World

The Nuclear Politics of a Poem

A look at the poem that led the Israeli government to declare Gunter Grass a persona non grata.

(AP Photo/Fritz Reiss)
As you may have read in last Sunday's New York Times , the government of Israel has declared German Nobel laureate Gunter Grass persona non grata because of a poem. True, it's a pretty lousy poem: "What Must Be Said," it's called, and that "Must" tells old Grass hands that it's musty Gunter Gasbag time. But literary criticism has never been a big priority for Benjamin Netanyahu, who followed up his Interior Ministry's PNG announcement with his own condemnation of Grass: "Shameful." The big deal, you see, was that the 84-year-old author of The Tin Drum had denounced Israel for the first time in his l-o-o-n-g career as postwar Germany's obstreperously eloquent Jiminy Cricket. That's how folks used to talk about him, anyhow: "Much of what is active conscience in the Germany of Krupp and the Munich beer halls lies in this man's ribald keeping," critic George Steiner—not a man to shrug Hitler off—lauded Grass's Dog Years back in the 1960s. I must say I miss the days when paperback...

Chill. Jews Aren't Voting Republican.

Faith-based policy, nativism, and Ayn Randian economics will not create a Jewish electoral shift.

(AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
Forecasts of the Great Jewish Shift began as soon as the presidential campaign did: This year, we are told, Jews will finally vote Republican, or at least significantly more of them will than have done so in many a decade, perhaps forever. The predictions are a quadrennial ritual. They are made most often by Jewish Republicans, speaking in the bright voice of a compulsive gambler who knows that on this spin, the little ball will absolutely land on the right number. They are made by social scientists certain that reality will finally behave according to their models. They are made by Jewish Democrats as unable to control their anxiety as someone is to stop a tic. This year's minor variation is the explanation that Jews will switch because they are upset with Barack Obama's attitude toward Israel. As an Israeli political writer, I admit, I am particularly conscious of this ritual, because the Great Jewish Shift (GJS) is the second thing that people want to discuss with me as soon as I...

An Easter Foreign-Policy Lesson

(Flickr/WillowGardeners)
There’s nothing like a double-barreled Holy Week/Passover to send media flacks leaping for “hooks” of relevance. Here’s my nominee for Most Dubious Holy Week Tie-in—an article from the august Council on Foreign Relations which documents, the email release promises me, how: [W]hile Obama is by all accounts religious, that faith has not resulted in real foreign policy gains. "Rhetoric is important, but direct action grounds real diplomacy. And on that front, the White House has not kept up with the issue," Preston writes. ‘Cause the first thing you thought when Rick Santorum questioned whether Obama actually was a Christian, and said his theology was “phony,” was, No, Rick, Obama’s faith is an important tool of American foreign-policy efforts to exercise hegemony express American values in the global arena . Of course what’s funny is that, when the author wants Obama to turn from words to deeds, what does he point to as an effective example? A speech by Franklin Roosevelt. A great...

The International Language of Happiness

At a United Nations conference this week, world leaders look beyond economic output to measure the progress and well-being of a nation.

(Flickr / Navicore)
The Prime Minister of Bhutan, Jigmi Thinley, presided over the United Nations (U.N.) conference in a beautiful gold and ruby striped gho. Thinley is a small man with a broad smile. As he spoke, his demeanor was calm and welcoming, even if his words were not. “Mankind is like a meteor, blazing toward self-immolation along with all other life forms,” he said, gazing evenly at the rapt crowd. It’s not the typical stuff of U.N. meetings, but then the “ High Level Meeting on Happiness and Wellbeing ” hosted by the government of Bhutan on Monday was not your typical U.N. meeting. Sure, Excellencies were graciously thanked. Polite bows were executed. Headsets worn. But the dignitary-studded crowd of more than 600 also heard from experts on meditation, and were invited to contemplate their oneness with the universe. This may have been the only U.N. conference where several speakers referenced both Buddha and Aristotle. This first ever meeting of its kind and caliber was organized with a...

The Other Big Presidential Election

The race to head the French government is heating up.

(AP Photo/ Yoan Valat)
The French presidential election, the first round of which will be held on April 22, is crucial for the future of the country and the wider European project. Nicolas Sarkozy, who won the presidency handily five years ago promising a “rupture” with France’s statist, dirigiste economic model, is fighting for his political life. Odds are he will lose it. The French electoral system involves two rounds of voting: a first round to winnow the field and a second runoff election between the two leading candidates. All the latest polls give Sarkozy’s main rival, the Socialist Francois Hollande, a comfortable 7-10 percent margin of victory in the runoff election, to be held on May 6. Earlier polls also indicated Sarkozy would trail Hollande in the first round. But in the aftermath of Mohammed Merah’s murderous attack on a Jewish school in Toulouse and his subsequent killing by the police—which played to Sarkozy’s strengths on issues of security, allowing him to assume the role of unifier of a...

