Tuesday, August 30, 2011
Students inspire me.
I am a guest professor in Mexico, resident of the US. That doesn't sound strange; but over half of the faculty is a guest! The chairman of the math department had to loan me close to a hundred and fifty dollars to tie me up, until pay day. The students are worth it.
I am teaching a class with over forty students, the last stretch of a general education section at the University of Guerrero. We already worked on a writing class, and a problem solving one. I have taught the previous two classes of this general education part of their university course work to a group of these students, . We have a blog in Spanish, [link]
I will be working with Mathematica also, my blog is here.
The purpose of this current events class is to know and understand our modern world. Analysis of the Contemporary World, they call it. To me the contemporary, or modern world, started with "The Enlightenment". We will be discussing videos, and readings. Soon we will be watching, "The Story of Stuff", [link].
I will be reading professor's Deutsch book, "The Beginning of Infinity." He presents an optimistic worldview; he claims that knowledge is a transformative component of the whole Universe. So far we have only seen the biosphere. Deutsch generalizes these observations to the whole Universe. In his view, we have to leave Earth, some time in the future.
Finally I am working on my idea of a New Scientific Method. The main element of the proposal is the use of automated means of data management. We ought to take data, apply the automatic management method, and compare the results to bring about the best fit we are capable of.
I am agnostic about the essential existence of formulas, or programs out there, and that the Theoretical Physicist's job is to go and FIND THEM, there. I rather believe, that we make up the formulas and programs, until we get the best fit, in a never ending error correcting infinite loop.
So far it has worked, I expect it to keep working, even faster if we accept, that this is ALL we are doing.
One step back, two steps forward.
Monday, August 29, 2011
Saturday, August 27, 2011
It sounds to me like the end of the American middle class as we know it. Fortunately I am employed.
I came back to Mexico where they need me doing important work; unfortunately the pay is not good. Doing my thing beats the lesser pay. I have not lost any abilities, if anything they are improving.
I had a job interview this time I went home to the Chicago area. That is progress, when I left I did not land any interview. They did not chose me though.
Next time around I feel like making my own job. I believe professor Deutsch, when he says that knowledge is a force of nature, able to transform matter.
Mexican commandos have discreetly traveled to the United States, assembled at designated areas and dispatched helicopter missions back across the border aimed at suspected drug traffickers. The Drug Enforcement Administration provides logistical support on the American side of the border, officials said, arranging staging areas and sharing intelligence that helps guide Mexico’s decisions about targets and tactics.
Officials said these so-called boomerang operations were intended to evade the surveillance — and corrupting influences — of the criminal organizations that closely monitor the movements of security forces inside Mexico. And they said the efforts were meant to provide settings with tight security for American and Mexican law enforcement officers to collaborate in their pursuit of criminals who operate on both sides of the border.
Although the operations remain rare, they are part of a broadening American campaign aimed at blunting the power of Mexican cartels that have built criminal networks spanning the world and have started a wave of violence in Mexico that has left more than 35,000 people dead.
Many aspects of the campaign remain secret, because of legal and political sensitivities. But in recent months, details have begun to emerge, revealing efforts that would have been unthinkable five years ago. Mexico’s president, Felipe Calderón, who was elected in 2006, has broken with his country’s historic suspicion of the United States and has enlisted Washington’s help in defeating the cartels, a central priority for his government.
American Predator and Global Hawk drones now fly deep over Mexico to capture video of drug production facilities and smuggling routes. Manned American aircraft fly over Mexican targets to eavesdrop on cellphone communications. And the D.E.A. has set up an intelligence outpost — staffed by Central Intelligence Agency operatives and retired American military personnel — on a Mexican military base.
“There has always been a willingness and desire on the part of the United States to play more of a role in Mexico’s efforts,” said Eric L. Olson, an expert on Mexico at the Woodrow Wilson Center. “But there have been some groundbreaking developments on the Mexican side where we’re seeing officials who are willing to take some risks, even political risks, by working closely with the United States to carry out very sensitive missions.”
Still, the cooperation remains a source of political tensions, especially in Mexico where the political classes have been leery of the United States dating from the Mexican-American War of 1846. Recent disclosures about the expanding United States’ role in the country’s main national security efforts have set off a storm of angry assertions that Mr. Calderón has put his own political interests ahead of Mexican sovereignty. Mr. Calderón’s political party faces an election next year that is viewed in part as a referendum on his decision to roll out this campaign against drug traffickers.
Deputy Secretary of State William J. Burns walked into that storm during a visit to Mexico this month and strongly defended the partnership the two governments had developed.
“I’ll simply repeat that there are clear limits to our role,” Mr. Burns said. “Our role is not to conduct operations. It is not to engage in law enforcement activities. That is the role of the Mexican authorities. And that’s the way it should be.”
Officials said Mexico and the United States began discussing the possibility of cross-border missions two years ago, when Mexico’s crime wave hit the important industrial corridor between Monterrey and Nuevo Laredo. To avoid being detected, the Mexican police traveled to the United States in plain clothes on commercial flights, two military officials said. Later the officers were transported back to Mexico on Mexican aircraft, which dropped the agents at or near their targets.
“The cartels don’t expect Mexican police coming from the U.S.,” said one senior military official. None of the officials interviewed about the boomerang operations would speak publicly about them, and refused to provide details about where they were conducted or what criminal organizations had been singled out.
They said that the operations had been carried out only a couple of times in the last 18 months, and that they had not resulted in any significant arrests.
The officials insisted that the Pentagon is not involved in the cross-border operations, and that no Americans take part in drug raids on Mexican territory.
“These are not joint operations,” said one senior administration official. “They are self-contained Mexican operations where staging areas were provided by the United States.”
Former American law enforcement officials who were once posted in Mexico described the boomerang operations as a new take on an old strategy that was briefly used in the late 1990s, when the D.E.A. helped Mexico crack down on the Tijuana Cartel.
To avoid the risks of the cartel being tipped off to police movements by lookouts or police officials themselves, the former officers said, the D.E.A. arranged for specially vetted Mexican police to stage operations out of Camp Pendleton in San Diego. The Mexican officers were not given the names of the targets of their operations until they were securely sequestered on the base. And they were not given the logistical details of the mission until shortly before it was under way.
“They were a kind of rapid-reaction force,” said one former senior D.E.A. official. “It was an effective strategy at the time.”
Another former D.E.A. official said that the older operations resulted in the arrests of a handful of midlevel cartel leaders. But, he said, it was ended in 2000 when cartel leaders struck back by kidnapping, torturing and killing a counternarcotics official in the Mexican attorney general’s office, along with two fellow drug agents.
In recent months, Mexico agreed to post a team of D.E.A. agents, C.I.A. operatives and retired American military officials on a Mexican military base to help conduct intelligence operations, bolstering the work of a similar “fusion cell” already in Mexico City.
