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Would you capitulate already?

by Colman Tue Jul 7th, 2015 at 03:19:20 AM EST

In a coordinated press statement, the leaders of France and Germany called on Greece to come up with “serious and credible proposals” at Tuesday’s summit consistent with its wish to stay in the eurozone. (Guardian)

"Serious and credible", in this context, means "do as we tell you, implement our insane austerity programme."

Comments >> (30 comments)

Greek referendum aftermath open thread

by Migeru Mon Jul 6th, 2015 at 05:05:17 AM EST

Yanis Varoufakis: Minister No More! (July 6, 2015)

Like all struggles for democratic rights, so too this historic rejection of the Eurogroup’s 25th June ultimatum comes with a large price tag attached. It is, therefore, essential that the great capital bestowed upon our government by the splendid NO vote be invested immediately into a YES to a proper resolution – to an agreement that involves debt restructuring, less austerity, redistribution in favour of the needy, and real reforms.


I consider it my duty to help Alexis Tsipras exploit, as he sees fit, the capital that the Greek people granted us through yesterday’s referendum.


We of the Left know how to act collectively with no care for the privileges of office. I shall support fully Prime Minister Tsipras, the new Minister of Finance, and our government.

In this series:

Read more... (66 comments, 289 words in story)

Greek referendum day open thread

by Migeru Sun Jul 5th, 2015 at 01:59:42 AM EST

Politico EU: Tusk: ‘Nobody here is an angel’ (3/7/15)

No matter how Greeks vote Sunday, the EU is looking for ways “to keep them inside” the single currency, though that may require “a completely new” approach to allow the eurozone to coexist with a bankrupt country, Donald Tusk told POLITICO.

Striking a notably conciliatory tone, the European Council president called on Athens and its creditors to stop the mutual “blame game,” work to “rebuild trust” and promptly resume negotiations after the July 5 referendum in Greece.

“The main aim for us is to keep the eurozone united,” he said.

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Media Onslaught? Open Thread

by afew Wed Jul 1st, 2015 at 12:21:20 AM EST

Greece Misses $1.7 Billion IMF Payment, Joining Zimbabwe's Ranks - Bloomberg Business

Greece became the first advanced economy to miss a payment on IMF debt, joining the historical ranks of delinquents from Cuba to Zimbabwe after the Mediterranean nation’s bailout talks with creditors collapsed.

The International Monetary Fund’s board has been informed that Greece is now in arrears, spokesman Gerry Rice said in a statement, after a 6 p.m. Washington deadline Tuesday for Greece’s $1.7 billion payment, coinciding with the expiration of the nation’s European bailout. Greece’s request for an extension will go to the fund’s board “in due course,” Rice said.

The European Central Bank must now consider the effect of any missed payment on the solvency of Greek banks when they discuss emergency assistance on Wednesday. The outcome may affect Greece’s euro membership. Klaus Regling, the head of the main euro-area bailout fund, has said it has the option of demanding accelerated debt payments from Greece if it doesn’t pay the IMF.

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Greek capital controls open thread

by Migeru Sun Jun 28th, 2015 at 03:55:35 PM EST

Proto Thema (English): Breaking: Capital Controls taken – Banks closed for one week! (June 28 2015)

... The government said the decision came after a request by the Bank of Greece.

According to reports, the bank holiday will last throughout the week, with the maximum daily withdrawal reportedly set at a … princely 60 euros.

Another unconfirmed report deal with whether ATMs will function on Monday at all, given that technical modifications are necessary to cap withdrawals.


Capital controls will reportedly also affect credit cards issued by Greek banks, regardless if they are part of an international credit corporation, like Mastercard or Visa. If this measure goes into effect, cards will be useless both in Greece and … abroad. So much for Greek travelers without a lot of cash on hand.

Conversely, credit cards issued by foreign banks will not be affected, welcome news amid the ongoing “readjustment period” for tourists in the country.

Read more... (53 comments, 258 words in story)

Greek referendum open thread

by Migeru Sat Jun 27th, 2015 at 11:59:46 AM EST

Prime Minister of Greece: Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’ address concerning the referendum to be held on the 5th of July (June 27, 2015)

Council of the European Union: Eurogroup Statement on Greece (with a footnote)
[1] Supported by all members of the Eurogroup except the Greek member.

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What we've learned from the Greek process to date

by Colman Thu Jun 25th, 2015 at 06:32:43 AM EST

Even with a seat at the table, control of an EU member state government and the support, more-or-less, of some of the most prestigious economists in the world it is impossible to break through the EU leadership's cargo-cult obsession with austerity and tax cuts.

