Brick

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The $857 billion package includes unprecedented steps to help less wealthy countries, including selling collective debt and giving much of the money as grants, not loans.

After nearly five days of intense haggling, European Union leaders early on Tuesday stepped up to confront one of the gravest challenges in the bloc’s history, agreeing to a landmark spending package to rescue their economies from the ravages of the pandemic.

The 750 billion euro ($857 billion) stimulus agreement, spearheaded by Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany and President Emmanuel Macron of France, sent a strong signal of solidarity even as it exposed deep new fault lines in a bloc reshaped by Britain’s exit.

The deal was notable for its firsts: European countries will raise large sums by selling bonds collectively, rather than individually; and much of that money will be handed out to member nations hit hardest by the pandemic as grants that do not have to be repaid, and not as loans that would swell their national debts.

Those extraordinary steps reflected a difficult consensus among members: that the scale of the crisis facing them required groundbreaking measures to ensure the bloc’s legitimacy, stability and prosperity.

“Europe has shown it is able to break new ground in a special situation. Exceptional situations require exceptional measures,” Ms. Merkel said in a news conference at dawn. ‘‘A very special construct of 27 countries of different backgrounds is actually able to act together, and it has proven it.”

But the lengthy negotiations in Brussels were notable, too, for their exceptional rancor — and it was clear that the pooling of resources and sovereignty had come at a cost.

A strange kind of political theater, never visited upon European Union summits before, marked the meeting — with leaders donning masks and bumping elbows to greet. They were safely spaced in a vast hall, their entourages trimmed to only the most essential members.

When they convened on Friday, it was their first in-person summit in the five months since the coronavirus took hold in Europe. The meeting was officially scheduled to last until Saturday. By Monday morning, exhausted and angry after bargaining all night, they were still tussling over the details. The start of Monday’s session was twice delayed, and then it spilled into Tuesday morning.

As negotiations broke down over the weekend, so did many precautions the leaders and their teams had taken to protect themselves from the virus, which in most of Europe has been brought down to manageable levels, in any case. As the hours wore on and the talks grew heated, the diplomatic gloves came off, and so did the masks. Breakout groups met in rooms far smaller and less ventilated than the 300-seat auditorium where the general meeting was convened.

While there is no underestimating the importance of the agreement — the generosity of its size and the novelty of its mechanisms — the acrimony and dramatics of the four-day meeting betrayed the new divisions within the bloc. They also signaled where the fractures may lie in future crises.

The talks were defined by shifting roles among members now jostling to make their voices heard and for leadership in the absence of Britain, which had often played the part of the thrifty contrarian, fastidious about rules, in past summits.

This time, Ms. Merkel, unusually for a German leader, and holding the E.U.’s rotating presidency, put her finger on the scale on behalf of hard-hit southern countries and did battle with the nations she once championed, the northern members that have been less affected by the virus and are wary of the vast sums being thrown around.

The talks were defined by shifting roles among members now jostling to make their voices heard and for leadership in the absence of Britain The talks were defined by shifting roles among members now jostling to make their voices heard and for leadership in the absence of Britain...

Where Friday’s meeting was marked by joyful greetings and even celebrations of the birthdays of two leaders — Ms. Merkel, now 66, and Prime Minister Antonio Costa of Portugal, who turned 59 — Sunday night’s dinner (a “cold dish” after several sumptuous meals, socially spaced but unmasked) was marked by shouting matches and a nasty atmosphere.

Mr. Macron, for example, yelled at Chancellor Sebastian Kurz of Austria for not only being a tightfisted impediment to the rescue deal but also for leaving the room to take a call. To some leaders’ shock, the French president slapped the table. Mr. Kurz tried to keep his cool, and in a zinger put Mr. Macron’s temper tantrum down to sleep deprivation, diplomats said.

As that meeting broke up without a deal around 6 a.m. Monday, Mark Rutte, the Dutch prime minister, told his country’s media that he didn’t care if other leaders mockingly called him “Mr. No” for blocking the agreement. (They did.)

“We’re here because everyone is taking care of their own country, not to go to each other’s birthdays for the rest of our lives,” he said bluntly.

