Brooks, Cohen, Nocera and Bruni

Today Bobo has decided to wring his hands over “The Fertility Implosion.”  He babbles that birthrates are falling nearly all over the world, and the speed of this change is breathtaking. As the population ages, this is creating great challenges.  So maybe that’s why the current crop of Republicans are so intent on doing away with contraception…  Mr. Cohen, in “#StopKONY Now!!!,” says a superficial movie about an African war criminal goes viral, and that on balance is a good thing.  Mr. Nocera has a question:  “Is MF Global Getting a Free Pass?”  He says no prosecution at all in the case would send a terrible message to the rest of us.  Mr. Bruni, in “One-Way Wantonness,” says Rush Limbaugh’s trash talk exposes a sexist double standard.  Here’s Bobo:

When you look at pictures from the Arab spring, you see these gigantic crowds of young men, and it confirms the impression that the Muslim Middle East has a gigantic youth bulge — hundreds of millions of young people with little to do. But that view is becoming obsolete. As Nicholas Eberstadt and Apoorva Shah of the American Enterprise Institute point out, over the past three decades, the Arab world has undergone a little noticed demographic implosion. Arab adults are having many fewer kids.

Usually, high religious observance and low income go along with high birthrates. But, according to the United States Census Bureau, Iran now has a similar birth rate to New England — which is the least fertile region in the U.S.

The speed of the change is breathtaking. A woman in Oman today has 5.6 fewer babies than a woman in Oman 30 years ago. Morocco, Syria and Saudi Arabia have seen fertility-rate declines of nearly 60 percent, and in Iran it’s more than 70 percent. These are among the fastest declines in recorded history.

The Iranian regime is aware of how the rapidly aging population and the lack of young people entering the work force could lead to long-term decline. But there’s not much they have been able to do about it. Maybe Iranians are pessimistic about the future. Maybe Iranian parents just want smaller families.

As Eberstadt is careful to note, demographics is not necessarily destiny. You can have fast economic development with low fertility or high fertility (South Korea and Taiwan did it a few decades ago). But, over the long term, it’s better to have a growing work force, not one that’s shrinking compared with the number of retirees.

If you look around the world, you see many other nations facing demographic headwinds. If the 20th century was the century of the population explosion, the 21st century, as Eberstadt notes, is looking like the century of the fertility implosion.

Already, nearly half the world’s population lives in countries with birthrates below the replacement level. According to the Census Bureau, the total increase in global manpower between 2010 and 2030 will be just half the increase we experienced in the two decades that just ended. At the same time, according to work by the International Institute of Applied Systems Analysis, the growth in educational attainment around the world is slowing.

This leads to what the writer Philip Longman has called the gray tsunami — a situation in which huge shares of the population are over 60 and small shares are under 30.

Some countries have it worse than others. Since the end of the Soviet Union, Russia has managed the trick of having low birthrates and high death rates. Russian life expectancy is basically the same as it was 50 years ago, and the nation’s population has declined by roughly six million since 1992.

Rapidly aging Japan has one of the worst demographic profiles, and most European profiles are famously grim. In China, long-term economic growth could face serious demographic restraints. The number of Chinese senior citizens is soaring by 3.7 percent year after year. By 2030, as Eberstadt notes, there will be many more older workers (ages 50-64) than younger workers (15-29). In 2010, there were almost twice as many younger ones. In a culture where there is low social trust outside the family, a generation of only children is giving birth to another generation of only children, which is bound to lead to deep social change.

Even the countries with healthier demographics are facing problems. India, for example, will continue to produce plenty of young workers. By 2030, according to the Vienna Institute of Demography, India will have 100 million relatively educated young men, compared with fewer than 75 million in China.

But India faces a regional challenge. Population growth is high in the northern parts of the country, where people tend to be poorer and less educated. Meanwhile, fertility rates in the southern parts of the country, where people are richer and better educated, are already below replacement levels.

The U.S. has long had higher birthrates than Japan and most European nations. The U.S. population is increasing at every age level, thanks in part to immigration. America is aging, but not as fast as other countries.

But even that is looking fragile. The 2010 census suggested that U.S. population growth is decelerating faster than many expected.

Besides, it’s probably wrong to see this as a demographic competition. American living standards will be hurt by an aging and less dynamic world, even if the U.S. does attract young workers.

For decades, people took dynamism and economic growth for granted and saw population growth as a problem. Now we’ve gone to the other extreme, and it’s clear that young people are the scarce resource. In the 21st century, the U.S. could be the slowly aging leader of a rapidly aging world.

