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Merkel, Putin & Obama: The changing balance of power

by Frank Schnittger Wed Aug 6th, 2014 at 04:11:13 AM EST

The USA has been the undisputed Global superpower since the collapse of the Soviet Union; dominating the world militarily, politically, economically and culturally. In recent times China has begun to make some inroads into that economic dominance, Russia has begun to become more assertive again, and Merkel has consolidated her position as undisputed leader of the Eurozone. But the most significant changes have possibly been within the USA itself.

First came 9/11 which punctured the sense of American invincibility: that the US could do what it liked abroad without it having much in the way of repercussions at home. In military terms the event wasn't all that significant: 3,000 deaths is all in a weeks work in some of the bloodier conflicts around the world.  But what was significant was the reaction: America went collectively mad.

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Time for Europe to get real

by Frank Schnittger Sat Jul 26th, 2014 at 03:04:09 AM EST

298 mostly European civilians lost their lives when a civilian airliner was apparently shot down by a sophisticated homing missile available only to the most advanced armies in the world and fired from an area controlled by Ukrainian insurgents. Such weapons had allegedly been previously used to shoot down Ukrainian military aircraft. Whether it was operated by Ukrainian insurgents, Russian "advisers", or regular Russian troops, is almost immaterial: Putin and the Russian federation are almost certainly ultimately responsible. And yet European leaders do little but wring their hands and complain about the chaotic crash scene investigation and the recovery of bodies and personal effects.

No one expects European leaders to go to war with a nuclear power like Russia over such a provocation - but the repeated mincing of words by Obama and his Nato allies is nothing short of embarrassing. Well might Putin et al obfuscate until the outcry dies down.  But isn't it about time that the EU took some concerted action?  How about a strategic EU energy policy and plan to reduce all dependence on Russian gas within 10 years to zero by building a European supergrid powered from largely sustainable sources?

The problem with most forms of sustainable energy is that they require very large amounts of capital upfront, reasonable interest rates, and guaranteed feed in tariffs to be economically viable.  This is problematic at a time when many EU states - particularly those at the periphery are over-borrowed and under huge pressure to reduce Sovereign and private indebtedness. But how about making such capital available through the European Investment Bank for EU Commission approved projects?  

Irish and Scottish wind, wave and tidal turbines allied to eastern European and Mediterranean solar farms could make up a huge amount of the energy deficit created by a progressive reduction in Russian energy imports, whilst at the same time providing a much needed boost to investment and employment starved peripheral EU economies.  Would it be too much to ask the EU to be proactive and actually take the lead in such a continent wide project?  Would it be too much to ask for the EU to actually have a continent wide energy policy?

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Do we want free movement of capital in Europe?

by Migeru Thu Jul 24th, 2014 at 01:52:29 AM EST

In the discussion of Britain's EU exit initiated by Frank, Cyrille challenges me repeatedly on free movement of capital:

I think the "four freedoms" should apply as widely as possible so, on that basis, it would be a bad thing if the UK were to leave the EU.
That is a consistent view, ...

[b]ut I had been under the impression that you were no fan of the free movement of capital -certainly an unrestricted one.

Well, touche
Unfettered cross-border capital flows are a bad idea. Just look at the financial crises of the last 30 years, worldwide.
So, do we want free movement of capital? More below the fold.

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Far Away, So Far Away

by afew Mon Jul 21st, 2014 at 02:58:26 AM EST

Over the weekend, two pro-Palestinian demonstrations in France (banned because of previous attacks on synagogues, official reason) began peacefully and ended in violent street fighting.

French president François Hollande alluded to the situation yesterday, when decorating documentalists of WWII deportation and murder of Jews in France Beate and Serge Klarsfeld with the Légion d'Honneur. Here is what he had to say about the current situation in France (emphasis mine):

Hollande refuse tout acte «qui puisse faire ressurgir l'antisémitisme» - Libération

«La République, c'est la capacité de vivre ensemble, de regarder son histoire et en même temps d'être toujours prêts à défendre les valeurs démocratiques, de ne pas se laisser entraîner par des querelles qui sont trop loin d'ici pour être importées, de ne pas se laisser emporter par les déflagrations du monde», a-t-il dit. Il faut, a-t-il ajouté, «faire en sorte que ne soit toléré aucun acte, aucune parole qui puisse faire ressurgir l'antisémitisme et le racisme».

The Republic means being able to live together, to be aware of its history and be always ready at the same time to defend democratic values, not to let ourselves be caught up in quarrels that are too far away from here to be imported, to not get carried away by the explosions of the world ... act so that no deed, no word be tolerated that might bring back antisemitism and racism.

