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.
Why Nixon's former lawyer John Dean worries Trump could be one of the most corrupt presidents ever—and get away with it
Sometime early last fall, John Dean says he began having nightmares about a Trump presidency. He would wake in the middle of the night, agitated and alarmed, struggling to calm his nerves. “I’m not somebody who remembers the details of dreams,” he told me in a recent phone call from his home in Los Angeles. “I just know that they were so bad that I’d force myself awake and out of bed just to get away from them.”
Few people are more intimately acquainted than Dean with the consequences of an American presidency gone awry. As White House counsel under President Richard Nixon from 1970 to 1973, he was a key figure in the Watergate saga—participating in, and then helping to expose, the most iconic political scandal in modern U.S. history. In the decades since then, Dean has parlayed that resume line into something of a franchise, penning several books and countless columns on the theme of presidential abuses of power.
Can Republicans repeal Obamacare without imposing the greatest costs on the older, white, blue-collar voters who put Trump into office?
As congressional Republicans race to repeal and replace President Obama’s Affordable Care Act, one of their principal challenges is finding an alternative that does not expose older and less affluent white voters at the core of Donald Trump’s electoral coalition to greater costs and financial risk.
The paradox of the health-reform debate is that many of Obamacare’s key elements raised costs on younger and healthier people who generally vote Democratic as a means of limiting the financial exposure of older and sicker people, even as older whites have stampeded toward the GOP. Conversely, many of the central ideas common to the Republican replacement plans would lower costs for younger and healthier adults while exposing people with greater health needs, many of them older, to the risk of much larger out-of-pocket costs, even if it reduces the health-insurance premiums they initially pay.
After an unexpected loss in November, Democrats are nowhere near ready to take on the president-elect.
For Democrats and other progressive types, Winter Is Coming. Scratch that. Winter has hit—full force—and hordes of White Walkers are now wilding across the land.
It’s not merely that the party’s presidential dreams were crushed. Defeat came at the hands of a chest-thumping reality-TV star with the attention span of a toddler on speed to whom the norms of civilized society, much less politics, don’t seem to apply. Donald Trump’s jerkiness is central to his appeal, and for whatever cocktail of reasons—fear, awe, confusion—even many of the guy’s detractors find him hard to resist.
How the heck is non-Trump America supposed to forge an effective opposition to such a character, especially when his political team controls all the levers of power?
Is there room in the movement for people who morally object to abortion?
Updated on Monday, January 16 at 4:05 p.m.
Pro-life women are headed to D.C. Yes, they’ll turn out for the annual March for Life, which is coming up on January 27. But one week earlier, as many as a few hundred pro-lifers are planning to attend the Women’s March on Washington, which has been billed as feminist counterprogramming to the inauguration.
With organizations like Planned Parenthood and NARAL Pro-Choice America co-sponsoring the event, pro-life marchers have found themselves in a somewhat awkward position. What’s their place at an event that claims to speak for all women, but has aligned itself with pro-choice groups? With roughly a week to go before the march, organizers also released a set of “unity principles,” and one of them is “open access to safe, legal, affordable abortion and birth control for all people.”
Why some people are withdrawing from mainstream society into “intentional communities”—and what the rest of the country can learn from them
VIRGINIA— For the last eight years, Nicolas and Rachel Sarah have been slowly weaning themselves off fossil fuels. They don’t own a refrigerator or a car; their year-old baby and four-year-old toddler play by candlelight rather than electricity at night. They identify as Christian anarchists, and have given an official name to their search for an alternative to consumption-heavy American life: the Downstream Project, with the motto to “do unto those downstream as you would have those upstream do unto you.”
As it turns out, exiting the system is a challenging, time-consuming, and surprisingly technical process. Here in the Shenandoahs and central Virginia, a handful of tiny communities are experimenting with what it means to reject the norms of contemporary life and exist in a radically different way. They seem to share Americans’ pervasive sense of political alienation, which arguably reached an apotheosis with the election of Donald Trump: a sense of division from their peers, a distrust of government. The challenges of modern politics—dealing with issues like climate change, poverty, mass migration, and war on a global scale—are so vast and abstract that it’s difficult not to find them overwhelming. But instead of continuing in passive despair, as many Americans seem to do, the people in these communities decided to overhaul their lives.