It was Mr. Rutte who stepped into the vacuum left by Germany’s shift and Britain’s departure to lead the so-called Frugal Four, which include his nation as well as Austria, Sweden and Denmark. Occasionally, the “frugals” became five with the support of Finland.

In the end, with a unanimous decision by the 27 nations needed for a plan to go forward, a bitter compromise prevailed. The ambitious plan pushed by Ms. Merkel and Mr. Macron was watered down, but remained significant. The overall figure of €750 billion remained, but an original proposal to offer €500 billion of that in the form of grants was trimmed back to €390 billion, with €360 billion earmarked for loans.

In addition to raising cash and extending grants, the package will increase lending and deploy other, more traditional stimulus methods to arrest and reverse the economic free-fall that threatens the stability of the world’s richest bloc of nations.

Economists predict a recession far worse than anything since World War II. France, Italy and Spain, the bloc’s second-, third- and fourth-largest economies, are expected to suffer the most, clocking in contractions of around 10 percent this year.

Greece and other smaller economies that are still recovering from the last recession will also be badly affected by the downturn. But heavy debt loads in many of these nations make them reluctant to amass yet more debt, and their budgets aren’t sufficient to self-fund their recoveries. That led them to turn to the European Union for help.

Together with the vast bond-buying program by the European Central Bank, national stimulus plans worth trillions of euros, and other, smaller E.U. support schemes for banks, businesses and workers, European leaders hope to reverse the recession in 2021 and spend their way into a rapid and powerful recovery.

They also agreed on Tuesday on the bloc’s regular budget for the next seven years: €1.1 trillion euros to finance the normal E.U. policies on agriculture, migration and hundreds of other programs.

But the deal came at a heavy price in progressive goals attached to E.U. values and norms. To bring Hungary and Poland on board, E.U. leaders decided to water down the caveat making funding conditional on the rule-of- law benchmarks that the two nations’ illiberal governments are violating.

In another concession to Poland, the bloc’s most coal-dependent nation, a requirement was dropped that would have committed the country to being carbon neutral by 2050 to draw on parts of the funds.

Since its inception, the E.U. has struggled between maintaining nation-state sovereignty and developing joint federal-style structures.

The deal reached on Tuesday is significant in that more creditworthy E.U. nations will be underwriting loans to fund the recoveries of countries that would otherwise face onerous borrowing costs.

The Netherlands and Austria were hostile to the very idea of borrowing money and simply giving much of it to benefit mostly southern, weaker economies.

Under significant pressure at home as elections approach next March, the Dutch prime minister, Mr. Rutte, advocated loudly for fewer handouts to those nations, among them Italy and Spain, that have been hardest hit by the pandemic but that also have structurally weak, unreformed economies.

The Netherlands and other wealthier nations with healthier public finances are concerned that the commonly funded aid would simply go into a bottomless pit of spending that doesn’t truly help these economies recover without changes to make it easier to reduce bureaucracy, create jobs and stimulate growth.

A key argument in favor of offering grants rather than loans has been that Italy and other countries likely to take the aid are already over-indebted, and piling on yet more loans would just worsen their positions.

Mr. Rutte fought successfully for bigger-than-usual rebates, or reimbursements, for his own and other nations that are net contributors to the E.U. budget.

He and the others succeeded in wringing out another concession: Any country that wishes to use the new funds will need to submit a plan for how it intends to spend the money. The other E.U. nations will have a chance to review and object to the plan within three days of its submission and demand that it be tweaked.

Still, that mechanism fell short of the outright veto that Mr. Rutte had demanded, which the Italian and Spanish leaders denounced as an unacceptable encroachment into their authority.

The package will go to the European Parliament for ratification, and is expected to face a serious challenge on the grounds that it does not tackle concerns about how Poland and Hungary’s governments violate the bloc’s standards for democracy and the rule of law.

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the mark of Cain

A Christian pollster argues that a reckoning is due in America’s churches United States Jul 11th 2020 edition Jul 11th 2020

FEW THINGS about Donald Trump’s rise are harder to explain than the fact that some of the most religious Americans were behind it. In 2016, 81% of white evangelicals voted for him. It seems no one was more astonished by this than those who knew him best. “He has no principles. None!” marvelled his sister Maryanne Trump Barry, according to a forthcoming family exposé by Mary L. Trump, the president’s niece.

