TIME human behavior

The One Equation That Explains All of Humanity’s Problems

Relax, it's not nearly this complicated
Relax, it's not nearly this complicated niarchos Getty Images

There's you, there's me and there's everyone else on the planet. How many of those people do you care about?

Good news! If you’re like most Americans, you don’t have much reason to worry about the dangerous state of the world. Take Ebola. Do you have it? No, you don’t, and neither does anyone in your family. As for Ukraine, it’s not your neighborhood, right? Ditto ISIS.

Reasonable people might argue that a position like this lacks a certain, well, perspective, and reasonable people would be right. But that doesn’t mean it’s not a position way too many of us adopt all the same, even if we don’t admit it. If it’s not happening here, it’s not happening at all—and we get to move on to other things.

I was put freshly in mind of this yesterday, after I wrote a story on the newest—and arguably least honest—argument being used by the dwindling community of climate deniers, and then posted the link to the piece on Twitter. Yes, yes, I know. If you can’t stand the tweet heat stay out of the Twitter kitchen. But all the same, I was surprised by one response:

Just out of curiosity, how has ‘climate change’ personally affected you? Has it brought you harm?

And right there, in 140 characters or less, was the problem—the all-politics-is-local, not-in-my-backyard, no-man-is-an-island-except-me heart of the matter. It is the sample group of one—or, as scientists express it, n=1—the least statistically reliable, most flawed of all sample groups. The best thing you can call conclusions drawn from such a source is anecdotal. The worst is flat out selfish.

No, climate change has not yet affected me personally—or at least not in a way that’s scientifically provable. Sure, I was in New York for Superstorm Sandy and endured the breakdown of services that followed. But was that a result of climate change? Scientists aren’t sure. The run of above-normal, heat wave summers in the city are likelier linked to global warming, and those have been miserable. But my experience is not really the point, is it?

What about the island nations that are all-but certain to be under water in another few generations? What about the endless droughts in the southwest and the disappearance of the Arctic ice cap and the dying plants and animals whose climates are changing faster than they can adapt—which in turn disrupts economies all over the world? What about the cluster of studies just published in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society firmly linking the 2013-2014 heat wave in Australia—which saw temperatures hit 111ºF (44ºC)—to climate change?

Not one of those things has affected me personally. My cozy n=1 redoubt has not been touched. As for the n=millions? Not on my watch, babe.

That kind of thinking is causing all kinds of problems. N=1 are the politicians acting against the public interest so they can please a febrile faction of their base and ensure themselves another term. N=1 is the parent refusing to vaccinate a child because, hey, no polio around here; it’s the open-carry zealots who shrug off Sandy Hook but would wake up fast if 20 babies in their own town were shot; it’s refusing to think about Social Security as long as your own check still clears, and as for the Millennials who come along later? Well, you’ll be dead by then so who cares?

N=1 is a fundamental denial of the larger reality that n=humanity. That includes your children, and it includes a whole lot of other people’s children, too—children who may be strangers to you but are the first reason those other parents get out of bed in the morning.

Human beings are innately selfish creatures; our very survival demands that we tend to our immediate needs before anyone else’s—which is why you put on your own face mask first when the plane depressurizes. But the other reason you do that is so you can help other people. N=all of the passengers in all of the seats around yours—and in case you haven’t noticed, we’re all flying in the same plane together.

TIME Hong Kong

Hong Kong Shows Beijing Exactly What Democracy Can Look Like

Protesters block a street near government headquarters in Hong Kong
Peaceful protesters block a street near the government headquarters in Hong Kong on Sept 30, 2014 Carlos Barria—Reuters

Peaceful Occupy protests are showing the Chinese government that Hong Kong is no insolent child that needs protecting from itself

The Chinese Communist Party insists Hong Kong is not ready for democracy. Beijing announced late last month that if Hong Kong residents want to select their next leader, in 2017, they must choose from a list of candidates essentially vetted by the party. Mainland Chinese officials and academics liken Hong Kong to an insolent child, and the central government to a wise mother. Don’t act out, they warn, or chaos will follow.

Hong Kong people are proving them wrong. On the night of Sept. 29 and the morning of Sept. 30, just 24 hours after demonstrators here were hit with round after round of pepper spray and tear gas, tens of thousands of Hong Kong people took to the streets in a historic act of protest. As local police withdrew, the swelling crowd hung banners and blocked roadways on both Hong Kong Island and the Kowloon side. It could have been a night of violence; peace held.

