Spiegel Online: 'It's Politics, Stupid!' Don't Just Bash the Bankers.
Enraged crowds have been gathering in New York and other cities around the world to protest against presumed bank misconduct. Many in politics have sought to profit from their anger. But blaming the financial industry misses the point. It is the politicians themselves who are to blame. For all of our knee-jerk sympathy for the protesters that have recently been gathering on Wall Street as well as in cities like Frankfurt and Barcelona, it would be interesting to know whether they're actually in favor of rescuing Greece or of booting it out of the euro zone. Likewise, are they fighting speculation and the power of the markets -- or simply capitalism as such? So far, the signals have been ambivalent. The cluelessness of the elites has become the cluelessness of the street, and now average people are creating what might be called their own befuddlement. Given this situation, congratulations are in order for our completely overwhelmed politicians, who have managed to divert attention away from their own impotence by joining forces with the protesters against the easiest common enemy to target: the evil bankers! Bashing banks has always been popular, though it has often, since the 19th century, come with anti-Semitic overtones. Even today, some crackpots are convinced that Goldman Sachs is part of some global Jewish conspiracy. Banks are, of course, responsible for things like excessive bonuses, the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers and financial instruments ranging from the murky to the devastating. But others have failed as well, including economists, journalists and, most of all, those politicians who, feigning understanding, are currently aligning themselves with the young protesters. Economists have failed because they predicted neither the 2007 nor the 2011 crisis -- and because now they are talking each other to death in ideological trench warfare. We in the media must also admit to having failed because we've hardly been able to explain the crisis and because, now that a whiff of resistance is developing against "those at the top," we are looking forward to an anti-capitalist global revolution with greedy enthusiasm.
Stratfor: Libya and Iraq: The Price of Success.
In a week when the European crisis continued building, the White House chose publicly to focus on announcements about the end of wars. The death of Moammar Gadhafi was said to mark the end of the war in Libya, and excitement about a new democratic Libya abounded. Regarding Iraq, the White House transformed the refusal of the Iraqi government to permit U.S. troops to remain into a decision by Washington instead of an Iraqi rebuff. Though in both cases there was an identical sense of “mission accomplished,” the matter was not nearly as clear-cut. The withdrawal from Iraq creates enormous strategic complexities rather than closure. While the complexities in Libya are real but hardly strategic, the two events share certain characteristics and are instructive.
Washington Post: Years in Iraq change U.S. military’s understanding of war.
The most profound legacy of the American intervention in Iraq may be the way it changed the U.S. military’s understanding of war. President Obama promised Friday that U.S. troops will have vacated the country by Christmas, effectively ending an occupation that claimed more than 4,400 American lives and stretched for nine years. The Iraq war has long been plagued by its contradictions. It toppled a hostile dictator, but many Americans remain troubled that the conflict was launched on what proved to be the false contention that the country was developing weapons of mass destruction. Even within the U.S. military, there is no broad agreement that the war’s outcome should be judged a victory. The 2003 attack on Baghdad was premised on the idea that overwhelming American firepower could do extraordinary things. Precision bombs and American tanks, linked by new information technology, could liberate a country with little risk to U.S. forces. With a little help from American troops and civilians, a new democracy could take root.
Stratfor: Special Series (Part 1): Assessing the Damage of the European Banking Crisis.
Europe faces a banking crisis it has not wanted to admit even exists. The formal authority on financial stability, International Monetary Fund (IMF) chief Christine Lagarde, made her institution's opinion on European banking known back in August when she prompted the European Union to engage in an immediate 200 billion-euro bank recapitalization effort. The response was broad-based derision from Europeans at the local, national and EU bureaucratic levels. The vehemence directed at Lagarde was particularly notable as Lagarde is certainly in a position to know what she was talking about: Until July 5, her title was not IMF chief, but French finance minister. She has seen the books, and the books are bad. Due to European inaction, the IMF on Oct. 18 raised its estimate for recapitalization needs from 200 billion euros to 300 billion euros ($274 billion to $410 billion).
Spiegel Online: Gadhafi's Death. The End of a Tyrant.
Both a dictator and his own court jester, Colonel Moammar Gadhafi was among the most enigmatic world leaders of our time. He was known for both extreme brutality and ludicrous eccentricity. There are dictators who defy anecdotes, lead bureaucratic lives or never reveal the person behind their stiff public persona. And then there was Moammar Gadhafi, the general born to Bedouins in 1942, a dictator with whom one hardly knows where to begin when it comes to describing the man. Perhaps it is best to begin with just one of his legendary television appearances -- the time he farted his way through a BBC interview. The flatulence was reportedly so loud and odiferous that reporter John Simpson later said the cameramen were startled and Gadhafi's assistants lit incense. "Does Libya's revolutionary leader have an uncontrollable digestive problem?" German daily Bild asked at the time. To this day, it remains unclear whether the digestive emissions were a provocation. Such behavior, at least, would not have been out of character. Once, during an Arab League Summit, in front of rolling cameras, Gadhafi chose to enter the bathroom instead of the meeting hall, as if to show just how little he thought of the event. Former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was forced to haul him into the meeting.
Washington Post: Europe’s real problem: a lack of growth.