The popular explanation for this strange nexus is that white Christians overlooked the president’s failings because of his willingness to fight their corner, by nominating conservative judges and opposing abortion. This always seemed about as persuasive as the comparisons between Mr Trump and the flawed biblical heroes it gave rise to (…Cyrus, David, you name it). Mr Trump’s Republican opponents would have nominated similar judges; no president can do much about abortion. Another explanation, argues a new book by Robert P. Jones, an authority on American religion and politics, and head of the Public Religion Research Institute, is that white Christians were especially receptive to Mr Trump’s race-baiting. Mr Jones also offers a grim theory for why this was the case.

Melding history, theology, statistical modelling and his own experience, as a Southern Baptist seminarian, Mr Jones suggests in “White Too Long” that white Christian traditions are so steeped in historic racism that “the norms of white supremacy have become deeply and broadly integrated into white Christian identity.” That will not be obvious to most of America’s white Christians (a group Lexington worships among and is sympathetic to). They probably condemn racism. Mr Jones finds white evangelicals especially likely to express goodwill to African-Americans. But dig into their unconscious biases, he claims, and you see a different picture emerge. “In survey after survey” white Christians are much likelier than non-religious whites to express negative attitudes towards minorities and complacency about the rough treatment of African-Americans, among other indicators of racism. Asked whether police killings of black men were isolated incidents, 71% of white evangelicals said they were, compared with 38% of non-religious whites.

This is a finding to which two qualifiers are often added. First, white evangelicals are likely to be old, conservative and live in the South—characteristics that point to unreconstructed views on race independently of religion. Second, while people who simply identify as white evangelicals might hold such views, the most pious do not. Mr Jones is unconvinced by either qualifier. He controls for age, partisanship and geography in his model—and finds the same pattern. And he finds that practising evangelicals score the highest on his index of racism. He concludes that white Christian identity is “independently predictive” of racist attitudes.

Such claims are shocking. But, Mr Jones argues, the history of American Christianity makes this likelier than it might sound. The dominant southern strains of white evangelicalism were formed amid and sometimes in response to slavery. The Southern Baptists, America’s biggest denomination, was launched to defend it biblically—which it did by representing black skin as the accursed “mark of Cain”. Many southern pastors were cheerleaders for the Confederacy, then shaped the culture of nostalgia and lament (the “religion of the lost cause”) that precluded a reckoning with Jim Crow’s legacy. The stained-glass windows of some southern churches still sparkle with Confederate flags. Almost 90% of white evangelicals consider the flag “more a symbol of southern pride than of racism”.

Post-war pessimism also led evangelicals to adopt a premillennialist theology, which viewed the world as irredeemable by man. Instead of wasting their time on social justice, it urged them to focus on their individual spirituality. The perverse effect, argues Mr Jones, was to imbue white evangelicals with “an unassailable sense of religious purity” that blinded them to their own behaviour. History records instances of white congregations pouring out of church to a lynching. And such scenes were not restricted to evangelicals or the South.

As African-Americans fled north, mainstream protestants and Catholics increasingly adopted the mores of southern evangelicals. The moral majority of the 1970s and 80s, fuelled by a Catholic aversion to abortion and common fears of the civil-rights movement, was the culmination of this fusion. Mr Jones’s model suggests the same racial attitudes are common to most white Christian traditions. Evangelicals are merely the most extreme case.

This is a bleak analysis. Perhaps the least that can be said for it is that Mr Trump, now tripling down on race-baiting, knows his base. So long as he can keep his white Christian voters happy, he has a chance, and harping on race looks like his likeliest means to do so. Mist on the water

If Mr Jones is right, a bigger question is whether churches can reckon with the bigotry the Trump era has brought to the fore. This will take more than a symbolic statement of guilt and desire for reconciliation. Most churches, to their credit, have been doing that sort of thing for decades. Mr Jones quotes a Baptist pastor in Georgia who is trying to go further as saying that the word “reconciliation” betrays a “desire to just kind of move through all the hard stuff.”

For him and his flock, the hard stuff involves trying to build a community with the black congregation next door, whose ancestors their ancestors owned. It might also mean revisiting the individualistic theology many traditions still adhere to. It could involve restitution—as slave-built Virginia Theological Seminary demonstrated, by launching a $1.7m fund for black seminarians.