What happened in Hong Kong that night was nothing short of amazing — the embodiment of civil society. Streams of people occupied the very heart of the city, from the financial district to government offices in Admiralty, to a key intersection across the storied harbor in Kowloon. They moved slowly and carefully through the packed concrete corridors, mindful of the people around them, eager to lend a hand.

In just a week, Hong Kong’s student-led class boycott has morphed into a social movement. The goal is the resignation of the city’s top leader, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, and a free election in 2017. Though many Hong Kong people were, or are, wary of pushing too hard, too fast, support is spreading as it becomes clear that the people on the street are committed to protecting the city and each other.

Late on the night of Sept. 29, on a packed subway car heading east from Central District to the shopping mecca of Causeway Bay, sweat-soaked demonstrators make way for ordinary people on their way home. When an elderly woman with a walking cane entered, several stood to offer their seats. She smiled at them, but refused to sit in their place: “You students need the rest,” she said.

The crowd is mostly but not entirely young, and represents many parts city’s social fabric. High school students in crisp white uniforms deliberate homework on the ground. Local business owners donate food. When a group representing the city’s ethnic minorities arrived at government offices, the crowd roared. “We Are Hong Kong, We Stand United,” their sign read.

Volunteers ferry basic necessities to the front and set up support stations. “Do you need a mask?” they ask. “We have biscuits!” People arrive with plastic shopping bags full of granola bars. There are reserves of toilet paper and bandages. Just before 3 a.m. on the morning of Sept. 30, a polite young man offers water. I decline. “We have sparkling too!” he grins.

As the night wears on, atmosphere is tinged by rumors that the police are on their way, that a crackdown is imminent. They are not sure why the police changed tactics and wonder when the authorities will once again resort to batons or tear gas. Some are wary of speaking to the press or being photographed, certain that officials are watching and plotting retribution.

The big unknown, of course, is what local authorities, and their backers in Beijing, will do. In a city that each year marks the anniversary of the 1989 crackdown in Tiananmen Square, people are all too aware of the worst-case scenario: brutal suppression by the central government. Will Beijing show they are listening and give ground? Will they send the People’s Liberation Army to crush the rally?

The ruling party is no doubt weighing its options. On the Chinese mainland, where the Internet is censored and local media are tightly controlled, they could try to stop the news from spreading, to purge scenes of mass protest from the front pages. They could try to cast the crowds in Hong Kong as self-destructive teenagers, to argue that it’s time for bed.

But that won’t fly in Hong Kong, where the press is largely free, and the camera-wielding crowd is documenting their every move. However this ends, it is their posts, pictures and videos that will make history.

It is a history the city can be proud of. Where there might have been discord and violence, cooperation and camaraderie reigned. A lesson for Beijing.

TIME Environment

The Climate Deniers’ Newest Argument

Ok, this part is settled. The rest, not so much
Ok, this part is settled. The rest, not so much Meriel Jane Waissman; Getty Images

It's a lot easier to attack environmental scientists when you make up something they didn't say—and then criticize them for saying it

There are few things more satisfying than when people you’re arguing with say something manifestly wrong or tone-deaf. It’s the polemical equivalent of getting a big, fat fastball right right in your sweet spot. Just swing away with a look of disdain or checkable fact and the home run trot is yours.

Alas, that happens less often than one might like, but there’s nothing that stops you from pretending your adversary said something dumb and then pouncing on the imaginary remark. Thus we had the “You didn’t build that” and “Let Detroit go bankrupt” silliness of the 2012 Presidential campaign, in which both President Obama and Mitt Romney were pilloried for saying things they never actually said—or at least didn’t mean—at all. And so, too, we have the “Climate science is settled” charade, in which climate change deniers hand-select four words environmental scientists often do say, reframe those words to mean something else entirely, and then beat the scientists up for faux-saying it.

We saw the examplar of this ignoble formula earlier in the year when Charles Krauthammer, writing in the Washington Post, conceded that CO2 emissions aren’t good for the planet, but declared, “I also believe that those scientists who pretend to know exactly what this will cause in 20, 30 or 50 years are white-coated propagandists.” As I observed at the time, these white-coated propagandists are actually white-coated strawmen, since virtually all credible scientists acknowledge that climate systems are far, far too complex to analyze with precise accuracy. Do environmental researchers and green politicians ever say the science is “settled?” Yes they do—but they mean that the fake debate over whether climate change is a vast hoax is finished. They don’t mean there’s no work ahead.

