Year in Review: Our top stories from 2011

What a wild year it’s been. From the fall of DSK to the fall of the euro, 2011 was… well it was a major downer for most parties.

We launched Carnet Atlantique in January with the aim of examining top political, economic and cultural issues in France, America, and the world beyond. As we prepare to celebrate our one year anniversary, we’ve rounded up our top stories from 2011 for your reading pleasure. Behold:

J’adore Barack Obama

Our editor-in-chief Paul Weinberg examined the trials and tribulations President Barack Obama is manuevering in an extremely partisan USA, making the comparison between Obama and JFK:

“Unlike Kennedy, Obama does not have the roots, burdens and debts of an insider. Obama, unburdened, can think and do as he damned pleases. And during his first two years as President, he did… But things have changed.

The 2010 congressional elections now deny President Obama of Democratic majorities in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. Until now, President Obama didn’t need Republicans for his legislative agenda. However, following the ‘shellacking’ in the 2010 congressional elections, the Senate remains — barely — Democratic — while the House of Representatives is now controlled by Republicans.

Barack Obama did exactly what he said he would do: he has set about to transform and leverage important elements of American society: education; income distribution; medical care; and financial sector abuses.

Obama is criticized for compromising too easily on each of the above elements.

For example, he is criticized for not having insisted on what is called the ‘public option,’ in his health care package, i.e. a public sector health care system. Perhaps he should have held out for this; perhaps he should have fought for that. President Obama’s antenna are better than mine in judging what’s possible. And so I defer to him. In years ahead we will improve them.”

May You Live in Interesting Times

David Guildford foresaw massive problems with the euro in January, warning that much trouble lay ahead:

“The European continent is facing its first bona fide identity crisis since the fall of the Soviet Union. Where just a decade ago the world awaited the introduction of the Euro with bated breath, today the currency’s continued existence is openly debated. The crisis has revealed deep fissures among members of the European Union, especially those within the Euro Zone.

At the heart of the problem is the fact that the European Union is comprised not of a single nation with sub-states like the U.S., but of many different nations, each with their own national interests in mind. Centuries-old hostilities exist to this day, and previously autonomous governments bristle under the collective pronouncements from Brussels. According to the most recent Eurobarometer poll, less than half of the citizens of the EU believe that the European Union is a ‘good thing.’

This disjointed unity exposes vulnerabilities to those market participants with hostile intentions both within and outside the EU. The fact that there are Euro Zone members now widely referred to by the perjorative PIGS (Portugal, Ireland, Greece, and Spain) or PIIGS (when Italy is thrown into the mix) is evidence of the weakness perceived by the market. “

Dominique Strauss-Kahn

Before an epic sex scandal hit the former Socialist Party leader, everyone was predicting his political victory in the 2012 French elections. Our own Austin Ashley examined how Sarkozy hoped to get rid of DSK by sending him to the US:

“While most candidates have spent their time doing laps of the French political circuit during Sarkozy’s presidency, DSK has not. Where do we find him? Far from home. Washington, D.C., in the US of A.

Doing what? dropping billions – billions and billions !! — on the needy. With all the favors owed to him, it’s a shame the world doesn’t vote for Supreme Father.

But, France needs a president. And the EU needs one smart economist to solve some huge problems.

Former French finance minister, industry minister, corporate lawyer and professor at Sciences-Po, DSK failed to secure the nomination from his Socialist Party in the 2007 election that Sarkozy won. Indeed, in a cruel twist of fate, newly elected President Sarkozy nominated DSK, to be Managing Director of the FMI, sending his old political rival to the Gulag, Washington, D.C, US of A, far away from French politics. What a brilliant maneuver? Or, was it?

Uh, yes. Yes it was.

California Pain

In our April issue, Mark Rickenbach examined the state of affairs in California, weighing the pros and cons of political bulldog Jerry Brown returning as governor:

“And now Jerry Brown takes over for the third time. The idiosyncratic former two-term Governor (1975-1983), dubbed ‘Moonbeam’ has a lot on his plate. Californians overwhelmingly looked to him last November to get the state back on track. His experience and successes in his past two terms, as well as coming from a pedigree of Californian political history (again, his father, Jerry ‘Pat’ Brown, popular and beloved, served two terms) suggests what’s to come from his desk.

A known quantity, now too old to renew long-held presidential ambitions, we recall during his first term that he refused residence in the Governor’s mansion; instead then Governor ‘Moonbeam’ Brown went ‘downmarket’ living in a modest apartment. He refused limousine service that came with the office and got rid of the Governor’s jet.

And, to the delight of most Californians — now take a deep breath – Brown’s even more fiscally conservative than his predecessor Ronald Reagan! And one last plus: he was at the helm when the state saw the biggest surplus in its history.”

Paris 2ieme

Scott Standley wrote an intriguing feature about the other Paris–the Paris of Texas, USA–describing the stark contrast between the world’s top tourist destination and a ghost town in America:

“In the last 100 years, Paris’ population has only grown two times its size (Austin’s has grown by 20 times. Houston, 30 times). The downtown square used to thrive with busy department stores. Today, half the shops are empty, the other half antique shops; Paris, Texas’ most interesting days are now behind it, eviscerated by decades-long migration to bigger cities for better jobs and exciting lifestyles. Bright city lights continue to drain small towns like Paris of youth and talent, leaving them to stagnate.”

