European public figures are deeply concerned about the chance that China might want to make a big contribution to their rescue fund
A Chinese policeman on duty in front of the European Union delegation to China in Beijing / AP
It's fascinating to watch European public figures freak out over a possible "bailout" from China. Though the president of the European Central Bank, according to the BBC, "has denied that eurozone countries are going 'cap in hand' to China" to raise money for their rescue fund, clearly this is exactly what others think is going on, and they're far from okay with it.
Nicolas Dupont-Aignant, a current candidate for the French presidency, has called potential Chinese assistance "dirty money," saying China "exploits its people" and is "a Communist dictatorship." Granted, Dupont-Aignant isn't quite mainstream, being the leader of the Gaullist, euroskeptic Debout la République party. But the Socialist candidate for president, Francois Hollande, has also come out against the plan. "Can we imagine that China ... were it to come to the aid of the euro zone, would do so without any compensation?" he's asked. The French Le Monde has reported that he sees the proposal as an "admission of weakness."
Meanwhile, the head of Germany's BDI, or Federation of German Industries, has gone on-record in a German-language interview in Der Spiegel to say that "if we in Europe so organize the stabilization of the euro that we allow political influence from outside, then we make a great mistake." Elsewhere, German newspapers worry about China itself having financial troubles ill reflected in the "official figures."
What's so interesting, of course, is that the U.S. is already highly dependent on Chinese money. It's hard to think of the last time American leaders got publicly worked up over this, even though plenty of experts have expressed concern. The standard balm to American worries is the same one currently on offer in Europe: China needs the American and European markets just as the U.S., and now Europe, need ready cash. There's a limit to how much the Chinese, according to this argument, are likely to mess with us. They're not, for example, going to pull all their money out in one go.
Why are Europeans so much more anxious about relying on China? There are a couple of obvious explanations. The first is that, for Europeans, this will be a new form of reliance on China -- the U.S. dependence has been going on for a while, so it would be odd for Americans to be similarly excited. It's also a more clear-cut decision to debate than when, for example, China started buying up American dollars by the tanker.
But that's not the most satisfying explanation, not least because some American experts think China bailing out Europe is kind of a great idea. Fareed Zakaria is for it, saying this is China's "opportunity to become a 'responsible stakeholder.'" While others, as The Atlantic's own Max Fisher has pointed out, are a bit jittery at what looks like an emerging Chinese lending policy consciously geared towards political influence, the overall response trend appears, as Fisher's own considered argument demonstrates, to be one of practical acceptance.
So is the difference a result of something else? Xenophobia, perhaps? A more conscious West-versus-rest attitude, given that Europeans don't have the same sense as we do of American exceptionalism? Or does Europe just have more vibrant public debate about policy issues? Your choice of explanation may well rest on your attitude towards free market issues and China itself. One thing's for sure: there's nothing like this kind of outcry from Europe to highlight what's not being talked about in the States. Sure, there are occasional op-eds or candidate sound bites that broach the issue. But when you see how potential new debtors in Europe approach it, that looks like breezy indifference.
In 1985, Neil Postman observed an America imprisoned by its own need for amusement. He was, it turns out, extremely prescient.
Earlier this month, thousands of protesters gathered at Washington’s National Mall to advocate for an assortment of causes: action against global climate change, federal funding for scientific research, an empirical approach to the world and its mysteries. The protesters at the March for Science, as scientists are wont to do, followed what has become one of the formulas for such an event, holding clever signs, wearing cheeky costumes, and attempting, in general, to carnivalize their anger. “Make the Barrier Reef Great Again,” read one sign at the March. “This is my sine,” read another. “I KNEW TO WEAR THIS,” one woman had written on the poncho she wore that soggy Saturday, “BECAUSE SCIENCE PREDICTED THE RAIN.” Three protesters, sporting sensible footwear and matching Tyrannosaurus rex costumes, waved poster boards bearing messages like “Jurassick of this shit.”
Recent border battles have once again redrawn the lines of the metro area.
