Thursday, July 29, 2010

Europe the profitable?

One could do worse than to take a lesson from The Economist magazine on straddling European and American market perspectives. A recent editorial describes "Europe's dark secret" on the prevalence of free-market capitalism in Europe, with a special focus on France, bête noire of those in the US who would paint the land of May '68 as antithetical to free and unregulated market economics.

The Hexagon is indeed far more capitalist than even its center-right President Nicolas Sarkozy can admit publicly without political points lost. France's commonly-thought anemic business sensibilities have still produced goliaths like Airbus, Axa, Areva -- and those are just some A's from the French corporate alphabet... To say nothing of the tax-revenue factories (and how they are taxed) in Spain, Italy, the Netherlands, et cetera. This op-ed excerpt demonstrates the might of French and European market performance globally:

"Perhaps, however, it is time to let the French, as well as other corners of market-averse Europe, in on a dark secret. The truth is that theirs is a capitalist society. For while Europe’s leaders rail against profits and wealth, its firms stride into new markets and rack up giant profits. Spain’s Inditex dresses men and women in Zara outfits in 76 countries. Belgium’s Anheuser-Busch InBev, which makes Budweiser, is the world’s leading brewer. France boasts more Fortune 500 companies than Germany. A French company, Sodexo, is chief caterer to the American marine corps."

Such rarefied market status seems easily enviable by aspiring corporate empire-makers, whether they hail from the business-ho culture of the United States, or the more socialized (yet apparently, equally profit-minded) République.

This comes alongside new calls from Berlin and Paris in the ongoing project to build an "economic governance" model for Europe. And it seems to sketch a schizophrenic portrait of European realities just at a time when the bloc seeks unity of thinking -- and action -- on economic cooperation following the current recession's arrival in 2008. Watch this space for more on the EU's paradoxical, if not downright contradictory, economic maneuverings.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Sherrod, Wikileaks, and a New Kind of Hill Staffer: The Unpredictable Future of Media

How's this for a sign of the times: an unspecified Republican U.S. Senate office has posted a vacancy for "New Media Director." Usually new/online media falls under the purview of the press staff, but, as far as I know, this is the first explicitly-purposed staff position for new and social networking in a Capitol Hill office. I welcome your comments and insight on this trend.

In other media-related news, the Pew Research Center has compiled a chronological play-by-play of media events during last week's Shirley Sherrod scandal. Sherrod, a black Agriculture Department staffer, found herself under ferocious media scrutiny after having been shown on video allegedly admitting that she denied Ag Dept services to a white farmer because of his race. Her words were posted in a misleading edited video on the website. Investigations eventually
discovered the clip to be a hoax, with a later story suggesting an excerpt taken wildly out of context and edited so as to deliberately mislead news followers. Sherrod was fired, exonerated and re-hired elsewhere in approximately 48 hours.

The event sparked a furious storm of coverage over the facts and, later, a more calm national reflection on the power and speed at which internet-based reporting has shown itself able to derail the more staid world of Washington power politics.

What's most interesting about this ordeal is the gut-jarring impact that the blogosphere has had on Washington's policy circles. The sheer speed at which Sherrod was condemned and then cleared stands as a poignant example of how bloggers and media can harness the speed and vitality of independent blogs and forums -- and the mushroom effect that these can spark once a story (or scandal) hits TV and print outlets. Its repercussions are sure to be felt and discussed well after the dust of the Sherrod story has settled.

Add this to the ongoing Wikileaks controversy -- over highly sensitive US military documents on the war in Afghanistan leaked online -- and you get a foundation-shaking debate on the very "future of journalism." To say nothing of the growing partisanship of, in particular, major TV networks -- whether or not race is involved.

On the transatlantic side of things, the Sherrod affair has taken a backseat to most other European stories. Check out this coverage anyway from France and Switzerland, both in French. The Economist puts things back into big-picture perspective, dubbing the row a US-specific "family affair" with slim potential for greater ripples across the Pond.

Monday, July 26, 2010

French and American models of meritocracy

Here's some food for thought on the meritocratic systems in France and the US, culled from the latest post on Evaluations, the blog of NY Times editorialist Ross Douthat. Very much related to his insightful and provocative recent op-ed on access to the Ivy League by rural white America, which has been causing a decent stir... But back to French-US meritocracy:

"...So the meritocratic elite is not as left-wing, nor the “country party” as principled in its conservatism, as Codevilla wants to believe. Nor are our meritocrats quite as intellectually-challenged as [Codevilla would] like to think:

Much less does membership in the ruling class depend on high academic achievement. To see something closer to an academic meritocracy consider France, where elected officials have little power, a vast bureaucracy explicitly controls details from how babies are raised to how to make cheese, and people get into and advance in that bureaucracy strictly by competitive exams. Hence for good or ill, France’s ruling class are bright people — certifiably. Not ours. But didn’t ours go to Harvard and Princeton and Stanford? Didn’t most of them get good grades? Yes. But while getting into the Ecole Nationale d’Administration or the Ecole Polytechnique or the dozens of other entry points to France’s ruling class requires outperforming others in blindly graded exams, and graduating from such places requires passing exams that many fail, getting into America’s “top schools” is less a matter of passing exams than of showing up with acceptable grades and an attractive social profile … our ruling class recruits and renews itself not through meritocracy but rather by taking into itself people whose most prominent feature is their commitment to fit in.