Krauthammer, of course, is not a climate scientist—which gives him at least a small excuse. The same cannot be said of Steven E. Koonin, whose recent piece in the Wall Street Journal took a more nuanced approach to making the same point. Koonin is director of the Center for Urban Science and Progress at New York University and a former Energy Department undersecretary during Obama’s first term. Yet he runs with the same dishonest baton Krauthammer did.

“The idea that ‘Climate science is settled’ runs through today’s popular and policy discussions,” he writes. “Unfortunately, that claim is misguided.” Koonin then ticks off the usual right-wing talking points: The computer models are imperfect; the oceans’ role in warming has not been studied fully; the history of Earth’s climate is poorly understood; there has been a slowing of warming over the past 15 years. Stipulated, stipulated, stipulated and stipulated.

Again and again, climate scientists acknowledge every single one of these x-factors and again and again they come back to the fact that the planet is sick and we’re playing a role. Knowing that cigarettes can kill you is not the same as pretending to predict which fatal illness—if any—you’re going to contract or just when and how severely that disease is going to strike. But you can surely tell when you’re beginning to cough, and if you don’t quit smoking straightaway you’re a fool.

In some ways, Koonin’s own familiarity with the climate field gets in the way of his argument. He cites, for example, the fact that 55 different computer models have been used by the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), and not one of them is in precise agreement with the others. But where does he get that supposedly damning evidence? From the IPCC’s own 2013 report. That sounds a whole lot like a group of researchers openly acknowledging that the science is not settled, even if it all points in the same direction.

Koonin also makes the mistake of counterfeit-evenhandedness when he writes, “I fear that rigidly promulgating the idea that climate science is ‘settled’ (or is a ‘hoax’) demeans and chills the scientific enterprise.” That conspicuous parenthetical is meant to provide the illusion of balance, except the deniers truly do make the hoax claim (we’re looking at you Okla. Sen. James Inhofe, former chairman of the Environmental and Public Works Committee) and climate scientists truly don’t make the settledness claim—at least not the way Koonin is implying.

This isn’t to say all climate papers cover themselves in glory. Just last year, a study published in Nature tried to forecast the exact year in which various cities around the world would reach a tipping point, after which their climates would have moved permanently outside the boundaries of the mean. And so we got New York in 2047, Paris in 2054, Moscow in 2063 and on and on. Yes, there were generous margins of error built into the study, but even to suggest such precision is to misrepresent the science—at least in the popular mind.

Still, studies like this one are outliers—overzealous pieces of prognosticating in a discipline better known for caution and candor. The same moderation has not been true of the folks who have spent the better part of 25 years flinging accusations of conspiracy and fraud at climate scientists just trying to do their work. The disingenuous “settled science” argument may be a less shrill approach, but it’s a no more honest one.

TIME Television

Where Are All the Angry Black Women?

#TGIT Premiere Event Hosted BY Twitter
Actress Viola Davis , the star of How To Get Away With Murder. Amanda Edwards—WireImage/Getty Images

Robin Givens on living with outdated stereotypes in a modern era

We’ve been hearing a lot of about angry black women this week. A New York Times television critic used that phrase recently to describe Shonda Rhimes, producer of breakthrough hit shows featuring African American women like Scandal, Gray’s Anatomy and How To Get Away With Murder which premiered on Thursday. The Times piece launched a hot debate about race and the media prompting a long response from the paper’s public editor on Wednesday. That’s a conversation we should be having, but beyond those fundamental questions, the fracas left me wondering where the term “angry black women” originated and what goings on made the term stick.

By the time we’re adults, most black women have lots of reasons, big and small, to be furious whether it’s pay inequities or the outrageous injustices that are regularly inflicted upon our fathers, brothers, sons and husbands. But looking around, I don’t know where all the angry black women are. Mostly we’re working. Anger might just be a luxury we don’t have. And I’m not sure public fury is something we feel safe expressing even when we should.

Just this summer, a friend mine, well-educated, well-travelled, successful and black, offered to house sit and take care of my dog Grace. She’s done this before and usually her boyfriend would join her while she walked Grace in the park down the street from my home. On one particular night on their walk, three police cars pulled up and asked her what she and her boyfriend were doing. Stunned, scared and confused, she cautiously replied “walking the dog.” They showed their ID to the officers and went on their way. My friend then phoned to tell me what had happened. She was clearly shaken but not angry, though she had every right to be.

Before that, I spent weeks watching Trayvon Martin’s mother defend her murdered son with strength and grace but never anger, an emotion she had every right to under the circumstances. I thought of my sons and wondered how she kept the rage at bay. But she did. And now there’s Michael Brown, and another mother suffering but not raging.

