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The New York Times Op-Ed Service
THE GREENBACK EFFECT
By WARREN E. BUFFETT
Copyright 2009 The New York Times
OMAHA – In nature, every action has consequences, a phenomenon called the butterfly effect. These consequences, moreover, are not necessarily proportional. For example, doubling the carbon dioxide we belch into the atmosphere may far more than double the subsequent problems for society. Realizing this, the world properly worries about greenhouse emissions.
The butterfly effect reaches into the financial world as well. Here, the United States is spewing a potentially damaging substance into our economy – greenback emissions.
To be sure, we’ve been doing this for a reason I resoundingly applaud. Last fall, our financial system stood on the brink of a collapse that threatened a depression. The crisis required our government to display wisdom, courage and decisiveness. Fortunately, the Federal Reserve and key economic officials in both the Bush and Obama administrations responded more than ably to the need.
They made mistakes, of course. How could it have been otherwise when supposedly indestructible pillars of our economic structure were tumbling all around them? A meltdown, though, was avoided, with a gusher of federal money playing an essential role in the rescue.
The U. S. economy is now out of the emergency room and appears to be on a slow path to recovery. But enormous dosages of monetary medicine continue to be administered and, before long, we will need to deal with their side effects. For now, most of those effects are invisible and could indeed remain latent for a long time. Still, their threat may be as ominous as that posed by the financial crisis itself.
To understand this threat, we need to look at where we stand historically. If we leave aside the war-impacted years of 1942 to 1946, the largest annual deficit the United States has incurred since 1920 was 6 percent of gross domestic product. This fiscal year, though, the deficit will rise to about 13 percent of GDP, more than twice the non-wartime record. In dollars, that equates to a staggering $1.8 trillion. Fiscally, we are in uncharted territory.
Because of this gigantic deficit, our country’s “net debt” (that is, the amount held publicly) is mushrooming. During this fiscal year, it will increase more than one percentage point per month, climbing to about 56 percent of GDP from 41 percent. Admittedly, other countries, like Japan and Italy, have far higher ratios and no one can know the precise level of net debt to GDP at which the United States will lose its reputation for financial integrity. But a few more years like this one and we will find out.
(BUFFETT. 1051 words.)
The New York Review of Books
OBAMA: IN THE DIVIDED HEARTLAND
By MICHAEL MASSING
Copyright 2008 The New York Review of Books
"How many Joe the Plumbers are there out there in Middle America?" Rush Limbaugh fumed on my car radio as I drove down Interstate 75 from the Detroit airport toward Toledo. "How many of you are tired of people running down the country?" For the last six years, he declared, the "drive-by media" -- his term for the mainstream press -- has tried to convince people "that this is a rotten country." States like Ohio, he went on, were so foreign to elite journalists that they needed a visa to visit them.
As it happened, I was on my way to Ohio to interview people about their political views. It was mid-October, and I had decided to make the trip out of my own frustrations with the press. The coverage seemed so focused on the candidates and their campaigns and on the race between them that the concerns and attitudes of ordinary voters tended to get overlooked. I was especially exasperated by the readiness of TV pundits and Op-Ed writers to make sweeping statements about the state of the electorate without ever talking to an actual voter. I wanted to see if I could uncover some of the deeper, underlying currents in the body politic.
As my laboratory I had chosen a forty-mile strip of I-75 in northwestern Ohio. It offered a good cross-section of this key battleground state, stretching from an aging industrial city (Toledo), south to a college town (Bowling Green), down to a classic small town (Findlay).
The region was home to hundreds of family farms producing corn and soybeans and to factories turning out everything from Wonder Bread to pumps, cranks, and cylinders for the auto plants of nearby Detroit.
At the same time, this region has been hard hit by both the recent financial crisis and the long and steady decline of its industrial base. According to a recent article in the Toledo Blade, Ohio during the Bush years has lost 315,000 manufacturing jobs, median income has dropped by more than 3 percent, and 330,000 more people have slipped into poverty. There have been sharp increases in bankruptcy filings, foreclosure rates, and visits to food banks. Today, a larger proportion of Ohioans live in poverty than at any time since the 1960s war on poverty.
In both 2000 and 2004, Ohio went narrowly for George W. Bush. To see how it might go in 2008, I focused on three counties: Lucas (home to Toledo), which was solidly blue; Hancock (home to Findlay), which was reliably red; and -- sandwiched in between -- Wood (home to Bowling Green), which swung back and forth. According to The Blade, Lucas was among the ten counties that fared the worst over the last eight years. The area was so coveted during the campaign that hardly a day went by that one or another of the presidential candidates or their running mates did not pass through. Shortly before my visit, Barack Obama had spent three days outside Toledo preparing for the third debate. It was during that stay that he had his ill-fated encounter with Samuel J. Wurzelbacher, aka Joe the Plumber. Wurzelbacher lived in Holland, Ohio, a suburb of Toledo, and even as Limbaugh was extolling him, I was passing nearby.
Limbaugh remains an influential voice -- an estimated 14 million Americans listen to him every week -- and I pulled to the side of the road to jot down his tirade. What journalists "can't get through their heads," he raged, "is that Joe the Plumber is America. He's Joe Sixpack." He went on to attack Obama. For months, Limbaugh had been hammering away at him -- for abetting terrorists, hating Israel, being corrupt, supporting socialism. Today, oddly, he was faulting him for his lack of passion. "He's like a Stepford husband," he said. "He's cold enough to consort with terrorists. Cold enough to dismiss small-town America as 'bitter clingers.' Cold enough to take our guns away. Cold enough to take our money away."
(MASSING. 5494 words.)
BEHIND THE 'MODERN' CHINA
By ROBERT KAGAN
Copyright 2008 Robert Kagan
China can go for great stretches these days looking like the model of a postmodern, 21st century power. Visitors to Shanghai see soaring skyscrapers and a booming economy. Conference-goers at Davos and other international confabs see sophisticated Chinese diplomats talking about "win-win" instead of "zero-sum." Western leaders meet their Chinese counterparts and see earnest technocrats trying to avoid the many pitfalls on the path to economic modernization.