Meanwhile the Pentagon is steadily overhauling the parts of the military responsible for the drug fight, paying particular attention to some lessons of nearly a decade of counterterrorism operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. At Northern Command — the military’s Colorado Springs headquarters responsible for North American operations — several top officers with years of experience in fighting Al Qaeda and affiliated groups are poring over intelligence about Mexican drug networks.
One officer said, “The military is trying to take what it did in Afghanistan and do the same in Mexico.”
That’s exactly what some Mexicans are afraid of, said a Mexican political scientist, Denise Dresser, who is an expert on that country’s relations with the United States.
“I’m not necessarily opposed to greater American involvement,” Ms. Dresser said. “But if that’s the way the Mexican government wants to go, it needs to come clean about it. Just look at what we learned from Iraq. Secrecy led to malfeasance. It led to corrupt contracting. It led to torture. It led to instability. And who knows when those problems will be resolved.”
Eric Schmitt contributed reporting, and Barclay Walsh contributed research.
Eric Schmitt contributed reporting, and Barclay Walsh contributed research.NYT
How Scientists Are Predicting the Path of Hurricane Irene–And Why We’re Better At It Than Ever Before | 80beats | Discover Magazine
Take today's experience in NYC as a rehearsal of current prospects of life in NYC.
I have a house in Manhattan predicted to be swamped today.
Maybe if you belong to the Tea Party you should contact me. I am willing to give you a 50% discount!
PS. It has a nice basement.
Friday, August 26, 2011
Knowledge is transformative he states. Fair. I haven't noticed that so clearly before. My concern though, is still when we are not around how does the Universe Know what to do?
Obviously my thoughts are cloudy.
Some thought is been clouding my thoughts.
Thursday, August 25, 2011
“They don’t have electricity, they don’t have computers, there are university students who have to carry water on their head from another mountain,” said Shai Reshef, the Israeli entrepreneur who spent $1 million to create the free university two years ago. “They come in two shifts, for four hours a day, to study. Their need was to the point that we began a feeding program.”
Mr. Reshef sees his project as a way to use the Internet to bring higher education to poor students around the world. It uses free software and has enlisted hundreds of volunteer professors — more, he said, than he has been able to use — to teach 10-week online courses to 1,000 students from more than 100 countries. Starting this fall, students will have to pay $10 to $50 for admission.
In each class, 20 to 40 students are assigned weekly reading material and are required to post their responses and comment on others’ responses. The course materials are deliberately low-tech, with no audio or video, so that students can use them anywhere.
“It’s based on peer learning, so just like at the gym, what you get out of it depends on what you put in,” said Shay David, a software entrepreneur with a Ph.D. from Cornell who taught introductory computer programming.
For Joe Jean, a 23-year-old Haitian from a poor family, the University of the People was the only option for college. “When I heard it was tuition-free, I didn’t think it would be very good,” said Mr. Jean, who hopes to be a computer entrepreneur. “But I’ve learned a lot, and I like the way the instructors support the students and the students support each other.”
The university is not accredited, and it offers programs only in business administration and computer science. But in June, it got two votes of confidence: New York University announced a partnership under which unusually promising but needy University of the People students might be able to enroll at N.Y.U.’s Abu Dhabi campus and receive financial aid, and Hewlett-Packard announced an internship program, saying it believed strongly “in the work UoPeople is doing to democratize higher education.”
“We’re building a model to show that education can be way cheaper than it is, that in developing countries, they could choose to educate every person for not much money,” said Mr. Reshef, who has started and sold other education businesses, but sees the University of the People as a philanthropic contribution to global development.
By MARC LACEY
Published: August 25, 2011
“Grandpa died over there,” said Richard R. Dean, the unofficial historian of Columbus and a descendant of one of the 18 Americans killed. Recounting that long-ago battle, based on family letters and conversations he had with a great-uncle who survived it, he speaks of bullets whizzing back and forth on Broadway and a panicked population huddling in their homes.
But there is another, more recent predawn raid for which Columbus has also become linked.
Ninety-five years and a day after the infamous Villa raid, another group of armed men crept into Columbus. And their operation this past March 10 was just as closely linked to the internal strife in Mexico as Villa’s foray on March 9, 1916.
Nicole S. Lawson, a resident awoken by the commotion earlier this year, recounted what took place outside her front window.
“I was sleeping, and I heard a very big bang and then shouting,” she recalled. “Someone was yelling through a bullhorn, although I couldn’t hear what they were saying. There was a helicopter overhead, and out the window I could see red lights flashing and a lot of people with guns.”
They were agents with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Drug Enforcement Administration. They led away in handcuffs Columbus’s mayor, police chief, village trustee and numerous others accused of smuggling guns, ammunition and body armor across the border to Mexican outlaws.
Columbus, with 1,800 residents, sits just across the border from Las Palomas, a Mexican town about 75 miles west of El Paso. Many families have relatives on both sides of the line. Hundreds of children cross every morning from Las Palomas to attend school in Columbus. But drug violence has strained the relationship. Columbus residents recount how the mayor of Las Palomas was killed some years back and how a popular dentist was taken away, never to be seen again. Although such violence has not spread to Columbus, residents say, the influence of the drug trafficking groups in Las Palomas has definitely reached north.
“We don’t like to say much because we don’t want to lose our lives,” said Mr. Dean, the historian.
The arrests and the guilty pleas that some of the defendants have entered, though, speak volumes.
“This town should be a lovely tourist attraction, but people aren’t coming,” said Mr. Dean, who runs a local museum and almost singlehandedly tries to keep the legend of that Pancho Villa raid alive. “People say, ‘Oh, it’s too dangerous there.’ And this has not helped our reputation.”
The evidence against Columbus’s leaders laid out in court documents leaves residents here shaking their heads in disbelief. “What can I say?” said Martha Skinner, a former mayor who runs a bed-and-breakfast in Columbus called Martha’s Place. “No one knew these guys were selling guns to the bad guys. We found out that morning. It was like Afghanistan.”
The smuggling ring bought about 200 automatic weapons from a gun store in New Mexico and transported them across the border to Mexico, according to the indictment. Bullets and body armor were also purchased in New Mexico for use by drug traffickers in Mexico, prosecutors say.
Blas Gutierrez, the jailed village trustee, is accused of arranging the deals with an inmate in a Mexican prison and using a Columbus police vehicle to transport weapons. Mayor Eddie Espinoza, who is related to Mr. Gutierrez by marriage, has already pleaded guilty to participating in the scheme and, on Thursday, Police Chief Angelo Vega also entered a guilty plea in federal court in Las Cruces.
In 1916, soldiers with the United States 13th Cavalry Regiment were stationed in Columbus, and at other points along the border, as part of an effort to keep the Mexican Revolution from spilling into the United States, Mr. Dean said. With Mexico in the midst of a drug war, those same concerns exist today. Mr. Dean said that with Border Patrol agents and National Guard troops in the area there was more of a security presence than a century ago.