When I explain to my sons (who happen to be half white ) that while their friends jump fences to take the shortcut home , they absolutely should not. Why? They ask me. I search for the right words. I resent that I have to have this conversation with them, I resent that I worry about them when they pull up their hoodies. Does this make me an angry black woman?

I was raised being told that education is the great equalizing factor in America, but the officers in my Southern California neighborhood didn’t ask about my friend’s expensive degree when they stopped her. I don’t know what they were thinking. And while I do know that so very much has changed since my mother had to enter through the back door in order to go to the movies in Lexington, Ky., so much has remained the same. And that includes having a TV critic look at Shonda Rhimes’ career and decide to measure the complex black female characters she’s brought into our lives against a cartoonish stereotype.

The piece should serve as reminder that it is still remarkable to see 49-year-old Viola Davis as the star of a prime time drama, and, for that matter, to see Michelle Obama in the White House. This is because we are still being measured against those stereotypes and still learning to climb past them. Legendary actress Ruby Dee once told me that for black women, life is “like going to the ocean and only being allowed a cup of it.” And when I think of Shonda Rhimes and what she has done with that cup, I’m proud. She is gloriously swimming in the all of it and furthermore, she brings friends … Viola Davis, Kerry Washington to name a few.

When I look at Tea Leoni or Kerry Washington I don’t see much difference between them. When I look at Viola Davis and Meryl Streep I am in awe, equally. But as a black actress and black woman, I realize that Davis and Washington’s roads have been very different from their counterparts. Narrower and steeper to say the least.

And for the black women who are watching these actresses move ascend in the cultural universe, there’s pride. Rhimes’ heroines are us. We don’t spend our days talking about being black, and we come in different shapes and sizes, and yes different colors. Some of us are weak and some of us are strong. And some of us are even angry, especially when someone who has no experience in our world makes a judgement about what we’re feeling.

TIME

There’s Nothing Wrong with the Mommy Track

mother daughter
Crezalyn Nerona Uratsuji—Getty Images

Our culture sings in only two keys about how successful women manage motherhood and work: either you’re driving a hard line to the C-suite, parking the crib in your corner office, or you’re shredding the Mommy track. What about a third way?

Before I became a parent, I was a bestselling author and speaker pounding up the escalators of a different airport every week. I worked insatiably, sometimes meeting three different contacts for a drink, dinner and dessert. When my daughter was born, I was thrilled — and anxious. I had heard the old adage, “You can have it all – just not at once.” On my first day back after maternity leave, I packed up my breast pump and parking meter quarters. I was ready for my life to change.

But here’s what I didn’t count on: feeling ashamed because I refused to put work above all else. Because I yearned to spend quality time with my daughter. Because I wanted actual work-life balance.

Instead of shutting down my laptop at 7 or 8 pm, I now relieved my sitter at 4:30. I rarely logged on after bedtime, or on weekends. But as I played with the baby on the floor, I was miles away in my head. Would my clients and colleagues write me off if I didn’t produce at the same pace? What would my next big project be? I read my daughter books in a toneless, distant voice, ruminating furiously.

I had plowed through a pile of work that month – finishing a grant, giving speeches, writing an advice column, teaching 60 high school students, answering countless emails – yet I still felt like a slacker. It never occurred to me that I was working, and working hard. Why?

Our culture sings in only two keys about how successful women manage motherhood and work: either you’re driving a hard line to the C-suite, parking the crib in your corner office, or you’re shredding the Mommy track.

But what about those of us who are still working hard, and who live and work somewhere between the two? I love being a mom, and I also love (and can’t afford not to) work.

So why do we speak in such crude terms about the nuanced, ever-changing dance of work-life balance? To begin with, the choices are rigged. To hear popular media tell it, the alternative to leaning in seems like a thinly veiled insult: the words “opt out” or “mommy track” suggest that the “in” – the standard of true success– is paid work.

In our million-mile-an-hour culture of never enough, working less is interpreted as working less well. This isn’t always the case. Parents quickly become expert at doing more work in less time, redirecting chit-chat and out-for-lunch hours toward getting the job done faster. Yet it’s mothers, far more than fathers, who are judged critically.

Perhaps even more galling, the suggestion that women can either elect to work harder or opt out demeans the nearly 50 million working mothers who maybe can’t afford the choice.

