CRF Blog

The state of the Republican Party

by David De La Torre

In Triumph and tragedy, The Economist looks at the successes and challenges in store for the Republican Party.

Yet rather than planning for power, Republicans have been spending the primary season attacking each other with vim and vituperation. The June 10th defeat of Eric Cantor, the majority leader in the House of Representatives, by a previously unknown economics professor, David Brat, is far and away the most striking upset; but though Mr Cantor is the only big name to have fallen, he is not the only one to have been attacked. Mitch McConnell, the top Republican in the Senate, shelled out $11m to keep opponents from his own side at bay in Kentucky.

Campaign groups spend millions of dollars backing one Republican against another, painting their opponents’ records as either crazy or craven. Some of the less high profile primary contests have been strikingly nasty: in Mississippi supporters of one candidate snuck into a nursing home to photograph the wife of another, who is suffering from dementia.

The clearest cause of the fractiousness is the trauma wrought by George W. Bush’s presidency. The Republican Party thought it was in favour of smaller government, sound public finances and a muscular military. It found itself presiding over an increase in government spending, a near doubling of the national debt, a financial crisis and the return of thousands of body bags from wars that signally failed to deliver what the president had promised. [more]

India’s ‘Plastic Man’ Turns Litter Into Paved Roads

by Bill Hayes

In India’s ‘Plastic Man’ Turns Litter Into Paved Roads, a feature story, Bloomberg Businessweek reports on how a chemist has discovered a way to pave India’s roads using litter.

It is difficult to exaggerate India’s garbage problem. Jairam Ramesh, the nation’s former environment minister, has said that if there were a “Nobel prize for dirt and filth,” India would win it. As much as 40 percent of the country’s municipal waste remains uncollected, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. Of the waste that is collected, almost none is recycled. Most of it sits in open dumps such as the one in Madurai, leaching into the soil and contaminating groundwater. Some of it is burned, releasing dioxins and other toxic chemicals into the air.

Much of India’s garbage is made up of plastic — a scourge of the nation’s new consumer economy. The country’s Central Pollution Control Board says more than 15,000 tons of plastic waste are generated daily. Although the nation’s per capita consumption of plastic is low compared with that of the U.S., it’s expected to double over the next five years as India continues to develop. This poses huge environmental, social, and economic challenges. As the Supreme Court of India recently observed: “We are sitting on a plastic time bomb.”

Vasudevan sees an opportunity. A professor of chemistry at Thiagarajar College of Engineering, near Madurai, he insists that plastic gets a bad rap. Rather than an incipient environmental calamity, plastic, in Vasudevan’s opinion, is a “gift from the gods”; it’s up to humans to use it wisely. And he’s devised a way to transform common plastic litter — not only thicker acrylics and bottles but also grocery bags and wrappers — into a partial substitute for bitumen in asphalt. [more]

Everything you need to know about Israel-Palestine

by Bill Hayes

Vox explains Everything you need to know about Israel-Palestine in 33 short cards. Below is the first card (minus a couple of maps).

What are Israel and Palestine? Why are they fighting?

Israel is the world’s only Jewish state, located just east of the Mediterranean Sea. Palestinians, the Arab population that hails from the land Israel now controls, refer to the territory as Palestine, and want to establish a state by that name on all or part of the same land. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is over who gets what land and how it’s controlled.

Though both Jews and Arab Muslims date their claims to the land back a couple thousand years, the current political conflict began in the early 20th century. Jews fleeing persecution in Europe wanted to establish a national homeland in what was then an Arab- and Muslim-majority territory in the British Empire. The Arabs resisted, seeing the land as rightfully theirs. An early United Nations plan to give each group part of the land failed, and Israel and the surrounding Arab nations fought several wars over the territory. Today’s lines largely reflect the outcomes of two of these wars, one waged in 1948 and another in 1967.

The 1967 war is particularly important for today’s conflict, as it left Israel in control of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, two territories home to large Palestinian populations:

Today, the West Bank is nominally controlled by the Palestinian Authority and is under Israeli occupation. This comes in the form of “settlers,” Jews who build ever-expanding communities in the West Bank that effectively deny the land to Palestinians, and Israeli troops, who protect the settlers and enforce Israeli security restrictions on Palestinian movement. Gaza is controlled by Hamas, an Islamist fundamentalist party, and is under Israeli blockade but not ground troop occupation. The two Palestinian groups may have reconciled on April 23rd, creating one shared Palestinian government for the first time since 2007. That prompted Israel, who believes Hamas will never give up its commitment to destroy Israel, to suspend talks.