François Hollande does not know that Palestine is not far away, that what is happening there is in every French living-room. He does not know that Israel's war crimes against the people of Gaza are right there on France's doorstep. He does not know that the country he presides is a Mediterranean country. He is ignorant of the ethnic and cultural origins of a large proportion of unemployed young people in France, of their historical and family links to other Mediterranean countries, of the fact that the rise of anti-Jewish sentiment among them is fuelled, precisely, by Israel's oppression of the Palestinians. He does not know that the death of boys playing on the beach at one end of Mare Nostrum washes up on the beaches of Marseille. He therefore fails to "be aware of (the French Republic's) history", and he wishfully believes that incantatory nonsense will suffice to lay the ghosts of the past while he turns his head away from the monsters of the present. By this appalling little speech he has gained his place among the pusillanimous European leaders who averted their eyes from Nazism until it was too late, and thus played a large part in permitting the genocide that followed - and which was exactly the subjacent theme of the ceremony at which he pronounced these words.

If you hear the echo of Neville Chamberlain on Czechoslovakia:

Neville Chamberlain - Wikiquote

a quarrel in a far away country between people of whom we know nothing
 

you have finer-tuned hearing than François Hollande, though you win no prizes, it really isn't hard.

Comments >> (17 comments)

MH17 Tragedy

by Colman Mon Jul 21st, 2014 at 02:50:49 AM EST

So, what do we have? My impression of the situation is laid out below - please pick holes in it.

MH17 went down last Thursday afternoon over a separatist held area of Ukraine. It appears that it was shot down by a surface to air missile that was either captured from government forces or recently supplied to the separatists by Russia (or elements in Russia …)

The flight seems to have been further north than was usual for airliners, but within an airspace that it expected to be safe, despite several downings of Ukrainian aircraft in the area.

The missile was, apparently, fired by a SAM battery operating independently and not as part of an integrated air defence net and so without the capability to positively identify aircraft by transponder. It seems most likely that they thought they were firing on another Ukrainian military craft.

The battery was either, depending on who you believe:

  • Under the command of the separatists, manned by separatists, probably (though not necessarily) recently trained by Russia. Seems like the most likely case to me.
  • Under the command of the separatists, manned by Russian "advisors".
  • Under the command of and manned by Russian forces.
  • Personally commanded and operated by Putin, who fired the missile and then leapt shirtless onto the missile, personally steering it to its target before gliding back to the ground using his armpit hair.

It seems incontrovertible that the separatists haven't adhered to anything near best practice with securing the crash site, but that's hardly surprising given that they're basically a new militia and don't really have an interest in a proper investigation anyway.

298 people are dead because some dickhead decided to fire on an unidentified aircraft. Meanwhile, everyone with an interest in the civil war in Ukraine is using their deaths to further their own political interests.

Update [2014-7-22 7:56:2 by Colman]: Edited to correct "identified aircraft" to "unidentified aircraft" in last paragraph, which rather alters the sense of it.

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Setting the stage for British withdrawal

by Frank Schnittger Wed Jul 16th, 2014 at 05:49:41 AM EST

Jean-Claude Juncker has now been formally elected at President of the European Commission by a 422 to 250 vote in the European Parliament.  Most Prime Ministers in Europe can only dream of such a wide margin of victory.  That vote follows on from his 26 to 2 vote victory in the European Council (made up of national heads of government). And Yet Nigel Farage, leader of England's UKIP, can only rage at the undemocratic nature of his election.  

It is ironic that the most vehement objections to Juncker's election have come from the UK - a country which has a whole House of Parliament made up of unelected Lords and which has just nominated one of that number  - Lord Hill - to be Britain's next member of the Commission.  It seems democracy only becomes an issue when you don't get your own man appointed through some kind of back room deal. The UK's ignorance of and contempt for EU institutions has now come to bite it severely in the back-side.  

Cameron's influence in the EU is now at an all time low and will not be helped by his replacement of Foreign Secretary William Hague by the Eurosceptic Philip Hammond in a Government reshuffle which also sees a number of other prominent Eurosceptics promoted. When this is combined with the UK's likely loss of Baroness Ashton's (another ex-member of the House of Lords) post of High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, it looks as if the stage is being set for an ever more distant relationship between the EU and UK.

Why anyone in the EU (apart from Ireland) should now be bothered about anything Cameron has to do or say is beyond me. Should Scotland vote for Independence another barrier to England going it's own way and departing the EU will have been removed. Northern Ireland's constitutional status will again be destabilized, and who knows how that will play out - possibly for the better - but it could be a long and painful process. Cameron could yet be known as the Prime Minister who led England to the break-up of the UK. Certainly the EU will not be weakened by his antics.