But occasionally the mask slips, and the other side of China is revealed. For China is also a 19th century power, filled with nationalist pride, ambitions and resentments; consumed with questions of territorial sovereignty; hanging on repressively to old conquered lands in its interior; and threatening war against a small island country off its coast.
It is also an authoritarian dictatorship, albeit of a modern variety. The nature of its rule is not visible on the streets of Shanghai, where people enjoy a degree of personal freedom as long as they keep their noses out of politics. It is only when someone challenges its authority that the brute power on which the regime ultimately rests shows itself.
In 1989, it was students in Tiananmen Square. A few years ago it was the Falun Gong. Today it is Tibetan protesters. Tomorrow it may be protesters in Hong Kong. Someday it may be dissidents on a "reunified" island of Taiwan.
This is the aspect of China that does not seem to change, despite our liberal progressive conviction that it must.
(KAGAN. 1101 words.)
OBAMA’S INSECURE SLIP
By TINA BROWN
Copyright 2009 Slate Magazine
Obama’s unaccustomed carelessness in jumping on a racial landmine at the end of his health-care press conference illustrates two things. First, his vanity as a performer. And second, his insecurity about his health-care arguments.
The president, after a wordy, wonky, depressingly unconvincing briefing – one that he is pro enough to sense failed to make the sale to the press – eagerly took the question from Chicago reporter Lynn Sweet about the Henry Louis Gates Jr. affair. Obama saw it as a chance to be funny, to be real, to be his charming self – and to win back the room.
"The guy," he said, referring to his friend Gates, "forgot his keys, jimmied his way to get into the house. There was a report called into the police station that there might be a burglary taking place. So far, so good, right? I mean, if I was trying to jigger into – well, I guess this is my house now, so (laughter) it probably wouldn’t happen. (Chuckling.) But let’s say my old house in Chicago. (Laughter.) Here I’d get shot. (Laughter.) But so far so good."
So far so dangerous. As every late-night comedy host knows, it’s when the audience is with you, when the guest feels that heady rush of positive response from the crowd, that the moment overwhelms the outcome. Obama had fallen into this trap once before – unsurprisingly, on "The Tonight Show," when, rising once again to the chance to show his humor (and human) self-deprecation, he mocked his own bowling skills as being like "the Special Olympics or something." And all hell broke loose.
(BROWN. 638 words.)
BECAUSE THEY’RE AFRAID OF SAUDI ARABIA
By BRIAN PALMER
Copyright 2009 Slate Magazine
In Lebanon’s parliamentary elections on June 7, the local Christian population split its vote between the pro-Western government and an opposition party backed by Syria and Iran. Why would so many Lebanese Christians reject the U.S.-backed politicians?
They’re more afraid of Saudi Arabia than they are of Iran. The influence of foreign governments is unusually strong in Lebanese politics, and the governing and opposition coalitions each have their own network of supporters.
Although those in power today are often identified as “pro-Western,” Saudi Arabia wields just as much influence within the governing March 14 coalition – named after an anti-Syrian rally in 2005 – as do the United States and France. Many Christians prefer these benefactors to Syria, Iran, and Qatar – the major supporters of the opposition. But others fear a potential, Saudi-led Islamization of Lebanon.
Sectarianism has been enshrined in the Lebanese political system since its independence in 1943. In 1932, the French colonial government conducted a census, determining that Maronite Christians, an ethno-religious group with Catholic and Lebanese roots, represented a slight majority in Lebanon. When the country won its independence in 1943, parliamentary seats were allocated based on the 1932 census figures: six Christian representatives for every five Muslim representatives.
(PALMER. 556 words.)
THE OBAMA ADVANTAGE
From Slate Magazine
By ANNE APPLEBAUM
Copyright 2008 WPNI Slate
Way back in January, soon after Barack Obama won an improbable victory in the Iowa caucuses, I wrote an article arguing that _ despite the conventional wisdom and the snide "white Americans will never vote for a black man" comments from my European friends _ it was not a disadvantage to be a black presidential candidate. On the contrary, it was an enormous advantage.
I was right - but for the wrong reasons. At the time, when his main opponent was Hillary Clinton, I thought Obama's skin color helped distinguish him from the Bushes, the Clintons, and the other dynastic families that then appeared to have an inexorable grip on American politics. His face alone told voters that he was the true anti-oligarchical, anti-status-quo outsider in the race. If nothing else, it identified him as a candidate who was definitely not related, or married, to a former president. But while not being Mrs. Clinton helped him win the primaries, not being white helped him even more in the national election _ and not only among black voters or guilty white liberals.
Why? Because all Americans, white and black, liberal and conservative, are brought up to believe that their country is different, special, the "greatest nation on earth," a "city on a hill." We are all taught that our system is just, our laws are fair, our Constitution is something to be proud of. Lately, though, this self-image has taken a battering. We are fighting two wars, neither with remarkable success. We have just experienced a cataclysmic financial crisis. We are about to enter a recession. We are unloved around the world, and we know it. Electing our first black president won't by itself solve any of these problems, but _ to use the pop-psychological language for which Americans are justly famous _ it sure makes us feel good about ourselves. That hysteria you saw on television in Chicago was, yes, partly about the return of the Democrats and partly about the passing of George Bush. As the rain-on-the-parade dispensers of sour grapes are already writing, it was absolutely about ideology, too. But it was also about relief: We really are a land of opportunity!
(APPLEBAUM. 630 words.)