The primary approach to solving the conflict today is a so-called “two-state solution” that would establish Palestine as an independent state in Gaza and most of the West Bank, leaving the rest of the land to Israel. Though the two-state plan is clear in theory, the two sides are still deeply divided over how to make it work in practice.

The alternative to a two-state solution is a “one-state solution,” wherein all of the land becomes either one big Israel or one big Palestine. Most observers think this would cause more problems than it would solve, but this outcome is becoming more likely over time for political and demographic reasons. [more]

Flight Logs

by Bill Hayes

In Flight Logs, an essay for the New York Times Book Review, Joshua Kendall reflects on Charles Lindbergh’s autobiography The Spirit of St. Louis.

Published 60 years ago …, Charles Lindbergh’s autobiography “The Spirit of St. Louis” was both a commercial and a literary success; it nabbed the 1954 Pulitzer Prize for biography. Indeed, the man known today primarily as the first pilot to fly solo across the Atlantic succeeded in redefining the memoir as we know it. “It has,” the novelist John P. Marquand observed, “a timeless quality and an authentic strength and beauty that should cause it to be read by this generation and by many following — as long, in fact, as anyone is left who cares for fine writing and high courage.” [more]

How to Make the Internet Available to All

by Bill Hayes

The New York Times’ Room for Debate lets various knowledgeable contributors discuss news events and other timely issues. One recent debate covered: How to Make the Internet Available to All.

As Jim Dwyer pointed out in a Times column this week, as Internet access has become crucial for many Americans, particularly students, the inability to pay for online service has kept millions disconnected.

Does the industry need to be more closely regulated, or subject to more government action, to provide wider Internet access to lower-income people? [more]

Obama’s Syria Solution

by Bill Hayes

In Obama’s Syria Solution, Fareed Zakaria argues that President Obama’s latest move to arm “vetted” Syrian rebels is the wrong move.

Boko Haram: Terror’s Insidious New Face

by Bill Hayes

In Boko Haram: Terror’s Insidious New Face for Newsweek, Alex Perry reports on the Islamist militants terrorizing Nigeria.

Even before his accession, Sanusi [the "king of one of the most influential fiefdoms in northern Nigeria"] is speaking out about the abduction of more than 200 schoolgirls from the village of Chibok, 366 miles east of Kano. In the weeks since they disappeared, northern Nigeria has become a bloodbath. Almost 1,000 people have been killed since the girls were taken, making more than 3,000 this year. More or less every day, it seems, Boko Haram is massacring another village, slaughtering people and burning their huts to the ground. The attacks are often reprisals for the assistance the villagers have provided to Nigeria’s army, either in the form of intelligence or self-defense groups of village hunters.

Further afield, hundreds more Nigerians have died in a series of bomb attacks on the country’s cities, including a twin blast in the city of Jos, which killed 130; another twin bombing in Abuja, which killed close to 100; a third on June 25, which killed at least 21; and another in Kano, which killed five.

Though Nigeria’s latest civil war has already lasted five years and cost at least 12,000 lives, the Chibok abductions and subsequent protests by the girls’ parents outside government offices in Abuja have drawn global attention. Among those moved to demand #BringBackOurGirls have been Jesse Jackson, Angelina Jolie, the Iranian government, the Coca-Cola Co. and the prime minister of Nepal. Michelle Obama used her husband’s weekly address to tell Americans: “In these girls, Barack and I see our own daughters.” The U.S., Britain, Israel and China have offered drones, spy planes and advisers to assist Nigeria’s government in the girls’ recovery.

None of this has done anything to bring the girls home.

Instead, Boko Haram has responded to the attention by stepping up its attacks, including two more mass kidnappings near Chibok. #BringBackOurGirls is having to confront an awkward suspicion: that by “raising awareness,” the campaigners may have given Boko Haram precisely the global profile it wanted. Moreover, some have pointed out the girls’ gender may have actually saved their lives. In raids on mixed schools, Boko Haram slit the throats of all the boys.

Still, says Sanusi, the campaign has had its uses. “What I like about the attention is that we’re now moving beyond these superficial analyses,” he says. “Now people are asking the real questions. It has exposed the incompetence and corruption of the government. People are coming to see how Boko Haram are killing people, and walking away, and the army is doing nothing about it.”

The key question, says Sanusi, is whether a government crippled by ineptitude and greed is capable of addressing the deprivation it has allowed in northern Nigeria and the ferocious rebellion that it has spawned. Or whether, just as it celebrates its 100th year by surpassing South Africa as the biggest economy in a surging Africa, Nigeria is disintegrating.

“A state fails when its leadership fails,” says Sanusi. “I am not very optimistic. Our citizens are left on their own to perform the functions of the state. I think we have all the symptoms of a failing state.”

