Economy

Why The Global Economic Crisis Has Only Just Begun

After an ineffective weekend flurry of phone calls among world leaders, confidence in governments’ ability to react is eroding. And the uglier it gets, the more politicians will focus on their own skin rather than finding a common solution. Buckle up.

José Manuel Barroso and Angela Merkel at the European People's party summit in March 2011 (europeanpeoplesparty)
José Manuel Barroso and Angela Merkel at the European People's party summit in March 2011 (europeanpeoplesparty)
Stefan Kornelius

MUNICH - This was the scene on Friday: global stock markets were continuing to slide, rumors were rumbling about the US credit rating downgrade, the European Union commissioner for economic and monetary affairs, Olli Rehn, was trying to undo the ineptitude of Commission president José Manuel Barroso….and then we learn that the German chancellor and the French president were going to be talking the situation over on the phone.

A phone call. Not only that, but G-20 deputy finance ministers were going to be conference-calling. And a meeting of G-8 states might be arranged -- or at the very least, the deputy finance ministers of those countries would confer by phone.

All this telephone action was supposed to create the impression that politicians were doing something to deal with the collapse of the world economy. As if a bunch of deputy ministers could stabilize the stock market and make buying government bonds seem like the next neat thing to investors. As if there were some kind of miracle weapon in the European Central Bank's safe just waiting for the pols to say the word so that it could be wheeled forth and make everything right again. Not surprisingly the phoning flurry produced no results whatsoever.

The debt crisis is teaching politicians that a free market economy does what it has always done rather well – whatever it wants. Many investors are alert, politically aware people who understand the causes and effects of economic crises, and still react to them egotistically. They don't want to lose money, and if possible, want to make more of it. So they hear about the telephone call between Merkel and Sarkozy, they listen to the EU Commission president, the American president, and what they get from all that is that the politicians aren't going to be much help.

The power of politics squeezed dry

Just three weeks after the special EU summit on Greece, not only has the congratulatory vibe disappeared – it's as if the power of politics has been squeezed dry.

The market marches inexorably on, oblivious to government declarations that everything is under control and that safety nets and special loans are enough to contain worst-case scenarios. Meanwhile, it's abundantly clear to most that the debt burden is too high, and in the face of this fact, the chances of growth are too weak. The apparently inexhaustible trust in the idea of an ever-solvent state is now exhausted.

But even with this sobering news, little is likely to change. Under the pressure of events, politicians are unlikely to suddenly develop unsuspected abilities to make clear-headed decisions. Don't expect a European transfer union to emerge in which Germany gets -- for a very high price, to be sure -- its EU economic government. It's also just as unlikely that overnight the US Congress comes up with a comprehensive austerity package and tax increases, both prerequisites for a balanced US budget.

The danger is much more likely that, as the crisis moves into its next phase, politicians abandon the little there is of a cooperative spirit and start to take up positions against each other. What has been going on in the US Congress is just a light sampling of what can happen when political camps fight for their existence. In the US, where presidential elections are slated next year, Barack Obama can expect no concessions from his opponents, who are bent on destroying him politically. Now, it's about political survival, mandates, majorities, the next president. Compromise only gets in the way.

Prospects don't look any better in Europe. The Zapatero government in Spain has capitulated and moved the date of the general election up. The country's politicians will ostensibly not be focusing on getting Spain's debt situation in order but rather on getting votes. In Italy, after Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi‘s address to parliament, it‘s clear that nothing much will change soon -- including any sense of urgency about the national debt. The French presidential elections will take place next spring. There is more than a little danger that the right-wing National Front sets the tone: nationalist, anti-European, and fiscally populist.

In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel will be wondering how she's going to manage to get a majority vote in parliament for the Greek rescue package. The Social Democratic Party (SPD) supported it not out of altruism and loyalty to Europe, but so that it would open a way for all the grumbling parliamentarians in the conservative camp to revolt. If the chancellor is counting on the SPD and a borrowed majority to get this through, she may find herself out of luck.

In both the US and Europe, the debt crisis will increasingly become a domestic political issue. That's the bad news in this summer of crisis that just two weeks ago looked like it might be under control. The truth is that it's just starting now.

Read the original article in German

Photo - Europeanpeoplesparty

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Coronavirus

Where Lockdowns For LGBTQ Meant Moving Back In With Homophobic Relatives

The confinement experience could turn brutal for those forced to live with relatives who would not tolerate a member of the family living their sexual orientation openly as a young adult. Here are stories from urban and rural India.

At a Rainbow pride walk in Kolkata, India

Sreemanti Sengupta

Abhijith had been working as a radio jockey in the southern Indian city of Thiruvananthapuram when the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March, 2020. When the government imposed a nationwide lockdown, Abhijith returned to the rural Pathanamthitta district , where his parents live with an extended family, including uncles, cousins and grandparents.

Eighteen months later, he recalled that the experience was "unbearable" because he had to live with homophobic relatives. "Apart from the frequent reference to my sexual 'abnormality', they took me to a guruji to 'cure' me," Abhijith recalled. "He gave me something to eat, which made me throw up. The guru assured me that I was throwing up whatever 'demon' was possessing me and 'making' me gay."


Early in 2021, Abhijith travelled back to Thiruvananthapuram, where he found support from the members of the queer collective.

Inspired by their work, he also decided to work towards uplifting the queer community. "I wish no one else goes through the mental trauma I have endured," said Abhijit.

Abhijith's story of mental distress arising from family abuse turns out to be all too common among members of India's LGBTQ+ community, many of whom were trapped in their homes and removed from peer support groups during the pandemic.

