-Some guy named Pat Quinn took over from Rod Blagojevich as governor of Illinois, which means that Illinois replaced a guy who had the name of a James Bond villain with a guy whose name sounds like that of a character in one of those terrible coming-of-age-in-America novels. "At dawn, Pat Quinn stepped out of his Hooverville shack...today, he would find Nelly and lil' Percy some bread and water, damn your eyes."
-The pope realized that he probably should make that bishop recant denying the Holocaust. (The pope wasn't going to, but Angela Merkel told him he had too, and while I'm not totally sure how that whole "infallibility" thing works, I'm pretty sure this means that the chancellor of Germany is stronger than the Catholic God.)
-Although last year's optimistic belief that Colombia's FARC was on the way to complete collapse hasn't proven true yet, they did end up releasing five of their hostages, one of which--a former governor--had been held captive for seven years.
-America, Japan and the European Union called on the Tamil Tigers of Sri Lanka to surrender; as the conflict there enters the bloodiest phase of it's current iteration, 250,000 civilians are trapped in a war zone and the only hospital in the area has been bombed and shelled repeatedly. Just in case you're the type who wants to "look on the bright side," here's a heads up: there is no bright side, and most of these people--poor families and terrified children--are going to die.
-Here's something that needs a longer story: the Kyrgyzstan government wants the only American air base in Central Asia--one near their capital, on their land--to close. Considering how important this air base is to both NATO and the American military for the Afghanistan conflict (the one Obama has made clear he wants to focus more troop placement on) it's odd to file this one in a couple of sentences early in the magazine.
-Even more so when you read the next blurb, about how the Taliban took credit for a suicide bomber in southern Afghanistan, who killed 20 policemen when he blew himself up at a police station.
-Iran celebrated their 30th anniversary of Islamic revolution by successfully launching a satellite into orbit. So yeah, that happened? I thought 30 was silver. I've used that before, I think.
-Wells Fargo, who recently took over/bought/got in bed with Wachovia, was one of the few banks that did something unlikely to piss a lot of people off when they canceled a conference they were going to hold in Las Vegas. Other banks did stuff like take federal money, hand out nice bonuses and then acted surprised when people like the treasury secretary said "goddammit, can't you wait until the American people have left the room before you do that?"
-While this sorts of writes itself, here's some companies releasing terrible earnings: Dow Chemical lost $1.6 billion, a possible deal with Kuwait and instituted a delay of its take over of Rohm & Haas. (Hass is now suing Dow to complete the deal, which has to be the first time in weeks where I've read a story where some company is actively fighting to get on a sinking boat. "Oh no you don't! I want to be on fire too! See, I already covered myself in gasoline!" Motorola's share of the worldwide market in phones dropped from 23% to 6.5%, and the companies CFO said he was getting the fuck out of dodge. January was the worst month for car sales in decades, with Toyota's sales dropping by 32% whereas General Motors, Ford and Chrysler all lost at least 40%.
-Warren Buffet bought up a huge chunk of Harley-Davidson and invested $2.6 billion in a Swiss reinsurer, making Warren Buffet more and more likely to be the human version of Uncle Scrooge, sitting on a pile of money that America--who will probably be wearing a striped shirt and growing beard stubble--is trying to steal by flying his safe away with helicopters. (Okay, that probably only makes sense to me.)
-And so, it begins: the Economist may be willing to accept some things that go against their overall philosophy (the occasional nationalization of banks), but when it comes to economic nationalism (to be more clear, they mean "protectionism") the response remains the same it's been for years--an unequivocal "not on your fucking life." With this cover article, as well as an overall attitude of contempt and disgust that goes on to show up in at least 15 of this week's articles, the editors make themselves heard. The argument they make is pretty simple: inserting nationalistic protectionism (like the "Buy American" clause within the current bail-out package, or the "British jobs for British workers" claim made by Gordon Brown) will not work to assist the world's economy. In their mind, and their words, it's a bad call that will fail in the short run, fail in the long, destroy the still growing global marketplace that has helped economies like India and China "emerge", and do little to help end the current fiscal crisis. Here's the best part: if you disagree with them, they've provided an explicit explanation of why they feel the way they do, and this isn't just some cheap soap boxing. I've complained--maybe not here--before that it's a bit obnoxious when the Economist chooses to make statements in line with what I know to be their overall philosophy without going into detail. Now that the world has started to lean towards something they disagree with, they've abandoned their previous tactic (the statement/no defense style) and gone into the trenches. While these may not be my favorite articles they've ever done, mostly because a good portion of them exceeds my education/comprehension level, it's some of the fieriest and most intelligent writing they've had. Keep an eye out. It's totally worth it.
