July 9, 2015

The New Yorker - The Demolition Man: Matteo Renzi is on a mission to remake Italy. 5-15min

Renzi and Merkel are the European Union’s odd couple. Like Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Antonin Scalia, they get along. They enjoy each other’s company, and, if their unlikely friendship includes a large measure of amusement and incredulity, they are well matched when it comes to the steel behind the strategic courtesies that each deploys. Merkel, unflappable and seemingly untouchable after ten years as Chancellor of the Continent’s biggest economic power, is Europe’s reigning austerity hawk, and pretty much calls the shots in Brussels. Renzi, who at the time of his invitation was entering his eleventh month in office, was still known abroad mainly for his youth, for the jeans and sneakers he wears to meetings, and for the barbed tweets with which he documents his uphill battle to solve Italy’s social woes and persistent fiscal crises. He had produced an ambitious package of reforms, and kept the budget deficit at a safe, if hovering, three per cent of the country’s G.D.P. (Any E.U. member with a higher deficit risks sanctions from Brussels.) Now he needed to finance the kind of infrastructural, technological, and economic innovations that would create new jobs and generate enough investment and enthusiasm to put Italy, the third-largest economy in the euro zone, back into what he calls the “European conversation.” ... Italians who admire Matteo Renzi call him “our best hope.” More skeptical Italians say, “Well, maybe our only hope.” The Western press hedges its bets with “brash” but “confident.” And his enemies use the term il rottamatore, the demolition man. ... There is no doubt that Renzi wants to save Italy from itself, or that he considers himself the only person who can do that. ... Italy’s Democratic Party, in its new, “Renziani” incarnation—think Clinton-Blair for the twenty-first century—is a warring clan of former Communists, Socialists, Social Democrats, Christian Democrats, and liberal entrepreneurs, each faction circling the others warily and hoping they will go away.

VoxEU - Trends and prospects for private-sector deleveraging in advanced economies < 5min

Major advanced economies have made mixed progress in repairing the private sector’s balance sheets. This column explores private sector deleveraging trends and calls for a set of policies that will return debt to safer levels. Monetary policies should support private sector deleveraging and policymakers should not ignore the positive impact of debt restructuring and write-offs on non-performing loans. ... Projections of debt ratios based on World Economic Outlook data of inflation and growth suggest that nominal growth might not be sufficient to eliminate high debt loads everywhere. Blanchard (2015) warns that there are no magic long-run debt-to-GDP numbers to target but a number of countries that saw sharp increases in debt levels would still remain above their pre-crisis averages (Figure 1). For example, gross non-financial corporate debt in France, Japan, Portugal, and Spain would remain above or near 70% of GDP by 2020 under current World Economic Outlook projections of growth and inflation, higher than their pre-crisis averages and higher than those of other major advanced economies.

Rolling Stone - The Endless Fall of Suge Knight 5-15min

He sold America on a West Coast gangster fantasy — and embodied it. Then the bills came due ... His exploits — some mythic, some real — during the heyday of Death Row Records have become part of hip-hop lore: In the early Nineties, he allegedly shook down Vanilla Ice into handing over publishing profits, walking the rapper out to a hotel-room balcony to show him how far his fall would be. ("I needed to wear a diaper that day," Ice said later.) In his memoir, former N.W.A manager Jerry Heller alleged that Knight and his cohorts, bearing baseball bats, intimidated Eazy-E into releasing Dre from his Ruthless Records contract. (The claims have never been substantiated.) Knight was sitting next to Tupac when he was gunned down in 1996 in Las Vegas; his participation in a fight on the night of the shooting would land him in prison for five years on a probation violation. ... As Knight's fortunes have crumbled, he's gotten closer to the streets, according to prosecutors. In a motion arguing for the high bail (which would later be reduced to $10 million), the L.A. District Attorney's office alleged a recent scheme by Knight to "tax" out-of-town rappers for as much as $30,000 just to work in Los Angeles and Las Vegas. ... former associates struggle to understand why such an undeniably talented businessman can't escape this kind of small-time drama and thuggery. ... Knight already has two prior violent felonies on his record: If any of his current charges stick, under California's Three Strikes law, he could be going to jail for the rest of his life.

The New York Times - What Happens When a State Is Run by Movie Stars? 5-15min

The frenzied, fanatical politics of Tamil Nadu, India. ... Before she went into politics, Jayalalithaa was the most popular Tamil movie actress of her time, the heroine in more than 100 films. She followed the model of her mentor and co-star, an actor-politician named Marudhur Gopalan Ramachandran but more commonly known by his initials M.G.R. He ruled Tamil Nadu for 11 years, and since his death in 1987, Jayalalithaa and her archenemy, a wily 92-year-old screenwriter named Muthuvel Karunanidhi, have taken turns running the state. As the head of the D.M.K. — the party to which M.G.R. belonged until their rivalry forced a split — Karunanidhi has built a cult following on par with Jayalalithaa’s. The two of them rule as if in a melodrama, having each other arrested, dropping snide insults and wild accusations, destroying each other’s pet projects. The D.M.K. and the A.I.A.D.M.K. have almost no policy differences, but no other party can gain a foothold.

The Daily Beast - The Secret World of Tennis Gambling < 5min

One study concludes over 20 first-round pro tennis matches are fixed every year. Why? Because it's almost too easy to throw a match. ... The bookies knew something was up. Eleven bettors, nine of them based in Russia, had just put millions of dollars via the English sportsbook Betfair on Martin Vassallo Arguello beating Nikolay Davydenko in their match at the Orange Prokrom Open in Sopot, Poland on August 2, 2007. The wagers, which pushed the total betting volume to 10 times past average, came in after Arguello, ranked 87th in the world, had dropped the first set 6-2 to Davydenko, ranked 4th in the world. Davydenko eventually retired from the match in the third set, citing a stress fracture in his left foot. ... If the fix was in, no one was bothering to cover their tracks. ... Tennis is the third-most bet upon sport in the world and, between the ATP and the Women’s Tennis Association, there are 126 tournaments making up this year’s tour. The sheer volume of betting and matches makes spotting suspicious activity virtually impossible in all but the most obvious and reckless cases. ... Then there’s the sport’s inherent vulnerability to “spot fixing.” European sportsbooks allow bettors to wager on not just matches, but sets, games, and even individual points. ... Travel expenses alone can cost a tour player more than $100,000 per year, and a full-time coach starts at around $50,000 per year.