going to get a more serious challenge than people now expect.) In practice, the Clinton approach strikes me as more sound, for the same reason that early intervention against cancer is safer than late-term surgery. In the Middle East, malevolent groups like the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria grow unless checked. Even in situations where our “friends” are dysfunctional, the world has to somehow check them, using a multitude of levers. Having done so little in Syria and Iraq for the past year, we can end the caliphate or we can stay out of Iraq, but we can’t do both.

If you don’t take steady, aggressive preventive action, of the sort that Clinton leans toward, then you end up compelled to take the sort of large risky action that Obama abhors.

Now here’s Mr. Nocera:

“When I first heard about the decision, I was speechless,” said Sonny Vaccaro. Speechless as in he never thought this day would come.

Vaccaro is the former sneaker marketer turned anti-N.C.A.A. crusader, and he was talking about Friday’s decision in the O’Bannon case — the one in which Judge Claudia Wilken ruled that the principle of amateurism is not a legal justification for business practices that violate the nation’s antitrust laws.

Though he is not a lawyer, Vaccaro is as responsible for the O’Bannon case as anyone. (Disclosure: One of the O’Bannon lawyers works for same law firm as my wife. She has no involvement in the case.)

Vaccaro first got the idea for the lawsuit in the late 1990s, around the time that ESPN bought Classic Sports Network for $175 million. ESPN Classic, as it was renamed, replays games from the past, many of which involve college teams. The players in those games have long since left college, yet they have no rights to their names and likenesses, just as had been the case when they were in school.

How, wondered Vaccaro, could that possibly be O.K.?

Vaccaro is probably best known for coming up with the idea of the “sneaker contract” during his heyday as a marketer for Nike. That’s a deal in which a college coach receives payment for having his team wear a particular brand of sneakers. In the 1980s, still with Nike, he took the idea a step further, paying a university to have all its athletes wear the same brand. There is not much question that Vaccaro helped fuel the commercialization of college sports. Though, as he likes to remind people, “the schools could have turned the money down. They never did.”

In 2007, Vaccaro quit his final job in the sneaker industry — he was at Reebok at the time — to devote his time to fighting the N.C.A.A., an organization he had come to loathe. He began going around the country making anti-N.C.A.A. speeches at universities. Five years ago, while in Washington to make a speech at Howard University, he had dinner with a lawyer friend and laid out his idea of bringing a lawsuit revolving around the names and likenesses of former college athletes. Before long, he was put in touch with Michael Hausfeld, a plaintiffs’ lawyer who was looking for a high-profile case to run with.

And one other thing: He found Ed O’Bannon, the former U.C.L.A. basketball star who became the lead plaintiff. Or, rather, O’Bannon called Vaccaro after seeing an avatar, clearly based on himself, in a video game, asking if he had any recourse. Vaccaro, in turn, put O’Bannon together with Hausfeld. And the rest, as they say, is history.

In the cool light of day, Judge Wilken’s decision does not appear likely to radically reshape college sports. The relief she granted the plaintiffs is likely to put some money into the pockets of athletes who play big-time football or men’s basketball. But it is certainly not going to make anybody rich, and the average fan won’t even notice the difference. It is not like the kind of change that took place when major league baseball players gained the right to become free agents in the 1970s. For instance, she ruled that players still won’t be able to endorse products for money. In so ruling, she bought into one of the N.C.A.A.’s core views — namely that college athletes need to be protected from “commercial exploitation.”

What is radical about her decision — and what could pave the way for further changes in other lawsuits — was her dismantling of the various rationales the N.C.A.A. has put forth over the years as its justification for insisting on amateurism as the bedrock of college athletics. Assuming her decision stands up on appeal, the N.C.A.A. will lose its ability to argue that amateurism is so noble an ideal that, in and of itself, it justifies anticompetitive behavior.

“Do I wish the decision had gone further?” Vaccaro said on Monday.  “Sure. It vindicated people like me, who have been voices in the wilderness for so long.”

“We have exposed them,” said Hausfeld.  “We have gotten rid of their implicit immunity from the antitrust laws.”

In March, another antitrust suit was filed against the N.C.A.A., by Jeffrey Kessler, a lawyer best known in the sports world for bringing the suit that gained free agency for professional football players.

 Kessler’s suit is much more ambitious than O’Bannon’s. He is arguing that the “matrix of restrictions” (as he put it to me) that prevent universities from deciding how to value and compensate players is anticompetitive and violates the antitrust laws.