-It came up before, one wonders if the Economist is bringing it up again in hopes of attracting more Japanese reader support: the subject? The need to dismantle the archaic (and somewhat xenophobic) business of corporate Japan's cross-share holding. What was originally designed to assist Japan's burgeoning corporations in a time when their global business was at a low eventually morphed into a grotesque freak, wherein companies like Panasonic run a small-time side project that imports Italian canned tomatoes and half the shares (by value) on the Tokyo stock exchange are owned by other Japanese companies, many of which prop up their competition outright. The days where "Made in Japan" meant shoddy workmanship passed over 50 years ago, and yet the internal Japanese market still refuses to move forward. Here, the Economist tells why they should--one more time.
-The slow-motion movement in Zimbabwe, wherein Morgan Tsvangirai has finally accepted the power-sharing deal Robert Mugabe forced himself, has been trumpeted by some news organizations in cheap sound-bitery; here, the Economist reminds us to wait a motherfucking minute. It should have gone without saying--unsurprisingly, the lazier journalists didn't agree--but Mugabe has lied and fucked up power-sharing before, and the real question will be whether or not Tsvangirai can institute any of the changes that Zimbabwe doesn't just need, but is crying out for. Some have already called for the removal of the sanctions: those people should remember that the bodies of Tsvangirai's supporters are still warm, and that those responsible are still in Mugabe's employ. Changing the nameplate on the door doesn't mean a whole lot until the people stop dying.
-Everybody who wrote in to complain this week did so in a way that's hard to be irritated by, mostly because they're so brief and to the point. The only one I'd name check is the cats from Cambridge and Oxford, who sound like a bunch of whiny assholes. They don't like the way the Economist made fun of their outlandish and over-the-top survey, which sought to explain away post-Soviet mortality rates by employing somewhere roughly around 800 thousand "reasons". I couldn't tell if they had a point, because their letter sounds like it was written by a pack of braying mules. Cowboy the fuck up, "professor."
-The question the Economist has for Barack Obama is this: is he going to be a left-wing President in bed with labor unions and the resounding Democratic majority in the Senate & House, or he will he lean more towards the middle, as it seems he plan to? (They base the centrist assumptions on his adversarial staff, which is made up mostly of middle-of the aisle type individuals.) Right now, the question is one that can't be anymore than guessed at--regardless of what happened in the Congress, with no Republican votes for the new stimulus plan, John McCain would have come up with something just as fractious--and Obama's meetings with labor unions have resulted in carrot exchanges that really aren't that drastic. (In fact, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act is probably more a favor to lawyers than it is unions.) For the most part, all he's done so far is pull back some of the more extreme of Bush's policy. Still, with his waffling on the "Buy American" clauses, as well as Tim Geithner's accusation (found in 102 pages of the new treasury secretaries writings for approval) that China manipulates their currency--these are the things the Econ are concerned with. To that I say: wait a couple of weeks, we'll know more than. (On the China thing...well, of course they manipulate their currency rating to gain a trade advantage: see every other country with an active import/export component. It's only such a big deal because, well, it's fucking China, and they make a ton of shit that people buy.)
-Michael Steele, a smart politician who will unfortunately go down in history as "the black Republican that the RNC elected chairman to win points," has more than a few marks in his favor--he's a pro-gay, pro-choice Republican who openly criticized Bush's handling of Iraq and Hurricane Katrina. (This is a mark in his favor whether you agree with him or not, because it means the RNC has moved away from the previous years of lionizing politicians whose main claim to fame was dopily agreeing with everything that the President says--the best thing that can happen for the Republican party, as well as America as a whole, is a move away from the last 8 years of abjectly agreeing with whatever the Big Dog says.) Still, the Economist isn't pushing him as the Republican Obama--unlike the president, this guy apparently isn't very charismatic. They also claim he lacks "Obama's intellectual fizz," which, depending on how you read this, either means that the guy is A) stupid or B) unable to convince people that he isn't.