Here’s Mr. Cohen:

Justin Bieber, the pop star, put it bluntly to his 18.3-million Twitter army: “SO glad you’re behind this! He MUST be stopped! THANK YOU for helping spread the word. POWER IS IN NUMBERS. #STOPKONY.”

Yes, as u MUST know by now — unless u live on another planet!! — a 30-minute video uploaded to YouTube on March 5 by the advocacy group Invisible Children designed to rally global support for the arrest of Joseph Kony, a Ugandan war criminal, has gone viral, with 71 million views on YouTube as I write and no doubt MILLIONS more by the time u read this.

Kony is the leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army (L.R.A.), which started operations in northern Uganda more than two decades ago, kidnapping children by the thousands, turning some into sex slaves and brutalizing the civilian population. He’s top of the International Criminal Court’s most-wanted list.

But this just in: RT button and #hashtags apparently operating with 10-year delay. And esp this: the celebs of the California-based White Savior Industrial Complex are terrible reporters. I mean, rly.

The L.R.A. has been in decline for some time, its membership probably numbers a few hundred rather than the tens of thousands mentioned in the video, Kony and his dwindling band now operate mainly in other nations including the Democratic Republic of Congo, and the once terrorized northern Ugandan city of Gulu is calm enough to attract investment.

None of which dented the determination of P. Diddy, the rapper. He rallied his six million Twitter followers to the cause after seeing the “KONY 2012” video: “Dear Joseph Kony, I’m Gonna help Make you FAMOUS!!!! We will stop YOU #StopKONY. All 6,000,000 of my followers RT now!!! Pls!”

They sure did RT. My 14-year-old daughter was bombarded on Twitter and Facebook early last week. She watched the video, as have her friends. According to figures posted on Vimeo, the video sharing Web site, 58,000 people viewed the video on March 5, 2.7 million on March 6, 8.2 million on March 7 — and so on exponentially.

Nothing, it seems, has ever gone viral at quite the speed of this film about a faraway African conflict that’s basically over.

The real q is: why? Another q, for people in my business, is why try to get people exercised on the world’s problems in 800 words when long-reads are a shrinking niche, widely regarded as lame or just BS, if millions can be mobilized about not much in 140 characters or less?

But back to the video, made by Jason Russell and co-starring his young son Gavin. It’s a powerful piece of work. It’s also eerie. Here’s the plot: Bad guy called Kony terrorizes thousands of kids, including co-star former abductee Jacob Acaye (whose brother was killed by the L.R.A.). A connected world can stop Kony if it acts. Send $30 to Invisible Children for your #StopKONY action kit — including two bracelets!!!

The eerie bit is the way Russell uses his cute little boy to make his point. Jacob: good. Kony: bad. Situation: sad. He gets the child to respond to prompts and so, in effect, turns us all into five-year-olds learning about Africa. At times it feels like squirming Gavin is getting lessons from Orwell’s Ministry of Truth.

But, of course, Russell is no sinister totalitarian. He’s just simplifying grossly and distorting adeptly to make a valid point: that no effort should be spared to arrest Kony. His white-savior push for Africa is well intentioned — and it has plugged into an inspiring current of cyber-idealism among the under-25s.

It’s also generated significant pushback, including a heavily viewed Tumblr blog called “Visible Children” by Grant Oyston, a student at Acadia University in Nova Scotia, who raised numerous questions about Invisible Children. The group appears to have spent much of its $9-million 2011 income on officer salaries, travel and filmmaking rather than on-the-ground programs; it has no Africans on its board.

In short, this is a teachable Internet moment. Every social media theorist is weighing in, many lamenting the simplifications and distortions of Internet action.

On balance I back Russell over his armchair critics. He’s put his boots on the ground and he’s doing something. Gross simplification of Africa is nothing new. It’s the poor, disease-ravaged, war-torn continent where every complicated war is about control of diamonds, right? The reduction of Uganda’s many problems to Kony abusing children is not much different from the reduction of conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo to a fight for mineral riches. So, Russell works in a well-established genre, even if he pushes it.

Sure, his superficial video and its viral wave have troubling aspects. As Evgeny Morozov, the author of “The Net Delusion,” tweeted: “Should we pay attention to the LRA because Invisible Children is more effective at using social media than the Free Syrian Army is. WTF?”

Well, no — but it would help if the Free Syrian Army or Syrian National Council had Twitter handles.

Anyway, I’ve already written my next column. Here it is: “He MUST be stopped. Do smth!! All 17,577 of my followers pls RT now!!! #StopAssadinSyria.

