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Now we know what NATO is for!

by Colman Thu Mar 5th, 2015 at 06:54:08 AM EST

I've often wondered. From Seamus Milne's piece in the the Guardian today:

As the academic Richard Sakwa puts it in his book Frontline Ukraine, Nato now “exists to manage the risks created by its existence”.
Of course. Silly me.

Comments >> (58 comments)

The Greek deal opens for expansionist e-currency

by fjallstrom Sat Feb 28th, 2015 at 04:23:41 AM EST

Considering the interest in alternative currencies, I did not want to leave the discoveries of this community sitting inside a long comment thread. In particular since a write-up I did in Swedish got some attention.

front-paged by afew

Read more... (115 comments, 637 words in story)

Beware of Greeks bearing gifts: a study in negotiating styles.

by Frank Schnittger Thu Feb 26th, 2015 at 03:29:43 PM EST

I once wrote a diary on the The negotiation Process and even considered making it the topic of a putative Phd. research proposal before deciding that the gulf between academia and practice was too large to bridge: there simply wasn't any good academic literature on the negotiating process that I could find, and no one could be found with the interest and expertise to supervise such a research topic. I raise the topic here because I am fascinated by the negotiating style adopted by Yanis Varoufakis and am still wondering whether he will ultimately be found to have been an effective negotiator on behalf of Greece.

Yanis Varoufakis interview: `Anything's better than austerity'

When asked whether Greece could have achieved more had it adopted a more conciliatory approach at the euro group, as his counterpart Michael Noonan and other Irish Ministers have suggested, Varoufakis delivers an emphatic "absolutely not".

While he declined to respond directly to Noonan's recent comments likening him to a rock star and to academic economists and experts that were very good in theory but not good in practice, he said Greece's previous experience in Brussels meant a robust approach to negotiations was essential.

"My predecessors in this job went along with the eurogroup's policies to the full. They bent over backwards to accommodate the memorandum and the policies of internal devaluation and fiscal consolidation, and the so-called reforms that were imposed on Greece."

And he points to where that has landed Greece. "It has been a complete and utter catastrophe. There's humanitarian crisis is on the boil because they were so `good in practice', this is quoting Michael Noonan. And I hope that I'm not so good in practice."

Regarding Noonan's other criticism that he was too theoretical, the Greek minister says he understands that "my colleagues in the eurogroup were disconcerted that one of their members insisted on talking macroeconomics".

"One of the great ironies of the eurogroup is that there is no macroeconomic discussion. It's all rules-based, as if the rules are God-given and as if the rules can go against the rules of macroeconomics.

"I insisted on talking macroeconomics."

But Varoufakis said he welcomed Noonan's comments, made at a conference in London on Wednesday, that he agreed in principle with the idea of swapping Greece's official debt for growth-linked bonds.

"Michael Noonan is quite right. We need to restructure Greek debt. My proposal for GDP-linked bonds has one purpose: to increase the amount of money we give back to your partners by encouraging them to allow us to grow."

front-paged by afew

Read more... (125 comments, 1730 words in story)

The new Greek government program

by talos Mon Feb 23rd, 2015 at 07:27:12 PM EST

The gvt of Greece had, according to the February 20 deal in the Eurogroup, until today to send a list of "reforms" to its creditors, which would form the basis of a revised program. This has been agreed to be postponed until tomorrow morning [Tuesday 22]. According to a SYRIZA non-paper, translated by Damian Mac Con Uladh here is a general description of what the Greek government will be sending to the Eurogroup FinMins Tuesday:

front-paged by afew

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Did Schäuble win?

by Migeru Sat Feb 21st, 2015 at 04:38:34 AM EST

While the Greek finance ministry is busy preparing their reform program to be presented to 'The Institutions' by close of business on Monday, the press is busy adjudicating victory in the deathmatchnegotiations between Schäuble and Varoufakis.

This is the Varoufakis view:

And this is the Schäuble view.Now, my own opinion is that Varoufakis got what he wanted. On Sunday night he had a draft proposed by Moscovici which he was ready to sign and to which he "added come conditionalities of their own" as a show of good will and to sweeten the deal for the other side. To this the Eurogroup reacted with a different, "unacceptable" draft. And so on Thursday Varoufakis presented a blend of the Moscovici and Dijsselbloem drafts, together with his own conditionalities. This was rejected out of hand by the German finance ministry.

The fact that the agreed draft is fairly close to Varoufakis' letter on Thursday is a German climbdown from that flat out rejection. But judge for yourselves: the two texts are side by side below the fold.

