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by Frank Schnittger
Mon Jun 17th, 2013 at 07:15:04 AM EST
In Abortion in Ireland I gave a brief account of the background to various attempts to make abortion illegal in Ireland in all circumstances by introducing a constitutional right to life for the unborn. These attempts failed when the Supreme Court ruled that abortion was lawful where there was a substantial risk to the life of the mother which could be alleviated by an abortion. Controversially, the Supreme Court included a threat of suicide in the definition of what could constitute a substantial threat to the life of the mother and this position was endorsed by two constitutional referendums (plebiscites) in 1992 and 2002.
front-paged by afew
Wed Jun 12th, 2013 at 04:51:24 AM EST
Daniel Cohn-Bendit is very much attacked for some quotes on "erotic encounters" with children. This triggered off a discussion in today's newsroom. These encounters must have taken place in Frankfurt in the late 1960s or 70s, around the time of a huge reform of the German penal code regarding sexual offences.
To a contemporary reader it is inconceivable how anyone could express such an attitude. It is as if there wasn't a consensus that children's sexual behaviour is incompatible with that of adults, and that adults must not seek or permit "erotic encounters" (fascinating expression, found it in Wikipedia) with children. How could DCB fail to know that? Simple: the consensus wasn't there then.
A travel in time to 1974, to find out who or what was to be to protected by the laws.
front-paged by afew
Tue Jun 11th, 2013 at 05:03:18 AM EST
Here on ET, it's generally acknowledged that infrastructure is something that is best done by the government, and preferably during recessions via deficit spending. Infrastructure is commonly thought of as things that provide for the public good, and that are most useful when provided to all.
Lots of things count as infrastructure. Roads and bridges are the obvious examples, but power generation and distribution, mail and package delivery, rail and air transport, phone and data networks, medical services, security and disaster relief, and a whole variety of other things could also be considered infrastructure.
How about software?
front-paged by afew
Sun Jun 9th, 2013 at 05:02:51 AM EST
After sustained rains throughout May, rivers are flooding across Central Europe, reaching record levels. On the Danube near me, the maximum is expected for Sunday morning, about 35 centimetres above the previous all-time record (set in spring 2006), beating the Saturday prediction by ten centimetres.
Most of my city is on relatively high ground, so I could watch the rising waters safely. Here are some photos I made between Wednesday and Saturday (the water level already passed the record by the time of my Saturday photo tour). On the first photo, below a passing storm cloud and with the background of a flooded supermarket (left) and a cemetery (right), the statue-adorned old bridge across a creek. The shore of this creek, along which floodwaters pushed back, is the one part of town in danger.
Below the fold, the photos will be organised in short time series. Warning: altogether 33 photos!
Thu Jun 6th, 2013 at 05:57:54 PM EST
Project Syndicate: Turkey’s Class Struggle (Ian Buruma, June 6, 2013)
So, rather than dwell on the problems of contemporary political Islam, which are certainly considerable, it might be more fruitful to look at Turkey’s conflicts from another, now distinctly unfashionable, perspective: class. The protesters, whether they are liberal or leftist, tend to be from the urban elite – Westernized, sophisticated, and secular. Erdoğan, on the other hand, is still very popular in rural and provincial Turkey, among people who are less educated, poorer, more conservative, and more religious.
It is easy to sympathize with the rebels against Bashar al-Assad’s dictatorship in Syria, for example. But the upper classes of Damascus, the secular men and women who enjoy Western music and films, some of them members of the Christian and Alawite religious minorities, will have a hard time surviving once Assad is gone. Baathism was dictatorial and oppressive – often brutally so – but it protected minorities and the secular elites.
Higher visibility for Islam is the inevitable result of more democracy in Muslim-majority countries. How to stop this from killing liberalism is the most important question facing people in the Middle East. Turkey is still a democracy. It is to be hoped that the protests against Erdoğan will make it more liberal, too.
Use this as an open thread for news and analysis on the ongoing Turkish protests.
Thu Jun 6th, 2013 at 04:12:34 AM EST
Desertec started ten years ago as a Club of Rome initiative to involve major energy companies in a project to build solar thermal power plants in North Africa to supply Europe with electricity. With the establishment of the Desertec Industry Intitiative (Dii) in 2009, it seemed closer to reality. At first glance, as a project relying on capital-strong companies to construct where the resource (sunlight) is the most plentiful, this seems to be a great contribution to the de-carbonisation of the EU electricity supply, while also providing development aid. I have long argued, however, that it can be none of that, more a distraction.
Clouds did begin to gather over the project in the past 12 months, with the exit of major technology project partners Siemens and Bosch, scaled-back export prospects due to grid issues, and increasing local opposition. And now Dii gave up on exports to Europe:
In a telephone interview with EurActiv, Dii CEO Paul van Son admitted that the project's initial export-focus represented "one-dimensional thinking".
