CRF Blog

And now for the good news

by Bill Hayes

In And now for the good news, Fareed Zakaria finds some bright spots in today’s world.

Notes from Underground

by Bill Hayes

In Notes from Underground for the New York Review of Books, Paul Wilson reviews My Crazy Century by Ivan Klíma, translated from the Czech by Craig Cravens.

In addition to telling his story, Klíma interleaves his chapters with twenty-three separate essays, eighteen of which have been included in the English edition, but gathered at the end so that in English Klíma’s story can be read as an uninterrupted narrative. Most of the essays are reflections on a controversial subject that is at the very heart of Klíma’s experience: the striking resemblance — despite their obvious differences — of German fascism to Soviet communism: their common history of mass murder, deliberate starvation, and genocide; their origins in utopian thinking; their reliance on mass political parties, state terror, and secret police; their use of lies and propaganda; their perverse appeal to intellectuals; and their exploitation of the ignorance and enthusiasm of young people. On this last matter, Klíma knows what he’s talking about, because he was one of them.

One of the many ironies of Ivan Klíma’s life is how, having narrowly survived the murderous intentions of the Nazis, he went on to become a member of the Czechoslovak Communist Party, which was responsible for imposing Stalinism on his country. Unlike many Jewish Holocaust survivors, however, Klíma seems to have embraced communism, not out of any deeply held Marxist convictions, but rather from a vague belief that the Party held the key to a better future. When he was recruited into the Union of Youth in high school, the fact that his father was a committed Marxist and a member of the Party and that two of his uncles were antifascist war heroes was enough to make up for what might have gone against him: his bourgeois background and the fact that he was, officially, a Jew. (To this day, Klíma does not consider himself a Jew, since he was declared one purely on the basis of the Nuremberg Laws; to accept that identity now, he has said, would be to affirm the validity of a racist edict.) He became a candidate for official membership in the Party in 1951, the year he graduated from high school.

A series of events that tested Klíma’s faith in communism, such as it was, followed in rapid succession. First came the infamous Slánský show trials, when many top Communist officials — including some Jews — were accused of being agents of Zionism and American imperialism and, after very harsh treatment, sentenced to death or long prison terms. [more]


Signs of Protest

by Bill Hayes

In Signs of Protest for the New York Times Book Review, Emily Parker reviews works by two Chinese dissidents: The Dark Road: A Novel by Ma Jian and For a Song and a Hundred Songs: A Poet’s Journey through a Chinese Prison by Liao Yiwu.

In exploring the darker aspects of Chinese life, Ma Jian and Liao Yiwu speak mostly to the outside world. The work of both writers has been banned in China, and neither lives in his native land. Ma Jian is a longtime resident of London. Liao crossed the border into Vietnam in 2011 and fled to Berlin, where he remains today. [more]

Moaning Moguls

by Bill Hayes

In Moaning Moguls for the New Yorker, James Surowiecki looks at the strange case of the complaining super-rich.

Although the Obama years have been boom times for America’s super-rich — recent work by the economists Emmanuel Saez and Thomas Piketty showed that ninety-five per cent of income gains in the first three years of the recovery went to the top one per cent — a lot of them believe that they’re a persecuted minority. As Mark Mizruchi, a sociologist at the University of Michigan and the author of a book called “The Fracturing of the American Corporate Elite,” told me, “These guys think, We’re the job creators, we keep the markets running, and yet the public doesn’t like us. How can that be?” Business leaders were upset at the criticism that followed the financial crisis and, for many of them, it’s an article of faith that people succeed or fail because that’s what they deserve. Schwarzman recently said that Americans “always like to blame somebody other than themselves for a failure.” If you believe that net worth is a reflection of merit, then any attempt to curb inequality looks unfair.

That’s not how it’s always been. [more]

Think Again: Climate Treaties

by Bill Hayes

In Think Again: Climate Treaties for Foreign Policy magazine, David Shorr argues that treaties will not stop climate change.

The U.N. process for climate diplomacy has been in place for more than two decades, punctuated since 1995 by annual meetings at which countries assess global progress in protecting the environment and negotiate treaties and other agreements to keep the ball rolling. Kyoto was finalized at the third such conference. A milestone, it established targets for country-based emissions cuts. Its signal failure, however, was leaving the world’s three largest emitters of greenhouse gases unconstrained, two of them by design. Kyoto gave developing countries, including China and India, a blanket exemption from cutting emissions. Meanwhile, the United States bristled at its obligations — particularly in light of the free pass given to China and India — and refused to ratify the treaty.