"This is overdrawn... Elite colleges do seek high grades and sterling standardized test performances (SAT scores are still the coin of the meritocratic realm), and they do select for the brilliant and the driven — not with quite the same ruthless efficiency as the French, perhaps, but pretty ruthlessly all the same..."

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Long-Term Unemployment in America

Thank you, Rich Morin and Rakesh Kochnar, authors of the most recent and always-interesting findings by the Pew Research Center. Their report is titled "Lost Income, Lost Friends -- And Loss of Self-Respect." Note their use of the phrase Great Recession, without quotation marks or other hints of a newly-coined phrase, which is to say it's been here a while (too long) now.

The abridged version is in article form here. The full report is in giant pdf form here. Also enjoy the interactive graphic.

EU Big-3 Calls for 30% Emissions Goal--Others Dismay

By seeking viable and concrete green policy action, the EU too often ends up overextending itself instead. In a recent climate-and-environment roundup by the media network EurActiv, the EU 'Big-3' (France, Germany, UK) have challenged Europe to slash CO2 emissions to 30 percent by 2020, ahead of the 'Europe 2020' green growth and jobs project. This entails bringing reticent Eastern European partners along and pulling off no less than a drastic overhaul of the "economics of nature" (see that quote and the roundup here.) These policy long-shots score points in the ambition category, but one can't help but wonder whether these EU mortals are only attempting to accomplish the divine.

The three ministers voicing this call hail from each of the EU's first-tier powers. British Energy and Climate Change Minister Chris Huhne, French Environment Minister Jean-Louis Borloo and German Environment Minister Norbert Röttgen claim that the previous bar of a 20 percent emissions reduction target will not adequately "drive green innovation and keep Europe in the race for clean technologies," as they wrote in a joint editorial piece June 15th in the Financial Times.

Which begs the question if such policy planning (rather, trying to speak CO2 reduction into reality ex nihilo) is really just putting the cart before the horse--and setting up for policy failure in a policy area that matters most to millions of Europeans.

Borloo, Huhne and Röttgen insisted the taller benchmark would serve to push EU competitiveness against green tech development in the US, Japan and China. Environmentally responsible competition is very well and good, provided the EU climate gurus don't lose vital political credibility in the process, at home and abroad. Europe enjoys a major advantage every time green-thinking Americans look to her for federal, environmental policy leadership. But this latest chapter in the saga of EU eco-platitudes may stand to lose on both environmental and political levels--simultaneously.

And the EU motion to raise emissions reduction is far from unanimous. Even EurActiv dubbed the new Big-3 goal a "unilateral move." Eastern European member states--many of whom are trailing way behind on the EU development spectrum--are having a hard enough time as it is. Bulgaria's reduction target stands at 16 percent, Slovakia's is 14 percent, and the famous Euro-curmudgeons in the Czech Republic share the lowest bar at 13 percent, with Hungary. Officials in Poland have demanded "more time" to scale back their country's heavy reliance on coal--even to meet the mark at 20 percent, fully one-third above their current goal at 15 percent. The former Soviet bloc states are also dealing with post-Berlin Wall industrial fallout, at which point heavy industry converted to local control and Russia went from economic benefactor to absentee.

An overambitious stretch toward a bigger emissions cut may trigger unintended political pushback between France, Germany and the UK--versus the EU's other 24.

So Europe is in green-policy disarray, and the Western EU is pushing in ways most of its partners don't bend. Some in Brussels are demanding the 30 percent figure be adopted only if other pollutant powers (think the US and China) commit to the same figure via a UN mandate. China aside, given the likely gains by climate-skeptic Republicans in Congress this November, there seems little chance such UN legislation will gain traction on American ground.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Brussels Proposes US-Style 'Miranda rights'

Check out this EurActiv article on the possibility of US-style 'Miranda rights' protocol from Brussels, which may mandate that EU police officers act "like US cops seen in many Hollywood films," to borrow the article's somewhat awkward phrase. The proposal could be referred to colloquially as the 'Reding Warning' after its chief architect, Vice-President of the European Commission, Viviane Reding (see Reding's own official statement on the bill.)

Inherent issues for this proposal: whether the oral declaration of rights will ensure that suspects understand them -- especially given the possible language difficulties for EU citizens traveling abroad in the Eurozone -- and whether the idea faces the threat of being "watered down" by European national governments.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Perceptions of the EU, the World Over

Check out "Global Eyes: How the World Views the EU," by communications firm Mostra. The study is extensive and minces no words. Fascinating stuff.


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