This troubling past was always the real mark of Cain, Mr Jones writes. And “today God’s anguished questions—‘Where is your brother?’ and ‘What have you done?’—still hang in the air like morning mist on the Mississippi River.”■

Correction (July 12th 2020): A previous version of this article incorrectly named Virginia Theological Seminary. Sorry.

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Reply to comment by Brick in The Walkman, Forty Years On by ziq

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Cultural Comment

The Walkman, Forty Years On

The gadget that taught the world to socially distance.

By Matt Alt

June 29, 2020

The Walkman débuted in Japan, in 1979, to near silence. But, within a year and a half, Sony would produce and sell two million of them.Photograph from Alamy

Even prior to extended quarantines, lockdowns, and self-isolation, it was hard to imagine life without the electronic escapes of noise-cancelling earbuds, smartphones, and tablets. Today, it seems impossible. Of course, there was most certainly a before and after, a point around which the cultural gravity of our plugged-in-yet-tuned-out modern lives shifted. Its name is Walkman, and it was invented, in Japan, in 1979. After the Walkman arrived on American shores, in June of 1980, under the temporary name of Soundabout, our days would never be the same.

Up to this point, music was primarily a shared experience: families huddling around furniture-sized Philcos; teens blasting tunes from automobiles or sock-hopping to transistor radios; the bar-room juke; break-dancers popping and locking to the sonic backdrop of a boom box. After the Walkman, music could be silence to all but the listener, cocooned within a personal soundscape, which spooled on analog cassette tape. The effect was shocking even to its creators. “Everyone knows what headphones sound like today,” the late Sony designer Yasuo Kuroki wrote in a Japanese-language memoir, from 1990. “But at the time, you couldn’t even imagine it, and then suddenly Beethoven’s Fifth is hammering between your ears.”

The initial incarnation of the Walkman, the TPS-L2, was envisioned as a toy for Japanese high-school and college students to use as they studied. (Sharp-eyed fans will recognize the distinctive silver and blue TPS-L2 as the model carried by Peter Quill in Marvel’s “Guardians of the Galaxy” films.) Sony’s chairman at the time, the genial Akio Morita, was so unsure of the device’s prospects that he ordered a manufacturing run of only thirty thousand, a drop in the bucket compared to such established lines as Trinitron televisions. Initially, he seemed right to be cautious. The Walkman débuted in Japan to near silence. But word quickly spread among the youth of Tokyo about a strange new device that let you carry a soundtrack out of your bedroom, onto commuter trains, and into city streets. Within a year and a half of the appearance of the Walkman, Sony would produce and sell two million of them.

While the Walkman was far smaller and lighter than any tape deck that had come before, it remained stubbornly large. The technology of the day precluded Sony’s engineers, who were renowned as wizards of miniaturization, from whittling their portable stereo down to anything smaller than the size of a paperback book. Oversized for a pocket, the Walkman obligated the user to carry it by hand or sling it in an included belt holster. Even stranger, by current portable-listening standards, were the Walkman’s headphone ports—plural—and a built-in microphone. The Walkman was initially designed to be used in tandem: a “hot line” button paused the music and activated the mic, letting two users chat even with headphones on. This specification had come at the insistence of Morita, who had irritated his wife by not being able to conduct a conversation while testing early prototypes at home.

The canny Morita, the architect of Sony’s sleek image both inside Japan and abroad, was right to fear the isolating nature of the Walkman. What he was wrong about was how, for the Walkman’s growing numbers of users, isolation was the whole point. “With the advent of the Sony Walkman came the end of meeting people,” Susan Blond, a vice-president at CBS Records, told the Washington Post in 1981. “It’s like a drug: You put the Walkman on and you blot out the rest of the world.” It didn’t take long for academics to coin a term for the phenomenon. The musicologist Shuhei Hosokawa called it “the Walkman effect.”