Judges as Defendants, Directors as Judges

The Law in These Parts asks tough questions about the role of the courts in Israeli settlement policy.

Praxis Films
This time, it seems, justice has won: The West Bank settlement outpost of Migron must be demolished. So ruled the Israeli Supreme Court this week. Migron is the best known of the outposts, small settlements set up across the West Bank since the '90s with the help of Israeli government agencies—but without the government approval required under Israeli law since official approval would drawn too much publicity. The outpost stands entirely on privately owned Palestinian property. The landowners, with the help of Israel's Peace Now movement, went to court in 2006. In this week's decision, the court rejected a government proposal to put off evacuating the settlers for three years until new homes could be built for them elsewhere. The ruling blasts the proposal as "egregiously unreasonable" in light of the "grievous and ongoing harm to the rule of law." Prima facie, the court upheld the rights of Palestinians over the government's fear of enforcing the law against settlers. The Israeli...

Summers' Colleague Criticizes Kim

(AP Photo / Michael Dwyer)
Larry Summers has been unnaturally silent on President Obama’s surprise decision to pass him over for the World Bank presidency in favor of Dartmouth University president and public health hero Jim Yong Kim. Well, one of Summers’ closest chums at Harvard’s Kennedy School, Lant Pritchett, has now gone public with a scorching blast at Kim. Pritchett told Forbes magazine, “It’s an embarrassment to the U.S. You cannot with a straight face say this person is the most qualified to lead the World Bank.” It was Pritchett, while working under Summers at the World Bank in 1991, who drafted the embarrassing memo that Summers signed on the supposed economic benefits of exporting polluting industries to third world countries. Pritchett later contended that the leaked parts of the memo were doctored to omit his ironic intent. The full memo never surfaced. Pritchett took the fall for Summers’ embarrassment when he was up for the presidency of Harvard. So, it’s fair to say these senior and junior...

Americans Want Out of Afghanistan

(Flickr/The U.S. Army)
The Afghanistan War is on shakier ground with each passing day. The Obama administration has been eying the conflict warily for some time, and the massacre of Afghani citizens by an errant soldier has forced the White House and its NATO allies to re-evaluate the conflict and its potential end date. According to reports, the Obama administration is weighing if it should speed up the withdrawal of the troops before the 2014 exit date. The 33,000 sent over as part of the surge in 2010 are scheduled to depart next summer, but that will leave 68,000 troops on the ground, and the administration is still considering whether to heed the advice of military leaders to leave the troops in place or to pack up and admit that the fight has become an impossible quagmire. The doves in the administration have growing public sentiment on their side. A New York Times /CBS News poll released Monday revealed an American public increasingly weary of the conflict. A 69 percent majority said that the country...

A Surprise World Bank Pick

(AP Photo/Haraz N. Ghanbari)
President Barack Obama startled handicappers by selecting Dartmouth President Jim Yong Kim as the U.S. candidate to lead the World Bank rather than the reported front-runner Larry Summers, Obama's former National Economic Council director. The Korean-born Kim is a medical doctor, anthropologist, and MacArthur fellow, best known for his pioneering work to fight HIV and tuberculosis in the Third World. Kim helped develop treatments for drug-resistant TB, and then successfully pushed to reduced the cost of anti-TB drugs. He is close associate of Dr. Paul Farmer, the lead founder of Partners in Health and subject of Tracy Kidder’s 2003 book, Mountains Beyond Mountains. While Third World leaders had pushed for an alternative to Summers, Kim was a total surprise. The appointment is a two-fer in the sense that it gives the job both to an American and to an Asian, as well as a welcome breakthrough in that the presidency goes to someone with on-the-ground work fighting poverty and disease as...

What’s Right with This Picture?

Getty Images
Lately, I’ve been very Eeyore-ish about women’s lives. There’s plenty of reason for that. Ruth Rosen nicely lays out the backlash against women’s reproductive lives in her article about the current counter-reformation , as she puts it, against women’s bodily autonomy. Of course, any attempt to roll back women’s reproductive rights is an attack on women’s economic independence, since women can only control their educational and financial lives if they can control their fertility. (Did I mention here that a recent new study showed that women with access to the Pill in the 1970s were making 8 percent more in their fifties? That can be the difference between retirement and working the checkout line when you’re 70.) But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. There’s the wage gap, which is closing only because men lost so much more in wages during the recession. There’s the “ mancovery ” that Heather Boushey delineates, in which men are getting their jobs but women are not. There’s the byline...