On the Saturday before Election Day last November, Jason Lary, a former insurance executive, crouched on a rough patch of grass at the center of a busy intersection 20 miles outside of Atlanta in DeKalb County. Lary was holding a hammer, and he tapped carefully on the thin wire base of a campaign sign. “My hand is like Fred Flintstone’s right now because I banged my hand in the night,” he said, noting his latest sign-related injury. This hazard, though, was worthwhile: “If you don’t start [the sign] with your hand, it will bend. It takes longer—guys are 10 times faster than I am. But my sign’s still gonna be up.”
This was a non-trivial advantage for Lary, who for the past month had begun most mornings with a kind of ground-game whack-a-mole. He would put up signs under the cover of night, only to have his opponents dislodge them by hand or, when that failed, run over them with their cars. Nevertheless, Lary was feeling good. “My opposition? Worn down,” he told me. “They don’t even have any more signs. And I kept a stash, knowing this time was coming. This is not my first picnic with nonsense.”
Activists threatened to drag local Republicans off a parade route if they weren’t excluded from a local celebration. Organizers cancelled the entire event in response.
On the day after Donald Trump was inaugurated, perhaps 3 million Americans took to the streets in peaceful protest to register their opposition. When news of his travel ban broke, I stood at LAX watching Angelenos sing the Star Spangled Banner and Amazing Grace. Across the nation, peaceful protest against President Trump continues. But a violent fringe has been using Trump’s rise as a justification for political violence, as if his authoritarian impulses justify authoritarianism from his opponents.
This tiny faction knows that most of their compatriots on the left are committed to nonviolence, so they frame their aggressive actions as a narrow exception to the rule.
Most famously, they insisted that it was okay, or even righteous, to punch white supremacist Richard Spencer because he was “a Nazi.” That position impels the debate down a slippery slope. And now, activists in Oregon caused the cancellation of the 82nd Avenue of Roses Parade, a community event in the southeast quadrant of Portland, by threatening to forcibly drag “fascists” off the parade route if they weren’t excluded.
Who wins (the rich), who loses (anybody who doesn’t like deficits), and why it might take a miracle for the plan to become a law
There are two compelling narratives around President Donald Trump’s first 100 days. The first is his transformation from heterodox populist to orthodox Republican. Although he ran as a mold-breaking renegade, his economic policies come straight out of the conservative mold, from cutting business regulations to backing off threats to label China a currency manipulator and supporting plans to reduce health-insurance coverage for the poor.
The second story is that Trump has been more focused on optimizing for his own income and branding than for political victories. He has visited no foreign leaders, passed no major laws, given no major political addresses, and disappeared as the GOP effort to repeal Obamacare failed, all while doing little to refute accusations that he’s using the office to raise membership revenue at Mar-a-Lago and mixing business and politics in ways that are unprecedented for a sitting president.
The Piano Man hasn’t released a new pop album since 1993. How does he continue to sell out stadiums?
For those of you who are sick of wondering, this is what happens at a Billy Joel concert: A mother tries to cajole her reluctant young son to twist with her to “Only the Good Die Young.” A 45-year-old man in a Billy Joel-themed softball jersey, sitting third row and visible to all, hoists aloft a New Jersey vanity license plate that reads “Joel FN” and uses it to air-drum to “Pressure.” Three 20-somethings on a ladies’ night out shoot a Boomerang of themselves swaying to “Scenes From an Italian Restaurant.” A sexagenarianin business attire uses a lull during Joel’s Perestroika-era ditty “Leningrad” to crush some work emails on his BlackBerry Priv. A 19,000-strong congregation—carpenter jeans and Cartier watches, Yankee caps and yarmulkes, generationally diffuse and racially homogenous—all dance, terribly and euphorically, to “Uptown Girl.”
Will you pay more for those shoes before 7 p.m.? Would the price tag be different if you lived in the suburbs? Standard prices and simple discounts are giving way to far more exotic strategies, designed to extract every last dollar from the consumer.