Oppressive home situations

As India continues to reel from a pandemic that has claimed more lives (235,524) in three months of the second wave (April-June 2021) than in the one year before that (162,960 deaths in March 2020-March 2021), the LGBTQ community has faced myriad problems. Sexual minorities have historically suffered from mainstream prejudice and the pandemic has aggravated socio-economic inequalities, instigated family and institutionalized abuse, apart from limiting access to essential care. This has resulted in acute mental distress which has overwhelmed queer support infrastructure across the country.

Speaking to queer collective representatives across India, I learned that the heightened levels of distress in the community was due to longstanding factors that were triggered under lockdown conditions. Family members who are intolerant of marginalized sexual identities, often tagging their orientation as a "disorder" or "just a phase", have always featured among the main perpetrators of subtle and overt forms of violence towards queer, trans and homosexual people.

Calls from lesbians and trans men to prevent forced marriages during lockdowns.

Sappho For Equality, a Kolkata-based feminist organization that works for the rights of sexually marginalized women and trans men, recorded a similar trend. Early in the first wave, the organization realized that the existing helpline number was getting overwhelmed with distress calls. It added a second helpline number. The comparative figures indicate a 13-fold jump in numbers: from 290 calls in April 2019-March 20 to 3,940 calls in April 2020-May 2021.

"Most of the calls we have been getting from lesbians and trans men are urgent appeals to prevent forced marriages during lockdowns," said Shreosi, a Sappho member and peer support provider. "If they happen to resist, they are either evicted or forced to flee home. But where to house them? There aren't so many shelters, and ours is at full capacity."

Shreosi says that the nature of distress calls has also changed. "Earlier people would call in for long-term help, such as professional mental health support. But during the pandemic, it has changed to immediate requests to rescue from oppressive home situations. Often, they will speak in whispers so that the parents can't hear."

Lack of spaces

Like many of his fellow queer community members, life for Sumit P., a 30-year-old gay man from Mumbai, has taken a turn for the worse. The lockdown has led to the loss of safe spaces and prolonged residence at home.

"It has been a really difficult time since the beginning of the lockdown. I am suffering from a lot of mental stress since I cannot freely express myself at home. Even while making a call, I have to check my surroundings to see if anybody is there. If I try to go out, my family demands an explanation. I feel suffocated," he said.

The pandemic has forced some queer people to come out

Sumit is also dealing with a risk that has hit the community harder than others – unemployment and income shortage. He's opened a cafe with two other queer friends, which is now running into losses. For others, pandemic-induced job losses have forced queer persons from all over the country to return to their home states and move in with their families who've turned abusive during this long period of confinement.

Lockdowns force coming out

According to Kolkata-based physician, filmmaker and gay rights activist Tirthankar Guha Thakurata, the pandemic has forced some queer people to come out, succumbing to rising discomfort and pressure exerted by homophobic families.

"In most cases, family relations sour when a person reveals their identity. But many do not flee home. They find a breathing space or 'space out' in their workspaces. In the absence of these spaces, mental problems rose significantly," he said.

Not being able to express themselves freely in front of parents who are hostile, intolerant and often address transgender persons by their deadname or misgender them has created situations of severe distress, suicidal thoughts and self-harm.

Psychiatrist and queer feminist activist Ranjita Biswas (she/they) cites an incident. A gender-nonconforming person died under suspicious circumstances just days after leaving their peer group and going home to their birth parents. The final rites were performed with them dressed in bangles and a saree.

"When a member of our community asked their mother why she chose a saree for someone who had worn androgynous clothes all their life, she plainly said it was natural because after all, the deceased 'was her daughter,'" Biswas recalls.

The Indian queer mental health support infrastructure, already compromised with historical prejudice, is now struggling

David Talukdar/ZUMA

"Correctional" therapy

In India, queer people's access to professional mental healthcare has been "very limited," according to community members such as Ankan Biswas, India's first transgender lawyer who has been working with the Human Rights Law Network in West Bengal.

"A large majority of the psychiatrists still consider homosexuality as a disorder and practice 'correctional therapy'. It's only around the big cities that some queer-friendly psychiatrists can be found," Biswas said. "The pandemic has further widened the inequalities in access to mental health support for India's LGBTQ community."

Biswas is spending anxious days fielding an overwhelming amount of calls and rescue requests from queer members trapped in their homes, undergoing mental, verbal and even physical torture. "We don't have the space, I just tell them to wait and bear it a little longer," he said.

Medical care is dismal

Anuradha Krishnan's story, though not involving birth family, outlines how the lack of physical support spaces have affected India's queer population. Abandoned by her birth family when she came out to them as a trans woman in 2017, Anuradha Krishnan (she/they), founder of Queerythm in Kerala who is studying dentistry, had to move into an accommodation with four other persons.

Isolation triggered my depression

"I am used to talking and hanging around with friends. Isolation triggered my depression and I had to seek psychiatric help." Living in cramped quarters did not help with quarantine requirements and all of them tested positive during the first wave.

What is deeply worrying is that the Indian queer mental health support infrastructure, already compromised with historical prejudice, is now struggling, placing more and more pressure on queer collectives and peer support groups whose resources are wearing thin.

During the 10 months of the first wave of the pandemic in India in 2020, Y'all, a queer collective based in Manipur, received about 1,000 distress calls on their helpline number from LGBTQ+ individuals. In May 2021 alone, they received 450 such calls (including texts and WhatsApp messages) indicating a telling escalation in the number of queer people seeking help during the second wave.

As India's queer-friendly mental health support infrastructure continues to be tested, Y'all founder, Sadam Hanjabam, a gay man, says, "Honestly, we are struggling to handle such a large number of calls, it is so overwhelming. We are also dealing with our own anxieties. We are burning out."

Sreemanti Sengupta is a freelance writer, poet, and media studies lecturer based in Kolkata.

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