Five Best Tuesday Columns
Russian corruption, Hitler's Olympics, and Chris Christie's rage
Senator Ben Cardin on Russian Corruption In The Washington Post, Senator Ben Cardin recalls the story of Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian whistleblower who was arrested by those he accused, kept in "torturous" conditions, and denied healthcare as he died in isolation. The Russian government has admitted these facts, but those involved in the scandal remain in positions of power. The United States should take whatever steps possible to hold these Russians accountable, Cardin says. Magnitsky's case is just one of many examples of gross corruption in Russia and elsewhere. "The Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act, which I co-sponsored along with 20 other senators, is a broad human rights bill that would invoke a travel ban against serious violators of human rights, freeze any U.S. assets they may possess and publish their names--a powerful deterrent for those craving respectability and legitimacy in the West." Such a measure will send an important signal both to the corrupt and to those who fight against them, and may protect American companies working in Russia. Cardin supports President Obama's efforts to warm U.S.-Russian relations but says that only through liberalizing policies can Russia really develop. Encouraging such priorities is especially important in a year that will see elections in both Russia and the United States, Cardin concludes.
David Clay Large on Hitler's Olympics The international community has long remembered the 1936 Berlin Olympics, which supposedly "tamed the Nazi regime, if only temporarily--a story that has since justified awarding the Games to places like Soviet Moscow, Beijing and Sochi, Russia, host of the 2014 Winter Olympics." But writing 75 years to the month after those games in The New York Times, author David Clay Large cautions against the myth that politically controversial Olympic hosts will change their ways. "While it's clear that the Games failed to "open up' the Third Reich, it remains widely believed that, to placate visitors, Hitler's government cut back its persecution of Jews during the summer--in other words, that the Games achieved some of what the committee promised." In fact, the Nazis only limited persecution in Berlin itself. And while many believe the performances by Jesse Owens and other African-Americans forced many to rethink their white supremacist views, in fact Germans (and Americans) just tweaked them. "While certain 'inherited physical advantages' might make blacks good sprinters and jumpers, the thinking went, they could never compete successfully with whites in disciplines requiring strategy, teamwork or stamina." Again in Beijing, it remains unconvincing to say that awarding them the games caused any long-term loosening of their human rights abuses. Large doesn't argue we should hold the Games only in politically "clean" countries but that we "should use it as an opportunity to hold [controversial nations] to the values that the Olympics claim to represent."
Jeffrey Goldberg on Chris Christie's Well-Placed Anger New Jersey Governor Chris Christie's fury toward those who protested the appointment of a Muslim to the state's Superior Court was "a righteous blast of anger" aimed at "a suitable target," writes The Atlantic national correspondent Jeffrey Goldberg in Bloomberg. Sohail Mohammed represented Muslims detained by the FBI after the 9/11 attacks and acted as a liaison between the Muslim community and law enforcement. When Christie nominated him, anti-Muslim bloggers fretted that Shariah law might threaten the Constitution, a specter similarly invoked by several GOP presidential candidates. Mohammed was confirmed as a judge, but Christie remained angry at the "crushingly stupid" idea that Shariah law might come to New Jersey and the offensive questions posed to his nominee during confirmation hearings. "Christie's bravest statement was to acknowledge that Mohammed's post-Sept. 11 work defending Muslims was not just legitimate but also necessary--because some Muslims were inappropriately detained," Goldberg writes. "Christie is the rare figure in American politics who keeps his equilibrium while talking about the war on terrorism." Above all, Goldberg commends Christie for believing that his harsh words for other Republicans won't damage him politically because most Americans also believe in equality of opportunity regardless of religion.
David Gardner on the Assads' Inevitable Fall Syria's Assad regime is in its "twilight," writes David Gardner in Financial Times. The violence it has used has failed to quell the protests and pushed the opposition past the point where it can back down without the reprisals of death or imprisonment. "The youth-led, plural and, as in other Arab revolutions, initially peaceful movement can now only settle for real change: an end to the police state and the power monopoly of the Ba’ath party; free elections and an independent judiciary under the rule of law; and an end to corruption and the impunity of the business clique clustered around the ruling family." Western leaders have asserted that Assad knows he must stay ahead of change, but they underestimate the power dynamics in an Arab dictatorship. There are signs of weakness, too. The regime is asking other countries for money, but many, including Saudi Arabia have recognized that Assad must go. Business elites are losing faith in the regime, and even its security forces are stretched thin. "The struggle will still be prolonged and bloody," he writes, but international action in Libya has already provided hope for the rebels in Syria.
Menzie Chinn and Jeffry Frieden on the Debt America's downgrade by S&P reflects "political, not economic," concerns about the country's ability to fix it's financial problems and the insufficiency of the recent debt ceiling compromise, write Menzie Chinn and Jeffry Frieden in The New York Times. "There is little question about the technical ability of America to make good on its debts," but it's clear that "the deal sidesteps the fundamental challenge the country now faces: who will pay to fix what was broken during the past decade by irresponsible tax cuts, ruinously expensive wars, failures of regulation and the resulting housing and financial booms and busts?" The short term cuts to discretionary spending come at a time when America needs growth to stave off an even larger budget deficit. The downgrade also reflects fear that Republicans will block the Bush tax cut expiration, and budget woes cannot be solved without increasing revenues, the authors write. But the fundamental question in the next decades is who will have to pay for the borrowing of the previous generation? It's a question Europe has wrestled with already. Perhaps we can inflate our currency and push our debts onto our creditors. Republicans seem interested in protecting upper-income taxpayers from taking on the burden. Democrats are concerned with protecting the poor and the recipients of government aid. Without quickly addressing these questions and coming up with meaningful reform, America risks "losing the next decade" just as we lost the last one.