Other Magazines

The Diving Dollar

The Economist on American currency’s waning value.

Economist, Dec. 2 A piece argues that the dollar’s recent plunge—to a 20-month low of $1.32 against the euro—was no surprise. A weak American housing market has taken its toll on the economy, and concerns that China’s banks may start unloading their dollars have contributed to the currency’s woes. Treasury Chairman Ben Bernanke remains coolheaded, probably assuming foreign investors will continue to invest in dollars and subsidize the country’s deficit. A special section examines America’s role in the Middle East in light of President Bush’s meeting with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Bush advised Maliki to distance himself from Shiite leader Muqtada Sadr, even though Maliki relies on Sadr’s support. Meanwhile, the Baker commission appears poised to recommend dialogue with Syria and Iran. But the two countries “do not feel they need America’s invitation to become involved”: Iraq has re-established ties with Syria after 25 years, and last week the country’s president visited Tehran.— C.B.

New Republic, Dec. 11 A piece examines divisions among Democrats in Nancy Pelosi’s House. The new caucus lacks the unity of the 1994 Republican revolution, but rather “swirls with grievances old and new, suspicion and mistrust, ego and entitlement.” Progressive members who consider the election results a mandate for liberal reforms will likely clash with moderate and conservative “New Dog” Dems fighting for tighter budgets. Not to mention the freshman class, which, facing re-election, may not constitute much of a revolution: “They will be scared shitless and have to vote like Republicans—or they can vote their conscience and enjoy their two years in office,” says a former House Democratic aide. Columbia professor Andrew Delbanco describes in a piece his experience teaching a class on war. Tracing narratives from The Iliad to the war in Iraq, he discovers the insufficiency of words and film, especially for students to whom “war is an utter abstraction rather than an imaginable fact.”— C.B.

New York Times Magazine, Dec. 3 A piece suggests the future of intelligence gathering may lie in open-source media. One tech-savvy hire at the Defense Intelligence Agency, excited to try out some cutting-edge spy tools, found the agency’s lack of gadgets to be “a colossal letdown.” Compared to the information-sharing technology available to the average teenager, like Google and YouTube, the federal agencies were operating in the Stone Age. The 9/11 Commission Report cited poor interagency communication as a major reason the attacks were successful—“Could blogs and wikis prevent the next 9/11?” the author wonders. A piece examines the literary landscape of post-apartheid South Africa. It’s been 12 years since blacks were enfranchised, but still society—and the novels that attempt to reflect it—remains fractured. ”What are our themes now?” one novelist asks. ”How do we pick up? The resistance literature is gone; there’s nothing to resist.”— C.B.

Weekly Standard, Dec. 4 Robert Kagan and William Kristol argue that surrendering in Iraq, a plan recently touted by some foreign-policy realists, is not an option. Neither is the idea of allowing Iran and Syria to take a shot at sorting out the country. Following such a reality-based foreign policy would diminish America’s standing in the world by effectively neutering U.S. influence: “[W]ere we to attempt to satisfy our adversaries’ every whim in order to win their acquiescence, we would rapidly cease to play any significant role in the world. We would be neither feared nor respected nor, of course, would we be any better liked.” In gearing up for the 2008 election, an article urges conservatives to focus on domestic policy, specifically to cater to the social and economic concerns of the influential “parenting class.” The middle class is equally, if not more, concerned about the economy and health care as it is about terrorism and the war in Iraq, the writer contends. And politicians need to address those concerns, as well as more abstract fears.—Z.K.

New York, Dec. 4 Kurt Andersen traces CNN’s recent rise in viewership to the network taking a page out of the Fox News playbook: Feature personalities who broadcast frothing-at-the mouth populism. Lou Dobbs is the network’s best-known and most prominent pissed-off talking head, but in its stable of stars, Nancy Grace, Glenn Beck, and Jack Cafferty are growing adept at trumpeting CNN’s version of “populist anti-Establishment” anger. Andersen concedes that “if it’s working for them, why wouldn’t they allow newsreading and opinion-mongering to merge some more?” In a profile, Baronessa Beatrice Monti della Corte von Rezzori, a literary patron who offers writers the chance to work on their craft at her Tuscan home, dishes on some of her most famous visitors. George Plimpton’s manners were lacking, Gary Shteyngart learned to appreciate a luxuriating soak in a tub, and Vendela Vida cut her spaghetti with a knife before being properly schooled by the Baronessa in eating pasta with aplomb.—Z.K.

