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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.

RESULTS BELOW THE FOLD

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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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Can US Fracked Gas Save Europe?

by ManfromMiddletown Thu Mar 20th, 2014 at 03:56:16 AM EST

There is a low, but rising, rumble.  Last week, GOP House Speaker John Boehner let loose the argument that all the US needs to do to free Europe from dependence on Russian gas imports is to export fracked gas.

Russia has been playing a much more intricate game than the United States in recent years. The resulting imbalance has created a growing threat to global stability, as evidenced last week by Vladimir Putin's invasion of neighboring Ukraine. The ability to turn the tables and put the Russian leader in check lies right beneath our feet, in the form of vast supplies of natural energy.

Cue the talking heads parroting the meme that the Obama administration is aiding and abetting our once, and again, Soviet Russian nemesis by keeping all that sweet fracked gas trapped in North America.  Just one problem.  Even a cursory examination of the facts reveals that the scenario envisioned by Boehner et al, the US replacing EU imports of Russian gas, isn't even a remote possibility.  Let's lay out the facts of the case.

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They want freedom

by DoDo Tue Mar 18th, 2014 at 06:17:58 AM EST

For a change, there is a more measured article in Der Spiegel on the situation in southern Ukraine, based on interviews with two pro-Russians and one Svoboda member, with a conclusion including this revelation (for the reporter I assume):

Saving Lenin: There Are Few Heroes Ukrainians Agree On - SPIEGEL ONLINE

This is about more than one bronze statue. People in Illichivsk don't have much money, their houses are gray and their streets full of potholes. But they also have a beach and the Black Sea, they have friendship and love, they have the Russian language and an identity of their own, and until now they also had the certainty that when they woke up each morning, they would be allowed to live the way they chose. That certainty ceased to exist when the old regime did.

When it comes down to it, everyone in Ukraine, east or west, wants the same thing: To be allowed to live the way they see as right. In other words, they want freedom.

Comments >> (18 comments)

Ukranian Standoff: What's Next?

by aquilon Fri Mar 14th, 2014 at 03:03:55 AM EST

The secession referendum in Crimea on the 16th of March, the outcome of which is easy to predict even if vote rigging doesn't happen, will give President Putin yet another pretext to append the peninsula to the map of Russia. For many Russians on both sides of the Kerch Strait, this will correct the mistake initially made by Nikita Khrushchev in 1954, and repeated by Boris Yeltsin 40 years later. Even the Russian intelligentsia seems to largely support Putin on this. The new government in Kiev is going to reject the results of the referendum and accuse Russia of violating international law by using its military might to redraw Europe's borders. The Kremlin insists that these Ukrainian authorities came to power as a result of a coup by pro-Western and anti-Russian extremists, inspired by the US and EU, and that ethnic Russians in Ukraine are now facing discrimination to say the least. NATO will likely to organize military exercises in close proximity to Russia and/or Ukraine, and may even undust the plans to install U.S. missile defense systems in Central Europe, which, by the way, as we were told initially, would protect NATO allies against rogue states like Iran. Then there will be a whole slew of sanctions, including economic, against, and visa restrictions for, Russian officials, which is, perhaps, the most efficient way to get the message through. Russia, of course, threatens to retaliate... Apparently, both sides are currently digging in preparing for return of cold war.

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Rail infrastructure investment news

by DoDo Mon Mar 10th, 2014 at 06:36:14 AM EST

I haven't done a rail news blog in half a year, now here is a diary focusing on news on investment into rail infrastructure: in Germany (a European comparison), in France (new policy focus), in Belgium (no PPP) and in China (rail & metro network expansion, 4G mobiles).

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Consign the euro to the dust of history

by afew Fri Mar 7th, 2014 at 05:44:34 AM EST

On Pieria, Frances Coppola posts a clear and cogent denunciation of the single currency and calls for its immediate demise.

After analysing money supply stats and concluding that the ECB is in no position to do anything useful to stave off the tendency to deflation and long-term depression, she lets rip on the euro.

