European leaders will spend $172 billion to delay Greece's collapse, but it's hard to get excited when "success" looks like failure, a feeling that may be familiar to American warplanners.
A man walks next to a kiosk selling Greek flags in Athens / Reuters
At long last European leaders have agreed to a second bailout for Greece. Don't expect any celebrations, though. The $172 billion agreement, reached in the early hours of Tuesday morning, will reduce Greek debt to around 120.5 percent of the country's GDP by 2020. The modesty of that target -- which might still prove unreachable -- should tell you a lot about how this deal has progressed. In the negotiations, Greece's massive structural problems have become even more obvious, and the enduring message from the process is that (a) this bailout is unlikely to be enough to save Greece and (b) now not just the policymakers, but the people they serve, know it's probably doomed.
This dreary consensus has been building for weeks. The way that French and German media talk about Greece's crisis can feel an awful lot like the U.S. media coverage on the war in Afghanistan, and for a similar reason: resolution is so far off that it's not even clear what "success" would look like. In Greece as in Afghanistan, there are profound negative consequences associated with both action and inaction. It's not clear that a good solution exists, but everyone feels compelled to muddle on anyway. There's a suspicion that, at best, all our planning will only delay the inevitable to a more convenient time: don't let Afghanistan collapse until the Taliban are a bit weaker, don't let Greece collapse until the rest of Europe is in recovery and able to absorb it. Even if that's a chance worth taking, it's not one that American troops or European taxpayers are going to be especially excited about.
On Monday night, the Financial Timesobtained a copy of a confidential ten-page debt sustainability analysis prepared for eurozone finance ministers. "It warned," related the FT's Peter Spiegel from Brussels, "that two of the new bail-out's main principles might be self-defeating. Forcing austerity on Greece could cause debt levels to rise by severely weakening the economy while its €200bn debt restructuring could prevent Greece from ever returning to the financial markets by scaring off future private investors." And none of this is coming cheaply for the other residents of Europe. Though huge segments of the bailout burden are being borne by private companies, continental taxpayers will also be taking a hit indirectly through the public sector funds going to Greece.
Even before this report became public, the conversations being aired in the media in crucial eurozone countries such as France and Germany were deeply pessimistic. "The price for saving Greece is too high," declared a headline in Germany's Die Welt on Sunday. The article, by Florian Eder, emphasized that Greece is nearly impossible to fix, and in attempting to do so Europe is likely only to destroy the union. "There's a feeling that the euro crisis has just entered a new phase," wrote Clemens Wergin in his blog for the same paper last Thursday. "For over two years," he explained, "politicians in Europe have tried to hold the shop together," working to keep nationalistic self-interest at bay, to sacrifice for the greater European good. "Now this arrangement has reached its limits."
Europe's mood has not gotten much better with this deal. Eder has a new piece out declaring that "the billions Greece is getting would be better spent [...] on an exit from the euro." Those setting themselves up as Greece's defenders appear to be somewhere between resigned and desperate. "Give Greece a chance!" cries the headline over another opinion piece in German Die Zeit. "Greeks want to keep the euro," the author argues, and Greece "is willing to give up substantial sovereignty rights" to do it. The last sentence offers a clue, though, as to the extent European unity now appears to be a hypothetical rather than categorical imperative. The message seems to be, "We should support the Greeks--as long as they want it."
But perhaps most revealing is a long plea signed by a large "group of European artists and intellectuals" in today's Libération, a French paper. "The goal cannot be the 'saving' of Greece: on this point, all the economists worthy of this name are agreed," they write. "It's about buying time to save the creditors while leading the country to a deferred bankruptcy." The group argues against race-tinged arguments blaming Greeks for their own situation, and desperately urges for Europe to keep the Greek perspective in mind.
What we're witnessing right now in the European media is an attitude of defeatism. It's exactly the kind of reaction, in fact, that greets newly announced plans for Afghanistan in the U.S., where it's public knowledge that the jig is up, and that we're only sticking it out until we can leave with slightly less of a disaster. If cutting Greece loose is indeed European policymakers' plan -- to use the bailout to buy time, betting on Greece's exit being less painful in a few years than it would be now -- then there's an obvious takeaway from the Afghanistan analogy. Though the current path may be the only sane one, don't expect the voters to thank you for taking it.
Altruism, even when indirectly serves one's own interests as with Europe's bailout here, is a game of patience, and voters' patience tends to wear thin pretty quickly. The numbers that decide Greece's fate may not, in the end, be the ones pushed out by financial analysts. If Greece is to be abandoned on the rocks, the pollsters may be the first to know.