-Great idea, your time has come? Maybe so--in 2006, Barack Obama and Oklahoma senator Tom Coburn sponsored a bill to create an online database, accessible to everyone, that tracks how a citizen's tax money is spent. The bill passed, and while some aren't set up well--Sarah Palin's version consisted of a bunch of spreadsheets and PDFs--Missouri has pulled off a rather nice one. On top of that, a volunteer organization has sprung up that is calling for citizens to get together to read and explain the entire spending plan that's on it's way. While pornography is still more popular, it looks like the internet has something more valuable than reading what idiots think of week old British news magazines.
-It didn't take long for Lexington to turn on Obama, but I'm withholding my judgment on whether this article is really it: safely put, his general critique--that some of Obama's over-the-top language on the campaign trail is going to prove a stumbling block--has a pretty basic truth to it. As the Economist sees it, Obama's health plan really needed Tom Daschle, and the collapse of Daschle's appointment as the head of the Department of Health and Human Services as well as health-care tsar dealt that a blow that will be difficult to recover from. Lexington views this problem as one of the biggest of Obama's non-war problems so far, and he views it as one that might not have happened if Obama hadn't made such explicit promises to hold everybody in Washington to a standard that the Economist--as well as the general cynic--knows that few in Washington can meet. For now though, Lexington's article seems like a bit too much faith in hindsight, when the wreckage in the mirror is only a few days old.
-Quiet little section here, that is if you ignore the two articles, one of which is in the leaders section, regarding how little Hugo Chavez impresses the Economist. This article is a bit more specific then the leader one was, part and parcel of why it's not included in that little mash-up. Simply put, it's a breakdown of the ways in which Venezuela has changed during his time in power: crime has more than doubled and become "one of the world's most violent countries", last years inflation was the highest in Latin America, food prices in some areas went up 50%, and there's a shortage on homes for rent. (Private property, i.e., buying your house, isn't an option for most, a problem helped by bad Venezuelan policy.) Regardless of these complaints, a rough majority still believes in Chavez, and while the Economist points to the coming problems regarding the low price of their oil that have only recently begun to show impact, it will clearly be up to the citizens to determine how long the man remains in power. (That is, unless the Economist's somewhat pessimistic assumption that Chavez will resort to violence if the voters turn against him is correct.)
-Ibrahim Gambari made his seventh visit as the United Nation's envoy to Myanmar, hopefully preparing the ground for a possible visit from the UN's secretary-general Ban Ki-moon. While Gambari was, as in previous visits, unable to get the Burmese military general to have any real meetings with him and was as well unable to make a dent in the horrible behavior of a regime that has shut up at least 2,100 on trumped up charges, he was able to meet Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of the only major opposition party in the country. (She is one of the 2,100 locked up.) Thanks to the American presidential election, the economic crisis, the bloodshed in Sri Lanka and the Gaza conflict, the Burmese junta has receded from the minds of many after last year's cyclone destruction made the area front page news. The spotlight lasted for awhile, especially when it came out that the military regime was purposely denying most global aid and failing to distribute what they did accept--unfortunately, everybody but the United Nation moved on, and the death toll continues to mount. All hopes now lay in the hands of Ki-moon and the ASEAN. Your breath? Don't hold it.
-The prime minister of Kazakhstan has been writing his own blog for a while now, but he recently ordered all his ministers to start ones of their own--the blogs are designed less to provide an outlet to call Spider-man a dirty pussy, more as online forums for citizens to have a dialog with their government. Unfortunately, a new internet censorship law may work to destroy those bloggers currently not in office--specifically, some believe the law is designed to shut down a man named Rakhat Aliyev, the former son-in-law of the President. The guy--who is currently living in exile in Austria--is thought to have a huge collection of secretly taped recordings of conversations with senior Kazakhstani officials, portions of which he has been putting online. Don't start building statues in Aliyev's honor, he's got lots of asshole tendencies, but yeah: this story is sort of awesome.
