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.
When the government shuts down, the politicians pipe up.
No sooner had a midnight deadline passed without congressional action on a must-pass spending bill than lawmakers launched their time-honored competition over who gets the blame for their collective failure. The Senate floor became a staging ground for dueling speeches early Saturday morning, and lawmakers of both parties—as well as the White House and political-activist groups—flooded the inboxes of reporters with prewritten statements castigating one side or the other.
Led by President Trump, Republicans accused Senate Democrats of holding hostage the entire government and health insurance for millions of children over their demands for an immigration bill. “This is the behavior of obstructionist losers, not legislators,” the White House said in a statement issued moments before the clock struck midnight. In a series of Saturday-morning tweets, Trump said Democrats had given him “a nice present” for the first anniversary of his inauguration. The White House vowed that no immigration talks would occur while the government is closed, and administration officials sought to minimize public anger by allowing agencies to use leftover funds and by keeping national parks and public lands partially accessible during the shutdown—in effect, by not shutting down the government as fully as the Obama administration did in 2013.
Allegations against the comedian are proof that women are angry, temporarily powerful—and very, very dangerous.
Sexual mores in the West have changed so rapidly over the past 100 years that by the time you reach 50, intimate accounts of commonplace sexual events of the young seem like science fiction: You understand the vocabulary and the sentence structure, but all of the events take place in outer space. You’re just too old.
This was my experience reading the account of one young woman’s alleged sexual encounter with Aziz Ansari, published by the website Babe this weekend. The world in which it constituted an episode of sexual assault was so far from my own two experiences of near date rape (which took place, respectively, during the Carter and Reagan administrations, roughly between the kidnapping of the Iran hostages and the start of the Falklands War) that I just couldn’t pick up the tune. But, like the recent New Yorker story “Cat Person”—about a soulless and disappointing hookup between two people who mostly knew each other through texts—the account has proved deeply resonant and meaningful to a great number of young women, who have responded in large numbers on social media, saying that it is frighteningly and infuriatingly similar to crushing experiences of their own. It is therefore worth reading and, in its way, is an important contribution to the present conversation.
The website made a name for itself by going after Aziz Ansari, and now it’s hurting the momentum of #MeToo.
Fifteen years ago, Hollywood’s glittering superstars—among them Meryl Streep— were on their feet cheering for Roman Polanski, the convicted child rapist and fugitive from justice, when he won the 2003 Academy Award for Best Director. But famous sex criminals of the motion picture and television arts have lately fallen out of fashion, as the industry attempts not just to police itself but—where would we be without them?—to instruct all of us on how to lead our lives.
The Golden Globes ceremony had the angry, unofficial theme of “Time’s Up,” which quickly and predictably became unmoored from its original meaning, as excited winners tried to align their entertaining movies and TV shows with the message. By the time Laura Dern—a quiver in her voice—connected the nighttime soap opera Big Little Lies to America’s need to institute “restorative justice,” it seemed we’d set a course for the moon but ended up on Jupiter: close, but still 300 million miles away. And then Oprah Winfrey climbed the stairs to the stage, and I knew she wouldn’t just bat clean-up; she’d bring home the pennant.
Stories of gray areas are exactly what more men need to hear.
The story of Aziz Ansari and “Grace” is playing out as a sort of Rorschach test.
One night in the lives of two young people with vintage cameras is crystallizing debate over an entire movement. Depending on how readers were primed to see the ink blot, it can be taken as evidence that the ongoing cultural audit is exactly on track—getting more granular in challenging unhealthy sex-related power dynamics—or that it has gone off the rails, and innocent men are now suffering, and we are collectively on the brink of a sex panic.
Since the story’s publication on Saturday (on the website Babe, without comment from Ansari, and attributed to a single anonymous source), some readers have seen justice in Ansari’s humiliation. Some said they would no longer support his work. They saw in this story yet another case of a man who persisted despite literal and implied cues that sex was not what a woman wanted.Some saw further proof that the problems are systemic, permeating even “normal” encounters.
New research shows that the best humor is both a little bit wrong and a little bit right. Is there something about comedians that makes them better at subversion?
Immediately after 9/11, comedy ground to a halt. The Daily Show went off the air for nine days. Saturday Night Live, whose 27th season started 18 days later, featured a somber cold-open with Lorne Michaels asking New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, "Can we be funny?"
The staffers of The Onion, the satirical paper that had just relocated to New York, weren’t sure how to answer that question. Even three weeks after the attack, the comedian Gilbert Gottfried was publicly hissed at for joking that he was taking a flight that would make a stop at the Empire State Building.
