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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?

Comments >> (56 comments)

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.

front-paged by afew

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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?

front-paged by afew

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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.

front-paged by afew

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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).

Comments >> (55 comments)

European Elections Open Thread

by afew Sat May 24th, 2014 at 07:45:05 AM EST

Elections to the European Parliament began on Thursday 22 May and continue on Sunday 25 May.

See recent Newsrooms and Open Threads for information and commentary to date.

Use this as an ongoing open thread.


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More notes on Piketty's Capital

by Cyrille Fri May 23rd, 2014 at 01:34:12 AM EST

Right, I have now finished the book, for which I already published two sets of notes on the way (here and here).

However, there is so much material for discussion in the book after the point where I stopped my notes that, to make it a bit more readable, I will split the final notes in two more installments. I therefore return to part 3, looking at inequalities, from Chapter 9 onwards, and will stop at the end of Chapter 11.

Piketty being the specialist of inequality, there is little surprise that he gives a very good description of its historical evolution.

It's hard to pinpoint one thing in particular, but despite having over the last few years read each of his papers or articles that came my way, I kept finding things I did not know, that will probably alter my views of economics and politics in the future, even if I don't necessarily know in what way yet. For instance, I did not realise that Germany's top 1% had a markedly higher share of revenue than in any other continental Europe country. It is also interesting to look at the very different evolutions of minimum wages in France and USA (although that had very little impact on inequality at the very top, which is what took off of late).

front-paged by afew

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A MEP spying for Russia?

by DoDo Mon May 19th, 2014 at 01:40:36 AM EST

Hungarian far-right MEP suspected as Russian spy | EurActiv

The Hungarian chief prosecutor has sent an official letter to European Parliament President Martin Schulz, with a request that MEP Béla Kovács, from the far-right party Jobbik, be stripped of his parliamentary immunity, in order to allow the judiciary to investigate him over suspicions of spying for Russia.

The extremity of the far-right's new Russia-friendliness notwithstanding, I think this story is best interpreted as an experimental election campaign attack on Jobbik by authorities completely in the control of PM Viktor Orbán's ruling Fidesz. In general, the EP election campaign in Hungary is interesting for lopsided positions.

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You Think It's Time To Buy Shares?

by afew Fri May 16th, 2014 at 10:21:14 AM EST

From Jamie Lowry at Pieria:

The record amount being borrowed by investors is a worrying sign for markets

Keen students of behavioural finance may not be too surprised to learn that, over time, margin debt levels have tended to be at their highest just before markets crash while, just before markets take off, investors tend to have net cash in their trading accounts. According to the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE), which publishes monthly data on the subject, net debt currently stands at record levels.

Now, in theory, investors could borrow money from their brokers and just let it sit in cash and the NYSE would still report that as a build-up of margin debt. To take this possibility out of the equation, therefore, a better way of considering the issue is to look at investors' `free credit balance', which - put simply - shows how much money they have borrowed specifically to buy shares.

See the lovely chart below the fold:

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I'll just leave this here

by Colman Tue May 13th, 2014 at 05:21:59 PM EST

Minster for Finance Michael Noonan has said a State-backed insurance scheme for mortgage deposits should be ready for inclusion in this autumn's finance bill.

The Government has been looking at using mortgage deposit insurance as a mechanism to kick-start house building, particularly in Dublin.

Under the scheme, the State would arrange insurance cover for part of the deposit currently sought by banks from first-time buyers. (RTÉ)

Comments >> (7 comments)

Deeply concerned

by Colman Thu May 8th, 2014 at 05:23:30 AM EST

Ireland is introducing water charges next year, and the government has been pretty much forced to reveal the fee structure before the upcoming local and european elections - not to mention two by-elections: no standing charge, small free allowance, support for welfare recipients, extra allowances for children under 18. On average, this is due to cost people €240 a year, which is going to increase the hardship felt by people already hard pressed at the tail end of a depression, especially families with adult children living at home - the bill is inevitably going to head toward €500 awfully quickly.

Experts are apparently concerned:

The level of water charges proposed by the Government this week will not be sufficient to remove billions of euro of debt associated with Irish Water from the national accounts, as had been planned.

This is because the likely annual charge per household of €240 will not generate more than half of the income stream needed to fund the new utility, something that is necessary if the debts associated with the water and waste system are to be removed from the national accounts, water charges experts have told The Irish Times.

The creation of Irish Water could move billions of euro of national debt “off the books” and produce substantial benefits in terms of the cost of servicing Ireland’s borrowings, because it could feed into reduced interest charges.

However this will only occur when more than half of the new utility’s revenue comes from its charges, rather than from the exchequer. (Irish Times)

Got to focus on what's important, dontcha know?