Although the industrial alliance was set up to develop renewable energy supplies in the Maghreb to feed up to 20% of European electricity demand by 2050, Dii now concedes that Europe can provide for most of its needs indigenously.
Tue Jun 4th, 2013 at 09:43:09 AM EST
For inhabitants of most major cities of the developed world, metros are familiar legacy systems which expand slowly at great cost. The resurgence of light rail is more visible and popular. Metros and light rail also have an unholy link: in the second half of the previous century, a new subway line was often an excuse to create more lanes for cars by tearing up the tracks of a tram on the road above; and more recently, a lot of politicians treated light rail as a cheaper alternative for metros, ignoring that they aren't for the same use (metros have much higher capacity).
In the rest of the world, however, largely ignored by Western observers, there has been a metro-building frenzy in the last few years, with capital spending that outstrips high-speed rail. This boom can be partly understood as a natural consequence of industrialisation and urbanisation, but positive examples and trends play a role, too. The systems being built are changing the commuting habits of tens if not hundreds of millions of people.
Sun Jun 2nd, 2013 at 03:53:56 AM EST
I have a feeling the protests taking place in Turkey are going to have broader significance, but I also feel I don't understand why they are happening. The story I was getting about Turkey before was that the country was increasingly self-assured, and its economy was doing well. So I didn't expect Turkish youth to have the feelings of lack of opportunity or betrayal of expectations that appears to be behind the Arab Spring, the European anti-austerity protesters such as que se lixe a Troika, the indignados, the movimento 5 stelle, the greek Syntagma protests, the American Occupy, or even in Germany Blockupy. Now in Turkey it's #OccupyGezi (others talk of a Turkish Spring).
However, an apparently small protest has led to what sounds like disproportionate use of force to repress it, and a media blackout with reports of an internet blackout (incuding rumours that Turkish ISPs were blocking facebook and twitter, as well as warnings that Turkish police would use facebook to identify activists and crack down on them).
Some simmering political tension has definitely boiled over with these events. These are some of the issues:
Use this as an open thread to bring in information and analysis on the Turkish protests.
Sat Jun 1st, 2013 at 04:26:58 PM EST
Last October, John Dalli was forced to resign as European Commissioner for Health and Consumer Policy, over a bribery allegation: the EU's anti-corruption unit OLAF concluded that he was involved in an offer to modify the Tobacco Directive for the benefit of a company. Dalli faced corruption allegations earlier as Malta's finance minister from the conservative Nationalist Party and as Commissioner he was responsible for new rules for the introduction of genetically modified crops, thus he wasn't beyond suspicion.
However, the tobacco company bribe case soon unravelled. First Dalli made a lot of noise contesting the circumstances of his dismissal and demanding that the evidence against him be made public. Then as the evidence was slowly revealed, it became clear that the key witness was a liar and herself a culprit, the rest proves nothing, and several rules were broken during the investigation. Finally, from leaks over the past week, it appears that a group of high-level bureaucrats who all knew about the investigation against Dalli agreed to change the draft of the revised Tobacco Directive – behind Dalli's back.
It's unclear who everyone was involved in the affair and how, but with several people caught lying or bending the truth, it increasingly looks like Dalli was trapped, and this could reach up to the President of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso. It all sounds like a bad crime novel. I attempt a summary of Dalligate below the fold.
by A swedish kind of death
Fri May 31st, 2013 at 05:42:51 AM EST
Prompted by an exchange with DoDo in the 28 May 2013 thread, I will collect some bits about how the so called riots in Stockholm got started.
front-paged by afew
Wed May 29th, 2013 at 08:30:12 AM EST
In their paper Fiscal Systems, Organizational Capacity, and Crisis: A Political Balance of Payments Approach Nathaniel Cline and Nathan Cedric Tankus illustrate the power of carefully looking at economic history while illuminating some of the limitations of economic and monetary theory, in this case that of MMT, and clarifying factors that affect the abilities of different societies to create a truly sovereign state.
(Warren) Mosler argues that in the mid 1990s he thought, "the theory of the monetary circuit was correct to the point of being entirely beyond dispute". However, he also argues that the theory "could be further enhanced by starting from the beginning". This beginning for Mosler was of course why the workers accepted the units of a currency as payment for their labor services. His answer (which is quite well known among heterodox economists by now) was that imposed debts denominated in that unit of account, give it's units value; in other words taxes. This is an important part of the story, but we would argue it is in fact not the beginning. The true beginning to the circuit is the question of where people and organizations gain the ability to tax.
Mon May 27th, 2013 at 05:23:57 AM EST
Minister for Finance Michael Noonan will bring a proposal to Cabinet shortly to develop a stringent new economic plan to replace the troika bailout programme.
