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.
Long after research contradicts common medical practices, patients continue to demand them and physicians continue to deliver. The result is an epidemic of unnecessary and unhelpful treatments.
First, listen to the story with the happy ending: At 61, the executive was in excellent health. His blood pressure was a bit high, but everything else looked good, and he exercised regularly. Then he had a scare. He went for a brisk post-lunch walk on a cool winter day, and his chest began to hurt. Back inside his office, he sat down, and the pain disappeared as quickly as it had come.
That night, he thought more about it: middle-aged man, high blood pressure, stressful job, chest discomfort. The next day, he went to a local emergency department. Doctors determined that the man had not suffered a heart attack and that the electrical activity of his heart was completely normal. All signs suggested that the executive had stable angina—chest pain that occurs when the heart muscle is getting less blood-borne oxygen than it needs, often because an artery is partially blocked.
Two historians weigh in on how to understand the new administration, press relations, and this moment in political time.
The election of Donald Trump, and the early days of his presidency, have driven many Americans to rummage through history in search of context and understanding. Trump himself has been compared to historical figures ranging from Ronald Reagan to Henry Ford, and from Andrew Jackson to Benito Mussolini. His steps have been condemned as unprecedented by his critics, and praised as historic by his supporters.
To place contemporary events in perspective, we turned to a pair of historians of the United States. Julian Zelizer is a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University. He is the author, most recently, of The Fierce Urgency of Now: Lyndon Johnson, Congress, and the Battle for the Great Society. Morton Keller is a professor emeritus of history at Brandeis University. He has written or edited more than 15 books, including Obama’s Time: A History. They’ll be exchanging views periodically on how to understand Trump, his presidency, and this moment in political time. —Yoni Appelbaum
Plagues, revolutions, massive wars, collapsed states—these are what reliably reduce economic disparities.
Calls to make America great again hark back to a time when income inequality receded even as the economy boomed and the middle class expanded. Yet it is all too easy to forget just how deeply this newfound equality was rooted in the cataclysm of the world wars.
The pressures of total war became a uniquely powerful catalyst of equalizing reform, spurring unionization, extensions of voting rights, and the creation of the welfare state. During and after wartime, aggressive government intervention in the private sector and disruptions to capital holdings wiped out upper-class wealth and funneled resources to workers; even in countries that escaped physical devastation and crippling inflation, marginal tax rates surged upward. Concentrated for the most part between 1914 and 1945, this “Great Compression” (as economists call it) of inequality took several more decades to fully run its course across the developed world until the 1970s and 1980s, when it stalled and began to go into reverse.
A $100 million gangster epic starring Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, and Joe Pesci has become too risky a proposition for major studios.
Martin Scorsese’s next project, The Irishman, is as close as you can get to a box-office guarantee for the famed director. It’s a gangster film based on a best-selling book about a mob hitman who claimed to have a part in the legendary disappearance of the union boss Jimmy Hoffa. Robert De Niro is attached to play the hitman, Al Pacino will star as Hoffa, and Scorsese favorites Joe Pesci and Harvey Keitel are also on board. After Scorsese branched into more esoteric territory this year with Silence, a meditative exploration of faith and Catholicism, The Irishman sounds like a highly bankable project—the kind studios love. And yet, the film is going to Netflix, which will bankroll its $100 million budget and distribute it around the world on the company’s streaming service.
“The question confronting us as a nation is as consequential as any we have faced since the late 1940s,” a group of Republican and Democratic experts write.
Ben Rhodes, one of Barack Obama’s top advisers, once dismissed the American foreign-policy establishment—those ex-government officials and think-tank scholars and journalists in Washington, D.C. who advocate for a particular vision of assertive U.S. leadership in the world—as the “Blob.” Donald Trump had harsher words. As a presidential candidate, he vowed never to take advice on international affairs from “those who have perfect resumes but very little to brag about except responsibility for a long history of failed policies and continued losses at war.” Both men pointed to one of the Beltway establishment’s more glaring errors: support for the war in Iraq.