Comments >> (61 comments)

It could be worse.

by Colman Thu Jul 10th, 2014 at 05:53:49 AM EST

The big story in Irish politics right now is not, as one might think, the appointment of a new leader to the Labour party, coalition renegotiation and an upcoming reshuffle but five cancelled Garth Brooks concerts. Seriously.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny should be prepared to ring, or take a call from, singer Garth Brooks in order to resolve the impasse over the five cancelled Croke Park concerts, Minister for Trade Joe Costello has said.

[…]

Dublin City Council is under intense pressure to help salvage the cancelled concerts planned for Croke Park later this month after Mr Kenny intervened in the debacle last night.

The American country singer cancelled the concerts after the council granted a licence for only three of them.

[…]

Lord Mayor of Dublin Christy Burke told the same programme he was hoping to meet Mr Keegan in the presence of a mediator today in an effort to resolve the issue.

Mr Burke said the Mexican ambassador to Ireland had offered his help in the matter and that a group of residents from Ballybough in Dublin’s north inner citty intended to call for the assistance of US president Barack Obama.

“The Mexican ambassador contacted me yesterday and he offered his services at a diplomatic level if he could be any help and I had a group of residents from Ballybough who said they intend to call Mr Obama to try to encourage Garth Brooks to play in Dublin,” he said.

The Taoiseach is understood to have spoken by phone with mediator Kieran Mulvey. Mr Mulvey has embarked on new discussions with the city council’s chief executive Owen Keegan. (Irish Times)

There are calls for emergency legislation to "fix" the planning laws.

However, I suppose it could be worse (and no doubt will be):

Controversial emergency laws will be introduced into the Commons next Monday to reinforce the powers of security services to require internet and phone companies to keep records of their customers' emails and calls.

The move follows private talks over the past week and the laws will have the support of Labour and the Liberal Democrats on the basis that there will be a sunset clause and a new board to oversee the functioning of the powers.

Details are due to be announced at a Downing Street press conference on Thursday morning. The Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, modelled on a similar US body and including external experts, will be required to check on how the powers are used.

There will also be annual transparency reports setting out how frequently police and security services are using the legislation. There will also be a new high-level diplomat appointed to smooth relations with the US over surveillance.(Guardian)

What could go wrong with emergency surveillance legislation?

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Things I did not know, #1023

by Colman Fri Jul 4th, 2014 at 07:31:32 AM EST

The Roma - probably Europe's closest analogue to African Americans? - are also ex-slaves:

Slavery (Romanian: robie) existed on the territory of present-day Romania from before the founding of the principalities of Wallachia and Moldavia in 13th–14th century, until it was abolished in stages during the 1840s and 1850s. Most of the slaves were of Roma (Gypsy) ethnicity. Particularly in Moldavia there were also slaves of Tatar ethnicity, probably prisoners captured from the wars with the Nogai and Crimean Tatars. (Wikipedia)

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And talking of pitchforks …

by Colman Wed Jul 2nd, 2014 at 11:00:10 AM EST

Stumbling out of his tomb, the mummified remains of Tony Blair are off to help out the Eygptians:

Tony Blair has agreed to advise the Egyptian president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, who came to power in a military coup last year, as part of a programme funded by the United Arab Emirates that has promised to deliver huge "business opportunities" to those involved, the Guardian has learned. The former prime minister and Middle East peace envoy, who supported the coup against Egypt's elected president Mohamed Morsi, is to give Sisi advice on "economic reform" in collaboration with a UAE-financed taskforce in Cairo – a decision that has been criticised by one former ally.

[…]

But it is understood that correspondence from Blair's office in support of Egypt's economic reform and investment programme confirms that lucrative "business opportunities", in both Egypt and the Gulf, are expected for those taking part. Blair's spokeswoman said: "We are not looking at any business opportunities in Egypt."

[…]

Alastair Campbell, Blair's former press secretary who resigned in 2003 over the Iraq war "dodgy dossier" scandal, is also advising the Sisi government on its public image and being paid for it – though on Wednesday he refused to say if he had been working with Strategy.

(Guardian)

What a pair of grubby little sliveens.

Comments >> (4 comments)

Pitchforks

by Colman Wed Jul 2nd, 2014 at 05:27:36 AM EST

I know we've covered this elsewhere, but I think this is a notable piece, capturing the capitalist arguments for some sort of social justice that we've covered here often enough. Massive inequality doesn't even make economic sense for the very rich.