The State’s anticipated exit from the bailout this year will not mean a relaxing of austerity targets as Mr Noonan hopes Government will approve a fresh regime with firm timelines similar to the EU-IMF-ECB programme. (Irish Times)
Sun May 26th, 2013 at 11:30:53 AM EST
The main focus of this diary is on measures for the better integration of various parts of rail systems: gauge enhancement in Switzerland, temporary broad gauge in Spain, the semi-abolition of unbundling in Britain, and reliability improvements to the RER in Paris. Further themes will be scandals and lawsuits, progress in trans-Asian projects, and a new Euro-American locomotive.
Let's start in Switzerland. The centrepiece of the Alpine country's ambitions to move transit freight from road to rail, the 57 km Gotthard Base Tunnel, will open in 2016, and the 15.4 km Ceneri Base Tunnel will follow three years later. Unlike legacy lines in Switzerland with their relatively narrow loading gauge (cross section), these will be suited for standard piggyback wagons carrying trucks with an also standard 4.0 m corner height. (For a solution with non-standard wagons see InnoTrans 2012.)
Rail companies have complained, however, that the large loading gauge of the new tunnels will be of no use if connecting lines won't be adapted, too. Now the Swiss Federal Council finally moved and approved a gauge enhancement programme that will run until 2020 with a budget of CHF940 million (755 million). The single largest project is the doubling of the 2,526 m Bözbergtunnel (on the crossing of the Jura mountains between Basel and Zurich). Some experts are rather critical of this, however, arguing that this will bring neither a capacity nor a speed increase, unlike a shelved project for a new tunnel a bit further to the east.
Fri May 24th, 2013 at 09:23:56 AM EST
François Hollande might have found other ways of being nice to the SPD at their anniversary (while Angela Merkel looked on), than this:
|ALLEMAGNE. Hollande loue les réformes menées... par Schröder - Le Nouvel Observateur|| Germany. Holland praises the reforms carried out... by Schröder - Le Nouvel Observateur |
|Le président français François Hollande a fait l'éloge des réformes du marché du travail menées en Allemagne par l'ancien chancelier social-démocrate Gerhard Schröder, jeudi 23 mai à Leipzig.||French President Francois Hollande praised the reforms of the labour market in Germany carried out by former Social Democratic Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, Thursday, May 23 in Leipzig.|
| "Le progrès, c'est aussi de faire dans les moments difficiles des choix courageux pour préserver l'emploi, pour anticiper les mutations industrielles et c'est ce qu'a fait Gerhard Schröder ici en Allemagne et qui permet à votre pays d'être en avance sur d'autres", a-t-il dit, très applaudi, lors des célébrations des 150 ans du parti social-démocrate allemand (SPD).||"Progress is also, in difficult times, making courageous choices to protect jobs, to anticipate industrial change, and this is what Gerhard Schröder did here in Germany and it's what allows your country to be ahead of others," he said to great applause, during the celebrations of the 150th anniversary of the German Social Democratic Party (SPD).|
So it would seem that it's what he really thinks.
More Hollande-think below.
Thu May 23rd, 2013 at 03:13:09 AM EST
I visited the Kismaros–Királyrét narrow-gauge railway again today [Monday 20 May]. I showed a diesel railcar in mid-April and a solar-powered railcar in early May, but today, the spectacle was steam traction.
Tue May 21st, 2013 at 05:10:53 AM EST
It appears that the mythical Irish disregard for distance when giving directions to tourists extends to our financial overlords: it turns out that not only is Irish GDP distorted beyond recognition by the retained profits of multinationals with European headquarters in Ireland, so is GNP, GNI, balance of payments and the export figures, distorting all the statistics used by the government and EU to report the stunning progress of the five-year plan. Ten-year plan. Adjustment programme.
Irish Economy and RTÉ have good starting points for the numbers. Note that the current account surplus needs to be adjusted down to 0.5% from 5%!
It seems to me that the economy here is recovering, somewhat, but I have an awful fear that it's bifurcating into a recovery for the middle income groups that are in relatively protected areas - including those working for the multinationals - and a continuing slide into poverty for the underclass as government supports and services are cut away from them.
Tue May 14th, 2013 at 01:38:44 AM EST
Since Niall Ferguson is back in the news it seemed like a good time to write about Jack Weatherford's excellent book - Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World as it is a great antidote to many previous attempts by Ferguson and others to rewrite the history of the world and create a narrative of inherent European superiority. As usual, serendipity was the key element.