After the Villa raid, in which the invading Mexicans had tried to torch Columbus into oblivion, the population of the village actually swelled as President Woodrow Wilson ordered in more soldiers for protection.
The recent arrests, however, may have the opposite effect and doom Columbus entirely. Ms. Lawson, who was appointed to replace the arrested mayor, has found the village’s books in such disarray, with hints of huge debts and reckless spending, that she fears that Columbus may soon lose its incorporation status and be taken over by Luna County.
At a meeting of the village board on Wednesday night, it was clear how deep Columbus’s financial hole had become. The fire chief pleaded with the village board to get serious and finish the paperwork for a state grant that had already been tentatively approved to finance a fire truck that the village had already taken possession of. As discussion went back and forth, he stormed out.
“If you want, I will put the pumper in the parking lot tomorrow with a ‘For Sale’ sign on it,” he said.
To save money, the village has disbanded its six-person police department, which had had eight police chiefs over the last five years, and contracted with the Luna County Sheriff’s Department for law enforcement. “Violation of public trust is probably one of the most heinous crimes that can be perpetrated on the public,” Sheriff Raymond Cobos told reporters. “I mean, it’s horrible.”
The village also wiped out its code enforcement, animal control and recreation departments because it lacked the money to operate them. “We’re dangling on the edge,” the mayor said. “We try not to look over. We try to climb back up. But I don’t know if we can survive.”
Wednesday, August 24, 2011
No pie in the sky, whatever the electron uses to guide its comings and goings, is beyond my comprehension. I believe that we have a very sophisticated and accurate fit, good to over ten significant figures, but not the way the electron does it.. Maybe there isn't an electron after all. A big deal has been made lately of the ever increasing mass range, where the God particle, is not.
Right now my skepticism leads me to doubt even the existence of the electron, the Higgs, is even more esoteric.
These elementary particles, like quarks, and the rest of them, may very well be, good mnemothechnic ways to navigate ever expanding tsunamis of experimental data, but not the real thing.
As far as science is concerned, it is enough to get the numbers right, with whatever mental picture we choose to pick.
I hope I am not throwing out the baby with the bath water.
If my view is useful, then I have to come out with something new.
I still don't see how.
Knowledge is constructive and does not have an end. The name of the book is The Beginning of Infinity.
If Deutsch is right, I may have to change my pursuit a bit. My focus is Information, his is knowledge.
Professor David Deutsch does not mention Claude Shannon.
What is knowledge?
The end product of matter, energy, and evidence when put together, is knowledge.
This knowledge is constructive. The book subtitle is "Explanations that Transform the World".
As myself, professor Deutsch is interested in the character of knowlwdge: Is it human, or Universal?
He doesn't mean that there are intelligent agents with knowledge, in another place of the Solar System, or somewhere else. He means that once knowledge is achieved, the Universe is transformed.
If you find gold, there are only two possibilities: Either it was made in a supernova, or a knowing agent produced it.
Furthermore, once the beginning of knowledge starts, as long as the Laws of Physics are obeyed, the process of making more knowledge, can go on towards Infinity.
The key proposal, in my mind, is that this idea is falsifiable. Knowledge is what produces transformations, transmutations, and such.
I'll keep you posted of my study of David Deutsch's book.
Tuesday, August 23, 2011
Saturday, August 20, 2011
Now, my son is taking professor Mutel's class: Life in the Universe.
I hope he gets it.
There is a half a million grant from NASA for whoever comes out with a plan to go to a habitable planet (below).
Friday, August 19, 2011
The White House has just taken a large step toward a more sensible and lawful policy on illegal immigration. The administration said that it would stop deporting illegal immigrants who pose no threat to public safety or national security so that it can focus on catching and expelling criminals who do.
Robert Fisk: It's his fast-disappearing billions that will worry Assad, not words from Washington - Robert Fisk, Commentators - The Independent
Thursday, August 18, 2011
Wednesday, August 17, 2011
What Happened to My Bahrain FriendBy NICHOLAS KRISTOF
I wrote recently about an old friend, Hasan al-Sahaf, a Bahraini artist who had been imprisoned –nominally for economic offenses, but in reality for standing up to the regime. My column was an appeal to King Hamad to release him, and recently Hasan was indeed released. He telephoned with the good news, and I invited him to write a post on my blog about what happened. He courageously agreed, and here’s what he wrote:
I’d like to thank everyone who’s written to the government of Bahrain to demand my release from prison. Of course I write this note here hoping heartily that the Bahraini Minister of Interior will read it. And here’s what went on.
On May 13th at 2 am while everyone was asleep, the Bahraini security forces attacked my house with more than 30 armed men. They pulled me from my bed half naked and arrested me, and then they took me outside, where I was astonished by the number of armed forces, backed by two black tanks and seven armed jeeps. There were armed men on the roof of the house, boundary walls and around my car. They blindfolded me with a black cloth and drove me for three hours. I felt that we had left Bahrain for Saudi Arabia, and that was probably a way to make me horrified and scared. Finally I found myself in a prison cell at a police station. No one spoke to me at all that day. I could not go to sleep. For three days I was in a solitary cell, not allowed to talk to anyone or call anyone. No one told what my crime was.
After a week or so, I was transferred to another prison called Jaw where men are dehumanized, insulted, and hurt. A Bahraini officer named Jowder interrogated me. He asked me about politics and things like: What is your relationship with the American press? Do you communicate now with the American press and with whom? What are your political tastes? Why did you go to the roundabout (a center of protests)?
Just days before my release a Bahraini prosecutor visited me in prison. He asked so many questions concerning my leaving the University of Bahrain, about my business life, the reasons I am at prison, and asked about my current financial situations. At the end he told the reason for the interrogation: a U.S. journalist wrote an article calling for the King of Bahrain to release me from prison. He added that the writer accused the state of treating me this way because I am a Shiite, saying that this was a claim without a justifiable basis, and merely an opinion haphazardly stated. He asked then if I agreed with what was stated in the article. I told him I hadn’t read the article and I didn’t know who wrote it.
At the end, I told the prosecutor that I am ashamed to know that a person of another country is fighting for me, whereas my own government is torturing and humiliating me.
In the past when I had been in prison in Bahrain, I had been tortured and beaten from behind – they weren’t courageous enough to hit me face to face. This time they were more open in their torture, they punched and kicked me face to face. I was hit in the face and kicked on my legs.
There are so many people tortured: beaten by hands, sticks, shoes, etc. I saw people beaten before my eyes and screaming loudly. I also heard police calling for killing the Shia.
Tuesday, August 16, 2011
The course is one of three being offered experimentally by the Stanford computer science department to extend technology knowledge and skills beyond this elite campus to the entire world, the university is announcing on Tuesday.
The online students will not get Stanford grades or credit, but they will be ranked in comparison to the work of other online students and will receive a “statement of accomplishment.”