A history of the first African American White House—and of what came next
In the waning days of President Barack Obama’s administration, he and his wife, Michelle, hosted a farewell party, the full import of which no one could then grasp. It was late October, Friday the 21st, and the president had spent many of the previous weeks, as he would spend the two subsequent weeks, campaigning for the Democratic presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton. Things were looking up. Polls in the crucial states of Virginia and Pennsylvania showed Clinton with solid advantages. The formidable GOP strongholds of Georgia and Texas were said to be under threat. The moment seemed to buoy Obama. He had been light on his feet in these last few weeks, cracking jokes at the expense of Republican opponents and laughing off hecklers. At a rally in Orlando on October 28, he greeted a student who would be introducing him by dancing toward her and then noting that the song playing over the loudspeakers—the Gap Band’s “Outstanding”—was older than she was.
When it comes to basic policy questions such as the minimum wage, introductory economics can be more misleading than it is helpful.
In a rich, post-industrial society, where most people walk around with supercomputers in their pockets and a person can have virtually anything delivered to his or her doorstep overnight, it seems wrong that people who work should have to live in poverty. Yet in America, there are more than ten million members of the working poor: people in the workforce whose household income is below the poverty line. Looking around, it isn’t hard to understand why. The two most common occupations in the United States are retail salesperson and cashier. Eight million people have one of those two jobs, which typically pay about $9–$10 per hour. It’s hard to make ends meet on such meager wages. A few years ago, McDonald’s was embarrassed by the revelation that its internal help line was recommending that even a full-time restaurant employee apply for various forms of public assistance.
Surfing the app on a trip back home can be a way of regressing, or imagining what life would be like if you never left.
My parents moved out of my hometown almost as soon as I left for college, and therefore I am obsessed with the idea of other people’s hometowns. Over any major holiday or break from a work schedule, hometowns become a sort of time travel, a way for people who have made adult lives elsewhere to return to their origin story.
Going home for the holidays can act as a kind of regression. Most of us know people, whether our friends, our partner, even our own parents, who suddenly turn into their teen or pre-teen self once they step foot in the house where they grew up. My mom used to say that whenever my dad got within 50 miles of his mom’s house, he suddenly became a teenage boy. Our hometowns become a kind of permission and hideaway, a place where we don’t have to be ourselves, where our actions don’t count and we get to be briefly less visible than we are in the adult homes we’ve made for ourselves elsewhere, the places where we expect ourselves to take action and achieve things and move upward through each day. For many of us, hometowns allow the luxury of a brief period of stasis, a rare few days of doing nothing.
Billy Barr moved to the Rocky Mountains four decades ago, got bored one winter, and decided to keep a notebook that has become the stuff of legend.
It was a year into his life alone in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains when Billy Barr began his recordings. It started as a curiosity, a task to busy his mind during the winter. By no means, Barr told me, having skied down from his cabin to use the nearest phone, did he set out to make a vital database for climate change scientists. “Hell no!” he said. “I didn’t know anything about climate change at the time.”
In 1973 Barr had dropped out of college and made his home an abandoned mining shack at the base of Gothic Mountain, a 12,600-foot stone buttress. The cold winds blew through the shack’s wood slat walls as if they didn’t exist; he shared the bare dirt floor with a skunk and pine marten, his only regular company for much of the year. Barr had moved from the East Coast to the Rocky Mountains precisely because of the solitude, but he couldn’t escape boredom. Especially that first winter. So he measured snow levels, animal tracks, and in spring the first jubilant calls of birds returning. He filled a notebook with these observations; then another notebook. This has continued now for 44 years.
King's famous "Letter from Birmingham Jail," published in The Atlantic as "The Negro Is Your Brother" and excerpted below, was written in response to a public statement of concern and caution issued by eight white religious leaders of the South. It stands as one of the classic documents of the civil-rights movement.
While confined here in the Birmingham city jail, I came across your recent statement calling our present activities "unwise and untimely." Seldom, if ever, do I pause to answer criticism of my work and ideas. If I sought to answer all of the criticisms that cross my desk, my secretaries would be engaged in little else in the course of the day, and I would have no time for constructive work. But since I feel that you are men of genuine good will and your criticisms are sincerely set forth, I would like to answer your statement in what I hope will be patient and reasonable terms.
I think I should give the reason for my being in Birmingham, since you have been influenced by the argument of "outsiders coming in"