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Sympathy for the Great Satan

Time on Obama’s first 10 days.

Time, Feb. 9 Joe Klein praises Barack Obama for assuming an appropriately grim demeanor and putting “substance over showbiz” in his first week as president. Obama’s appointments of Afghanistan-Pakistan and Middle East special envoys are designed “to weaken the regional tyrants and extremists by depriving them of the Great Satan caricature,” while his deference to Republican concerns about his stimulus plan “is another attempt to deprive his enemies of a Great Satan.” But, Klein predicts, Obama’s “great victory” on the stimulus package will be “his last for a while.” An article evaluates “how really botched this bailout has been.” Since October, the eight big banks that together received $165 billion have lost $418 billion in value and may require as much as $1.4 trillion more to avoid insolvency. Some leaders, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, have proposed partial nationalization, which “could be the only way out.”

Economist, Jan. 31 The cover story examines East Asia, which has been “hit as hard as anywhere” by the economic crisis. The primary culprit isn’t globalization, the editors argue, but rather weak regional demand. China especially should undertake public works stimulus and implement “structural reforms that encourage people to spend and reduce the need for them to save.” A dispatch identifies Yemen, with “its rough terrain, weak central state and gun-slinging tribal culture,” as “a fairly secure redoubt for al-Qaeda.” Some allege that Yemen’s government offered “a secret amnesty whereby Sunni jihadists backed the state against a smouldering Shia insurrection in the country’s north,” although the primary target of Yemeni jihadists is Saudi Arabia. An article says this year will be “decisive” for Iran’s nuclear program. “American engagement is a trump card to be played with ‘circumspection.’ ” If Obama’s “extended hand” is “brushed aside,” heavier sanctions will follow.

New York Times Magazine, Feb. 1 The cover story tells the Obama administration how to remake “the new American economy.” “Growth is not finite,” the author writes. “But it is also not inevitable. It requires a strategy.” The government must “create new industries with its investments,” particularly in the areas of energy, education, and health. Without a health care “overhaul,” purchasers of U.S. Treasury bonds “may eventually grow nervous about [the country’s] ability to repay its debts.” A piece calls Obama a “walking analogy” to Ronald Reagan. “Reagan told a story about the moral and intellectual failings that had led up to Jimmy Carter’s infamous ‘malaise.’ ” In his inaugural address, “Obama handed up his own powerful indictment of a generation of American leaders whose ‘collective failure to make hard choices’ had imperiled the nation’s economic health.” From Reagan, Obama learned “not only to address the anxiety in American life but also to explain it.”

New York Review of Books, Feb. 12
“The heroic Israeli narrative has run its course,”New York Times columnist Roger Cohen declares. “I have never previously felt so despondent about Israel, so shamed by its actions, so despairing of any peace.” Though “Israel has the right to hit back at Hamas,” the Jewish state should not, as it has, “blow Gaza to pieces, or deprive people of food, water, and medicine.” “But what,” he adds, “do Blackberrying Israelis on their six-lane, wall-flanked highways know of that?” A review of The New Cold War disputes that term’s aptness, holding that contemporary Russia is “definitely not” the USSR’s equal and that the United States is now “more dispensable than it was when the cold war, the real, bipolar, Manichaean cold war, divided the world.” Offering NATO membership to Georgia and Ukraine, the author says, would “represent a betrayal of NATO’s own principles” and “probably rebound to devastating effect.”

Rolling Stone, Feb. 5 A long piece chronicles Eli Lilly’s “illegal” handling of the antipsychotic Zyprexa. Faced with the impending expiration of its Prozac patent in 2001, the company allegedly downplayed the weight gains and development of diabetes that studies connected with Zyprexa and then marketed it off-label, including to children. Over five years, the deaths of 45 children were linked to atypical antipsychotics. Eli Lilly has agreed to Zyprexa settlements totaling $2.6 billion. Matt Taibbi says Rod Blagojevich “outfoxed” the Democrats. Instead of “quietly distancing themselves from the mess” or staging “a prophylactic freakout and [organizing] their own in-house pogrom,” national Dems attempted both, first resisting Roland Burris’ appointment to the Senate, then meekly accepting it. “Obama or no Obama, the Democrats are still the Democrats,” Taibbi observes, “and there still isn’t any political fight … that they can’t find a way to lose.”

Must Read
Roger Cohen’s essay in the New York Review of Books, “Eyeless in Gaza,” is devastating and obligatory.

Must Skip
The New York Times Magazine cover story contains the seeds of several interesting articles—particularly its treatment of incoming budget director Peter Orszag—but is itself overlong and unfocused.

Best Politics Piece
Amid numerous analyses of Obama’s inauguration speech, Newsweek’s stands out. Its reading is astute—the author is an esteemed theater critic—and it succeeds in placing the speech in its ideological, historic, and generational context.

Best Culture Piece
Newsweek’s Oscar Roundtable transcribes a conversation among nominees, including Brad Pitt, Anne Hathaway, and Mickey Rourke. According to Rourke, the fight scenes in The Wrestler were shot in between actual small-time pro wrestling matches—they got three takes in front of 30,00 hard-core fans to get it right.

Best Charticle
In a sort of visual biography, New York counts the number of times Bruce Springsteen has used the word night in one of his songs (373) and the number of Marys who have appeared (53). We also find out about the Boss’ vengeful streak: At a Madison Square Garden gig in 1979, he spotted an ex-girlfriend from the stage and promptly had her ejected. Finally, we learn that Springsteen is a native of New Jersey.