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Spain votes again

by Migeru Sun Jun 26th, 2016 at 06:01:37 PM EST

There have been two events in the last week of campaigning for Spain's repeat election that could have influenced voters. Interior minister Jorge Fernández Díaz was recorded two years ago conspiring to spy on separatist politicians, and the tapes were leaked on Tuesday; and, of course, Brexit.

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Reversing Brexit?

by Frank Schnittger Sat Jun 25th, 2016 at 12:42:05 PM EST

With signs of buyer's remorse already becoming widespread, Simon Wren-Lewis tries to think through how the result of the Brexit referendum might be reversed:
mainly macro: Just how bad will Brexit be, and can it be undone?

But a second referendum would not be necessary if, as a result of Cameron's resignation, the UK fought a general election where the winning side explicitly campaigned not to invoke Article 50. This general election would become the second referendum.
For this to happen three rather difficult but not impossible things have to happen. The first is that the Labour leadership need to stop talking about `respecting the will of the people' and focus on how the Leave side are already owning up to their lies and false promises. The second, and perhaps most difficult, is that Labour need to form a united front on the basis of a Remain ticket, involving the LibDems, Greens and SNP. This is the only way the Conservatives and most of the tabloid press will be defeated. Third, the new Conservative leader has to be forced to hold a general election before Article 50 is invoked.

I have responded with the following comment (awaiting moderation and not yet published):

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Brexit Open Thread - the count continues...

by Frank Schnittger Fri Jun 24th, 2016 at 01:37:21 AM EST

Please use this open thread to discuss the referendum results. The Guardian live results are here.

At the time of writing, 3.30am CET, the leave camp appears to be building up a slight overall lead, with large leads in areas of England outside London, and with central London, Scotland and Northern Ireland voting decisively to remain.

Sterling has just had its largest fall since the 2008 financial crisis, and the bookies have switched their odds from predicting a remain victory to backing a leave victory. The turnout appears to have been quite high, about 70%, and that is with over a million new voters registering to vote since the general election.

Will this result in new referenda in Scotland and Northern Ireland? Is Cameron toast? Let the games begin...

Comments >> (72 comments)

The UK and the EU democratic deficit

by Frank Schnittger Thu Jun 23rd, 2016 at 12:43:24 PM EST

The Leave campaign in the Brexit referendum have employed two main arguments in their campaign: The fear of uncontrolled immigration into the UK and the need to take back control from "faceless bureaucrats in Brussels". Little matter that 60% of foreign born residents of the UK are not from the EU and that the total foreign born population comes in at 13% of the total -- the same as US and Germany -- and lower than both Norway and Switzerland, which are not in the EU.

But it is to the second meme that I want to turn my attention, one conceded by many on both left and right of the Remain side: the alleged domination by faceless bureaucrats in Brussels.  Let us leave aside, for the moment, the oddity that the charges of a lack of democratic accountability are coming from the only major EU member with an entirely unelected upper chamber of parliament.

Is it true that nations joining the EU have to shed a lot of democracy in the process? A lot is made, for instance, of the three occasions on which a referendum on essentially the same Treaty was run twice "until the electorate gave the right answer"... as if this somehow undermined the democratic legitimacy of the EU. However the UK also voted, in a Referendum in 1975, on the question of EU membership.  So why is the current referendum any more legitimate?  

In fact the EU membership is the only question on which voters have been given a direct say by way of  a UK wide referendum:  all other questions having been decided by way of the "Sovereign" Westminster Parliament including the unelected House of Lords. It seems to me that membership of the EU has more democratic accountability than any other decisions made by the UK.

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Should I vote for Brexit?

by tyronen Wed Jun 22nd, 2016 at 03:49:02 PM EST

Last year I vowed to vote in favour of Brexit. I just could not stomach the EU anymore, and still can't.

Now find myself getting cold feet. There was the death of Jo Cox. And other issues. This article from Jacobin magazine offers a powerful left-wing case for Remain:

Frontpaged - Frank Schnittger

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François Hollande, Dead Man Walking

by John Redmond Fri Jun 17th, 2016 at 09:04:33 AM EST

As astute political observers have noted over the past three decades, an increasing divorce has installed itself between the French people and its political elites. There are many debates about the origin of the Gallic malaise, which despite the elite conventional wisdom has virtually nothing to do with its supposedly hidebound labor laws. And, it is true that Gallic Malaise is a common theme in French polity, dating as far back as the aftermath of the revolutionary period itself. Invocations of this malaise have often carried a revanchist tint, the supposedly terminal French decline certainly not being confirmed by a healthy demography and, until recently, a strong economy. But, it is a powerful meme, one which one sees in public discourse and in punditry, especially on the right.

