Archive

July 8th, 2016

My friend Chris Stevens was a hero

    The last time I saw my friend Chris Stevens was at the Benghazi Airport as his body was being transferred to the plane to begin his last journey back to the United States. The great, honorable, gentle man I welcomed to Benghazi only two days earlier now lay lifeless before me on the same tarmac.

    Chris had arrived in Benghazi on Sept. 10, 2012, for five days of meetings and to inaugurate an American cultural center at an English-language school under my care. A Libyan by birth and lifelong resident of Benghazi, I had for years taught English and facilitated cultural exchanges with the United States and, upon the resumption of diplomatic relations, served as an adviser and cultural interpreter for U.S. officials - especially Chris. I was also the one charged with coordinating his fateful visit to Benghazi.

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Merkel and Juncker vs. Europe's dreamers

    It is increasingly clear that the European Union is about to waste the crisis brought on by Britain's withdrawal vote. The leaders of the nation states have no stomach for any meaningful reform of EU institutions, the bureaucrats in Brussels are forced to take a back seat, and federalist dreamers are unceremoniously shunted aside.

    The influential German weekly, Der Spiegel, recently described the EU's reaction to "Brexit" as a "raging power struggle" between German Chancellor Angela Merkel and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker. Merkel, who had doubts about Juncker's appointment in 2014, is portrayed as trying to contain the damage from Brexit, play for time, let things calm down and maintain the EU as an intergovernmental forum rather than a supranational institution. Juncker, backed by European Parliament President Martin Schulz and Germany's Social Democratic Party, the junior partner in the country's ruling coalition, is squarely in the federalist camp seeking to re-establish the union, the magazine suggests.

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It’s Not Just Trump Who’s Confused About Racism

    Donald Trump, you might have heard, recently called Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren “racist” for claiming her Native American heritage.

    I believe the appropriate response to Trump can be expressed by a quote from The Princess Bride‘s Inigo Montoya: “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

    But it’s not just Trump who’s confused.

    I’ve seen plenty of white people get upset about people of color referring to themselves as “people of color.” Some even insist that they, as white people, have a color too. It’s kind of a pinkish-peachy color that sometimes tans.

    Well, from one pinkish-peachy person who tans sometimes to another, I have a few things to say.

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In a deadly Ramadan, ISIS terrorism exposes the failures of others

    Many Muslim majority countries will mark Eid al-Fitr, or the last day of the holy month of Ramadan, on Wednesday. But for politicians and other leading figures from Turkey to Bangladesh, the annual holiday comes at a profoundly somber moment.

    The past week has seen an alarming campaign of slaughter unleashed by the militants of the Islamic State, hitting targets in four different countries.

    "This has turned into the most blood-soaked Ramadan yet in the Islamic State's campaign," writes The Washington Post's Liz Sly. "At least 290 people have been killed in attacks claimed by or linked to the Islamic State -- at Istanbul Ataturk Airport, at a restaurant frequented by foreigners in the Bangladeshi capital, Dhaka, and in Baghdad. The vast majority of them, 222 people, died in the Baghdad blast, which targeted a shopping street packed with people celebrating the end of the day's fast and shopping for the approaching holiday."

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Government emails must be accessible to public

    In a defeat for the Obama administration, an appellate court has held that the government must release e-mails related to the White House science adviser's performance of his duties -- even though the messages are housed on a private server.

    The decision involves a different law than the one governing the e-mails of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, but the principle is the same: Government officials can't avoid public disclosure by using nongovernment e-mail accounts for government business. The timing of the opinion is probably an accident. Yet the lesson is striking, especially because the decision doesn't represent the most obvious interpretation of the Freedom of Information Act.

    The case involves a FOIA request made by the Competitive Enterprise Institute to the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. The director of the office, John Holdren, is the president's most important adviser on science and was previously a professor in two departments at Harvard. Most relevant for our purposes, he was also director of the Woods Hole Research Center, an independent, nonprofit research organization that focuses on climate-related issues.

