Based on its vivid colors and exaggerated gestures, one is tempted to dismiss Academy Award Best Picture nominee Les Miserables as a cartoon. But cartoons have clarity of line and a sense of direction, not to mention momentum from frame to frame. This movie is more like the result of dropping the Sunday funnies in a mud-puddle: smeared with detritus and coming apart at the seams.
Start with the source. The musical itself, though much beloved by aficionados of Glee and Smash, takes Victor Hugoâ€™s outraged critique of post-revolutionary France and turns it into a parade. While purporting to address the depredations and degradations of poverty, Cameron Mackintoshâ€™s production was staged so elaborately that it depended on $150 tickets to keep it running. Thus there was the awkward matter of cheering gaunt poor people on the barricades from plush seats in the orchestra.
Happily even overpriced movies like this one cost only $10 or so to see, reducing the contradiction between medium and message. But director Tom Hooper (The Kingâ€™s Speech) and his collaborators have replaced that one difficulty with a raft of their own: frying pan, meet fire.
Merging first names to make Frangela is too familiar for leaders who barely know each other. Homer is too American (or worse, Greek). Merkollande sounds too close to Merkozy. That leaves just the shortened Merde, which at least sums up the state of the euro.
A proposal for large solar panel leasing scheme in Spain funded by puritanical Germans.
Was it Matthew asking for ideas to get Europe’s economy moving?
It was a great insight of Keynes that spending doesn’t have to be useful to be effective in a slump (though he also said that useful was preferable). Helicopter drops of cash, banknotes buried in coal mines, and cheques mailed out randomly would work just fine, but clash with the Protestant ethic. Few Germans believe Keynes’ argument, and no German central bankers, so you really have to come up with Useful and Virtuous ideas.
At the risk of sounding like a one-subject crank, here’s mine. A part of my roof as it could be by Christmas:
What I suggest is a very large solar panel leasing scheme, funded or underwritten by the creditworthy members of the EU, meaning Germany. Taking a number out of a hat, 5 GW at â‚¬2.5 per installed watt would cost â‚¬12.5bn up front. That’s 2 million houses at 2.5 kw each, or â‚¬6,250; or 50,000 industrial roofs at 100kw, or any linear combination. Continue reading “Mein Solardach”
Thre cable TV service run by crimunals in RioÂ´s favelas was much cheaper than its legal successors.
Last month the Rio police, supported by marines in armoured cars and a cloud of TV cameras, stormed the Rocinha favela, unopposed by the drug traffickers. Behind the media theatre, the policy of reoccupation seems to be working. Police stations are followed by social services. Tourists and banks are venturing in. Shopkeepers donÂ´t have to pay protection any more. The favela dwellers are delighted to be freed from the rule of mobsters, right?
Up to a point, Lord Copper. They now have to pay for their electricity instead of stealing it from the street lighting cables. Tough. They also – and here I have much more sympathy – have to pay a lot more for TV. As air reception is very poor on the steep hillsides, TV was supplied over an illegal cable network, the gatonet, controlled of course by the drug gangs. The going rate was 15-30 reais a month for up to 120 channels, including the free-to-air ones that carry telenovelas and football, and hacked paying film channels. IÂ´m quite impressed by the banditsÂ´ technical achievement here.
Favelistas are now being offered the service by legal providers for twice the price: 40 to 80 reais. The minimum wage in Brazil is 543 reais a month, and many favelistas will be living off less. 10% of their income just for TV!
The gatonet was provided by murderous outlaw kleptocrats, but their legal Brazilian counterparts are in this area even worse for the poor. My (non-poor) daughter in Lille pays 30 euros a month (72 reais) for 20-megabit ADSL (the slow offer!), 100 free TV channels and many others at a reasonable a la carte charge, and unlimited phone calls in France.
ItÂ´s not I think an accident that there are no low-power repeaters on RioÂ´s many hills to provide decent air TV reception, or that the municipality has not simply taken over the seizedgatonet and run it as a very profitable public service. There are TV satellites over Brazil, but owned by Globo and Sky (from which we buy a poor-value package). The selection of free-to-air channels is very thin. In Europe the TV satellites are owned by Astra, a Luxembourg corporation independent of the TV networks it carries, including SkyÂ´s encrypted ones and FTA ones from the BBC, ITV, and Germany. There must be a profit opportunity in Rocinha for pirate satellite TV using hacked second-hand Sky receivers.
Brazil has the typical second-world problem of governance. It seems to lack a professional higher civil service; ministers are free to staff their fiefs with party cronies, which helps explain the high level of corruption and the serial scandals in Brasilia. In state capitals, it doesnÂ´t even become a scandal. A technocracy can be a force for competition if itÂ´s given a mandate. The European Commission is unideologically power-hungry, so itÂ´s super-statist in agriculture (inheriting French policy) and strongly pro-competition in electricity and telecoms (inheriting German policy).
