What it will mean for the president to "finish what we've started" on the global stage
Barack Obama campaigned for reelection by asking Americans to give him another term so he could "finish what we started" in 2008. "We've come too far to turn back now," he said. "We've got too much work to do to implement health care. We've got too much work to do to create good jobs. We've got too many teachers that we've got to hire. We've got too many schools we've got to rebuild. We've got too many students who still need affordable higher education. There's more homegrown energy to generate. There're more troops that we've got to bring home .... That's why I'm running for president of the United States of America." Last night, he won that second term. Today, the work begins.
Not surprisingly, Obama's domestic agenda for the next four years doesn't look much different from his first-term agenda. The economy may now be slowly improving rather than worsening, and the unemployment rate has been dropping instead of rising, but economic issues will remain his most urgent concern. He recently told MSNBC that if reelected, his first priority will be to push for passage of a debt reduction plan to cut spending and raise taxes on the wealthiest Americans. He said he will have a "mandate" to take that balanced approach, and he sounded confident that Republicans in Congress will agree.
Immigration Reform Expected
Obama has also outlined economy-boosting initiatives aimed at increasing manufacturing and energy production, investing in infrastructure, and encouraging businesses to hire more workers. But there is also unfinished business from his first term that will need attention. His administration still has work to do to implement his banking reform plan, and much remains to be done on his 2010 landmark health-care reform legislation -- so-called "Obamacare" -- which is scheduled to take effect in 2014.
Many observers expect Obama to take up immigration reform. Days before the election, Obama told a reporter, "Should I win a second term, a big reason [will be] because the Republican nominee and the Republican Party have so alienated the fastest-growing demographic group in the country -- the Latino community."
Judd Legum, the editor in chief of ThinkProgress, a liberal online political news site, says Obama is also likely to return to the issue of climate change, which went nowhere in his first term, largely because of concerns that regulation would worsen the already bad economy. "I do think the extreme weather we've been having in the United States -- particularly Hurricane Sandy, which just hit the East Coast -- is going to draw renewed attention to [climate change], and I think there's hope that Obama will take up some of these initiatives that were talked about," Legum says. "Maybe a cap-and-trade program to limit carbon emissions, or maybe something else."
The president's second-term foreign policy agenda also looks set to largely build on what he's already begun. There's the war in Afghanistan to wind down by 2014, the anticipation that tough sanctions on Iran will bear fruit, and the recent U.S. pivot, both militarily and economically, to the Asia-Pacific region. Republicans warned before the election that a second-term Obama, freed from the pressure of being reelected because of term limits, would be "unleashed" and emboldened to pursue his own agenda.
Christopher Preble, the vice president for defense and foreign policy studies at the CATO Institute, says that's a wrong assumption. Second-term presidents care about their legacy, he says, and want to leave office as popular figures. And beyond that, there are always political repercussions for the president's political party. "If a president were to do something in foreign policy that was dramatically at odds with what the public wanted, they risk doing serious harm to [their] party, and I think they care about that," Preble says. "We actually saw that, to a certain extent, in the second Bush term, when President Bush tried to make some changes to foreign policy, but on the critical issue of Iraq - which, by 2005-2006, the public had turned decisively against -- his decision to expand the war, contrary to public sentiment, I think clearly hurt the Republican Party in 2006 and 2008."
On the big issues, Preble says he expects Obama to continue the same policies he has for the last four years. He points out that sanctions on Iran are working - they have crippled the country's banking sector, hobbled its oil industry, and sent its currency plummeting. "All of those things will take some time, but they appear to be having some effect, at least on the state of the Iranian economy," he says. "So I think he is likely to continue along that path for a while longer."
Mideast Not a Priority
Preble doesn't agree with the speculation in some quarters that a second-term Obama will feel freer to take a tough line with Israel and press the Jewish state for concessions on the Israeli-Palestinian issue. In fact, he doesn't see that issue as a priority for Obama. "Whenever the United States applies pressure to the Israeli government to, halts the expansion of settlements in the Palestinian Territories, it has failed," Preble says. "And so if he's likely to go down that road, I can't imagine that he's likely to succeed. I frankly would be surprised if he invests a lot of political capital there, considering all the other issues on the table."
On the issue of Syria, where a bloody war between the government and antiregime fighters drags on, Obama has taken a largely hands-off approach, except to help organize the disparate rebel factions and lead international calls for President Bashar al-Assad to step down. Preble says "barring some very dramatic change," considering U.S. public opinion against another U.S. military operation, Obama will stay the course.
