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September 2008
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Economist Endorses Obama

If you want to know what continental European power elites are thinking, you'll need to read an English magazine -- The Economist.* Unsurprisingly, their editors have just endorsed Barack Obama:

There is no getting around the fact that Mr Obama’s résumé is thin for the world’s biggest job. But the exceptionally assured way in which he has run his campaign is a considerable comfort. It is not just that he has more than held his own against Mr McCain in the debates. A man who started with no money and few supporters has out-thought, out-organised and outfought the two mightiest machines in American politics—the Clintons and the conservative right.

Political fire, far from rattling Mr Obama, seems to bring out the best in him: the furore about his (admittedly ghastly) preacher prompted one of the most thoughtful speeches of the campaign. On the financial crisis his performance has been as assured as Mr McCain’s has been febrile. He seems a quick learner and has built up an impressive team of advisers, drawing in seasoned hands like Paul Volcker, Robert Rubin and Larry Summers. Of course, Mr Obama will make mistakes; but this is a man who listens, learns and manages well.

Continue reading "Economist Endorses Obama" »


'She Took Godless Money'

Every U.S. election cycle generates a few gloriously batty ads. Usually, they come from trailing Republicans, whose only remaining chance is stimulating the lizard-brains of their most regrettable constituents with coded appeals to racial or religious bigotry. After the ads air, we are treated to the priceless follow-up interviews, in which these Republican candidates -- generally sane, prosperous people who understand precisely what they're doing and why (it works) -- sheepishly defend their ignoble smears.

This cycle, I hadn't really found any ads good enough to post. Until today! The race is the U.S. Senate race for North Carolina, in which Republican incumbent Elizabeth Dole is trailing to Democratic challenger Kay Hagan -- a woman who, we are given to understand, sank to taking "godless money" from godless Americans (fancy that!) who don't believe in god.

Note the picture of Hagan at the end of the ad, which makes her look like a snaggletoothed mutant sitting in a jar on some mad scientist's shelf, staring lifelessly out from behind a scrim of blood-tinged formaldehyde. Or perhaps the winged underworld lord you must somehow defeat on level 666 of DemonSpawn: BloodFury:

But verily, I say unto thee: Hagan's isn't so godless after all. Heck, she taught Sunday school and knows her Old Testament, and obviously wasn't charmed by Dole's scummy insinuations:


Follow the Turks!

The OECD just released a report called Growing Unequal, in which it documents the recent rise in income inequality in various OECD countries, including Germany and the U.S. The report page contains a link to a neat Gapminder chart tool that lets you generate charts based on the OECD data. Preparing for a speech I gave yesterday, I generated the following graph, which shows development in income inequality in Turkey, Germany, Sweden, and the U.S.:

Gini Coefficient

The obvious question is: what on earth did Turkey start doing in 1994? Can anyone enlighten me?

UPDATE: Sharp commentators (thanks!) have pointed to several reasons to doubt the Turkish numbers.


While Everyone Was Watching the Polls and the Markets

The Bush Administration significantly expanded its global military campaign against terror suspects, as Eli Lake reports: 

We have entered a new phase in the war on terror. In July, according to three administration sources, the Bush administration formally gave the military new power to strike terrorist safe havens outside of Iraq and Afghanistan. Before then, a military strike in a country like Syria or Pakistan would have required President Bush's personal approval. Now, those kinds of strikes in the region can occur at the discretion of the incoming commander of Central Command (Centcomm), General David Petraeus.

He then asks a series of questions which it would be nice to have answers to:

The big mystery now is whether the next administration will dismantle this policy.... Obama has said nothing about Sunday's strikes in Syria (a silence that has rightly earned him taunting from the McCain campaign). On one level, this new policy conflicts with Obama's stated desire for opening up diplomatic channels to places like Tehran and Damascus. On the other hand, this is precisely the type of policy that he has repeatedly promised at least for Pakistan, whose territory is believed to host Osama bin Laden: If America has actionable intelligence on al Qaeda leaders, and the country housing those terrorist sits on its hands, we will act. His campaign rhetoric has now become the official war policy he will inherit. Is this a development that pleases him?


Fight the Europeanization of America!

Do you want to see depravity like THIS on Main Street, USA? Wake up, America!!