The Onion staffers agonized, but they eventually settled on publishing an entire paper devoted to 9/11 on September 26. As described by psychologist Peter McGraw and journalist Joel Warner in their upcoming book, The Humor Code, the issue was smash hit. The Onion writers aimed their bile at the hijackers, whom they depicted being tortured by “tusked, asp-tongued demons” in Hell. One headline read, “God Angrily Clarifies 'Don't Kill' Rule.”
How NASA scales down to a skeleton crew when Congress misses a big budget deadline
As the wheels of the U.S. government ground to a halt Friday at midnight, thousands of federal employees prepared to face days or weeks without work or pay until their offices reopened.
Some employees will continue working through the government shutdown, however, including the three with the longest commute: NASA astronauts Mark Vande Hei, Joseph Acaba, and Scott Tingle. Despite the political tussle that closed most of the government on Saturday, the American part of the International Space Station remains open for business. Mission control staff, considered “essential” personnel, will keep working, too, to support the astronauts.
Phew. And, well, obviously! After all, NASA can’t exactly press pause on the work of keeping humans alive in microgravity 200 miles above Earth, even if Congress missed the deadline for the government running out of money.
In transcending left-right divides, the French president may be creating a monster of a different sort.
Foreigners are fascinated by French President Emmanuel Macron. And why shouldn’t they be? He’s the youngest-ever president of the French Republic, elected with no party and no previous electoral experience, a virtual nobody just two years before he leaped to the forefront of the French political scene. Of course people are curious.
But there’s another reason my non-French friends bombard me with questions about my president. Like myself, most of them have advanced degrees and upper-middle-class backgrounds. This sort of socioeconomic status correlatesstrongly with affection for Macron.
His views mirror those held by most of this “elite” class. He thinks the left-right divide should be transcended. He doesn’t care about outworn ideologies, but about solutions that work, wherever they come from. He thinks startups are cool and the economy should be generally entrepreneurship-friendly, but he also wants some sort of welfare state. He’s got no problem whatsoever with gay marriage. He believes immigration is desirable for both economic and moral reasons.
More comfortable online than out partying, post-Millennials are safer, physically, than adolescents have ever been. But they’re on the brink of a mental-health crisis.
One day last summer, around noon, I called Athena, a 13-year-old who lives in Houston, Texas. She answered her phone—she’s had an iPhone since she was 11—sounding as if she’d just woken up. We chatted about her favorite songs and TV shows, and I asked her what she likes to do with her friends. “We go to the mall,” she said. “Do your parents drop you off?,” I asked, recalling my own middle-school days, in the 1980s, when I’d enjoy a few parent-free hours shopping with my friends. “No—I go with my family,” she replied. “We’ll go with my mom and brothers and walk a little behind them. I just have to tell my mom where we’re going. I have to check in every hour or every 30 minutes.”
Those mall trips are infrequent—about once a month. More often, Athena and her friends spend time together on their phones, unchaperoned. Unlike the teens of my generation, who might have spent an evening tying up the family landline with gossip, they talk on Snapchat, the smartphone app that allows users to send pictures and videos that quickly disappear. They make sure to keep up their Snapstreaks, which show how many days in a row they have Snapchatted with each other. Sometimes they save screenshots of particularly ridiculous pictures of friends. “It’s good blackmail,” Athena said. (Because she’s a minor, I’m not using her real name.) She told me she’d spent most of the summer hanging out alone in her room with her phone. That’s just the way her generation is, she said. “We didn’t have a choice to know any life without iPads or iPhones. I think we like our phones more than we like actual people.”
She lived with us for 56 years. She raised me and my siblings without pay. I was 11, a typical American kid, before I realized who she was.
The ashes filled a black plastic box about the size of a toaster. It weighed three and a half pounds. I put it in a canvas tote bag and packed it in my suitcase this past July for the transpacific flight to Manila. From there I would travel by car to a rural village. When I arrived, I would hand over all that was left of the woman who had spent 56 years as a slave in my family’s household.
Two researchers just completed what was perhaps the most comprehensive search for people from the future so far.
Twitter and Facebook have been asked to save journalism and overthrow autocrats. Now, two physicists have proposed an application even more ambitious: Can social media find time travelers?
Robert Nemiroff and Teresa Wilson, two researchers at Michigan Technological University, thought they might. In a study released online last week, the two scoured Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and a few other websites to find “prescient information”—that is, tweets and statuses about current events posted before the events became current. The only way someone could write such a post, they reasoned, is if they were visiting… from the future.