NOTAS DE UN NOMADA GLOBAL: VIDAS DIGNAS DE SER VIVIDAS
By GUILLERMO ARRIAGA
No hace mucho tiempo fui testigo de un triste episodio. Mi tío Manuel, el hermano menor de mi madre, descubrió una tarde que le costaba mucho trabajo deglutir los alimentos. Sentía que se le trababan en la garganta. Fue al hospital y le descubrieron un tumor en el esófago. Los médicos le revelaron que era canceroso y le pronosticaron dos años de vida.
(Guillermo Arriaga es un escritor y guionista basado en México cuyas obras han sido nominadas para varios Trofeos de la Academia y otras numerosas distinciones. Su filme más reciente es "The Burning Plain".)
Off the Map with Nicholas D. Kristof
This Bad News May Save A Child Bride
By Nicholas D. Kristof
Perhaps it's a good sign that we’re hearing more from Yemen about tragedies involving child brides. That means the issue is now a public topic there, and some people complain about the abuse these girls suffer.
In part, that’s a credit to Nujood, the extraordinary girl I wrote about recently because of her memoir and campaign against child marriage.
For Nujood, the nightmare began at age 10 when her family told her that she would be marrying a deliveryman in his 30s. "In our country it's the men who give the orders, and the women who follow them," Nujood writes her a powerful autobiography published in the United States in March, "I Am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced."
Nujood memoir spent five weeks as the No. 1 best-seller in France. It is being published in 18 other languages, including her native language of Arabic.
Yemeni journalists turned Nujood into a cause célèbre, and she eventually won her divorce. The publicity inspired others to seek annulments and divorces, including an 8-year-old Saudi girl married to a man in his 50s.
Since her divorce, Nujood has returned to school and to her own family, which she supports with her book royalties.
But just when you feel progress is being made, you come across a story like this one from the Associated Press:
"A 13-year-old Yemeni child bride who bled to death shortly after marriage was tied down and forced to have sex by her husband, according to interviews with the child's mother, police and medical reports."
The article continues: "Elham Assi, 13, bled to death hours after she spoke to her mother and just days after she was married to a 23-year-old."
As far as I can tell, these tragedies happen with distressing frequency in countries like Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, India and others. For every girl who dies after a child marriage, far more are injured – and all have their childhoods abruptly terminated.
Furthermore, when they are married off at age 11 or 12, girls invariably are pulled out of school. They will have less chance to earn money and won’t be able to care so well for their own children. And they’re more likely to marry their own daughters off young as well.
I do sense that attitudes are changing. It used to be that families felt that if their daughters weren’t married off by 13 or 14, the girl was at risk of an affair or rape that would shame the entire family (and prevent other children from being married properly).
In Pakistan, where I’ve done the most reporting on this, that was how parents justified early marriages to me.
These days, increasingly there is also beginning to be a hint of stigma about very early marriages, and also some appreciation that keeping girls in school gives them more status and earning power. An educated girl invariably earns more in a bride price, for example.
My hope is that we’re at a tipping point as social norms change.
Something similar happened in early 20th century China: for a long time, parents who did not bind their daughters' feet feared that the girls would never be able to marry, and then over a couple of decades the risk became that if they did bind their daughters' feet those girls would never marry.
One way to reduce child marriages is to punish rape and sexual abuse, because (at least among the parents of child brides whom I have interviewed) the fear of such abuse is a major reason why parents marry off their daughters very early, before they can be raped. That was also a factor in Nujood’s marriage.
As the story of this dead Yemeni bride makes clear, there’s still a lot of work to be done.
OVAL OFFICE CONFIDENTIAL
By CHRISTOPHER BUCKLEY
Copyright 2009 RTST, Inc
Where was I? Oh yes, trying to make Joe Scarborough into the GOP ‘It’ Guy. To be continued. Meanwhile …
… In a recent column Maureen Dowd quoted something Bill Bennett said to Wolf Blitzer, about a young man named Matt Latimer, author of a new book called "Speech-less," an account of his adventures as a speechwriter for Don Rumsfeld and George W. Bush:
"The guy is a worm … He needs to read his Dante. He probably hasn’t read ‘The Inferno.’ The lowest circles of hell are for people who are disloyal in the way this guy is disloyal, and at the very lowest point Satan chews on their bodies."
As Bertie Wooster might say, a bit much to spring on a lad with a morning head.
I hadn’t read Latimer’s book, but I immediately rushed out to buy it. Bill Bennett is arguably – no, make that inarguably – the most pompous, self-righteous ass in Christendom, so when he invokes Dante and casts a 30-something kid speechwriter into the bowels of hell to have his flesh chewed along with Brutus, Cassius and Judas – honestly – well, I flew to the nearest bookstore and said, "I wish to buy all your copies of ‘Speech-less.’" Thank heavens they had only one left. But I’m going to go on Amazon and send it to everyone I know for Christmas.
I confess a(nother) bias here (you already know where I stand on Mr. Bennett): I’m a sucker for White House memoirs. I worked there for a time and once wrote a novel-length parody of the genre. They must, to be sure, be approached with caution, but a discriminating ear will easily detect the sound of knives being ground, and proceed accordingly.
This is an old genre: What the Butler Saw. You can huff and puff (along with Bennett) and be shocked – shocked – that people write these books; but like them or not, they are the records of eyewitnesses to power. The laws have become so straitjacketing that presidents and their aides dare not keep journals or diaries, lest they be subpoenaed by avid special prosecutors. The late Cap Weinberger nearly went to jail for having kept a journal.
Bill Clinton and his friend Taylor Branch hit on a rather brilliant solution, witness Branch’s fascinating new book, "The Clinton Tapes." So in the absence of White House secret tape recordings – oh, for the good old days – and diaries and such, these memoirs by the butlers are valuable – to say nothing of high entertainment.
Latimer comes across as an honest, if perhaps an occasionally na´ve and dewy-eyed observer. He’s a deft writer and has a good eye and a nice turn of phrase. You may find yourself surprised by what he has to report. I was. (Though as one Republican president used to say: Let me make one thing perfectly clear: I am not endorsing Latimer’s observations, merely remarking on them.)
