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The Weekend Journal: January 5-7, 2007

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Weekend Journal special: Periodical review

Changing Narrative
For America's Sake

Bill Moyers' latest, in The Nation: "America needs something more right now than a "must-do" list from liberals and progressives. America needs a different story. The very morning I read the message from the progressive activist, the New York Times reported on Carol Ann Reyes. Carol Ann Reyes is 63. She lives in Los Angeles, suffers from dementia and is homeless. Somehow she made her way to a hospital with serious, untreated needs. No details were provided as to what happened to her there, except that the hospital--which is part of Kaiser Permanente, the largest HMO in the country--called a cab and sent her back to skid row. True, they phoned ahead to workers at a rescue shelter to let them know she was coming. But some hours later a surveillance camera picked her up "wandering around the streets in a hospital gown and slippers." Dumped in America. Here is the real political story, the one most politicians won't even acknowledge: the reality of the anonymous, disquieting daily struggle of ordinary people, including the most marginalized and vulnerable Americans but also young workers and elders and parents, families and communities, searching for dignity and fairness against long odds in a cruel market world. Everywhere you turn you'll find people who believe they have been written out of the story. Everywhere you turn there's a sense of insecurity grounded in a gnawing fear that freedom in America has come to mean the freedom of the rich to get richer even as millions of Americans are dumped from the Dream. So let me say what I think up front: The leaders and thinkers and activists who honestly tell that story and speak passionately of the moral and religious values it puts in play will be the first political generation since the New Deal to win power back for the people. There's no mistaking that America is ready for change. One of our leading analysts of public opinion, Daniel Yankelovich, reports that a majority want social cohesion and common ground based on pragmatism and compromise, patriotism and diversity. But because of the great disparities in wealth, the "shining city on the hill" has become a gated community whose privileged occupants, surrounded by a moat of money and protected by a political system seduced with cash into subservience, are removed from the common life of the country. The wreckage of this abdication by elites is all around us." The full piece...

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Neoliberal Utopia
Denmark, the Model

The end of conservative superstitions about the "welfare" state? Jonathan Cohn in the latest New Republic: "If you want a lower standard of living," conservative policy experts Grace-Marie Turner and Robert Moffit wrote in an op-ed last week, "the Europeans have the right prescription." The topic of discussion was universal health care, but it just as easily might have been government-sponsored child care or generous unemployment benefits. The failure of the European welfare state is, after all, an article of faith among conservatives, from Robert Samuelson ("Europe is history's has-been") to Jonah Goldberg ("Europe has an asthmatic economy") to David Brooks ("[T]he European model is flat-out unsustainable"). The argument generally goes like this. Nowadays, every nation faces a stark but straightforward choice: It can admit that globalization demands a fluid economy--in which people will lose jobs frequently and incomes are bound to be more volatile--and adapt by slashing taxes, government benefit programs, and trade barriers. Or it can try to hold on to old-fashioned notions of lifetime job security and guaranteed incomes by blocking out trading partners, closely regulating business activity, and maintaining a generous welfare state--a formula sure to produce sluggish growth, chronic unemployment, and crippling government debt. Given their political agenda, it's easy to see why conservatives would be attracted to this analysis. But, even as the pundits wring their hands at Europe's economic decline, a growing number of American economists have begun looking across the pond for inspiration--to Scandinavia and, especially, to Denmark. Over the last decade, the Danes have turned the conventional wisdom on its head by boasting not only one of the world's most expansive welfare states, but also one of its most robust economies. Given the way average American workers' wages continue to stagnate even as their burden of risk--of losing a job, of losing medical insurance--continues to rise, it looks increasingly as though the conservative triumphalism has been misplaced: It may be that Europe has something to teach us after all. And Democrats, who have come back into power promising to address economic insecurity, should be sure to listen." See the full essay...

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Israel vs. Israel
Looking At Ourselves

The great Israeli novelist and philosopher David Grossman, whose 20-year-old son Uri, a soldier in the Israeli military, was killed during Israel's latest war in Lebanon, delivered this speech at the Rabin memorial ceremony in Tel Aviv on November 4, 2006, in the presence of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert; it was reprinted in the New York Review: [...] This year, it is not easy to look at ourselves. We had a war. Israel brandished its huge military biceps, but its reach proved all too short, and brittle. We realized that our military might alone cannot, when push comes to shove, defend us. In particular, we discovered that Israel faces a profound crisis, much more profound than we imagined, in almost every part of our collective lives. I speak here, this evening, as one whose love for this land is tough and complicated, but nevertheless unequivocal. And as one for whom the covenant he has always had with this land has become, to my misfortune, a covenant of blood. [...] The death of young people is a horrible, outrageous waste. But no less horrible is the feeling that the state of Israel has, for many years now, criminally wasted not only the lives of its sons and daughters, but also the miracle that occurred here—the great and rare opportunity that history granted it, the opportunity to create an enlightened, properly functioning democratic state that would act in accordance with Jewish and universal values. A country that would be a national home and refuge, but not only a refuge. It would also be a place that gives new meaning to Jewish existence. A country in which an important, essential part of its Jewish identity, of its Jewish ethos, would be full equality and respect for its non-Jewish citizens. Look what happened. Look what happened to this young, bold country, so full of passion and soul. How in a process of accelerated senescence Israel aged through infancy, childhood, and youth, into a permanent state of irritability and flaccidity and missed opportunities. How did it happen? When did we lose even the hope that we might someday be able to live different, better lives? More than that—how is it that we continue today to stand aside and watch, mesmerized, as madness and vulgarity, violence and racism take control of our home?" See the full speech...

