• Michael Kubin on Being Ripped Off by Bernie Madoff  Kubin writes in The New York Times about getting a call from his brother-in-law on December 11, 2008. "'Are you sitting down?' he asked. ... 'They arrested Bernie Madoff.'" Kubin says he knew right away his "whole investment was toast." He could not figure out how it had happened to him, given his "M.B.A. from a well-known Eastern business school," familiarity with Ponzi schemes, and also with cards and bluffing. He had put his money where wealthier, savvier friends had put theirs. Yet, after embarrassment and anger, he has come to the point where he is "grateful" for the lesson--knowing that he can't "let someone else play for [him]." Looking back, too, he seems to think he should have known better:
[The fund's] performance wasn't stellar--it was just so suspiciously steady. I had joked with friends that "someday this will turn out to be a Ponzi scheme, but I'll have my money out by then." Someday turned out to be that Thursday, two years ago.
  • Tom Friedman on the Overburdened America in the Middle East  Frustrated with "the failed attempt by the U.S. to bribe Israel with a $3 billion security assistance package," the New York Times columnist suggests Israeli and Palestinian negotiators "take a minute and put the following five words into Google: 'budget cuts and fire departments.'" Then they should try "schools and budget cuts." They'll find the local governments in the States struggling just to keep afloat. Offered $3 billion just to "do what is manifestly in [their] own interest," these governments would have signed on immediately. The conclusion? America should do what is best for it and also for the Middle East--"get out of the way so Israelis and Palestinians can see clearly, without any obstructions, what reckless choices their leaders are making."
  • Suzanne Gordon on the Damage of Ballet  The movie The Black Swan has done what Gordon wished to do "two decades ago"--put "ballet's underside ... on the screen." Says Gordon: "this psychological thriller accurately conveys the essential misogyny of an art form that idealizes the feminine while leaving many young women in terrible physical and emotional shape." Gordon is particularly struck by the physical tolls of the art form. Nathalie Portman "shed 20 pounds" for the role, striking when you consider her pre-movie physique (not exactly hefty). But ballet, Gordon writes, "leaves many so malnourished they can't recover from injuries and, in their twenties and thirties, many have the osteoporotic bones of post-menopausal women."
  • Holman Jenkins on 'Obama and the Global Hail Mary'--and Entitlements  The president, "until lately," argues the Wall Street Journal columnist, "has been a case study of a man refusing to synchronize his agenda with his moment." For example, the case of health care: "When manifestly we needed some change in incentives to encourage consumers to demand value and health-care providers to supply it, he instead doubled-down on all the perverse incentives of the existing system." But Jenkins is encouraged by Obama's "belated support for the South Korean trade deal" and the tax cut bargain, which, he writes, "maybe ... gave him a taste for winning in a way that doesn't alienate the center and provides all the right enemies, such as Nancy Pelosi." While Obama's "in a hopey-changey mood," he continues, "let's note for his benefit that the real fiscal problem today is not the immediate deficit, which does not call for radical action." So what is the real problem? According to Jenkins, it's the "system of health-care and retirment finance that deters us from saving and budgeting for our own needs while at the same time piling up disincentivizing taxes on those who work and whom we expect to pay for us in old age. Fix this," he declares, "and the government is solvent again."
  • Janet Daley on Why WikiLeaks Is Anti-Democratic  The organization has a "unilateral programme of revealing confidential information, which is boasts is unstoppable and accountable to no one," reasons Daley in British newspaper The Telegraph. "In its self-contradictory maintenance of its own untraceable operations, it effectively declares itself to be the only agency in the world that is entitled to secrecy." In fact, continues Daley pointedly, far from being "a voice of open and transparent 'freedom of expression,' ... the only opinion that is implicitly conveyed by WikiLeaks' exposures is the boringly prosaic anti-Americanism of the average Guardian comment writer." Her conclusion: "there is nothing democratic about this at all. It is an arrogant, defiant provocation of international conventions by a tiny handful of unidentifiable people that involved no consultation or popular mandate."