Bailout queen Dexia, the mega-bank that was bailed out twice in three years, turns into a nightmare for the tiny Kingdom of Belgium, which guaranteed a pile of debt, nationalized local subsidiaries, and bailed out the rest of the financial sector. Exposure: €162 billion—41% of GDP! And now Dexia announces monumental losses. But finally there is resistance.
Between 2002 and 2011, Boeing reported to its investors that it earned $31.8 billion. But it reported something entirely different to the IRS and didn’t pay income taxes. Instead, it received tax benefits of $2.06 billion. Other companies were similarly agile. So Geithner is ballyhooing President Obama's latest election-year ploy: putting some fresh lipstick on that ugly tax code though it has a fundamental flaw that turns it into an absurdity.
Germans are euphoric these days—compared to the dour mood that prevailed for nearly two decades when real wages declined in a stagnating economy with high unemployment. This new optimism is joyriding the powerful German export machine and appears to be impervious to the nightmarish scenarios playing out at the periphery of the Eurozone. And now, Germans have something else to be euphoric about: a housing bubble.
While all eyes are on the Greek farce, a much bigger fiasco on the other side of the globe is advancing at an inexorable pace. All Japanese prime ministers since Koizumi slither down a steep slope that lasts between 8 and 15 months. When approval ratings drop into the low twenties, they're replaced by a new sacrificial lamb. And Prime Minister Noda is on a straight line down to replacement hell—while economic fundamentals are falling apart.
Hullabaloo broke out after the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that a surprisingly robust 243,000 jobs were created in January, and that the unemployment rate was 8.3%. Cynics, academics, BLS heretics, hype mongers, and politicians waged a media battle over these numbers that President Obama serenely trotted out as validation of his policies. Even Rush Limbaugh jumped into the fray. Alas, suddenly, there is a sharp deterioration.
There never was that “giant sucking sound” that Ross Perot had warned about during his quixotic presidential campaign in 1992—the sound that manufacturing jobs would make as they head south to Mexico. Turns out, he was wrong. The jobs went south silently. However, yesterday in San Francisco, there was that sound. From money going east. Lots of it. From fundraisers.
Europe returned from its begging expedition to Beijing. Well, they called it a summit, one more in a series. They were trying to lure China into plowing part of its hard-earned foreign exchange trillions into the European bailout fund, the EFSF, and they made that dreadfully convoluted and opaque creature smell like a rose. Even a small amount would have been something. Anything really.
The Eurozone debt crisis has frayed a lot of nerves, particularly among Greek politicians, whose country is on the verge of bankruptcy, and German politicians, who no longer trust Greek politicians—they’d willfully misrepresented deficits and debt in order to accede to the Eurozone and had continued to do so up to insolvency. But now a far bigger confrontation at the very core of the Eurozone is shaping up. And it may bring epic changes.
Luxembourg’s Finance Minister said it out loud: "If the Greek people or the Greek political elite do not apply all of these conditions, they exclude themselves from the Eurozone." All of these conditions. And there are a lot of them. Then he added crucial words: "The impact on other countries now will be less important than a year ago."
Even the Soviets with their iron-fisted approach couldn't come up with a reliable five-year plan. In the US, one-year forecasts are accurate only by accident. And ten-year forecasts, whether by the White House or Congress, are the ugly sisters of BS—hilarious gimmickry during the dreariness of politics. So President Obama unveiled his budget for fiscal 2013 through 2022.
Tokyo, April 1996. Takano-sensei is mysteriously pleased with my progress or has changed strategy and is using false positive reinforcement to motivate me to work harder. Either way, it emboldens me, and I’m in high spirits when I enter an Internet café and ask in Japanese if they have AOL.
"The European Union is suffering under Germany,” said Georgios Karatzaferis, president of the right-wing LAOS party. He accused German Chancellor Angela Merkel of trying to "impose her will on Southern Europeans." He called the Netherlands, Austria, Finland, and Luxembourg "satellite states" of Germany. And then, with a few words, he pushed Greece a step closer to bankruptcy.
High-speed rail works if it links big urban areas and has lots of riders. The most successful is the Tokyo-Osaka Shinkansen: 150 million passengers per year. Even Amtrak’s slower route between New York City and Washington DC is profitable, though the rest of Amtrak is not. In theory, California’s High-Speed Rail Project falls into that category. In Reality, it has turned into a scandal before construction has even started.
After the German-French council of ministers in Paris, Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Nicolas Sarkozy gave a joint TV interview at the Elysée Palace, the official residence of the French president. Merkel berated François Hollande, Sarkozy’s top challenger in the upcoming presidential election. Then Sarkozy lashed out against him. Never before had a German chancellor campaigned so hard for a French president.
Japanese companies spent $70 billion on acquisitions overseas in 2011—a record. Armed with a ferociously strong yen, they’re going overseas to escape the pressures at home where electricity rationing has become part of corporate life, along with a stagnant economy and a dwindling working-age population. But they’re doing it just when Japan can least afford it.
Tokyo, April 1996. Cacophonous cawing of crows weaves itself disconcertingly into my dreams until it wakes me up altogether. It’s 5:45 a.m. Even the dual building walls of the love hotel fail to deaden the racket, and when you’re half asleep, it’s almost scary. But in front of my eyes is a tuft of black hair. She sleeps without sound, without movement, her arms contorted underneath her. I inhale her chemistry as if it were a controlled substance.
Greeks yanked €65 billion out of their bank accounts since 2009, the Finance Minister told parliament. “Of that, €16 billion was legally taken abroad,” he said. The rest? Stashed under mattresses or hauled to Switzerland via the land route. A whopping 20% of GDP! Capital flight of massive proportions. They see a forced conversion of their euros to drachmas. And politicians are planning for the “afterwards.”
California is broke again. The “balanced” budget last summer turned into a pile of overoptimistic assumptions. Out-of-money date is March 8. $3.3 billion must be dug up, pronto. Last fall, California had to borrow $21 billion to make it to April. Now all eyes are on Facebook. Its IPO will singlehandedly solve all budget problems forever—just like Google’s IPO had done.
Tokyo, April 1996. Mr. Song has already left. Mr. Kim is watching a garish talk show on TV. The kitchen sink is full of dirty bowls, utensils, pots, and pans. Vapors of grease and kimchi hang in the air.
“I’m going to walk to school,” I tell Mr. Kim.
Now he has what he has been looking for: incontrovertible proof that I’m crazy.
With IPO hype blowing like a maxed-out hairdryer into my face, I Googled ... Friendster—the shining star of social networking that everyone had drooled over. Turns out, in 2009, Friendster was bought for a pittance by MOL Global, a Malaysian company. In 2011, it discontinued social networking activities and rebranded itself as a gaming site. But there is one valuable asset it still has: user information.