Read more... (258 comments, 2103 words in story)

The Step After That

by afew Fri Feb 20th, 2015 at 03:13:07 PM EST

Eurozone ministers gather to decide Greece's fate - live updates | Business | The Guardian

Deal to extend Greek bailout by four months "done"

Looks like a deal on Greece has been reached. Reuters reports that Greece and eurozone finance ministers have agreed to extend the Greek bailout by four months. One official said:

It’s done. For four months.

Greece Open Thread.

Comments >> (33 comments)

The Next Step

by afew Mon Feb 16th, 2015 at 04:01:26 PM EST

Greece bailout talks break down after Athens rejects 'unacceptable' eurozone demands | World news | The Guardian

Talks between Greece and its eurozone creditors collapsed in disarray on Monday night, heightening concerns that the country is edging closer to a disruptive exit from the eurozone.

The breakdown of discussions in Brussels over the Greek bailout programme appeared to leave both sides as far apart as ever, although eurozone finance ministers said a last-ditch summit could be held on Friday.

However, the Greek delegation was told in no uncertain terms that talks would recommence only if the country was willing to extend its bailout package, which carries a list of austerity measures that the new left-wing government in Athens has vowed to pare back.

Effectively presenting Greece with an ultimatum, the eurogroup of eurozone finance ministers said Athens had until Friday to agree to maintain the current bailout under the auspices of the European Union, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund – something that Greece has said is unacceptable.

Greece’s finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis, made it clear in the acrimonious discussions in Brussels on Monday that Greece would not accept prolonging the bail out for six months unless the other 18 members of the eurozone agreed to water down the austerity conditions attached to the deal.

Comments >> (188 comments)

After EU

by DoDo Thu Feb 12th, 2015 at 05:14:04 AM EST

Inspired by the discussion of a Europe after the EU, the war in the Ukraine, and Michel Houellebecq's deplorable new book Soumission, I put myself into alt.history.what-if mode.

Let's start the annals two years from now:

22 May 2017. On the day after the second round of the French presidential election, the winner, Marine Le Pen of the Front National, announced France's exit from the EU.

1 July 2017. After the exit of all Southern European countries from the EU, Great Britain, the BeNeLux countries, Germany, Austria, the Visegrád countries, the Baltic states and the Scandinavian countries agree on re-launching the EU as a free-trade zone. Bulgaria and Romania protest at their exclusion.

Read more... (261 comments, 1024 words in story)

Tsipras Ups The Ante

by afew Mon Feb 9th, 2015 at 01:55:30 AM EST

I'm lifting a comment from talos to introduce a new Greece thread:

Tsipras today (8 February) presenting the programmatic statements of the new government, pretty much retreated on - not very much. He's not asking for a headline hair-cut, but that's old news, he's willing to slowly implement some of the measures. But it seems that the sum total of the Thessaloniki program is on the table. And aggressively so.

Tsipras favours Greek jobless over creditors in defiant policy speech:

"...Declaring his administration "a government of national salvation", Tsipras said he would also pursue claims to win back from Germany wartime loans that Greece had been forced to make to Nazi occupiers. "I can't overlook what is an ethical duty, a duty to history ... to lay claim to the wartime debt."

Tsipras did signal a new round of belt-tightening - but on the part of ministers and MPs. He promised to sell half of all government limousines and a government jet in a money-raising exercise, as well as trimming back on security. Tsipras said Greece's new class of politician would set the example of frugal living. "We do not need three government aircraft. Politicians can do away with the privilege of having a car," he said...

...The first priority of this government ... is tackling the big wounds of the bailout, tackling the humanitarian crisis, just as we promised to do before the elections," he said. "The bailout failed. The new government is not justified in asking for an extension ... an extension would be a mistake and a catastrophe. We want a new deal, a bridge programme that would give us the fiscal space that a sincere negotiation requires," he said.

Syriza's pledges to the electorate include a freeze on pension cuts, a property tax overhaul, free electricity to those who have been cut off, reinstating jobs and raising the minimum wage. But it remains to be seen how quickly the measures are introduced - a phased approach could save the broke government money, officials have indicated.

Read more... (183 comments, 684 words in story)

Greece's Plan B?

by Migeru Tue Feb 3rd, 2015 at 02:14:48 AM EST

In an ideal world, Greece's new finance minister Yanis Varoufakis would succeed in negotiating with the Eurogroup on the basis of his own Modest Proposal. However, we live in this universe and the immediate question arises of how Greece is going to fund its foreign commitments, in particular the redemption of €7bn's worth of bonds held by the ECB and maturing in 6 months. According to the Wall Street Journal,

The next hurdle will be €7 billion in bonds held by the ECB that mature in July and August. Greece doesn't have the cash to repay them, and failure to do so could ultimately lead to Greece's exit from the eurozone.