-The Economist may be laying the ridicule and contempt on Kim Jong Il a little too heavy--not that he deserves praise, but a little concern should be in order, right? Not this time: his recent response to South Korea, who have decided not to have any dealings with him until North Korea truly shuts down their nuclear program, was a threat of "all-out confrontation", as well as expelling most of the South Korean officials currently involved in an economic co-op at an industrial complex, and an official repudiation of the 1991 cross-border agreement not to kill each other. Just last week, South Korea reported that the North were preparing to test-fire a missile with a range that would put it in striking distance of Alaska. All bad, right? Hold up a second--as far as the Economist is concerned, this is just empty "hissy fits", designed to attract the attention of the West and the fear of South Korea, neither of which have occurred quite the way Kim wanted. For now, at least, the editors believe that Mr. Bad Hair just wants to remind us all that he's not sick anymore. Point? Taken.
-As was mentioned above, Iran celebrated the 30th anniversary of Ayatollah Khomeini's return to Iran by firing a satellite into orbit--a satellite made in Iran. This little article touches on one of the things that the Economist--and probably most newspapers--usually ignores, which is the Iranian people. An educated citizenry often racist and ignorantly imagined by most of the world as being little more than a mildly advanced version of the dusty wasteland that makes up the Middle East's 3rd world arenas, a country that has internet and satellite dishes as well as the second largest global reserves of oil and natural gas, Iran itself rarely gets talked about, unless it's to deal with the rantings of Mahmod Ahmadinejad or to stoke the fears of nuclear weapons. That's not all on the world--Iran does jack up their elections and they aren't the most righteous defenders of human-rights on Earth--but as the Economist points out, the population has come to question their status as another in the long list of whom the West considers bad guys. Nothing is changing right now. But as this article alludes, there's reason to believe that something--bad or good--just might happen soon.
-Ethiopia has decided it's time to tell the Human Rights Watch organization that they're a bunch of tools who make shit up. As the subtitle to the article implies, the Economist isn't so sure where in the eff they get off--after all, they ignored some of the executions listed on the HRW's "list of people you killed" while challenging others, blamed a bunch of stuff on a guerrilla army, and then claimed that the guerrilla army was also a lot worse than the article implied, and Hey! Two wrongs! Put them together! See? It's right!
-Here's a short story from the "awful shit" side of things: an electrical fault at a supermarket started a fire that killed 28 in Kenya. The fire engines, most of which were in terrible condition, showed up over an hour later. The building itself? None of the legally required fire safety features. Three days later, a petrol tanker spilled thousands of gallons of fuel, and at some point it ignited, killing 115 people who were scooping up the fuel to use or sell. How did they get there? Oh, the police let them in, as long as they had some money to get by the barricade. According to some, the fuel was ignited by a kid who couldn't afford the necessary bribe, so he tossed his cigarette over the barricade. Man, I hope you weren't reading this paragraph hoping for a happy ending. Because guess what?
There isn't one!
-I sort of liked this article about how French people are starting to eat more sandwiches. It's kind of dumb, I know. But hey: sandwiches are pretty awesome.
-The prime minister of Turkey stormed out of a debate with Israel's president in Davos last week. Some of the last words he bellowed were these: "When it comes to killing, you know very well how to kill. I know well how you hit and kill children on beaches." Considering that Barack Obama was maybe counting on Turkey to be the West's mediator between Israel and Syria, this outburst--which some believe was planned--has thrown a pretty serious kink into gears, as well as putting another stumbling block on whether or not Turkey can join the EU. Ah, Davos. Will you never not give us news stories?
-Spain's bullet trains have taken a fifth of domestic airline passengers in one year alone, and the 9,000 kilometers of track planned are sure to take more. In today's world, where so many countries are mouthing platitudes regarding the need to lose dependency on oil, it's a pleasure to read about how one happens to be taking drastic steps to do just that. There's problems, obviously--but I think this is probably one of the happiest stories of the week.