It is nonetheless a meme which is quite powerful today, and is consuming the Presidency of François Hollande, whose days appear more numbered than ever, if one is to believe a recent poll indicating that only 4% of the French electorate think he should even run for re-election. Indeed, according to some polls, were he to run, he could even find himself relegated to 5th place in the first round, behind Marine Le Pen, who is in first place in most polling, Nicolas Sarkozy (if he wins the LR primary on the right), centrist candidate François Bayrou (who has indicated he will run if Nicolas Sarkozy is the candidate for LR) and Jean-Luc Mélanchon on the left. Why? Because Mr Hollande is arguably the most tone-deaf President the French elite have ever produced, once famously opining that voters are not to be trusted, as they don't really know what they want.

Frontpaged - Frank Schnittger

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The Killing of Jo Cox

by Frank Schnittger Fri Jun 17th, 2016 at 07:04:40 AM EST


Nigel Farage gesticulates in front of an anti-immigration poster entitled Breaking Point. Well, Thomas Mair broke all right. The question is, was he incited?

Jo Cox: an attack on humanity, idealism and democracy

The slide from civilisation to barbarism is shorter than we might like to imagine. Every violent crime taints the ideal of an orderly society, but when that crime is committed against the people who are peacefully selected to write the rules, then the affront is that much more profound.


The killing, by stabbing and repeated shooting in the street, of Jo Cox is, in the first instance, an exceptionally heinous villainy. She was the mother of two very young children, who will now have to grow up without her. It is also, however, in a very real sense, an attack on democracy.

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The consequences of Brexit

by Frank Schnittger Mon Jun 13th, 2016 at 09:30:42 PM EST

The Pollster average of polls has just put the Brexit side ahead for the first time, which given the trend those polls have been taking, means we now have to talk about the probability of the Brexit process starting in 10 days time. In To Brexit or not to Brexit: That is the question I examined the ramification of Brexit for the UK, and in A Tale of Two States I looked at the implications for Northern Ireland in particular.  In this piece I will embark on a speculative journey envisaging how a post Brexit Europe might evolve.

First of all, I am working off the assumption that the result will be tight, with Scotland and N. Ireland voting to remain in the EU but being swamped by the Brexit vote in England.  There is therefore a strong probability that Scottish nationalists will seek a new referendum on Scottish independence in order to remain within the EU, and Sinn Fein will call for a new referendum on a united Ireland to enable N. Ireland to remain within the EU.

Whether either referendum will be carried is open to conjecture, and much will depend on the timing and circumstances of the vote, but there is no doubt that the UK itself will be destabilized as a result. (The position of Wales is more ambiguous with many blaming the EU for the failure to support the Tata steel works in Port Talbot, as if any Tory led Government outside the EU would have done any different...)

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Long tunnels

by DoDo Sun Jun 12th, 2016 at 06:40:15 PM EST

A decade ago, I wrote a diary about long railway tunnels. The opening of the Gotthard Base Tunnel is a good occasion for an update.

When I was a child, there were about a dozen tunnels longer than 10 km. By the 21st century, they became so numerous that a decade ago, I restricted myself to 20+ km tunnels. This time, even that would be too much, so I'll write about the 11 rail tunnels in service, in construction or in serious planning longer than 30 km (excluding subway tunnels). About the existing ones, too, because there have been interesting developments for all of them.

Inaugural train carrying dignitaries exits the northern portal of the Gotthard Base Tunnel on 1 June 2016. Photo by Keystone / Laurent Gilleron from Neue Luzerner Zeitung

Frontpaged - Frank Schnittger - a great exemplar of the train blogging genre!

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Developments in Austria

by generic Wed Jun 8th, 2016 at 10:07:22 AM EST

Austria's new chancellor Christian Kern, former manager of the Austrian state railways gave an interview. (behind paywall and German). The only remarkable thing about it is that I actually read this one.
Some points with my comments in brackets:

Frontpaged - Frank Schnittger

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What 9/11 liberals ignore

by DoDo Sun Jun 5th, 2016 at 11:41:43 AM EST

There is a group of liberal atheists in the Anglosphere – people like Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and Bill Maher – whose reaction to 9/11 was to view Islam (in general) as the problem, and religion as the elephant in the bathroom in mainstream discussions about the cause of terrorism. Their views were not all the same – for example, while some became liberal hawks, strange bedfellows with would-be Crusaders in supporting the so-called War on Terror, others remained thoroughly critical of Bush –, but there is enough affinity to speak of a group. I took the "9/11 liberals" moniker from Bill Maher (in a video I saw recently which made me write this diary).

I am an atheist whose view of the net effect of religion on society is barely less negative than that of Richard Dawkins (especially when it comes to child indoctrination). Even in matters where I don't think religion is the original source of problems, I think it tends to make things worse. Yet, I think 9/11 liberals are missing some quite basic facts, and only contribute to Islamophobia.