Syriza Win in Greek Election Sets Up New Europe Clash (January 26, 2015)

Here I outline a plausible (based on the published opinion of Greek government ministers and their associates) plan for Greek economic recovery, consisting of:
  • a universal job guarantee program at the new minimum wage
  • the introduction of a parallel currency in the form of transferable tax credits
  • capital controls

Cross-posted on The Court Astrologer

front-paged by afew

Read more... (266 comments, 1958 words in story)

It was that easy?

by Migeru Fri Jan 30th, 2015 at 02:37:40 PM EST

Keep Talking Greece: Dijsselbloem: “You just killed Troika” – Varoufakis “WOW!” (video, pics) (30 January 2015)

The whole afternoon, Greek and international media were trying to find out “What the hell did they two men said to each other!?” Private Mega TV reported a couple of minutes ago that Eurogroup chief whispred to Greek FinMin’s ear “You just killed the Troika” and that Varoufakis replied with a simple “WOW!”
Who would have thought all you needed to do to defeat a nightmare was to stop believing in it.

What now?

Use this as a Greece open thread.

Read more... (105 comments, 219 words in story)

Bloody peons, moving around willy-nilly.

by Colman Thu Jan 29th, 2015 at 12:32:28 PM EST

Well, in response to the recent attack in France by French citizens living in France, the EU Interior ministers have decided that Schengen needs changing:

- We consider that beyond the current efforts to make full use of existing Schengen framework, a targeted proposal to amend the Schengen Borders Code is a necessary step to reinforce external borders by making it possible to proceed to systematic checks on individuals enjoying the right of free movement against databases relevant to the fight against terrorism based on the common risk indicators. (Statement)

And more surveillance, of course. Despite the French police having access to all the surveillance they could have wanted to in the Paris case, as far as I know.

Never waste a good crisis, eh?

Comments >> (12 comments)

Deflationary QE

by afew Wed Jan 28th, 2015 at 02:02:50 AM EST

Along with Time for the ECB Board to be sacked and Another modest proposal, here's another take on what the European Central Bank is about to do.

In an article on Pieria, Frances Coppola looks at the reasons why the Swiss National Bank abandoned its euro floor, a knock-on effect of the ECB's QE announcement. She goes on to imagine that the SNB's floor was still in place, alongside the euro pegs of a number of other European countries outside the Eurozone. The ECB is about to create more than a trillion euros. What happens?

Lets All Play QE

It would create a flow system. I've talked before about leveraging flow systems in relation to bank lending and financial crises. But this is different. It's a deflationary flow system. This is how it works.

In the centre, the ECB pumps out Euros. Some of those Euros may stay in the Eurozone (we hope), increasing economic activity there. But as the Eurozone already has a trade surplus, so is a capital exporter, most will flow out to the Eurozone's trading partners, putting upwards pressure on their currencies. Those partners that have pegs to the Euro will quickly be forced to respond with monetary easing of their own in order to hold their pegs. So as the ECB pumps out Euros, ERM II central banks (and others) mop them up. The ECB exports deflation to its currency partners: those partners export it back to the Eurozone. The only inflation to be seen anywhere will be in central bank balance sheets. This is what the Swiss, who have one of the very few privately-owned central banks, fear.

Read more... (31 comments, 978 words in story)

Greek Elections Open Thread

by afew Sun Jan 25th, 2015 at 01:00:47 PM EST

Several exit polls suggest that Syriza has won a clear victory - possibly with more than 40% of the vote - and could well have a majority, with up to 155 seats. [UPDATE 26/01/2015 7:49] With more than three-quarters of the vote counted, Syriza is projected at 149 seats (out of 300).

Hope has won

Comments >> (198 comments)

On the RhB 2: along the Inn river

by DoDo Tue Jan 20th, 2015 at 03:20:45 AM EST

In this second instalment of my series on the state railway of the Swiss canton of Graubünden, the metre-gauge Rhaetian Railway (RhB), I introduce the Engadin Line, which runs along the upper valley of the Inn river (in the local Romansh language: En). Although less well-known to foreign tourists than the rest of the RhB, it runs in scenic landscape with castles, and experienced a traffic surge in recent years thanks to a tunnel that was a mega-project by narrow-gauge standards. The vegetation is rather different from the upper Rhine valley: the dominant tree is the European Larch, so I scheduled my visit there for the Golden Autumn in October. I had no luck with the Sun, though.