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.
As the world frets over Greece, a separate crisis looms in China.
This summer has not been calm for the global economy. In Europe, a Greek referendum this Sunday may determine whether the country will remain in the eurozone. In North America, meanwhile, the governor of Puerto Rico claimed last week that the island would be unable to pay off its debts, raising unsettling questions about the health of American municipal bonds.
But the season’s biggest economic crisis may be occurring in Asia, where shares in China’s two major stock exchanges have nosedived in the past three weeks. Since June 12, the Shanghai stock exchange has lost 24 percent of its value, while the damage in the southern city of Shenzhen has been even greater at 30 percent. The tumble has already wiped out more than $2.4 trillion in wealth—a figure roughly 10 times the size of Greece’s economy.
A new book by the evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne tackles arguments that the two institutions are compatible.
In May 1988, a 13-year-old girl named Ashley King was admitted to Phoenix Children’s Hospital by court order. She had a tumor on her leg—an osteogenic sarcoma—that, writes Jerry Coyne in his book Faith Versus Fact, was “larger than a basketball,” and was causing her leg to decay while her body started to shut down. Ashley’s Christian Scientist parents, however, refused to allow doctors permission to amputate, and instead moved their daughter to a Christian Science sanatorium, where, in accordance with the tenets of their faith, “there was no medical care, not even pain medication.” Ashley’s mother and father arranged a collective pray-in to help her recover—to no avail. Three weeks later, she died.
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.
In 1992, the neuroscientist Richard Davidson got a challenge from the Dalai Lama. By that point, he’d spent his career asking why people respond to, in his words, “life’s slings and arrows” in different ways. Why are some people more resilient than others in the face of tragedy? And is resilience something you can gain through practice?
The Dalai Lama had a different question for Davidson when he visited the Tibetan Buddhist spiritual leader at his residence in Dharamsala, India. “He said: ‘You’ve been using the tools of modern neuroscience to study depression, and anxiety, and fear. Why can’t you use those same tools to study kindness and compassion?’ … I did not have a very good answer. I said it was hard.”
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.)
The Fourth of July—a time we Americans set aside to celebrate our independence and mark the war we waged to achieve it, along with the battles that followed. There was the War of 1812, the War of 1833, the First Ohio-Virginia War, the Three States' War, the First Black Insurrection, the Great War, the Second Black Insurrection, the Atlantic War, the Florida Intervention.
Confused? These are actually conflicts invented for the novel The Disunited States of Americaby Harry Turtledove, a prolific (and sometimes-pseudonymous) author of alternate histories with a Ph.D. in Byzantine history. The book is set in the 2090s in an alternate United States that is far from united. In fact, the states, having failed to ratify a constitution following the American Revolution, are separate countries that oscillate between cooperating and warring with one another, as in Europe.
Be kind, show understanding, do good—but, some scientists say, don’t try to feel others’ pain.
In 2006, then-senator Barack Obama gave a commencement speech offering what seemed like very sensible advice. “There’s a lot of talk in this country about the federal deficit,” he told Northwestern’s graduating class. “But I think we should talk more about our empathy deficit—the ability to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes; to see the world through those who are different from us—the child who’s hungry, the laid-off steelworker, the immigrant woman cleaning your dorm room.”
In the years since then, the country has followed Obama’s counsel, at least when it comes to talking about empathy. It’s become a buzzword, extolled by Arianna Huffington, taught to doctors and cops, and used as a test for politicians. "We are on the cusp of an epic shift,” according to Jeremy Rifkin’s 2010 book The Empathetic Civilization. “The Age of Reason is being eclipsed by the Age of Empathy."
“Here is what I would like for you to know: In America, it is traditional to destroy the black body—it is heritage.”
Last Sunday the host of a popular news show asked me what it meant to lose my body. The host was broadcasting from Washington, D.C., and I was seated in a remote studio on the far west side of Manhattan. A satellite closed the miles between us, but no machinery could close the gap between her world and the world for which I had been summoned to speak. When the host asked me about my body, her face faded from the screen, and was replaced by a scroll of words, written by me earlier that week.
The host read these words for the audience, and when she finished she turned to the subject of my body, although she did not mention it specifically. But by now I am accustomed to intelligent people asking about the condition of my body without realizing the nature of their request. Specifically, the host wished to know why I felt that white America’s progress, or rather the progress of those Americans who believe that they are white, was built on looting and violence. Hearing this, I felt an old and indistinct sadness well up in me. The answer to this question is the record of the believers themselves. The answer is American history.
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.