Opinion

David Rohde

Banks, crumbling ethics and a shrinking middle class

David Rohde
Jul 13, 2012 00:31 UTC

Maybe the acronym at the heart of the scandal is too confusing. Or Americans are simply tired of hearing about greedy bankers. By any measure, though, the Libor bank scandal is an extraordinary example of the 1 percent stealing from the 99 percent – and our crumbling ethics.

If an organized crime group was accused of breaking into the Nassau County Treasurer’s Office on New York’s Long Island and stealing $13 million, outrage would be widespread. And if the same group was accused of stealing millions from the City of Baltimore and other struggling municipalities, they would emerge as an issue in the presidential campaign.

Instead, the Libor scandal is emerging in dribs and drabs and drawing little public attention. The middle class is being victimized, and there is little protest.

Last month, the British bank Barclays agreed to pay $453 million to American and British authorities to settle allegations that it manipulated key interest rates for profit between 2005 and 2009, specifically the London Interbank Offered Rate, or Libor. American and British investigators are now examining whether traders at a dozen other banks – including the “too-big-to-fail” U.S. banks JPMorgan, Citibank and Bank of America – also manipulated rates.

It is hard to overstate the impact of the Libor benchmark, which is used to value some $360 trillion in loans and financial contracts worldwide. It affects lending to governments, businesses and consumers, and even student loan and credit card rates.

End the assault on female and local journalists

David Rohde
Jun 29, 2012 16:13 UTC

On Sunday, gangs of men sexually assaulted British freelance journalist Natasha Smith in Tahrir Square as crowds celebrated the results of Egypt’s presidential election.

On Wednesday, Syrian rebels attacked a pro-government television station and executed three to seven employees.

And later that day, a court in Ethiopia convicted prominent journalist Eskinder Nega of being a member of a secret plot to overthrow the government.

Obama, Romney and leading from the front in Syria

David Rohde
Jun 14, 2012 22:48 UTC

Next week in the Mexican resort town of Los Cabos, Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin will meet on the sidelines of the G20 summit. Mitt Romney and his aides say that after 15 months of dithering on Syria, it is time for Obama to confront Putin on an increasingly brutal conflict that has left 10,000 dead.

“President Obama’s ‘reset policy’ toward Russia has clearly failed,” Romney said in a statement this week. “Russia has openly armed and protected a murderous regime in Syria, frustrated international sanctions on Iran and opposed American efforts on a range of issues.”

In an interview on Thursday, Richard Williamson, a senior foreign policy adviser to the Romney campaign, argued that the White House should stop naively hoping the Russian leader will end his support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Angus King and the rise of the independent

David Rohde
Jun 7, 2012 20:21 UTC

PORTLAND, MAINE – Angus King is trying to turn back time in this state. I hope he can do the same across the country.

In a speech Saturday morning, the self-made millionaire-turned-independent politician deftly displayed the qualities that helped him serve as a popular two-term governor here from 1995 to 2003. The 68-year-old hailed Abraham Lincoln, Bill Bellichick, Sam Walton and his teenage son in a 30-minute talk that made the audience at the Maine Historical Society’s annual meeting howl with laughter. King was a self-deprecating, pragmatic and non-partisan everyman, a character type that flinty and fiercely independent Maine voters have sent to Washington for decades.

But as in the rest of the nation, politics in Maine have dramatically changed in recent years. The state’s dynamic new political force is Governor Paul LePage, a take-no-prisoners, Tea Party-backed conservative Republican. Since winning a three-way race for governor with 39 percent of the vote in 2010, LePage has assailed public employee unions, unleashed blistering attacks on his opponents and delighted his conservative Republican base. Like them or not, the Tea Party has out-organized its rivals and gained an outsize voice.

Little America: An Afghan town, an American dream and the folly of for-profit war

David Rohde
Jun 1, 2012 00:59 UTC

American officials inspect a field in Helmand, 1960s

Eight years ago, a 72-year-old American aid worker named Charles Grader told me a seemingly fantastical story. In a bleak stretch of Afghan desert that resembled the surface of Mars, several dozen families from states like Montana, Wisconsin and California had lived in suburban tract homes with backyard barbecues. For 30 years during the Cold War, the settlement served as the headquarters of a massive American project designed to wean Afghans from Soviet influence.

American engineers oversaw the largest development program in Afghanistan’s history, constructing two huge earthen dams, 300 miles of irrigation canals and 1,200 miles of gravel roads. All told, the project made 250,000 acres of desert bloom. The town, officially known as “Lashkar Gah,” was the new capital of Helmand province and an ultra-modern world of workshops and offices. Afghans called it “Little America.”