And I’m sure that all the twitter-twats will have a miraculous effect…  Here’s Mr. Nocera:

It’s sure starting to look as if Jon Corzine is going to get away with it.

By now, it has been well established that Corzine’s former firm, MF Global, committed the sin of sins for a broker-dealer. In late October, during the final, desperate days before it entered bankruptcy proceedings, its executives took money from segregated customer accounts — money that belonged not to MF Global but to the farmers and commodities traders that were its clients — and used it to prop up its rapidly collapsing business. Nor was this petty cash: of the $6.9 billion in customer assets that MF Global held, a stunning $1.6 billion is missing. There is virtually no chance that the full amount will ever be recovered.

Let’s not mince words here. These executives committed a crime. Virtually every knowing violation of the Commodities Exchange Act is a crime, but taking money from segregated customer accounts is at the top of the list. And for good reason. Customer money is supposed to be sacrosanct. If a broker-dealer goes bankrupt, the segregated accounts are supposed to remain safe, a little like the way bank deposits remain protected if a bank goes under. Indeed, customers need to be able to trust the fact that their money is segregated and protected at all times. Otherwise, the markets can’t function.

Yet, a few weeks ago, Azam Ahmed and Ben Protess, who have done a remarkable job covering the MF Global bankruptcy for The Times, wrote an article suggesting that prosecutors were having trouble putting together a criminal case against anyone at MF Global. So far, wrote Ahmed and Protess, they’d been “unable to find a smoking gun.” In fact, they continued, “a number of federal prosecutors have expressed doubts” that MF Global “intentionally misused customer money.” Apparently, the current theory is that it was all just a big accident, the chaos of those final days causing the firm’s executives to tap into customer funds without realizing it.

Excuse me while I roll my eyes. Of course there isn’t a smoking gun. As a general rule, financial professionals tend not to write e-mails that say, “Hey, we’re desperate. Let’s break into the customer accounts!” And, of course, they are always going to say it was unintentional. They are saying it already, starting with Corzine, who told Congress last year that “there was no intention to violate segregation rules.”

As for the chaos, you bet it was chaotic at the end. How could it not have been? Last month, James W. Giddens, the bankruptcy trustee for the broker-dealer arm of MF Global, issued a report that vividly described the scene: “The rush to meet funding needs … led to billions of dollars in securities sales, draws on credit facilities and a web of intercompany loans. … The company’s computer systems and employees had trouble keeping up. … A number of transactions were recorded erroneously or not at all. …” And so on.

Well, fine. But is it really plausible that you can take $1.6 billion — nearly 25 percent of the customer assets under management — and not know you’ve used customer money? It is not. One theory, which is implicitly suggested in the trustee’s report, is that the executives “borrowed” the money thinking they would be able to replace the funds quickly, which they then couldn’t because the counterparties wouldn’t give back the collateral. That’s still a crime.

I understand that bringing complex financial cases in front of a jury is not easy. But what prosecutors don’t seem to understand is that the country needs them to bring these cases. When they took a pass on Angelo Mozilo, the former chairman and chief executive of Countrywide, and Richard Fuld, who was chief executive of Lehman Brothers when it went bankrupt, they sent a signal that the highly paid executives who gave us the financial crisis would not be held to account.

A failure to prosecute anyone at MF Global would be, if anything, even worse. It would mean that executives at a broker-dealer can indeed steal customer money and get away with it — so long as it was “unintentional.” And it would only deepen the cynicism so many people feel about government. I’ve heard it suggested, for instance, that the Justice Department won’t prosecute Corzine because it would hurt President Obama. (Corzine, the former governor of New Jersey, had been a big fund-raiser for the president.) I don’t happen to subscribe to that theory, but I certainly understand why others might.

To be sure, it is early yet. Federal investigators are still digging into the facts surrounding MF Global’s failure, no doubt searching for that elusive smoking gun. But if, in the end, they decide they can’t make a case, I hope they understand what they are telling the rest of us. Giving the big guys a pass isn’t good for the financial markets. And it isn’t good for democracy either.

Pigs will fly before anyone on Wall Street is indicted for anything.  Now here’s Mr. Bruni:

Hussy. Harlot. Hooker.

Floozy. Strumpet. Slut.

When attacking a woman by questioning her sexual mores, there’s a smorgasbord of slurs, and you can take your rancid pick. Help me out here: where are the comparable nouns for men? What’s a male slut?

A role model, in some cases. In others, a presidential candidate.