Still, Kyoto was lauded by many because it was a legally binding accord, a high bar to clear in international diplomacy. The agreement’s provisions were compulsory for countries that ratified it; violating them would invite a stigma — a reputation for weaseling out of promises deemed essential to saving the planet.

Today, the principle of “if you sign it, you stick to it” continues to guide a lot of conventional thinking about climate diplomacy, particularly among the political left and international NGOs, which have been driving forces of U.N. climate negotiations, and among leaders of developing countries that are not yet major polluters but are profoundly affected by global warming. For instance, in the lead-up to the last annual U.N. climate conference — held in Warsaw, Poland, in November 2013 — Oxfam International’s executive director, Winnie Byanyima, said the world should not accept a successor agreement to Kyoto that has anything less than the force of international law: “Of course not.… If it’s not legally binding, then what is it?” Ultimately, Byanyima and other civil society leaders walked out of the conference to protest what they viewed as a failure to take steps toward a new, ironclad treaty.

The frustration in Warsaw showed an ongoing failure among many staunch advocates of climate diplomacy to learn the key lesson of Kyoto: Legal force is the wrong litmus test for judging an international framework. Idealized multilateralism has become a trap. It only leads to countries agreeing to the lowest common denominator — or balking altogether.

Evidence shows that a drive for the tightest possible treaty obligations has the perverse effect of provoking resistance. [more]

Crash Course #11, U.S. History: The War of 1812

by Bill Hayes

Part of a series: Crash Course 11, U.S. History: The War of 1812.

Comcast’s Growing Reach

by Bill Hayes

In Comcast’s Growing Reach, the Los Angeles Times looks at the company poised to acquire Time Warner Cable.

The family has spent the last two decades on an aggressive buying spree, rolling up one company after another to build Comcast into one of the world’s most powerful corporations. Comcast now is the nation’s largest cable company, with more than 22 million subscribers and $64 billion a year in revenue.

Brian Roberts is looking to fortify his company for an increasingly competitive era. He believes that the $45-billion takeover of Time Warner Cable will help do that, particularly as major technology companies, including Google Inc., Apple Inc. and, try to crowd into America’s living rooms to control the TV-watching experience.

He still needs the blessing of federal regulators, who are expected to decide early next year. If they approve, Comcast would be a dominant provider of cable TV and Internet service — an increasingly vital connection for tens of millions of families — along the nation’s East and West coasts. It would gain 7 million subscribers and claim two major pieces on the chessboard, Los Angeles and New York, an audacious move even for a company known for its daring bets.

Comcast would command the major population centers: New York, L.A., Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia, Washington, Atlanta, Dallas, Seattle and San Francisco. In Los Angeles, Comcast would become the sole cable TV operator, with reach into nearly 1.8 million homes.

The deal would complete Comcast’s transformation into a national company from a regional cable operator, all of it done without having to dig trenches and extend its fiber lines through every state. [more]

The Arab world

by David De La Torre

In Tethered by history, The Economist looks at why the Arab spring has failed.

REPRESSED for decades, the anger burst like a summer storm. Rioting youths flooded city streets. The shaken regime granted hasty concessions: freer speech; an end to one-party rule; real elections. But when Islamists surged towards victory in the first free elections the army stepped in, provoking a bloody struggle that lasted until the people, exhausted, acquiesced to a government similar in outlook, repression and even personnel to that which they had revolted against in the first place.

It sounds like the recent history of several Arab countries: Bahrain, Egypt, Libya, Syria, Tunisia and Yemen, the states of the 2011 Arab spring, have seen some or all of the story unfold. But this is also, and originally, Algeria, a quarter of a century earlier — the first major political crisis in the age of modern Islamism.

A flurry of freedom in the late 1980s gave way to a vicious civil war in the 1990s that left as many as 200,000 dead and Algeria’s Islamists more or less defeated, but not eradicated. Today the country’s citizens remain powerless spectators to a continued stand-off between what they call le pouvoir — the entrenched oligarchy that controls the state, the oil money and the army — and the now-marginalised Islamist radicals, who serve more as a justification for ongoing repression than as any sort of inspiration to ordinary people. [more]

Germany’s Merkel Avoids Painful Economic Reforms

by Bill Hayes

Bloomberg Businessweek reports that Germany’s Merkel Is Avoiding Painful Economic Reforms.

[Angela] Merkel has been chancellor for eight years. Germans see her as having ably guided the country through the euro crisis. In June the Deutsche Bundesbank, looking at domestic demand and a rise in construction, raised its estimate of gross domestic product growth in 2014 to 1.9 percent, well above the euro zone average. Merkel enjoys an approval rating of 71 percent. If an election were held today, her Christian Democrats would likely get more votes than any other party. On July 13, as Manuel Neuer collected his Golden Glove trophy as the World Cup’s best goalie, he gave his chancellor a spontaneous hug. She doesn’t look like a politician who’s doing anything wrong.