Brown University Professor Yael Chatav Schoenbrun knew she wouldn’t fit the mold. “I made a decision,” she wrote in the New York Times, “to back down, but not bail out.” She would work hard, just not as hard as she did before parenthood. Recalling her angst over choosing her own path, she shared a puzzling conclusion. “The real problem,” she wrote, “was me.”

But was it really? This kind of self-blame comes so easily to women. It recalls the self-flagellating angst of a generation that Betty Friedan profiled in The Feminine Mystique. The reality is more complex. New research has confirmed what many have suspected for a long time: moms are less likely to be hired for jobs, perceived as competent, or be paid as much as equally qualified male colleagues. But for men, having kids helps their careers. Dads are more likely to be hired than childless men and are more likely to earn more after they have kids.

Doesn’t some responsibility lie, too, with a culture that insists on pigeonholing its women into two extreme, unattainable ways of being? It is a familiar trope: We are to be nice, and liked by everyone; or else we are labeled aggressive. We’re humble or conceited; compliant, good girls or sluts. Rarely are women offered a middle road, one that imagines them as real, complex, dynamic beings.

When we frame women’s choices in terms of extreme work or extreme mothering, women think they have to define themselves in terms of a single goal, everything else be damned. Instead of having the chance to succeed in either realm, women committed to both work and mothering end up feeling inadequate in both. Mommy wars are the sad by-product of the drive to prove one’s worth in a contest where no one ever gets to feel like they are enough as they are.

Working mothers who feel inadequate, even as they continue to work hard, may suffer from what Brene Brown, author of the bestseller Daring Greatly, calls the “never enough” problem: a persistent, self-defeating belief that we will not be worthy or lovable until we are richer, thinner, more powerful, more successful, and so on. We are made to feel, she writes, “that an ordinary life is a meaningless life.”

Perhaps this is why working women are inducted into motherhood being warned that we will never feel like good enough moms or good enough professionals. Ruthless perfectionists that we are, we drink this kool-aid without question.

But what if it’s precisely that juicy, flawed mix of experiences that adds up to a life well-lived? What if by trading in the fruitless drive to be perfect, we inherit a richly textured self?

Besides, the endless diaper changes and tantrums give way, soon enough, to the first day of kindergarten – and a lot more time to devote to a career.

I have spent my life in fear of being average. But the joy I experience as a parent is driving me to face that fear in a way I never thought possible. As I bumble through paving my own third way, I am learning to lower my standards when I need to: to prep last minute; to write bullet points instead of full paragraphs; to say no. At first, I was sure the bottom would literally fall out of my career – and therefore my world. Slowly, I saw that no one really cared. They may not have even noticed. (It’s often said that we are our own worst judges. In some cases, we may also be our only worst judges.)

Waves of anxiety about my career still find me, often in the middle of the night. It is an ongoing struggle to remember that I am enough as I am. But now, when I sit on the floor with my daughter, I see our time as anything but a detour from my ambition. She is the passion project I was waiting for.

 

TIME health

Dear Rob Schneider: Please Shut Up About Vaccines

The doctor is in the house: by all means, take vaccine advice from this guy
The doctor is in the house: by all means, take vaccine advice from this guy

State Farm dumps ad campaign after Deuce Bigalow's ignorant remarks about vaccinations

If there’s one thing I regret about the job I’ve done raising my kids, it’s that when it was time to get them their vaccines, I did not heed the wisdom of a man who is currently filming a TV series with a storyline titled “The Penis Episode, Part 2.” And if that doesn’t convince you about this deep thinker’s credibility, consider that his earlier body of work includes such powerful pieces as The Hot Chick, The Beverly Hillbillies movie and Deuce Bigalow Male Gigolo.

How’s that for a guy worth listening to? Not.

We are talking, of course, about Rob Schneider, the Saturday Night Live alum who parlayed a single character—Richard Laymer, the obnoxious office guy—into a career of small-bore, dropped pants, toilet joke movies, plus the occasional cartoon voiceover. Nothing wrong with those kinds of projects; they’re honest work and the checks generally clear.

But Schneider is at the center of a much-deserved storm this week, after State Farm Insurance announced it was pulling a new ad campaign featuring the comedian in a reprise of his office guy role, since—while the company whose job it is to help people live better, healthier, more fiscally secure lives wasn’t looking—its newly minted star has been popping off about (deep sigh here) the hidden dangers of vaccines.

Take this observation from Dr. Bigalow, in a widely circulated video shot when he was campaigning against a California law that would have made it harder for parents to refuse vaccines:

“The efficacy of these shots have not been proven. And the toxicity of these things—we’re having more and more side effects. We’re having more and more autism.”

