The "Chlorhuhn" chicken symbolizes the fears triggered by a proposed free trade agreement. The fear is that foreign products will push out local goods, and that health standards will drop. We are also having an argument about the way the major Internet companies mine and use data -- with the danger that they will turn us into transparent human beings. But one thing we do agree on is that unrestricted monitoring of communications by secret services can destroy the Internet as a space of liberty. Google's Eric Schmidt rightly described this practice as "outrageous."
There was a bit of good news from Europe last week. Two of the nations that desperately need some respite from austerity essentially told German Chancellor Merkel to stuff it. France, under pressure from Germany and the European Union to meet the E.U.'s straightjacket requirement of deficits of no more than three percent of GDP (whether or not depression looms) informed the E.U. that they will not hit this target until 2017. The government of President Francois Hollande, under fire for failing to ignite a recovery, now plans economic stimulus measures -- and the target be damned. Under E.U. rules, France can be fined up to 0.2 percent of its GDP. The French seem to be saying, 'So sue us!'
The latest reports from Europe indicate that the continent is slipping back into recession. The U.S. is doing only slightly better, with positive economic growth but scant progress on the jobs front, and no growth in the earnings of the vast majority of Americans. Meanwhile, global climate change continues to worsen, producing unprecedented policy conundrums of how to reconcile the very survival of the planet with improved living standards for the world's impoverished billions and for most Americans, whose real incomes have declined since the year 2000. Amid all of these serious challenges, what common strategies are top U.S. and European leaders pursuing? Why, a new trade and investment deal modeled on NAFTA, to make it harder for governments to regulate capitalism.
This September I turn 60. As I enter The Final Third, I find myself dumbfounded about where the last 60 years have gone, and driven to take stock and sort it all out. In addition, I want to hedge my bets for the next 30. With nothing really big calling my name, I don't have much of a bucket-list. All I know is that I want to keep going and keep learning.
It's taken a long time for Germany and Japan to recover from the Second World War. After enduring the indignity of military occupation, they regained sovereignty only by guaranteeing against future threats to peace. Germany's new constitution only authorized military force in self-defense or in collaboration with collective security agreements. Japan's Article Nine went further, "forever renounc[ing] ... the threat or use of force as a means of settling international disputes." But this post-war settlement is unraveling before our eyes. The Obama administration must learn to distinguish the urgent from the truly fundamental. Unless it rethinks our traditional post-war partnerships, it risks an authoritarian Japan and a profoundly alienated Germany -- destroying one of the greatest legacies of the twentieth century.