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Overwhelming Interest

Harper’s on another root cause of the crash.

Harper’s, April 2009 The cover story blames excessive interest rates, aka usury, for the financial crisis. Laws against usury “existed in some form in every civilization from the time of the Babylonian Empire to the end of Jimmy Carter’s term.” Without such laws, “capital gushes out of manufacturing and into banking.” High rates attracted foreign money, thereby increasing the trade deficit. This trend combined with innovative corporate bankruptcies to destroy manufacturing unions’ power. Stagnating wages conditioned workers to borrow and spend rather than save, helping birth the current crash. A dispatch from the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in Cambodia examines Western culpability for the country’s disastrous conflicts, particularly in the 1970s. “Ultimately, the number of deaths you want to attribute to the Khmer Rouge depends on how many deaths you are comfortable pinning on the United States.”

The New Yorker, April 20 The comment endorses President Barack Obama’s vision of “nuclear abolition”: “to drive down the world’s nine nuclear arsenals to much smaller sizes … and, while doing so, to make nuclear weapons as illegitimate and impractical as possible.” The Bush administration’s disdain for multilateral institutions has helped bring the global nonproliferation regime to “its most fragile state of disrepair since the 1980s.” Not-yet-nuclear Iran must be the target of “aggressive and creative diplomacy.” As Obama said in Prague recently, “If we believe that the spread of nuclear weapons is inevitable, then in some way we are admitting to ourselves that the use of nuclear weapons is inevitable.” An article explores the biologically superdiverse state of Florida, dubbing it “Ellis Island for exotic animals,” “a biological cesspool of introduced life,” and an “open-air zoo.” The species that looks perhaps best poised to take over is the formidable Burmese python.

Newsweek, April 20 Jonathan Alter backs the use of “reconciliation”—the Senate procedure whereby a budget cannot be filibustered and therefore requires only 51 votes to pass—in order to enact health care and education legislation should 60 votes be unobtainable. “Transformational change … is more important than whether Republicans cry foul over being railroaded,” he argues. An article reports that Obama has backed off a campaign pledge to ban some assault weapons, despite their continued use in the United States and northern Mexico. The reasons are political: White House strategists “can’t afford to tangle with the National Rifle Association at a time when they’re pushing other priorities.” Additionally, Democratic congressional leaders fear gun control efforts threaten rural “Blue Dogs.” Mike Tyson looks back at his old, self-destructive “Kid Dynamite” self, telling a reporter, “He wasn’t a good guy. He was just somebody I created to give people something to talk about.”

New York Review of Books, April 30 An article bemoans Vladimir Putin’s attempts to stoke “popular nostalgia for the Soviet Union” by whitewashing and devaluing Stalin’s reign of terror as a way of fueling Russian nationalism. After the shameful 1990s—“the hyperinflation, the loss of people’s savings and security, the rampant corruption and criminality, the robber-oligarchs and the drunken president”—Putin found in the Russian people a receptive audience for his combination of Soviet myths (sans Communist ideology) and retro-czarist projection of strong state power. One author reviews a new translation of The Adventures of Pinocchio. With “Tuscan humor” and “a perplexing waywardness that one experiences every day in Italy,” 19th-century author Carlo Collodi produced an entertaining yet sophisticated meditation on education and the push-and-tug between reality and illusion. Perhaps unsurprisingly, “nothing could be further from [the book’s] acid spirit” than the Disney movie. Indeed, when Collodi’s puppet first meets the Talking Cricket, he smashes it with a mallet.

New York, April 20 The cover package investigates “Why People Still Want To Move to New York in Tough Times.” Famous New Yorkers reminisce over their first days in the city, and 160 new transplants explain why they came. Samples: “Ten years from now, I’d love to own a penthouse overlooking the Park. Obviously”; “I came here to study, and I’m looking for a job. I’m an aspiring journalist”; “I moved here because I broke up with my girlfriend and got laid off.” An article tells the story of Gabi and Rivki Holtzberg, the Hasidic couple who ran the Mumbai Chabad House and was murdered in last November’s attacks. Their first two children died very young of Tay Sachs, while a third, Moshe, survived both that genetic predisposition and November’s atrocity, and now 2, lives in Israel. Rivki had been pregnant with a fourth, which, tests indicated, would not have suffered from Tay Sachs.