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Saturday, July 06, 2013

Media-Whore D'Oeuvres



"For the last decade or so, Vali Nasr has published original, pragmatic work about Middle Eastern politics. The Shia Revival, his 2006 book, confidently mapped how the Bush administration’s invasion of Iraq strengthened Iran and reanimated sectarian conflict in the Arab world and beyond. Forces of Fortune followed three years later; it described presciently the potential of Arab middle classes just before Tunisian, Egyptian, and Libyan urbanites helped ignite the “Arab Spring.” By that time Nasr had entered the State Department as a senior adviser to Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, whom President Obama appointed as a special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan. After Holbrooke died suddenly in December 2010, Nasr left the State Department and in 2012 became dean of the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University in Washington.In The Dispensable Nation, Nasr dissects what he regards as the overlapping failures of the Obama administration’s foreign policies across the Middle East and South Asia, from Pakistan to Iran to revolutionary Egypt. The book begins as a detailed, analytical memoir of disappointment over how “a small cabal of relatively inexperienced White House advisers” undermined Holbrooke’s diplomatic mission in South Asia, as Nasr looked on. The author then embarks on a withering review of first-term Obama administration diplomacy.He concludes with criticism of Obama’s most important foreign policy conception, the announced American “pivot” toward Asia and away from the Middle East, a reorientation of policy, alliance priorities, and military deployments made possible by the reduction of American involvement in the wars Obama inherited in Iraq and Afghanistan. Most provocatively, Nasr argues that by retreating from the Middle East—and by signaling a withdrawal from “the exuberant American desire to lead in the world”—Obama has yielded strategic advantage to China, for which the United States will pay a heavy price in the future." (NYRB)

"Meredith Whitney arrived early for lunch at the Wolseley and so, alas, I didn’t see Wall Street’s most notorious analyst making her entrance. I bet the other diners stared, though. They may not have known that this was the woman who predicted the US banking crisis but they couldn’t have failed to clock her fishnet-clad legs, one ending in a patent leather high-heeled shoe with a diamante buckle, the other in a blue-and-pink trainer. When I get there, the portion of Whitney visible above the starched white tablecloth looks exactly as a woman known as the 'dollar dominatrix' ought to. A long position in gold is festooned around her neck and clamped to her ears; her hair is big and blonde and her sweater black and expensive. Yet the smile is warm and girly. Please like me, it begs. 'This is so nice of you. I’m so excited about this!' she says in a voice so low that I can barely hear it above the din of the restaurant. Whitney can afford to whisper: people go to great lengths to listen to what she has to say, even if they sometimes regret it afterwards. In 2007 she predicted that Citibank would cut its dividend – and it did. But then in 2010 she predicted that 50 to 100 municipal bonds would default – and they didn’t. Call #1 had Michael Lewis saying she was 'the closest thing Wall Street has to an oracle'. Call #2 had Fox TV commentator Charlie Gasparino saying she 'didn’t possess a single brain cell' ...It is odd how cross people are with Whitney about that municipal bond call she made two and a half years ago. Her initial bearish view was shared by such financial luminaries as Bill Gross and Nouriel Roubini; she only departed from them by being specific and saying defaults would run into hundreds of billions dollars within a year. When the defaults didn’t happen, she made everyone even crosser by declining to say sorry. Now she has written a book justifying her position. In it she argues that the coastal states that were hardest hit by property collapse will suffer a mass exodus as people flee from regulation, debt and punitive taxation, moving to the 'flyover” states in the middle where taxes are lower." (FT)


"Egypt's Tamarod movement succeeded in its attempt to pressure the Egyptian military to expel former President Mohammed Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood-led government from office. Now the question is whether Tamarod and the other elements of the former opposition can avoid the kind of fragmentation and divisive infighting that played a significant role in catapulting the Muslim Brotherhood to power in the first place. There are many challenges to overcome, not the least of which is that the military ultimately holds the keys to power -- something the Muslim Brotherhood learned the hard way July 3. Going forward, it will be difficult for the disparate blend of liberal, secular and Islamist parties united in their shared desire to see Morsi deposed to maintain their cohesion. The Tamarod movement declared its existence and demands on May 1, and a little more than two months later it had gathered enough momentum to play a critical role in Egypt's military coup. The military essentially fulfilled all of Tamarod's demands -- besides removing Morsi from office, the Islamist-dominated Shura Council has been dissolved, the constitution has been suspended and the head of the Supreme Court, Adly Mansour, has been installed as Egypt's interim president. Tamarod's meteoric rise was enabled in part by the failures of the Morsi government, and in part by structural problems that will plague Morsi's successor as much as they troubled the previous government." (STRATFOR)



