The New Yorker, Oct. 30 Connie Bruck assesses the state of microfinance, in part by profiling "godfather of microcredit" Muhammad Yunus, winner of this year's Nobel Peace Prize. He hit on the idea of giving very small loans—a few dollars at a time—to poor villagers during the 1974 famine in his native Bangladesh; and his Grameen Bank subsequently proved that the idea worked, loaning out more than $5 billion over the years. Today, Yunus is at odds with a new cohort of microlending visionaries who want to make microcredit profitable, instead of relying on government and donor support. Yunus fears that in doing so, microcredit banks will abandon the "very poor" for the "less poor," and with them his dream of eliminating poverty altogether. … George Packer spotlights groups in Washington that are earnestly trying to cook up alternative strategies for Iraq that acknowledge that "a unified and democratic Iraq" is no longer in the offing, and condemns the Bush administration for stifling internal dissent on Iraq and burying its head in the sand.— B.W.
Weekly Standard, Oct. 30 An editorial pleads with Republicans to get out and vote on Election Day. Sure, Iraq is a boondoggle, Republicans have been spending like Democrats, and a new GOP scandal seems to sprout up on a weekly basis, but now is not the time for conservatives to give up by shirking their civic duty: "For them to skip out on their obligation to vote in this election over a petty grievance—or for that matter, over a not-so-petty grievance—would mark them as politically childish,"harangues Fred Barnes. … A profile of Montana Senate candidate Jon Tester suggests he's representative of a new breed of Democrat emerging from such red-state bulwarks as Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, and Utah. Christened by Daily Kos founder Markos Moulitsas as "Libertarian Democrats," this hybrid is wary of government abusing its power, but also understands that "no one is truly free if they fear for their health, so social net programs are important," the blogger contends.— Z.K.
Newsweek and Time, Oct. 30 A Newsweek piece examines how moderate Democrats are homing in on swing voters in conservative bastions like Tennessee. In his push for a Senate seat, Democratic Rep. Harold Ford Jr. combines religious rhetoric with attacks on the Republicans' handling of Iraq, but still calls President Bush "my friend." Ford has resisted labels by voting conservatively on social issues like the gay marriage amendment. But in a predominately white state, race—Ford comes from a prominent black family—can be a wild card: "If he wins, they are going to write textbooks on his campaign," says Phil Singer, spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. … A Time piece considers the role of Christian conservatives in the upcoming midterm elections. Republicans earned their support this term by securing two Supreme Court seats and restricting stem-cell funding. Recent scandals have raised questions about GOP morality, but religious leaders are rallying voters anyway: "Yes, what Mark Foley did was wrong," James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family, told radio listeners, "but it is still important to go to the polls and let our voices be heard."
Iraq unraveling: A Newsweek piece findsAmerican soldiers stationed near Sadr City, a Shiite-militia headquarters, growing increasingly frustrated as sectarian killings and the American death toll spiked this week. Recruiters for the Iraqi police force do their best to "weed out the bad ones," but infiltration continues. The end game is unclear: "There is no plan B," a senior Pentagon official says. … A Time article deems the Iraq war "closer to failure than success" and weighs the United States' options to stem the violence. The prescription includes purging the Iraqi police of Shiite-militia members loyal to Moqtada al-Sadr, reintegrating Sunnis into the political process, and dialoguing with weapons providers Syria and Iran. Some analysts think Bush missed his chance: "The initiative has passed into Iraqi hands," an expert contends. "There are no 'silver bullets' that can quickly rescue this situation."—C.B.