Fingers Crossed for Greece

The second Greek bailout gets the green light, but the country isn't out of the woods.

AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis
The successful conclusion last Friday of the PSI (Private Sector Involvement), the bond exchange process for Greece’s private creditors, was good news—both for the country and for the eurozone. Voluntary participation in the deal reached 85.8 percent (out of a total of 206 billion euros in Greek government bonds which were up for exchange). The level of participation reached 95.7 percent with the decision to activate the Collective Action Clauses (CAC) recently added to the legal contracts governing 177 billion euros of bonds under Greek law, forcing recalcitrant creditors to participate in the process. This means a 105 billion euro gross reduction in Greek debt—out of a total of 368 billion. This number, which makes Greece’s sovereign debt restructuring the largest in history, should rise further once the process for the holders of Greek government bonds under foreign law is concluded. The government bondholders represent about 10 percent of the 206 billion euro total, and almost 70...

A Stealth Attack on Democratic Governance

Why are Obama trade negotiators pushing the extreme Trans-Pacific Partnership, and why is it being negotiated in such an untransparent manner?

AP Photo
It takes quite a “trade” agreement to undermine financial regulation, increase drug prices, flood us with unsafe imported food and products, ban Buy America policies aimed at recovery and redevelopment, and empower corporations to attack our environmental and health safeguards before tribunals of corporate lawyers. Trade, in fact, is the least of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Backdoor deregulation and imposition of new corporate investor and patent rights via trade negotiation began in the 1990s with the World Trade Organization (WTO) and North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). But the TPP now threatens a slow-motion stealth attack against a century of progressive domestic policy. At stake is nothing less than a democratic society’s ability to regulate a market economy in the broad public interest. Under the framework now being negotiated, U.S. states and the federal government would be obliged to bring our existing and future policies into compliance with expansive norms...

The Pacific Pivot

America needs to try something new when it comes to international trade.

(Flickr/James O'Sullivan)
On November 12, 2011, I listened as President Barack Obama told business leaders attending the Summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Honolulu that “we’ve turned our attention back to the Asia Pacific region” and announced two vehicles for that return. These were the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Free Trade Agreement, now under negotiation and to be concluded by the end of this year, and the Pivot to Asia, meaning a redeployment of American priorities and military forces away from Europe and the Middle East to Asia. The president said that Asia will be central to America’s future prosperity and that it was imperative to correct unsustainable trade and financial imbalances while continuing to expand economic ties. This would require that all countries play by the same rules appropriate to the current global economy. The TPP, he said, would be a template for a “21st-century agreement” that would eventually be open to all the countries of the region. He emphasized...

Not a Great Deal for Asia

The Trans-Pacific Partnership could end up hurting the broader economic interests of both the U.S. and smaller Asian nations.

(Flickr/images_of_money)
The Trans-Pacific Partnership is best understood as President Barack Obama’s extension of the Bush-era doctrine of “competitive liberalization.” Frustrated with pushback at the World Trade Organization by nations like China, Brazil, India, and South Africa, the United States seeks a coalition of the willing to import a commercial framework that rewards private firms at the expense of the common good. That policy regime is ailing in the U.S. and gets worse when exported. The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) certainly isn’t about raising standards of living. The most ambitious estimates of the gains from the TPP suggest that participating nations will gain a mere one-tenth of 1 percent of the gross domestic product. Sixty percent of the projected gains go to Vietnam and the United States, and the other 20 percent goes to Malaysia—largely because the U.S. already has trade pacts with the other proposed big players in the TPP. However, the proposed deal is far from popular in Asia. In...

The Myth of the Level Playing Field

The boast that American workers are naturally superior to other workers and would therefore “win” in any fair competition is problematic at best and at worst, a pander to our national delusion of exceptionalism.

(Flickr/twintermute)
" Our workers are the most productive on Earth, and if the playing field is level, I promise you: America will always win.” —Barack Obama, State of the Union Address, January 24, 2012 The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is the latest act in the tragic farce of American trade policy. Earlier versions included the 1993 North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the U.S.–designed World Trade Organization, the opening of the U.S. market to China, and the signing of more than a dozen additional bilateral free-trade deals, including last year’s agreements with South Korea, Colombia, and Panama. The script does not change. The president, congressional committee chairs, and lobbyists representing U.S. importers and foreign exporters announce that the proposed trade deal will create millions of new high-paying jobs for Americans. They assure the public that American workers will be protected from unfair competition from countries that exploit labor and/or subsidize exports. Editorials...

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