Intrigued, I hitched a ride to the town with Grader a few weeks later. A weathered New England blue blood, Grader was the last American to head the Kabul office of the U.S. Agency for International Development before the 1979 Soviet invasion. In 2004, he was back in Afghanistan working as a contractor, refusing to retire just yet and trying, it seemed, to do good.

How Zippos, dredges and vitamins can save the American middle class

David Rohde
May 25, 2012 00:02 UTC

Last week, 41 American companies received awards at a little noticed White House ceremony. Despite the recession, the companies – most of them small and medium-size businesses – have experienced rapid growth and handsome profits in recent years. And they’ve beaten Chinese, Indian and European competitors at their own game.

How? By selling to a burgeoning global middle class expected to grow by 1 billion people – primarily in Asia – over the next decade.

Zippo Manufacturing Co, the maker of the iconic American cigarette lighter, has experienced 1,000 percent sales growth in China over the last 20 years and 900 percent growth in India over the last eight years. While other American companies have shed jobs, the 650-employee, Bradford, Pennsylvania-based company has added 150 jobs in the last three years and experienced a 20 percent increase in sales, most of it overseas.

Ending NATO’s double standard

David Rohde
May 18, 2012 00:42 UTC

This weekend in Chicago, President Obama will gather with more than 60 heads of state to hold NATO’s 25th anniversary summit. He and other leaders will convene as a Western-created system of international justice – enforced in many places by NATO – has grown stronger, and raised expectations of accountability around the world.

This week, Bosnian Serb general Ratko Mladic finally went on trial in The Hague for war crimes in Bosnia after evading justice for 17 years. Last month, former Liberian President Charles Taylor was convicted of aiding and abetting war crimes by a separate international court. And in a surprising example of the spreading expectation of international justice, protests among the Syrian diaspora have included signs demanding Bashar al-Assad be sent to The Hague.

At the same time, as people around the globe see war criminals brought to justice, they want to see the world’s most powerful armies held accountable as well. Outside the U.S. and Europe, there is a growing sense of a two-tiered system of international justice. The West puts others on trial for war crimes, the argument goes, while exempting its own forces from scrutiny.

Break up the big banks

David Rohde
May 10, 2012 18:39 UTC

UPDATE: JPMorgan’s surprise announcement late Thursday of a $2 billion trading loss – and the drop in stocks it sparked – is yet another sign of the need for reform.

The numbers are startling. HSBC, the world’s fifth-largest bank, failed to review thousands of internal anti-money-laundering alerts, according to a Reuters investigation published last week.

The bank did not file legally required “suspicious activity reports” to U.S. law enforcement officials. It hired “gullible, poorly trained, and otherwise incompetent personnel” to run its anti-money-laundering effort. Each year, hundreds of billions of dollars flowed through the bank without being properly monitored.

An American intervention gone partly right

David Rohde
Apr 27, 2012 12:27 UTC

SARAJEVO – Seventeen years and $17 billion later, Bosnia is at peace today, but it is stillborn.

After an international intervention nearly two decades long, Bosnia offers lessons for American officials as they wrestle with continuing violence in Syria, volatile post-Arab Spring transitions and leaving behind a relatively stable Afghanistan. Stopping the killing here proved easier than expected. But halting corruption, sparking economic growth and curbing poisonous local political dynamics has proved vastly more difficult.

Today, the economy is stalled, with half of business activity generated by state-owned companies and unemployment hovering at 25 percent. The country is divided between a Serb entity whose leader talks openly of secession and a Muslim-Croat federation with worrying rifts of its own. And corruption is endemic among senior government officials on all sides.

At the site of a European massacre, fears of genocide by ballot

David Rohde
Apr 20, 2012 14:30 UTC

SREBRENICA, BOSNIA — Six months from now, a municipal election will be held in this isolated mining town, the scene of the largest massacre in Europe since World War Two.

The town’s current mayor, a 33 year-old Bosnian Muslim, says the election will hand Bosnian Serbs control of the town and complete the “ethnic cleansing,” or removal, of all Muslims from eastern Bosnia. Serbs say it is democracy, plain and simple.

Seventeen years ago, Serb forces executed 8,100 Muslim men and boys here in the largest single mass killing of the war in Bosnia. The U.S. and its European allies – who had declared the town a U.N. protected “safe area” – stood by as the Serbs rampaged for days in the summer of 1995.

  •