Receding up-valley, RhB Ge 4/4 II No. 632 "Zizers" is about to pass station Cinuos-chel-Breil with a south-bound limited-stop RegionalExpress (RE) push-pull train

Read more... (4 comments, 1421 words in story)

Depression leads to a police state, Eurozone edition

by Migeru Mon Jan 12th, 2015 at 12:51:23 PM EST

This from Wolfgang Münchau in the Financial Times: Eurozone must act before deflation grips (January 11, 2015)

A slightly more realistic possibility would be a combination of QE, an external stimulus from oil and a fiscal boost. The eurozone’s fiscal rules leave little room for an increase in ordinary spending, or a reduction in taxes. But the fiscal rules are sufficiently flexible to allow countries to deal with emergencies. After last week’s terror attacks in Paris, it would be both feasible and appropriate for President François Hollande of France and other European leaders to invoke exceptional circumstances for a fiscal boost related to spending on internal security — without offsetting savings or tax increases. If terrorism does not qualify, what else?
And thus the tragedy of the 1930s repeats itself as a farce.

Comments >> (69 comments)

The Aftermath Begins

by afew Sun Jan 11th, 2015 at 04:34:04 AM EST

Among the seventeen victims of the three jihadists who staged kalashnikov attacks in Paris this week were a French Arab Muslim cop, killed because he was in police uniform in the street, four customers in a kosher supermarket, killed because they were Jews, a young West Indian woman who'd left Martinique for a municipal police internship, killed because she was in uniform dealing with a street accident, and a considerable number of journalists and cartoonists, killed for insisting on their right to satirise and criticise.

Public gatherings and marches have been held all over France, and a major march will take place today in Paris in the company of a large selection of heads of state and the world's high and mighty.

I don't have any commentary to offer right now. On this blog, we hugely debated many issues surrounding the publication of the caricatures of Mahomet, back in 2006. We went at it hammer and tongs, and succeeded only in ending up angry and in disagreement. Those who wish to, might like to try to establish a list of points on which we agree. Since the aim of targeted terror is to introduce a front of conflict within Western™ societies, perhaps the best we can do right now is consolidate the essentials on which we are united.

Use as a Charlie open thread.

Comments >> (143 comments)

Attack on Charlie Hebdo [UPDATE]

by afew Wed Jan 7th, 2015 at 08:07:17 AM EST

Two or perhaps three attackers armed with Kalashnikovs entered the Paris premises of French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo this morning during the weekly conference, when all the cartoonists and writers were present. At the moment twelve people are known to have died, ten from Charlie Hebdo and two police officers.

Live blog in English at The Guardian.

Live blog in French at Libé


Use this as an open thread.

Update [2015-1-8 7:30:7 by afew][Further update 9/1/2015 7:44]: beneath the fold

Read more... (220 comments, 338 words in story)

Piketty: Amnesia, Selfishness

by afew Mon Jan 5th, 2015 at 08:42:46 AM EST

Thomas Piketty is in the news for having refused the French decoration of Chevalier de la Légion d'honneur. Or, in other news, for a conversation with Bill Gates.

He's also a columnist at Libération. His latest offering starts by taking a swing at Juncker for his hypocrisy on the Luxleaks scandal, and goes on:

2015 : quels chocs pour faire bouger l'Europe ? - Libération

il est temps de reconnaître que ce sont les institutions européennes elles-mêmes qui sont en cause, et que seule une refondation démocratique de l'Europe permettrait de mener des politiques de progrès social.

it's time to recognize that the European institutions themselves are the problem, and that only a democratic refoundation of Europe would enable policies of social progress.

What gets in the way? Piketty singles out Germany and France.

Read more... (50 comments, 1054 words in story)

On the Rhaetian Railway 1: along the Anterior Rhine

by DoDo Fri Jan 2nd, 2015 at 05:25:39 AM EST

Even among the many magnificent metre-gauge mountain railways of Switzerland, the Rhaetian Railway (Rhätische Bahn, RhB) is a special spectacle: a network spanning the upper valleys of three major rivers, climbing passes with innumerable bridges, tunnels, spiral and horseshoe curves, instead of rack sections. No wonder that riding the RhB is the one trip everyone with access to railway employee free tickets is advised to do. I had an inkling that I might soon lose that privilege in yet another company restructuring (though I didn't think I might lose my job along with it), so I "did the RhB" this year.

In one one-week holiday each in July and October, I travelled pretty much the entire network. Now that I had time to go through my photos (a bit over 1,850 of them), I start a mini-series portraying the RhB lines, roughly in the order of increasing spectacularity. In this first part, I show the line following the Anterior Rhine.

RhB Ge 4/4 II No. 613 "Domat/Ems" with an eastbound Glacier Express is about to reach Versam-Safien station in the Rhine Canyon

Read more... (5 comments, 1419 words in story)
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News and Views

 8 - 14 February 2016

by In Wales - Feb 8, 18 comments

Your take on today's news media

 23 - 29 January 2016

by Bjinse - Jan 26, 82 comments

Your take on today's news media

 8 - 14 February Open Thread

by In Wales - Feb 8, 42 comments

And the wind howls on...

 Open Thread 30 Jan - 06 Feb

by Bjinse - Jan 30, 43 comments

Stay tuned

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