World

Under Threat of Greek Default

The European Union outlines a budget pact in the shadow of economic disaster.

AP Photo/Virginia Mayo

BRUSSELS, BELGIUM—The specter of Greek default haunted Monday’s informal European Union summit. Despite valiant efforts by EU leaders to focus on promoting growth and jobs, an issue they finally seem to have woken up to, and on finalizing the new fiscal compact agreed on last December, Greece’s debt odyssey hovered menacingly over the proceedings. And, as if the Greek situation were not enough, nerves were further frayed by the evolving Portuguese disaster. As talks were under way in Brussels, ten-year Portuguese bond spreads were reaching euro-era highs of more than 15 percent amid growing fears that the Iberian country would follow in Greece’s footsteps and restructure its debt.

Austerity Über Alles

Germany's insistence on belt-tightening during the recession stems from a fear of history repeating itself.

BERLIN, GERMANY—Score another one for Angie.

Last night in Brussels, the leaders of 25 of the 27 European Union countries agreed to become more like Germany. Not in so many words, of course. There was talk of spurring growth, creating jobs, and liberalizing trade. But at the heart of the pact was the so-called debt brake.

Couture's Chinese Culture Shock

Chinese luxury consumers are becoming an important market but fashion's racial stereotypes persist.

AP Images

We’re witnessing a remarkable shift in China’s relationship to global fashion: once “the world’s factory,” in Asian American fashion scholar Thuy Linh N. Tu’s words, China is now poised to be the world’s mall. While China remains a poor country with an average annual per capita consumption of $2,500 (in contrast, the U.S.

Missing the Arab Awakening

Fears of radical Islam and a depleted budget may keep the U.S. from shepherding a Middle Eastern transition to democracy.

Twitter/Shokeir

On January 25, Egyptians marked the one-year anniversary of their revolution with another massive demonstration in Tahrir Square, the epicenter of what has become known variously as the Arab Spring, the Arab Awakening, or the Arab Uprising. Whatever term one chooses for the events that began with the self-immolation of a Tunisian fruit vendor in December 2010 and soon swept through Egypt, Yemen, Libya, and Syria—the last year has marked a decisive shift in the modern history of the Arab world. Though the situations in different countries have and will continue to take different paths, the people of the region have voiced their unmistakable rejection of the political and economic arrangements that have dominated their countries for decades.

Eurozone Overexposed

EU leaders scuttle a Greek bond deal for fear of greater losses.

AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis

Greece is once again the focal point of efforts to stem the bleeding of investor confidence and save the eurozone. Intense negotiations continue on the precise terms of the restructuring of privately held debt in the struggling Mediterranean country. Agreement is a necessary condition for the approval of a second bailout package from Greece’s eurozone partners and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which, at 130 billion euros or more, will exceed the first one.

Best New York Times Caption Ever

Isn’t that how wars start? Someone tells a story about what happened to them. Another person tells a different story. And so a fissure forms and widens. Fiction between ostensible allies leads to disasters. Honesty is the best policy.

Sex, Preaching, and Abortion

AP Photo/Orlin Wagner

You know the colloquial definition of "chutzpah" as well as I do: the man who murders his parents and then throws himself at the mercy of the court because he's an orphan. As you know by now, our good buddy Newt is steadily exercising more chutzpah than our homicidal orphan. Do you remember that, way back while he was trying to impeach President Bill Clinton for, um, perjury, Newt Gingrich had to resign as speaker because he was cheating on Marianne? And now he is shocked that the liberal media would bring all that up, despite his career as a moral scold.

Look Who's Downgraded Now

The reappraisal of Austria's and France's credit ratings shows that the Greek economic crisis is at high-risk of contagion.

AP Photo/Remy de la Maviniere

Friday was another very bad day for Europe’s crisis managers. Within the space of a few hours, it was revealed that talks between Greece and its international creditors had reached a dead end and were being put on hold and that Standard & Poor’s had downgraded nine eurozone countries, including France and Austria, which formerly held AAA ratings. Both developments are alarming, but the Greek situation is the more immediately pressing.

Friday Miscellany

Good lord, the week goes by fast, and I don't get to comment on 10 percent of what's interesting out there. So here are a few items not to be missed:

It All Falls Apart

In the beautiful A Separation, even the family is no refuge from society.

Berthold Stadler/dapd

Who are you to judge? Another’s life, the beliefs and attachments, rational and otherwise, that make up another’s choices—how can anyone evaluate such things? Yet the arguing Iranian couple in A Separation demand judgment. They face the camera in the opening scene, a comely woman with dyed-red hair under her veil, and her bearded, exasperated husband. Simin (Leila Hatami) and Nader (Peyman Moadi) are presenting their case for divorce to an unseen magistrate and in turn, to us. She seeks a better life for their daughter abroad; he refuses to leave behind his home and his elderly father, who is stricken with Alzheimer’s disease.

Women, War, & Peace

AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

I'm not a gender essentialist. I don't believe that women are from Venus and men are from Mars. I suspect strongly, in fact, that women and men are the same species and might even be able to reproduce. 

At the same time, it's true that women and men—on average, in general—tend to behave differently. You can't predict any individual woman's or man's behavior based on sex; as we've discussed here before, some boys want to be princesses, and some girls are hard-core jocks with a fabulous swagger.

Hungary Games

The country is seeking help from the IMF even as its internal policies scare off investors.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban. AP Photo/Tamas Kovacs

Tamas Fellegi, Hungary’s chief negotiator with the International Monetary Fund, has a tough task this week. Fellegi, a minister without portfolio in Viktor Orban’s right-wing government, is in Washington for preliminary talks with the IMF, in the hopes of setting the foundations for a new package of financial support that will prevent the country’s descent into the Hades of default. This new package, which Orban had previously stated would not be needed, was made necessary in part because of the dramatic deterioration in the economic outlook of the whole of Europe as a result of the eurozone debt crisis and the inept way it has been handled.

Mitt the Unassailed

AP Photo/Elise Amendola

Manchester, New Hampshire —Well, that was unremarkable.

The last presidential debate until another begins ten hours from now saw none of Mitt Romney’s challengers actually challenge him. His toughest challenge probably came from George Stephanopoulos, who asked him if his assertions on Bain Capital’s job creation were really on the level—neither Newt, Ron, Jon nor the two Ricks, confronted Romney with anything as potentially threatening to his lead.

International Adoption or Child Trafficking?

Maria Fernanda Alvarado lies at the center of Erin Siegal's true-crime investigation into the Guatemalan adoption system. Photo by Erin Siegal.

Between 1998 and 2008, nearly 30,000 Guatemalan-born children (mostly infants and toddlers) were adopted by U.S. parents. In some years, that meant that an astonishing 1 out of 100 children born in Guatemala was adopted by an American family. For most of that time, everyone but the prospective adoptive parents knew—or in some cases actively chose to “unknow”—that the country's international adoption system was a cesspool of corruption and crime, and motivated by money.

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