(BUCKLEY. 1137 words.)
Fernando Henrique Cardoso
COMENTARIO: LA CHINA DE LAS PERSONAS
Por FERNANDO HENRIQUE CARDOSO
Copyright 2008 Agencia O Globo Distribuido
Preparei este artigo antes de viajar para os Estados Unidos onde participo, hoje, de uma série de discusses na Universidade de Brown, em comemoraço aos quarenta anos da primeira ediço do livro que fiz com Enzo Faletto sobre "Dependência e Desenvolvimento na América Latina". â a minha despedida de Brown, depois de haver sido "professor at large" (título que requereu curta permanência docente anual) durante cinco anos.
Confesso que no gosto de escrever com tanta antecipaço. A natural falta de interesse do leitor de jornal por notícias e mesmo por análises no atualizadas requer temas momentâneos. Temas que, ultimamente têm sido francamente desanimadores para quem acredita que a política no se limita a uma luta mesquinha pela conquista e preservaço do poder. Causa-me repulsa a falta de compromisso com a verdade dos fatos, a desonestidade intelectual e, principalmente, o tratamento cínico dispensado a indícios graves de improbidade na administraço pública e a benevolência com que so tratados infratores amigos ou aliados. Como ainda agora no episódio dos cartes corporativos. A insensibilidade do presidente e de seu governo é tanta que pouco se lhes dá a opinio pública. Com a popularidade inflada pelos bons ventos da economia, joga-se irresponsavelmente com a idéia de que a preocupaço com a moralidade pública e o respeito á lei é coisa de elite branca que tem tempo para ler jornal.
(CARDOSO. 1380 words.)
Jorge G. Castañeda
A TASTE OF YOUR OWN MEDICINE
By JORGE G. CASTAÑEDA
Copyright 2008 Agencia O Globo Distribuido
There was a time when countries in certain regions -- mainly in Latin America -- were rightly and continually criticized for their reckless and pernicious economic policies, for their absolute lack of regulatory oversight, for neglecting their infrastructure, spending excessively on absurd things (building a new capital; and other such projects way beyond their means) and for disregarding the damage their profligate ways could wreak upon their neighbors.
The judgmental purveyors of such devastating and recurrent disapproval were scattered throughout the halls of international financial institutions (IFIs), in the Central Banks and in the finance ministries of OECD nations (those belonging to the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development).
But the wisdom supporting these scathing attacks principally came from one source -- Washington -- incessantly demanding: "Put your house in order!"
Not that the rest of the industrialized nations, or that "Third World" countries' officials in the IFIs, did not share these views, or subscribe to the antidotes for the distress of the governments in question as passionately as their colleagues from Western Europe, Japan, Canada and the United States: they did, in spades. But the driving force was the United States.
The reasons for the insistent macro-economic lecturing lay in the eternal imbalances of most Latin American economies, at least after 1982 and the beginning of the debt crisis, as well as at the end of the so-called "Import-Substitution Industrialization" (ISI) model that was adhered to by every nation in the region from as far back as the 1930s. Latin economies were stagnant, plagued by ballooning fiscal and current account deficits, inflation, capital flight, over-indebtedness, low tax intakes, and unending inequality.
What a difference a few years can make!
(CASTAÑEDA. 1514 words.)
BELAYING DOOMSDAY: THIS CENTURY'S CHALLENGES
By Noam Chomsky
Copyright 2008 Noam Chomsky
The primary challenge facing the people of the world is, literally, survival.
Gen. Lee Butler, former head of the U.S Strategic Command (STRATCOM), put the matter plainly a decade ago. Throughout his long military career he was "among the most avid of these keepers of the faith in nuclear weapons," he wrote, but it is now his "burden to declare with all of the conviction I can muster that in my judgment they served us extremely ill."
Butler raises a haunting question: "By what authority do succeeding generations of leaders in the nuclear-weapons states usurp the power to dictate the odds of continued life on our planet? Most urgently, why does such breathtaking audacity persist at a moment when we should stand trembling in the face of our folly and united in our commitment to abolish its most deadly manifestations?"
To our shame, his question not only remains unanswered but also taken on greater urgency.
Butler may have been reacting to one of the most astonishing planning documents in the available record, the 1995 report of STRATCOM, "Essentials of Post-Cold War Deterrence."
The report advised that the military resources directed against the former Soviet Union be maintained, but with an expanded mission. They must also be directed against "rogue states" of the Third World, in accord with the Pentagon view that "the international environment has now evolved from a 'weapon rich environment' (the Soviet Union) to a 'target rich environment' (the Third World)."
Even if not used, "nuclear weapons always cast a shadow over any crisis or conflict," STRATCOM observed, enabling us to gain our ends through intimidation.
(CHOMSKY. 2558 words.)
THE NEW CENSORSHIP
By UMBERTO ECO
Copyright 2008 Umberto Eco/L'Espresso
First thought. Last week I read this extraordinary news item in the paper: "Rome. Moroccan swallows a cell phone and is saved by the police." In other words, late one evening the police spot a guy lying on the ground, spitting blood, surrounded by his fellow countrymen. They get him to his feet and take him to hospital, where a Nokia cell phone is extracted from his throat.
Now it strikes me as impossible (apart from a publicity stunt by Nokia) for a human being, no matter how drunk or doped up, to swallow a cell phone. The reporter suggested that the episode had occurred in the course of an underworld feud among drug pushers. So it's likely that the cell phone was rammed violently down his throat, not because it was good to eat, but as an act of retaliation (perhaps the man had called someone and said something he shouldn't).
In Italian Mafia circles a stone jammed between the jaws of the corpse is a sign that someone has revealed secrets to outsiders, and it would be surprising if this custom has been adopted by other ethnic groups. On the other hand, the mafia is such an international phenomenon that years ago in Moscow someone asked my Russian translator the Italian word for "mafia."
