• Rhonda Garelick on Fashion and Fascism  In the wake of John Galliano's anti-semitic tirade in a Paris bar last week, Rhonda Garelick, currently writing a book on Chanel, offers a broader look at the connection between French fashion culture and fascism in the New York Times today. After occupying France, she writes, the Nazi's sought to capitalize on the influence of fashion over the society, enlisting in the help of designers and magazines to propagate the Nazi's preferred aesthetic as "chic." The fashion world is not entirely free of fascist themes, she argues. "Both, for example, rely on a handful of oracular, charismatic leaders who issue proclamations to (select) crowds," she explains. "Fascist leaders offered their followers the prospect of an enhanced, mythic identity--a dream of youth and beauty, the same attributes promised by high fashion." Though it is not nearly the same today, the ideals of physical perfection and the celebrity designer are still a large part of the fashion industry. And Galliano's verbal attack of the woman at the bar, in which he equated her lack of style with being Jewish and suggested death, suggests that the fashion industry's uglier side lingers as well.
     
  • Clive Crook on Whether the Government Will Help or Hurt the Economic Recovery  Clive Crook wonders if the White House and Congress might not actually "choose to make things worse" for the U.S. economy. In today's Financial Times, Crook explains that America's declining unemployment rate, though slow, proves that U.S. jobs have the potential to recover from the recession, though the housing market and consumer confidence have recently been faltering. Crook gives three ways he thinks recent government policies stand to thwart rather than advance recovery. First, the 2009 stimulus "is fading." Second, "the new Republican majority in the House of Representatives is intent on abrubtly accelerating this decline." And third, "beyond the short term, fiscal policy at state and federal levels is a black box. Nobody knows what to expect on taxes or spending. How far will taxes rise? Will public sector workers' pensions be paid? What will become of Social Security? Nobody knows." These uncertainties require serious attention and planning from politicians, which Crook doesn't believe they're getting. Instead, our "leaders perform their comic opera of avoiding a shutdown--a crisis of their own devising, a figment of their pathological machinations. If the US comes through this ordeal without permanent damage, it will be no thanks to its politicians."
  • Michael Graetz on 35 Years of an Oil Addiction  The OPEC oil crisis in 1973 shocked the United States into the realization that it no longer had control over the Middle East's oil supplies. Yet since then, we've had no effective response to what eight presidents since then--including Richard Nixon--have called our addiction to oil, says Graetz, a Columbia law professor and author of an upcoming book about energy policy. It's almost repetitive to bring it up; yet our reliance on foreign oil has only become more severe since 1973. "Today, we import more than 50% of our oil, compared with 35% in 1973," Graetz says, despite the many arguments that have been sounded to address a problem that continually leaves us vulnerable to foreign regimes and the mercurial nature of their politics. Nor have we reduced the efficiency or the total mileage of our driving. "We accept instability and even war in the Middle East as inevitable," Graetz says. But it doesn't have to be: "Economists have estimated that a gasoline tax of just 25 cents a gallon would have saved as much oil as these fuel efficiency standards at one-third the cost to the economy."
  • Juliette Kayye in Defense of Monarchy in the Middle East  News flash: despite the successful revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia and the on-going turmoil in Libya, monarchy still reigns supreme in the Middle East, says Juliette Kayye, a former assistant secretary at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. And while the monarchies may not be democratic, these regimes provide people with what they need: "Jobs, food, education, and a voice to build a pathway towards a less-shameful future are the real demands," she argues. She also notes that these monarchies share three things: they aren't hypocritical ("Say what you want about a king, he doesn’t pretend to be a man of the people,") they are rich ("Royal wealth is obscene, but it’s also more readily shared," and they take the long view ("They seem less attached to the fiction that their people love them than those who claim power by virtue of a mythical popular assent.") Thus, "it should not be considered a failure if, at the end of the day, the royals still stand," she believes. "It’s essential (for now) that success be measured in economic reforms, peaceful political participation, and responsive government."
     
  • Robert Samuelson on Why Social Security is Welfare  The label may offend, Samuelson writes in the Washington Post, but Social Security really is a welfare program: "Benefits shift; they're not strictly proportionate to wages but are skewed to favor low-wage earners--a value judgment reflecting who most deserves help; and they aren't paid from workers' own 'contributions.'" Meanwhile, "politicians, pundits, think-tank experts and journalists [are] engaged in this charade to spare Social Security's 54 million recipients the discomfort of understanding they're on welfare." Someone will have to pay for the rising cost of payouts that aren't completely covered by payroll taxes, and the burden shouldn't fall on younger taxpayers and the budgets of other government programs. "Shared sacrifice is meaningless if it excludes older Americans," he writes.