Or this one: “You can’t make people do procedures that they don’t want. It can’t be the government saying that. It’s against the Nuremberg Laws.”

It’s actually worth watching the entire jaw-dropping display, because Schneider somehow manages to thread the extraordinary needle of being wrong on every single point he makes. Remember in high school when they used to say it was impossible to score a zero on the SATs because you get a few points just for writing your name? Schneider, presumably, would have left that part blank.

And then there are the cringe-worthy Twitter posts suggesting he has been denied his freedom of speech:

For the record Rob, no, there is no government conspiracy to force vaccines on kids. No, doctors are not bought off by big pharma. No, vaccines are not filled with toxins. And no, this is not a free speech issue—it’s a public health, common-sense and, not for nothing, business issue, since State Farm, like any company, is free to sack a spokesperson who makes them look very, very bad. Simply quoting George Washington does not mean any of the great man’s wisdom rubs off on you. It just means you looked up a quote.

But as long as we’re in the quote game, how about one of your own, from your video harangue: “The government,” you said, “can’t make decisions about what I do to my body.” On this score, you’re right. So please do continue making movies that allow you to appear on posters with a towel on your head, seaweed cream on your face and cucumbers on your nipples. Maybe George Washington would have been pleased with you. State Farm? Not so much these days.

TIME Economy

The 3% Economy

Yes, 3% growth is better than 2%. But, for most Americans, it’s actually more worrisome

A little over three years ago, I wrote a column titled “The 2% Economy,” explaining how a recovery with only 2% GDP growth, no new middle-class jobs and stagnant wages wasn’t really a recovery after all. Like everyone, I hoped that once growth kicked up to about 3%, middle-class jobs and wages would finally revive.

But we’re now in a 3% economy, and I’m writing the same column. Only this time, the message is more disturbing. Growth is back. Unemployment is down. But only a fraction of the jobs lost during the Great Recession that pay more than $15 per hour have been found. And wage growth is still hovering near zero, where it’s been for the past decade. Something is very, very broken in our economy.

It’s a change that’s been coming for 20 years. From World War II to the 1980s, according to data from the McKinsey Global Institute, it took roughly six months after GDP rebounded from a recession for employment to recovery fully. But in the 1990–91 recession and recovery, it took 15 months, and in 2001 it took 39 months. This time around, it’s taken 41 months–more than three years–to replace the jobs lost in the Great Recession. And while the quantity has come back, the quality hasn’t. The job market, as everyone knows, is extremely bifurcated: there are jobs for Ph.D.s and burger flippers but not enough in between. That’s a problem in an economy that’s made up chiefly of consumer spending. When the majority of people don’t have more money, they can’t spend more, and companies can’t create more jobs higher up the food chain. This backstory is laid out in an interim Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development report cautioning that poor job creation and flat wages are “holding back a stronger recovery in consumer spending.” If this trend is left unchecked, we are looking at a generation that will be permanently less well off than their parents.

There are so many signs of this around us already. The decline in August home sales–a result of wealthy cash buyers and investors stepping back from the market–shows how what little recovery in housing we’ve seen so far has been driven by the rich; anyone who actually needs a mortgage has been slower to jump in. The real estate recovery too is very bifurcated, with much of the gains concentrated in a few more affluent, fast-growing cities. (Plenty of places in the Rust and Sun Belts are still underwater.) While overall consumer debt is down, it is still high by international standards, and student debt is off the charts. When I asked one smart investor where he expected the next financial crisis to come from, he said, “Student debt.” Interest rates on tuition loans are high and fixed, and the loans can’t be refinanced, meaning they’re a trap that’s hard to escape. And student debt continues to grow fast. History shows that the speed of increase in debt, more than the sheer amount, is a predictor of bubbles. By that measure, student debt is blinking red: it has tripled over the past decade and now outstrips credit-card debt and auto loans.

It’s easy to understand why. Much of the population is desperately trying to educate its way out of a terrifying cycle of downward mobility. But students are fighting strong structural shifts in the economy. While technology-driven productivity used to be what economists said would save us from jobless recoveries, technology these days removes jobs from the economy. Just think of companies like Facebook and Twitter, which create a fraction of the jobs the last generation of big tech firms like Apple or Microsoft did, not to mention the multitude of middle-class positions created by the industrial giants of old.