This time, however, it was not a stone but a cell phone, and this strikes me as highly symbolic. Modern crime is no longer rural but urban, and technological. And so it's natural that the murder victim is no longer "incaprettato" -- bound up like a goat with hands and legs tied behind his back and a rope around his neck so that with every little movement he strangles himself. These days, instead, he is -- so to speak -- "incyborgized."
But that's not all. The phone has become the most intimate and personal thing a man possesses, the natural complement of his physical nature, the extension of his ears and eyes. Suffocating someone with his own phone is like strangling him with his own guts. Take this, you got mail.
(ECO. 1147 words.)
MIKHAIL GORBACHEV: A NEW START FOR AN EU-RUSSIA FRIENDSHIP
By MIKHAIL GORBACHEV
Copyright 2008 Mikhail Gorbachev
As someone who has been in politics for 55 years, I have long been eager to feel the political pulse of Brussels. One of Europe's capitals, it is now host to debates that often reach beyond Europe.
I found my chance to do that on a recent visit to Brussels, where I received the Energy Globe award. This lifetime achievement award, citing my contribution to environmental causes, was presented in the European Parliament plenary hall by the president of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso. Other awards recognized impressive projects by people on all continents whose practical actions -- whether on a large scale or more modest -- are helping to save our planet from environmental disaster.
Brussels was a fitting setting for the global reach of these awards. And the visit came at an interesting time for me, just a short week after Russia and the EU had finally come to an agreement to start negotiations on a new partnership accord.
Clearly, the EU's global stance hinges on its internal strength, which is now being tested by its rapid enlargement. The European Union is sorting out its complicated internal affairs while positioning itself in the world arena. Talk of the "old" and the "new" Europe, which, incidentally, did not receive a proper rebuff from the Europeans, now seems to be waning; the attempt to split Europe from the outside has failed.
But that brings into focus the real issue: enormous work is still needed to make sure that the newest EU members conform to the organization's high standards for the economy, social safeguards and fighting corruption.
And what about standards for democracy? There are problems there, too. Just one recent example: while almost two-thirds of the citizens of the Czech Republic object to the deployment of the U.S. anti-missile system on their soil, the country's parliament has supported that project. It is a trick that is a lot less likely to work in a mature democracy.
(GORBACHEV. 1430 words.)
FIGHTING WORDS: MOURNING GLORY
By CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS
Copyright 2008 Christopher Hitchens
FIGHTING WORDS: MOURNING GLORY
HITCHENS-TIM-RUSSERT -- When the late Tim Russert actually became the late Tim Russert, I wrote an appreciation for the Vanity Fair Web site and said what I genuinely thought: that he was a nice and generous man and a first-rate journalist and one of nature's democrats. I added that he'd been very fair-minded to me when it came to our own greatest difference, which was his highly devout Catholicism. He'd always made room on his cable show for opinions that clashed with his own and had in fact positively sought out people like me who disagreed with him. And then I added, because I may have had some kind of premonition, that the journalistic profession sometimes overdoes things when one of its senior members dies, and it has a tendency to bang on as if some great and irreplaceable saint or statesman has passed away. A few days after I published this innocent little appreciation, you could already detect a slight feeling that the media "tribute" industry had gone a tad far.
(HITCHENS. 696 words.)
A WORLD WITHOUT CHILDREN
By JEFF JACOBY
Copyright 2007 Boston Globe
Second of two columns
IN 1965, the population of Italy was 52 million, of which 4.6 million, or just under 9 percent, were children younger than 5. A decade later, that age group had shrunk to 4.3 million - about 7.8 percent of Italians. By 1985, it was down to 3 million and 5.3 percent. Today, the figures are 2.5 million and 4.2 percent.
Young children are disappearing from Italian society, and the end isn't in sight. According to one estimate by the UN's Population Division, their numbers will drop to fewer than 1.6 million in 2020, and to 1.3 million by 2050. At that point, they will account for a mere 2.8 percent of the Italian nation.
Italy isn't alone. There are 1.7 million fewer young children in Poland today than there were in 1960, a 50 percent drop. In Spain 30 years ago, there were nearly 3.3 million young children; there are just 2.2 million today. Across Europe, there were more than 57 million children under 5 in 1960; today, that age group has plummeted to 35 million, a decline of 38 percent.
The world's population is still growing, thanks to rising longevity. But fertility rates - the average number of children born per woman - are falling nearly everywhere. More and more adults are deciding to have fewer and fewer children. Worldwide, reports the UN, there are 6 million fewer babies and young children today than there were in 1990. By 2015, according to one calculation, there will be 83 million fewer. By 2025, 127 million fewer. By 2050, the world's supply of the youngest children may have plunged by a quarter of a billion, and will amount to less than 5 percent of the human family.
(JACOBY. 762 words.)
A PENINSULA LONGING TO RETURN TO EUROPE: A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE BALKANS
By ISMAIL KADARE
Of Europe's four main peninsulas, only one, Scandinavia, is in the North. The other three, that is the Balkan, Apennine and Iberian peninsulas, belong to the South. People have talked a lot about these three peninsulas. At times, in the noise they made, they competed with the continent's metropolitan centers. There were reasons for this. The first peninsula, the Balkan, was famous as the birthplace of ancient Greek culture and civilization. The second produced Latin civilization. The third discovered America and soon after gave birth to a moonstruck knight called Don Quixote. A part of the history of the European continent has taken place on its three southern peninsulas, and their story might be summed up as "a history of loss and return." It is natural that anyone cutting off a great chunk of a continent will first cast an eye at its peninsulas. This happened in Europe's case: Of the three main peninsulas, the two on each flank, the Balkans and Iberia, were lost for a long time. Of the two, it is the Balkans whose history has been most tragic.
(KADARE. 550 words.)