For the artificial intelligence course, students may need some higher math, like linear algebra and probability theory, but there are no restrictions to online participation. So far, the age range is from high school to retirees, and the course has attracted interest from more than 175 countries.
The instructors are Sebastian Thrun and Peter Norvig, two of the world’s best-known artificial intelligence experts. In 2005 Dr. Thrun led a team of Stanford students and professors in building a robotic car that won a Pentagon-sponsored challenge by driving 132 miles over unpaved roads in a California desert. More recently he has led a secret Google project to develop autonomous vehicles that have driven more than 100,000 miles on California public roads.
Dr. Norvig is a former NASA scientist who is now Google’s director of research and the author of a leading textbook on artificial intelligence.
The computer scientists said they were uncertain about why the A.I. class had drawn such a large audience. Dr. Thrun said he had tried to advertise the course this summer by distributing notices at an academic conference in Spain, but had gotten only 80 registrants.
Then, several weeks ago he e-mailed an announcement to Carol Hamilton, the executive director of the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence. She forwarded the e-mail widely, and the announcement spread virally.
The two scientists said they had been inspired by the recent work of Salman Khan, an M.I.T.-educated electrical engineer who in 2006 established a nonprofit organization to provide video tutorials to students around the world on a variety of subjects via YouTube.
“The vision is: change the world by bringing education to places that can’t be reached today,” said Dr. Thrun.
The rapid increase in the availability of high-bandwidth Internet service, coupled with a wide array of interactive software, has touched off a new wave of experimentation in education.
For example, the Khan Academy, which focuses on high school and middle school, intentionally turns the relationship of the classroom and homework upside down. Students watch lectures at home, then work on problem sets in class, where the teacher can assist them one on one.
The Stanford scientists said they were focused on going beyond early Internet education efforts, which frequently involved uploading online videos of lectures given by professors and did little to motivate students to do the coursework required to master subjects.
The three online courses, which will employ both streaming Internet video and interactive technologies for quizzes and grading, have in the past been taught to smaller groups of Stanford students in campus lecture halls. Last year, for example, Introduction to Artificial Intelligence drew 177 students.
The two additional courses will be an introductory course on database software, taught by Jennifer Widom, chairwoman of the computer science department, and an introduction to machine learning, taught by Andrew Ng.
Dr. Widom said she had recorded her video lectures during the summer and would use classroom sessions to work with smaller groups of students on projects that might be competitive and to bring in people from the industry to give special lectures. Unlike the A.I. course, this one will compare online students with one another and not with the Stanford students.
How will the artificial intelligence instructors grade 58,000 students? The scientists said they would make extensive use of technology. “We have a system running on the Amazon cloud, so we think it will hold up,” Dr. Norvig said.
In place of office hours, they will use the Google moderator service, software that will allow students to vote on the best questions for the professors to respond to in an online chat and possibly video format. They are considering ways to personalize the exams to minimize cheating. Part of the instructional software was developed by Know Labs, a company Dr. Thrun helped start.
Although the three courses are described as an experiment, the researchers say they expect university classes to be made more widely accessible via the Internet.
“I personally would like to see the equivalent of a Stanford computer science degree on the Web,” Dr. Ng said.
Dr. Widom said that having Stanford courses freely available could both assist and compete with other colleges and universities. A small college might not have the faculty members to offer a particular course, but could supplement its offerings with the Stanford lectures.
There has also been some discussion at Stanford about whether making the courses freely available would prove to be a threat to the university, which charges high fees for tuition. Dr. Thrun dismissed that idea.
“I’m much more interested in bringing Stanford to the world,” he said. “I see the developing world having colossal educational needs.”
Hal Abelson, a computer scientist at M.I.T. who helped develop an earlier generation of educational offerings that began in 2002, said the Stanford course showed how rapidly the online world was evolving.
“The idea that you could put up open content at all was risky 10 years ago, and we decided to be very conservative,” he said. “Now the question is how do you move into something that is more interactive and collaborative, and we will see lots and lots of models over the next four or five years.” NYT
Monday, August 15, 2011
"Euro bonds are a deeply controversial idea among both economists and ordinary Europeans. Critics say that they would not solve the financial crisis, and might create unbearable political tension instead. Voters in stronger countries would balk at assuming the obligations of less-prudent members. Some critics argue that euro bonds would unfairly raise borrowing costs for countries like Germany, and, rather than protecting the euro, could lead to the breakup of the currency union."
LA LÉGENDE DE L'HOMME A LA CERVELLE D'OR.
Sunday, August 14, 2011
14. The Green Revolution Is Neither
Senior Editor, The Atlantic
Forty years after Kermit the Frog first sang his blues, is it finally easy bein’ green? Hybrid vehicles like the Prius offer better gas mileage without sacrificing size or comfort, while electric vehicles promise to transport us with no gas at all. Every type of company is jockeying to get the most-stringent green certification for their plants. Windmills are no longer the stuff of quaint Dutch paintings or environmentalist fantasies; they’re sprouting on farms, on mountain ridges, even on the ocean. President Obama seems to launch a new energy initiative every week, always promising more green jobs to offset any temporary pain in the pocketbook. To hear him tell it, pretty soon we’ll all be so darn green that Kermit will blend right in.
But while these green alternatives may now appear ubiquitous, they’re not actually as common as we think. Take electricity. In 2010, one-tenth of our electricity came from renewable sources. But most of that was hydroelectric power, not wind or solar—and hydroelectric output has actually dropped by almost a third since 1997. That fall has more than offset the rise of wind power, meaning we now generate less electricity from renewables than we did in 1997.
Nuclear generation has risen, making our electricity output slightly less carbon-intensive than back then. But whether it will continue to rise in the wake of Japan’s nuclear disaster remains to be seen.
Green technology, especially in automobiles, may get a big boost from higher fossil-fuel prices. That’s the good news. The bad news is that those higher prices result from higher demand in the developing world. When we consume less oil, we may not be slowing the rate of fossil-fuel consumption; we may simply be transferring that consumption somewhere else.
Unless we somehow stop burning fossil fuels, all the carbon currently under the Earth’s surface will end up in the atmosphere in the next few hundred years. And as the physicist Robert B. Laughlin recently pointed out in The American Scholar, from the Earth’s point of view, a few hundred years is less than the blink of an eye. Even if we burn fossil fuels at a slower pace, temperatures will still rise, the oceans will still acidify, human lives will be much altered.
Unfortunately, although we have better and better technologies that enable us to use less fossil fuel, we have no scalable way to use none, or anything close to none. Even rapidly maturing technologies like wind power require carbon-intensive backup-generation capacity, for those times when the wind doesn’t blow. And no one has yet designed a hybrid commercial airplane. Being really green, we’re finding out, is even harder than it sounds.
