Let debtor nations leave euro, say German experts – FT.com

Claude Forthomme (Nougat):

I totally subscribe to the comments made by Dr. Alf. Very sound.

Originally posted on Dr Alf's Blog:

This is an important read from the FT, citing a report from Germany‘s Council of Economic Experts.

via Let debtor nations leave euro, say German experts – FT.com.

Whilst the FT’s article is a good read, it’s well worth reading the evidence from the German experts. You can rest assured that it is being avidly read by mainstream economists around the world.

I read the executive summary from the German experts and many of the points are sound from a Germanic view of Europe. However, there are some fundamental weaknesses. Firstly, every international mainstream economist has been arguing for years for Germany to reflate, create some controlled inflation, to give the rest of Europe some breathing room. Secondly, the obsession with fiscal balancing ignores export imbalances (see Bernancke’s argument) – it also fails to address the economic case for top quality…

View original 35 more words

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Working to survive: Yasmeen’s story

Claude Forthomme (Nougat):

A heart-breaking story – this should never happen to anyone…

Originally posted on UNICEF Connect - UNICEF BLOG:

Entering the Ghazieh collective shelter in south Lebanon, I was struck by the conditions: women, men, the elderly, children, babies were all packed into small rooms rented for US$300 a month. They live in horrendous conditions – with no access to cooking facilities or decent sanitation.

I was in one of the many locations across Lebanon where Syrian refugee families have moved into empty buildings, garages and other structures under construction to seek shelter. I was there to talk to Syrian children about their daily lives as refugees. A young girl caught my attention, but, as I approached her, she ran towards the neighbours’ room. A few minutes later she came back and stared at me, but she didn’t want to speak, so I started talking with some of the women present.

Half an hour later, the girl – whose name turned out to be Yasmeen* – came to me…

View original 367 more words

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

I am closing down this blog…

No, I haven’t abandoned you, my dear readers! I continue to publish posts on my other blog site here:

http://claudenougat.blogspot.it/

For a while, I experimented with publishing on this blog site here, using it as a “mirror” blog for those who don’t like Google and don’t wish to post comments there. But, as I am working hard on my new book about the United Nations, I have less and less time to duplicate posts. So please forgive me, you’ll find my new posts (I publish once a week) on my Blogspot address, and if you don’t like to leave comments there, you can contact me directly on my email or on Twitter and Facebook. I’ll be happy to read you and answer!

Leave a comment

Filed under Blogging

Sometimes You Just Have to Let Yourself Go…

Sometimes you have to leave behind the pains of the world, the pressure of work, your responsibilities to all your loved ones and… take a walk! Breathe deeply, take a few steps outdoors and then some more, and yet more, for an hour or two, until, for a few heady moments, you feel FREE…

That’s exactly what I did a few days ago, it was a cool spring day on Lake Trasimeno, in the heart of Italy – a lake that straddles Tuscany and Umbria. It wasn’t at sunset (like on the cover of my book “Crimson Clouds”), it was midday. A cold wind was blowing but the sun shone bright, the birds sang, and horses happily grazed in the fields. Here are some of the images I took on my smart phone that I want to share with you, starting with the lake:

This is Isola Polvese – an island that is a natural reserve – and the shot is taken from high up. In fact, we had driven up to the small, medieval village of San Savino, with its characteristic tower:

You can glimpse the lake in the back, to the right. The tower dates back to the 12th Century and is part of a fortress – not a place you can actually visit, people still live in it. Here it is:

The castle was restored – or rather rebuilt – in the 14th Century. You can learn more about San Savino here, and if you want to spend sometime in the village, you can even rent small flats with great views – but be warned, the place is so small that there are no shops, no restaurants or cafés and that, in Italy, is very rare. Most villages have at least a café. But you’re very close to the Lake and the pleasant little town of San Feliciano, from where you can take a ferryboat to Isola Polvese.