-Wildcat strikes! Whatcha gonna do, Britain? This thing--where British refinery workers hit picket lines because of a weird sounding deal that brought in hundreds of Italian and Portuguese workers for positions that weren't offered to locals--shouldn't have been that much of a surprise. Look at the writing on the strikers sign, kitty cat: "British Jobs For British Workers". That's what Gordon Brown said before somebody pointed out that it kind of clashed with that whole European Union thing he's supposed to hang with. That aside, the wildcats--sorry, that's a term used to define sympathy strikes that pop up with no real warning by other unions--are a bit of a shock, and they point to a British citizenry that may have come to an understanding of the seriousness of the economic situation in their country that their leaders were probably hoping they'd ignore. Looks like they were wrong!
-Here's a short article that has to lean heavily on rumor and supposition: read it anyway. Seven paragraphs were available to the lawyers of a British resident named Binyam Mohamed, one of the many who ended up in Guantanamo Bay. The paragraphs, written by MI5 and based off the briefing of American officials, detailed the treatment of Mohamed while he spent years under the care of American agents. According to the judges, here comes an actual quote, the paragraphs are "highly material to his allegation that he had been subjected to torture or cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment." Mohamed and his lawyers wanted it published--and despite it containing nothing that reveals classified information--the judges refused. They may have wanted to, in fact, it looks like they did. But they couldn't--because it seems that there's a rule in place that if Britain goes against American wishes, America will respond by withholding actual intelligence from Britain in the future. Nasty shit, this one.
-Write it as smart as you want, but this little article here is yet another one of those zany slice-of-life pieces on how fucked up snow is. Newsflash: the only people who give a shit about snow are the people in its direct impact, and at least half of those people are glad they got the day off work. Everybody else? We don't care.
-I'll bet you ten that Bagehot was hoping for a cover blurb for this column--something like "Apologize, Gordie!" Not this time, but it's an honest attempt. Not sure how much it would help the people of Britain if Gordon Brown issued a pat, dishonest apology taking blame for the financial crisis, but here goes Bagehot, making the case. Don't stop believing!
-Tossed up in the front because of a high page count, here's a breakdown on where people who don't love each other anymore should get divorced. I'm tempted to reproduce the info box that lets you know that some countries disregard prenuptial agreements whereas others--Japan, mostly--still make fun of men who want to share custody of their children--but the Economist put in some work on this piece, and it's mean of me to steal it. (Also, morally unacceptable.) Still, good times at the old town, if you like finding out that silly movies like Not Without My Daughter could be remade in 2009 and still be pretty much on the nose.
-After an extensive piece on some huge left-wing forum in a Brazilian city called Belem, an article that I must have read four times before I realized that my initial reaction--that it was a boring article about people agreeing with each other--was correct, there's one of those throwaway pieces on young people and the Internet. Be careful, editors of the Economist. Keep this shit up, and all those jokes about you being out of touch with the common man are going to prove truer than I think you'd like. There's some decent stuff in here, sure--most internet usage seems to lean towards a great term called "cyber-hedonism", where the web is used as a nonstop entertainment palace, with users jacked in to porn, free music, movies, youtube videos of fan-made trailers to the Predator vs. Garfield, etc, so on, fill in the blank with whatever you plan to do with your right hand after you read this paragraph. But it's still a cheap article, based off no real studies, and it sounds like it was written by somebody who uses the term "cyberspace" while making quote marks with their fingers.
-Here's a longer article regarding the future of Japanese business--notably focusing on the concept that Japan's technological giants build far too many products, not all of which end up being in the top tier, thus neutering the gains made by those that are. (Even if you build and sell the best cell phone, if you're also making crappy escalators and refuse to stop, you'll end up with wacked out profit margins.) Simple, right? Well, it was that simple--but now that the economy is turning on retail products, Japan's giants have to figure out what they're going to slice out of their lines--but as was mentioned earlier, cross-corporate shareholding is keeping the sick alive, even as the strong lose money by doing exactly that. A long one, but valuable enough.
-Here's another article about capping executive pay, and what's most interesting about it isn't the actual substance, but the tone. If you've been keeping up with the Economist at all, you already know that they've been home to the standard criticism every time, that capping executive pay is a bad idea, because it makes "talented" bankers less likely to take jobs for less pay. This is the first time that they acknowledge what a lot of other people have said, usually in anger: that these bankers aren't showcasing a lot of talent, so fuck them. Change in tone means a lot, and while this article doesn't explicitly contradict previous ones, it goes towards that direction in a way that absolutely none of last years articles hinted at.