Comments >> (117 comments)

End game for Greece?

by Frank Schnittger Sat Jun 20th, 2015 at 07:28:18 AM EST

Yanis Varoufakis has an article in today's Irish Times in which he laments the failure of the Eurogroup to listen to his proposals even whilst they themselves have been kept in the dark about what "the Institutions" are proposing. Apparently no substantive discussions took place on what either "the Institutions" or Greece were suggesting as the way forward. A majority of the Eurogroup Ministers appear to have decided, in advance, that Varoufakis is not someone they can "do business with."

But perhaps the finance Ministers couldn't address, never mind resolve, the Greek crisis because at root it isn't a financial crisis, it is a political crisis which effects the whole European project. If this all goes horribly wrong, we will have Greece spinning, out of control, into the Russian orbit run by a military Junta and with politicians such as Varoufakis in exile, jail, or worse.  

The EU, meanwhile, will start to fall apart with nationalists governments, led by the UK, doing their best to break it apart. We may not have a major European war any time soon, but the slippery slope will have begun.  Meanwhile we will have people starving in the streets and dying en masse for lack of proper medical care.

There is no doubt that Greece needs an internal social, economic and political revolution.  For too long it has been run by a corrupt elite who pay very little by way of taxes and do not re-invest their profits to modernize the economy. It has a massive and inefficient military and civil service which absorb huge resources and stifle all economic enterprise and growth. The underlying Greek economy is painfully underdeveloped whilst social inequalities grow.

It is unclear whether Syriza, or any Greek government, have the means to lead such a revolution. Perhaps a massive rupture is unavoidable.  A default followed by ejection from the EZ could well result in hyper-inflation of any new currency, mass impoverishment, and violence in the streets.  Sounds familiar?  

The EU was founded to prevent such a re-occurrence and it will have failed in its most basic and sacred duty if it fails to prevent it. It will have destroyed its own most basic raison d'être and claim to legitimacy. All of Europe will be the loser.

We need to decide whether the EU truly aspires to be a Union or not.  If so, the suffering of the Greek people is indivisible from suffering in our own home states.  It is as much our responsibility as is the hardship experienced by our neighbours down the road. There is no solution to the Greek Crisis which does not involve at least a mini-revolution in the EU institutions as well.  Monetary Union cannot be pursued in isolation from fiscal Union, and the health, social welfare, education and economic development of the Greek people must be assured at an EU institutional as well as at a national level.

We cannot allow the suffering of the Greek people to become a bargaining chip in the power politics of competing national elites.  It is time for Community wide solutions to Community problems. It is time for the European Union to get real.

Comments >> (356 comments)

Ireland votes for marriage equality

by Frank Schnittger Sat May 23rd, 2015 at 07:12:21 AM EST

It looks like Ireland has voted to include a specific provision to legalize same sex marriage in its constitution in the first vote of its kind in the world. Early tallies indicate that the YES side is likely to win in what appears to have been with a very high turn-out election.

The referendum was part of a sequence of referendums on social and moral issues over the past few decades in Ireland's own version of the culture wars which have been fought in many parts of the world. The amendment to the constitution was opposed by the usual suspects in the Catholic Church and assorted right wing pressure groups who sought to turn the vote into a vote on surrogacy and children's rights which were in no way effected by the Amendment itself.

The YES side had feared that a low turnout might enable the NO campaign to win the vote because of the greater propensity of older and more traditional people to vote.  However, in what appears to have been an unprecedented mobilization of younger, more secular, and more liberal voters a high turnout now looks the likely outcome. Thousands, including members of my own family, flew home from abroad so that they could vote. (Irish Embassies do not make provision for Irish voters to vote when abroad).

The outcome, if confirmed, could result in a seismic change in Irish politics.  Some NO campaigners made no secret of their opposition to the measure because they feared that it might lead to an overturn of the 1983 Referendum which outlawed abortion in Ireland.

I will update this story as more vote counts came in.  In the meantime, please feel free to use the comments to discuss the issue. For a list of Referendums to change the Irish Constitution, see here.

[Update] Final Result:
YES: 1,201,647 (62.1%)
No: 734,300 (37.9%)
Margin 24.2%
Turnout 60.5%

This is the highest turnout in a Referendum since the 1996 Referendum which removed the constitutional ban on Divorce from the Constitution by a margin of less than 0.6%. Only one of Ireland's 43 constituencies (Roscommon-South Leitrim) voted no by a margin of 49 to 51%.

Comments >> (34 comments)

On SYRIZA, negotiations and compromise

by talos Wed Apr 29th, 2015 at 09:22:49 AM EST

There is a coordinated PR attack against the Greek government, unfortunately also deceiving people from the left, regarding the Greek government's intentions and actions so far. It is far from certain what the results of the negotiations will be, but preemptively announcing SYRIZA's retreat seems to me to be a performative assessment, meant to both flatter the prejudices on which most of the austerian EU governments have built their TINA alternative, and to dissipate international support away from a government that has up to now, in a small but significant way, made the first steps against the dominant narrative, anywhere in the West, over the past 20 years.