We took a walk around the back of San Savino, going beyond the nice, old cemetery and found this jolly horse:

He quickly noticed us and came up:

After that encounter, we felt ready for lunch and drove back towards Perugia  – ten minutes – to the Osteria dell’Olmo, a Seventeenth Century villa turned restaurant. The setting is a pleasure, the dining room with a fireplace is particularly nice in winter:

Overtime, the food has had its ups and downs but now they have a new chef and we ate very well, a superb steak and fried spring potatoes with the skin on, very tasty. But more complex menus are available:

And they have a delightful coffee machine dating back to the 1920s (don’t worry, it’s not in use!):

Yes, the person in the mirror is me, bent on taking this picture…

In summer, you can eat outdoors, not the case that day (much too cold). But when we looked outside for the restaurant owner who had disappeared in the course of our meal, we found him busy taking care of a herb garden he had recently laid out on the terrace in neat white boxes:

Gardening is an Italian passion!

Leave a comment

Filed under travel

Chasing the Flame…

This week leading to Easter was an authentic Via Crucis for some 300 innocents massacred  by demented people: half of them were hapless tourists flying on Lufthansa’s low cost GermanWings, the other half, university students in Kenya who were shot and decapitated because they happened to be Christians.

The Pope had unforgettable words on Holy Friday for the Christians who were killed and for all the senseless violence permeating our society. Referring to the Christ’s Via Crucis, he said “In you, divine love, we see also today our persecuted brothers and sisters, decapitated and crucified for their faith in you, before our eyes and often with our complicit silence.”

Whether Christian or not, let us all agree that we cannot be silent. That something must be done – all of us can do something either at work or on our days off. And I was reminded of Sergio Vieira de Mello from Brazil, a man who dedicated his life to humanitarian causes and was horrifically killed in the line of duty. Samantha Power wrote an unforgettable book about Sergio – a man defined by Stephen Balbach, one of the reviewers of the book, as the “ultimate go-to guy”, in his words:

Sergio Vieira de Mello of Brazil (simply “Sergio” to many) was the personification of what the United Nations could and should be. As Paul Bremer’s adviser Ryan Cocker once said, “Sergio is as good as it gets not only for the UN, but for international diplomacy.” Sergio was the UN Secretary General’s “ultimate go-to guy”, a nation builder in the world’s toughest spots like East Timor, Cambodia, Kosovo. No one who met him – from George W. Bush on the eve of the Iraq War, to the Khmer Rouge, to Slobodan Milosevic – came away untouched by his intelligence, physical bearing, charisma and integrity. It was a major blow to the world when he and 14 other UN staff were killed on August 19th 2003 by an al-Qaeda suicide bomber at the Canal Hotel in Baghdad, an event that has become known as the “UN’s 9/11″.
Yes, another victim of terrorism – one who died twelve years ago. I only recently came across Samantha Power’s book about him (it was published in 2008), in the course of researching my upcoming book about the United Nations. And I was immediately taken in by what is in fact a gripping read.

Here is my own review of it (I gave it 5 stars!):

Brilliantly written, with a title that beautifully reflects the thrust of the book, it draws a spell-binding portrait of an idealist, dedicated to his work and the goals of the UN. At the same time, it depicts with deep compassion a very human person, highly likeable in spite of the flaws. The last chapter, reporting the details of his tragic death, makes for a harrowing read, high drama that will bring tears in the reader’s eyes – including tears of frustration, because with a little better organization, his life might have been saved.
Yet, it could be argued that the real value of this book lies in another direction, it zeroes in on a phenomenon I have often come across in my 25 years of work at the UN: the rise of a new class of bureaucrats, far from the stereotype we all think of when the word “bureaucrat” comes up. Vieira de Mello, a Brazilian, was a true cosmopolitan, a man who lived beyond any nationalistic allegiance (though he loved his home country) and who truly believed in the supremacy of human rights, as defined in the UN Charter and the Declaration.

Here is no bureaucrat attached to red tape and looking forward to week-end partying. Here is a man who worked incessantly, often putting work before family.

