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Archive for July, 2009

Truly terrifying data about the real state of the U.S. economy

Tuesday, July 7th, 2009

I have an unfortunate sense that the “green shoots” in the economy that everyone is talking about are nothing but dandelions. Sure, forcing $1 trillion of taxpayer money—in direct capital, guarantees, and diminished cost of borrowing—into the banking sector has permitted the major banks to claim solvency for the moment. Yet we should not forget that this solvency has come not through a much needed deleveraging of the banking sector but rather from a massive transfer of the obligations of private banks to the public, with the debt accruing to future generations. And overall loan quality at U.S. banks is still the worst in 25 years and deteriorating at the fastest pace ever.

It’s a terrible mistake to confuse the momentary solvency of the financial sector and the long-term health of our economy.

While we have addressed the credit collapse, we have not begun to tackle the far more daunting, and more significant, structural problems in the economy. Instead of focusing on the green shoots, let’s examine the macro data that will determine our national prosperity in the next generation. These data are terrifying.

Be scared by Spitzer

How David Beats Goliath

Tuesday, July 7th, 2009

A Gladwellian tale worth reading

Political Parties in Britain: Then & Now

Tuesday, July 7th, 2009

Leading constitutional expert Vernon Bogdanor tells Laurie Taylor that the age of the mass political party is over, but it still rules in our system of government.

Mass political parties started in the 1870s as a response to the advent of mass suffrage. 50 years ago, nearly one in ten people belonged to a party; it has now declined to one in 88, yet they still have a huge role in administering power in our democracy. It is that anomaly which constitutional expert Vernon Bogdanor claims lies behind the frustration and disillusionment that so many people feel towards our political system. He discusses his book, The New British Constitution, with Laurie.

Listen for more

Why you should listen to Charles Ives

Tuesday, July 7th, 2009

There’s a tendency for classical music aficionados to assume that composers are always and only themselves: Beethoven always Beethoven, Brahms always Brahms, Ives always Ives. The reality is that those composers, like all worthwhile artists, have gone through a more or less extended journey to escape from their models and to find a voice, to discover who they are. Part of the process of discovering who you are is finding why you are: What you want to say, why you’re an artist in the first place.

Read and listen for more at Slate

David Simon testifying about the future of Newspapers

Tuesday, July 7th, 2009
David Simon testifying about the future of Newspapers

FDR’s Lessons for Obama

Tuesday, July 7th, 2009

Alas for countless pundits and inspirational speakers, it is apparently not the case that the Chinese word for crisis is spelled by joining the characters for danger and opportunity. But that common fallacy nevertheless captures an important metaphorical truth: whatever the perils it brings with it, a crisis can be a grand opportunity. Among those who have understood that truth was Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Writing to his fellow Democrats in the 1920s, Roosevelt noted that their party could not hope to return to power until the Republicans led the nation “into a serious period of depression and unemployment.” The Great Depression soon brought a far longer and deeper period of woe than F.D.R. foresaw. But the crisis of the 1930s also provided an object lesson in the relationship between economic danger and political opportunity — a lesson Barack Obama is now trying to follow. Obama, too, came to office in the midst of an economic crisis, and in the solutions he has offered, it appears he has often looked to the example of F.D.R., whose presidency — and the very idea of activist government that it represents — is very much back in the public mind this year. Roosevelt pushed through policies that aimed not just to deal with the immediate challenge of the Great Depression but also to benefit generations of Americans to come. Pulling off a similar feat will require Obama to persuade Americans to see opportunities in the present crisis as well.

More from Time


Tuesday, July 7th, 2009

In 680, near Karbala in Iraq, a man was killed in the desert. His name was Husayn, and he was the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad. His death was a crucial episode in the growing split between two groups of Muslims – who would come to be known as the Sunni and the Shia.

And yet this dispute did not begin violently. Arguably, it was not at first a political or theological schism either, but a personal disagreement. And the two groups agree on many of the fundamentals of the religion.

So how did this profound split develop?

Listen to Melvyn Bragg conduct this round table discussion

What the Hell Just Happened? A Look Back at the Last Eight Years

Tuesday, July 7th, 2009

As we move into the next era of American history, we need to reflect on the bizarre sequence of events we’ve experienced since 2000, and on how we – and not just George W. Bush – handled them.

More form Junod at Esquire

The SAT and Its Enemies: Fear and loathing in college admissions

Tuesday, July 7th, 2009

One Saturday morning this month, a quarter million kids or more will slump their way into the fluorescent tomb of a high school classroom, slide into the seat of a flimsy polypropylene combo chair-desk, and then, with clammy palms dampening the shafts of perfectly sharpened number two pencils, they will take the SAT. They will carefully mark only one answer for each question, as instructed, and they will make sure to fill the entire circle darkly and completely. They will not make any stray marks on their answer sheet. If they erase, they will do so completely, because incomplete erasures may be scored as intended answers. They will not open their test book until the supervisor tells them to do so, and if they finish before time is called, they will not turn to any other section of the test. And over the next three hours they will determine the course of the rest of their lives.

At least that’s what a lot of them will think they’re doing. They’ll be wrong, of course–dozens of people have gone on to live happy and healthy lives after bombing the SAT–but they won’t know it because an oddly large number of powerful forces in American society have combined to elevate the SAT to unlikely heights of influence and to impute to it unimaginable powers. You’ll hear the SAT can wreck a person’s future, even if only temporarily, or salvage a new future from a misspent past. The SAT can enforce class hierarchies or break them open; it unfairly allocates society’s spoils and sorts the population into haves and have-nots, or it can unearth intellectual gifts that our nation’s atrocious high schools have managed to keep buried. It is a tool of understanding, a cynical hoax, a triumph of social science, a jackboot on the neck of the disadvantaged. But rarely is it just a test.

Read this brilliant history of the evolution of the SAT and how we view it

The End of White America?

Tuesday, July 7th, 2009

Whether you describe it as the dawning of a post-racial age or just the end of white America, we’re approaching a profound demographic tipping point. According to an August 2008 report by the U.S. Census Bureau, those groups currently categorized as racial minorities-blacks and Hispanics, East Asians and South Asians-will account for a majority of the U.S. population by the year 2042. Among Americans under the age of 18, this shift is projected to take place in 2023, which means that every child born in the United States from here on out will belong to the first post-white generation.

A superb editorial from Harper’s