Frontpaged - Frank Schnittger

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Yves Smith On Voting For Hillary

by ARGeezer Thu Jun 2nd, 2016 at 02:43:40 PM EST

Why Some of the Smartest Progressives I Know Will Vote for Trump over Hillary   Yves Smith in Politico Magazine

Why do progressives reject Hillary Clinton? The highly educated, high-income, finance-literate readers of my website, Naked Capitalism, don't just overwhelmingly favor Bernie Sanders. They also say "Hell no!" to Hillary Clinton to the degree that many say they would even vote for Donald Trump over her.

And they don't come by these views casually. Their conclusions are the result of careful study of her record and her policy proposals. They believe the country can no longer endure the status quo that Clinton represents--one of crushing inequality, and an economy that is literally killing off the less fortunate--and any change will be better. One reader writes:


"If Clinton is the nominee 9 out of 10 friends I polled will [do one of three things]:

A. Not vote for president in November.
B. Vote for Trump.
C. Write in Bernie as a protest vote.

"We are all fifty-somethings with money and college educations. Oh, and we are all registered Democrats."

Frontpaged - Frank Schnittger

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Peculiar US presidential elections

by das monde Thu Jun 2nd, 2016 at 10:00:01 AM EST

As all political junkies know, the US president is elected not directly by a citizen vote but by the Electoral College - an archaic original compromise of the Founding Fathers and States. (Yes, we will have a powerful President, but the States will be influential in its election.) There were four presidential elections when the popular vote was different from the elected president: 1824, 1876, 1888 and 2000. Besides, the first few elections were confused by the issue of Vice-Presidency (especially in 1796 and 1800), leading to the more specific 12th Amendment.

The most bizarre elections were in 1824 and 1876, by far. They were also influential or highly educative. If you thought that the 2000 election was a steal...

Frontpaged - Frank Schnittger

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France on Strike

by John Redmond Mon May 30th, 2016 at 10:06:47 AM EST

For much of the past month, large portions of the French economy have been hit by strike action, effecting in particular the transport and energy sectors, in response to the Valls government's proposal to overhaul French employment law. Public transport has been hit by rolling strikes both nationally, via work stoppages at the national rail company SNCF, as well as locally via commuter rail grids such as Paris' RATP. Similarly, petrol refineries have also been hit, with up to six (out of eight nationally) refineries either offline or at below output capacity at various points last week, with between a third and 40% of petrol stations running out of petrol to sell, causing long lines at the pump and a fair bit of consumer stress as regards future supplies.

Even France's vast nuclear industry, which provided 75% of the country's electricity needs, has been hit by strikes, though production is not (yet) reported to be impacted. And, similarly, maritime shipping has also been struck, with the ports of Le Havre, Marseille, Dunkerque, Saint Nazaire, Bordeaux and Rouen all either brought to a standstill or severely hampered from an operational standpoint. The strike actions have been accompanied by regular, numerous street protests, with heavy student participation, with a good number of street actions turning violent. Indeed, even a young American has been recently arrested for participating in a particularly violent act on the margins of a recent street protest, while the Police unions have equally taken to the streets to protest both being undermanned as well as the nature of the instructions they have received from the Ministry of the Interior as regards management of the protests they are working.

The strikes show no signs of letting up, with an outlook for the month of June, during which the European Cup football tournament is scheduled to be played in France, being at best similar to the month of May.

Frontpaged - Frank Schnittger

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Böhmermann

by DoDo Sun May 29th, 2016 at 07:42:40 AM EST

ET first heard of German satirist Jan Böhmermann during the austerians' showdown with Greece's new government, in particular, when he trolled the entire German mainstream media with Varoufake-fake, a video claiming that a YouTube video used by them against then Greek finance minister Yannis Varoufakis was manipulated by his team. Recently, he earned international notoriety when he provoked a lawsuit from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan with an intentionally offensive poem. But Böhmermann refused to be defined by the Erdoğan affair and returned on TV with an undercover piece exposing the malpractices of a trash TV show.

In this diary I attempt to give a more in-depth picture of the Böhmermann phenomenon, and give my view of what he's about.

Frontpaged - Frank Schnittger

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Nicholas Stern on The New Climate Economy

by gmoke Sun May 15th, 2016 at 11:15:58 AM EST

On May 2, 2016, Nicholas Stern of the London School of Economics spoke at Harvard:

The Logic, Urgency and Promise of Tackling Climate Change
Monday, May 2
4:15 pm
Harvard, CGIS-S020, Belfer Case Study Room, 1730 Cambridge Street, Cambridge

The Energy History Project hosts Nicholas Stern, London School of Economics, who will discuss "The Logic, Urgency and Promise of Tackling Climate Change."