Fundamentally, Europe's renaissance was built on the flowering of civilisation inside the Mongol Empire:
Although never ruled by the Mongols, in many ways Europe gained the most from their world system. The Europeans received all the benefits of trade, technology transfer, and the Global Awakening without paying the cost of Mongol conquest. The Mongols had killed off the knights in Hungary and Germany, but they had not destroyed or occupied the cities. The Europeans, who had been cut off from the mainstream of civilization since the fall of Rome, eagerly drank in the new knowledge, put on the new clothes, listened to the new music, ate the new foods, and enjoyed a rapidly escalating standard of living in almost every regard.
Of course, Ferguson and his ilk would leap to the "never ruled by the Mongols" as the first evidence of European superiority. However, this seems to be a real misunderstanding. Rather, when the Mongols invaded in the East of Europe they won some huge victories and large areas of territory. However, the booty gained was not on the scale found in other areas neighbouring the Mongol Empire - notably the Sung Kingdom in China and the Muslim states in the Middle East. Thus, the Mongols turned their armies back towards more profitable regions. In effect, Europe escaped being part of the Mongol Empire because it was too poor and backward to be a target.
This turned out to be a stroke of luck, because Europe was able to receive the benefits of all the cultural and technological advances in the Mongol Empire through trade, but it was separate when a cataclysm destroyed the fabric of the Empire.
front-paged by afew
Mon May 20th, 2013 at 03:14:01 AM EST
Wolfgang Münchau in the FT makes the case that there has been too much rationalisation in the defence of a united Europe, and not enough emotion.
It doesn’t make much sense but I’m a eurofanatic - FT.com
Where I differ from many pro-Europeans in the UK is that I simply do not need any economic reason to arrive at this position, or any rational reason at all for that matter. I am like a six year old in this respect. I want the EU because I want it. Maybe it is a cultural thing, maybe the result of learning Latin as a first foreign language, some trip abroad in my youth or a long forgotten encounter. I have no idea. Whatever it was that turned me into a pro-European a few decades back, it was not the joyful anticipation of productivity gains from a single market.
There is no hope of persuading anyone to support the European idea (let alone the EU as presently constituted) on the basis of economics alone. As Münchau says, economic errors abound in the history of the EU. One is tempted to add the epithet "crippling". Neither is another "rational" argument convincing: that European economic integration has ensured peace on the continent. On the contrary, the current Eurozone situation of economic violence should lead any rational or irrational observer to fear for the future.
It doesn’t make much sense but I’m a eurofanatic - FT.com
If you just base it on rationality, you may find that people consider it rational to enter into an alliance when the benefits are clear and then leave it when they are not. Without any emotional glue, the EU is very hard to defend as an institutional framework designed to last forever.
Sat May 18th, 2013 at 07:23:19 AM EST
[Hoisted from the Weekend Newsroom]
For some time now, there is strong lobbying for a transatlantic free-trade zone (as if the EU itself and European national governments wouldn't do enough undermining all of their non-free-trade foundations already). On Thursday (16 May), it was the European Business Summit's turn, as reported in EurActiv. But the article also lists several transatlantic disputes that limit the prospects of such initiatives, such as those about financial services, hormone-treated beef, GMOs, culture and ACTA. Now what's the take of the attending EU Commissioner?
“If you spend too much time on issues you might never achieve results,” said Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht, speaking at the European Business Summit.
Issues don't matter! And never mind defining what "results" you mean.
Wed May 15th, 2013 at 04:56:36 PM EST
[Hoisted from today's Newsroom]
I try to stay optimistic. Or at least hopeful.
But just days ago, we were treated to this wakeup call:
Global carbon dioxide levels set to pass 400ppm milestone | Environment | The Guardian
The concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has reached 399.72 parts per million (ppm) and is likely to pass the symbolically important 400ppm level for the first time in the next few days.
And what's the first response of a major power since that news breaks?
China angles for Arctic power as ice melts - Features - Al Jazeera English
Ice is melting away at a record-breaking rate in the Arctic, exposing valuable natural resources and opening up new shipping routes. Measurements taken last August found levels of Arctic sea ice were at their lowest levels since satellites began measuring the ice in 1979.
China doesn't own any Arctic territory - in fact, its northernmost point is more than 1,400km south of the Arctic Circle. But it's nevertheless taking a strong interest in the region, building a physical presence there and using diplomacy and trade ties to gain a foothold.
China’s actions in the region have paid off as it, along with five other non-Arctic states, have been granted permanent observer status to the Arctic Council, an intergovernmental forum of eight countries with Arctic territory.
Gaining observer status does not allow China any voting rights on the Arctic Council. But it does give it sway in an increasingly important region. Not only does the shrinking ice have climate implications; warming temperatures at the poles have raised the possibility of access to as much as 90 billion barrels of oil and 1,670 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.
To position itself to burn some more. D'uh.
Sometimes it feels like Walter's response is the only one that makes sense:
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