Dear 1%ers, many of our fellow citizens are starting to believe that capitalism itself is the problem. I disagree, and I’m sure you do too. Capitalism, when well managed, is the greatest social technology ever invented to create prosperity in human societies. But capitalism left unchecked tends toward concentration and collapse. It can be managed either to benefit the few in the near term or the many in the long term. The work of democracies is to bend it to the latter. That is why investments in the middle class work. And tax breaks for rich people like us don’t. Balancing the power of workers and billionaires by raising the minimum wage isn’t bad for capitalism. It’s an indispensable tool smart capitalists use to make capitalism stable and sustainable. And no one has a bigger stake in that than zillionaires like us.

The oldest and most important conflict in human societies is the battle over the concentration of wealth and power. The folks like us at the top have always told those at the bottom that our respective positions are righteous and good for all. Historically, we called that divine right. Today we have trickle-down economics.

What nonsense this is. Am I really such a superior person? Do I belong at the center of the moral as well as economic universe? Do you? My family, the Hanauers, started in Germany selling feathers and pillows. They got chased out of Germany by Hitler and ended up in Seattle owning another pillow company. Three generations later, I benefited from that. Then I got as lucky as a person could possibly get in the Internet age by having a buddy in Seattle named Bezos. I look at the average Joe on the street, and I say, “There but for the grace of Jeff go I.” Even the best of us, in the worst of circumstances, are barefoot, standing by a dirt road, selling fruit. We should never forget that, or forget that the United States of America and its middle class made us, rather than the other way around. Or we could sit back, do nothing, enjoy our yachts. And wait for the pitchforks.

Politico, weirdly enough

Elsewhere the writer makes the argument that a rich population will make the already rich better off in absolute terms.

What I fear he's missed is that too many people aren't concerned with their absolute wealth, only their relative wealth: they need other people to be very poor so that can feel very rich.

Once you accept that excessive inequality is a bad thing you're arguing about the details of how you deal with that. The current argument almost everywhere is whether people having to depend on the charity of food banks is a good thing or not.

Comments >> (35 comments)

How to get a kid taken into care …

by Colman Tue Jul 1st, 2014 at 11:35:45 AM EST

… if the parents are Roma.

All you have to do is post on a journalist's Facebook page:

Hi [Name of Journalist]
Today was on the news the blond child found in Roma Camp in Greece. There is also little girl living in Roma house in Tallaght and she is blond and blue eyes. Her name is [Child T] and the address is [Child 1's address]. I am from [country in Eastern Europe] myself and it's a big problem there missing kids. The Romas robing [sic] them to get child benefit in Europe.

If you recall, there was a spate of this last year: a kid in Greece, and two in Ireland: the Children's Ombudsman has reported on the cases in Ireland and determined (shockingly) that the police engaged in ethnic profiling.

The seven year old girl discussed above dyes her hair now so she won't be taken away from her family again.

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Juncker: A triumph for European Democracy?

by Frank Schnittger Mon Jun 30th, 2014 at 03:23:45 AM EST

So. Juncker was the duly elected Spitzenkandidat for the post of President of the European Commission for the EPP, the party which won the most seats in the European Parliament elections. He subsequently gained the support of 26 out of 28 Heads of Government and State on the European Council.  And yet British Tories rage at the undemocratic nature of his election. Apparently he is an old school European who doesn't represent the will of the people as reflected in the outcome of the elections.  

Except he does.  This is the first time that voters could directly influence the choice of European Commission President with their vote.  The fact that many voters knew little of the Spitzenkandidat system is neither here nor there. People vote for a party for a variety of reasons, and not always because they like the party leader. Most Prime Ministers are not directly elected by the whole electorate either. Junker has greater democratic legitimacy than any candidate Cameron or a group of cronies on the Council could have come up with, and it is telling that they couldn't even come up with an alternative candidate:  Martin Shultz, Spitzenkandidat for the Socialists & Democrats, the second largest grouping in the Parliament would have been even more unacceptable to them.

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Lakes & mountain-slides

by DoDo Mon Jun 23rd, 2014 at 09:49:07 AM EST

In this last photo diary based on my two holidays in Switzerland last year, I show the northern side of the Alps, where the north-south Gotthard railway passes big lakes and dangerous mountain-sides.

A Swiss State Railways (SBB) RABDe 500 on a southbound InterCity-Neigezug (ICN) service tilts into the big curve below Wassen

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If you didn't laugh you'd cry. And you can't laugh …

by Colman Fri Jun 13th, 2014 at 06:04:33 AM EST

Let me get this straight: the utter failure of US/Western foreign policy and the legacy of their insane war in Iraq has created a situation where the correct strategic move might be the US Air Force (and hangers on) providing air support for the Iranian Satanic Republican Guard of Ultimate Evil against ISIS led forces?

