Psst, Angela. It's time to listen to Carly Rae Jepsen on the euro crisis. She's a savant about it.
(Reuters/Kasia Cieplak-von Baldegg)
Hey, she's a popstar, and this is crazy, but is Carly Rae Jepsen a euro crisis genius, maybe?
I know, I know. The only thing more maddening than "Call Me Maybe" is the euro crisis. One is a banal string of saccharine statements, punctuated by swift choruses of action. The other is a pop song. And neither willgoaway.
But the lyrical stylings of Carly Rae Jepsen just might be a Rosetta Stone for the euro crisis. And you don't even have to play the record backwards to get the secret message.
First, let's make sure we'll all on equal footing. I'm jealous of the lucky few still unfamiliar with the earworm that is "Call Me Maybe." But I'm also spiteful. So here's the music video. You're welcome.
What a euro crisis savant. If it's still not obvious what macroeconomic wisdom she's distilling in these sugary beats, here are the eight lines from "Call Me Maybe" that best explain the euro crisis. Why eight? Because Carly Rae Jespen works in mysterious ways.
"I threw a wish in the well, don't ask me I'll never tell."
Europe had a dream. That dream was itself. It was of an integrated continent, of a United States of Europe. How it would get there? Nobody was ready to tell the full story.
There was an underlying logic to integration -- a logic that George Soros has pointed out is now broken. That logic was that Europe would use any crisis of integration to push integration further. But that process went into reverse in the fall of 2008. German chancellor Angela Merkel declared that each euro zone country was on its own when it came to bailing out its banks -- driving a stake through the heart of the common currency.
Now Europe faces a catch-22. The only way to save the euro is for Germany to agree to some kind of joint debt. But Germany doesn't want to give southern Europe money without getting a say over how that money is spent. And southern Europe doesn't want to give Germany a say over how it spends money -- unless it's for a genuine fiscal union. So round and round we go.
"I trade my soul for a wish, pennies and dimes for a kiss."
Southern Europe has traded budget cuts and labor market reforms for money. Some of that money has come from Germany. Some of it has come from the ECB.
This makes less sense than you think. The ECB is only supposed to have one job. That's maintaining price stability, defined as 2 percent annual inflation. But the ECB has unofficially abandoned this single mandate. No, it doesn't care about jobs! It cares about politics. Specifically, whether countries are doing what Germany has demanded. This is crazy, definitely.
Countries that pass the ECB's test get lower borrowing costs. Countries that don't, well, don't. Actually, that's not always true. Even countries that play nice aren't always rewarded. Ask Spain. Meanwhile, the economy is screaming for the ECB to do something, anything more.
"I wasn't looking for this, but now you're in my way."
Both Carly Rae Jepsen and history have well-developed senses of irony. The second Ms. Jepsen stops looking for love, she finds it -- only to belatedly discover that her crush isn't interested in the ladies. Meanwhile, the one time Germany didn't try to take over Europe, the continent landed in its lap.
This historical twist hasn't escaped George Soros. He sees the euro zone turning into a German feudal state. Creditors make the rules in a debt crisis. But remember: Germany didn't want this. That's why they've been so reluctant to do what needs to be done. The danger is that they'll wait too long -- that a political backlash in southern Europe will develop before Germany is ready to accede to eurobonds. Then the euro would die a chaotic death.
"It's hard to look right at you, baby."
Is there any doubt Carly Rae Jepsen is really talking about Spanish bank balance sheets here? Spain was Europe's Florida. It had a huge housing bubble. Then it had a huge housing bust -- but not enough of one. They've been much slower to admit how far housing prices need to fall. That's allowed banks to keep holding assets at waaaay overinflated values -- until recently. Now the game of pretend is ending and the game of bailouts is beginning. Ugly stuff. Look away.
"You took your time with the call, I took no time with the fall, you gave me nothing at all."
You won't find a more plaintive lament for Europe's periphery than this. During the boom years, capital poured into southern Europe. But then Lehman failed, the money spigot turned off, and southern Europe fell. Germany hasn't exactly rushed to bail them out.
Actually, it's a bit misleading to call them "bailouts". They're loans. Low-interest rate loans, but loans nonetheless. And loans that are often senior to other debt. That makes private investors wary about putting more capital on the line, because they're first in line for the inevitable losses. It's increased their debt, and made that debt riskier. In other words, they've basically gotten nothing at all.
"I beg and borrow and steal."
Sometimes even the cryptic Carly Rae Jepsen speaks plainly. This is one of those times. The line above is clearly about Greece.