REGIME-QUAKES IN BURMA AND CHINA
By Naomi Klein
Copyright 2008 Naomi Klein
When news arrived of the catastrophic earthquake in Sichuan, my mind turned to Zheng Sun Man, an up-and-coming security executive I met on a recent trip to China. Zheng heads Aebell Electrical Technology, a Guangzhou-based company that makes surveillance cameras and public address systems and sells them to the government.
Zheng, a 28-year-old MBA with a text-messaging addiction, was determined to persuade me that his cameras and speakers are not being used against pro-democracy activists or factory organizers. They are for managing natural disasters, Zheng explained, pointing to the freak snowstorms before Lunar New Year.
During the crisis, the government "was able to use the feed from the railway cameras to communicate how to deal with the situation and organize an evacuation. We saw how the central government can command from the north emergencies in the south."
Of course, surveillance cameras have other uses too -- like helping to make "Most Wanted" posters of Tibetan activists. But Zheng did have a point: Nothing terrifies a repressive regime quite like a natural disaster. Authoritarian states rule by fear and by projecting an aura of total control. When they suddenly seem short-staffed, absent or disorganized, their subjects can become dangerously emboldened.
It's something to keep in mind as two of the most repressive regimes on the planet -- China and Burma -- struggle to respond to devastating disasters: the Sichuan earthquake and Cyclone Nargis. In both cases, the disasters have exposed grave political weaknesses within the regimes -- and both crises have the potential to ignite levels of public rage that would be difficult to control.
When China is busily building itself up, creating jobs and new wealth, residents tend to stay quiet about what they all know: Developers regularly cut corners and flout safety codes, while local officials are bribed not to notice.
But when China comes tumbling down -- including at least eight schools in the earthquake zone -- the truth has a way of escaping from the rubble.
(KLEIN. 1630 words.)
A SALUTE TO SIMONE DE BEAUVOIR
From Le Point
By BERNARD_HENRI LÉVY
Copyright 2008 Bernard-Henri Lévy
It is time that we pay tribute to Simone de Beauvoir.
Posterity being what it is -- unjust, capricious, confusing and chaotic, making a great deal out of very little, force-feeding us May '68 nostalgia and treating the dead as if they have not lost any of their formidable, vibrant virulence (not that this is, in this case, such a terrible thing) -- it is time we celebrate Simone de Beauvoir on a scale commensurate with the 100th anniversary of her birth, which passed nearly unnoticed on Jan. 9.
The French political magazine Les Temps Modernes, which she and Jean-Paul Sartre founded along with Maurice Merleau-Ponty, recently released a special commemorative issue. For this double issue, titled "La Transmission Beauvoir," the editors created a collection of anecdotes, of unsanctimonious memories, of historical and sometimes learned analyses.
Of course we must pay homage to this woman who was both liberator and emancipator of the "second sex," as well as the instigator of the only successful revolution of the 20th century.
We must pay homage to this woman because it is due to her that women around the world, whether they're in burqas or irons, are a little more free and more powerful than they would have been without her and her book.
We must pay homage to the woman who, as Philippe Val noted in "La Transmission Beauvoir," buried the ghost of Madame Bovary, her hysteria, her "woman's illness," her suffering, which at the time people thought was innate, eternal -- and this in in Freud's time, before modern thought appropriated his movement.
We must pay homage to this woman whose own coming of age, as Josyane Savigneau tells us, inspired so many young women in the '60s, '70s and even the '80s; women who dared to rebel and to think, thanks to another of de Beauvoir's books, "Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter," in which her prodigious insolence is evident even in its title and which transformed women's "situations" into "destinies."
(LÉVY. 1163 words.)
REMEMBERING THE DEAD
By JAVIER MARÍAS
Copyright 2008 Javier Marías
The dead are everywhere.
Some have gravestones on which their names are engraved, others have nothing. Many are buried in cemeteries and churches, many beneath asphalt and in ditches and in fields, or wherever they happened to fall.
There is probably no city or inhabited landscape that does not harbor human remains in its depths. Unaware of their presence, we trample them daily and lose no sleep over them. During wars, communal graves are dug and bodies buried in great haste, just as they are during times of plague and major disasters. The sea, rivers and lakes also contain corpses, for not every corpse floats to the surface. And now that cremation has become fashionable, the ashes of those who were once men and women are scattered who knows where. If we really believed that the dead did turn in their graves, every step we took would be sure to disturb someone.
Religions, which believe that the soul alone persists, are contradictory in their custom of venerating the remains of the dead. Churches in Spain are full of the supposed relics of saints -- a tibia, a femur, a skull, an arm untouched by corruption, a complete shrunken mummy -- before which, over the centuries, the faithful have prostrated themselves, not knowing, as people are only now discovering, that most of those sacred remains in fact belonged to animals or, at best, to individuals who lived in a very different age from that of a martyr or a saint. A religion like Catholicism, which believes in the resurrection of the flesh in some unearthly place, should care little about what happens to the bodies they so despise.
Non-believers should care even less. When someone dies, he ceases to exist except in memory; he is no longer there nor can he hear us, and only the habit of speaking to him and wondering what he would think or feel about this or that -- a habit that may persist for a long time or, indeed, never cease -- justifies our visiting the place where he was laid and addressing him through the headstone, as many characters in John Ford movies do with great feeling.
But why go to a cemetery or visit a grave when we can "speak" to the memory of the dead person in our own home or hear them answer us in dreams from which we wake feeling slightly troubled, half-sad and half-contented?
Attributing to someone's remains the desire to be in one place or another or to lie beside their loved ones can only be explained as superstition or as a "literary reflex" or as a form of religiosity, even in those who claim to have no religious beliefs. It implies a belief that there is something beyond death and, even more disturbing, something that is contained inside the corpse.
(MARÍAS. 1000 words)
Tomás Eloy Martínez
LA REALIDAD NO EXISTE
Por TOMÁAS ELOY MARTÍNEZ
Copyright 2008 Tomás Eloy Martínez
BUENOS AIRES, Argentina -- Cada vez que regreso a la Argentina después de varios meses de ausencia, tengo la impresión de que la realidad está librando una batalla sin término con los sentidos.