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FBI report sends mixed message on Clinton

    The long-awaited FBI report on Hillary Clinton's handling of emails as secretary of state didn't charge her with criminal misconduct. But FBI Director James Comey's assertion that she and aides were "extremely careless" in handling classified information is enough to keep the political pot boiling over her qualifications to be president.

    That much became immediately evident in the speed with which her Republican and conservative critics seized on the full report Tuesday to continue their assault on her trustworthiness -- what for some time has been the centerpiece of their campaign against her.

    From presumptive presidential nominee Donald Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan to radio talk kingpin Rush Limbaugh, Republicans took to the Internet and the airwaves with allegations of political injustice.

    Comey's press conference coincided with Clinton's first campaign foray with President Obama, her old boss, in North Carolina, providing a somewhat awkward kickoff of her bid to extend many of Obama's foreign and domestic policies in her own presidency.

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Banks Don’t Commit Crimes, Bankers Do

    Hey, stop complaining that our government coddles Wall Street’s big, money-grubbing banks.

    Sure, they went belly-up and crashed our economy with their greed. And, yes, Washington bailed them out, while ignoring the plight of workaday people who lost jobs, homes, businesses, wealth, and hope.

    But come on, buckos. Haven’t you noticed that the feds are now socking the banksters with huge penalties for their wrongdoings?

    Wall Street powerhouse Goldman Sachs, for example, was recently punched in its corporate gut with a jaw-dropping $5 billion punishment for its illegal schemes. It’s hard to comprehend that much money, so think of it like this: If you paid out $100,000 every day, it would take you nearly 28 years to pay off just $1 billion.

    So imagine having to pull five big Bs out of your wallet. That should make even the most arrogant and avaricious high-finance flim-flammer think twice before risking such scams.

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Another So-Called Scandal Fails To Hinder Hillary

    You read it here first: "Fearless prediction," this column began on April 6, "No legalistic deus ex machina will descend to save the nation from the dread specter of President Hillary Rodham Clinton ... no Kenneth Starr-style 'independent' prosecutor, no criminal indictment over her 'damn emails,' no how, no way.

    "Ain't gonna happen...

    "Those impassioned Trump supporters holding 'Hillary for Prison' signs are sure to be disappointed. Again. Played for suckers by a scandal-mongering news media that declared open season on Clinton 25 years ago. And hasn't laid a glove on her yet."

    If they wanted to prevent Hillary from taking the oath of office next January, I wrote, voters were "going to have to do it the old-fashioned way: defeat her at the polls."

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3 antidotes to the 'Brexit' crisis

    Britain's vote to leave the European Union has put a lot of stress on global financial markets: Even as I write, investors' flight to safety has pushed the yield on U.S. Treasury bonds down to levels that I would have deemed inconceivable just six months ago. In my view, the risk that financial turmoil will damage the economy is at its highest point since the twin European and U.S. debt crises of 2011.

    Financial stability is often said to be the U.S. Federal Reserve's third mandate, along with price stability and maximum employment. If Fed wants to play this role effectively, it will have to act quickly. I see three measures that it can take .

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July 7th

The real Libor scandal may be who isn't in court

    A London court has just convicted three former Barclays traders of rigging Libor, with sentencing expected later this week. Jonathan Mathew, 35, Jay Merchant, 45, and Alex Pabon, 38, were found guilty of conspiracy with other Barclays employees between June 1, 2005 and August 31, 2007. The real scandal, though, may be the long list of senior bankers and officials who haven't been hauled before a judge to account for their roles -- starting at the very top of U.K. financial markets.

    It's now clear that the manipulation of London interbank offered rates for more than a decade -- borrowing costs which in turn set the values for $350 trillion of global securities -- came in two very different flavors. There were many traders falsifying rates for personal gain. But there were also banks pretending in 2007 and 2008 that all was well with the world, concealing the true cost and availability of money from investors and the wider public. The question that needs answering is how high up in the financial hierarchy was the latter behavior sanctioned?

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