Comments >> (10 comments)

This is why we can't have anything nice.

by Colman Thu May 1st, 2014 at 06:17:22 AM EST

Week before last we had media coverage of confirmation that there was significant Neanderthal DNA in Eurasian populations. My reaction was to wonder how long it would be before we started rehabilitating Neanderthals and how long before we saw explanations that it was our noble cavemen DNA that made whites superior to the darker races. "Unhelpful cynicism" thought I.

Two weeks later:

Scientists have concluded that neanderthals were not the primitive dimwits they are commonly portrayed to have been.

The view of the Neanderthal man as a club-wielding brute is one of the most enduring stereotypes in science, but researchers who trawled the archaeological evidence say the image has no basis whatsoever. (Guardian)

Maybe we'll get a nice resurgence of racial theory to round out our recreation of the early 20th C (without having to dress it up as "culture wars"). Are we missing anything else?

Comments >> (19 comments)

Budapest Metro Line M4

by DoDo Mon Apr 21st, 2014 at 02:27:19 AM EST

A week before the parliamentary elections in Hungary, Budapest opened its fourth metro line (M4 or Green Line), a 7.4 km, 10-station all-subway connection between two railway main stations. The construction project has a 42-year history, which is explained by the fact that it has been a political pinball for most of the time and has been mismanaged spectacularly.

Station Kálvin tér (junction station with line M3)

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First notes on Thomas Piketty's Capital in the 21st Century

by Cyrille Sat Apr 12th, 2014 at 06:58:17 AM EST

Since being published in English (its original publication, in French, came a year sooner), Thomas Piketty's Capital in the XXIst Century has been heavily discussed - and reviewed.

I would like to comment and start discussions on some of its contents and assumptions. Since there have been questions about it, I will start writing even though I am yet to finish the book. Well, if I were to do it all in one go, it would be far too long a diary in any case. Please note that I am reading it in French, and thus cannot exactly quote the English version. At the point where I am in the book, little has been said of inequalities, which are the subject of part 3.

front-paged by afew

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Elections in Orbánistan

by DoDo Sun Apr 6th, 2014 at 03:06:52 PM EST

Today (on 6 April), Hungary is holding the first parliamentary elections since PM Viktor Orbán's right-populist Fidesz took over all levers of power, replaced the Constitution and re-wrote all key laws using its two-thirds parliamentary majority. The modified election system is still an uncompensated mixed unicameral system (with people voting for both single-member election districts and party lists), but the single-member part is now without a second round of run-off votes.

There is nothing positive to report. Fidesz is likely to sweep almost all single-member districts and get nearly half of the list votes, the only question is whether they again gain a two-thirds parliamentary majority (which would allow them to continue their rule without any real checks & balances and implement the part of their reactionary legislative agenda they couldn't in the past four years). An alliance of (mostly unattractive post-reformed-communist or neoliberal) democratic opposition parties is predicted to finish barely ahead of far-right Jobbik, which is to boost its vote above 20%.

Update [2014-4-7 4:1:47 by DoDo]: At 99% counted, turnout is an abysmal 61%, Fidesz barely defended its two-thirds parliamentary majority even though it dropped to 44.5%, the opposition alliance got 26%, the fascists 20.5%, and the LMP (greens) also made it at 5.2%.

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What can stop Russian tanks rolling into Ukraine?

by aquilon Thu Apr 3rd, 2014 at 11:04:17 AM EST

The phone call between Putin and Obama two days ago, and assurances from Russia's Foreign Minister Lavrov that "...we have absolutely no intentions of crossing Ukrainian borders", made in yesterday's interview with Rossiya 24 TV channel, likely indicate that all parties involved in this conflict are prepared to make certain concessions, and common ground has started to emerge. Understanding of the simple truth that further escalation of the tensions is a "loss-loss" proposition seems to gradually take hold in European capitals, Kiev, Moscow, and even Washington. Let's take a look what is at stake here.

front-paged by afew

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Swiss main stations

by DoDo Thu Mar 27th, 2014 at 11:43:14 AM EST

In this train blogging diary, I portray three main stations in Switzerland, with photos from my two holidays last year, and my usual side stories and observations. The three are: Zurich main station, which is Europe's busiest by the number of trains; Arth-Goldau, a junction station along the Gotthard railway; and Lucerne, which is my favourite among main stations I visited for its special atmosphere.

Looking along the middle one of the five naves of Lucerne station

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News and Views

 22-23 December 2014

by afew - Dec 21, 52 comments

Your take on today's news media

 20-21 December 2014

by DoDo - Dec 19, 31 comments

Your take on today's news media

 Xmas Week Open Thread

by afew - Dec 22, 2 comments

Ding Dong Merrily On High

 New Weekend OT

by afew - Dec 19, 28 comments

Getting seriously solsticy

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