And we’re just getting started: consider the outcry in certain cities over companies like Zillow, Uber and Airbnb, which are fostering “creative destruction” in new sectors like real estate, transportation and hotels. McKinsey estimates that new technologies will put up to 140 million service jobs at risk in the next decade. Critics of this estimate say we’re underestimating the opportunities that will come with everyone having a smartphone. All I can say is, I hope so. What’s clear is that development isn’t yet reflected in stronger consumption or official economic statistics.

What I do see is growing discontent with the economic status quo. In my 2011 column I wrote, “It’s clear that the 2% economy heralds an era of even more divisive, populist politics–at home and abroad.” Ditto the 3% economy. Witness outrage over displaced lower-income workers in the Bay Area, or the fact that the Fed is keeping interest rates low in part because gridlock has prevented Washington from doing more to stimulate the real economy, or the Treasury Department’s new rules limiting American companies’ ability to move outside U.S. tax jurisdiction. Whatever number you put on growth, a recovery that doesn’t feel like a recovery is, yet again, no recovery at all.

TIME

Syria’s Jihadis Should Be Confronted, Not Feared

We are far from being the country we were on 9/11. The dangers we face are more modest and our ability to respond to them are improved

Not all terrorists are an imminent threat. We use that label for all kinds of enemies, but the progeny of violent jihadism are different in important ways. A close look at the two groups the U.S. attacked in Syria shows why that matters and why we need to temper our fears.

Until those strikes, the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS or ISIL) was all anyone could talk about. In June the group captured Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, and not long after it threatened Erbil, capital of the Kurdish region. The least subservient of the al-Qaeda branches, ISIS had early disagreements over strategy with Osama bin Laden. Both Sunni extremist groups were rooted in the hate-filled dawah—religious doctrine, curricular materials and money—that Saudi Arabia pumped out to the wider Muslim world to counter its Shi‘ite rival, postrevolutionary Iran. In that widely propagated vision, Shi‘ites, Christians and Jews are all anathema.

But ISIS’s founder, Abu Mousab al-Zarqawi, who emerged from al-Qaeda’s training camps in Afghanistan to exploit the chaos created by the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, tacked away from bin Laden’s emphasis on Western targets. Instead he embraced a strategy of conquering and holding territory and killing Shi‘ites. Bin Laden disapproved of that approach because it resulted in too many Muslim deaths, alienating potential supporters. Early this year, ISIS and al-Qaeda split for good.

For many members of Congress and the commentariat, and even a couple of Cabinet members who mislaid their talking points, the distinction between the two groups didn’t matter. ISIS’s summer breakthrough meant a new, more technologically sophisticated version of al-Qaeda was coming. As one Senator declared, the President had to act “before we all get killed back here at home.”

The fear was exaggerated. ISIS represents a serious threat to Iraq and its region—which is reason enough for the Obama Administration to rally Sunni nations and others to combat it. But it is above all an insurgency, and the tools it knows are those of irregular combat, not al-Qaeda-style terrorism. It appears never to have plotted—and certainly never carried out—a long-distance, covert terrorist operation. As Matt Olsen, director of the National Counterterrorism Center, said in a little-noted speech, “We have no credible information that ISIL is planning to attack the U.S.”

That can change. ISIS’s ability to win and hold ground has generated real excitement among extremists worldwide, fueling unprecedented recruitment. Some sympathizers will feel impelled to show they too are part of the fight, as the plot to carry out beheadings in Australia demonstrates. The immense safe haven ISIS has carved out from Fallujah to Aleppo; the large sums of money it reaps from illicit oil sales, bank robberies and ransom payments; and the growing cadre of recruits from Europe and the U.S. add up to a possible future threat. No one should be misled: U.S. air strikes will likely hasten that possibility.

The other U.S. target, the Khorasan group, is a danger right now. The group is more al-Qaeda 1.0 than ISIS. Its name refers to the land beyond Persia, the farthest reaches of Islam. Bin Laden announced from Afghanistan in 1996 in his first declaration of war against the U.S. that he had been hunted but had found that “a safe base is now available in the high Hindu Kush mountains in Khorasan.” The group has al-Qaeda 1.0 personnel in its ranks, and like al-Qaeda 1.0, it has the West in its sights. Amid the anarchy in Syria, the cell appears to have plotted to use bomb technology developed by al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula to target airliners. The bombs are variants of the hard-to-detect models that the Nigerian underwear bomber failed to detonate on a Northwest flight during Christmas 2009 and that an assassin blew himself up with in an attempt against the Saudi counterterrorism chief.