So let me put to rest some of the more obnoxious misinformation that is being peddled by "EU / ECB circles" and international media, subservient to the cause of pressuring the new Greek government to submission, by pointing out a few facts...

promoted by afew

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Operation underpants

by Migeru Wed Apr 22nd, 2015 at 04:30:35 AM EST

The recent incidents involving over a thousand dead migrants in Italy and Greece has led to a new European Union strategy on immigration. Behold:

  1. Bomb the smugglers' underpants
  2. ???
  3. Profit!
see the "now, seriously" version below the fold.

Read more... (36 comments, 257 words in story)

A Tale Of Two OCAs?

by afew Mon Apr 20th, 2015 at 02:20:13 AM EST

Frances Coppola reposts these charts in an article on Pieria:

It was tweeted by RBS, who captioned it: One of these is an Optimum Currency Area. And the other isn't.

Not so simple, says Coppola.

Optimising the Eurozone

Robert Mundell, the inventor of the Optimum Currency Area (OCA) concept, defined the essential requirement for an OCA as free factor mobility. Since his rather vague definition, though, the concept has been developed further. Economists now generally agree that four criteria must be met for a group of regions or countries to qualify as an OCA:

  • regions/countries should be exposed to similar sources of economic disturbance (common shocks); 
  • the relative importance of these shocks across regions/countries should be similar (symmetric shocks); 
  • regions/countries should have similar responses to common shocks (common responses)
  • if regions/countries are subject to local economic disturbances (idiosyncratic shocks), they must be able to adjust to them quickly.

In practice, this means that regions/countries need a high degree of economic, political and cultural similarity to qualify as an OCA. 

It is now generally understood that the Eurozone does not qualify as an OCA.

But what about the USA?

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On the RhB 3: the Davos Line

by DoDo Sat Apr 11th, 2015 at 08:05:52 AM EST

In this third instalment of my series on the state railway of the Swiss canton of Graubünden, the metre-gauge Rhaetian Railway (RhB), I follow the line to winter sports centre Davos. This is both the oldest part of the network at 125 years and one of the most heavily modernised (due to rising traffic in recent years). It is also the first in my series to leave the valleys and climb up into the mountains.

ABe 8/12 No. 3507 "Benedetg Fontana", a powerful steep-mountain version of Stadler's "Allegra" electric multiple unit family, just left the Cavadürli horseshoe tunnel on its way to Klosters Platz, high above the valley of the Landquart river
You can actually see three levels of the line: I stood on the highest, which threw the shadows at bottom left, and the lowest runs next to the road visible deep below in the valley

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Sisyphean syphilis

by marco Thu Mar 26th, 2015 at 07:50:39 AM EST

If economic crisis were a venereal disease, would we continue to engage in risky economic behavior?

Does short-term gratification always trump long-term health?

Are we just children in the marshmallow experiment?

Are our economic systems doomed by the insufficiently stoic character of the majority of human beings?

Eight years and eighteen days ago, das monde wrote a diary titled Is Civilisation A Pyramid Scheme? in which he remarked:

As I write, financial markets are having a bad day across the world, after a rocky week. Can we make more sense of this than a combination of factors?

The hypothesis is that the modern economy is dominated by ever increasing and ever expanding speculation in stock and real estate markets. These markets will grow just as long as the volume increases. The markets are vastly overvalued due to a pyramid-style growth of the number of players. The markets will fail when there won't be any bottom to add to participants' pyramid.

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Did the hawks blink first?

by DoDo Fri Mar 20th, 2015 at 05:08:30 PM EST

Over the past week, the conflict between Greece and the creditors escalated again. On one side, the ECB and the IMF exposed Greece to a liquidity crunch, further boosted by the inflammatory statements and Grexit speculation of German finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble and the capital controls speculation of Eurogroup president and Dutch finance minister Jeroen Dijjselbloem; all the while lower-ranked representatives of the Troika openly expressed their hope of forcing the Syriza government to fall in line. On the other side, the Greek government set on a collision course by putting Troika technocrats in their place and pushing through its first poverty-alleviating measures in open defiance of calls for prior consultation and approval by the institutions, seemingly excluding any possibility of getting ECB funds released.

Now, after the mini-summit-within-the-Council-summit on the night from Thursday to Friday, the sides mended fences (somewhat). What were the results? I claim that, in spite of no immediate alleviation of the credit crunch and the continued rhetoric from the creditors, all the significant changes are wins for Greece:

  • Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker declared that there is a humanitarian crisis in Greece, a recognition earlier refused by the Eurogroup. This is also an effective after-the-fact approval of the 'unilateral' anti-poverty package.
  • Greece got explicit approval for not going through with reforms agreed by the previous government (drawing up its own instead), breaking with pacta sunt servanda.
  • Reportedly, Tsipras wanted his colleagues to talk down the chances of Grexit rather than talk it up like Schäuble and Dijsselbloem. In subsequent press conferences the participants seemed to heed that call.