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Perilous Projections
Does the Future Really Belong to China?

British author Will Hutton ( “The Writing on the Wall: China and the West in the 21st Century”) and Meghnad Desai, former director of the Centre for Global Governance and an emeritus professor of economics at the LSE, debate the question in the latest Prospect: "It is a commonplace to observe that the rise of China is transforming the world. Extrapolate from current growth rates and China will be the world's largest economy by the middle of this century, if not before. If it remains communist, the impact on the world system will be enormous and very damaging. Britain and the US are, for all their faults, democracies that accept the rule of law. This is not true of China. If an unreformed China takes its place at the top table, the global order will be kinder to despotism; the fragile emergence of an international system of governance based on the rule of law will be set back and the relations between states will depend even more nakedly on their relative power. All that, however, is predicated on two very big "ifs"—if the current Chinese growth rate continues, and if the country remains communist. I think there are substantial doubts about each proposition. What is certain is that both cannot hold. China is reaching the limits of the sustainability of its current model, and to extrapolate from the past into the future as if nothing needs to change is a first-order mistake." The full exchange...

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Who's on First?
Puzzles, Mysteries, Enron

Malcolm Gladwell's latest in The New Yorker: "The national-security expert Gregory Treverton has famously made a distinction between puzzles and mysteries. Osama bin Laden’s whereabouts are a puzzle. We can’t find him because we don’t have enough information. The key to the puzzle will probably come from someone close to bin Laden, and until we can find that source bin Laden will remain at large. The problem of what would happen in Iraq after the toppling of Saddam Hussein was, by contrast, a mystery. It wasn’t a question that had a simple, factual answer. Mysteries require judgments and the assessment of uncertainty, and the hard part is not that we have too little information but that we have too much. The C.I.A. had a position on what a post-invasion Iraq would look like, and so did the Pentagon and the State Department and Colin Powell and Dick Cheney and any number of political scientists and journalists and think-tank fellows. For that matter, so did every cabdriver in Baghdad. The distinction is not trivial. If you consider the motivation and methods behind the attacks of September 11th to be mainly a puzzle, for instance, then the logical response is to increase the collection of intelligence, recruit more spies, add to the volume of information we have about Al Qaeda. If you consider September 11th a mystery, though, you’d have to wonder whether adding to the volume of information will only make things worse. You’d want to improve the analysis within the intelligence community; you’d want more thoughtful and skeptical people with the skills to look more closely at what we already know about Al Qaeda. You’d want to send the counterterrorism team from the C.I.A. on a golfing trip twice a month with the counterterrorism teams from the F.B.I. and the N.S.A. and the Defense Department, so they could get to know one another and compare notes. If things go wrong with a puzzle, identifying the culprit is easy: it’s the person who withheld information. Mysteries, though, are a lot murkier: sometimes the information we’ve been given is inadequate, and sometimes we aren’t very smart about making sense of what we’ve been given, and sometimes the question itself cannot be answered. Puzzles come to satisfying conclusions. Mysteries often don’t. If you sat through the trial of Jeffrey Skilling, you’d think that the Enron scandal was a puzzle. The company, the prosecution said, conducted shady side deals that no one quite understood. Senior executives withheld critical information from investors. Skilling, the architect of the firm’s strategy, was a liar, a thief, and a drunk. We were not told enough—the classic puzzle premisewas the central assumption of the Enron prosecution. “This is a simple case, ladies and gentlemen,” the lead prosecutor for the Department of Justice said in his closing arguments to the jury: " Because it’s so simple, I’m probably going to end before my allotted time. It’s black-and-white. Truth and lies. The shareholders, ladies and gentlemen, . . . buy a share of stock, and for that they’re not entitled to much but they’re entitled to the truth. They’re entitled for the officers and employees of the company to put their interests ahead of their own. They’re entitled to be told what the financial condition of the company is. They are entitled to honesty, ladies and gentlemen." But the prosecutor was wrong. Enron wasn’t really a puzzle. It was a mystery." See the full piece...

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From the Archives: The BBC Interview
Noam Chomsky
The second part of this 2003 BBC interview is accessible here
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In the Blogosphere

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