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Monetary policy in the Germany Media

by rz Thu Jun 5th, 2014 at 10:47:55 AM EST

As certainly everybody here knows inflation across Europe is running way below target. This month it has come in at only 0.5%. Now how did SPON (Spiegel Online) a big and influential news page react to this news? Well it gave us a report about Sparkassen-Präsident Georg Fahrenschon who demands higher interest rates...because currently the 'German Saver' is not high enough interests on his saving. And this is going to threaten peoples retirement savings.

Now, could it possible that low interest rates are a product of the collapsing European economy? Would it not be prudent focus on the amount of goos produced in Europe, instead of focusing on how much you get for your savings? Should we demand that you actually have to take some risk if you want to have a high interest rate?

Obviously, these are questions not asked in the German Media.

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Keynes was wrong

by cagatacos Wed Jun 4th, 2014 at 01:54:26 AM EST

When, many years ago, I joined this site (at that time still will using my real name - such naïveté), I believed - very strongly, I might add - in two things:

  1. That the symbol at the top-left corner of this site was someting good
  2. That the debt overhang that I was forecasting (and correctly so) would end up in hyperinflation.

Clearly I was completely wrong on both counts. Regarding point 1, the EU and the Euro are destroying Europe in front of our eyes...

But I am here to talk about point 2.

I always looked at Paul Krugman as a man with the heart in the right place, but not understanding anything about economy (mind you, they give the economics "nobel" to all kinds of people - that is never an argument). How could he not see the coming hyperinflation? So I read him, with both love and contempt.

Again, I was totally wrong: it is quite obvious how things pan-out: Keynesian macro got things mostly right. It was really interesting to read Paul over the years and just see how his predictions turned out mostly right (and mine mostly wrong).

Now, I understand that this might be confusing: how can I suggest - in the title - that Keynes was wrong and say all this?

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Infrastructure against delays

by DoDo Sun Jun 1st, 2014 at 12:57:55 PM EST

Low rolling resistance, long train lengths and high capacity are the main advantages of rail over other transport modes. However, in some situations, these same characteristics turn into disadvantages: for example, they can aggravate bottlenecks and cause delays to cascade. While at first sight, these situations may seem traffic nuisances to be addressed by more efficient dispatching, a truly efficient solution involves the construction of special infrastructure.

Below the fold, I will show three of these situations, explain why they are a special problem for railways, and show the respective solution, all of it thoroughly illustrated.

Both the international express (on the right) and a local (in the distance on the left) are stopped at red lights because a third train is crossing in front of them

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Counting the MEPs

by A swedish kind of death Sat May 31st, 2014 at 02:10:28 AM EST

We often hear about the great advances of the far right in the EP election, but seldom any concrete numbers. Now, I am a bit sceptical as we started hearing about this long before the election. Join me in estimating the numbers of MEPs each group will have after the sorting is done, and lets see if there really was a far right advance, and if so how big.

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Perma-slump and Project

by afew Thu May 29th, 2014 at 02:41:44 AM EST

Ambrose Evans-Pritchard has been consistently right about the euro, and he's right (no pun intended) again here:

Europe's centre crumbles as Socialists immolate themselves on altar of EMU - Telegraph

By a horrible twist of fate, Europe's political Left has become the enforcer of reactionary economic policies. The great socialist parties of the post-war era have been trapped by the corrosive dynamics of monetary union, apologists for mass unemployment and a 1930s deflationary regime that subtly favour the interests of elites.

He goes on to take François Hollande's performance as French President to pieces, and concludes:

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So, so, so doomed.

by Colman Tue May 27th, 2014 at 06:02:31 AM EST

French President Francois Hollande has said the EU must reform and scale back its power, amid a surge in support for Eurosceptic and far-right parties. Mr Hollande, whose party was beaten by the far right in last week's European Parliament election, said the EU had become too complex and remote. (BBC)

Yup, that's the problem. The EU is too distant and complicated. Not that the governments have been using it to push forward and justify an extremist policy of austerity, privatisation and generally making sure the benefits of globalisation accrue to a small elite rather than the citizenry.

Obviously the solution to our problems is to agree with the eurosceptics and dismantle the EU, not change the underlying policy (which would be greatly advanced by downgrading the EU to a simple free-trade zone).

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News and Views

 30 October 2014

by dvx - Oct 29, 49 comments

Your take on today's news media

 29 October 2014

by afew - Oct 29, 57 comments

Your take on today's news media

 Midweek Crisis OT

by afew - Oct 29, 10 comments

It's like a midlife crisis

 Start the Week OT

by Helen - Oct 27, 36 comments

Defences down with the trust of a child

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