Privatizing state-owned companies has been all the rage in France since the mid-nineties, by socialist and conservative governments alike. But the morass in the private sector has stopped that. Now nationalization is being brandished as a solution—again—though the state still owns a big chunk of the private sector. The dominoes are lined up. Last week it was ArcelorMittal. Today it’s one of the world’s largest shipyards.
In September, the German Labor Ministry sent a draft report “on Poverty and Wealth” to other ministries to be rubber-stamped. Only the final report would be made public. The draft was to remain hidden. But it seeped to the surface immediately. And it was hot. Too hot. Now a new version leaked from the Economy Ministry—without the offending data and comments.
The inexplicable American consumer, the strongest creature out there that no one has been able to subdue yet, has come to grips with a new reality, euphemistically called “New Normal,” though it isn’t normal by any means, but dismal. Feeling more upbeat, they nudged up the Consumer Confidence Index to a level not seen since February 2008—a level that caused people to tear their hair out at the time.
“I cannot be disillusioned because I no longer have any illusions about Europe,” muttered Euro Group President Jean-Claude Juncker last week after the horse trading over Greece’s bailout had failed once again. But he isn’t the only one who lost his illusions. “There are better alternatives to the bailout policies of Chancellor Merkel,” declares the man who’ll run against her in 2013; alternatives that “protect taxpayers and don’t only benefit the banks.”
A Lehman Brothers kerfuffle erupted, this time in Germany, in broad daylight. With a stunning amount: up to €800 million ($1.04 billion) in fees for the insolvency administrator. It blows away the German record of €70 million. Hedge funds are raising a ruckus, on the surface to shame the insolvency administrator into backing off. It worked. Almost. But suddenly, there are new allegations—against the hedge funds.
Rarely has a city council received so much worldwide attention as San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors. Yesterday, accompanied by booing and heckling and shouts of approval, they voted 6 to 5 to ban public nudity. A close decision, after months of hot debate. And protests, when it wasn’t too cold, by naked people outside City Hall. “Ban” in the San Francisco sense.
Moody’s, when it stripped France off its AAA rating, had a laundry list of laments that were a reflection of the awful details seeping from every crack in France’s picturesque veneer: relentlessly rising unemployment, declining production and orders, collapsing automobile sales, plunging home sales…. You’d think France is in a depression. Yet, third quarter GDP edged up by 0.2%. What gives?
The Eurozone debt crisis is exacting its toll. Convoluted undemocratic taxpayer-funded bailouts of bondholders and banks designed to keep the Eurozone together can’t kick the can down the road far enough. But the price has been huge, and people have expressed their anger in massive protests. Now, these efforts are also tearing up the fabric of the 27-member European Union: the first one out may be the UK.
Last week, the German Parliament passed a resolution that asked Chancellor Merkel to needle Russian President Putin about the resurgence of repressive, antidemocratic tendencies in Russia. It did not go unnoticed at the Kremlin. And it paved the way, so to speak, for her trip to Moscow on Friday—to re-cement their “strategic partnership.”
Young educated Greeks face a wall of unemployment. With little chance of finding a job in their field, they’re competing for any kind of job. Wages have plummeted. The economy has shriveled by 19.4% since 2007. Promises that education would open doors to a better future have evaporated. And Germans march around, telling Greeks how to run their country. Because the euro has become a religious dictum.