The ECB is irrelevant and the Euro is a failure

The history of Europe is long and blood-spattered. It is nothing like the United States, which is a young country with a common language, clear boundaries and a single political structure. Yes, the USA fought a civil war to achieve its current degree of political unity, and there are no doubt still stresses and strains. But Europe - if you must regard it as one entity, which is problematic in itself - has fought HUNDREDS of civil wars. We do not have a single language, we still cannot agree where our boundaries should fall and national interests always trump "European" politics. You can't overturn tribal and cultural identities that go back thousands of years at the stroke of a few politicians' pens.

My objections to the single currency, therefore, are historical and cultural, rather than economic. I have read Mundell.  I understand the benefits of a single currency, where there is economic convergence. I know that the founders of the Euro project expected that the discipline of a single currency would force European countries to implement reforms that would over time create the necessary economic convergence. I know that this is STILL what politicians and Eurocrats are trying to achieve with measures such as the fiscal compact. But call me Cassandra if you like: I do not think any of this will work.

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Testing Huntington in Ukraine

by marco Mon Mar 3rd, 2014 at 04:33:55 AM EST

In summer 1993, Samuel Huntington wrote in an (in)famous essay:

It is my hypothesis that the fundamental source of conflict in this new world will not be primarily ideological or primarily economic. The great divisions among humankind and the dominating source of conflict will be cultural. Nation states will remain the most powerful actors in world affairs, but the principal conflicts of global politics will occur between nations and groups of different civilizations. ...

The most significant dividing line in Europe, as William Wallace has suggested, may well be the eastern boundary of Western Christianity in the year 1500. This line runs along what are now the boundaries between Finland and Russia and between the Baltic states and Russia, cuts through Belarus and Ukraine separating the more Catholic western Ukraine from Orthodox eastern Ukraine, swings westward separating Transylvania from the rest of Romania, and then goes through Yugoslavia almost exactly along the line now separating Croatia and Slovenia from the rest of Yugoslavia. ...

... The Velvet Curtain of culture has replaced the Iron Curtain of ideology as the most significant dividing line in Europe. As the events in Yugoslavia show, it is not only a line of difference; it is also at times a line of bloody conflict.

Huntington emphasized the hypothetical nature of his idea with that ? at the end of the essay's title.  Two decades later, what can events currently unfolding in Ukraine say anything about this hypothesis?

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Metatone Jumps the Shark II - The Economist on capital, labour and productivity

by Metatone Fri Feb 28th, 2014 at 07:08:19 AM EST

Here's how the author sums up their piece - which is well worth reading in full:

Labour markets: A theory of troubles | The Economist

Since this post is long and not exactly bursting with colour, I'll go ahead and share the gist of the story in hopes of enticing you to read on: because we rely on market wages to allocate purchasing power we have resisted technology-driven reductions in employment, and because we have resisted that decline in work we have trapped ourselves in a world of self-limiting productivity growth. Enticed? Good.

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A Sketch of the Venezuelan Crisis

by maracatu Tue Feb 25th, 2014 at 02:31:36 AM EST

As reported by Venezuela's Education and Human Rights Action Program (PROVEA), on February 12, student organizations and opposition parties called for marches in various parts of Venezuela to demand the release of students that had been detained in different cities. At much the same time the country's National Executive called on pro-government students to march "For Peace and Life" in observance of the country's Youth Day. The result was at least 16 opposition marches in cities like Caracas, San Antonio de los Altos, Acarigua, Porlamar, Maracay, Valencia, Maracaibo, Merida, San Cristobal, El Vigia, Puerto La Cruz, Puerto Ordaz, Barquisimeto Cabimas, while government supporters were mobilized in at least 3 cities: Caracas, Merida and Maracay. PROVEA reports that up until 2 pm the marches had developed peacefully.

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News and Views

 25-26 October 2014

by DoDo - Oct 24, 31 comments

Your take on today's news media

 24 October 2014

by In Wales - Oct 24, 40 comments

Your take on today's news media

 This Is The Weekend OT

by afew - Oct 24, 3 comments

Like it or not

 Midweek Open Thread

by Helen - Oct 22, 64 comments

One day this love will all blow over

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