Greece

Though the continent's collected prime ministers will no doubt again pledge to do all that's within their powers to preserve the grandeur of the European Union when they meet today in Brussels, the continent's fate ultimately rests on the quiet, technocratic governments of Italy and Greece. Unfortunately, those administrations have since seen their fortunes diverge considerably. It’s worth noting, however, that their respective failures and successes have been entirely predictable (if not entirely preventable.) Take Italy first.

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Since the better part of Newt Gingrich’s staff jumped ship back in June, when he jetted off to Greece, the campaign has been a bare-bones operation. Even as the Gingrich campaign was flying highest at the polls, it was still beset with ineptitudes like failing to qualify for the Virginia ballot. So who’s been running the campaign these days?

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Sovereign Equality and Moral Disagreement By Brad R. Roth (Oxford University Press, 320 pp., $70) Sovereignty is back. Our debates about the global economic crisis keep returning to the problem of sovereign debt and the need for sovereign guarantees to reassure the markets. We keep hoping that somewhere, sometime, in the downward spiral of de-leveraging and disillusion there will be an authority—a sovereign—to take charge and put an end to our anxiety. This longing for an authority, after years of market follies, runs very deep. We want to know that someone is in control.

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Strategist and Scourge

George F. Kennan: An American Life By John Lewis Gaddis (Penguin, 784 pp., $39.95) I. George F. Keenan, who was born in 1904 and died in 2005, and served under presidents from Calvin Coolidge to John F. Kennedy, left as deep an imprint on American geopolitics as any intellectual of the twentieth century. But the exact nature of his achievement continues to elude full or even coherent description. One reason is that most of his very long life was spent in comparative obscurity.

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Madrid–Outgoing Socialist Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, of Spain, had until recently been the beneficiary of propitious circumstances. Party infighting enabled him to outmaneuver the establishment favorite in the 2000 primaries. Four years later, he eked out an eleventh hour victory in national elections when a terrorist bombing mere days before voting turned the tide against incumbent conservatives.

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The Armistice was signed at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. In less than an hour it will be the eleventh minute of the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of the eleventh year, or 11:11 11/11/11. All the world's computers will shut down and the mountains will be laid low and the seas will arise to cover the earth and Herman Cain will win the Republican nomination for president. Or not. I've never been very good at predicting the future. Update: Missed it!

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The eurozone debt crisis simply refuses to go away. Last month’s latest and greatest plan put forward by European leaders has already been judged by financial markets to be insufficient. And while it is political uncertainty in Greece that has thrown the whole process into question, the main victim has actually been Italy; in the days since the rescue package was announced, Italy has found its borrowing costs rising to record levels as investors continue to expect the worst. But why are investors picking on Italy?

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In calling for a referendum on Greece’s bailout plan, Prime Minister George Papandreou has, it could be said, embraced one of his country’s oldest political traditions: direct democracy. The idea that the citizens of a state should all cast votes to decide matters of common interest was arguably born within an easy walk of his Athens office, some two and a half millennia ago. Of course, referendums have remained a part of democratic politics into the modern era, with a formal place in the constitutions of many countries and regions, from France to Australia.

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Berlin, Germany—Germany is at the center of the European financial crisis that is threatening to sink Europe, and much of the rest of the world, into a double-dip recession, but you would hardly know it in Berlin.

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Early Enlightenment

The Abacus and the Cross: The Story of the Pope Who Brought the Light of Science to the Dark Ages By Nancy Marie Brown (Basic Books, 310 pp., $27.95) A study of twenty member states of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (recently re-named the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, or OIC—the international body that represents Ummah al Islam, with a permanent delegation to the United Nations) found that between the years 1996 and 2003 those countries spent 0.34 percent of their GDP on scientific research, one-seventh of the global average.

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