And yet she is dogged by a peculiar accusation: She’s not doing enough to make herself unpopular. [more]

Rise and Fall

by Bill Hayes

In Rise and Fall for the New York Times Book Review, Robert D. Kaplan reviews Balance: The Economics of Great Powers from Ancient Rome to Modern America by Glenn Hubbard and Tim Kane.

Of all the proponents of human agency against the constraints of geography, culture and historical experience, economists are the most incisive. They obey scientific rigor rather than mere civilizational tendencies. And while the laws of economics yield a determinism all their own, adherence to such laws and the limits they impose, Glenn Hubbard and Tim Kane suggest, will allow any state or people to avoid tragic outcomes, regardless of geographical or other limitations.

“There is no German physics distinct from French physics, just as there is no Chinese economics that will make its rise fundamentally different from those of Russia and Japan,” they declare. [more]

Sixty-Nine Days

by Bill Hayes

In Sixty-Nine Days for the New Yorker, Héctor Tobar reports on the ordeal of the Chilean miners.

In exchange for good wages, the men accepted the possibility of death. Each miner made at least twelve hundred dollars a month — triple Chile’s minimum wage — working seven-day tours, divided into twelve-hour shifts that kept the mine producing around the clock.

At the bus terminal in Copiapó, the city closest to the mine, the men unloaded their bags and took a short ride in communal taxis to the rooming houses where they were to sleep for the next seven nights. The following morning, they headed on buses toward the inner Atacama Desert, finally coming to the cutoff for the San Esteban Mining Company and the San José Mine. The buildings on the hillside came into focus: administration bungalows, locker and shower rooms, cafeterias — corroded structures of wood, tin, and steel.

The stone that forms the mountains north of Copiapó was born of the earth’s magma more than a hundred and forty million years ago. For aeons, a mineral-rich broth rose up through the fissures of the Atacama Fault System. Eventually, the broth solidified, becoming ore layered with interlocking veins of quartz, chalcopyrite, and other minerals.

The San José Mine was nearly as deep as the tallest building on earth is tall. From the surface, the drive to the lowest part was about four miles. Underground, where men had been digging for gold and copper since 1889, the mine expanded like an iceberg city. Roads led to interior spaces carved out by explosives and machinery, pathways to man-made galleries and canyons. The city had its own weather, with temperatures that rose and fell, and breezes that shifted at different times of the day. The mine’s byways had traffic signs and rules. The central road linking all these passageways to the surface was called the Ramp.

In the early-morning hours of August 5th, two thousand feet belowground, the night shift was finishing its work. Men covered in soot and drenched in sweat gathered in one of the caverns, waiting for a truck that would take them on the forty-minute drive to the surface. During their shift, they had noted a wailing rumble in the distance — the sound of many tons of rock falling in forgotten caverns deep inside the mountain. The noise and the vibrations caused by these avalanches were transmitted through the mountain much as lightning strikes travel through the air and the ground. “The mine is weeping a lot,” the men said to one another. A few mentioned the rumblings to the men on the next shift, but there was no sense of alarm. The thunder always receded and the mountain eventually returned to its steady, quiet state.

The entrance to the San José Mine was five metres wide and five metres tall, and the edges that faced the outside world resembled stone teeth. Inside, sea level was the point of reference. The entrance was at Level 800 — eight hundred metres above sea level. The Ramp descended into the mountain as a series of switchbacks. Men in dump trucks, front loaders, pickup trucks, and other machines drove down past Level 200, where there were still minerals to be brought to the surface, working in passageways that led from the Ramp to the veins of ore-bearing rock.

Two men were working at Level 40, twenty-four hundred and ninety vertical feet below the surface, loading freshly blasted ore into a dump truck. Another group was at Level 60, fortifying a passageway near a spot where a man had lost a limb in an accident the previous month. A few men were resting briefly inside or near the Refuge, a room about the size of a classroom, carved out of the rock at Level 90. The Refuge was supposed to be a shelter in the event of an emergency — it had a heavy metal door — but it also served as a break room; fresh air was pumped in from the surface, offering a respite from the humidity, which often reached ninety-eight per cent, and the heat, which could reach 104 degrees Fahrenheit. Geothermal heat emanating from the bowels of the earth made the mine hotter the deeper the men went.

Juan Carlos Aguilar, Raúl Bustos, and two other mechanics found respite from the heat in a workshop at Level 150, in a passageway not far from a vast interior chasm called the Pit. Air circulated through the Pit, and the faintest hint of a breeze flowed from the chasm into the workshop.