I tell Sanusi that I started coming to Nigeria eight years ago but that even now, sometimes after weeks on the ground, I often leave feeling as unsure as when I arrived. He smiles. To understand Nigeria, he says, you must throw away notions like certainty and consensus. Instead, you have to accept you are entering a world where all truth is relative, all facts are transient and what seems to be the most visceral and bloody reality can ultimately be revealed as artifice.

“It’s about power,” says Sanusi. “Power, and the construction of truth.

Nigeria is a creation of colonial expediency. Exactly 100 years ago, its British rulers fused two of their existing West African protectorates, southern and northern, each of which already contained several kingdoms, scores of languages and more than 250 tribes. The amalgamation of this vast and diverse territory was overseen by Lord Frederick Lugard, who justified the unifying of Britain’s Nigerian possessions under the “hinterland principle.” [more]

Russia and the west

by David De La Torre

In Vladimir Putin’s European adventures, The Economist reports that the Russian president’s strategy toward “Ukraine and the West may not have worked as well as he hoped.”

The danger both Mr Putin and Mr Poroshenko share is that this strategy has worked almost too well. Whatever political aims existed a few weeks ago have been consumed in the logic of violence. The conflict has descended into warlordism, in which rebel commanders control militias that do not necessarily communicate with or much like each other. In Donetsk, a rebel battalion led by Chechen mercenaries has taken control of separatist headquarters and is backing Alexander Borodai, a political operative from Russia. But their influence does not extend to nearby towns such as Sloviansk and Gorlovka, where rival militias hold sway.

The Kremlin may thus have flipped the switch for an anti-Kiev insurgency that it cannot easily turn off. The violence of what Kiev is calling its “anti-terrorist operation” is also hardening local sentiment. [more]

Chart of the Day: Timeline of Attacks in Israel and Gaza

Infographic: Timeline of Attacks in Israel and Gaza | Statista

You will find more statistics at Statista

5 years after the Great Recession: Where are we now?

by Bill Hayes

In 5 years after the Great Recession: Where are we now? for the Los Angeles Times, Don Lee explores the state of our economy.

It’s understandable that many Americans don’t feel much better off than five years ago. Unemployment seems stuck above 6%, most people have seen few or no raises. And the poverty rate remains the same or, by some accounts, has risen.

But from a global perspective, the picture looks very different.

Anemic as the U.S. recovery is, it’s much better than that of debt-flummoxed Europe or still-stagnant Japan. The United States is once again the locomotive of global growth.

Despite this winter’s doldrums, the U.S. economy is expected to outpace those of other major developed nations this year, including three of the world’s top five economies — Japan, Germany and France. None of them is projected to come close to matching American growth, which economists expect will be about 3% for the rest of this year and next.

“A meaningful rebound in U.S. economic activity is now underway, and we expect growth to exceed potential over the next few quarters,” Christine Lagarde, managing director of the International Monetary Fund, said this month. [more]

Interview of the Day: Richard Dawkins

by Bill Hayes

The New York Times Book Review interviewed scientist and author Richard Dawkins for its “By the Book” series.

What’s the best book you’ve read so far this year?

I’ve been reading autobiographies to get me in the mood for writing my own and show me how it’s done: Tolstoy (at one time my own memoir was to have been called, at my wife’s suggestion, “Childhood, Boyhood, Truth”); Mark Twain; Bertrand Russell; that engaging maverick Herb Silverman; Edward O. Wilson, elder statesman of my subject. But the best new book I have read is Daniel Dennett’s “Intuition Pumps and Other Tools for Thinking.” A philosopher of Dennett’s caliber has nothing to fear from clarity and openness. He is out to enlighten and explain, and therefore has no need or desire to language it up like those obscurantist philosophers, often of “Continental” tradition, for whom obscurity is valued as a protective screen, or even admired for its own sake. I once heard of a philosopher who gushed an “Oh, thank you!” when a woman at a party said she found his book hard to understand. Dennett is the opposite. He works hard at being understood, and makes brilliant use of intuition pumps (his own coining) to that end. The book includes a helpful roundup of several of his earlier themes, and is as good as its intriguing title promises. [more]

The Colbert Report’s TV Production Software Is No Joke

by Bill Hayes

In The Colbert Report’s TV Production Software Is No Joke, Bloomberg Businessweek reports on how the show’s writing staff has developed new software for writing scripts.