13. The Maniac Will Be Televised
Author of Up in the Air and Lost in the Meritocracy
In a news year dominated by manic ranters, from Charlie Sheen to Donald Trump to the Rent Is Too Damn High guy (and even, on the extreme end, Colonel Qaddafi), we are quickly learning that agitation pays when it comes to maintaining a high profile in our seething media environment. If the old advice to electronic communicators was to speak in sound bites and keep things simple, to cut through the noise by being straightforward and countering confusion with consistency, the new winning strategy is the opposite: embrace incoherence and become the noise. The cool self-control that was once considered the soul of telegenic behavior has been turned inside out, and the traits that people used to suppress when they appeared on television—the contortions and tics—are now the best way to engage an audience. Attention-deficit disorder, remember, responds to stimulants, not sedatives.
Sheen was the spilled beaker in the laboratory who proved that in an age of racing connectivity, a cokehead can be a calming presence. His branching, dopamine-flooded neural pathways mirrored those of the Internet itself, and his lips moved at the speed of a Cisco router, creating a perfect merger of form and function. Trump, though his affect is slower and less sloppy, also showed mastery of the Networked Now by speaking chiefly in paranoid innuendo. The Web, after all, is not a web of truths; its very infrastructure is gossip-shaped. The genius of Sheen and Trump and other mediapaths (Michele Bachmann belongs on this list too) is that they seem to understand, intuitively, that the electronic brain of the new media has an affinity for suspicious minds.
12. The Players Own the Game
Columnist, New York magazine
When LeBron James was drafted by the Cleveland Cavaliers in June 2003, he was wearing a blindingly white suit and an awkward, bewildered smile. Talking to ESPN’s Michele Tafoya, seconds after being drafted, LeBron said, “[This] shows the hard work has finally paid off for me.” He was 18 years old.
Seven years later, LeBron was back on ESPN, announcing to the sports world that he would be leaving the Cleveland Cavaliers and taking his “talents to South Beach.” In those seven years, LeBron had won two MVP awards, four first-team all-NBA awards, and, famously, zero titles. But perhaps the most important thing he won was his freedom. LeBron joined the Miami Heat not because the move would bring him the most money, or the best chance at a championship. He went to Miami because his friends Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh would be there. He went because it’s sunny, and the women are very attractive. He went because he wanted to.
LeBron has been derided less for the choice he made than for the way he announced it—on television, surrounded by children, hawking a flavored water. But what really scared the world of sports was that LeBron’s hubris was justified. No one cared about the Cavs or the Heat; they were interested in LeBron.
The world of sports is able to exist because it treats its labor unlike any other business on Earth. If you are an accountant, a librarian, a car salesman, whatever, when you receive an offer from anyone in the world for your services, you are able to take it. You can work anywhere, for whatever wage you’re able to grab. If this happened in sports, the result would be chaos: every team’s roster would turn over every year, and all the talent would be concentrated on two or three teams (even more than it already is). So much of a sport’s appeal is in the illusion of team history and continuity; unbridled free agency would destroy that illusion. For all the talk of supposed “rich and spoiled athletes,” few other industries can get away with labor practices that essentially amount to high-paid indentured servitude for the players.
LeBron’s example marks an evolution in athlete culture, one in which players realize their power. You’re seeing this everywhere now, from the NFL and NBA labor battles to the better understanding of concussions and athlete safety. For their part, fans are better educated than they’ve ever been (thanks to the Web) and are starting to side with the players in kerfuffles like labor disputes. Fans used to feel that owners somehow “earned” their money, while pro athletes were just fortunate winners of a genetic lottery. This is the exact opposite of the truth. (Holding on to your job is about 95 million times harder for a player than for an owner.) Sure, guys like LeBron and Carmelo Anthony are seen as mercenaries, but from a business standpoint, we understand their leverage ... and even appreciate and envy it.
Owners might not realize where this is headed, but as the players make more money than ever in outside endorsement deals, their dependence on the leagues is waning. The athletes control these businesses—it’s the players’ jerseys we’re wearing, not the owners’.
Then again, that could change. LeBron just bought a stake in Liverpool FC, one of the more popular English soccer teams. In this way, he can, at last, be like Mike: in 2010, Michael Jordan bought a majority share of the Charlotte Bobcats. The players are becoming the owners now. This is just the beginning.
11. Gay Is the New Normal
Contributing editor, The Atlantic
Perhaps this had to happen: the straight-rights movement is here. No, it does not call itself that. (Yet.) But opponents of same-sex marriage, and others who are unfriendly to the gay-rights movement, have adopted the posture of a victim group. They are, it seems ... an oppressed majority.
The backstory is this: Until recently, and for as long as pollsters at Gallup have thought to ask, a clear majority of Americans regarded homosexual relations as morally wrong. The entire superstructure of anti-gay sentiment and policy stood upon that foundation of opprobrium. In 2008, however, the lines crossed, with as many Americans (48 percent) telling Gallup that gay and lesbian relations are “morally acceptable” as said they are “morally wrong.” And in 2010, for the first time, an outright majority, 52 percent, called homosexuality morally acceptable, with only 43 percent condemning it. From here, the level of opprobrium is likely only to shrink.
This change is a watershed in gay-straight relations, and it brings a disorienting political role reversal. It is the condemnation of homosexuality, rather than homosexuality itself, that will be increasingly stigmatized as morally deviant. And it is the opponents of gay equality who will insist they are the oppressed group, the true victims of civil-rights violations. Indeed, they have already developed, and are vigorously marketing, a “gay bullies” narrative:
Confronted with a poll showing that a majority of Americans support gay marriage, Maggie Gallagher, a leading gay-marriage opponent, responds that the poll reflects not true public sentiment, but gay activists’ success at “intimidating and silencing.”
Describing a dispute involving a bakery that refused to make rainbow-colored cupcakes for a pro-gay student group, David E. Smith, the executive director of the Illinois Family Institute, writes: “Homosexual bullies and their heterosexual accomplices are now speciously attempting to turn this into an issue of ‘discrimination.’”
Tony Perkins, the president of the Family Research Council, says that if California’s ban on gay marriage is not upheld, “we’ll have gone, in one generation, from 1962, when the Bible was banned in public schools, to religious beliefs being banned in America.”
In a country where evangelicals outnumber self-identified gays by at least 10 to 1, and where anti-gay bullying is endemic in schools, and where same-sex couples cannot marry in 45 states, and where countless gay Americans cannot even get their foreign partners into the country, much less into a hospital room—here, we’re supposed to believe that gays are the bullies? Get used to it. This is the script of culture wars to come.
10. Bonds Are Dead (Long Live Bonds)
Senior editor, The Atlantic
Investors in U.S. government bonds have had a fabulous run, and it’s over. For more than a decade before the Great Recession began, a surge of global saving increased the demand for Treasury bonds and raised their prices, delivering handsome capital gains. When the economy tanked, the government had to sell its bonds even faster to pay for its stimulus—and the price of its debt kept rising anyway. Investors saw U.S. bonds as a safe asset and demanded them all the more; the Federal Reserve started buying them too, in massive quantities, to keep interest rates low. So Treasury bonds delivered income and capital appreciation rivaling the historic return on equities—a much riskier asset.