Obama's much-heralded "reset" with Moscow at the start of his first term led to cooperation on issues including Iran and Afghanistan, but President Vladimir Putin is now in power and demonstrating what many see as open disdain for the United States. Preble said his sense is that Obama "hasn't really made a connection with President Putin," but he doesn't foresee major changes in U.S.-Russian relations, and in fact doesn't rule out Russian cooperation on Syria and even China.
And finally, on China: Obama talked tough during the campaign about Beijing's trade policies - calling them unfair and even illegal - and vowed to take action. He has already overseen Defense Department changes that will increase the U.S. military presence in the Asia-Pacific region and serve as a counterweight to China's military ambitions in that part of the world. Preble says in the wider Asia-Pacific region, he expects Obama to strengthen U.S. ties with traditional allies like Japan, South Korea, and Australia, but also to reach out to countries that have shown interest in closer U.S. ties, like Vietnam, Indonesia, and the Philippines.
The number of American teens who excel at advanced math has surged. Why?
On a sultry evening last July, a tall, soft-spoken 17-year-old named David Stoner and nearly 600 other math whizzes from all over the world sat huddled in small groups around wicker bistro tables, talking in low voices and obsessively refreshing the browsers on their laptops. The air in the cavernous lobby of the Lotus Hotel Pang Suan Kaew in Chiang Mai, Thailand, was humid, recalls Stoner, whose light South Carolina accent warms his carefully chosen words. The tension in the room made it seem especially heavy, like the atmosphere at a high-stakes poker tournament.
Stoner and five teammates were representing the United States in the 56th International Mathematical Olympiad. They figured they’d done pretty well over the two days of competition. God knows, they’d trained hard. Stoner, like his teammates, had endured a grueling regime for more than a year—practicing tricky problems over breakfast before school and taking on more problems late into the evening after he completed the homework for his college-level math classes. Sometimes, he sketched out proofs on the large dry-erase board his dad had installed in his bedroom. Most nights, he put himself to sleep reading books like New Problems in Euclidean Geometry and An Introduction to Diophantine Equations.
This wasn’t terribly surprising. When Streep was asked, last year, in the course of promoting her extremely feminist film Suffragette, whether she is herself a feminist, the actor replied that, no, she isn’t. Instead: “I am a humanist,” she said. “I am for nice, easy balance.”
Women in their 20s are told they're too young to settle down. Then, seemingly overnight, they start hearing they're spinsters. What gives?
Women in their 20s are told they're too young to settle down. Then, seemingly overnight, they start hearing they're spinsters. What gives?
Heterosexual women today, in certain milieus, find themselves placed into one of two categories: too young to settle down, and too old to find a man. There is a window of opportunity to get married, but it is ephemeral almost to the point of non-existence. It falls at a different age according to region, or the idiosyncratic biases of one's circle, but hovers around 27. "Too young" refers not to teen marriage, but to any commitment entered into by a grown woman deemed still a child by those around her.
Here's how it works: A young woman hears from friends and family that she needs to focus on her career or education, not some guy. She is warned of certain dangers: unsolicited male attention; unintended pregnancy, as if intended pregnancy were also a thing; and the desire hardwired into all straight men to turn their girlfriends into 1950s housewives. To entertain the possibility of it being difficult to find a husband, to even utter the expression "find a husband," is to regress to another era. And this advice is incredibly appealing, a rejection of the quaint notion that female heterosexuality is the desire not for men, but for a white picket fence.
Today’s empires are born on the web, and exert tremendous power in the material world.
Mark Zuckerberg hasn’t had the best week.
First, Facebook’s Free Basics platform was effectively banned in India. Then, a high-profile member of Facebook’s board of directors, the venture capitalist Marc Andreessen, sounded off about the decision to his nearly half-a-million Twitter followers with a stunning comment.
“Anti-colonialism has been economically catastrophic for the Indian people for decades,” Andreessen wrote. “Why stop now?”
After that, the Internet went nuts.
Andreessen deleted his tweet, apologized, and underscored that he is “100 percent opposed to colonialism” and “100 percent in favor of independence and freedom.” Zuckerberg, Facebook’s CEO, followed up with his own Facebook post to say Andreessen’s comment was “deeply upsetting” to him, and not representative of the way he thinks “at all.”