Thus does O’Bannon now pass the baton to Kessler, as the N.C.A.A.’s critics begin the next leg of this race.

And last but not least here’s Mr. Bruni:

The other night, a prominent Democrat I know made the craziest statement.

“I don’t think Hillary’s going to run,” he proclaimed, silencing the room. He might as well have said that he’d just spotted Bigfoot pilfering rhubarb from the White House vegetable garden or that Arnold Schwarzenegger was in line to play Lear on Broadway. (“Cordelia, I’ll be baaaaack.”) He was humming some kind of loony tune.

His evidence?

“She seems tired,” he said, and that’s when all of us cracked up. Oh, yeah, she seems positively exhausted. That explains the juggernaut of a book tour, the CNN town hall and all the other interviews, including the doozy with The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg, which I’ll turn to in a bit. If there was nap time in there, I missed it.

Without yet becoming president, she has ascended to some level of saturation exposure that’s above and beyond omnipresent. At this point she’s practically ambient. Her “inevitability” may boil down to the fact that no one can imagine a political ecosystem — nay, a habitable environment! — without her. When it comes to the Clintons, we apparently have two choices. Put them on Rushmore, or put them back in the White House.

And yet.

She is walking a tightrope, and the challenge and peril of it become clearer all the time. The question isn’t whether she’s running: Of course she is, and the only newsworthy announcement down the road would be that she’s getting out of the race. The question is whether she can belittle Barack Obama as much as she must in order to win, but not so much that it plays as an act of sheer betrayal.

She needs the voters who elected him, twice, and who maintain affection for him. She also needs the voters in the throes of buyer’s remorse. Many of them jilted her for their romance with him and now see it as a heady but heedless affair. Can she exploit that, but in a high-minded, diplomatic fashion?

Not on the evidence of her blunt and condescending remarks to Goldberg, which were published over the weekend.

With Obama’s approval ratings sinking lower, especially in the realm of foreign policy, she reiterated that he’d made the wrong call in not arming Syrian rebels. This time around she also suggested that the jihadists of ISIS wouldn’t be so potent if we’d gone a different route.

But that wasn’t the surprise. Nor, really, were the words that she summoned — stronger than the president’s — to defend Israel’s military actions in Gaza.

The clincher was this withering assessment of Obama’s approach to the world: “Great nations need organizing principles, and ‘Don’t do stupid stuff’ is not an organizing principle.” A sagacious elder was rolling her eyes at a novice’s folly.

It wasn’t her only admonishment. “When you are hunkering down and pulling back, you’re not going to make any better decisions than when you were aggressively, belligerently putting yourself forward,” she said. “One issue is that we don’t even tell our own story very well these days.” That would presumably be the fault of the storyteller in chief.

Her welling dissent leaves her exposed on several fronts. If decisions made while she was still the secretary of state were flawed, is she blameless? Sure, her job, like any appointee’s, was to implement the chief executive’s vision, to follow his lead. But it was also to lobby and leave an imprint. Is she conceding that she didn’t do that effectively enough?

Her dissent also subjects her to the charge that has long dogged her: Everything is calculation and calibration. Obama’s down, so she’s suddenly and gratuitously blunt, dismissing his doctrine as more of a ditty.

Clinton is in a bind, because the president is indeed ripe for second-guessing, and because she is and has to be her own person, with differences of opinion that are surely genuine.

She must marvel at the strange turn of events. In the 2008 presidential campaign, she suffered for seeming too truculent in comparison with him, and he held her vote to authorize force in Iraq over her. Now she feels forced to make clear that she’s more truculent than he is, and his authorization of force in Iraq could have reverberations for his successor.

And she’s compelled to pledge a departure from the last six and a half years, because polls reveal a profound, stubborn discontent and pessimism in Americans. The soft bromides of “Hard Choices” aren’t going to do the trick. Is her barbed commentary in the Goldberg interview a better bet? Or can she find a bittersweet spot in between?

Although she’s always been a stickler for loyalty, her inevitability could hinge on how well she finesses disloyalty. It’s not going to be easy. But if you think it’ll dissuade her, have I got a Broadway play for you.

We need Clinton like a moose needs roller skates.  Count me among the ABC (Anybody But Clinton) folks.