Lacking technocrats, it would still be possible for BrazilÂ´s vigorous democracy to provide checks on monopolists. But the Brazilian left is typically soggy on competition. Partly itÂ´s ideology; if you demonise all capitalists, you lose the ability to discriminate between useful and exploitative ones, and this continues when you make your peace with them. Partly itÂ´s the organisational base: for the PT, the unions, representing a labour elite, many working for public and parastatal organisations. Monopolists can offer safe jobs with good wages. (A necessary but not a sufficient condition; see AmazonÂ´s sweatshop warehouses.)
ItÂ´s possible for a right-wing party to be pro-competition, if it has a liberal ideology (in the European free-market sense) and a base representing small business, like ThatcherÂ´s Conservatives or the German Free Democrats. If the losing conservative candidate in the last Brazilian general election, Jose Serra, had such a vision, he certainly didnÂ´t articulate it.
Which brings me to the Republicans, another party of businessmen. GOP policies clearly only reflect the interests of big monopolistic corporations, not small ones. On credit card fees, the GOP backs the extortionate fees of the Visa and Mastercard duopoly (>2% per sale against 0.5% in Europe) against the interests of retailers, garage owners and Joe the Plumber. It opposed public works in a recession, a lifeline to small construction companies; and ObamaÂ´s moves towards universal health care, an obvious interest of every American employer. How many minutes a week does a Danish employer spend worrying about the health insurance of her employees, and how many staff does she pay to handle it? Zero.
Thomas Frank, in his famous WhatÂ´s the matter with Kansas?, noted the Â¨false consciousnessÂ¨ of Republican American workers who vote their cultural biases against their material interests. Does not the same apply to Republican small businessmen?
Sarkozy lines up somemiddle-rank supporters for a financial transactions tax; and how an FTT can improve financial markets.
The idea for a generalized Tobin tax (financial transactions tax – FTT) on financial transactions continues, slowly but steadily, to gather supporters.
For a long time it was mainly backed by starry-eyed development NGOs who wanted to tax currency speculators (as in Tobin’s original proposal), but to fund a UN war on poverty. Tobin dissociated himself from this linkage. Either way, Tobin tax v.1 didn’t get anywhere.
Nuclear power is doomed by its negative learning curve.
A damning chart by Arnulf Grubler of IIASA in Austria, via Joe Romm: Figure 13: Average and min/max reactor construction costs per year of completion date for US and France versus cumulative capacity completed
These [low-status] women have nothing to lose when they report men who cross the line sexually. So the maid reported. And then, it turns out, all sorts of women in higher up positions spoke up against Strauss-Kahn. The women wouldn’t report the harassment on their own. They don’t want to suffer retribution. But now there will be no retribution, so it’s safe to come forward.
Nothing to lose? Like a good steady (if low-paying) job? And the right to stay and work in the United States with her child?
She didn’t know quite how important a political figure Strauss-Kahn is, or more exactly was – far more than a mere US Senator. She must have known – as Trunk herself points out – that middle-aged men who stay in $3000 hotel suites are rich and influential. Filing a complaint was extremely risky. At the very best it would certainly expose her to the trauma of cross-examination in the witness box by the nastiest defence lawyers money can buy.
Dominique Strauss-Kahn is experiencing the presumption of innocence at the heart of the American system of criminal justice. When he goes to trial, it will be up to the DA to prove the charges before he can be punished as a criminal; a jury, probably, will get to decide whether he is guilty or not.Â The cards are stacked in his favor: they have to find that the charges are proved beyond a reasonable doubt, and all his defense team has to do is to show such doubt, not to prove him innocent; indeed, there is no finding of “innocent”: just “not guilty”, and you walk out the door.
He’s in jail now to assure his presence at his trial, not as punishment.Â We let defendants out on bail as much as we can, consistent with assurance that they will not skip; in this case the judge was not so assured.
Presumed innocent has to do with what the government can do to you, not what people think of you, and Mark has a point about setting you up for pictures in handcuffs, pictures that cannot be untaken if you aren’t convicted. There is no requirement that citizens believe anything at all, including “innocent”, about an accused.Â Â Â The smirking agreement now coming out in the French press is that DSK has always been a randy goat and everyone knew it.Â The formal complaint of attempted rape from Tristane Banon, a complaint she was counseled out of filing at the time by her mother and other people who probably had her interest at heart, lead me to exercise my right to believe absent new evidence, that Strauss-Kahn tried to rape a poor woman who happened into his path because he thought he could, and my right to conjecture that he thought that because he had successfully done so in the past. This time he got the surprise of his life. I make it nine to two that more women will be heard from in this way now. YMMV, and the facts will tell.
DSK’s wife, having made it through an affair he had with a subordinate that almost cost him his job, says she doesn’t believe a word of this story.Â Perhaps she doesn’t; perhaps he never tried to rape her, perhaps she has been protected from what everyone else in her circle seems to know, or perhaps she has her own odd ideas of what is attractive in a man.
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