Ya mi primer día en el país es una fuente de sorpresas, porque mientras el índice oficial de inflación señala que los precios aumentaron alrededor de un 4 por ciento en los últimos cuatro meses, advierto que el peso ha creado la ilusión de valer, otra vez, lo mismo que el dólar: lo que antes costaba uno ahora cuesta tres.
De todos modos, los precios se mueven al ritmo de una brújula enloquecida, y ya nada de lo que fue ayer sigue hoy en su lugar, y nada será lo mismo mañana. Los mercados y la calle deparan todos los días lecciones involuntarias de filosofía.
Los funcionarios del gobierno afirman que los números son un laberinto inalcanzable para las inteligencias comunes, y quizá tienen razón: los números son abstracciones y, por lo tanto, sólo existen dentro de la mente.
Hace 40 años se vivió en el semanario Primera Plana una historia que puede ayudar a entender ese enigma. El editor de la revista, Victorio Dalle Nogare, advirtió cierto día un drenaje severo en las ganancias.
Sus cálculos indicaban cifras muy superiores a las que se asentaban en los libros de contabilidad. Las computadoras eran entonces inimaginables y los datos se confiaban a las falibles máquinas de sumar. Dalle Nogare quiso asegurarse que sus percepciones no lo engañaban y llamó al contador.
(MARTÍNEZ. 1433 words.)
By JORGE RAMOS
Copyright 2008 Jorge Ramos
"Can you believe we get paid for this year?" That's what the late NBC Newsman Tim Russert said recently to one of his colleagues. Russert, one of the best political interviewers in America, died last week at age 58 in the midst of one of the country's most exciting presidential campaigns. So much so that many would cover it for free.
Never before had an African-American, a woman and a 71-year-old man been so close in the quest for the White House. Russert was the moderator of several debates among the presidential hopefuls, including Democratic Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, as well as Republican Sen. John McCain. And he was known for doing his homework, being extraordinarily well prepared, and asking the tough questions.
I concur with Russert in his surprise at our being paid for doing what we like to do the most. It is like giving a reward to a child for going out to play.
From my trench in the Spanish-language media in the United States, I have had the opportunity to be part of three presidential debates, as well as to interview the three main contenders for president. But it was not only me they spoke to: The candidates know perfectly well that if they do not speak directly to Hispanics, they are likely to lose.
From this privileged position, I jotted down in my notebook some observations of the campaign (between trips, debates and interviews), which I'd like to share with you.
-- Prejudice. The three main candidates (Clinton, Obama and McCain) faced what seemed insurmountable bias. The United States, said skeptics and TV pundits, would never elect in 2008: 1. a woman; 2. an African-American; or 3. a 71 year-old man. They were wrong. Any of these three could have won the White House. The illusion is that the United States will really choose a president regardless of skin color, sex or age. Could this really be possible? Are we in the midst of a post-racial, post-sexual revolution?
-- First impression. Clinton seemed the best-prepared candidate during interviews: for every question she had a programmed answer. Obama turned out to be the most inspiring; he is fearless, and he's convinced that one person can change the world. McCain has experienced such difficult times -- he was a POW in Vietnam for five years -- that he says things just as he thinks them; he doesn't have time to waste. In the end, the winner will not be the best prepared, the most inspiring or the most experienced, but simply the one who develops the best campaign.
(RAMOS. 1477 words.)
Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva
ECONOMIC POLICY FOR THE REAL WORLD
By LUIZ INÁCIO LULA DA SILVA
Copyright 2013 Luiz Inácio Lula Da Silva
On a recent visit to eight countries on three continents — Africa, Asia and Europe — I came away with an image of a world divided.
Africa, with its long history of poverty, is still very poor, but its vigorous growth now offers the continent hope for the future. Asia, still advancing, is paying more attention to social policies that fight hunger and poverty as it strives to create a path for sustainable development.
In Europe, however, where postwar achievements in social rights and living standards are still benchmarks for developing nations, some countries are torn by alarming unemployment rates. Countries such as Cyprus, Greece and Spain look to the future with fear.
Why are so many European leaders willing to pay so high a price to maintain the fundamentals of neoliberalism, and why do they do so with such strong conviction?
Neither the distress of their people nor the threat to the survival of the European Union keeps those governments from taking their countries to the brink of “voluntary suicide,” as former President Felipe González of Spain said when I met him in Barcelona.
The only explanation I can see is that neoliberalism has become so pervasive a doctrine that these countries can see the crisis only though the lens of market dogmatism.
The financial crisis set off by the 2008 collapse of Lehman Bros. led the United States and the European Union to realize that market rationality is a myth. Even so, they hesitate to make decisions that would allow the resumption of growth based on the real economy, and they refuse to recognize and reject the instability of an economy dominated by fictitious capital.
Often the interests of the market and the responsibilities of the state converge. At other times, however, government must uphold its role as mediator to ensure that the public interest is preserved. This is one of the latter times.
In the 1980s and 1990s, the International Monetary Fund required huge sacrifices by developing countries. The orthodox policy it imposed, in exchange for financial support, drastically reduced the potential for investment by reducing the capacity of states to fight poverty and develop infrastructure.
Among those countries, many in Latin America, the ones that have withstood today’s financial crisis did not achieve stability and economic growth by bowing to the requirements of the IMF. On the contrary, the countries that subjected themselves to orthodox economic policies have faced long periods of recession and economic instability as a result. They returned to economic growth only when their governments returned to their roles as inducers of economic development.
In Brazil, when our administration took office in 2003, we were able to show that economic orthodoxy does not offer good policy prescriptions. We assumed that fiscal responsibility was essential to overcoming the huge difficulties of a country that was almost broke: Public debt had reached 60 percent of the gross domestic product, and Brazil faced a severe foreign-exchange crisis. Unemployment was above 10 percent, and the monthly minimum wage was below $100.