I can vouch that there are many more like him in the UN system, people who honestly believe that the world should move beyond nationalism if it is ever to achieve peace and prosperity. Such people are “civil servants” in the most basic sense of the term, i.e. serving Society with a capital “s”, and Samantha Power reveals in this book exactly how such people come about, what pushes them, what inspires them and frustrates them, in short, how they act and why.

To anyone wondering how and why the UN continues to survive the violent attacks against it, including skepticism about is continued relevance, here is the beginning of an answer: the resilience of the UN system lies largely in the quality of (some) of its staff – people like Viera de Mello. The insights “Chasing the Flame” provides into this little known aspect of the UN is what makes this book particularly important and a must read.

Indeed. I consider this  an important piece of evidence for my own book about the UN, tentatively called “Soft Power, the Real Nature of the United Nations System”: Sergio exemplifies the special type of “bureaucrat” that the UN system attracts – people who are idealists, who believe in human dignity and in the value of every human life, precisely the reverse of Daesh assassins or suicidal pilots who criminally take the lives of others along with their own.

I hesitate to say “Happy Easter” but we need to make it happy and hopeful, we need to believe that humankind can be redeemed, that there will be in future many more people like Sergio…So have a Happy Easter, whether you are Christian or not!

Available on Amazon here

Leave a comment

Filed under non-fiction, politics

How the United Nations Foresees The Future

That is the title of an article I just wrote for Impakter. As I am doing research for my upcoming book about the United Nations (tentatively entitled “Soft Power“), I keep coming across interesting aspects of UN work that are little known to outsiders and I wanted to share these “choice bits” with you on my blog. Here is the beginning of the article, you can read the whole article on Impakter here.

The United Nations’ Predictions of War, Disaster and Famine till May 2015: The IASC Early Warning Map

One always thinks of the United Nations as the harbinger of bad news, in particular dire predictions of global warming as the upcoming “Paris Climat”, the next World Climate Change Conference to be held in Paris in December 2015, is gathering steam.But what is not so well known is that the United Nations plays a major role in the international community in predicting the next emergencies, man-made disasters like war devastation and economic collapse, but also some natural disasters that can be foreseen, like famine caused by  a protracted, on-going drought.

Predictions of this kind are essential to get everyone in the humanitarian community prepared for the next emergency. And in a 2-page document that anyone can find on Internet, there is a map of the emergencies foreseen by the UN for a 6-month period ending May 2015 (this one came out in December 2015 – screenshot):

IASC

Eleven hot spots, eleven areas in the world where chances are very high –close to 100 percent – that people will die in large number soon if nothing is done. It’s an amazingly high number.

The rest on Impakter, click here .

Leave a comment

Filed under politics

Click with Compassion

That’s what Monica Lewinsky tells us in her moving TED talk that has just come out, a talk that is a call for action against our “culture of humiliation”, magnified by the Internet, where, alas, cyber-bullying is too often the order of the day.

You can see her talk here:
It got a standing ovation, a rare event on TED and (in my view) well deserved.

Before that talk, she had written an essay on Vanity Fair (published in June 2014, you can see it here). Titled “Shame and Survival”, it is brilliantly written and was even nominated for a National Magazine Award for best Essay Writing. In a way, more than the TED talk itself, it constituted for Monica a real comeback, after over a decade of silence as she tried to rebuild her life. Much of what she says in the TED talk is already there, in the essay.

Two things stand out in that essay: one, the headline picture which shows us a sophisticated woman, eons away from the beret-wearing girl with the blue dress that we all remember:

The other thing is something she quotes towards the end of her essay, a snippet from a “New York Supergals” cocktail party conversation held at a chic New York City restaurant, Le Bernardin, in January 1998, to discuss, a week after the scandal had exploded in the media, what it really meant from a female/feminist point of view. That conversation was recorded by writer Francine Prose and published in The New York Observer under the telling title “Supergals Love that Naughty Prez”.