Now the Blob is fighting back. The “establishment” has been unfairly “kicked around,” said Robert Kagan, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and former official in the Reagan administration. As World War II gave way to the Cold War, President Harry Truman and his secretary of state, Dean Acheson, “invented a foreign policy and sold it successfully to the American people. That’s what containment was and that’s what the Truman Doctrine was. … That was the foreign-policy establishment.” During that period, the U.S. government also helped create a system for restoring order to a world riven by war and economic crisis. That system, which evolved over the course of the Cold War and post-Cold War period, includes an open international economy; U.S. military and diplomatic alliances in Asia, Europe, and the Middle East; and liberal rules and institutions (human rights, the United Nations, and so on).
In late 2015, in the Chilean desert, astronomers pointed a telescope at a faint, nearby star known as ared dwarf. Amid the star’s dim infrared glow, they spotted periodic dips, a telltale sign that something was passing in front of it, blocking its light every so often. Last summer, the astronomers concluded the mysterious dimming came from three Earth-sized planets—and that they were orbiting in the star’s temperate zone, where temperatures are not too hot, and not too cold, but just right for liquid water, and maybe even life.
This was an important find. Scientists for years had focused on stars like our sun in their search for potentially habitable planets outside our solar system. Red dwarfs, smaller and cooler than the sun, were thought to create inhospitable conditions. They’re also harder to see, detectable by infrared rather than visible light. But the astronomers aimed hundreds of hours worth of observations at this dwarf, known as TRAPPIST-1 anyway, using ground-based telescopes around the world and NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope.
Neither truck drivers nor bankers would put up with a system like the one that influences medical residents’ schedules.
The path to becoming a doctor is notoriously difficult. Following pre-med studies and four years of medical school, freshly minted M.D.s must spend anywhere from three to seven years (depending on their chosen specialty) training as “residents” at an established teaching hospital. Medical residencies are institutional apprenticeships—and are therefore structured to serve the dual, often dueling, aims of training the profession’s next generation and minding the hospital’s labor needs.
How to manage this tension between “education and service” is a perennial question of residency training, according to Janis Orlowski, the chief health-care officer of the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC). Orlowski says that the amount of menial labor residents are required to perform, known in the profession as “scut work,” has decreased "tremendously" since she was a resident in the 1980s. But she acknowledges that even "institutions that are committed to education … constantly struggle with this,” trying to stay on the right side of the boundary between training and taking advantage of residents.
You can tell a lot about a person from how they react to something.
That’s why Facebook’s various “Like” buttons are so powerful. Clicking a reaction icon isn’t just a way to register an emotional response, it’s also a way for Facebook to refine its sense of who you are. So when you “Love” a photo of a friend’s baby, and click “Angry” on an article about the New England Patriots winning the Super Bowl, you’re training Facebook to see you a certain way: You are a person who seems to love babies and hate Tom Brady.
The more you click, the more sophisticated Facebook’s idea of who you are becomes. (Remember: Although the reaction choices seem limited now—Like, Love, Haha, Wow, Sad, or Angry—up until around this time last year, there was only a “Like” button.)
When my wife was struck by mysterious, debilitating symptoms, our trip to the ER revealed the sexism inherent in emergency treatment.
Early on a Wednesday morning, I heard an anguished cry—then silence.
I rushed into the bedroom and watched my wife, Rachel, stumble from the bathroom, doubled over, hugging herself in pain.
“Something’s wrong,” she gasped.
This scared me. Rachel’s not the type to sound the alarm over every pinch or twinge. She cut her finger badly once, when we lived in Iowa City, and joked all the way to Mercy Hospital as the rag wrapped around the wound reddened with her blood. Once, hobbled by a training injury in the days before a marathon, she limped across the finish line anyway.
So when I saw Rachel collapse on our bed, her hands grasping and ungrasping like an infant’s, I called the ambulance. I gave the dispatcher our address, then helped my wife to the bathroom to vomit.
High-school textbooks too often gloss over the American government’s oppression of racial minorities.
Earlier this month, McGraw Hill found itself at the center of some rather embarrassing press after a photo showing a page from one of its high-school world-geography textbooks was disseminated on social media. The page features a seemingly innocuous polychromatic map of the United States, broken up into thousands of counties, as part of a lesson on the country’s immigration patterns: Different colors correspond with various ancestral groups, and the color assigned to each county indicates its largest ethnic representation. The page is scarce on words aside from an introductory summary and three text bubbles explaining specific trends—for example, that Mexico accounts for the largest share of U.S. immigrants today.