We had to overcome two other assumptions of orthodox market policy: the idea that it is not possible to develop both internal and external markets simultaneously, and the belief that it is not feasible to grow and distribute income simultaneously. We increased both our internal and external markets, fighting poverty and diversifying our international ties, and with that we were able to grow and distribute income.
Had we not been able to achieve this, after my eight years in office and the first two years of Dilma Rousseff’s term as president, we most likely would not be able to report that 28 million people have emerged from conditions of extreme poverty and 40 million have moved up the social ladder. Nor would we have been able to maintain an average GDP growth rate of 5.1 percent between 2006 and 2011, much less generate 17 million jobs in the formal economy during the past 10 years.
Even last year, when the effects of the extended international crisis led Brazil to more modest growth rates, 1.3 million new jobs were created _ an achievement the manuals of classical economics cannot explain.
Other countries have begun to challenge the maxims of the “minimal state.” In Latin America progressive governments such as those of Argentina and Ecuador, with social programs unthinkable in neoliberal economics, are maintaining growth rates above those in Europe or the United States. Africa is going the same way.
This has produced a world that’s much different from decades past.
A development agenda was part of the consensus reached at the 2009 G20 meeting in London. The group concluded that it was essential to adopt measures to maintain employment, restore credit, strengthen financial regulation, reject protectionism in global trade and promote a resumption of growth that benefits workers and the poor.
The lack of global governance, however, prevented the adoption of measures to control “speculative capital flows” — making money without producing real goods or services — and end protectionist trade policies. Only progressive governments could resist neoliberal pressure to continue orthodox domestic policies.
We need to question the idea that the market can solve all problems, or we risk losing the chance to put the global economy on a pathway to growth.
In Paris last December, Rousseff, President François Hollande of France and I joined a group of intellectuals, business executives and political leaders at a seminar entitled “Growth as a Solution to the Crisis.” There we realized that it would be relatively easy to solve the international economic crisis if it were merely an academic crisis. Unfortunately, it is not.
Intellectuals have a role to play, but politicians must carry out the tasks they were elected to perform: mediate conflict, induce growth and promote development. At the core they must govern, rather than outsource policy to multilateral bureaucracies.
We need to look for alternatives that will enable us to make the world more just and less subject to uncertainties. This does not mean defending the abolition of the market or its total submission to the state. The idea is to make them complementary.
The discussion must start from the understanding that the state is essential to harmonizing the development and inclusion of the less fortunate.
It is time for politically responsible leaders to help the world return to growth, by generating employment and distributing income more fairly among people and countries.
Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva is a former president of Brazil who now works on global initiatives with Instituto Lula.
(LULA. 1,050 words.)
Each month, the Melinda Gates column is accompanied by photographs, illustrations, videos, interactive graphics or slideshows as available.
Copyright 2014 The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
Like all mothers everywhere, Tariko Harriso has big dreams for her children. Her daughter Bethlehem is only two years old, and Tariko is already hoping she'll be a doctor someday. But Tariko is doing more than just dreaming about Bethlehem's future. She's also taking actions to make sure her daughter achieves her full potential — starting with ensuring that she has the nutrition she needs to grow and thrive. In many places, we take the availability of nutritious food for granted. But for families like Tariko's in Ethiopia, malnutrition is a constant worry.
According to the medical journal The Lancet, malnutrition is the root cause of nearly half of all deaths of children under five each year. And for those undernourished children who do survive, about one-third suffer from stunted growth, which often compromises neurodevelopment and ultimately impacts their ability to learn, work and earn a living.
The 1,000 days between the start of a mother's pregnancy and her baby's second birthday are an especially crucial time to protect against these dangers. If babies don't get the proper nutrition during those 1,000 days, their brains will never fully develop. After that, the devastating truth is that the damage can never be undone — no matter how many vaccines they get or how much time or money is invested in their education.
Solutions are within reach. Today, we know more about combatting malnutrition than ever before. And we've identified interventions that work, like fortifying food with essential vitamins and minerals and encouraging mothers to breastfeed their babies immediately after birth and continue breastfeeding them exclusively for at least six months. In fact, one in four child deaths could be prevented simply by scaling up existing interventions. Improving breastfeeding practices alone could save the lives of 800,000 children annually and put millions on the pathway to a better future.
Already, we've seen that progress is possible. One innovative initiative, Alive & Thrive, is working in Ethiopia, Bangladesh and Vietnam to ensure that mothers and babies are getting the nourishment they need, especially during those crucial 1,000 days. Even after just two years, early results from this initiative already demonstrated a dramatic increase in breastfeeding rates. In Vietnam, breastfeeding rates in program areas increased from 19 percent to 63 percent.
One year ago, members of my foundation joined world leaders from government, science, and business at a meeting called Nutrition for Growth, hosted by the UK government, the Children's Investment Fund Foundation (CIFF), and the Government of Brazil. We joined more than 90 other signatories to sign an agreement to fight malnutrition globally. The goals laid out in the agreement are clear and ambitious: to reach at least 500 million pregnant women and children under two with proven nutrition interventions; to reduce the number of children under five with stunted growth by at least 20 million; and to save the lives of at least 1.7million children under five — all by 2020.
To help achieve these goals, our foundation pledged to invest $863 million in nutrition programs by 2020. We fully intend to keep this promise, but it's important that we continue to hold ourselves and each other accountable for progress. The next opportunity will be in 2016, when the government of Brazil will organize a follow up meeting to coincide with their hosting of the Olympics.
Whether Bethlehem decides she wants to be a doctor one day is up to her. But we all have a stake in creating a world where every child has the opportunity to grow up to reach his or her full potential. If we want strong, thriving communities tomorrow, we need to stand with families like Tariko's and Bethlehem's today.
(Melinda Gates is co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.)