More than two decades before U.S. embassies throughout the Middle East were overrun by rioters angry about a crude anti-Islamic video and more than a decade before the 9/11 attacks, Salman Rushdie received the phone call that changed his life forever when a BBC reporter asked him, "How does it feel to know that you have just been sentenced to death by Ayatollah Khomeini?"
This year saw the release of Rushdie's astonishingly well-timed memoir, Joseph Anton, which describes his life in hiding after the 1989 fatwa condemning him to death for The Satanic Verses, a book that fundamentalists deemed offensive to the Prophet Mohammed. The title of Rushdie's memoir comes from the pseudonym -- composed of the first names of his favorite authors, Conrad and Chekhov -- he adopted while underground. The book's release took on added political significance amid anti-American riots across the world this fall provoked by the online video Innocence of Muslims. "I always said that what happened to me was a prologue and there will be many, many more episodes like it. This is one of those," Rushdie said. "The correct response would be to say it is garbage and unimportant," he said of the video. "To react to it with this kind of violence is just ludicrously inappropriate."
Through it all, Rushdie has continued to make a powerfully personal case for freedom of expression, writing that the fatwa was "a violent attack not on the novel in general, or on free speech per se, but on a particular accumulation of words, and on the intentions and integrity and ability of the writer who had put those words together."
To hear Paul Krugman tell it, the U.S. economic crisis is Americans' own damn fault. "The depression we're in is essentially gratuitous: we don't need to be suffering so much pain and destroying so many lives," he wrote recently. Washington's obsession with austerity is to blame, he rails; what is needed is an aggressive, deficits-be-damned stimulus package to jump-start the economy and get Americans working again.
The Nobel Prize-winning Princeton University economist's prescription for the U.S. economy is actually fairly simple: Inject cash into it, and fast. He has suggested boosting federal aid to state and local governments, providing assistance to homeowners struggling with the deflation of the housing bubble, and having the Federal Reserve buy up government bonds to reduce long-term interest rates. While those ideas make Krugman anathema to those on the right, his New York Times column is required reading by conservatives and liberals alike -- and his insistence on providing help for struggling American families is a welcome antidote to the Washington establishment's relentless focus on budget cuts. "Tens of millions of our fellow citizens are suffering vast hardship, the future prospects of today's young people are being eroded with each passing month," he wrote, "and all of it is unnecessary.
Thanks to his academic bona fides and slashing style, Krugman -- who this year also published a pro-stimulus book, End This Depression Now! -- has become a sort of folk hero among liberals and a scourge of both Republicans and moderate Democrats. One safe prediction for 2013: He'll keep on being a thorn in the side of the powers that be, whichever way the political winds blow.
As far back as 2005, Nouriel Roubini saw dangerous speculation in the housing market for what it was: a harbinger of financial Armageddon. At the time, as Paul Krugman (No. 34) later noted in Time magazine, "the likes of Alan Greenspan were dismissing concerns about excessive home prices and declaring that banks were stronger than ever."
Since then, Roubini has hardly had time to gloat; he has been too busy warning that the worst isn't over. In 2006, he speculated about a eurozone breakup at a time when it seemed outlandish, and in 2008 -- when most economists were throwing around numbers in the hundreds of billions -- Roubini warned that bank losses would total more than $2 trillion. (It turns out he was close but if anything too cautious: The IMF's 2010 estimate was $2.28 trillion.) He was also ahead of the curve in identifying the global reach of the subprime-mortgage crisis and has repeatedly warned against rosy predictions of recovery. In 2010, when the stock market appeared to be turning around, Roubini -- dubbed Dr. Doom by the financial press -- asserted: "The crisis is not over; we are just at the next stage."
Lately, Dr. Doom has taken to warning of a "perfect storm" in which the "slow-motion train wreck" in Europe, along with the cooling Chinese economy and sluggish U.S. recovery, coincides with a war between Israel and Iran that inevitably drags in the United States. But Roubini is more than just a bearer of bad news: He has become the gloomy bard of this age of financial upheaval.