Tea Party 2.0

Who could forget the rise of our (least) favourite political movement, the Tea Party (2.0)? Alison Midori Reilly looked at the roots of this bizarre group in our July issue:

“A conservative political grassroots collective, the Tea Party became a national movement in February 2009, when protests were organized across the United States in response to the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008, better known as the stimulus package. The name ‘Tea Party’ is a reference to the Boston Tea Party of 1773, when colonists protested to Britain’s new tax on tea by dumping the tea from docked ships into the harbor.

Typically, a Tea Party supporter is a man, he is married, he is over 40, has some higher education, employed, financially secure. Overall, the Tea Party is against government spending and increased taxation. But Tea-Party luminaries insist it isn’t a single-issue movement.

Their main issues include cutting taxes, debt and spending, repealing Obama’s health care law (dubbed Obamacare), and reining in the federal government back into the limits of the centuries-old U.S. Constitution.

Even though the movement is well known for its economic agenda, it also has a very strong social agenda. As a whole, the Tea Party is much more conservative on abortion policy: 59 percent of them believe abortion should be illegal in most cases, compared with 42 percent of registered voters and 56 percent of Republican voters.”

Woody Allen

Also in our July issue, Mark Rickenbach examined the cultural phenomenon that is Woody Allen:

“It’s said in character, though whether or not Alvy Singer is at that moment his creator Woody Allen, or vice versa, is hard to tell. The Dramatis Personae Allen has brought to life and embodied over the years have been so consistent, and have become so synonymous with the actor himself (especially in his younger years) that the two are almost indistinguishable. The neurotic New York Jew, the intellectual, the timid epicurean who never quite finds the happiness he searches so desperately for – these are the clichés for which both Allen and his characters have come to represent.

Allen is a well-loved and controversial filmmaker in the States, known for such cinematic gems like Manhattan, Annie Hall, and more recently, Match Point and Vicky Cristina Barcelona, both of which were set in European cities. But his appeal is not limited to the United States. European and Latin American countries, like Argentina, have taken a keen liking to the auteur which has grown to renown.

‘French film buffs,’ according to journalist Laurent Tirard, ‘have always regarded Woody Allen as a near deity.’ Nine of his films have been nominated for Best Foreign Film by the French Cesar Awards, two of which, Manhattan and The Purple Rose of Cairo, won. In 2002 he was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Cannes Film Festival. He is a constant fixture at both the Cinemathèque Française as well as the Filmothèque in St. Germain, where one-offs and retrospectives are often held. And this love hasn’t gone unnoticed by the filmmaker. In an interview with Stig Björkman, Allen admitted: ‘Europe has saved my life in the last fifteen years. If it wasn’t for Europe, I’d probably not be making films.'”

Bernie Madoff & Thierry de La Villehuchet: An Odd Couple

In our October issue, Paul Weinberg investigated the men behind two of the greatest Ponzi schemes of the global financial crisis. He compared Bernie Madoff, the ringleader of on of the worst financial scandals in American history, to Thierry de La Villehuchet, himself guilty of swindling millions out of shareholders. However, it would appear the similarities end there:

“One of Thierry de La Villehuchet’s French social friends of many years, someone who had never invested alongside him, shares his memories with genuine affection. Thierry, he tells us, was charismatic, proud if not prideful, elegant, unsilent about his family’s aristocratic lineage, an expert yachtsman who took too many and unnecessary a risk at sea, a man who had poured countless hundreds of thousands of euros lovingly, tirelessly restoring the family chateau at Plouer-sur-Rance nearby St. Malo.

Earlier in his financial career, La Villehuchet worked at Paribas, next he ran the American branch of Credit Lyonnais and a year later, 1995, co-founded AIA with Patrick Littaye who would manage their offices in Paris and Brussels, while La Villehuchet managed their Madison Avenue Manhattan office. At an unhurried pace their growing elite clientèle entrusted nearly $2 B with AIA as, at a steady pace, increasingly more AIA funds were fed into Madoff’s scheme, becomming, at the time of its collapse, 75% of its total, or $1.5 billion.

A sense of honor, or absence thereof, seems to have mostly divided Madoff and de la Villehuchet. In his occasional whines from prison, interviewed by any journalist able to access him in person or by phone, Madoff, unremorseful, has many scapegoats to blame.

La Villehuchet’s older brother, Bertrand, asked by the New York Times about his brother’s death, said: ‘He felt responsible and he felt guilty. Today, in the financial world, there is no responsibility; no one wants to shoulder the blame.’ Bertrand de la Villehuchet had invested in AIA.”

So what’s coming up in 2011? We predict more euro misery, some hard-fought political campaigns on either side of the pond, and plenty of fall-out from the Arab Spring.

Be sure to check out Carnet Atlantique’s January issue, set to go live soon!

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