When Stephen Colbert leaves his desk at Comedy Central later this year to replace David Letterman at CBS (CBS), he’ll be remembered for his right-wing blowhard character, his super PAC, and his contribution of the word “truthiness” to the English language. He may also leave a lasting mark on the obscure world of TV production software. There are coders hiding among the comedians on The Colbert Report staff, and in the past few years they’ve created a program the show now uses to write and produce segments. Several staffers have formed a startup, Scripto, to develop the software and license it to other TV shows. [more]

His Exile Was Intolerable

by Bill Hayes

In His Exile Was Intolerable for the New York Review of Books, Anka Muhlstein reviews The Impossible Exile: Stefan Zweig at the End of the World by George Prochnik and The Grand Budapest Hotel, a film directed by Wes Anderson.

On February 23, 1942, Stefan Zweig and his young wife committed suicide together in Petrópolis, Brazil. The following day, the Brazilian government held a state funeral, attended by President Getulio Vargas. The news spread rapidly around the world, and the couple’s deaths were reported on the front page of The New York Times. Zweig had been one of the most renowned authors of his time, and his work had been translated into almost fifty languages. In the eyes of one of his friends, the novelist Irmgard Keun, “he belonged to those that suffered but who would not and could not hate. And he was one of those noble Jewish types who, thinskinned and open to harm, lives in an immaculate glass world of the spirit and lacks the capacity themselves to do harm.”1

The suicide set off a surge of emotion and a variety of reactions. Thomas Mann, the unquestioned leader of German-language writers in exile, made no secret of his indignation at what he considered an act of cowardice. In a telegram to the New York daily PM, he certainly paid tribute to his fellow writer’s talent, but he underscored the “painful breach torn in the ranks of European literary emigrants by so regrettable a weakness.” He made his point even clearer in a letter to a writer friend: “He should never have granted the Nazis this triumph, and had he had a more powerful hatred and contempt for them, he would never have done it.” Why had Zweig been unable to rebuild his life? It wasn’t for lack of means, as Mann pointed out to his daughter Erika.

This is the subject of Georges Prochnik’s The Impossible Exile, a gripping, unusually subtle, poignant, and honest study. Prochnik attempts, on the basis of an uncompromising investigation, to clarify the motives that might have driven to suicide an author who still enjoyed a rare popularity, an author who had just completed two major works, his memoir, The World of Yesterday, and Brazil: Land of the Future. He had also finished one of his most startling novellas, Chess Story, in which he finally addressed the horrors of his own time, proving that his creative verve hadn’t been in the least undermined by his ordeals. Recently he had married a loving woman, nearly thirty years his junior. And he had chosen of his own free will to leave the United States and take refuge in Brazil, a hospitable nation that had fired his imagination.

Why had exile proved so intolerable to Stefan Zweig when other artists drew a new vigor and inspiration from it? [more]

Charlie Rose interviews Hillary Rodham Clinton

by Bill Hayes

Charlie Rose interviews former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Forces of Divergence

by Bill Hayes

In Forces of Divergence for the New Yorker, John Cassidy reviews Capital in the Twenty-First Century by Thomas Piketty.

Some people claim that the takeoff at the very top reflects the emergence of a new class of “superstars” — entrepreneurs, entertainers, sports stars, authors, and the like — who have exploited new technologies, such as the Internet, to enlarge their earnings at the expense of others in their field. If this is true, high rates of inequality may reflect a harsh and unalterable reality: outsized spoils are going to go to Roger Federer, James Patterson, and the WhatsApp guys. Piketty rejects this account. The main factor, he insists, is that major companies are giving their top executives outlandish pay packages. His research shows that “supermanagers,” rather than “superstars,” account for up to seventy per cent of the top 0.1 per cent of the income distribution. (In 2010, you needed to earn at least $1.5 million to qualify for this élite group.) Rising income inequality is largely a corporate phenomenon.

Defenders of big pay packages like to claim that senior managers earn their vast salaries by boosting their firm’s profits and stock prices. But Piketty points out how hard it is to measure the contribution (the “marginal productivity”) of any one individual in a large corporation. The compensation of top managers is typically set by committees comprising other senior executives who earn comparable amounts. “It is only reasonable to assume that people in a position to set their own salaries have a natural incentive to treat themselves generously, or at the very least to be rather optimistic in gauging their marginal productivity,” Piketty writes.

Many C.E.O.s receive a lot of stock and stock options. Over time, they and other rich people earn a lot of money from the capital they have accumulated: it comes in the form of dividends, capital gains, interest payments, profits from private businesses, and rents. Income from capital has always played a key role in capitalism. Piketty claims that its role is growing even larger, and that this helps explain why inequality is rising so fast. Indeed, he argues that modern capitalism has an internal law of motion that leads, not inexorably but generally, toward less equal outcomes. The law is simple. When the rate of return on capital — the annual income it generates divided by its market value — is higher than the economy’s growth rate, capital income will tend to rise faster than wages and salaries, which rarely grow faster than G.D.P. [more]