-Bargaining and haggling is pretty popular in Yemen's marketplace--but it's also growing in America. For now at least, make sure that everything you try to buy gets marked down at your insistence. According to a lot of American business watchers, getting all argumentative will have you paying less 80% of the time. (By the way, if you aren't already doing this, you should be calling your credit card company every month or so. It's not in your life manual, but they're under orders to give you lower interest rates on demand. Don't miss out.)
-Here's an article about how Hulu is actually pulling off the thing everybody claimed YouTube would make impossible--making advertising dollars off online video. Personally, I think the Hulu interface is sort of douchey, but hey: i'm a dumb asshole.
Finance and Economics
-Oh, she's the bane of my existence this week, with multiple articles that made my head hurt beyond belief. Instead of struggling through in hopes of not seeming like a complete mush-brain, i'll just point you to this article on Asian stock markets, where 2009 has become the year where you're only allowed to dispense good news--if you want to talk negative about a stock or company, and you're a broker, you better be prepared to go to court or lose your job. For fans of "good news only", this is probably great news. For grown-ups, who understand that the last place dishonest bullshittery has a place is in the reporting of profits and loss, this couldn't be worse.
Science and Technology
-There's only one article this week, and that article is all about Charles Darwin and evolution. Wait, come back, it's interesting! Okay, not really.
Books and Arts
-I got a fat sack of "meh" for you on this weeks Books section. First up is a review of some book called The Future of Liberalism, which is yet another one of those books explaining, probably in patient terms, why most people who use "liberal" as a slur word fail to comprehend the historical and textual definition of what the word means. At this point, anybody who doesn't know what "liberal" actually means fits nicely into a category of people who I'm tremendously bored by, the same way it's irritating to listen to people who hate Republicans start yapping about all the nonsense they believe that most Republicans think. Jerk-offs and stupid people--both sides got 'em in spades. Here's a book neither of them will read, and probably should! So ANGRY. I should take MEDICATION.
-The other main articles aren't that entertaining either, despite one of them being about a documentary on the history of Iran's relationship to the West that sounds pretty fascinating. Maybe the regular team of reviewers is on holiday? Maybe I just am getting bored by this section because everybody else is stepping up their game this week? Whatever: here's a shitty article about a book of poems about Darwin, which sounds about as interesting as the sentence fragment I just wrote, which, for posterity, was "A Book Of Poems About Darwin."
She spoke the truth, and now she's dead. She might have been a target, as the human-rights lawyer she was walking with--who was shot seconds before her--was. She might have been trying to save that man's life.
She was 25 years old.
Twenty-five, and she'd done more than most--admittedly, she'd had opportunities that few could imagine--a Russian journalist gets a chance to choose integrity and sacrifice on a daily basis, something she grabbed with both hands. She wrote bad poems--one of which is reprinted here--she was willing to pick a fight with anyone, she was a good journalist on the way to being a great one. She cared about truth, she cared about freedom, and she believed that fascism was the biggest threat to Russia, and she believed fascism was coming, and she believed that it was her job to fight against that. She believed in that. She died for that, shot in the head last week in the street. They'll never catch who killed her. They probably won't even try.
And the night after she was murdered?
A group of Russian nationalists brought champagne and celebrated on the still bloody street.
You can take this world and shove it up your fucking ass.
All art belongs to the Economist, unless otherwise noted below.
I refuse to credit anything involving zombies to anybody but George Romero, you should do the same, planet earth, see it's a fire IN a frying pan, which is the worst kind right? either way, it apparently belongs to the Raytown Fire Department, who have not fixed the template on their website, so it still says "welcome to my web site" in the tab, which is pretty adorable, the UN logo belongs to us all, and for some reason I felt like looking at it, so there, the Joker belongs to DC, although you don't see this page getting name-checked as being totally the best thing ever by them too often, I never saw this movie, because I can't imagine it's any good. Is it?
Editors Note: It looks like all of the New York Comic nonsense is done with, so we should be back on schedule with these. Thanks for your patience and kindness, those of you who read these.