“Gigolo” doesn’t have the acid or currency of “whore,” and the man with bedpost notches gets compliments. He’s a Casanova, a conquistador.

The lady is a tramp.

Nearly two weeks since Rush Limbaugh let loose on Sandra Fluke, equating her desire for insurance-covered birth control with a prostitute’s demand for a fee, the wrangling over how awful that really was and whether it will truly haunt him continues.

Advertisers bolted in protest; advertisers come and go all the time. It was the beginning of his end; it was ratings chum. He lost his way; he was Rush in Excelsis.

One especially robust strand of commentary has focused on whether Limbaugh, a god of the far right, was smacked down for the kind of thing that less conservative men routinely get away with.

In a spirited essay on The Daily Beast this past weekend, the novelist Paul Theroux joined many commentators in alleging liberal hypocrisy, of which there has indeed been some.

And he said that provocative language is an essential part of public dialogue, arguing that you can’t recoil from its deployment against Fluke unless you want to forfeit its use elsewhere.

“You have to give Limbaugh a pass,” he maintained, in order to preserve the right to call Newt Gingrich and Eric Cantor “pimps for Israel, and Rick Santorum a mental midget.”

It’s an interesting point, but it ignores the precise type of language Limbaugh turned to and assumes an even playing field where one doesn’t exist.

While both men and women are called idiots and puppets and frauds, only women are attacked in terms of suspected (or flat-out hallucinated) licentiousness. And only for women is there such a brimming, insidious thesaurus of accordant pejoratives.

Decades after the dawn of feminism, despite the best efforts of everyone from Erica Jong to Kim Cattrall, women are still seen through an erotically censorious prism, and promiscuity is still the ultimate putdown.

It’s antediluvian, and it’s astonishing. You’d think our imaginations would have evolved, even if our humanity hasn’t.

Anthony Weiner may have been felled by his libido, but the weirdness of its expression and his recklessness were what people mainly balked at. Ditto for John Edwards. No one called them gigolos.

You could argue that Limbaugh chose the slurs he did for Fluke simply because the context, a debate over contraception, was in part sexual.

But there are examples aplenty of women being derided as sluts and prostitutes — two of his descriptions of Fluke — when sex is nowhere in the preamble, nowhere in the picture.

Some involve Limbaugh himself. As Jane Fonda, Gloria Steinem and Robin Morgan noted in a recent editorial for CNN.com, he has referred to female cabinet members as “sex-retaries.”

But look as well to Columbia University and what happened last week after President Obama, an alumnus, announced that he would give a commencement address at its all-women’s sister school, Barnard College, instead. A Columbia blog lit up with anti-Barnard rants, several stressing crude, tired sexual stereotypes. A few were apparently written by women.

Last year the TV and radio host Ed Schultz hurled “slut” as an all-purpose insult at the right-wing commentator Laura Ingraham. He got a week’s suspension.

Another radio host, John “Sly” Sylvester, used his Wisconsin talk show to savage the state’s lieutenant governor, Rebecca Kleefisch, as someone given to oral and group sex. This was just random invective, his special way of saying “I hate you.” He went unpunished.

The impulse toward gross sexual caricatures of women is a sick tic without end.

In 1992 the threat to Bill Clinton’s first presidential bid was a “bimbo eruption.” Note how the slur was assigned to the lubricious co-conspirator, not the lustful (and philandering) candidate.

Two decades later, Amanda Knox wasn’t just an alleged killer but an alleged killer with supposedly kinky sexual habits, the latter presumably shedding light on the former.

Just before the Hollywood producer and director Brett Ratner was dropped from taking charge of this year’s Oscars telecast, he went on a revoltingly sexist tear, saying that he insists that the women he becomes physically intimate with are examined first for transmissible diseases. He separately used an anti-gay epithet. His misogyny struck me as more florid than his homophobia, but if you followed the events closely, you sensed that the homophobia did him in. Only because his victim pool included men as well as women did the water get really hot.

Back to Limbaugh: the lawyer Gloria Allred has called for his criminal prosecution, citing an obscure Florida statute. (Limbaugh does his radio show from West Palm Beach.) The statute says anyone who “speaks of and concerning any woman, married or unmarried, falsely and maliciously imputing to her a want of chastity” is committing a misdemeanor.

Good thing it’s not a felony. The prisons might fill to bursting.

And of course that revolting pig gets to spew his bile on the Armed Forces Network…

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One Response to “Brooks, Cohen, Nocera and Bruni”

  1. UEFA Euro 2012 Says:

    UEFA Euro 2012…

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