These are some of the numbers for the greenhouse gas context he laid out:

We are at 450 CO2 equivalent [CO2e] now [400 ppm CO2 and another 50ppm equivalent in warming potential in other greenhouse gases like methane]

The rate of increase is increasing.  It was
.5 ppm per year from 1930-1950
1 ppm per year from 1950-1970
2 ppm per year from 1970-1990
and is 2.5 ppm per year increase now.

We are at the edge of the temperature range in our present geologic era, the Holocene, with about 1º C of heat cooked into the atmosphere from our industrial greenhouse gas emissions already.  The 2015 Paris agreement is designed to keep the globe below 2º C, and 1.5 º if possible.  Paris anticipates and tries to avert a looming catastrophe.

Frontpaged - Frank Schnittger

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A Tale of Two States

by Frank Schnittger Thu May 26th, 2016 at 07:02:20 AM EST

The relative performance of the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland economies since independence provides a stark case study in how political decisions can have a dramatic impact on the relative economic performance and social progress of two neighbouring states. The Republic of Ireland has prospered, whilst Northern Ireland was stagnating before and during the "Troubles", and has not recovered since.

Now Brexit threatens to put that sharp divergence into even starker contrast, re-igniting the political tensions that led to the Troubles, and putting a United Ireland back on the agenda. It may even be good news for almost all in the longer term, but at what cost in the short and medium turn? Follow me below the fold for an exploration of the chain of events that Brexit might unleash on the island of Ireland.

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Can Trump really win the White House?

by Frank Schnittger Wed May 11th, 2016 at 05:20:43 AM EST

People who know I am interested in politics often ask me things like "Can Trump really win the Presidency?" while at the same time shaking their heads in disbelief that such a thing might be possible. To those accustomed to European sensibilities, he seems more like a cross between Berlusconi and Le Pen, with none of the "charisma" or political experience of either. Are things really that bad in the USA that wanton ignorance, rampant misogyny, crass narcissism, racist demagoguery and an authoritarian complex are what turns people on?

Trump keeps breaking through the ceilings that the political commentariat seek to place over his head. His appeal was said to be limited to 30% of the most committed Republican Primary voters. Then that became 40%, then 50%+. It was said that the Republican establishment would never allow his nomination at their convention in Cleveland. Except that now they have effectively thrown in the towel and conceded he will be their nominee. Most have made their peace with him and now seek influence within his inner circle. House Speaker Ryan and the Bush family are some of the few remaining hold-outs.

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The Confidence Fairy Strikes Again

by Frank Schnittger Mon May 9th, 2016 at 06:09:48 AM EST

David Folkerts-Landau, Chief Economist at the Deutsche Bank, has a screed in the Financial Times which is wrong on just about every level that can be imagined. Arguing that the ECB's policy of negative interest rates is undermining public and business confidence, Folkerts-Landau asks:

What should be done? The priority is breaking the negative spiral of lower confidence engendered by ever-looser money. The ECB needs to begin reversing its policy of negative interest rates. Moving back into the black would raise confidence across the eurozone.

Apparently lower interest rates cause people to save more and invest less. Recovery will only come when governments implement "reforms" which involve reducing investment and spending  (and employment) still further. The ECB is causing further stagnation and deflation in the Eurozone by reducing interest rates and buying Sovereign and Corporate debt, not responding to it with the main tools at its disposal.  The problem is that there are rising debt levels - not the excess savings identified by Draghi as a cause of the crisis.

Has it not occurred to Folkerts-Landau that excessive savings and debt might in fact be two sides of the same coin?

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Northern Ireland Assembly Elections

by Frank Schnittger Sat May 7th, 2016 at 08:38:08 AM EST

On the surface the Northern Ireland assembly elections have resulted in a return of the status quo with the larger parties winning broadly the same number of seats. However there has been a generational change in many of the personnel involved, and in some ways the election marks a further milestone on the road towards the normalisation of Northern Ireland politics post the Good Friday Agreement.

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News and Views

 13 - 19 June 2016

by Bjinse - Jun 13, 47 comments

Your take on today's news media

 04 - 12 June 2016

by Bjinse - Jun 4, 83 comments

Your take on today's news media

 Open Thread 13 - 19 June

by Bjinse - Jun 13, 51 comments

Go ahead, make my thread

 Open Thread 4 - 12 June

by Bjinse - Jun 4, 23 comments

Here's looking at you, thread

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Top Diaries

Spain votes again

by Migeru - Jun 26
56 comments

Reversing Brexit?

by Frank Schnittger - Jun 25
63 comments

Brexit: Get on with it already?

by Bernard - Jun 26
5 comments

Should I vote for Brexit?

by tyronen - Jun 22
38 comments

The Killing of Jo Cox

by Frank Schnittger - Jun 17
34 comments