Cohen and Nocera

July 22, 2014

Bobo and Bruni are off today.  In “The Suns of August” Mr. Cohen says bodies rot, looters roam, and the Russian-enabled downing of Flight 17 marks the nadir of the West.  Mr. Nocera has a question:  “Did Dodd-Frank Work?”  He says we really have no way of knowing whether “too big to fail” is still with us until we have another crisis.  Here’s Mr. Cohen:

A century on from World War I, nobody wants the guns of August.

Yet it must be asked if waiting years for the evasive conclusions of an official investigation into the fate of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 is better than acting now on what we already know: That the Boeing 777 with 298 people on board was shot down by a missile from a Russian-made SA-11 antiaircraft system fired from an area of eastern Ukraine controlled by Russian-backed separatists, Russian mercenaries and Russian agents. A half-drunk Ukrainian peasant with a 1950s-era rifle doesn’t shoot down a plane at 33,000 feet.

An “enormous amount of evidence,” in Secretary of State John Kerry’s words, points to Russian provision of SA-11 systems and training. The Ukrainian government has damning audio and images that capture the crime. In June, a Ukrainian cargo plane landing in the area was hit with shoulder-fired missiles, killing 49 people. This month, another cargo plane flying at 22,000 feet was hit by a missile. Rocket science is not required.

President Vladimir Putin of Russia has been playing with fire. His irredentism has made him a hero in Russia. It has endangered the world. Crimea was the swaggering precedent to this crime. The shooting down of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 amounts to an act of war. It was impromptu perhaps, but still. Dutch corpses have rained down on the sunflowers and cornfields of eastern Ukraine, to be defiled even in death, 193 innocent Dutch souls dishonored by the thugs of the Donetsk People’s Republic.

“This is murder, mass murder. Let’s call it what it is,” said Julian Lindley-French, a defense analyst who lives in the small Dutch village of Alphen. “Shock is turning to anger here,” he told me, “and that anger will resonate in the coming weeks. This is the beginning of a period of complex torture for the Netherlands.”

The Dutch response has been of tip-toeing deference to Moscow. As for the European Union, it has been near-nonexistent. When crisis comes, Europe vanishes — the ghost that slithers away. The West has become an empty notion. The Dutch trade a lot with Russia. Europe floats along in a bubble of quasi pacifism. Better to be bullied than belligerent. Nobody wants the guns of August.

“Swift recovery of the victims’ remains is now an absolute necessity and our highest priority,” Mark Rutte, the Dutch prime minister, said in a statement. “I am shocked by the images of completely disrespectful behavior at this tragic place.” He spoke to Putin to express his outrage.

That was pretty much it. Bodies rot in the sun for four days. They are stashed in plastic bags in refrigerated railroad cars at a fly-infested station before finally moving. The black box is a fungible bargaining chip. Louts go looting. It’s a free-for-all! Official investigation teams are barred at the perimeter. Putin spins implausible yarns robed in ghastly official formulas. His plausible deniability is utterly implausible.

A Dutch writer, Sidney Vollmer, addressed a bitter letter to Rutte thanking him for preserving the moral high ground of the Dutch, for “not rushing in for a bunch of rotting corpses” as “their wallets and iPhones make it all the way” to Moscow. The corpses, anyway, “will vanish into the fog of war” and, as everyone knows, “we need Gazprom.”

Dutch passivity has a name: the Srebrenica syndrome. It is becoming the Europe syndrome.

This mass murder is an outrage that should not stand. Falling military budgets have reduced the Dutch special forces to a paltry remnant. Russia would veto any United Nations Security Council Resolution authorizing force for a limited mission to recover the bodies and the evidence. But Ukraine, on whose territory the debris and dead lie, would support it. The American, British, Dutch and Australian governments should set an ultimatum backed by the credible threat of force demanding unfettered access to the site. Putin’s Russia must not be permitted to host the 2018 World Cup. A Western priority must be to transform the Ukrainian army into a credible force.

It won’t happen. Europe is weak. Obama’s America is about retrenchment, not resolve. Putin must be appeased. Nobody is about to call his bluff. The Putin-pacifiers have many arguments. Send forces into Ukraine and you prove the Russian argument that the West has designs on it. Besides, who wants World War III?

The self-styled Donetsk People’s Republic stares down Mark Rutte. The deathly poppy fields of 1914 give way to the deathly sunflower fields of 2014. Dutch flowers wing around the globe, still, a thriving trade.

