Hot Center to a Cold Storm

If you can think of two things no one would like to do in Russia at the end of January, standing around in a line and fighting a war come to mind pretty easily. But that’s exactly what seems to be in the cards for far too many Russians as the Ukraine and economic crises continue howling like a bitter wind that never ceases.

The acceleration of both appears to be assured right now, especially if the West continues to link aggression in Ukraine with more economic sanctions – which at this point will have to be severe to be considered “new”. The new Cold War is definitely on, but there are no assurances that it will continue to be cold much after the freeze of midwinter.

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A Tale of Two Classes

The stock market is tanking. It has to bode poorly for the economy, yes?

If we’ve learned one thing over the past six years, it’s that what is good for investors is not necessarily good for workers – and vice versa. As Herman Miller, an accountant friend of the family told me as a child, “Never forget that the stock market is only a market for stocks.”

So what is the future for stocks? In the short term, not good. For workers? That may be a better story. And if the fortunes of these two classes cross each other it’ll be the story of this year as the ups and downs and devilish details read something like a novel.

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Bibi Comes to Washington

Why is foreign policy so difficult? If you were to ask Tip O’Neill, he’d tell you that “All politics is local,” a phrase he credited to his Dad. Take that mindset and set it loose in an integrated world and pretty soon you have nations talking right past each other with no hope of ever finding common ground.

That’s what brings Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to Washington on 3 March to speak to a joint session of Congress – but not President Obama. It’s also what makes it very likely that this will be an epic disaster for at least some of the parties arranging this trip.

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The Nightly Show

How will America ever get over the racial divide? It’s going to take honesty, bravery, and humor – with an emphasis on the “get over” part more than the “racial” part. It’s going to take a venue where the bizzy blur of daily events has some space where people can breathe, think, listen, and then react – and feel comfortable enough to laugh about it.

Just when the limits of humor were tested with the Charlie Hebdo attack, which left us all to question not just what is right but what is funny, along came The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore. It proves once again that Comedy Central isn’t really all that funny sometimes, which is the highest complement anyone can give it.

The Nightly Show is 100% Real, and sometimes it just hurts. We need that more than a laugh.

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Why Economics?

For all the thousands of words forming complex observations, theories, and predictions it takes a really simple question to stump Barataria. Buried within just the right blank stare of a few words is often hidden some basic wisdom that questions the assumptions long taken as unprovable facts. Isn’t the Emperor naked after all? Such a question came in response to a recent post, as posed by “kikila”:

Finally (I hope) someone who can explain why the economy is important to me!

It’s less of a question than a question about the fundamental underpinnings of our world. Why does economics matter? He elaborates, “I have a theory that this is intrinsically linked to ideology and the false concept that a free economy = freedom (the mainstay of the neo-liberal line for decades). Moreover, that ideological systems have coopted the notion of democracy, linking the idea of political involvement directly and indelibly with the idea that one day, eventually (you say 2017) the economy will begin to benefit (the) people.”

More like centuries of not-so-neo liberal thought, but let’s dig in. Why should we care?

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Franc-ly You Must be Kidding

Last Friday the ongoing “Currency War” claimed an unlikely casualty – Switzerland, a nation best known for being solid in money and neutral in war. The central bank had to remove the ties to the Euro under pressure from foreign investors and the result was an upward explosion of 39%, before settling in at 15%, in the Swiss Franc (CHF, known by its French name Confédération Helvétique).

That may sound like good news for the alpine nation, and it is if you are holding a lot of CHF in a bank account. But if you make precise equipment or other things that the Alpine nation is known for, your stuff just got 15% more expensive. Managing this situation is going to be a tough one for the Swiss, certainly, but it’s a disaster for those who borrowed money from their famously solid and discreet banks.

It’s also an earthquake that rattles our whole idea of “globalism”.

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Do You Get It?

The Charlie Hebdo comics raise a lot of questions. Is it acceptable to deliberately offend people? Does free expression trump hurt feelings? Should there be an exemption for faith, a place where speech should be limited?

But there’s an even more immediate question: are the comics funny?

Not being French, I’ll never understand the French sense of humor. It tends to be deep, biting, satirical, and … well, not exactly laugh-out-loud. Good satire is often not really funny as much as painful, after all. Then again, bullets are even more painful.

Was that last comment satirical or just in bad taste?

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