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May Day, May Day

Foreign Policy on Karl Marx and the financial crisis.

Foreign Policy, May/June 2009 An article considers what Karl Marx would say about the current economic situation. The crisis’s vicious downward cycles—for example, layoffs causing lower consumer spending causing lower profits causing more layoffs—demonstrates “where ignoring Marx while trusting in Adam Smith’s ‘invisible hand’ gets you.” “Reformist politicians who think they can do away with the inherent class inequalities and recurrent crises of capitalist society are the real romantics of our day, themselves clinging to a naive utopian vision of what the world might be,” the author argues. “If the current crisis has demonstrated one thing, it is that Marx was the greater realist.” In the magazine’s “Next Big Thing” package, one writer advocates regulating trade of the increasingly precious commodity known as water. Another predicts the rise of “neomedievalism,” in which sovereignty in the less-developed world reverts to cities. And another reports that “three major technologies are shovel-ready: the programming of [human] tissues, the ability to engineer cells, and robots.”

Time, May 11 The annual “Time 100” list of “the world’s most influential people” features British Prime Minister Gordon Brown on the U.S. president: “Time and time again, people have talked of Barack Obama’s talent for listening. His real talent is for hearing what is actually said.” Ann Coulter concludes of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, “The only thing I have against her is that she threatens to surpass me in attracting the left’s hatred.” And Alec Baldwin describes Tina Fey thus: “Smart, funny, beautiful. Devoted, tough, respected. Now if she’d only work on her posture.” Political columnist Joe Klein reviews Bob Dylan’s new album, Together Through Life. “It will not go down among his best albums, but the music is good, and the mood is poignant to the point of intoxication.” Klein observes of Dylan’s epic career, “He started obvious, then exploded surreal—each new album a surprise of some sort—and is now back to being obvious again.”

New York Times Magazine, May 3 Obama gives an interview on post-recession America for the cover story. The president calls the financial sector’s precrash immensity “an aberration” and advocates health care reform that would cast the federal government as “an honest broker in assessing and evaluating treatment options.” “There’s nothing inherent in our political process that should prevent us from making these difficult decisions now,” he says. A profile of Irish novelist Colm Tóibín studies his method, noting that a recent short story is the first thing he’s written on a computer. When writing his forthcoming novel Brooklyn, he took the card of a Brooklyn resident he knew and “‘I e-mailed him and said: ‘Is there anything going on in the street? Right now, whatever it is, describe it to me.’ And he wrote back, ‘It’s so cold, people are walking with scarves covering their faces so you could only see their eyes.’ It’s in the book.”

Economist, May 2 An article deems Obama’s first 100 days a qualified success: “Obama is still scorned by the people who scorned him as a candidate. But they are a minority.” “Obama is both cursed and blessed to have taken over in the middle of a blazing financial crisis,” the article points out. “Cursed, because he has had to spend his first 100 days frenziedly fire-fighting. Blessed, because no one blames him.” A dispatch from the Gaza Strip examines the residents’ dire circumstances several months into a cease-fire with Israel. The article dives into the statistics: 4,100 houses destroyed, 90 percent of the people subject to power cuts, 32,000 Gazans with no running water. Among the population, “bitterness against Hamas is brewing. Many Gazans do not accept the party’s official view that the war was a great victory. Instead, many now blame Hamas for recklessly dragging them into a futile war that devastated their already beleaguered territory.”

Portfolio, May 2009 In what could be the magazine’s final issue, a profile examines the “plight” of Columbia University economist and anti-poverty activist Jeffrey Sachs, “America’s intellectual do-gooder-in-chief.” Though his pitch is an inherently emotional one, “Sachs is careful to make understated appeals to reason, logic, and economic theory.” The faltering economy has decreased how much Sachs can raise to help alleviate poverty in Africa. Meanwhile, some criticize anti-poverty aid as “distorting the political culture of Africa—fattening corrupt kleptocrats who have … crippled their countries’ progress toward self-sufficiency.” The anonymous wife of a CEO of a bank that received TARP money tells of her newfound “financial abstinence.” “I’ve been turning out some pretty dreadful lasagna,” she testifies. “Because of a few tin-eared nitwits who failed to notice that their industry was under siege, the entire country now thinks that TARP bankers are greedy incompetents dedicated to ripping off taxpayers.”

Must Read
TheNew Yorker’s profile of Obama budget czar Peter Orszag offers a fascinating portrait of a fascinating guy, helps define “Obamaism,” and shows how Orszag’s quirks and pet causes have shaped Obama’s plan for America.

Must Skip
Memo to Portfolio’s “Anonymous CEO Wife“: The world’s smallest violin is playing just for you.

Best Politics Piece
Newsweek’s profile of South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford definitively separates him from the rest of the Republican governors who may run in 2012 and shows him to be someone who comes by his small-government beliefs honestly.

Best Culture Piece
Newsweek’s cover story on Star Trek persuasively argues that the original series was a pioneer of the “techno-nerd meritocracy” of the ‘90s.

Fool You Twice …
Nan Talese insists that her husband Gay’s decision to let New York run a lengthy article in 1973 about an upcoming book, 1980’s Thy Neighbor’s Wife, which he was then just starting work on, doomed the book to a poor reception. “I just felt that you don’t talk about a book until it’s written,” she says. She makes this sensible point in a lengthy article in New York about a book Gay is currently working on.