And why stopping it requires that governments get out of the way
As it stands, the international coalition is far from winning the information war against the Islamic State. Its air strikes may be squeezing the group in Iraq and Syria and killing many of its leaders, but that has not halted the self-proclaimed caliphate’s ideological momentum. Indeed, at the end of 2015, it was estimated that the number of foreigners travelling to join militant groups in Iraq and Syria—predominantly the Islamic State—had more than doubled in the course of just 18 months. What’s more, while these figures may be striking, sheer numbers are less important than intent when it comes to the organization’s actual threat to the world. As we have already seen, it takes a very small number of people to unleash great terror, whether in Iraq, Syria, or elsewhere.
How those three little words sound around the world
I love saying “I love you.” I’ll say “love ya” to my parents when I’m about to get off the phone with them, and “love you!!” to my wife as she’s heading out the door for work (“love you???” on Gchat means I’ve gotten myself into trouble with her and I’m searching for a way out). I tell my son I love him, and he doesn’t even get it—he’s an infant. I’ve been known to proclaim that I love sushi and football and Benjamin Franklin (I mean, how could you not love Ben?).
Many people in this world would find my behavior rather strange. That’s because Americans are exceptionally promiscuous when it comes to professing their love. In the United States, “I love you” is at once exalted and devalued. It can mean everything ... or nothing at all. This is not universally the case.
Einstein’s gravitational waves rest on a genuinely radical idea.
After decades of anticipation, we have directly detected gravitational waves—ripples in spacetime traveling at the speed of light through the universe. Scientists at LIGO (the Laser Interferometic Gravitational-wave Observatory) have announced that they have measured waves coming from the inspiral of two massive black holes, providing a spectacular confirmation of Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity, whose hundredth anniversary was celebrated just last year.
Finding gravitational waves indicates that Einstein was (once again) right, and opens a new window onto energetic events occurring around the universe. But there’s a deeper lesson, as well: a reminder of the central importance of locality, an idea that underlies much of modern physics.
The drug modafinil was recently found to enhance cognition in healthy people. Should you take it to get a raise?
If you could take a pill that will make you better at your job, with few or no negative consequences, would you do it?
In a meta-analysis recently published in European Neuropsychopharmacology, researchers from the University of Oxford and Harvard Medical School concluded that a drug called modafinil, which is typically used to treat sleep disorders, is a cognitive enhancer. Essentially, it can help normal people think better.
Out of all cognitive processes, modafinil was found to improve decision-making and planning the most in the 24 studies the authors reviewed. Some of the studies also showed gains in flexible thinking, combining information, or coping with novelty. The drug didn’t seem to influence creativity either way.
Two hundred fifty years of slavery. Ninety years of Jim Crow. Sixty years of separate but equal. Thirty-five years of racist housing policy. Until we reckon with our compounding moral debts, America will never be whole.
And if thy brother, a Hebrew man, or a Hebrew woman, be sold unto thee, and serve thee six years; then in the seventh year thou shalt let him go free from thee. And when thou sendest him out free from thee, thou shalt not let him go away empty: thou shalt furnish him liberally out of thy flock, and out of thy floor, and out of thy winepress: of that wherewith the LORD thy God hath blessed thee thou shalt give unto him. And thou shalt remember that thou wast a bondman in the land of Egypt, and the LORD thy God redeemed thee: therefore I command thee this thing today.
— Deuteronomy 15: 12–15
Besides the crime which consists in violating the law, and varying from the right rule of reason, whereby a man so far becomes degenerate, and declares himself to quit the principles of human nature, and to be a noxious creature, there is commonly injury done to some person or other, and some other man receives damage by his transgression: in which case he who hath received any damage, has, besides the right of punishment common to him with other men, a particular right to seek reparation.
Across China, where new developments are keeping pace with the rapidly growing economy, reports continue to surface so-called "nail houses."
Across China, where new developments are keeping pace with the rapidly growing economy, reports continue to surface of so-called "nail houses." These properties, standing alone amid the ruins of other buildings, belong to owners who have stood their ground and resisted demolition. Defiant property owners say the compensation being offered is too low. Some of them have remained in their homes for years as their court cases drag on and new construction continues all around them. A few homeowners have won their fights, but most have lost. Meanwhile, these nail houses have become powerful symbols of resistance against the world's fastest-growing major economy.