What happened? To me it seems like the Greek government played hardball because they expected the hawks to blink first. This is supported by a week-old Spiegel article, which, in spite of lots of anti-Syriza rhetoric, claims that neither Mario Draghi of the ECB nor Juncker of the Commission wanted to threat the Greek government with Grexit, and Juncker in particular continued his subversive war for influence against German chancellor and European Council alpha dog Angela Merkel.

Comments >> (49 comments)

No students for politics and no jobs for commies

by DoDo Thu Mar 19th, 2015 at 02:31:59 AM EST

On the national holiday today [15 March], it was another day of grim protests in Budapest. For the first time in five years, hecklers attended the speech of right-populist prime minister Viktor Orbán, and there were some fights between pro- and anti-Orbán protesters. However, what I want to tell more about is a new low in authoritarian behaviour preceding the protests, and the fate of an acquaintance I ran into at the main opposition protest.

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Greek MP Lapavitsas on Grexit

by Upstate NY Sun Mar 15th, 2015 at 03:03:23 AM EST

Greece: Phase Two | Costas Lapavitsas | Jacobin

Schäuble is on record, or at least Greek ministers are on record, stating that Schäuble offered an aided exit to the Greeks already back in 2011. I can see, from the perspective of the German power structure, why they might be tempted by this idea, and I can see it as an objective worth fighting for by a Greek left government, for obvious reasons.

Whether there are divisions within the German establishment on it, I don't really know, because I don't understand the details of the German political debate. But the argument can be so compelling at the general level that I can be reasonably optimistic.

If the Greek side fought for it, and indicated that they wished to accept it, I think that a compromise could be reached that would be in the interests of Greek working people as well, not just the Greek elite, because you would avoid the difficulties of the contested exit.

That is definitely worth fighting for. And I would argue that this is what the Syriza government should be gearing itself for in the coming period. But, I repeat, if that proves impossible, even contested exit is better than a continuation of the current program.

While I accept his implied criticism of Varoufakis and Tsipras is likely right on target (bad strategy, personality clash with EU), this critique and reading of Syriza's strategy is based on the very idea that the EU is at all amenable to a soft Grexit.

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Two ruins

by DoDo Sat Mar 14th, 2015 at 08:20:22 AM EST

In the last few weeks, I made excursions to two castles that have been in ruins since Ottoman times, both of them destroyed in somewhat inglorious fashion. So here is a light diary that is a bit of travelogue, a bit of history, and a bit of train blogging.

The partly rebuilt northern bastion and the remains of the exploded main tower of the castle of Nógrád, with the Börzsöny mountains in the background

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I guess plain packaging works then

by Colman Thu Mar 12th, 2015 at 01:39:46 PM EST

Ireland is among the states proposing that tobacco should be sold in plain packaging. Given the reaction from assorted industry pressure groups I can only assume that there is very good evidence that this is an effective way to reduce sales.

This is especially charming:

“We’re trying to advise countries around the world to hold off fully implementing a ban on packaging until the WTO case against Australia is settled. New Zealand has done that and other countries are also considering it and it would be good if Ireland also waited,” he added.

Admitting that the body he represented included a tobacco company as members, Mr Reinsch said the issue of plain packaging went beyond those firms who had most to lose from the its introduction.

“We believe trade rules should trump health and other policies and generally this is the kind of thing that makes people raise an eyebrow and find worrisome.”

Seriously, it's about IP rights in tobacco marketing.

Comments >> (2 comments)

Can there be a renewables juggernaut?

by DoDo Thu Mar 12th, 2015 at 02:56:50 AM EST

It's an all too common story across the world: a government tries to boost its green credentials with a support scheme for renewables, but when it proves an unexpected success and established power companies see a serious market share threat, the nascent industry is choked to death one way or another. Stark examples include the ceiling for total wind power introduced in Austria and Hungary about a decade ago, or the end of the support scheme in Bulgaria just recently. Under the cover of austerity, the transition to renewables can be killed even when they already reached a high penetration, as demonstrated by the example of Spain's retroactive elimination of subsidies.

So is it possible to create a momentum for renewables that carries on even when facing opponents with the worst intentions?

One can argue that Denmark comes close: while Anders Fogh Rasmussen's government did manage to bring new wind power installations to a near-stop over a decade ago, that was only temporary as they found the two big utilities became supporters and off-shore wind took off. Now, looking at the latest numbers from Germany, I see something similar at work.

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Your take on today's news media

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