Greece

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.

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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.

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[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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Two weeks ago, Britain was a nation lost, permanently ill at ease, with a mutant, hybrid government and an air of meekness and gloom. There wasn’t anything to distract us, to feel particularly ashamed or proud of—everything was just a bit depressing. Nine out of ten news stories were about Kate Middleton’s hats (too Canadian?) or clavicles (too pointy?). In Europe, we would have just looked insensitive if we had complained about our dull, entrenched problems, given the exuberant sleaziness in Italy and chaos in Greece.

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This is no time for gloating, neither for Americans nor for Europeans. For both sides are in deep economic trouble, only in different ways. The U.S. runs the worst deficit (as share of GDP) since World War II, and yet Keynesianism to the max won’t budge the unemployment rate—pace Professors Krugman and Stiglitz. What does fall is the dollar and the price of real estate, a double-whammy if ever there was one. The euro, meanwhile, may be rising, at least against the greenback, but the common currency, now ten years old, is about as stable as was Confederate script back in the Civil War.

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Last week, the main square of Barcelona was the epicenter of a vital insurgency. On the lawns of the Placa Catalunya, thousands of Europeans—most of them young—orated, ate free food, tried on free used clothing, and took advantage of free child care and yoga classes. An excellent jazz quintet played protest songs for activists and onlookers alike.

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