Yes, the feminists took President Clinton’s side – and what a coterie they were: writers Erica Jong, Nancy Friday, Katie Roiphe, and Elizabeth Benedict; Saturday Night Live writer Patricia Marx; Marisa Bowe, the editor of Word, an online magazine; fashion designer Nicole Miller; former dominatrix Susan Shellogg; and their host, Le Bernardin co-owner Maguy Le Coze. 

Monica imagines herself participating in that meeting, inserting in their conversation her own remarks in italics – it’s an interesting exercise in trying to reshape the past, and I quote it here from the VF article:

Marisa Bowe: His whole life is about having to be in control and really intelligent all the time. And his wife is really intelligent and in control all the time. And the idea of just having stupid sex with some not-brilliant woman in the Oval Office, I can see the appeal in that.

Imaginary Me: I’m not saying I’m brilliant, but how do you know I’m not? My first job out of college was at the White House.

Susan Shellogg: And do you think it’s tremendously selfish? Selfish and demanding, having oral sex and not reciprocating? I mean … she didn’t say, “Well, you know he satisfied me.”

Me: And where exactly “didn’t” I say this? In which public statement that I didn’t make? In which testimony that’s not been released?

Katie Roiphe: I think what people are outraged about is the way that [Monica Lewinsky] looks, which is interesting. Because we like to think of our presidents as sort of godlike, and so if J.F.K. has an affair with Marilyn Monroe, it’s all in the realm of the demigods…. I mean, the thing I kept hearing over and over again was Monica Lewinsky’s not that pretty.

Me: Well, thanks. The first picture that surfaced was a passport photo. Would you like to have a passport photo splattered across publications around the world as the picture that defines you?

What you are also saying here is that the primary quality that would qualify a woman to have an intimate relationship with a powerful man is physical attractiveness. If that’s not setting the movement back, I don’t know what is.

Erica Jong: My dental hygienist pointed out that she had third-stage gum disease.

Shellogg: What do you think will happen to [her]? I mean, she’ll just fade out quietly or write a book? Or people will forget about her six months from now?

Nancy Friday: She can rent out her mouth.

Me: (Speechless.)

Jong: But, you know, men do like to get close to the mouth that has been close to power. Think of the fantasy in the man’s mind as she’s going down on him and he’s thinking, “Oh my God.”

Elizabeth Benedict: Do for me what you did to the President. Do that.

Me: (Still speechless.)

Jong: I think it’s a tribute to how far we’ve come that we’re not trashing Monica Lewinsky.

Mmm, yes, of course they were the feminists of 1998. Times have changed (I hope). What strikes me in all this is Monica Lewinsky’s basic contention that “the price of shame” exacted by the Internet is much higher than it would ever have been possible without it.

Hugh Merle’s painting – Scarlet Letter

And perhaps that explains why over here, in Europe and particularly in France, as we watched the scandal unfold in the USA, we wondered why American society was reacting so violently to what seemed like a minor case of “sex at work” – hardly something to write home about. I remember we all figured that Americans were over-reacting to their President’s philandering out of puritanism; after all, those were the roots of American culture, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s famous Scarlet Letter etc.  etc.

But we tended to overlook the fact that in 1998, the Internet was not present in Europe the way it already was in the US. And now that the Internet has invaded Europe (and the world for that matter), the philandering of powerful political figures is no longer taken so lightly. The French have notably changed their mind in how they view President Hollande’s whizzing about on a motorbike to see his latest paramour or Dominique Strauss Kahn‘s sexual pranks.

The Internet does change how people view other people’s lives. As Monica Lewinsky says, “how do we cope with the shame game as it’s played in the Internet Age?”

In closing her essay, she tells us that her current goal is to “get involved with efforts on behalf of victims of online humiliation and harassment and to start speaking on this topic in public forums”. She has certainly started doing that with a bang and should be congratulated for the courage she is showing in coming out. 

So please, let’s follow her advice, let’s call on everyone to click with compassion!

Leave a comment

Filed under social media