I am thousands of miles away, but I still turned to Chron.com , a website of the Houston Chronicle, to figure out what was going on in Texas this week. A widely shared video showing water pouring into the studio of KHOU, a Houston television station, was the first clue I had to the severity of the flooding. Even from afar, it was clear that local journalists were leading the effort to inform people on the ground, explaining how to get rescued, where to go and what to do. What if they hadn’t been there?
I was in Warsaw on Nov. 17, 1989, the day that the city decided to take down its statue of Felix Dzerzhinsky. Given that Dzerzhinsky, a Polish aristocrat and dedicated Bolshevik, was best known as the founder of the organization that became the Soviet KGB, and given that hundreds of thousands of Poles were murdered or deported by the Soviet KGB, this was a popular decision. Crowds converged on the scene and cheered loudly as a crane removed the figure from its base.
They did as much damage as they could do with knives and rented vans. They killed at least 15 people. They injured dozens of others — many of them tourists who were visiting one of the liveliest and crowded streets in Barcelona, one of the most beautiful cities in Europe. But they failed to do anything more than that.
The truly shocking thing, looking back at what has been written and said since the events in Charlottesville, is that anybody is shocked. Donald Trump’s first appearance on the front page of the New York Times was in 1973, when President Richard Nixon’s Justice Department sued his family’s real estate company for discriminating against black would-be tenants. In the 4½ decades since, he has used racial smears and stereotypes — Mexican rapists, sly Jews, lazy blacks — over and over again, in public, including during last year’s election campaign.
Imagine a 3-year-old sitting in a parked car. Think of all the things she can do! Flip the switches. Turn on the lights. Turn on the windshield wipers. Turn on the radio. Everything, in fact — except make the car take her somewhere. For that she needs gas in the tank, legs long enough to reach the accelerator and above all to know how to drive.
In retrospect, the battle lines of the Cold War — the West, NATO and democracy on one side; the East, the Warsaw Pact and dictatorship on the other — seem obvious and inevitable. The outcome — the collapse of the U.S.S.R. — feels now as if it were preordained. But at many moments in the half-century that the Cold War lasted, the battle lines were far from clear and the ultimate outcome very much in doubt.
You know the scenario from 19th-century fiction and Hollywood movies: Mankind has invented a computer, or a robot or another artificial thing that has taken on a life of its own. In “ Frankenstein,” the monster is built from corpses; in “2001: A Space Odyssey,” it’s an all-seeing computer with a human voice; in “Westworld,” the robots are lifelike androids that begin to think for themselves. But in almost every case, the out-of-control artificial life form is anthropomorphic. It has a face or a body, or at least a human voice and a physical presence in the real world.
There were at least eight people in the room on June 9, 2016, when two Trump family members and Donald Trump’s campaign manager met with a Russian lawyer and her extended team in Trump Tower. Focus your attention just briefly on one of them: Ike Kaveladze. Of course it will be important to learn, in due course, what he was really doing there. But in the meantime, we should spend a few minutes thinking about the peculiar financial culture — American as well as Russian — that he represents.
If an illiberal government — democratically elected, but determined to change the rules — tries to do something unconstitutional, what can the public do? What can the political opposition do? This is a dilemma we now know from several countries — Russia, Venezuela, Turkey, Hungary, Poland, and possibly soon Greece. The prospects are pretty gloomy, as I’ve argued before, for those who want to stay within the bounds of the law.
I feel like we sort of choked.” That’s how one former administration official recently described President Barack Obama’s failure to react to intelligence reports on Kremlin attempts to influence the U.S. election. Plenty of other people — including, with extraordinary cynicism, President Trump — have also asked why more wasn’t done. Continue reading “How U.S. presidents missed the Russia threat — until it was much, much too late”