For years, the government lied about the size of its budget deficits -- with some help from Goldman Sachs -- until reality finally intruded in 2009. That's when the begging and borrowing began in earnest.
Now Greece may find out if beggars really can't be choosers. The far-left Syriza party is neck-and-neck in the polls thanks to its platform to renegotiate Greece's bailout loans while remaining in the euro zone. Their calculus is that beggars with a trillion euros of leverage can indeed be choosers. It's a dangerous game of chicken, with the future of the euro potentially hanging in the balance.
"I didn't know I would feel it, but it's in my way."
Poor Italy. It's actually been responsible since the euro was introduced Italy has managed to stabilize its debt and move towards a primary surplus -- meaning that it's in the black minus interest payments -- despite its stagnating economy. And Italy did all that with Silvio Berlusconi as its prime minister. That deserves some sort of prize. But instead of a prize, Italy has gotten euro contagion. With Spain on the ropes, Italy is next.
"Before you came into my life I missed you so bad."
Ms. Jepsen isn't quite as paradoxical as she sounds. It's easy to miss something before it comes into your life -- if it leaves and then returns. Like Spain's peseta. Or Italy's lira.
The euro should be a real four-letter word nowadays. It prevents troubled countries from printing or borrowing money at the most inopportune time. And it makes them solve their uncompetitiveness problems in the most painful way possible: with wage cuts. Instead of devaluing the peseta, Spain has to force workers to take pay cuts in euros. That's an economic disaster. It makes both debt problems and unemployment worse.
The peseta is sounding better and better.
See, "Call Me Maybe" is really a deep meditation on the nature and ironies of the euro crisis. So here's a modest proposal. Let's lock up Angela Merkel et. al. in a room playing "Call Me Maybe" on repeat. They can't leave until they absorb Ms. Jepsen's insight and reach some of kind of deal. Or go crazy.
Defining common cultural literacy for an increasingly diverse nation.
Is the culture war over?
That seems an absurd question. This is an age when Confederate monuments still stand; when white-privilege denialism is surging on social media; when legislators and educators in Arizona and Texas propose banning ethnic studies in public schools and assign textbooks euphemizing the slave trade; when fear of Hispanic and Asian immigrants remains strong enough to prevent immigration reform in Congress; when the simple assertion that #BlackLivesMatter cannot be accepted by all but is instead contested petulantly by many non-blacks as divisive, even discriminatory.
And that’s looking only at race. Add gender, guns, gays, and God to the mix and the culture war seems to be raging along quite nicely.
The Islamic State is no mere collection of psychopaths. It is a religious group with carefully considered beliefs, among them that it is a key agent of the coming apocalypse. Here’s what that means for its strategy—and for how to stop it.
What is the Islamic State?
Where did it come from, and what are its intentions? The simplicity of these questions can be deceiving, and few Western leaders seem to know the answers. In December, The New York Times published confidential comments by Major General Michael K. Nagata, the Special Operations commander for the United States in the Middle East, admitting that he had hardly begun figuring out the Islamic State’s appeal. “We have not defeated the idea,” he said. “We do not even understand the idea.” In the past year, President Obama has referred to the Islamic State, variously, as “not Islamic” and as al-Qaeda’s “jayvee team,” statements that reflected confusion about the group, and may have contributed to significant strategic errors.
Former Senator Jim Webb is the fifth Democrat to enter the race—and by far the most conservative one.
In a different era’s Democratic Party, Jim Webb might be a serious contender for the presidential nomination. He’s a war hero and former Navy secretary, but he has been an outspoken opponent of recent military interventions. He’s a former senator from Virginia, a purple state. He has a strong populist streak, could appeal to working-class white voters, and might even have crossover appeal from his days as a member of the Reagan administration.
In today’s leftward drifting Democratic Party, however, it’s hard to see Webb—who declared his candidacy Thursday—getting very far. As surprising as Bernie Sanders’s rise in the polls has been, he looks more like the Democratic base than Webb does. The Virginian is progressive on a few major issues, including the military and campaign spending, but he’s far to the center or even right on others: He's against affirmative action, supports gun rights, and is a defender of coal. During the George W. Bush administration, Democrats loved to have him as a foil to the White House. It’s hard to imagine the national electorate will cotton to him in the same way. Webb’s statement essentially saying he had no problem with the Confederate battle flag flying in places like the grounds of the South Carolina capitol may have been the final straw. (At 69, he’s also older than Hillary Clinton, whose age has been a topic of debate, though still younger than Bernie Sanders or Joe Biden.)
For centuries, experts have predicted that machines would make workers obsolete. That moment may finally be arriving. Could that be a good thing?