It couldn’t last, and it hasn’t. By this spring, long-term interest rates had fallen so far that they had only one way to go. The exact opposite was true for bond prices. Whether you call this “the end of bonds,” as some market-watchers do, depends on your tolerance for hyperbole. Bonds aren’t going away. Balancing the budget will take time. Even the most zealous deficit-cutters foresee heavy borrowing for years to come. The government will have to keep selling its debt. The question is, how cheap will bonds have to be to persuade private lenders to buy—and will the Fed be willing, if necessary, to remain an investor itself?
For now, capital has no other safe haven, so private investors will think hard before shunning the market, and will likely settle for a moderate increase in yields. Certainly, the Fed would love to get out. But the U.S. is in the nice position of borrowing in its own currency—Greece and Portugal should be so lucky—so its central bank can always fund the government by “printing money” and buying the bonds itself. The more it does this, the greater the risk of high inflation later. Interest rates could soar in the meantime too, and that would depress physical investment—that is, spending on things like factories, machines, and roads. But the option of buying its own bonds is there, and having it is better than not having it. One way or another, this is not “the end of bonds.”
9. The Next War Will Be Digitized
National Correspondent, The Atlantic
Sometimes America has worried primarily about external threats. Sometimes, about the enemy within. The attempts to detect and suppress internal dangers generally look bad in retrospect, because they so often come at the cost of the liberties, absorbency, and flexibility that are America’s distinctive strengths. The Alien and Sedition Acts in the new republic’s first decades, the “Red scares” after both World Wars, the propaganda office Woodrow Wilson set up during the First World War, and the Japanese American internment program FDR approved in the Second—these illustrate how much more complicated it is for a democracy to deal with unseen inside threats than to confront enemies on a battlefield. Through the past decade of the “global war on terror,” the United States has faced a new version of this old challenge of protecting itself without destroying or perverting its essential nature.
That challenge is already taking on another and even more complicated form. The biggest change in human interactions in the past generation is the rising importance of “the cloud”—the electronic networks that let us witness disaster or upheaval wherever it happens, connect with friends wherever they are, get a map or see a satellite photo of virtually any point on Earth, and coordinate business, financial, scientific, and educational efforts across the globe all at once. Of course, the indispensability of these systems creates their danger. If the factories, the banks, the hospitals, and the electric and water systems must all be online to function, they are all, in principle, vulnerable to electronic attack.
With last summer’s discovery of the insidious Stuxnet virus, we know—or “know,” since neither the Israeli nor the U.S. government, nor any other, will come out and say that it developed malicious software to disable Iran’s nuclear-weapons program—that this threat is more than hypothetical. We also know that it can be posed by states, as the latest form of war, and not just by bands of scammers trying to steal your credit-card numbers or make you wire money to Nigeria. It is a potential external menace as hard to detect as an internal one, and very hard to control without limiting the fast, open connectivity that gives networks their value.
Grand-scale geostrategy has always involved locating the opponent’s choke points and vulnerabilities, where concentrated damage can produce widespread harm. That once meant harbors, railroads, ball-bearing works, airports. Now, it’s what comes through the USB connector and the Ethernet port.
8. Grandma’s in the Basement (and Junior’s in the Attic)
Senior editor, The Atlantic
American families are supposed to disperse. We raise our children, they mature into young adults, and, if all goes correctly, they strike out on their own. That last stage is critical. Unlike the many cultures that rank filial duty above other virtues, Americans value independence. The self-supporting man (or woman) cannot be asking his mommy to do the laundry for him and going after the same Pop-Tart stash he raided at age 10. But lately it seems we might have to adjust that list of priorities. Recent census data show that the number of Americans ages 25 to 34 living with their parents has jumped to about 5.5 million—a figure that accounts for roughly 13 percent of that age range. Compounding this full-house phenomenon, the grandparent generation is “doubling up” too, as the sociological literature says. A recent Pew Center report, “The Return of the Multi-Generational Family Household,” chronicles the trend: during the first year of the Great Recession, 2.6 million more Americans found themselves living with relatives; all told, 16 percent of the population was living in multi-generational households—the largest share since the 1950s.
The spike is just the latest result of a long string of personal disasters brought on by the recession: lose your job, lose your home, find yourself bunking with Mom again and experiencing “alternating surges of shame and gratitude,” as one Slate writer recently put it. For the young people expecting to be independent, the small humiliations are endless: How do you date, invite friends over, feel like a grown-up going to a job interview, when your mom is polishing your shoes? But family members also find, thankfully, moments of small, unexpected connection—while, say, laughing over old movies they used to watch together but haven’t seen in years.
And more broadly, the situation brings one major plus: the American family may finally get a long-overdue redefinition. With all the changes—more than 40 percent of children are born to unmarried mothers, many families include gay parents or adopted children or children conceived via a variety of fertility technologies, couples are choosing to marry but not have children—it seems exclusionary and even cruel to keep defining the American family as a mom and a dad and two biological children. That’s not what our households look like anymore, so we might as well recognize that Grandpa, and some kids too old for ducky barrettes, belong in the holiday photos too.
7. Public Employee, Public Enemy
Senior editor, The New Republic
The collapse of the financial sector led to a series of secondary collapses, including the collapse of the long-term financing of states and towns across the country. And thus public-employee unions emerged from a sleepy little corner in the demonology of American conservative thought to briefly occupy the role of villainus maximus in an ideology-laden fight over the soul of the American workforce.
At the vanguard of this redefining stood Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker. The public unions, argued Walker and a vast array of conservatives rallying to his side, constituted a fundamental menace to public finance, a menace that could be addressed only through virtual eradication. The argument ran like this: Perhaps unions have some role in the private realm, giving workers more leverage against employers seeking relentlessly to maximize their share of the firm’s proceeds, but the logic does not apply to government. Indeed, since the opposite side of the public bargaining table is occupied by disinterested public servants rather than capitalists, and since public unions can influence the outcome of the elections, the public unions are bargaining with ... themselves.
Diagnosis: public employees are fat cats with absurd compensation packages. Prescription: deunionization.
Naturally, Walker’s plan to destroy the public unions rousted liberals, largely asleep since November 2008, into a righteous indignation. They, too, had given little thought to the right of public workers to form a union. But confronted with Walker’s plan, they recoiled. Surely the state could remedy its fiscal problems without dismantling the unions, couldn’t it? After all, the unions had already agreed to fork over concessions.
The conservative damning of the public unions was not entirely wrong, but it was crucially incomplete. A powerful force is, in fact, arrayed against the demands of public unions: the desire of voters to pay low taxes. The trouble is that this desire takes the short view, demanding instant gratification. If an elected official pays his workforce more money, he has to jack up taxes. But if he can arrange to have his workforce paid more money years down the line, when he’s not the one coming up with the cash, he can enjoy the best-of-both-worlds outcome of happy employees and happy voters.
