Greece

Actually, the insolvency of Greece also made rough waves in America. Shortly before 3 p.m., the major stock indices (S & P, Dow and NASDAQ) were about to register 10% southwards. Not good news. And the fact they all ended the market day at roughly 3.5% down was only relatively good news, very relatively. This was not a good week for Wall Street. Of course, it was a disastrous week for Greece, which, mirabili dictu, avoided default only because the professional Eurocrats in Brussels and in other boring cities where “Europe” is headquartered went into hysterics.

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Greek Tragedy

Shortly after Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou took office last fall, he learned that he’d inherited a massive booby prize: a budget deficit that was twice the amount the previous government had disclosed. But, when Papandreou came clean and promised to address the problem, the financial markets reacted violently. Interest rates soared, adding billions in debt-service costs to an already dire budget picture.

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In a superb speech at the Brookings Institution this afternoon, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer called on the United States—elected representatives and average citizens alike—to “rededicate ourselves to the painful, unglamorous, and indispensible work of fiscal discipline.” Drawing on the studies of leading economists and historians, he warned that failing to do so would be committing ourselves to national decline.

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Jon comes back from vacation tomorrow, so here I bring you the final installment in Chait masterpiece theater--in two parts. Back when Jon was an intern, he got a mysterious, unsolicited invite to a free lunch at the Greek embassy. What did the lowly, penniless youth do to deserve the honor? Well, Jon didn't really know either.

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Leave The Pope Alone

On September 3, 2000, Pope John Paul II, the Vicar of Christ beloved even by Jews, beatified Pius IX, one of his predecessors who reigned from 1846-1878. He was a nasty anti-Semite who re-established the ghetto in Rome and was instrumental in the kidnapping of a six-year old Jew boy who had been forcibly converted to Catholicism and whom the church itself kept in the Vatican away from his parents. These are not the least of his sins; nor are they the worst. But they contribute richly to his biography as a Jew-hater.

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Officially, the only news coming out of Dubai on Sunday was that the central bank of the United Arab Emirates, the seven-state federation of which Dubai is a part, will extend ample credit to banks in Dubai. That should avert a series of runs now that it's pretty clear Dubai's banks have piles of bad loans sitting on their balance sheets.    But, of course, no one's *that* interested in the local financial sector in Dubai (spectacular though its collapse may be).

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There's a fairly basic question about climate policy that gets asked a lot: Can a cap-and-trade program actually cut carbon-dioxide emissions? Set aside the question of cost and the endless debate over whether a mythical carbon tax would be sleeker. Can a cap on carbon actually do what it's supposed to do? Right now, the best example of an up-and-running cap-and-trade system is in Europe. And, for years, the continent was seen as a hopeless failure at cutting emissions.

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Why care about what happens in Iran? There's the prospect of a nuclear arms race in the region--and of Israel initiating a war with Iran to prevent it from acquiring nuclear weapons. There's also Iran's major role in Iraq and somewhat less important but still significant role in Afghanistan. Iran could be a force for stability or instability in the most volatile region in the world stretching from Israel and Lebanon on the west to Afghanistan and Pakistan in the east.

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Yesterdays

A History of Histories: Epics, Chronicles, Romances, and Inquiries from Herodotus and Thucydides to the Twentieth Century By John Burrow (Knopf, 553 pp., $35) History was born in Greece in the middle of the fifth century B.C.E. It has flourished ever since then, in diverse but recognizably related forms, and it still exists today, as a form of inquiry into the past, a literary genre, and a set of practices plied and taught in universities. That's our story, in the West, and we're sticking to it. Or at least John Burrow is.

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A Close Shave

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street(DreamWorks) ForeignersBy Caryl Phillips (Knopf, 235 pp., $24.95)  Records of Shelley, Byron, and the AuthorBy Edward John Trelawny (New York Review Books, 308 pp., $12.95)   I. As Sweeney Todd croons to his razor, “My friend, my faithful friend,” more in love with its sharp blade than with Mrs. Lovett, his partner in crime, you may find yourself wondering what it is about opera and its ubiquitous vengeful barbers.

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