The primal forces of nature hit Spain and the U.S.

There really isn’t much being written in the U.S. about this week’s widespread protests in Spain, but the Washington Post has take an interesting take on the irony of Socialists cutting the European country’s social welfare system.

With a U.S.-style real estate bubble having burst and the 2008 global economic crisis having unfurled like a tsunami from Wall Street to Plaza de Espana, [Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez] Zapatero’s main concern in his second term has become hacking away at government spending to preserve Spain’s credit rating. The icon of socialism just concluded a pact with labor unions and business leaders to freeze pensions, push back the retirement age from 65 to 67, trim union bargaining rights, cut civil servants’ pay by 5 percent — including his own — and suspend the childbirth bonus. The alternative, he warned, was bankruptcy.

“We are going to have to do this whatever it costs,” he declared, “and whatever it costs me.”

Cost him it did. Faced with a dramatic decline in opinion polls, Zapatero announced last month that he will not seek a third term, hoping his party can find another candidate less contaminated by the rightward shift he was forced to impose on a nominally Socialist government. But in protests ahead of local elections this weekend, demonstrators have expressed their continuing frustration with the Socialists and the austerity measures.

So a socialist government is calculating the impact of a global financial crisis and determining that the right course of action is to do what’s best for the bankers and the corporations. It’s odd, but it reminds me of the scene in the movie “Network.” You think I’m referring to “I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore.” I’m not, though that is what’s going on in the streets. There’s actually a better scene that gets to the point of why government is powerless to do anything.

The world is a business. We are in a global economic crisis because the real estate bubble burst, not only in the U.S., but also in other countries like Britain, Ireland and Spain. The concern of government no longer is to take care of people, but to preserve the nation’s credit rating. Unemployment in the U.S. is at 10%, but there’s no fierce argument about creating jobs. We’re talking about controlling the deficit. The jobless rate for 20somethings in Spain is an outrageous 45%. But the government’s big concern is making sure Standard & Poors doesn’t downgrade government debt. Talk about the U.S. defaulting on its credit obligations if it fails to raise the debt ceiling raises the specter of Armageddon in the financial community.

And if you don’t think things are intertwined, consider that one of the world’s major financial experts, a Frenchman who was negotiating a plan to deal with the European economic crisis, was released from jail in New York on Friday, still charged with the attempted rape of a Gambian cleaning woman in a posh New York hotel. His arrest has created massive turmoil at the International Monetary Fund, an organization that can destroy or preserve a government just by agreeing to give it a loan.

In today’s world, the needs of the many have become subservient to the needs of the banks and corporations … which, according to the U.S. Supreme Court, have the same rights as people.

Are we just meddling with the primal forces of nature?

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DSK quits IMF post

This has to rank as one of the most spectacular falls from grace in history (From the Wall Street Journal):

Dominique Strauss-Kahn resigned as head of the International Monetary Fund, ending a leadership crisis at the organization following charges that he sexually assaulted a hotel maid in New York.

In a letter to the board, Mr. Strauss-Kahn said: “I deny with the greatest possible firmness all of the allegations that have been made against me.”

The letter said Mr. Strauss-Kahn, being held in a New York jail on sexual-assault charges, would resign with immediate effect.

“I want to protect this institution which I have served with honor and devotion, and especially—especially—I want to devote all my strength, all my time, and all my energy to proving my innocence,” the letter said.

The IMF, which released the letter just after midnight Thursday, said it “will communicate in the near future on the Executive Board’s process of selecting a new Managing Director.”

Less than a week ago, he was one of the most powerful financiers in the world, the head of a global institution negotiating deals to resolve the European debt crisis, and an expected contender for the French presidency. Today, he’s sitting in a cell at Rikers Island in New York, charged with attempted rape, and his lawyer are expected to offer the court $1 million in cash to get him out on bail.

I can’t immediately think of anyone who has fallen so far, so fast.

What’s happening with DSK’s accuser?

The conspiracy theorists are saying Nicholas Sarkozy set up Dominique Strauss-Kahn in the sexual-assault charges he’s now facing in New York. That would mean his accuser was involved in the “conspiracy.”

The reports about her don’t seem to bear up any justification for saying she’s part of some elaborate plot:

Her attorney characterized her as a “simple woman, with little education” who is a single mother from Guinea. Manhattan attorney Jeffrey Shapiro said the life of his client has been upturned as some have characterized her as part of an effort to trap Mr. Strauss-Kahn and several French media outlets have released her name.

“She’s very afraid. She’s overwhelmed. She’s not had an opportunity to sleep,” Mr. Shapiro said. “She’s been a victim of a sexual assault and she hasn’t had time to process that yet.”

Mr. Shapiro said his client, a 32-year-old widowed mother of a 15-year-old girl, was granted asylum in the United States seven years ago from her native country of Guinea. He said she had worked for the hotel for three years and didn’t know who Mr. Strauss-Kahn was until after the alleged incident. …

He rejected notions “as absolutely ridiculous” that she consented to the encounter or that she was part of a conspiracy to set up the IMF chief, a suggestion that has gained some traction in France and elsewhere in Europe.