So that is what elected officials have done across the country. They’ve given their workforce reasonably modest wages, but plied them with vast pension benefits. By the time the bill comes due, the politicians who agreed to it will be retired themselves, collecting nice pensions, and perhaps being quoted in the local media opining that the new breed of elected officials doesn’t run a tight fiscal ship, the way they did back in the good old days.
6. Wall Street: Same as It Ever Was
Finance blogger, Reuters
The warning signs were there. In the decades before the financial world fell apart in 2008, what had been a great many small and diverse intermediaries merged and grew into a few global powerhouses. The new behemoths of finance were generally far too big to manage: with their trillion-dollar balance sheets and cellars full of assets that no one understood, they were a disaster waiting to happen.
These institutions were, literally, too big to fail. Lehman Brothers was one of the smallest, and its bankruptcy forced governments around the world to carry out formerly unthinkable emergency actions just to keep the global economy from completely collapsing. The cost of the bailout ran into the trillions, and unemployment rose as high as 10.1 percent; we can probably never recover fully from the crisis. The ingredients that spelled disaster were simple: bigness, interconnectedness, and profitability.
Big banks, by their nature, are much more systemically dangerous than smaller ones—just imagine the cost to the federal government if it had to cover all the deposits at, say, Bank of America. Lehman is a prime example of the dangers of interconnectedness: because every major bank did a lot of business with the firm every day, the chaos when it suddenly collapsed was impossible to contain, and rapidly spread globally in devastating and unpredictable fashion.
And great profitability, of course, is as good a proxy for risk as any. If someone tells you that he can make huge profits, year in and year out, without taking on big risks, then he’s probably Bernie Madoff.
As of now, not only have we failed to fix these three problems, but we’ve made them all worse. The big banks are bigger than ever, after having swallowed up their failed competitors. (Merrill Lynch, for example, is now a subsidiary of Bank of America; don’t believe for a minute that BofA’s senior management or board of directors has a remotely adequate understanding of the risks that Merrill is taking.)
Interconnectedness, too, has increased. With the bailout came a deluge of liquidity, courtesy of Ben Bernanke: the Fed bailout was tantamount to dropping billions of $100 bills from helicopters over Lower Manhattan. That money got spent on financial assets—that was the whole point—and as a result, financial assets started moving in conjunction with one another. If my shares are rising, your shares are almost certainly rising too. And your commodities, and your municipal bonds, and your Old Master paintings. Because of this increase in financial correlation, if and when another crisis hits, it will be uncontrollable: it’s certain to strike absolutely everything, all at once. And though some people think Congress can simply regulate the problems away, there’s no way to legislate solutions to problems that are endemic to our financial system.
Meanwhile, Wall Street pay is back at record highs—that didn’t take long—and the financial industry once again accounts for more than 30 percent of U.S. corporate profits. This doesn’t look like low-margin utility banking, where you take a small fee for matching buyers and sellers, borrowers and lenders. Beware. This is big-money gambling, back with a vengeance, and riskier than ever.
5. The Arab Spring Is a Jobs Crisis
Fellow, U.S. Institute of Peace and author of the forthcoming book, Rock the Casbah: Rage and Rebellion Across the Islamic World
The miscalculation was costly. The uprisings that rocked a region started when a young Tunisian street vendor opted not to pay off yet another official—and instead set himself on fire at the governor’s office in Sidi Bouzid. Mohamed Bouazizi’s death redefined Mideast martyrdom, as civil disobedience instead of suicide bombs. It triggered protests that toppled dictators. And it has led the United States to abandon some long-standing allies. Many Arab regimes have since lost billions (in uncollected revenues, and in costly security deployments and other expenditures to preempt dissent), and may now rue official greed.
But freedom also comes with a price tag of great expectations. And the uprisings have done little as yet—beyond providing the right to gripe in public—to improve daily life.
Sidi Bouzid’s plaza has been renamed Martyr Mohamed Bouazizi Square for the lanky 26-year-old vendor. Tunisians gained more than 50 new political parties to choose from, but few jobs. Tourism—worth 400,000 jobs—tumbled by 40 percent. Tunisia’s credit rating dropped to near-junk status. Investments took a nosedive. In Sidi Bouzid, scores of young men lined up daily at the governor’s office—where Bouazizi had doused himself with paint thinner—to apply for nonexistent work. The new government put up a fence in fear of further unrest. In just two months, more than 10,000 Tunisians fled to the tiny Italian island of Lampedusa in search of a future. Lampedusa was so overwhelmed that islanders launched their own protests against the Tunisians.
In Egypt, street vendors at Liberation Square started offering T-shirts, trinkets, and face paints in the colors of the Egyptian flag to commemorate President Hosni Mubarak’s ouster. But they had few takers. Tourism reportedly dropped by 75 percent. When Mubarak resigned, more than 20 percent of Egyptians were living below the poverty line. They expected a measure of prosperity after he left, but instead their plight worsened. The new culture of protests sparked demonstrations for better pay and more jobs among pharmacists, railway workers, pensioners, lawyers, doctors, journalists, students, and, in an incongruous twist, among the police once tasked with putting down protests. Uncertainty created a cycle hard to break.
No country now in transition will be able to accommodate demands for either economic security or social justice anytime soon. Demographics don’t help. One hundred million people—one-third of the Arab world—are in the job-hungry age range of 15 to 29. So the early euphoria and momentum will be hard to sustain as the post-rebellion letdown engenders further public discontent. Many countries may face a second crisis, maybe even a series of crises. For all the promise of democratic demonstrations, unresolved rebellions also pose dangers.
4. Elections Work
Moderator and managing editor, Washington Week
As the junior member of The Washington Post’s political team in 1988, I was naturally assigned to cover the candidates least likely to win. That task took me to campaign rallies headlined by two ordained ministers—the Reverends Jesse Jackson and Pat Robertson. These two had little in common. One occupied the left fringe of his party; the other the right of his. But when I arrived at their campaign events, I discovered something I did not expect: aside from skin color, their supporters were shockingly alike. The conservative evangelicals backing Robertson wanted jobs, economic reassurance, and a guarantee that their children would fare better than they had. The liberal Democrats backing Jackson mostly wanted the same things. The solutions they proposed were different, but the problems they identified were similar. In essence, each group was seeking someone who would listen to them, and speak for them—and both groups were frustrated that as yet no one seemed to be doing so.
That same frustration and desire to be given a voice accounts for the Tea Party wave that swept over last year’s midterm elections. Anyone who thinks that that wave has crashed is not paying attention. Fifty-nine percent of the Republicans responding to a CBS News/New York Times poll this past spring said they had favorable views of the Tea Party. Some people on the left, alarmed at the Tea Party’s rise, vowed to flee to Canada.