So how great a threat do these two groups actually pose to Americans at home? Though roughly half the public, spun up by beheading videos and congressional declarations of impending doom, believes we are more at risk than at any other time since 9/11, the dangers are more modest. The fact that the U.S. could gather the intelligence necessary to uncover the plot and carry out the strikes should provide some reassurance, even if a perfect defense is out of reach. And while it will be some time before the damage done by the air strikes is known, Khorasan and ISIS operatives are likely wondering what they’ve gotten themselves into.

Syria is going to remain a chaotic, dangerous safe haven for a long time to come, and Iraq will not be much better. Air strikes in both countries are just beginning. But after hundreds of billions of dollars spent on intelligence and homeland security, we are far from being the country we were on 9/11. Knowing that is the first requirement of a successful strategy.

Benjamin was the State Department’s Coordinator for Counter-terrorism from 2009 to 2012 and directs Dartmouth’s Dickey Center for International Understanding

TIME

Tiger Mom, Hold That Growl

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David Jakle—Getty Images/

A new study debunks the idea that punitive, Tiger Mom-style parenting is superior.

Yale professor Amy Chua wrote “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother” in 2011, introducing the phrase “Tiger Mom” into popular culture and celebrating her strict parenting style. But in China, the birthplace of tiger parenting, kids whose parents control their lives with cheerless demands for perfection are becoming a problem.

Researchers from UC Riverside published a new study this week, based on data from nearly 600 middle- and high-school students in Hangzhou, China, debunking the idea that punitive tiger parenting is superior. It finds that less supportive parenting techniques used by some Chinese parents damages self-esteem and complicates school adjustment, while also putting kids at greater risk of depression and problem behaviors. “Our research shows that Tiger Mother type of parenting, specifically controlling, punitive, and less supportive type of parenting is really not working in this sample of Chinese adolescents,” said Cixin Wang, an assistant professor at UC Riverside’s Graduate School of Education. “It also shows that it is important for Chinese parents, who tend to be less emotionally expressive and use less praise in parenting, to show their approval, love and support for their children.”

Chua’s book was packed with vivid, sometimes shocking tales of her strict approach to raising her own daughters, including limiting their social lives, shaming them as punishment when they failed, and forcing them to practice music until their performances were perfect. Ultimately, Chua’s daughters became very successful, and she insists that her hard-edged, unsentimental tactics are the key. Anyone who had ever marveled at the disproportionate academic success among Asian-American kids compared with other minorities now had an intriguing, rather disturbing, explanation: These kids’ cold-hearted tiger moms were demanding perfect grades and mastery of musical instruments, and withholding praise and affection until their kids fell in line. It used to be called tough love until Chua gave it this cooler name.

Giving a parenting style a cool name is not the same as proving its worth. In the wake of Chua’s sensational claims, thoughtful research has found that high-achieving Asian-American students have parental support and put in the necessary work – just as successful students from any culture must do. The flip side, of course, is that when high standards and a strong work ethic are accompanied by emotionally unsupportive parenting, Asian-American students are more likely to suffer negative effects – just as the children of cold or distant parents from any culture are. Furthermore, it turns out that Chua’s brand of harsh parenting is not even very common among Chinese-American parents, who are more likely to be closely involved with their school-age children in a firm, encouraging, but overall positive way. Only when too much pressure to perform enters the picture do Asian-American kids suffer loss of self-esteem.

None of this is new. Chua’s colorful account seemed to make everyone forget about other research, published years earlier, which identified mundane and logical factors in Asian-American students’ high-achieving ways. As long ago as 1988, large studies of minority students found that Asian-American students were more likely to come from stable, two-parent households, to spend more time “on task,” (meaning homework or music practice), and to have better study habits, greater access to after-school lessons and activities, and more parental involvement.

Maybe our greatest chance for having successful kids is to leave behind the cultural stereotypes and focus on the best practices of all high-achieving households. Have high expectations, and communicate them clearly. Be aware of what your children are doing at school, and insist that they make their best effort on assignments and homework. Find opportunities for them to build on their curiosity in music classes, at the public library, at museums or on websites. You don’t have to pay for fancy lessons – whatever your family can afford can work. Of course, kids have different challenges and innate abilities. No one knows and loves your child the way you do, so you will know best whether he is working up to his potential. Make it clear that everyone in your family works hard at his or her job, and that is how you expect the kids to approach their studies, music lessons, sports, and other structured activities. You can set a very high bar and still come through with a hug and a word of encouragement when your child falls short of expectations—yours or his own. I have yet to see a research study that advises against this parenting style. If only I could come up with a cool name for it.

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