“She didn’t know who this guy was,” he said. “There’s no conspiracy. She went in to clean the room and did not find out who this guy was until the next day.”

For the geographically challenged, Guinea is in West Africa and is a former French colony. According to the CIA World Factbook, this is what she escaped from:

Guinea is a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children trafficked for the purposes of forced labor and sexual exploitation; the majority of victims are children, and internal trafficking is more prevalent than transnational trafficking; within the country, girls are trafficked primarily for domestic servitude and sexual exploitation, while boys are trafficked for forced agricultural labor, and as forced beggars, street vendors, shoe shiners, and laborers in gold and diamond mines; some Guinean men are also trafficked for agricultural labor within Guinea; transnationally, girls are trafficked into Guinea for domestic servitude and likely also for sexual exploitation.

So far, the general theme of the DSK case involves a serial adulterer and an alleged sexual harasser. Reports already have gotten into the issue of adultery, and Strauss-Kahn is being accused by at least one other woman of a sexual attack. But some people, Ben Stein in particular, are going into the “accuse the victim” phase, with such logical gems as:

Can anyone tell me any economists who have been convicted of violent sex crimes? Can anyone tell me of any heads of nonprofit international economic entities who have ever been charged and convicted of violent sexual crimes? Is it likely that just by chance this hotel maid found the only one in this category?

And French intellectual Bernard-Henri Lévy adds this bit of irrationality:

… [I]t would be nice to know, and without delay—how a chambermaid could have walked in alone, contrary to the habitual practice of most of New York’s grand hotels of sending a “cleaning brigade” of two people, into the room of one of the most closely watched figures on the planet.

I don’t know what planet this guy lives on, but if he isn’t aware of the term “staff cutbacks” and if he doesn’t think a “grand hotel” is going to use an underpaid, semi-educated black immigrant to do the cleaning chores of two people when a room is empty, he isn’t an intellectual. He’s an idiot.

And that said, don’t be surprised if this is the theme the DSK case eventually drifts to: a discussion on racism and past colonial exploitation of the Third World. And when you think about it, that makes more sense than a Sarkozy plot.

The case against DSK

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the head of the International Monetary Fund, is still in jail. A judge refused to release him on bail, saying he posed a flight risk.

This is remarkable. Here’s one of the most powerful people on the planet, and he can’t get past a New York City judge. They even did a perp walk before the news cameras.

If he’s guilty of what he’s charged with did, this should restore people’s faith in the judicial system. The powerful guy didn’t get away with it. And, as expected, the reports are now coming out that what he’s accused of shouldn’t come as a surprise to people who were paying attention to him.

The lawyer for a 31-year-old novelist, Tristane Banon, said Monday that she was likely to file a criminal complaint in coming days accusing Strauss-Kahn of sexually assaulting her nine years ago. Banon first made a public accusation against Strauss-Kahn in a 2007 French television interview, saying he wrenched open her bra and tried to unbutton her jeans during an attempt to rape her.

Banon’s attorney said that she had been dissuaded from filing charges by her mother, a member of a regional council who belongs to Strauss-Kahn’s Socialist party. Lawyer David Koubbi told French radio RTL that Banon now “knows she’ll be taken seriously.”

News reports all around the world imply he probably has done this before numerous other times. This in itself is troubling if powerful people knew they were putting a potential sex offender in a position of global importance. Rumors are that Nicolas Sarkozy, the current president of France, had a file on Strauss-Kahn, who was expected to be his opponent in the next French presidential election. The conspiracy theorists first reaction to these charges was that Strauss-Kahn had been set up by Sarkozy.

I don’t think that’s the case. This just seems, if anything, like a situation where an extremely powerful man was convinced he could get away with anything he wanted. Now, if he is guilty, it’s a matter of seeing how much he really can get away with.

IMF leader charged in sexual assault

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Managing Director, Int...

Image via Wikipedia

This isn’t a household name in the U.S., but Dominique Strauss-Kahn is one of the most important people in global finance. And he’s been charged with attempted rape in New York.

Strauss-Kahn is the head of the International Monetary Fund, the overseer of the global financial system. Decisions by the IMF can save or cripple governments. It’s the organization that countries go to to get loans in order to stabilize their financial situations. IMF decisions have led to riots in a number of countries, and have an impact on things as basic as people access to food. Instability at the top has major international ramifications.

Strauss-Kahn was pulled off an Air France jet yesterday by the police after a maid at a luxury hotel in New York said he sexually assaulted her. He has been arrested and charged with attempted rape, criminal sexual act and unlawful imprisonment.

Strauss-Kahn is also a huge political figure in France. He was expected to run against Nicolas Sarkozy for the presidency. He lost the Socialist Party nomination to Segoline Royal in the last French presidential election. Of course this is monumental news in Europe.

But I look at the front pages of today’s papers, and the only one that appears to mention this story is the New York Times.

Should I be surprised that this isn’t seen as a big deal here?