None of this troubles me. I like it when we’re reminded that our actions at the polls have meaning, and that we have to pay close attention before we cast our votes—or fail to cast our votes. (That means you, Wisconsin union members.) Neither Jesse Jackson nor Pat Robertson came close to claiming his party’s nomination in 1988, but their presence in the political conversation ensured that their disaffected supporters got heard. And, as the Congress members displaced from office by Tea Party candidates learned last fall, those who discount the power of voters to talk back do so at their own peril. Elections matter.
3. The Rich Are Different From You and Me
Editor, Thomson Reuters Digital
The rich are always with us, as we learned from the Bette Davis film of that name, released in the teeth of the Great Depression. The most memorable part of that movie was its title—but that terrific phrase turns out not to be entirely true. In every society, some people are richer than others, but across time and geography, the gap between the rich and the rest has varied widely.
The reality today is that the rich—especially the very, very rich—are vaulting ahead of everyone else. Between 2002 and 2007, 65 percent of all income growth in the U.S. went to the richest 1 percent of the population. That lopsided distribution means that today, half of the national income goes to the richest 10 percent. In 2007, the top 1 percent controlled 34.6 percent of the wealth—significantly more than the bottom 90 percent, who controlled just 26.9 percent.
That is a huge shift from the post-war decades, whose golden glow may have arisen largely from the era’s relative income equality. During the Second World War, and in the four decades that followed, the top 10 percent took home just a third of the national income. The last time the gap between the people on top and everyone else was as large as it is today was during the Roaring ’20s.
The rise of today’s super-rich is a global phenomenon. It is particularly marked in the United States, but it is also happening in other developed economies like the United Kingdom and Canada. Income inequality is also increasing in most of the go-go emerging-market economies, and is now as high in Communist China as it is in the U.S.
These global super-rich work and play together. They jet between the Four Seasons in Shanghai and the Four Seasons in New York to do business; descend on Davos, Switzerland, to network; and travel to St. Bart’s to vacation. Many are global nomads with a fistful of passports and several far-flung homes. They have more in common with one another than with the folks in the hinterland back home, and increasingly, they are forming a nation unto themselves.
This international plutocracy is emerging at a moment when globalization and the technology revolution are hollowing out the middle class in most Western industrialized nations. Many of today’s super-rich started out in the middle and make most of their money through work, not inheritance. Ninety-five years ago, the richest 1 percent of Americans received only 20 percent of their income from paid work; in 2004, that income proportion had tripled, to 60 percent.
These meritocrats are the winners in a winner-take-all world. Among the big political questions of our age are whether they will notice that everyone else is falling behind, and whether they will decide it is in their interests to do something about that.
2. Nothing Stays Secret
Investigative reporter, The Washington Post, and author of the forthcoming book Top Secret America: The Rise of the New American Security State
The death of secrecy isn’t quite upon us, but we’ve seen ample evidence this past year to suggest that it’s probably fast approaching. As they have for the past few years, journalists unearthed an array of classified government subplots that had been designed to remain hidden from public view (topics covered included Afghan financial scandals, the CIA’s drone war in Pakistan, a national-security buildup in the U.S., etc.).
Of course, then along came WikiLeaks and its torrent of revelations. From the Web site of the shadowy Julian Assange sprang everything from Iraq War logs, to profiles of Guantánamo Bay prisoners, to the infamous cables sent from the American Embassy in Tunisia confirming widespread government corruption—once-secret missives credited with helping to spark revolution, which then spread from Tunis across the Middle East. Washington, for its part, condemned, then investigated, and now may try to haul to prison Assange and his cohorts—a response that proves how little our government understands the technological and social revolution happening all around it.
That’s not to say Washington isn’t itself ambling toward transparency. In the days after the raid on Osama bin Laden’s hideout, the Obama administration began handing out dozens of details about the daring mission. Notably, these included the name of the original source of the crucial intel, the disputed methods used in getting him to talk, and the nickname of the courier who guided the CIA to bin Laden. Just about everything that was used to take bin Laden down—telephone intercepts, then Black Hawk helicopters, then a pair of bullets to the head and chest—was laid bare.
The truth is, sources and methods like these are often the only true secrets in the vast and growing sea of classified non-secrets. The White House’s motives, of course, were easy to understand: President Obama wanted to show that his risk-taking had paid off—and who can blame him? All the same, Washington did want to keep some things under wraps. Pakistani intelligence officials, displeased by the covert American raid, outed the CIA station chief in Islamabad. This incident followed tensions earlier this year, when the Pakistani government called for a complete list of CIA employees and contractors in the country, and demanded to know even more. “We need to know who is in Pakistan doing what, and that the CIA won’t go behind our back,” one official insisted in anonymity to The Washington Post. Don’t be surprised if WikiLeaks or journalists manage to provide those answers soon. Forcing the U.S. government to give up its addiction to secrecy in foreign affairs might be a good thing in the long term, although painful in the short term. After all, international relations based on secret-keeping—like relations between people who have something to hide—are inherently fragile.
1. The Rise of the Middle Class—Just Not Ours
U.S. managing editor and assistant editor, Financial Times
The past year has seen plenty of hand-wringing about the “squeezed middle.” Little wonder. Although the U.S. economy might now be rebounding, incomes for most Americans—if they are lucky enough to have a job at all—are not rising. On the contrary, since 2002, median household income has declined in real terms, as many middle-class jobs have been either destroyed by technological innovation or lost to competition from overseas. For many of the jobs remaining, employers can pay lower wages.
The middle class in America (and Europe) is suffering, but that’s only half the tale. In the past decade, income per capita in the so-called “BRICs” (Brazil, Russia, India, and China) has surged, as the middle classes in those countries have expanded at a striking clip. That is partly because jobs are shifting from the West to the emerging world (just think, for example, of all those Chinese factories and Indian call centers that have sprung up). However, education is also improving in most of these countries, along with infrastructure, as incomes rise and lifestyles improve.
To many Western workers—and politicians—this sounds scary. After all, the addition of millions of well-educated workers in places such as India, China, and Brazil means a lot more competition for Americans and Europeans. However, this cloud has a bright silver lining. Until now, politicians and economists have generally focused on the emerging markets in terms of a “supply shock,” in the sense that these countries can supply cheaper and better goods than can be produced in the West. Production, after all, is what has enabled those emerging-market economies to boom; again, think of those Chinese factories.
But now the world is on the verge of a crucial shift: precisely because the middle classes in the emerging markets are gaining clout, they are also becoming a truly formidable consumption force. The emerging markets thus no longer represent just a “supply shock”; they are creating a “demand shock” too. And that raises big questions: Who or what will meet that demand? Will those new middle-class families who are working at, say, Indian call centers or Chinese factories just buy local products? Or could American companies have an opportunity to serve them? And if so, could that opportunity eventually lead to new American jobs, as those consumers start to travel, read, download apps—and plug in to a globalized lifestyle? The full tale of the “squeezed middle” has yet to be told.