In December 2008, Christina Romer, newly appointed to head Barack Obama's Council of Economic Advisers, delivered what her colleague and successor, Austan Goolsbee, later speculated may have been "the worst briefing any president-elect has ever had" on the extent of the damage wrought by the bursting U.S. housing bubble. Romer recommended a $1.2 trillion stimulus, watered down to $787 billion a few months later.
Since then, and particularly since leaving the White House in the fall of last year, Romer, an academic expert on the Great Depression whose work focused on the role of monetary policy in precipitating the crash, has sounded an increasingly urgent alarm about America's jobs crisis, warning that though "today's unemployment appears mainly cyclical, it could turn structural" without immediate measures such as more public investment and a payroll tax cut. Romer's New York Times column has become a powerful platform denouncing the current vogue for austerity -- an argument that, she says, "makes me crazy." Whether briefing the president or the public, Romer has never been one to sugarcoat the bad news.
Prominent advocates for secular democracy in today's Pakistan not only must have the courage of their convictions -- they must also be prepared for the very real possibility that their careers will come to violent ends. This year alone saw the stunning assassinations of Punjab Gov. Salman Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti, the sole Christian in Pakistan's government -- a sign that the creeping Islamist fanaticism and militancy plaguing Pakistan and neighboring Afghanistan know no borders.
But instead of mourning, Sherry Rehman -- a prominent journalist, TV personality, and member of parliament from the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party -- took up the cause for which Taseer and Bhatti were murdered: their efforts to amend Pakistan's outrageous blasphemy law, which has been used as a cudgel against Pakistan's embattled minorities. In response, a prominent Islamist cleric issued a fatwa calling for her death; at the height of the furor she said she was receiving two death threats an hour. Rehman has also smashed gender barriers by founding the Jinnah Institute, a national security–centric think tank, inserting herself into a field normally dominated by a small cadre of men at the top of Pakistan's shadowy intelligence services. Her stand against religious zealots has largely confined her to her house out of fear for her safety. But she refuses to back down, saying, "Appeasement of extremism is a policy that will have its blowback."
Muse Steve Jobs, with his knowledge and knife-edged mind, followed closely by a woman -- any woman -- as ayatollah or pope.
Stimulus or austerity? Stimulus.
America or China? China.
Arab Spring or Arab Winter? Arab Autumn.
Reading list Destiny Disrupted, by Tamim Ansary; Civilization: The West and the Rest, by Niall Ferguson; Reset: Iran, Turkey, and America's Future, by Stephen Kinzer.
Best idea Let's talk to everyone, especially the enemy.
Worst idea Aid without trade.