That is the title of an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal. Now, when I read a headline like that, I picture things like more sidewalk cafes, topless sunbathing, and a general increase in scarves and berets. However, in the pages of the Wall Street Journal, Europe can mean only one thing...socialism! (cue ominous string glissandi).

Don't let the author's suspiciously European name -- Pierre S. du Pont IV -- fool you! This millionaire chemical-company heir has taken up his quill to defend, not condescend. After their inevitable November 4th shellacking, Republicans must regroup to oppose Obama's sinister plan to sissify America (otherwise known as his platform), which includes such wicked machinations as withdrawing troops "quickly and substantially" from Iraq, strengthening labor unions, increasing "federal regulation of the economy," and subsidizing college tuition, child-care expenses, and clean cars. If this Eurasian existentialist...this epileptic Negro Buddhist is not stopped, we'll all end up speaking French one day. No, wait, -- every state will have its own bloody language!

Of course, this prediction of Europeanization is completely wrong in at least one respect: European countries have no plans to remove troops from Iraq.


Obamans for Obama

The crescendo -- the crux, if you will, and I hope you will -- starts at 1:40, when the drummer rather unexpectedly begins a fight with the lead singer, and uses the blue dolphin attached to the top of his construction helmet to devastating effect:

More background here, including the fact that in West Africa,"Japanese speakers stumble endlessly upon names of people and places that look and sound almost exactly like those in Japan."


Crisis in the East

Not reassuring:

The latest data from the Bank for International Settlements shows that Western European banks hold almost all the exposure to the emerging market bubble, now busting with spectacular effect....

Austria’s bank exposure to emerging markets is equal to 85pc of GDP – with a heavy concentration in Hungary, Ukraine, and Serbia – all now queuing up (with Belarus) for rescue packages from the International Monetary Fund.

Exposure is 50pc of GDP for Switzerland, 25pc for Sweden, 24pc for the UK, and 23pc for Spain. The US figure is just 4pc. America is the staid old lady in this drama....

The [ex-Soviet block] has borrowed $1.6 trillion in dollars, euros, and Swiss francs. A few dare-devil homeowners in Hungary and Latvia took out mortgages in Japanese yen. They have just suffered a 40pc rise in their debt since July....

Traders are paying close attention as contagion moves from the periphery of the eurozone into the core. They are tracking the yield spreads between Italian and German 10-year bonds, the stress barometer of monetary union.

The spreads reached a post-EMU high of 93 last week. Nobody knows where the snapping point is, but anything above 100 would be viewed as a red alarm. The market took careful note on Friday that Portugal’s biggest banks, Millenium, BPI, and Banco Espirito Santo are preparing to take up the state’s emergency credit guarantees.


CHildren, CHurch, and KitCHen

As I've noted before, living in Germany is often like taking a trip back in time, to at least the 1970s, and sometimes as far back as the 1950s, and in very rare cases, to the late 1930s. What the Washington Post found during the Germany installment of its series on women's issues around the world takes us back to about the early 1960s, I'd say: 

Women who do work often find stubborn barriers. German government statistics show that men typically earn 24 percent more per hour than women, among the widest gender pay gaps in Europe. A recent study comparing men and women in the same jobs at the same firms concluded that women earned 88 percent of what men did.

***

In dozens of interviews with German men and women, nearly all agreed that many employers were openly reluctant to hire and promote women of childbearing age.

Ralf Braun, 40, an Internet marketer, said it is only natural for a boss to think that a woman "at some point will get pregnant and stop working," causing problems for the workplace. He predicted that there would never be complete gender equality at work: "It just can't be 50-50. Even in 50 years, I don't think it will be equal for women at work."

Many men said they believed children and families benefited when women stayed at home instead of working.

Hans Meyer, 72, a retired engineer who used to run a Hamburg toolmaking company with 1,500 employees, said the "silent majority of women want to stay home and have families."

***

In Germany, employers often explain the gender pay gap by citing qualifications and seniority. They also say men negotiate harder for raises.

Many also argue that women are drawn to "pink-collar" jobs, such as nursing and teaching, that generally pay less than fields dominated by men, such as high-tech and corporate business. But women here are increasingly asking whether women are drawn to low-paying fields, or whether those fields are low-paying because they are predominantly female.

Comments later as time permits. Although I always say that, and rarely do it. But this time, I promise it will be different!