Five Best Monday Columns

Rosecrans Baldwin on Nicolas Sarkozy's exit, Jerome Cohen on Chen Guangcheng's luck, Mark Halperin on the Obama campaign's confidence, James Surowiecki on Wal-Mart and bribery, and William Cohan on arrogance at Lehman Brothers

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Rosecrans Baldwin in The New York Times on Sarkozy's exit French voters ousted President Nicolas Sarkozy in favor of Socialist candidate François Hollande over the weekend, and many French are happy to see Sarkozy go. "But the French will miss him more than they realize," Baldwin argues. "Beneath the boorishness, the cringe-worthy comments, he transformed how France thinks of the presidency, just as he altered what America thinks of the French." Baldwin describes how the French typically wanted their president to behave, and notes how Sarkozy upended that. The French will lose a character they loved to hate, and Americans will lose a figure to whom they could relate, Baldwin writes. "They may not miss Nicolas Sarkozy now; they may never pine for him to return. They will, however, feel his absence. The temperature will drop. When an object we love to hate is removed, then love is lost, too."

Jerome Cohen in The Washington Post on Chen Guangcheng's luck With a promise from the government that embattled activist Chen Guangcheng can leave China to study abroad, the diplomatic crisis over his fate looks likely to conclude smoothly. Cohen writes, "[T]he role that luck played in Chen's saga is among the things that stand out." Cohen lists a long list of what-ifs that would have resulted in a more probable but less smooth outcome. For instance, Chen could have contacted Chinese friends who would have advised him not to leave the embassy, leading to a bigger standoff between the U.S. and China and perhaps making him a captive there. "I am no Dr. Pangloss who believes that every diplomatic debacle is for the best in this best of all possible worlds. Yet, look how things have turned out!"

Mark Halperin in Time on the Obama campaign's confidence Halperin sets the scene at the Obama campaign's Chicago headquarters, describing it as a cross between a "hip-casual dorm room" and "systematized Death Star." He reports: "In a series of interviews with campaign officials in Chicago, it is clear that the entire re-elect operation likes its odds of winning a second term. The informal slogan is essentially, 'be confident, but take nothing for granted.'" Halperin runs through the advantages the campaign thinks it has: Mitt Romney seems weak, he's taken positions to the right of the electorate, etc. Halperin lists some of Romney's advantages, but concludes, "the Obama team is not being coy when they admit this will be a close election.  But as of the first week of May, it is not a close election any of them expect to lose."

James Surowiecki in The New Yorker on Wal-Mart and bribery Wal-Mart's Mexican bribery scandal draws attention to America's Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which bans bribery of foreign officials. "Companies complain that these laws make it difficult to do business abroad, pointing out that in many developing countries bribery is a way of life. But that's exactly the point: these laws are designed to change that, and they do so by acting a bit like economic sanctions." Surowiecki argues that the law is not only ethically sound, but economically useful too. In the short term, it might hurt companies by restricting them from bribery, which can sometimes be more efficient. But in the long run, "Far from greasing the wheels of commerce, bribery tends to throw sand in them ... In the fight against corruption we're unquestionably on the high road. We should persuade others to join us there."

William Cohan in Bloomberg View on Lehman e-mails A law firm recently made available e-mails and documents from Lehman Brothers in the months before it's collapse. "The records confirm, yet again, that the 'forces-out-of- our-control' argument we hear from Wall Street leaders is bunk," Cohan writes. "It is the ill-advised behavior of one banker after another, day in and day out, that leads to the sort of devastating financial crisis we are only now emerging from." Cohan focuses in particular on e-mail exchanges between executives at Lehman in which they wrote arrogantly about their decision not to build up capital. "Knowing that Lehman would be belly up by the end of September 2008, reading these e-mails and documents is cringe- inducing," he says.
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