1. Youngstown, U.S.A.
The end of work is still just a futuristic concept for most of the United States, but it is something like a moment in history for Youngstown, Ohio, one its residents can cite with precision: September 19, 1977.
For much of the 20th century, Youngstown’s steel mills delivered such great prosperity that the city was a model of the American dream, boasting a median income and a homeownership rate that were among the nation’s highest. But as manufacturing shifted abroad after World War II, Youngstown steel suffered, and on that gray September afternoon in 1977, Youngstown Sheet and Tube announced the shuttering of its Campbell Works mill. Within five years, the city lost 50,000 jobs and $1.3 billion in manufacturing wages. The effect was so severe that a term was coined to describe the fallout: regional depression.
A European heat wave, lightning over California, a building made of 8,500 beer bottles, shrimp fishing on horseback in Belgium, the first-ever White House Campout, mine detection rats in Cambodia, and much more.
A European heat wave, lightning over California, a building made of 8,500 beer bottles, cosplay in Paris, shrimp fishing on horseback in Belgium, the first-ever White House Campout, mine detection rats in Cambodia, a train wreck in Pakistan, an airshow over St. Petersburg, Russia, and much more.
“I’m not a vegetarian because I love animals. I’m a vegetarian because I hate plants.”
If the U.S. and Iran conclude a nuclear deal next week, the Islamic Republic stands to gain billions of dollars in eventual sanctions relief. But money isn’t the most important reason the Iranian leadership may be set to shake hands with its historic enemy after 18 months of negotiations.
“One of the most important reasons Iran is signing this deal, in my opinion ... is not actually sanctions,” said Vali Nasr, the dean of Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies. “It’s ISIS. There is actually support for this deal within the Revolutionary Guards in Iran, because their day job is right now fighting ISIS, and they need the United States, particularly in Iraq, on the right side of that fight.”
The retired general and former CIA director holds forth on the Middle East.
ASPEN, Colo.—Retired U.S. Army General David Petraeus pioneered America’s approach to counterinsurgency, led the surge in Iraq, served as director of the CIA for a year, and was sentenced to two years probation for leaking classified information to his mistress. On Wednesday at the Aspen Ideas Festival, he was interviewed by my colleague, Jeffrey Goldberg, about subjects including efforts to stop Iran’s nuclear program; the civil war in Syria; ISIS and the threat it poses to the United States; and the Iraq War.
Here are several noteworthy moments from their conversation, slightly condensed:
The Risks of Attacking Iran
Jeffrey Goldberg: So you believe that, under certain circumstances, President Obama would still use military force against Iran?
David Petraeus: I think he would, actually. I know we’ve had red lines that didn’t turn out to be red lines. ... I think this is a different issue, and I clearly recognize how the administration has sought to show that this is very, very different from other sort of off-the-cuff remarks.
Goldberg: How did the Obama administration stop Israel from attacking Iran? And do you think that if this deal does go south, that Israel would be back in the picture?
Petraeus: I don’t, actually. I think Israel is very cognizant of its limitations. ... The Israelis do not have anything that can crack this deeply buried enrichment site ... and if you cannot do that, you’re not going to set the program back very much. So is it truly worth it, then?
So that’s a huge limitation. It’s also publicly known that we have a 30,000-pound projectile that no one else has, that no one else can even carry. The Massive Ordinance Penetrator was under design for almost six years. ... If necessary, we can take out all these facilities and set them back a few years, depending on your assumptions.
But that’s another roll of the iron dice, as Bismarck used to say, and you never know when those dice are rolled what the outcome is going to be. You don’t know what risks could materialize for those who are in harm’s way.
You don’t know what the response could be by Iran.
There’s always the chance that there will be salvos at Israel, but what if they decide to go at the Gulf states, where we have facilities in every single one.
This is not something to be taken lightly, clearly.
People labeled “smart” at a young age don’t deal well with being wrong. Life grows stagnant.
At whatever agesmart people develop the idea that they are smart, they also tend to develop vulnerability around relinquishing that label. So the difference between telling a kid “You did a great job” and “You are smart” isn’t subtle. That is, at least, according to one growing movement in education and parenting that advocates for retirement of “the S word.”
The idea is that when we praise kids for being smart, those kids think: Oh good, I'm smart. And then later, when those kids mess up, which they will, they think: Oh no, I'm not smart after all. People will think I’m not smart after all. And that’s the worst. That’s a risk to avoid, they learn.“Smart” kids stand to become especially averse to making mistakes, which are critical to learning and succeeding.