New Republic, Oct. 30 A recent novel about a Republican congressman takes House Speaker Dennis Hastert as its muse, a piece reports. The book's author, Eron Shosteck, also happens to be Hastert's former press secretary. The speaker's performance during the Foley fallout crystallizes the similarities: "A bumbling Republican congressman? Hastert did an almost Oscar-worthy rendition of the tongue-tied [character Charles] Lattan during his recent Foley-themed sessions with reporters. An inveterate Clinton-hater? In an attempt to divert attention from the scandal, Hastert took after various unnamed Clinton aides during a recent interview."… A piece contends that the Foley scandal has exposed the lack of party discipline among GOP House members in the post-DeLay era. Now, as Republicans like Tom Reynolds and John Boehner turn on Hastert to save their own skins, we learn that discipline "didn't flow from some innate wellspring of collective self-restraint so much as it was maintained by a handful of determined autocrats."— C.B.
Economist, Oct. 21 A special report on Asia's consumers challenges the conventional wisdom that the health of the global economy depends on America's spending habits. In fact, Asia has fueled more worldwide economic growth than the United States has in recent years, and Asian consumer spending—led by China—is growing twice as quickly as in America. Though Asian exports to the United States remain huge, they have been shrinking relative to exports from other regions. All this indicates that "if America suffers a slump, the economies of China and the rest of Asia would slow, but they are unlikely to be derailed."… An article on London as a principal global financial center explains how it achieved that status and what it will need to do to maintain it. The conclusion: More flexible regulation has allowed London to prosper relative to its U.S. and European analogues, and the city's other advantages—a large concentration of firms and highly skilled labor—loom larger than threats like the NASDAQ's campaign to purchase the London Stock Exchange. — B.W.
New York Times Magazine, Oct. 22 A piece explores the tribal borderlands of Afghanistan and Pakistan, where the Taliban is enjoying a resurgence. In the last five years, the Taliban has become "far more sophisticated and outward-looking" in an attempt to connect their struggle against U.S. and NATO forces to that of the larger Muslim community. They have won local approval in Helmand province by supporting poppy farmers—a reversal of the poppy ban they enforced while in power. Now Afghans are harvesting the opiate source at record levels. One dealer, Razzaq, earns up to $7,500 a month: "All the governors are doing this, so why shouldn't we?"… A profile of choreographer Twyla Tharp, whose upcoming show The Times They Are A-Changin' sets modern dance to Bob Dylan songs, highlights a forceful personality and unmatched work ethic that command dancers' respect. The author asks Tharp if she's happy: "I work," she replies. "Happy is like a value judgment. Good, bad, happy. I wouldn't know how to evaluate."— C.B.
New York, Oct. 23
If preliminary polls are any indication, the Democrats are set to take over the House, according to a piece. That is, unless "the Democrats, being Democrats, somehow fuck it up," the writer frets. But even GOP pollster Frank Luntz concedes that it will be hard for them to fumble this one: "The Democrats never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity. … But I think it's almost impossible, even for them, to blow it this time."… The soapy cover article detailing the troubled marriage of New York attorney general candidate Jeanine Pirro and Al Pirro reads like a cautionary tale for career-driven wives. They were the perfect striver couple—Al worked behind the scenes building his business, making contacts, and raising money that fueled Jeanine's political ambitions. Eventually Al grew disillusioned after spending too many nights eating dinner alone, wishing someone was there to tell him "you're smart or you're good-looking or you made a good business decision."—Z.K.
The Atlantic, November 2006 A sweeping profile of Hillary Rodham Clinton suggests her successful Senate career may inhibit her presidential prospects. The author describes Hillary's rise as "a pattern of ambition, failure, study, and advancement." Since her health-care bill died in 1993, Clinton has played a cautious game, taking "small steps" without much political risk. Despite her name recognition and ability to reach across the aisle, critics see her latest incarnation—no longer the "brashly confident leader of health-care reform"—as unlikely to defeat a popular Republican like John McCain. … A piece examines the emerging genre of dramatic video games. Two programmers spent five years designing Façade, an emotionally charged "interactive drama" that breaks from the dominant action-thriller mold. The game, which features two characters in a marital crisis, may remedy the "real lack of meaning" in video games. But there's just one problem: "Façade is ingenious, but it is not fun."— C.B.