A reader, Katherine Holden, sent me a poem called “The Flowering of Death.” She writes: “Velvet leaves and sturdy stems transient graves for children mothers lovers doctors teachers fathers students artists siblings seekers fallen from the darkening sky. Flesh-fed rain.”

Everyone wants the suns of August. Summer vacations rule. Nobody wants the guns — and damn the bigger guns appeasement may bring.

This article was updated to reflect news developments.

Yeah.  Let’s rattle the sabers and swing our dicks.  That will be helpful…  Here’s Mr. Nocera:

Ralph Nader has written a new book, entitled “Unstoppable: The Emerging Left-Right Alliance to Dismantle the Corporate State.” If you spend any time looking into the current state of affairs with the Dodd-Frank Act — Monday was the fourth anniversary of the law enacted to ensure that the country never suffers through another financial crisis like the one in 2008 — you’d have to say that he has a point.

There are many aspects of the law on which Democrats and Republicans disagree. But there is one area in which the two sides are largely in agreement: “Too Big to Fail” is still with us.

“In no way, shape or form does the Dodd-Frank Act end too big to fail,” said Representative Jeb Hensarling, the Texas Republican who is chairman of the House Financial Services Committee.

“The chances of another financial crisis will remain unacceptably high as long as there are financial institutions that are ‘too big to fail,’ ” wrote Senator Elizabeth Warren, a Massachusetts Democrat, in an opinion article she co-wrote with, among others, Republican Senator John McCain.

Dodd-Frank, of course, was supposed to end “Too Big to Fail,” the catchphrase for a financial institution whose collapse had the potential to bring down the entire financial system. That prospect is why, less than a month after the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers, the government handed billions of dollars to the big banks to help stabilize them.

In some ways, eliminating the possibility of future bank bailouts was the whole point of Dodd-Frank. Partly this was for populist reasons: Americans were outraged that the banks were bailed out, while the country got the worst of the Great Recession.

But it was also just good public policy. Karen Petrou, the managing partner of Federal Financial Analytics, told me that if the too-big-to-fail provisions in the law worked, “the rest of the law wouldn’t matter that much because the market would discipline the institutions.” But, she added, “I don’t think the Federal Reserve or the F.D.I.C.” — the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation — “is prepared to handle a systemic crisis for one of the big banks.”

To be sure, the Treasury Department insists that the days of “Too Big to Fail” are over. In a recent speech, Mary John Miller, the Treasury’s undersecretary for domestic finance, said, “No financial institution, regardless of its size, will be bailed out by taxpayers again.” She added, “Shareholders of failed companies will be wiped out; creditors will absorb losses; culpable management will not be retained and may have their compensation clawed back.” But the markets don’t believe it, and neither do most people who pay attention to Dodd-Frank.

There are two essential problems. The first is that it is hard to imagine that the government wouldn’t blink, as it did in 2008. “Does anyone really believe that if any of the big banks were about to go down, that the government would allow that to happen?” asked Dean Baker, a co-founder of the progressive Center for Economic and Policy Research. “No.”

The second problem is that it is difficult to envision how the law itself would “resolve” these institutions. In one part of Dodd-Frank, the banks are required to write “living wills,” laying out how they could wind down without causing a financial catastrophe. Although they are now on their third round of living wills, the documents are thousands of pages, and the government hasn’t yet told them whether the second round of living wills, filed a year or so ago, passed muster.

The law also says that if the regulators find the living wills too unwieldy and difficult to execute, it can force banks and financial institutions to shed assets and simplify their structures to make them easier to wind down. Warren and other lawmakers have pointed to this provision as something that could — if regulators pushed for it — force the banks to look more like they did pre-deregulation: with a division between commercial banks and investment banks.

Meanwhile, there is another part of Dodd-Frank that calls for banks to wind down through a process called orderly liquidation. In this scenario, the government puts the functioning parts of the bank into a new “bridge financial company,” and forces the private sector — shareholders, certain creditors, even assessments on other financial institutions if it comes to that — to take losses. Although the Treasury Department insists that the law forbids public money from being used, there are a lot of economists who have a hard time believing that taxpayer money would not somehow be used if things got really bad.

One person who does believe is Sheila Bair, the former chairwoman of the F.D.I.C. “I do think they could handle a big bank failure,” she told me. “It would be messy and difficult, but they could do it.”

Which is the ultimate problem: We have no way of knowing whether “too big to fail” still exists until we have another crisis. Let’s just hope we don’t have to find out anytime soon.