As Christmas approached in 2015, the price of pumpkin-pie spice went wild. It didn’t soar, as an economics textbook might suggest. Nor did it crash. It just started vibrating between two quantum states. Amazon’s price for a one-ounce jar was either $4.49 or $8.99, depending on when you looked. Nearly a year later, as Thanksgiving 2016 approached, the price again began whipsawing between two different points, this time $3.36 and $4.69.
We live in the age of the variable airfare, the surge-priced ride, the pay-what-you-want Radiohead album, and other novel price developments. But what was this? Some weird computer glitch? More like a deliberate glitch, it seems. “It’s most likely a strategy to get more data and test the right price,” Guru Hariharan explained, after I had sketched the pattern on a whiteboard.
In the party’s bid to regain power, centrists and Bernie Sanders’s allies offer seemingly incompatible strategies—that target wildly different voters.
The distinctive pattern of public reaction to President Trump as he approaches the end of his first 100 days in office is sharpening the choices facing Democrats over the party’s road to recovery.
Though Trump’s agenda has unified Democrats in near-term opposition, clear fault lines have quickly emerged about the party’s long-term strategy to regain power. On one side are those—largely affiliated with Senator Bernie Sanders—arguing for a biting message of economic populism, which is intended largely to recapture working-class white voters that stampeded to Trump in 2016. On the other are party strategists who want Democrats to offer a more centrist economic message, aimed primarily at reassuring white-collar suburbanites drawn to the party mostly around cultural issues.
“Somewhere at Google there is a database containing 25 million books and nobody is allowed to read them.”
You were going to get one-click access to the full text of nearly every book that’s ever been published. Books still in print you’d have to pay for, but everything else—a collection slated to grow larger than the holdings at the Library of Congress, Harvard, the University of Michigan, at any of the great national libraries of Europe—would have been available for free at terminals that were going to be placed in every local library that wanted one.
At the terminal you were going to be able to search tens of millions of books and read every page of any book you found. You’d be able to highlight passages and make annotations and share them; for the first time, you’d be able to pinpoint an idea somewhere inside the vastness of the printed record, and send somebody straight to it with a link. Books would become as instantly available, searchable, copy-pasteable—as alive in the digital world—as web pages.
While the president can spin on whatever immigration-control measures he gets in the spending bill, between health care and the wall funding, lawmakers know the real score: Congress: 2, Trump: 0.
Talk about an impressive political about-face. In the fight over whether the government funding bill currently under negotiation would include $1.5 billion for his Great Wall, Donald Trump went from intransigent chest-thumper to panicked back-pedaler in, what, six days?
Starting last Wednesday, President Trump had budget chief Mick Mulvaney running all over town warning that the president would not look kindly on any deal that did not fund his pet border wall—that, in fact, he might even refuse to sign such a bill. Soon, other administration members, including Homeland Security chief John Kelly and White House chief of staff Reince Priebus, were pushing the same message.
By the following Monday evening—having made zero progress with his congressional arm twisting and facing the vivid possibility of being blamed for shutting down the government—Trump had abandoned the fight. He told a gaggle of conservative media types visiting the White House that, on second thought, he would defer the wall debate to September.
The most comprehensive review of evidence on health consequences of caffeine use has just been published.
That’s what a Los Angeles news anchor said earlier this month, in response to the announcement that “the world’s strongest coffee” is now available in the United States. The product is called Black Insomnia, a playful nod to apotentially debilitating medical condition that can be caused by the product.
The anchor’s tone took a dramatic decrescendo as she read from the teleprompter: “The site Caffeine Informer says Black Insomnia is one of the ‘most dangerous caffeinated products.’” Her smile faded. “Oh. I’ll have to have this one sparingly.”
Black Insomnia is actually in competition for the title of “world’s strongest coffee.” Another, similar purveyor sells coffee grounds called Death Wish. They come in a black sack with a skull and cross bones. On its Amazon page, Death Wish claims to be “the world’s strongest coffee” and promises its “perfect dark roast will make you the hero of the house or office.”