Newsweek, Dec. 4
The cover piece profiles Muqtada Sadr, populist Shiite leader, commander of the Mahdi army, and “the most dangerous man in Iraq.” After his father’s death at the hands of Baathists, Saddam Hussein tried to bribe him to keep quiet. Now Sadr has the upper hand. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki depends on his political support. United States military officials also acknowledge his authority, especially after suspension of Sadr’s newspaper in 2004 provoked mass demonstrations. One Sunni member of Parliament, Mithal al-Alusi, considers Sadr’s power nearly absolute: “If he says, ‘Kill Alusi,’ I will be killed. If he says, ‘Don’t kill Alusi,’ I will not be killed. … Nobody can go against his orders or wishes.” Hunting is on the decline, according to a piece. As Americans move to cities and hunters age, the number of hunting-license holders has dropped. Regulations, lawsuits, and the allure of video games as a substitute have turned many young people away from an activity the author cherishes: “It’s hard to kill something, but you develop deep appreciation of animals and the outdoors when you do it regularly.”— C.B.

Time, Dec. 4
A piece weighs possible options in Iraq for Robert Gates, President Bush’s nominee for defense secretary. With the chances of a clear-cut recommendation from the Baker commission looking increasingly low, Gates may be on his own. The author calls a quick withdrawal the “most tantalizing—and least likely” of his options, given that the Iraqi army isn’t ready to manage the chaos that would follow withdrawal. Other options include a temporary boost in troop levels, digging in for the long haul, or repositioning troops while training Iraqi forces The last option is a “face-saver,” says one foreign-policy expert. “It says, Let’s go in harder, and if we can’t solve Baghdad, we’re going in another direction.” The cover piece examines how Americans misjudge risk. We fear lightening, for example, even when we’re 10 times as likely to die from falling out of bed. Scientists say we deal with modern problems with a “prehistoric brain” that evolved to spot potential dangers. “Our perception of risk lives largely in our feelings,” a psychology professor contends.— C.B.

New Yorker, Dec. 4 A piece profiles news anchor Lou Dobbs, whose recent populist streak has boosted ratings for CNN. Dobbs has shirked his former Moneyline image to rail against corporate America, corruption, and, most notoriously, liberal immigration policies. The author traces the change in tone to the arrival of CNN President Jon Klein, who “wants more edge,” according to an employee: “Klein is the most personality-driven manager we’ve had.” CNN founder Ted Turner expresses dismay with Dobbs’ transformation: “I personally think he’s gone too far inserting his opinions, for my taste.” A piece examines the curious role of Republican Sen. Arlen Specter in preventing Guantánamo Bay detainees from filing writs of habeas corpus. Despite calling a previous habeas ban “patently unconstitutional,” he helped steward this fall’s Military Commissions Act. A Yale Law School professor calls Specter’s position “pretty odd”: “He trusts the courts to take care of a problem when he’s voting for something that strips them of the jurisdiction to do it. It’s like saying, ‘I shot at her, but I knew I was going to miss.’ “— C.B. Mother Jones, November and December A sprawling cover piece argues that human beings must adapt to the challenge of global warming. Twelve geological “tipping points,” from Amazon deforestation to the melting of the Greenland Ice Sheet, may force climate change to spin out of control. According to the article, to avoid catastrophe, we must reach a “13th tipping point: the shift in human perception from personal denial to personal responsibility.” Americans fall along a spectrum from “naysayers” to “alarmists,” the latter of which will grow with sustained public education, says an expert. But the combination of sensationalist media and “social loafing”—the tendency to slack when one is not accountable—has delayed progress. A piece questions the value of corporate social responsibility. For every conscience-driven business like Ben & Jerry’s or Seventh Generation, there are numerous firms looking to cut costs wherever possible. The author recommends good old Roosevelt-era regulation. This would mean imposing penalties that “put possible global warming liability on the same scale as the fallout from asbestos.”— C.B.