Europe is facing its most severe challenge since 1945. If the Greek crisis morphs into an Italian crisis, the entire structure of post-World War II Europe could unravel. Finally, European leaders seem to recognize that their strategy of kicking the can down the road has not worked. The result will not be a dramatic solution — that is not how Europe works — but, more likely, a series of steps that together will be more comprehensive than anything done before. Still, they will not address Europe’s core problem: a lack of growth. It is an irony of history that the crisis has placed Germany firmly at the helm of Europe’s affairs. France conceived, planned and pushed for the continent to have a single currency, largely to dilute the influence of Germany, its central bank and its currency. But economic realities have proved stronger than organizational structures. Germany is by far Europe’s biggest economy and is in sound fiscal health. That makes it the only country that can write checks or issue guarantees that markets take seriously. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has been criticized in many quarters for not endorsing a big-bang solution — something like euro-bonds, which would, in effect, extend a German guarantee for the debt of all euro-zone countries. But any such solution would allow countries such as Greece and Spain to borrow again at “German” interest rates (which are much lower than they could get on their own), meaning that these countries would have no incentive to cut their budget deficits and implement reforms to spur economic growth.
Washington Post: Steve Jobs's Apple Legacy.
Steve Jobs, co-founder and former CEO of Apple Inc., passed away on Wednesday, October 5th, 2011 at the age of 56. Born on February 24th, 1955 in San Francisco, Steven Paul Jobs was adopted as an infant by Paul and Clara (née Hagopian) Jobs. While attending Homestead High School in Cupertino, California, Jobs began working at Hewlett-Packard where he met Steve Wozniak. Indeed, Jobs’ relentless drive to push Apple and industry forward continued until his very last product announcement as Apple’s CEO: a service called iCloud which would wirelessly keep the company’s devices in sync through the use of cloud storage technology. After kicking off the PC era with the Apple II, reinventing the PC with the iMac, and finally extending the PC’s status as a digital hub with the iPod, Jobs was ready to do away with the PC entirely.
Foreign Policy: Remembering Steve Jobs. The Apple Generation Loses Its Visionary.
Apple visionary Steve Jobs has died at the age of 56 after a long battle against cancer. He was one of the great inventors of his time and an inspiration to an entire generation. Right up until his death, Steve Jobs' health was the subject of rumors and speculation. Observers suggested that Jobs could have made a surprise appearance at Tuesday's presentation at Apple headquarters in Cupertino, California. Instead, his successor, Tim Cook, took the stage alone to introduce the iPhone 4S. Insiders suspected that it was not a good sign. Around 24 hours later, Steve Jobs, the legendary Apple co-founder and IT pioneer, died from cancer at the age of 56. On the Apple website, the usual colorful links to the company's products immediately disappeared, replaced by a black-and-white portrait of Jobs in better times and the simple message: "Steve Jobs, 1955-2011." "Apple has lost a visionary and creative genius," the company said in a statement confirming Jobs' death. "Those of us who have been fortunate enough to know and work with Steve have lost a dear friend and an inspiring mentor." The statement included an e-mail address where fans could share their "thoughts, memories and condolences": email@example.com. The brief but unusual statement says it all. Apple is more than just a company -- it's a whole way of life. And Steve Jobs was more than just a corporate leader. He was an inventor, a visionary and the inspiration for an entire generation.
Foreign Policy: Checkbook Diplomacy. In shopping for hearts and minds in Iraq, the State Department made some bizarre impulse purchases.
In 2009, the State Department sent me to Iraq for a year as part of the civilian surge deployed to backstop the more muscular military one. At the head of a six-person Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT), I was assigned to spend U.S. government money creating projects that would lift the local economy and lure young men away from the dead-end opportunities of al Qaeda. I was to empower women, turning them into entrepreneurs and handing them a future instead of a suicide vest. This was newfangled hearts and minds, as practiced with a lavish checkbook and supervised by a skittish embassy looking for "victory" anywhere it could be found. We really did believe money could buy us love and win the war. The work was done by amateurs like me, sent to Iraq on one-year tours without guidance or training, and eager to create photogenic success stories that would get us all promoted. No idea was too bizarre, too gimmicky, or too pointless for us hearts-and-minders: We actually preferred handing out croissants and children's calendars to tackling tough issues like health care or civic services. One month it might be guaranteed-to-fail small businesses like car washes and brake repair shops in an economy struggling just to take a breath; the next, an Arabic translation of Macbeth, with some of Saddam Hussein's henchmen in bad-guy roles. As one Iraqi told me at a U.S.-funded art show in Dora, one of the most violent suburbs of Baghdad, "It is like I am standing naked in a room with a big hat on my head. Everyone comes in and helps put flowers and ribbons on my hat, but no one seems to notice that I am naked." Here are some of the wacky ideas we came up with to rebuild Iraq, and remember: These are the wacky ones that actually got U.S. taxpayer funding.
Stratfor: The Crisis of Europe and European Nationalism.
When I visited Europe in 2008 and before, the idea that Europe was not going to emerge as one united political entity was regarded as heresy by many leaders. The European enterprise was seen as a work in progress moving inevitably toward unification — a group of nations committed to a common fate. What was a core vision in 2008 is now gone. What was inconceivable — the primacy of the traditional nation-state — is now commonly discussed, and steps to devolve Europe in part or in whole (such as ejecting Greece from the eurozone) are being contemplated. This is not a trivial event. Before 1492, Europe was a backwater of small nationalities struggling over a relatively small piece of cold, rainy land. But one technological change made Europe the center of the international system: deep-water navigation. The ability to engage in long-range shipping safely allowed businesses on the Continent's various navigable rivers to interact easily with each other, magnifying the rivers' capital- generation capacity. Deep-water navigation also allowed many of the European nations to conquer vast extra-European empires. And the close proximity of those nations combined with ever more wealth allowed for technological innovation and advancement at a pace theretofore unheard of anywhere on the planet. As a whole, Europe became very rich, became engaged in very far-flung empire-building that redefined the human condition and became very good at making war. In short order, Europe went from being a cultural and economic backwater to being the engine of the world.
National Geographic: December 1914 Issue.
Special National Geographic issue from December 1914. Topics, articles, and text/photo essays on Iraq.