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Hosokawa noted how listeners used the devices to tame the unpredictability of urban spaces, with all of their unexpected intrusions and loud noises. Wearing headphones functioned both as a personal “Do Not Disturb” sign and an alternate soundtrack to the cacophony of the city. This was a new form of human experience, engaged disengagement, a technological shield from the world and an antidote to ennui. Whenever nerves frayed or boredom crept in, one could just hit Play and fast-forward life a little. One of the first Westerners to grasp the import of this new human capacity was the author William Gibson, a pioneer of the genre of science fiction called cyberpunk, who wrote years later that “the Sony Walkman has done more to change human perception than any virtual reality gadget.”

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The Walkman instantly entrenched itself in daily life as a convenient personal music-delivery device; within a few years of its global launch, it emerged as a status symbol and fashion statement in and of itself. “We just got back from Paris and everybody’s wearing them,” Andy Warhol enthused to the Post. Boutiques like Bloomingdale’s had months-long waiting lists of eager customers. Paul Simon ostentatiously wore his onstage at the 1981 Grammys; by Christmas, they were de-rigueur celebrity gifts, with leading lights like Donna Summer dispensing them by the dozens. There had been popular electronic gadgets before, such as the pocket-sized transistor radios of the fifties, sixties, and seventies. But the Walkman was in another league. Until this point, earphones had been associated with hearing impairment, geeky technicians manning sonar stations, or basement-dwelling hi-fi fanatics. Somehow, a Japanese company had made the high-tech headgear cool.

Steve Jobs, then the young C.E.O. of a fledgling Silicon Valley startup called Apple Computer, had personally received a Walkman from Morita on a business trip to Japan, where Jobs went in search of disk-drive suppliers in the early nineteen-eighties. When Jobs returned home, he didn’t even bother listening to a cassette on the Walkman; instead, he opened and dissected the machinery piece by piece, reading tiny gears, drive belts, and capstans like tea leaves, to divine how he might, someday, make something so epically world-changing himself. “Steve’s point of reference was Sony at the time,” his successor at Apple, John Sculley, recalled. “He really wanted to be Sony. He didn’t want to be IBM. He didn’t want to be Microsoft. He wanted to be Sony.”

Jobs would get his wish with the début of the iPod, in 2001. It wasn’t the first digital-music player—a South Korean firm had introduced one back in 1998. (That Sony failed to exploit the niche, in spite of having created listening-on-the-go and even owning its own record label, was a testament to how Morita’s unexpected retirement after a stroke, in 1993, hobbled the corporation.) But Apple’s was the most stylish to date, bereft of the complicated and button-festooned interfaces of its competitors, finished in sleek pearlescent plastic and with a satisfying heft that hinted at powerful technologies churning inside. Apple also introduced a tantalizing new method of serving up music: the shuffle, which let listeners remix entire musical libraries into never-ending audio backdrops for their lives. Once again, city streets were the proving ground for this evolution of portable listening technology. “I was on Madison [Ave],” Jobs told Newsweek, in 2004, “and it was, like, on every block, there was someone with white headphones, and I thought, ‘Oh, my God, it’s starting to happen.’ ”

That happening never really stopped, even after the advent, in 2007, of the iPhone—a direct descendant of the iPod and Walkman—made stand-alone portable music players obsolete. The iPhone added the intraocular drip of always accessible Internet, a new way of escaping the cacophonies that surround us. But the headphones were here to stay. iPod sales have dwindled to the point that Apple stopped reporting them in 2014, but, that very same year, the company purchased the headphones company Beats by Dre for more than three billion dollars. At the time, this marked the single biggest acquisition in Apple’s history—proof of Sony’s prescience in discovering and stoking an incandescent hunger for auditory escapes in our daily lives. The Walkman wasn’t the end of meeting people, but it paved the way for surviving an unthinkable era in which we would find ourselves unable to meet at all.

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Brick wrote

Left vs Right comes from which side of the French king members of the états généraux were sitting before the French revolution - those on the right were monarchist, those on the left were in favour of the republic. In other words, both were in favour of the state. Obviously all this was a long time ago, and most people aren't really aware of it, but that doesn't mean it's not relevant, because the underlying assumption still persists that the whole spectrum of conceivable politics need to be enacted through the state. That's still true, whether it's social-democrats, liberals, leninists, greens, whatever.

I think one of the most important things we need to get across is that worthwhile political changes can only be achieved through direct action outside and against the state, parliamentary democracy and the various structures of class collaboration, and that means questioning the left vs right thing.

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