Around 1 P.M., a fifty-two-year-old driver named Franklin Lobos left the surface in the personnel truck, with Jorge Galleguillos riding shotgun; they were heading down to pick up other miners to bring them to the surface for lunch. Galleguillos, at fifty-six, was one of the oldest men in the mine. He had been filing safety complaints with the mine’s managers, his own addendum to a long chronicle of problems at the mine. In 2007, the Chilean government ordered the San José Mine closed after an explosion killed a geologist’s assistant. The mine reopened after its owners assured the government that they would take a series of steps to improve safety, such as installing systems to monitor the constantly shifting rock inside the mountain. Many of the steps were never fully carried out.

The personnel truck that Lobos was driving did not have working headlights. Lobos, a retired professional soccer player and a onetime local celebrity, had taken a job at the San José to help pay his daughters’ college tuition. He used the truck’s fog lamps on his descent. The low beams illuminated a sinuous gray tunnel. Suddenly, a white streak moved past the truck’s windshield from right to left.

“Did you see that?” Galleguillos said. “That was a butterfly.”

“No, it wasn’t,” Lobos answered. “It was a white rock.”

Lobos said afterward that the collapse hit the miners as a roar of sound, as if a skyscraper were crashing down behind them. The vast, haphazard architecture of the mine, improvised over the course of a century, had given way. A single block of granite-like stone called diorite, as tall as a forty-five-story building, had broken loose and was falling through the layers of the mine, knocking out sections of the Ramp and creating a chain reaction as the mountain collapsed. Stone and ore were pulled downward to crash against other rocks, causing the surviving sections of the mine to shake violently.

In the workshop at Level 150, Bustos, who was forty and had survived an earthquake and a tsunami five months earlier in his home town of Talcahuano, scurried under the chassis of a Toro 400 loader as stones the size of oranges fell around him. So did Richard Villarroel, twenty-six years old, whose wife was six months pregnant with their first child. Aguilar grabbed onto a nearby water pipe. Then a second blast wave swept through the workshop from the other direction, dropping more stones from the nearby Pit. When the crashing sounds finally eased, one of the vehicles near the Pit’s edge was half buried in rock.

The blast wave continued to race downward, past a group of workers at Level 105. Just before it hit Level 100, Alex Vega, a native of Copiapó, who was waiting for the personnel truck, chatted with Edison Peña, a thirty-four-year-old Santiago native and mechanic. Someone shouted, “The mine is pancaking!” Minutes later, there was a gust of wind, and then they saw a cloud of dust flowing onto the Ramp from tunnels leading to abandoned sections of the mine. The cloud raced down the Ramp, showering the men with dirt and stones as they ran to the Refuge.

About ten vertical yards below, Samuel Ávalos, a forty-three-year-old father of three, was waiting for the personnel truck with a group of miners near the Refuge. The Refuge had a white tile floor, a cinder-block wall, and a steel door. Ávalos had taken off his sweat-soaked overalls, wrung them out, and hung them on a water pipe to dry. He was putting them back on when he heard the thunderclap. [more]

Chart of the Day: Organizations That Have Spent the Most on Lobbying (as of 7/31/14)

Infographic: Google Is Among the Biggest Lobbying Spenders in the U.S. | Statista

You will find more statistics at Statista

ADL Global 100 Index

by Bill Hayes

The Anti-Defamation League has released its survey of 100 countries on anti-Semitic attitudes around the world. You can click on individual countries to see how people answered specific questions.

Is public shaming fair punishment?

by Bill Hayes

Patt Morrison, a Los Angeles Times columnist, asks: Is public shaming fair punishment?

You play the judge: How would you sentence a man who spent 15 years picking on his neighbor and her handicapped children?

A Cleveland judge sentenced just such a man, Edmond Aviv, to jail, community service, anger management and mental health counseling — and to spend five hours alongside a busy street on a Sunday in April with a great big sign branding him an intolerant bully.

The 8th Amendment bans cruel and unusual punishment. Is this either one? Or can justice be fairly meted out in something other than years and months behind bars? [more]

Lessons from Nixon

by David De La Torre

In The populist manifesto, The Economist reviews The Greatest Comeback: How Richard Nixon Rose from Defeat to Create the New Majority by Patrick J. Buchanan.

Four decades on, the Republicans face a new age of jarring social and economic change. After bitter defeats by Barack Obama, party leaders must again balance demands for purity from the right with the need to construct a new national majority. Could Nixon be a role model? In “The Greatest Comeback”, Patrick Buchanan, a close adviser to Nixon, works hard to make that case. [more]