"With a new book, the former French presidential candidate Ségolène Royal is trying to reverse what Le Point Magazine described as her 'slow descent into hell.' Ever since Ms. Royal lost the 2007 election that would have made her France’s first female president, the glamorous career politician has not had it easy. The year after her defeat to center-right stalwart Nicolas Sarkozy, she tried unsuccessfully to become leader of her Socialist Party. When she made another run for the presidency in 2012, she lost badly in the primaries. At least that time, the winner was a fellow Socialist: François Hollande, her longtime companion and the father of her four children. But by then, Ms. Royal had also lost him. And another woman, Valérie Trierweiler, a journalist for Paris Match, is now France’s première dame. (Yes, she had covered Mr. Hollande for the magazine.) Then things became even worse for Ms. Royal. She failed to win a seat in the National Assembly last year, losing in the primaries to a party up-and-comer who famously received the endorsement of none other than Ms. Trierweiler — who tweeted her support. That indiscretion embarrassed President Hollande, rocked the Socialist Party and sent Ms. Royal into the political wilderness. She kept her elected post as president of Poitou-Charentes, an Atlantic coast region hundreds of miles from Paris, added a nonpaying job as the No. 2 at a new public bank to promote investment, and was named one of the best-dressed women over the age of 50 by The Guardian newspaper. Nonetheless, Ms. Royal, 59, had become a footnote to history. What to do? " (NYTimes)



"Austerity has failed. It turned a nascent recovery into stagnation. That imposes huge and unnecessary costs, not just in the short run, but also in the long term: the costs of investments unmade, of businesses not started, of skills atrophied, and of hopes destroyed.What is being done here in the UK and also in much of the eurozone is worse than a crime, it is a blunder. If policymakers listened to the arguments put forward by our opponents, the picture, already dark, would become still darker. Austerity came to Europe in the first half of 2010, with the Greek crisis, the coalition government in the UK, and above all, in June of that year, the Toronto summit of the group of twenty leading countries. This meeting prematurely reversed the successful stimulus launched at the previous summits and declared, roundly, that “advanced economies have committed to fiscal plans that will at least halve deficits by 2013.' This was clearly an attempt at austerity, which I define as a reduction in the structural, or cyclically adjusted, fiscal balance—i.e., the budget deficit or surplus that would exist after adjustments are made for the ups and downs of the business cycle. It was an attempt prematurely and unwisely made. The cuts in these structural deficits, a mix of tax increases and government spending cuts between 2010 and 2013, will be around 11.8 percent of potential GDP in Greece, 6.1 percent in Portugal, 3.5 percent in Spain, and 3.4 percent in Italy. One might argue that these countries have had little choice. But the UK did, yet its cut in the structural deficit over these three years will be 4.3 percent of GDP.What was the consequence? In a word, 'dire.'" (Martin Wolfe)



"I’ve read the claims that young Americans in their 20s are selfish, self-absorbed, lazy, and a cultural and moral declension of their predecessors. This generational bleat is as old as the hills, or at least as old as the jeremiad by the founding generation of Puritans against its less pious and inadequately devout offspring. While conceding that it’s almost a timeless temptation for an older generation to impugn a younger generation as selfish and lazy, the author of a recent Time magazine cover story on the new me generation nonetheless proceeded to argue that the younger generation was, indeed, selfish and lazy—and this time we really mean it.I haven’t had many occasions to observe millennials in the workplace. I don’t have colleagues, and I don’t hire people. They don’t strike me as any more selfish than any other generation, but I’m not an expert. Even so, lack of meaningful contact with the generation in question doesn’t seem to impede others from making generalizations about them in major media outlets, so I suppose I can, here.I was chatting recently with someone who does interact with 20-somethings a great deal in the workplace. It’s her observation that millennials don’t trust institutions, corporations, or organizations.And with good reason, seeing as how institutions, corporations, and organizations have pretty much broken trust with them, and lost faith in them. They’re not going to be hired for life, the social safety net might not exist for them, they don’t get pensions, can’t find jobs in a ravaged economy, and most of them are starting adulthood already in debt. Disconnected from institutions that used to anchor us, in the good and bad senses of the term, the millennial sees herself as her own “brand,” my friend continues, which is really a new, 21st-century twist on rugged individualism, or self-reliance, that comes across in this instance as selfish. They think of work as a place where they can burnish their own status, as an individual name, even before they have a name. They are Corporations of One." (BigThink)














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