The Case Against Referendums: From Greece to California, They Always End Up Undermining Democracy
November 03, 2011
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.
Don’t Blame All Germans for the Euro Crisis. Just Blame Merkel.
October 17, 2011
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.
October 12, 2011
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.
The Trouble With Neutrality
September 14, 2011
A World on Fire: Britain’s Crucial Role in the American Civil War By Amanda Foreman (Random House, 958 pp., $35) The world’s biggest superpower has a problem. The citizens of a nation overseas have risen up against their tyrannical rulers, determined to claim liberty even if it takes a civil war. As the most powerful global advocate of freedom, the superpower has to admire the rebels’ cause. Should it help them? Humanitarians argue that intervention can prevent hundreds of thousands of civilians from suffering hideous state-sponsored subjugation.
Krauthammer Is Making It Too Easy
August 19, 2011
Charles Krauthammer expresses indignation that President Obama would suggest that Republicans in Congress would rather defeat Obama than compromise: In Obama’s recounting, however, luck is only half the story. His economic recovery was ruined not just by acts of God and (foreign) men, but by Americans who care nothing for their country. These people, who inhabit Congress (guess which party?), refuse to set aside “politics” for the good of the nation. They serve special interests and lobbyists, care only about the next election, place party ahead of country.
It's the Austerity, Stupid
August 16, 2011
[Guest post by Simon van Zuylen-Wood] Yesterday David Cameron said that Britain was in the midst of a “slow-motion moral collapse,” while denying that his country’s austerity program was at fault for last week’s riots. Cameron is right that the early media hypothesis that the riots were in part anti-austerity protests, as in Greece, was largely incorrect. The London riots were not political in nature. No chanting youth, linked arms, or raised banners.
What Explains the Remarkable Rise of Greek Yogurt?
August 13, 2011
Since breaking into the American mass market more than 50 years ago, yogurt has evolved variously with consumer tastes; it’s been dyed, sweetened, lightened, liquidized, mixed with fruit, honey, and candy, and even squeezed into portable plastic tubes. But few iterations can be said to have experienced a more meteoric rise that that of Greek yogurt. Indeed, the Greek yogurt market in the U.S.
As they have with the Great Depression, economic historians will argue for decades about the origins of our current crisis. But, surely, we can agree that the failure of international economic cooperation in the early 1930s—and worse, the sequential adoption of beggar-thy-neighbor domestic policies—made matters worse at a time when enlightened statesmanship could have made them better for everyone. Similarly, the current crisis is not just a U.S. problem or a European problem; it is a global problem that requires a coordinated global response.
When the Greek debt crisis became major international news last month, I decided to set out and find some U.S. representatives who might have something to say about the situation. I thought it was curious that none had really spoken out about Greece’s plight, particularly given that the nation is facing one of its most critical moments since the Ottomans. I knew there were congressmen of Greek descent—Gus Bilirakis and John Sarbanes, whose middle name is Spyros, came to mind—and that there was a large enough Greek community in the United States that others would be paying attention.
House Republicans voted on Tuesday to pass a legislative version of “Cut, Cap, and Balance,” one of the newest and most disturbing of the many conservative oaths currently being sworn by large swaths of the GOP. Of course, the bill is not going to be enacted, and for some congressional Republicans, it will just serve as cover for some ultimate debt limit vote that will anger the conservative base. But the “Cut, Cap and Balance” measure explains a lot about the actual priorities of conservatives at a time when they are supposedly fixated on eliminating deficits and debts.